Thursday, 26 February 2015

Medway Budget Council Meeting 2015 – Actuals

Well, that was it. I didn't stay until the end, only until the Budget item was dealt with (including convolutions caused by amendments) and voted upon, with the usual (and expected) result: it passed and the amendments were defeated.

So, was the process the same as in previous years? Essentially, yes – just as I outlined in my previous post, but a little shriller, with three Labour members shouting during their speaking times, quite apart from the usual heckling and hectoring for which the Labour group is notorious. It was obvious that elections were coming...

The matters I mentioned in my previous post did come up; and the alert observer would have sussed out very easily what was really going on, especially with the local media present. Tonight's claque was primarily the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) who are probably even more Communist-alike than the Socialist Workers Party – though I suspect it is close to being a tie!

As I always do at these annual events, because one member of each party gets unlimited speaking time, I time each of them, so here are this year's figures, for the record...
  • Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con) – 50 mins 45 secs
  • Cllr Vince Maple (Lab) – 28 mins 48 secs
  • Cllr Geoff Juby (Lib Dem) – 6 mins 40 secs
  • Cllr Chris Irvine (UKIP) – 3 mins 38 secs
An interesting 'factoid' is that Cllr Maple said 'Let me be clear' five times during his (scripted) speech, and once more later in the debate,so that seems to have become his personal phrase.

There was little of particular note this time, policies-wise, really just the FUSE Festival, which (it transpired) had been cancelled because the Arts Council, who had previously provided match-funding, had this year withdrawn that funding as this particular festival was considered 'poor value' to be subsidised from the public purse.

That echoes my own feelings, and I have long considered that the only way to be sure of its ongoing viability would be for it to become essentially self-financing and the council become merely a facilitator and promoter through its 'What's On?' print and on-line facilities.

In the end, what seems to have been some unspecified nifty footwork behind the scenes has resulted in the Arts Council re-opening the file and partially relenting. Thus the festival will go ahead after all, but in a slimmed-down form as its funding will, in total, be a little less than half its customary level.

There were other 'political footballs' including the canard that is the mythos regarding Rochester Airport. I have dealt with this topic elsewhere, and might even upload a video where I discuss the topic in moderate depth (it's already recorded, I am just thinking about whether to make it public) so don't need to go into it again now.

This was, however, a handy opportunity for Cllr Jarrett to give a little history lesson about Labour and the Lib Dems and their pursuance of the closure of the airport for a good fifteen years. A number of truths I know only too well came out in that one-minute summary, but I could have added even more, given the chance!

Another valuable history lesson was given by the Leader of the Council in response to Labour's claim that they were 'expressing the views of the people of Medway' whereas the ruling Conservative group didn't reflect public opinion. The leader  did what I have done on this 'blog and elsewhere in the past: point out the always-increasing Conservative presence on the elected Medway Council, from May 2000 (when I was first elected, incidentally) to the present day. The full Medway public obviously differ in viewpoint from the claque and their Labour buddies, who between them counted as well under a twentieth of a percent of that number...

Labour's 'surveys' (to which they made several references) are selective and slanted in how they are done – I know: I've had them here – and they use scaremongering techniques when surveying by door-knocking – several of my 'eyes and ears' have reported their own first-hand experiences of this, including from three former (Labour) mayors. Therefore, do not fall into the trap of thinking these rather convenient outcomes are valid.

Overall, the budget debate – along with the distractions of the Labour and Lib Dem amendments – went on a little too long, but wasn't quite as bad as I had predicted. It was close, though. 

UPDATE 1: For a (very much) Left-dominated view of the proceedings, in tweeted form, check this out.

UPDATE 2: Here is a breakdown of where much of the money is set to go.

UPDATE 3: This is the audio recording of the entire meeting, lasting 3 hours and 41 minutes (though the first 3 mins 20 secs are blank).

Medway Budget Council Meeting 2015 – Predictions

In this dual-election year, I thought it might be worth placing on the public record my expectations in advance of this evening's budget-setting meeting of the full Medway Council. It's not because it will be momentous, but just worth having 'on file', so to speak, so that one can see after the event whether I was anywhere near accurate.

Of course it will follow the pattern of recent years in particular; and beyond that also, to some degree. The ruling group will present their well-structured budget, bemoaning the reductions in Government grant yet again that mean they are having to 'take difficult decisions. They will gloss over or ignore the mistakes that have been made in the last two or three years that have cost a lot of money, much of which would be said by most to have been wasted – though some of it was, in practice, unavoidable, but by no means all.

It is true that the Conservatives have been able to produce what are known as 'balanced budgets' for many years, though often using a number of wheezes in order to achieve that desired outcome each time. They have, to their credit, been more pragmatic than dogmatic, and that approach has consistently produced the proper 'bottom line', if only by the skin of their teeth on a few occasions!

On the official opposition side, the big difference this decade has been that the only Labour councillor here at Medway who has any idea about council finance, the estimable Cllr Glyn Griffiths, was removed from the position that made him their finance spokesman – deputy leader of the Labour group on the Council.

His replacement as deputy leader hasn't a clue (but is very 'mouthy') so their current group leader has taken it upon himself to double-up on the job of finance spokesman, even though he doesn't have all that much more of an idea than their deputy leader.

As I expected would happen once this structural change within Labour's councillors had occurred, their budget meeting speech in response to the budget proposals turned into an almost entirely irrelevant rant about national politics, point-scoring being the sole driver of most of what was said in these more recent years. The only exceptions were when they had a (Union-dictated) agenda to pursue at local level.

This year's such matters will be (predictably) the so-called 'living wage' and reduction in numbers of (Unionised, subscription-paying!) council staff. They will quote (especially on that first matter) what 'so many other councils, of all political persuasions, are already signed up to' – or similar wording, as if that has a direct bearing on what should happen here.

Incomes have gone up in the country in recent years, not by putting increased pressure on employers – which means fewer jobs affordable from the same-sized salaries pot – but through reduction in Income Tax and raised personal allowances. Note that an increased hourly rate for council staff would mean even more job reductions, directly contradicting Labour's other big policy plank this evening(!)

Purely locally, there is also the anticipated loss of the Fuse festival as an issue that Medway Labour have taken up – again, somewhat predictably..

I have sat through these events for years, and although Glynn's interminable rambling rants were tedious and a lot of what he said was irrelevant, at least some of it was applicable and he did inject some (usually fairly dry) humour into his budget speeches. All that mitigation has now gone, and the whole thing is orchestrated.

Each year a good-sized claque occupies the public gallery, and one can hear in the way Cllr Maple (the Labour group leader these days) uses tone of voice and significant pauses to try to get this (somewhat dim, it has to be said) group to cheer and appluad at the 'right' moments. They have been known to miss their cues several times, and it is a picture to watch Cllr Maple try to signal to them, in order to get the reaction he wanted the journalists in attendance to notice and report on.

Yes, it's all 'manufactured' – and will be more intense this year, as it is both a General Election year and also coincides with the Council's all-out local elections for the 55 seats on Medway Council.

Will the local media fall for it? Are they merely complicit and will go along with it anyway, even knowing the extent of the fakery and deceptions, the slants, selective statistics and the rest of it?

We shall know only when we read what they report after tonight's meeting. I shall be there, though, and I'll know exactly what was really going on!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Keeping Things In Proportion

That old chestnut about our elected positions not being 'representative' has come up yet again in a discussion elsewhere. It is a nonsense: we elect someone to speak and vote for us, on behalf of our area, whether it be a parish, council ward, parliamentary constituency or whatever.

No-one can do that specific job unless voted for only by those in that 'patch', usually as residents though I know variations have been devised for rapid-turnover places such as University towns.

The usual complaint is (conveniently) regarding council elections, where a party that gained no seats despite fielding several candidates still got more votes than another party, who perhaps had fewer candidates (each of whom typically did better than the first party) or won a seat as a subsequent by-election – which happened in my home area just a few months ago.

As far as I am concerned, it is the will of the people to elect their own area's representative, not for any system of wangling the results to allow someone with lesser voting support than the victor to be awarded the seat. That is always a form of electoral corruption. If an outside-chance party (for want of a better name) is really serious about getting a foothold onto the local council, then they'd stand just one candidate and throw all their resources at securing that one seat. One step at a time, walking before trying to run...

This is not to say that I don't appreciate the arguments about having a more proportional system – parliamentary constituency level, where the 'patch' is too big to be represented effectively by someone who spends most if not all of the working week away in London, there is scope for a radically different approach.

Hence the scheme I devised a few years ago that separated legislative and constituency representation functions, each with the most appropriate electoral system for that aspect. Long-term readers of this 'blog will probably remember this: 300 Legislators (full time) elected under a list system where the voter ticks a party box and all the votes are aggregated nationwide, with seats allocated as close as possible to the direct proportions of votes.

Additionally, there would be 600 (part time) Constituency Representatives to cover what back then had been planned – a reduction from 650 to 600 constituencies, which was scuppered by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government going back on their pledge to support that initiative. These would be elected on the current 'first past the post' system, which is obviously the right approach in this case.

The idea is that the Legislators can concentrate on that job, without have any locality issues possibly distorting their view, yet they can have formal representations from any part of the country, affording a broader perspective.

As one can see, the overall cost would be much the same as now – probably less in practice, if one thinks about such matters as travelling expenses. There are lots of details that I worked out when I first devised this scheme, and a few that it wasn't right for me to propose and which needed to be thrashed out by the parliamentary and electoral authorities – but it's workable, and should satify just about everyone, at least in theory!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Suddenly Appearing

One of those things that the more alert will spot happening in our society, whether within the traditional aspects of life of the more modern on-line media, is the sudden appearance of something that is going to be banned, or in some cases is banned with immediate effect.

Today's example comes from Blogger, which is the platform upon which this 'blog is hosted, and which is now popping up the message that, as from a date about four weeks from now, 'explicit sexual content will not be allowed'. Wow! This is really going to hit me hard – or not...

Why now? If this was an issue (and, for all I know, as a non-expert in this whole field, perhaps it was) why has it taken until now to do anything about it? What has so suddenly changed?

This is the question we must always ask ourselves when any such restrictive imposition appears apparently out of nowhere. There are plenty of ready excuses (the most popular being that we are now in a 'more enlightened' era) but these always turn out to be nonsense, as anyone who has delved a little will already have discovered.

The reality is that this sort of thing has been going on for years, and is continuing today. The Blogger business is almost certainly of no real significance in and of itself. Its sole value is to remind us, via a concrete example, of the generic issue of 'sudden imposition', to coin a phrase.

Ever since the Antichrist came into the world, something like fifteen years or so ago (at my best estimate), this and many other dictatorial impositions and restrictions have appeared.

I have no interest in 'explicit sexual content' – indeed, as one who has had a strong case of HSDD all my life I am revolted by the whole subject, I am a rare independent voice in this arena – but I am alert to these moves and what probably ultimately lies behind them, regardless of whatever is pushed as the 'reason' in the public realm.

The bottom line remains: if today's upcoming ban is an issue now, why wasn't it before? Years before, in fact...

Monday, 23 February 2015

Smoke Me A Kipper

"Smoke me a kipper – I'll be back for breakfast!"
So said 'Ace' Rimmer in the comedy sci-fi programme Red Dwarf, just before setting off on a dangerous mission.

In the British political world, our own 'Kippers (a colloquial term for UKIP members and activists) have just been on their most dangerous mission yet: being featured in a television documentary. After last week's drama that purported to show how UKIP's first hundred days of running the country would go (itself a delusion, as it is extremely unlikely that they'll ever do so) and that just about everyone said was nonsense, this effort did at least hold out the prospect of being authentic, if a little dated as it was recorded a good two months ago.

Okay, the editing was bound to emphasize the programme-makers' intended image of the party, and cut out a lot of material that didn't do so, and must therefore not be taken simply at face value. If one watches such production with unblinkered awareness, then one shouldn't be too easily manipulated.

However, the material itself is of course genuine enough, and it should be easy to deduce whether any of it was presented out of context or edited in a way that tells a story that wasn't the one on the day it was recorded. I didn't watch either of these two programmes myself, preferring to follow Twitter comments from various (and very varied) sources. I might catch them later, though not necessarily.

The drama received just about universal panning, whereas this evening's documentary wasn't quite so broad, and concentrated primarily on the apparent streak of racism that was evident in at least a few party members and seemed to go completely unopposed by any of those members who heard those remarks. The Twitter reporting of all this was mostly from Lefties, but also from a few on the right. Mind you, I didn't get the feeling that many right-wingers were watching this, or if they were then they weren't tweeting about it this time.

This in The Guardian gives a fuller picture, and is interesting to read from the other side, so to speak.

The general conclusion seems to have been that UKIP did themselves no favours by allowing this programme to be made and broadcast, especially as they didn't exercise their right of reply, which I know was offered. One commenter put it as UKIP having done 'a hatchet job on themselves' – which, though technically inaccurate, probably conveys the flavour as well as anything. Whether or not it will significantly impact their electoral results this coming May is a different matter, though.

Meanwhile, I consider that UKIP has done the Conservative Party an actual favour, by (in effect) siphoning-off the more 'dodgy' members who have jumped ship to UKIP. Some of these were no doubt obvious cases, but even around my way there have been a few that I didn't know held views they have since expressed, or their raw attitude that has now come to light. At least two have turned out to be really nasty – very much like typical Labour folk in that respect.

They have now gone from the Conservative Party and their true natures revealed. This I consider to be a good outcome, and potential time bombs – which could have caused difficulties for the party in due course – can no longer do any more than superficial harm. Here, their voting public is mixed in opinion, but I notice a slow but definite trend away from the defectors, and this is likely to be a one-way street.

Thus their time in public office or (for those not currently elected) in even vaguely serious contention is probably severely time-limited, which is as it should be. We should, as a nation and especially in places like Medway, soon be back on track.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Good Candidate

To be 'a good candidate' for a political election is a complex subject, with varying interpretations according to one's point of view (literally) and is also different for the various levels of governance.

Today I am looking at just one type of candidature, the one I know best: to stand for election to the local council. Believe me, this one is complex enough! what does one need to be a selected candidate, quite apart from winning the seat? The latter part of that is complex in itself, as it could be a safe seat for one's own party, a safe seat for a different (incumbent) party, or at any point in between right down to being a very finely balanced marginal.

Also, is one a brand new candidate with no experience, a re-applying candidate in the same seat, or someone who has stood in at least one other seat previously – either on the same council or elsewhere in the country.

Most candidate hopefuls will put themselves up for consideration within a political party structure, and it will normally fall to the parliamentary constituency association for that party to decide on council candidates for the wards that sit within that constituency.

They will be looking for someone who not only echoes and would represent their values and opinions, but who'd also campaign vigorously and regularly. Thus they are, in a very real sense, more party-driven than anything else. They'd make the point that they are all putting in their time, effort and money to support the party, and (with some justification) expect their candidate to do at least as much as any of the Association's members was doing – and had probably been doing for years.

Thus there is the very real danger of only party-dominated people getting selected to stand as candidates – and indeed we see this happening within all major (and most if not all minor) parties; and this has been at least a decades-long characteristic of candidate selection.

We the voters are unlikely to be offered any community-led candidates unless they are Independents – and those just do not have the party machinery behind them to campaign sufficiently to achieve much more than a few handfuls of votes, so there are rarely any non-party councillors elected as such. Usually only those who have left their party after having been elected with the aid of a party machine can be found on an elected council, or occasionally those who re-stood as Independent incumbents after having been first elected as a party member.

Here in Medway, that last category have primarily needed their old party not to stand its own candidates against them, and when they eventually did it meant the end of those Independents' political careers.

Therefore, to be a good councillor, as distinct from being merely a good party politician, requires someone truly exceptional: a person who will satisfy the local party's expectations, will earn their support, but will also do good work on the 'patch' both before polling day and (hopefully) after being elected. There are some overlapping demands, so it is possible to be both provided one is prepared to treat it as a serious occupation, not a casual spare-time business paying only perfunctory attention to issues in one's ward.

When I moved to this area some eighteen years ago, it has been traditionally a fairly solid (and obviously so) area for one political party, council-wise. Several years before, because it had been taken for granted by the then incumbent councillors of that party, they had lost both their seats to another party – and that situation lasted for three full council terms (nine years).

It took not only new faces and a strong local issue to first take back the seats – with a huge swing, it has to be said – but ongoing highly-dedicated work in the ward thereafter to hold those seats very strongly, long after that one big issue had faded from most of the public's broad awareness.

In this specific case, which I know so well, the ward doubled in size just three years later, growing from a two-councillor to a three-member patch, and from two to four polling districts. Lots of new areas were 'bolted on', like a Sinclair Spectrum with all the hardware add-ons hanging off its various sides, bringing a wider variety of new matters than we had encountered before.

There was no difficulty in the two of us being re-selected as candidates for that second (for us) election, as our track record on both sides of the equation – party work and ward work (plus, of course, what we were required to do on committees and outside bodies, though these carry little weight in candidate selection terms) – was very strong, though I'm sure we weren't the best-ever.

The real dividing line came the following selection time, when four of us vied for the three seats, including the three incumbents and one other who had made her name in another ward (that no longer existed by then) and within the party away from the council. It was at this point that those who were to vote in three of us, and reject the other, were put into a position where they had to be more analytical of our individual performances, not just as a group of three lumped together.

Thus it was that we came out as two pairs – the 'newcomer' and myself as high scorers, and the other two ward incumbents as almost an identically scoring lower pairing. In the event, a poor performance by the better of that latter pair, and some serious political nous by the other, resulted in the less good one winning that third place – but it was close and could, in theory, have gone either way.

The lesson from all of this is that it isn't just about winning a candidature, or even winning the seat at the subsequent election: that is just the start of the work, not an opportunity to sit back, relax and take the money(such as it is). It's an ongoing challenge and requires actual work, not mere posturing (and I have witnessed enough of that in my time) and an assumption of automatic re-selection every few years.

Some seem to think that clever speaking and manipulation of others will see them through – and it often appears to work, at least for a while. One day, though, a time of reckoning will be at hand; and it will be one's entire record that could be brought into the equation when it comes to the crunch time.

Beyond all of this are often factions within party associations (and some are famous for this) and typically hidden agendas, and one just cannot do anything about those. This can mean that even the best of candidature applicants can lose out and poorer-quality candidates be selected – and again I have personally witnessed/experienced this.

Therefore, as long as one has consistently shown one's own qualities, but ends up rejected and then watches a poor job being done in the ward (and perhaps also within the party), there is no need to be resentful. One might wish to occasionally remind those who made that choice, and chide them for their obvious foolishness in the hope that they'd learn the lesson and do better next time – as I recently did with someone, for example.

I doubt that candidate selection will ever be all that good, as the conflicting interests and attitudes of a potentially good councillor relative to someone whom the party will more likely go for is ultimately irreconcilable. Whatever party officials and members claim, they can never be relied upon to get it right every time.

The best one can do is to satisfy both sides of that equation, establish a personal track record in both respects (party and community) – and also not to ruffle any feathers within the party, especially locally.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Establishing a New Knorm

Just for fun, looking back to the Rochester & Strood by-election just a few months ago, here's the Official Monster Raving Loony candidate's 'manicfesto' in bite-size chunks, from Hairy Knorm himself.

It should be noted that he came sixth out of a field of no fewer than thirteen candidates – so was in the upper half – which shows that many people believe that voting Loony makes more sense than opting for the Patriotic Socialist Party, Britain First, or even a fair number of Independents...

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Future Is Nearly Here

On the local political front, at council level here in Medway, I have noticed during recent conversations with a fair number of my sources that their assessment of how things look to be going turn out to be broadly in line with what I predicted, four years ago, would happen at this time if the wrong decisions were made back then.

This is good, because it means that others have worked out for themselves what is now happening, at least to some extent. A few of them were at the ward candidate selection meeting in 2010 where I stated a couple of these (what were then just) predictions, but several were not; and my other predictions I kept to myself at that time, as it wasn't the purpose of that event. I was just putting down a marker, for the future, and that future is now virtually here.

I am not going to disclose any of that material until after polling day – but enough people on the inside now know sufficient of it to be able to recognise its accuracy (or otherwise!) when the new Medway Council is elected, three months from today. Okay, strictly speaking the results won't be out until the following morning, but the election itself will be on the 7th and that is when people will decide, or earlier if they have a postal vote.

These recent conversations with my various sources have also allowed me to sow further seeds in their minds, so that messages have been conveyed and they will realise all too soon that there will be lessons to learn within the local party, both in the constituency associations and within the council group.

This will now have to be the hard way, as I was not heeded four years ago and (as some party members have privately admitted to me) their collective weakness as a group on the Council has now allowed their main opponents to profit substantially in the last couple of years in particular, and this will inevitably harm the ruling group significantly this coming May.

My own absence from the Council has, exactly as I predicted, also emboldened the main opposition members, as there is no longer any truly effective counter to their fabrications and manipulations – nothing more substantial than a battle of words, in fact: one person's word against another's – and their change of group leader has also tipped things their way. Again, this is something I (probably alone) foresaw a few years back, as that party group leader is well aware and could confirm if asked.

Harmful stories have been appearing in the local media that I'd have killed off before they could have been published, but that was possible only by my speaking at the Council or, in a few cases, a committee meeting at which the attempt was being made, with the concrete proof in front of me, on my trusty portable computer. A retraction a week later is no good: the damage will already have been done by then and will not be reversed. It has to be dealt with at the time it is brought up at the meeting, in a way that immediately makes it impossible for the reporter to use.

I did this five times at Council during my time there, more than all other group members were able to do between the lot of them in the same period. This has not changed since my departure.

Overall, it is going exactly as I foresaw would be the case if I were not back on the Council for this one crucial term (I'd not have been needed so much after this); and I still to this day have no reason to believe that my alternative and markedly different outcome – with me back on the Council from 2011 to 2015 – was any less accurate.

The deviation from that path is quite marked, and has become sufficiently obvious that, as I mentioned at the start of this post, others have independently reached the same conclusion that I had foreseen some four years ago. As I never tire of saying, the clues are all 'out there' for anyone to find and evaluate with a modicum of intelligence. I am not particularly clever, as is now obvious(!)

In fact, it is now a much stronger forecast than it was back then, simply because the two former Lib Dem members who were elected as Independents in 2011 subsequently joined Labour. The numbers are now near-enough rock solid: that variable (a three-way marginal ward) has thus been taken out of the equation.

We in Medway are in for an 'interesting' time ahead...