Friday, 30 November 2012

Plan for Change needed

Do you believe you are getting value for money?

The debate over the Pickles Poll Tax and the rise in Medway Council Tax by 2% has only just started but it clear the dividing lines on next years budget are being set.

As the bulldozers dig near the Chatham bus station - the very symbol of Tory fiscal incompetence and mismanagement - the Conservative machine here is beginning the pre-Christmas chugging out of bad news. 

The line the Tories will be under will be to manage the bad news; so publishing a news item on Sure Start cuts as Leveson was talking is one such example. Another to claim that Medway is suffering because of an unavoidable byproduct of a government is a common line too. 

The problem is whilst some of the blame is the Conservative government - for which the same Councillor's leaflet and campaign for lets not forget - its a distortion to claim their is no responsibility locally for the situation we have ended up and more importantly, for which Council Tax payers, are forking out even more; such as the local Chatham bus station project.

Our Conservative Councillors are advocates, cheerleaders and campaigners for this government so let them not claim, piously, they do not stand full square behind everything this government has done. They are culpable for the actions on our services.

The truth is whether locally or nationally people are waking up. They can now see a truly ruthless Conservative machine in Whitehall undermining our civic fabric; they can see senior Tories pledging to bulldoze and now actively consult upon a Peninula proposal for an airport; they can see the botched Chatham road system and bus station; they can see the pot-holed roads in Walderslade or Rainham, the cuts to Care Homes in Rochester, the overspends on school capital projects in Gillingham and the gerrymandering of road budgets from Strood to leafier suburban streets nowhere near you. They can see good, and long standing charities closing and suffering from funding cuts, leading to loss of income; they can see the concerns of young people priced out of education and parents who are priced out of paying for their children on public transport.

Only in the last fortnight we have had Age Concern closing, Medway CAB threatening to cut staff, Sure Start budgets slashed, train fares up and road budgets butchered. Meanwhile, when it comes to fiscal prudence we have Tories popping up on TV claiming credibility; this from the same mob who have just spent £100m on a Police Commissioner election process which was a comedy, no a tragedy, of errors were it not for the tasteless waste of public money.

And it is not even if Medway gets a good deal in the region; the line that 'we are all in this together' is rubbish. When it comes to just local Council services we are simply not. The Tories, supported by their MPs, have voted to hurt places like Medway more then in Surrey and elsewhere.

Medway is loosing £56 per person in government cuts already compared to £34 in David Cameron's constituency. Leafier Tory areas are suffering less as the below graphic illustrates

All in this together?

The truth is, week by week, people can see through the fog of deceit; the threats to Medway Sure Start are now very real (see below). Services are not better for less; they are simply less. Council Tax is rising without any real consultation, and people feel angry and left out of conversations over Care Home cuts and privatisation. When we have a Council Tax consultation on SurveyMonkey you know times are tough; but how many times does a over-centralised Council cabinet have to be told to listen before you realise that incontinence is in the very bowls of the Tory machine itself.

Sure Start cut? Or just another 'unexpected reduction in government grant'?

There is something rotten about this Conservative administration in that when everyone else knows its a cut they will simply try and hoodwink the truth on the impact to the frontline. 

People dont mind paying Council Tax if they know it is going to be spent wisely but our Conservatives have a woeful record when it comes to managing the public purse locally; many reading dont have enough hands, fingers and toes to go over the incompetent overspends and copious budgetary omnishambles. And, yes, the farcical pointing of blame that happens afterwards where no one who has ever worn a blue rosette is ever to blame. 

  • How many more years of failure to improve Primary Schools will it take for new and capable political leadership to take over afresh?
  • How many more empty shops in our highstreets and fake shop fronts?
  • How many more times will Chatham bus station be in the paper?
  • How many more CCTV car pictures being parked on double-yellow lines before we review the cars?
  • How many more charities will get budgets cut?
  • How many more schools will be in the bottom ten of GCSE league tables?
  • How many more officer changes?

We know this Council is being badly led, its poor and tired leadership. We are in desperate need of new blood.

Next April, the imposition of the 'Pickles Poll Tax' will mean thousands of our poorest residents wont just have to pay an extra 2% but could be an extra 25-30%. 

Take away the loaded argument about divide-and-rule which is how the right blame the bottom; but give tax breaks to the millionaires; and just look at the reality. Taxing those with no money is not likely to work especially when we have a poor record from collecting tax from those that do.

Medway is already amongst the poorest collectors of Council Tax in South Eastern England; and thats before the targeting of those on lowest incomes. A position incidentally some of our MPs know about all to well.

Medway Council according to the report has, at the time of this article to the left, some £6m outstanding council tax which serves to highlight the total incomptence of the current Conservative administration.  

At the next Council I will be asking to see by how much this figure has decreased; and given the incapability over previous years I dont expect will by much. 

Why should anyone have to pay an extra 2% or 25% (for the most vulnerable) when we dont have the capability to collect tax currently? This is a legitimate question people need answering.

At the Audit Committee over the Summer I challenged the Council Officer over the IT systems that the Council was using for Council Tax collection and the allegation of 'paper piles'. The IT system was not up to scratch; if we are to start to collect more from particular sub-sections this must be rectified. I will be challenging this as well.

People in Medway expect responsibility from their elected politicians but also capable scrutiny; I am very concerned that the rises in Council Tax next year will sting the vulnerable and will not have widespread consent from the public.

If you are tired of this administration you can be the change 

Medway Labour - under the leadership of Cllr Vince Maple - is changing. A new and dynamic leadership is reaching out and listening to residents. Over the next 12 months our Plan for Medway will start to take shape through active consultation with small business, care workers, teachers and those that commute on train and bus.  Our first open event was held on Thursday night where some serious proposals were discussed to improve adult services; and how we would differ from the current administration

A genuine change is around the corner; Medway can get moving again but that requires new leadership in 2015 and it is Labour that is gearing up to be that change; help by joining us to stop this corrosive incompetence.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

OFSTED condemns Medway Tory record

An indictment of close to a decade of Conservative control of the Local Education Authority has seen Medway and Kent slide to the bottom of the Primary School league table according to the report by OFSTED yesterday

Today's results are a damning indictment on the Conservative administration and the state of education in Medway and points to a failure of the LEA to adequately support poor performing schools to ensure they improve there performance.

The two areas are among the bottom 10 ranked by Ofsted on the basis of the number of good or outstanding primary schools as decided by inspectors' ratings.

In Kent, 55% of children attend a good or outstanding primary while in Medway, the figure is 54%. That contrasts with the London borough of Camden with a figure of 92%, East Sussex with 70% and Essex with 61%.

Not one Conservative MP has challenged with vigor the incapability of the Medway and Kent Conservatives over education. 

The OFSTED report follows on from Primary School league tables which show almost a third of our pupils are failing to achieve the results they deserve despite years of per pupil funding increases from government.

It is fair to say that Medway has consistently, under the Conservatives, performed poorly. However, the story for many remains static; whilst the good schools continue to perform the poor schools are not adequately supported. 

After the shambles of the Primary School re-organisation in 2009/10, the 11+ test shambles in 2011/12 and copious overspends on capital projects, this points to a failure to grasp direction. 

Whilst true we have a new Director for Education in Medway and this is welcome we also need a change in political leadership; Cllr Wicks needs to go.

Medway should not continue to occupy - year after year after year - a position close to the bottom of the table because taken as a whole, we are a wealthier demographic than a number of those areas that perform better. This makes the poor result all the more damning, because on average our pupils should have more opportunity.

In addition the OFSTED table has higher ranking authorities who have a far more challenging demographic in terms of diversity of entrants. 

The problem with Medway is a decade of stagnant leadership from the Tories

Unfortunately, given Tory cuts to education budgets this remains a risk. We start from the bottom of the hill with a strong headwind and icy slopes.

We also need a Council which needs to change focus away from performing schools who can manage themselves, onto the most disadvantaged and poor performing schools. 

We need Councillors who get education. We need to support and incentivise governors including, in my mind, via the Council Tax system. We need to learn the lessons from performing local authorities in poorer areas.

Our position on the OFSTED table is appalling and a sad indictment of a decade of political incapability -  we need a renewed focus and vigour on improving schools so that our future generations are not strangled of opportunity from their earliest years

1 in 10 go hungry to pay loan debts

Whilst every other industry has suffered from the recession, legal loan sharks are making huge profits off the back of lending to people at excessive rates of interest – some of up to and over 16,000%. 

Fines alone will do little to change the way they operate – one firm this year made £45m in pure profit and its main director took home a salary of £1.6m.
Giving the new regulator explicit powers to cap the charges that these companies can set would send a strong message to this industry about the costs for loans that should be considered acceptable. British consumers deserve the same protection from these companies that others around the world enjoy. Research shows 60% of those using payday loans were using the money to pay for household bills and buying essentials like food, nappies and petrol. By restricting what firms can charge, we could make a real difference to millions of families across the country right now who are struggling financially and are borrowing from these companies just to make ends meet. Just recently it was revealed 1 in 10 payday loan customers are going without food in order to be able to pay back their debts- with 5 million Brits now turning to payday loans it is vital to act quickly to prevent a personal debt crisis in our country. 

A poll by ComRes for R3, the insolvency practitioners, shows overwhelming public support for action on this issue with 93% agreeing there is a problem with payday lending and 65% supporting a cap on the total cost of credit. Ministers claim they support the spirit of the amendment but refuse to back it – legal advisors are clear that without explicit powers to act, these companies will be able to challenge any regulatory action in the courts.

It is right that Medway Labour - led by Cllr Maple - have been working to lobby the Lords this week on a pay day loan amendment tabled by Lord Mitchell to the Financial Services Bill designed to help tackle legal loan sharking when it comes before you at the end of November 2012.

It is simply pathetic that Conservatives continue to fight the cause of legal loan sharks; even the new Archbishop of Canterbury has made his position clear on the ethics which makes the government position stink even more.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Veterans Interview Programme

As someone with a brother in the military it is important that we all find new ways to support our Forces.  

For me politics is not about what I wear or which jungle i'm in; its about standing up for people and ensuring the country balances its books, its about fighting residents' causes, representing their interest and standing your ground. 

One of those areas which comes personally to my heart is the military; mainly as my family are connected through the Navy; and because of the history of Chatham and associated towns as a centre for Navy and Army activity for centuries that has been ingrained in me since I was Primary School in Medway.

We should start by recognising that the experience of Service creates not just brilliant soldiers, but also great citizens who have much to give to our country.

In July Labour launched a new scheme in which companies voluntarily guarantee an interview for job-seeking ex-Forces, the Veterans Interview Programme (VIP).  

Leading Medway employers, including o2, Aldi, Greggs and Centrica, have signed up to the scheme that will, we hope, be part of a cultural shift in which we give greater recognition to the skills Service-leavers can bring to the workplace and increase opportunities for those returning from the frontline.

The opposition has since been working with the Department for Work and Pensions to make this a national scheme and this is now being rolled out across the country, with job centres given guidance as to how to support employers in implementing the scheme, encouraging others to take it up and linking veterans seeking with participating businesses.

Servicemen and women’s struggles, sacrifices and courage do not end when they leave the battlefield.  Our solution is not preferential treatment, but rather ensuring there is a level playing field for Service-leavers to provide for a family or put their children through education.  At the centre of that is employment.

It is a matter of cross-party agreement that it is wrong that someone who has served in Afghanistan is expected to join the back of the queue at the local job centre, and with thousands being sacked during the recession this Government’s actions are making things harder for veterans.

The talents of those leaving the military can be a big asset to business.  Service provides people with the organisational, team-building, leadership, quick-thinking skills which are ideal in the workplace. The ability to act under pressure is as important in business as it is on the frontline.  We want to increase awareness of the transferable skills and talents which military people can use in civilian life.

The VIP initiative has brought business and service people together, matching experience and skills with business needs. The commitment shown by participating companies in the current climate only underlines our country’s respect and goodwill towards the Service community.  This scheme is voluntary and valuable, and I hope all parties, charities and many businesses will get involved.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Council Tax Gerrymandering

Since coming to power in 2010 the Tory-led Government in Westminster has been cutting too far and too fast but the cuts themselves are being felt in communities like Medway and across Kent.

The Local Government Association said councils suffered a 28% cut in the funding they get from central government between 2010/11 and 2014/15 but the difficult work of deciding which essential local services have to be cut falls to individual councils.

Unfortunately, those central government cuts have hit some areas harder than others with Cameron, Clegg and Osborne aiming the biggest cuts at the most deprived communities instead of reflecting where resources are most needed.
Councils in urban cities and London boroughs with high levels of deprivation, have seen their budgets cut by almost 10 times the amount lost by mostly Tory-administered authorities in Surrey and beyond

Here in Medway, we are losing £56 per person but David Cameron’s local authority of West Oxfordshire is losing just £34.33 per person. This pattern is repeated across the country, with members of the Tory-led Government protecting their own communities whilst the more deprived areas are left to fend for themselves and deal with much larger cuts to their budgets.

Councils such as Medway - who have suggested a tax rise today - are having to make really tough decisions about which essential services to cut because Cameron’s Tory-led Government has massively reduced the amount of funding local councils receive from central government. As if that weren’t unfair enough, the Tories and their Lib Dem allies are deliberately targeting the areas that can least afford these enormous cuts and hitting them hardest.

It is sad though that our Medway Conservatives have not bothered to consult with residents and small business about the 2% tax rise proposed, and nor have they been honest about the gerrymandering of funding. Instead we have had briefing of select papers and no consulting with those most impacted about the priorities. The rise in Council Tax also does not take into account the Pickles Poll Tax rise which could see vulnerable people taxed upto 30% more in some areas like Medway from April next year.

Not so long ago the Government claimed “we’re all in this together” but with each passing day this seems more and more like a bad joke. In their determination to enforce a reckless cuts programme that goes too far and too fast, the Tories have slashed local council budgets but instead of spreading the load, they have deliberately targeted the communities that can least afford it, and it’s areas like Medway and those most vulnerable within it, that are paying the price. 

Tighter rules and individual responsibility needed

The news this week that MPs are once again embroiled in saga concerning their expenses will no doubt cause immense frustration and anger amongst the public, who might reasonably have hoped the lessons from the previous expenses scandal had been learnt.

The issue around expenses is not a partisan one. In many cases it boils down to the individual judgment of the MP in question; about how they fulfil their obligations to the public and act within the rules that are currently set.

It is clear that across the country MPs have acted differently which is reflective of our MPs locally; two have claimed for a second home and one has not.

Though clearly many have done their best to skilfully manage the rules, I feel the clear lesson from the 2008/09 scandal, and again now, is that the rules are still not tight enough. If they allow MPs to act in ways that the general public find distasteful, immoral or underhanded, then the rules aren’t working.

Perhaps this is unusual for someone who wants to become an MP: to want to tighten the rules that could potentially affect me. But that’s not how I see it.

As someone who works in a small business and has to watch his own business profit and loss account, I constantly have to be mindful of potential costs and outgoings. This is true for many businesses, who are finding in the current climate that they must enforce tighter controls on excess expense across the board. Businesses, both small and large – the backbone of this country’s economy – are all feeling the squeeze of inflation and rising costs. So why should MPs be immune from the same pressures?
That said, though I would support seeing current rules tightened, I also believe that in a democracy like ours, issues around personal expenses clearly have the potential to undermine trust in the democratic process. This is why I have consistently maintained that it is not simply enough to ensure you follow the rules. You must also act according to the spirit of the rules, which requires you to, at all times, keep in mind how the taxpayer would see it; and what the people who have elected you would think.

This is also an issue about being honest with the public and also those Labour members who leaflet and door knock for me every weekend. At my selection hustings in July I promised those that selected me as their candidate, that whatever the current rules are, I would be above board about expenses incurred and I would treat the public purse with respect. I stated clearly on doorstep after doorstep that scrutiny and transparency on expenses is important.

I also stated that with an MPs salary of £68,000 most people would expect someone to be able to pay for an annual train ticket into London, and be able to support a mortgage on a single property through earnings, not expenses.

When I door knock in my ward in Luton & Wayfield, I meet people who are living on far less and struggling to make ends meet. Many party members too, including many of those who leaflet for me, are also struggling – but they do their best to manage. I also know many MPs have staff who are not the best paid; the sums of money to additional flats to them is sometimes equivalent to two-three weeks take-home pay. 

I was asked on Monday directly by the press whether as an MP I would have and claim on a second home. I gave the same answer to them that I did to party members when I stood; I believe I do not need a second home or flat in London. Like many of those who live in Chatham, Aylesford, Walderslade, Burham, Snodland and Ditton, I currently commute – unhappily in some cases when fares go up and up – but do so because I can get to work within 60 minutes.

I am not here to comment on others expenses, but I have always believed in scrutiny and transparency – it is something I do as a Councillor – and I can say where I would be different.

I do not believe a second home is necessary when you live within such a close commuting distance from London, and when my residents are struggling to pay their mortgages to have a second home upto £1,700 per month or more is a value judgment worth of public scrutiny.

Each can make his or her own value judgement, but I have made mine, and I – as an individual - will not claim for a second home.

The justification being made by some MPs is that they need an expensive flat because of late-night sittings is not accurate or indeed believable to the public. The Parliamentary timetable has changed meaning a late night sessionhappens only once per week and even then MPs are rarely called for significantvotes at this time. I have always believed hours should be reformed to make them more like the public especially for those with families and children. I would urge residents to probe how many late night sittings their respective MPs have done because I would suggest it is precious little and call for better working hours. And even if we do need to work late, a hotel for those very rare occurrences, or even a taxi could be considered. It can be done.

It also seems clear to me that constituents do deserve a right of recall. So I agree that if elected, my constituents should have the right to unseat me if they think I have acted in a way that necessitates such action. That said, my aim would be to never given constituents such a reason, as I pledge to support measures to tighten financial control of MPs, and to be fully transparent with the public in my dealings.

I know many reading will say they have heard this before from candidates, and it is true a cynicism has infected politics, but I say judge on the results not on the words and you can see proof; as a Councillor my expenses and allowances are online and fully accessible and I have made a judgement on what allowances I will claim on a second flat , and it is zero.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Tory folly on Europe

The labeling today by Ken Clarke of a large number of his erstwhile colleagues as ‘extreme’ Europhobes is not something the public will be that surprised about as the Prime Minister enters the budget negotiations over the next week.

Once again (and its now true to form) the Tory right are trying to claim – incorrectly – that Labour is being inconsistent on Europe. That somehow you cant be pro-European unless you are calling for a massive budget increase with more powers devolved to Brussels plutocrats; or anti-European without wanting to undermine the very Economic union which has led to decades of peace and economic growth across the continent. It is a sad parody on our media that these two extremist and absolutist positions are totally false arguments devoid of political reality.

It is a fallacy to state that you cant wish to remain in the European Union as a full trading partner, with the benefits of an open market, but also wish for a budget cut to the European Union in light of fiscal tightening, which is happening in all national budgets across all of Europe. The two are entirely consistent and actually present a rational argument in stating we want a European Union which works at a time of cuts. Why are the right lampooning this argument which I suspect most reasonable people would subscribe? Indeed, one which the Conservative leader himself can subscribe, were it not for his weakness on the negotiation table.

I suspect today Ed Miliband will rightly emphasize the One Nation willingness to engage in some of the more positive aspects of Europe because in a global world you can retain a national identity whilst working with partners to create economic growth; the notion of peace across the continent; the leverage it allows us to manage trading relationships in an increasingly economically regionalised world and one which allows resources to be pooled and standards maintained.

This does not mean that Labour is slavishly devoted to joining the Euro and selling our rights down the river, or that people on the left are happy with the bureaucratic meddling of Brussels, or the increasingly opaque nature of budgetary management. We are not. I am, like the next person, very unhappy with the current state of Europe and its management but I also know that by leaving we would lose out on trading relationships. Europe does have a democratic deficit problem; its budgets and its processes are opaque and there is a serious argument for major reform of CAP and political process within the structure. I also believe that at some point the British public will need to be consulted on our relationship to settle the issue once and for all; I don’t agree that the best time to consult was during the biggest economic crisis in 80 years.

Once upon a time people with views like mine would have been welcomed in the Conservative movement as being pragmatic and reasoned. We would have been respectfully listened and engaged, but such is now those with moderate voices are lynched by the right in quite literal modern day witch-burnings on ConHome or beyond. The centrists in the Tory party are quite literally purged and cast adrift before our eyes.

It is true that there is populism in being anti-European but then there is populism in lots of issues where government has a wider responsibility; it is always easier to win an audience of sorts, but as we saw last week a lot of the support for UKIP does not switch to mainstream political parties were UKIP not to exist. UKIP support at the PCC ballot on second preference went to extremist parties. The problem with courting this type of absolutist vote is that you will never be able to appease it; it will simply continue to bite and nibble away because its only outcome is self-interest. UKIPs self-interest is to ensure that wherever a mainstream party positions it ensures it does just enough to ensure it lies outside and hoovers up this vote at European elections.

How does the Tory machine placate a single-issue, rabidly-populist and well resourced UKIP; well stop giving them legitimacy in debates in Westminster and by talking and hacking over Europe is one such answer. The problem is that UKIP know that some Tories are very happy to engage and in my mind partner on the issue; it allows them to move the party to the right.

I suggested in 2008 that Cameron could have shown a ‘clause four’ moment by ridding himself of this anti-European caucus by setting a centrist position and challenging the critics openly. Instead he took one look at his ageing membership and decided to go for a cast-iron guarantee on a referendum and shift to the right at a time of leadership weakness. His mistake, and lack of leadership, is the reason why the Conservative Party lost the general election – because people didn’t believe a leopard had changed its spots and the same mistake for them is happening again. Picking Lynton Crosby today; who played a right wing card and lost in 2005 (and badly) and who barely scrapped a victory against a long-toothed lefty in London is straw clutching. They have quite literally given their campaign to the Wizard of Oz such is the fairy-tale of his reputation.

The Tory obsession with Europe is what is leading to the UKIP vote increase because Tory MPs keep putting the issue back into the public eye. On all polls about which the public care; they care little for the cause of constant European debates. When turnouts for European elections are just above PCC levels you know in reality the cause is one which little outside a small minority have a passion about. It is also of note that over the last 12 months the Tories have been moaning about this topic that the polls have not budged above 33% (or the core vote).  

Conservative absolutists however are not interested in reasoned argument or positioning; you are either with us or against us and for all intents and purposes a strong UKIP allows leverage on the party. The problem is with this convulsion is that not only do you lose voters as a result but it pushes the party further from the centre.

Labour has an opportunity to articulate a reasoned One Nation ‘conservative’ message on Europe. I also believe that most sensible and reasoned people are open to that message, which is why as we come to the close of 2012, it will be Labour leading the polls after a European meeting and not, like last year, a bulldog Cameron. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Police Commissioner Shambles

Great and the good assembled... but was anyone listening?

Unloved and neglected, last week's elections to politicise our police have been treated with utter contempt by the public who felt bitterly betrayed by another blundering and shambolic Conservative Party policy.

Appropriately for November, the selection of police and crime commissioners in England and Wales was a total damp squib - a position this blog and Labour has been consistently warning our Conservative MPs about locally for months. 

Labour locally warned time and time and time again that turnout was going to be woeful and that no one wanted these elections and these concerns were arrogantly dismissed. We submitted motions to Full Council; our Councillors warned that money could be better spent on dispersal or Alcohol Control Zones or more PCSOs but our concerns ignored. We expressed concern of PACTs across Medway that these elections were not necessary but our petitions airbrushed. 

Despite all the warnings from the opposition locally in Medway that the public did not want the Police politicised, or want an election, the Conservatives and all three of the MPs in Medway personally staked their political reputations on these elections being a success. All three positively endorsed the election and Conservative candidate. 

Not only did they back the wrong election but the result was a massive proverbial slap to the Conservative machine in Kent. The shockwave was palpable as the Conservative phalanx of blue-rinsers in Medway held their heads in their hands at the count on Friday morning as the independent Ann Barnes cruised to a stonking victory. 

The result aside the process was a farce; a process that led to a vote so shockingly low by any reasonable standard of what contributes meaningful engagement in a functioning democracy.

I believe the public woke up last week to the reality; a miserable turnout for which every voter in England & Wales (outside of London) received a polling card, and where each and every voter would have sat in their homes to bemoan the entire reason for this election; it would have been a concious effort believe me.

It is no wonder that on the same day the public were not voting for a total farce of an election that in a marginal Parliamentary byelection in Corby we had a much higher turnout (where people knew what they were voting on) and more importantly the Tory vote was butchered in the centre by Labour and on the right by UKIP.  Middle England sent a message that they are sick and tired of this shower of a government that lurches from one farcical policy to another. Dithering, decay and deceit; One omnishambles, after one plebgate, after pasty tax; people are tired of the incompetence.

And Tories cant take solace either; I was watching the UKIP voter second preferences and it was not going Conservative. It was splitting to independents and English Democrat far higher then expected. People on the right are fragmenting because of David Cameron.

For an independent candidate, who was formerly the same chair of the Kent Police Authority so maligned by the Kent Conservative elites as being out of touch, to win the election is a snub of some significance. To win by the stonking majority she did was a testimony to Conservative campaign mismanagement. The Tories have spent a fortune of hard-pressed tax payers money - your money - on a result where the same person is now in effectively the same job. 

In no other County in the country is that the case; to lose against indpendents who were former military, police officer or media personalities is one thing; to lose against the incumbent of the Kent Police Authority such maligned as it was is a totally different situation; and sends a message that perhaps actually that Police Authority was doing a good job under her leadership that she was endorsed again.

As it was the public in Medway and across Kent sent Craig Mackinlay and the three Tory MPs a message loud and clear. Not only was this the most shambolic farce of an election in modern democracy but the Tory government attempts to gerrymander the outcomes by stopping central spend on candidate literature led to a total lack of awareness of any candidate at all. The arrogant contempt with which Conservatives were seeking to manage the election to favour Conservatives with deeper pockets, in my mind, backfired.

If managed correctly, with support, the Conservarives would have won this election easily but for the fact that many Kent Conservatives despised the whole idea, and even further despised the manner in which the selection process ended up, with the candidate it did. Let's be frank; a 300 Tory members endorsement is shoddy for a party of power across the County. 

Of course Tories will moan that an independent may or may not have had Lib Dem support whether tacitly or not; or they may moan that they were outspent without proof (how ironic from a party which spends Carlton club and Ashcroft dosh like nobodies business). But the fact is the candidate was poorly selected and did not get buy-in or support from the rest of the county including countless MPs offices, who had they actually done the job, may have seen a Conservative victory. 

For a Conservative Agent to lose a County where you have every MP, dozens of paid constituency officers, researchers, organisers and activists; not to mention countless Councillors across borough, unitary, county and Parish Councils is a laughable. Quite frankly the Tory party machine itself when added up had a far larger potential resource then any independent candidate in Kent which makes this faux outrage such a fitting epitaph for failure.

The Labour Party last week didnt win Kent but in reality that was never a realistic proposition in a staunchly blue County-wide election where we hold zero MPs. The Labour vote however, in my mind, rallied for the next best alternative against the Conservatives in many of our boxes. It was literally 'Anyone But Craig' with a heavy support for Ann Barnes as a second preference in urban wards in Medway.  More importantly for 2015; our vote was good in some marginal boxes in Chatham and our national vote share, even with a pathetic turnout was higher then the Conservatives and that is ignoring Scotland which didnt vote. For the 'Party of Law & Order' there was a clear message; you flunked it. 

This election should be seen not just as a democratic omnishambles but more widely about the economic incompetence around this Conservative government because millions was spent on the election-that-never-was. 

What angers me is the denial from Tory MPs that this election is not their fault. 

They blame the media and the electorate before making an excuse about the newness of democracy (in a country with centuries of democratic tradition). To me the fault lies with this government and its MPs locally; because at the same period they voted for this policy they were voting to slash Police budgets, close magistrate services and butcher PCSO numbers in Westminster because of a lack of funding; they squandered £100m on an election where literally those at Polling Stations were twiddling their thums. It is grossly irresponsible government.

If we are to have these elections again then a lot needs to change but one is the election of a Labour government in 2015. We cant afford another mess like this; it undermines democracy and it undermines confidence in economic credibility.

You simply cant trust the Tories with taxpayers money. If the elections last week said anything it is that the Tory elite are woefully out of touch with reality and with taxpayers. 

Age Concern Transparency

Former site of Age Concern Chatham before regeneration relocation to Hopewell Drive

It is deeply disappointing that the Conservative Council and MP have failed to secure a positive outcome for Age Concern in Chatham. This was a charity with a long and proud history in Medway with a forty year record of help in the community 

It is time however for their to be full transparency and scrutiny around the substance behind the offer to the charity and the provision of alternative services to be offered to those impacted by this closure

It is for that reason today that I have requested a Member's Item to be tabled at the Health & Adult Social Care Committee for December so that we can have full clarity on:

  • Extent of current Council contracts with Age Concern and future provision for elderly and vulnerable adults in future
  • The detail on the offer and a response from the Charity as to why they refused and background 
  • Background to financial insecurity leading to requirement for offer

I believe the public deserve to know from first hand evidence whether our Conservative administration and Parliamentary representatives got the best deal for this charity. 

Age Concern is a key service that many in Chatham use. Many of these are concerned about the level of services reductions and the potential impacts on some of our most vulnerable residents.

I do have concerns based on evidence that the government and its Conservative representatives have not treated the third sector with respect. Over the last 18 months we have seen how the Tory-led Council have treated charities through budget cuts; we have seen the watering down of service provision for elderly residents with dementia and key care needs, so making it more difficult for residents to get support for loved ones as the criteria get even tighter; we have seen threats to privatise and close local care services with Platters Farm and Nelson Court; all which cared for vulnerable adults.

I dont have confidence unless we get full transparency. 

Now that the offer has been rejected the public; those that use and work for Age Concern and the local community need to know why it was rejected; and more importantly that provision will be in place to safeguard some of our most vulnerable adults, when, on 1st January 2013 there is no centre for them to attend.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Our Chance to Pay Tribute

The men and women who serve in Britain’s Armed Forces make enormous sacrifices to protect our country. They are central not just to our national security but our national character. Remembrance Sunday provides us each with the opportunity to honour all those who have given their lives in the defence of our country and to support today’s Service community.

The Armed Forces make a unique contribution to our country and we saw this most recently during the Olympics. When the greatest show on earth was at risk it was our Forces who stepped in, many still with the sand of Afghanistan in their boots.  The professionalism with which they acted made us all proud and impressed the world as they helped deliver the best Olympics ever.

But it is in military operations that their courage and contribution is most apparent.  We were reminded of this during the conflict in Libya, where the slaughter of innocents at the hands of a tyrant was halted, and we see it in Afghanistan where today there are 9,500 dedicated, patriotic service personnel.  Their actions seek to provide stability for those whose names and stories they do not know, in the knowledge that we as a country have responsibilities beyond our borders and that our security at home is dependent on those who serve overseas.

We all know that servicemen and women’s struggles, sacrifices and courage do not end when they leave the battlefield.  Whether through injury, trauma or even prejudice, huge challenges exist for veterans on their return.  These are issues that must unite all political parties and all sections of society. Whether in increasing support for those with mental health problems, supporting service children, helping veterans find work or tackling discrimination against those in uniform, we all have a duty to respect, honour and thank our service community.

That is why Remembrance Sunday is so important.  We have the chance to honour those whose lives have been lost and to pay tribute to those who put their lives on the line in the name of national security and solidarity. Our Forces have shaped our history, just as they can shape our future.

This goes beyond just wearing a poppy.  It’s about a year-round national attitude that seeks to give members of the British Armed Forces past and present and their families the care and support they deserve.

I’m proud that so many of my constituents in Chatham & Aylesford choose to serve their community and their country so bravely, which is why I’ll be attending the Remembrance event in Chatham on Sunday where everybody will be paying tribute to all those in the Armed Forces who continue to serve us so well.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


My prediction of the swing states tonight

  • Colorado - Obama hold +3
  • Florida  - Romney pick-up +3
  • Iowa - Obama hold +3
  • Michigan - Obama hold +5
  • Nevada - Romney pick up +2
  • New Hampshire - Obama hold +1
  • New Mexico - Obama hold +6
  • North Carolina - Romney pick up +4
  • Ohio - Obama hold +1
  • Pennsylvania - Obama hold +4
  • Virginia - Obama hold +1
  • Wisconsin - Obama hold +4

Monday, 5 November 2012

Half term report

This week marks the halfway point of this Parliament. That means that we’re now closer to the next election than we are to the last one. It's a good time to take stock of what David Cameron has achieved so far. Has he done what he promised? Did you get what you voted for?

In 2010, many people voted for change. That’s what David Cameron promised. But on too many measures, he has simply failed to deliver. He’s failed to do the things he promised – and he’s done things he never told you about. You can see some of the things he’s done, but forgot to tell you about before the election, at

He inherited an economy that had been through a big shock, but was growing again. Two and a half years later, Britain has only just emerged from the longest double-dip recession since the Second World War, and unemployment is still higher than it was when David Cameron took office. George Osborne has already had to announce that he will fail to meet his target of eliminating the deficit in this Parliament, and he is borrowing £150 billion more than he planned.

After promising that "we’re all in this together", David Cameron has given 8,000 millionaires a tax cut worth at least £40,000 each, while families lose an average of £511 a year. He promised no top-down reorganisations of the NHS, but he’s wasting billions on a massive NHS restructure while over 6,000 nurses have been cut. He said there would be no cuts at the frontline, but 6,800 frontline police officers have been cut already, and at least 15,000 are set to be cut by the time of the next election.

And at the same time, David Cameron hasn’t even managed to pass the test of basic competence. We’ve had a shambolic Budget, with u-turn after u-turn on the pasty tax, the charity tax, the church tax, the caravan tax and the petrol tax. We’ve had policies announced before they were properly thought through and then withdrawn again. We’ve had Tory donors having private dinners at 10 Downing Street. We’ve even had a month-long attempt to hold on to a Cabinet Minister who insulted a police officer who was just doing his job. He may think he was born to rule, but it turns out he’s not very good at it.

The Conservatives have failed to live up to the trust that so many people placed in them. Labour has to be different. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership, One Nation Labour stands for a Britain where everyone has a stake and prosperity is fairly shared. That’s why we’ve set out plans for gold standard vocational qualifications and apprenticeships, to support the 50% of young people who don’t go to university. For making sure that banks and businesses are working together to help our economy grow. For taking on vested interests, from energy companies to the Murdochs. For reforming our economy so that it works for working people, not just a privileged few.

David Cameron has lost trust because the reality of his out of touch Government has been so different from what he promised. He can’t be the One Nation Prime Minister Britain needs. That’s why, as we move into the second half of the Parliament and get closer to the next election, more and more people are looking to Ed Miliband and Labour.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

EU Budget Vote

Despite today's utterances I have to congratulate two of our three MPs for their courageous stand against the whips yesterday evening, and voting in the Labour lobby against the mass throng of Conservatives who trooped to support a cash-terms EU budget increase 

The EU budget vote was crucially important for David Cameron - not only because he used a 'political' veto last year to populist appeal - but also because it sets the parameters around negotiating on a budget settlement for the EU from 2014-2020.

The Labour opposition yesterday was not opportunistic; Labour has been consistent that this budget settlement must be carefully negotiated in advance, but can not result in an increase in the budget. Our MEPs voted that way with Conservatives. 

So why the difference in this budget round; because unlike in previous budget cycles there is no reform of CAP planned (as with Blair's negotiations) and with European governments in austerity it is simply not palatable or acceptable for our public suffering cuts to services and struggling with bills.

Labour was right to increase budgets in previous cycles to meet the needs of the expanded EU and tagged with reforms at a time of growth in the EU. This time it was right to say that the budget must be reduced.

Incidentally, this does not mean that I will dogmatically oppose future budgets based on partisan sectarianism; or apologise for former ones; each budget negotiation isn't about dogma but about taking a sensible and reasoned judgement about what is fair and equitable. This has been the Labour approach.  

I know a number of Tories will point to history and 'consistency'; but need I not remind them that it was a Tory that took us into the EEC and it was a Tory that signed us up to the EU with Maastrict and, yes, Tory PM's throughout history have increased budgets and won concessions. It is only since 1995 that this vitriolic and salivating anti-Europeanism has taken hold and its damages were seen then and seen today to the Tories. I also need to remind Tories that it is rich indeed for Cameron and Osborne to call us opportunistic when it was his 'cast iron' guarantee to The Sun which was the most overt posture of all; the grand fib led to a massive poll rise for UKIP which remains to this day.

A little less dogma and more realism required; I did not share a flat with Carswell and was not best chums with Hannan; but I do share the views that this budget increase was wrong-headed so I had no problem in sharing a platform with Mark or Tracey

Cameron could have united the house yesterday on a non-binding resolution to go for a cut in the budget; as it was he tried to arm-twist (rudely in some cases) people to doing something they were uncomfortable. 

Two of our MPs showed some backbone and for that they deserve credit.