Thursday, 29 August 2013

Leadership on Syria

Despite the poor press over the summer holiday about Ed Miliband lacking leadership it is clear that the events of the last 48 hours have proven otherwise.

A true test of character is how you deal with a crisis and this one is perhaps the most testing so far. In part because of the significance of intervention but also because of the international ramifications of the decisions made. It is also in stark contrast with some previous leaders who have held – in my mind wrongly – strongly interventionist policies on Foreign Affairs and who got burnt. The lesson it seems eerily reminiscent in some senses this week.  

Ed has a strong sense of purpose despite his detractor’s and it isn’t one which he feels necessary to trumpet in an overt manner. It was noticed by many yesterday that many tweets from Cameron concerning National Security and on procedure were not just coming from the Number10 twitter feed but also his party political account; it was clear Cameron was building momentum. I noted that we learnt of important materials via this medium, before as I understand, MPs of all sides had even been briefed. I felt it was clear that Cameron wanted a firm motion to give permission for an immediate strike. He was bouncing Parliament, his own Party and more importantly the British public into an outcome. It failed.

Contrast with Ed Miliband who remained calm and collected on consulting with colleagues on the best course. Considered he indicated a clear position to little fanfare late yesterday afternoon and the impact was immediate. Labour may indeed support further action on the despised and disgraced Assad regime but not before the full publication of the UN Report from inspectors gives a firm account of whether or not a chemical attack did actually occur. If further proof can be provided about the security and validity of information, coupled with international support this may indeed require military intervention. Labour has not ruled out intervention; just not rushed intervention. I couldn’t care a jot whether this nuanced position plays well in the polls or not; it is the right thing to do.

Despite the right now clamoring on Miliband for embarrassing Obama and looking weak. this is no more a left v right argument than in previous conflicts. This is about evidence-based decision making on the most important aspect of politics; whether we send our troops in harms way. The Labour position on no blank cheque for conflict contrasts with in my mind the perception that Cameron may have committed Britain to action whilst on the beach in Cornwall, only to find himself impeded by the real politic that he has since misjudged. A judgement the public will be watching closely given many feel he has over-reached once again.

It is also of abject concern that the Conservative-led government has refused – thus far – to publish the written legal basis for action from the Attorney General Dominic Grieve. This must be made public.

Rushing headlong into a conflict prior to UN consideration and before MPs can rightly make there own decision would be and is wrongheaded and foolish. The fact Cameron thought he could do it has been halted by Labour but also in part by Conservative backbenchers yesterday. The power of Parliament has rightly corrected an executive elite.  

I find myself in agreement with a number of rebel Tory MPs, who though small in number, are speaking up; and in particular Sarah Wollaston MP who in my mind over the last six months has become the model centrist new Labour MP on so many issues in regards to public health. Many have rightly spoken to residents and I believe asked the right questions. The lessons from Iraq are clear that no party leadership can assume support for war.  

That being said; rushing into saying I would not support a conflict in response to people prior to evidence being published is also wrong. 

It is why if I were MP I would indicate that my position remains in line with the leadership of the Labour Party led by Ed Miliband - in that whilst reserving a natural negative judgement on conflict I would require more evidence and time. Not an easy position to take but the right one; its why I voted for him in 2010 because he stands up for the right people. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Scrutiny and Savings

Saving Council taxpayers money given the extravagant waste under this Medway Conservative administration must be a priority for any incoming Medway Labour administration.

Every resident is now aware of the ‘botched’ bus station, ‘dodgy deal’ Medway Tunnel, Strood Civic Centre ‘blackhole’, the Stoke ‘bridge to nowhere’ and the infamous Chatham ‘one-way no way’ madness which saw the demolition of the Sir John Hawkins Flyover. This is not including the copious overspends on school projects.

Cllr Vince Maple is aware of the challenge; he has rightly highlighted and pushed on why our hardworking residents should be sanctioning a spend of £4.4m on Rochester Airport fliers when our roads are mired in pot-holes and our Sure Starts suffering cuts.

I have also raised as a backbench opposition Councillor my concern about how the Council try to conceal original budget estimates. 

Every time a capital spend report comes into our review committee process the officers have notably not included the original budgeted cost for any scheme. Instead they include any agreed increased figure after ‘Council’ review and award themselves a smiley face as a result. A smiley face rewarded for when they have hit the budget for the inflated figure. I have noted schemes way over original budget estimates that suddenly achieve a smiley. It is however not all smiles for taxpayers 

The widespread use of the internet and access to reports makes this transparent; go back prior to widespread use of e-government and I suspect anyone without a photographic memory would have fallen for it. 

Now there may be lots of reasons why budgets have to increase from the original budget but that is an unwelcome debate the Council appears happy to conceal. That is not scrutiny.

Saving money on waste must be a priority which is why I believe we should explore best practice elsewhere; included is one that Croydon Council has just implemented to vastly reduce the cost of staff transport. This has resulted in a substantial saving for taxpayers where the Council previously spent £1.3 million a year on transport costs has seen this reduce.

Croydon Council formerly relied on a combination of lease vehicles provided to staff and employee-owned vehicles. This combination not only meant that the Council was adding significantly to local congestion, it was also blighted by the fact that the Council had no real understanding of what state all these vehicles were in. Croydon Council began a pilot scheme with Zipcar, the UK’s largest pay-as-you-go car network.

Croydon Council saw the annual travel reduced by 42 per cent from £1.3m to £756,000. Employee business miles fell from 1.1 million to 642,000 miles. I certainly know the partisan-appointed Mayor of Medway has access to an exclusive vehicle in addition to a budget for food and drink.

“The idea is simple”, said Cllr Bashford, “rather than owning a car outright or leasing a fleet, we have exclusive access to 23 vehicles during standard working hours”. By using local transport and having access to the cars when they actually need them, rather than frittering money away on an expensive fleet, the council has reported considerable savings:

I have just submitted an FoI on the Council car fleet because I believe Medway could be working to reduce the burden on hardworking families

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Keep Royal Mail Public

We all rely on the Royal Mail – from receiving that parcel we’ve ordered online to knowing that birthday card we’ve sent is going to arrive in time.

When I was 18 I even worked as a Postie for three weeks delivering mail in Rochester West ward; waking up at 3am was not something i'd go back to in a hurry.

I worked in the Rochester sorting office so I know they are the beating heart of so many neighbourhoods across Kent.

In many areas the local post office acts as a focal point for communities and there are thousands of pensioners in Chatham and Aylesford who are reassured by seeing their regular postie every morning. There are also the small businesses that use the Royal Mail for ensuring customers get their goods and services on time, efficiently, reliably and at a reasonable price.

Which is why the Tory-led Government’s plans for privatising Royal Mail are so dangerous. David Cameron’s plans reveal once again how he stands up for the wrong people. His Government wants to sell off Royal Mail on the cheap in order to plug a financial hole in the British economy caused by George Osborne’s failed policies as Chancellor.

We all rely on a daily delivery service but places where it is expensive or complicated to deliver the post every day – in rural areas such as Eccles, Wouldham, Burham or Snodland – could be vulnerable. Many of us might also find ourselves having to travel miles to pick up our large parcels as a privatised Royal Mail could choose to sell off its assets such as nearby delivery offices and local post offices that rely on the Royal Mail for much of their business could be under threat as they look to cut costs. 

David Cameron doesn’t need to do this. The Royal Mail made a £400m profit last year. But while we could all pay more for the cost of postage, there’s a real risk this extra money will just line the pockets of private investors and not be invested back into the service.  The taxpayer has already taken on the Royal Mail pension losses and the Government want the taxpayer to also give away the profit.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A-Level Results Day!

I can remember my A-level results day very well; it was like today a sunny but cloudy day and it was one of the most nerve-racking of my life as it will be for those today opening up the envelopes.

The actual preparation for results was as daunting as the result days itself. I needed an AABB to get into my chosen University of Durham and I was skirting pretty close to the wire with ABBB on my predicted results based on previous module outcomes; I could not therefore be sure and needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat!

I had been pretty shrewd in advance of perhaps not securing the needed result. I used my sport background; I fenced for the South East region under 18’s to get a sports sponsored place at University which I thought gave me leverage given the University was amongst the best in the country for training. I at that stage in my life had every intention of continuing my sport at University level; this subsequently changed when I discovered other aspects of myself including an interest in politics and partners (as I call it!). I had also done an S-level in Geography which was a traditional essay-based format exam used to test the super-bright; I had already secured a high A in Geography so I thought I could use this as leverage if my grades dipped.  

Anyway the two days before involved me making copious notes on clearing options and contact numbers in preparation for any outcome. At school I admit I was a bit of a teachers-pet; and I was a perennial ‘preparer’ carefully planning eventualities and options – this hasn’t changed that much. I went into school with more bits of paper then I was due to collect. My school in Rochester and its teachers were second to none; I shed a tear or two when I left in 2001 and I still have immensely strong and fond memories of my time there.  

Incidentally despite some comments I am very proud of my background; my single mum worked very hard to build a small business (as a dentist) and she fought hard to get me, and my brothers, onto a choral scholarship and then onto a full academic scholarship. I at 9 did not make a choice about which school I went too; I did however have a choice about which University clubs I joined at 18… [a big difference I make with the current crop in charge of the Conservative party

After packing my bags the night before for Magaluf; I had agreed to go on a ‘boys’ trip to celebrate the results whatever the outcome (which turned out to be a disastrous holiday but anyway). I walked into school having had next to no sleep. This in hindsight was a stupid thing to have done because had my results gone pear-shaped i'd have been scuppered; I of course did not think about that when I confirmed I could do it. I was lucky. I am lucky sometimes. 

The school had clearly an awareness of my results as they had put all of the result slips into brown envelopes; standing at the door was the headmaster. I arrived a bit late and my nerves were further aroused in seeing people coaxed next to phones…

I can remember clearly how I responded when I opened the envelope; to say its mixed emotions probably under exaggerates the moment. It was nerves (plus some more nerves) followed by relief, followed by elation. I had done it; just! Two years of hard graft and re-sits (I didn’t do that well to begin with) had paid off. I was off to do Natural Sciences!   

I immediately called the Durham ‘hotline’ that was engaged and further engaged whenever I tried to call. In those days you needed to do that to confirm acceptance. One of my close friends was also due to get to the same college had the same problem, so a bit of mutual re-assurance on getting in contact was well received as he also was struggling to get through. I had three numbers; we called the third and both got someone. I look back now but I was secretly worried about going to University; change and moving away; so was always good to have a friend going to the same place.

Next came the phone calls to relatives; my family is a nosey bunch and it was clear they all more perfectly aware of the outcome more than me. I look back in hindsight to say there was an increasing level of apprehension on my results because mine were tight. My younger brother was Head Boy, school SWOT and rowing captain; he was and is blessed with a few faculties I have never had. My elder brother had already effectively got the grades before walking into school for his course at Brighton; though it turned into a ‘clearing’ nightmare when he chose to change from Architecture to Chartered Surveying! I turned out to be OK; but it could all have ended differently.

Lastly I checked up on my friends; all schools foster some form of peer-to-peer comparison and like most teenage boys I was competitive. To some extent I have never lost that but I wanted to know what had happened to them. Many of them were off to Southampton, Nottingham, Birmingham and other places; a few I could not spot.

I then got a tap on the shoulder. I needed to be in a car to Gatwick Airport 

Oh yes; I was off on holiday. I almost forgot.