Wisbech Rock Festival 2015

Wisbech Rock Festival 2015

… and we’re done for another year!

As usual, I feel like I could sleep for a thousand years.  But the Rock Festival grew again – both in terms of scope of the show and in attendance.  We think that at the high point, in both stage areas, we may have had between 1500 and 2000 people in attendance.  We are also aware that through the eight hour set a very great many people arrived, left and switched around.  So full attendance is hard to guess, but we believe there were between 3000 and 4000 people at the Rock Festival throughout the day.

Everybody seemed to have an amazing time.  It helped that the weather was so great and the bands so entertaining, but the people of Wisbech were ready to Rock and Roll and that’s what they did.

Despite the large numbers and frenetic activity, the event was managed smoothly and there was no significant problems or trouble.  Even though, for the first time, we had a beer tent on site.

Anyway, very tired.  Amazing work from David Oliver, Jess Oliver, Sam Hoy, Tom Read and all the many people involved.  Great to see so many Councillors there this year.  I have promised I wont mention those that didn’t turn up and so I shall not (because nobody is surprised.)

Rock on 2016.

Democracy Is Not A Toy

Democracy Is Not A Toy

It’s been a real wheeze for some Conservatives to briefly pay £3.00, join the Labour party, and vote for Jeremy Corbyn to become the new Labour leader.  Hilarious, I am sure.  You see, conventional wisdom is that Jeremy Corbyn is “unelectable” and that if he becomes leader of the Labour party that will mean political wilderness for them for many years to come.

This is a painfully stupid idea.

In the first instance, playing games with democracy is never a good idea.  Democracy is not a toy.  It is the method by which we elect the leaders of nations.  The people who can decide what activities will result in being sent to prison, how much money is taken from your wages before you even see it, when to go to war and when not to.  Fooling around with it for your amusement, or for cynical reasons, will never end well.

Worse still, Jeremy Corbyn is an extremely dangerous man.  He is dangerous because of a combination of factors.  He is clearly passionate, charismatic and strong.  He is a man who believes, in every sense of the word, in the politics he preaches.  He’s not some moulded media puppet, scared of his own shadow and terrified to say something wrong.  He says it and be damned, and when he says it you can tell he means it.  But wait, that’s a good thing, right?  That’s what everybody says they want politicians to be like.  Well yes, but this is coupled with an ideology that is decades out of date and insidiously destructive.

Jeremy Corbyn is an old-school Socialist.  In fact, he’s probably more than that, but we’ll see the extremes more clearly if he wins the battle and is safe in his new position.  Like all Old School Socialists I have ever heard he espouses policies of high tax and statist controls, suggesting that they can make everybody equal and solve all the woes of the world.  In truth, were he ever given the position to enact those policies we would see prosperity disappear, national debt skyrocket, personal responsibility evaporate, businesses flee, poverty and inequality grow and misery ensue.  Worse than that, each time their policies fail, Old School Socialists never learn from them.  Instead, they “double down” and try and fix one bad policy with a worse one.

This man should not be a figure of “fun” for anybody.  This man is terrifying.  You may laugh now at getting an “unelectable leader” into the frontline position in the Labour Party.  But you won’t laugh in 2020 if he is elected as Prime Minister.  There will be no laughing then for five long years while he sets about dismantling our traditions, smiling for mugshots with our enemies, taxing our businesses and wealth-creators out of the country and plunging us back into the Seventies, or worse.

You underestimate the British people if you think Jeremy Corbyn could never win a national election for Labour.  We have short memories and big hearts.  Despite people who claim they “hate all politicians” and have no interest in politics, we are suckers for a National Saint preaching that poverty, disability and inequality can be eradicated if only the top rate of tax was a bit more, or banks were nationalised, or unions were given control of companies, or price controls were imposed on whatever the cause of the day was.  Because he believes what he is saying, it lends his words a gravity they do not deserve.  He could win here, and if he did, we would be in deep trouble.

On Being Chained To A Tree

On Being Chained To A Tree

The latest local issue to have lit up Facebook is a Wisbech Standard exclusive, that the Town Council may intend to dig up some trees.  I know, it’s not the stuff of a Daily Mail headline, but it has nevertheless got some people into a royal rage.

On the thread, John Elworthy, who lit the fuse in the first place, asks why “other Councillors” haven’t commented.  He means Samantha Hoy and I, of course, since we are the only ones who frequent that particular site.  I don’t mind though, because the whole thing lets me blog about the two issues that really bug the hell out of me.  In fact, these issues are framed beautifully by the tree story.

One issue I have said over and over again, to my colleagues, on this blog and to anybody who will listen is that all of our local Councils suffer from the same core problem.  That core problem is communication.  Regular readers will have heard me mention it in recent blog posts.  Over and over and over again we find ourselves amidst a media, or a social media, storm.   When this happens the opposition clap their hands with glee and immediately start concocting some load of old guff to make best use of the chaos.  Petitions, dramatic photo shoots, declarations of “incompetence” and “corruption” and all the other “go to” buzzwords to put a hate on the local Council.  And it is so damn easy to avoid.  That’s what irritates me.

Communication fails at every level.  Officers don’t properly brief Councillors.  Lead Members don’t properly brief their group and the wider Council.  Cabinet don’t properly talk to backbenchers*.  People get into positions of special responsibility and seem to immediately lose any knowledge of when and how to communicate what they are doing.  So when stories come out, it is quite often in some colourful piece in the local newspaper, which immediately gets shared around two dozen social media groups.  Before you know it everybody has an opinion, people begin spouting “facts” that have no bearing on reality, other people take those facts and have an opinion on them.  And so on, like some twisted Council version of Chinese Whispers.

Social Media is the reason for all of this.  The world has moved on, people communicate instantly, ideas are shared, stories are told, actions and reactions reverberate outwards in every direction.  Meanwhile our local Councils, and many Councillors, are still sitting by their old telephone and thinking “well, it’s not ringing, so everything must be fine.”  All of our Councils, and most of our Governmental institutions around the country, are hopelessly out of date.  By the time some of them have learnt to Tweet, Twitter will be in the history books and we’ll be Whooping, or Snarking, or whatever the new thing is.  Yes, of course, many people don’t use Twitter, Facebook and the like.  But a solid thirty or forty percent do and that’s growing every day – and even the ones who don’t will often be talking to somebody who does.

This is a big problem for local Councils and the tree issue is a good example.  Now I am not on the Markets Committee who have authority over this stuff and I don’t know the full scope of the plans for the Market, but Cllr David Oliver is a clever guy who often has good ideas and it may well be that the trees have to come down due to structural damage, or because they are sickly.  But at the moment the story reads: “Evil Council chopping trees to make concrete wasteland.”  That’s probably abject nonsense, but if nobody is responding to questions being asked then the story grows and grows out of all connection to reality.  Before you know it, you have what we have today, which is what should have been a positive story about the Town Council doing exactly what people always ask for and improving the Market Place into people threatening to chain themselves to trees.  All because of a complete lack of proper communication.

Which brings me on to the second thing that irritates me, and the reason I have recently taken some time out of Facebook.  You see, I am sick to the back teeth of being the visible face of every ill-thought, poorly judged or just badly communicated story.  The only Wisbech Councillors you regularly see on Facebook are Samantha Hoy and I.  So every time anything happens, regardless of whether I am anything to do with it, often even if I don’t support it, I am the person who gets all the questions, the name-calling and the abuse.  I don’t mind a bit of abuse, but what I resent is being the punchball for other people’s failure to communicate.

The reason for this is that so many Councillors think Social Media doesn’t matter.  They stay off of it, usually saying they “don’t understand it” or “aren’t interested.”  I think they wish it did not exist.  That’s all very well, but wishing something doesn’t exist does not stop it from doing so.  It is there, people are on it, if you don’t come up with some way to address that then you will always be playing “catch up” on every issue, every story, even media fanfare.  Which doesn’t work, because by the time you’ve gotten involved, most people have already made up their minds and moved on.  This is what happened with Estover, with the Hudson name change, with many other issues.  But we never seem to learn.

So I was asked what I thought about the possible plan to cut down the trees as part of the market place redesign.  I don’t know, I haven’t seen all the details.  The idea to streamline the market for future events isn’t terrible.  I love the idea of a bandstand or performing area in the middle and in order to do that some stuff probably does need to go.  Sometimes, if trees are growing and doing damage to structures around them they do need to be cut down.  But to be completely honest, I’ve not been involved.  This is Cllr David Oliver’s baby, which has not yet come to full Council.  So David Oliver should be the one on Facebook and elsewhere answering questions about it.

If there are no answers forthcoming, or if the answers aren’t good ones, then I will ask my Medworth constituents what they think.  And if what they think is that we shouldn’t cut those trees down then maybe I’ll be right there alongside Pam “Greywitch” Thompson chained to a tree.  Which will be a new experience, if nothing else.


*And before anybody says: “Oh what you need is the Committee System” – no it is not.  The Committee System is equally susceptible to poor communication, as can be seen by the broken authority that was Cambridgeshire County Council.  The Committee System would take all of this and add more bad things to the mixing pot. What is needed is for people to properly consult and communicate, in advance of taking decisions that will bug the hell out of everybody involved.  And for them to be sufficiently foresighted to recognise what those issues are.

Statistics – First Half Of 2015

Statistics – First Half Of 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the blog statistics.  I know, I know, numbers are vanity, results are sanity. :)

But it’s good to see that reader numbers are holding up well.  The first half of the year sees nearly a quarter of a million hits, which is not as high as the glory days on County Council, but is still a pretty significant number.  I don’t know how these views stack up against other Cambridgeshire political blogs and sites, but I think it still puts my little old site in the top group.

I’m pleased about that for three reasons.  The main one is that it means some people – thank you, you crazy, crazy people – like reading what I write, so it doesn’t seem quite so much like talking into a vacuum.  The second reason is that it means people have opportunities outside the mainstream media to hear arguments and views that might otherwise be ignored or spun away.  Finally, I like it because it means that local issues and local politics has a place, that some of you are interested enough to bother visiting.  I see that as a positive sign.  Apathy is destructive.  Engagement is constructive.  Buzz words aside, you guys rock!


The most popular blog posts so far this year were:
“Times Like These”: http://www.stevetierney.org/2015/05/15/
“Crying Wolf”: http://www.stevetierney.org/crying-wolf/
and “Bile”: http://www.stevetierney.org/bile/

One quarter of a million individual people visited this site in the first half of this year.  Some of those will be spiders and crawlers and other net traffic, as ever.  But this is still a significant number and I’d like to thank each and every reader for taking the time to pop by.  See you again soon, I hope.

Birds Of A Feather

Birds Of A Feather

I often hear local opposition Councillors bemoaning the way the local Conservative group have “ganged up” on them, or sprung to one another’s defence.  They always try to peddle this like some diabolical conspiracy, rather than what it actually is.

Put simply, the reason people are in the same political party is because we broadly share a similar group of political views.  We aren’t the same though – even within the Conservatives there is a wide range of opinion.   We also tend to have worked together for years and so many of us become friends.  When you get good friends, who share political views, it shouldn’t really surprise you if they are ranged on the same side of an argument.

What makes their objections more mystifying is that the opposition do exactly the same.  Just look at the way local UKIP roll up to support whatever the latest Bucknor wheeze is on regular occasions.  Given that the Bucknors’ politics are way over to the Left on most issues, and UKIPs policies sit in a different part of the political spectrum altogether, this isn’t an obvious partnership.  But due to the history of local politics, and the fact that local ‘Kippers are not really very “traditional UKIP” in their views, its pretty common.  In the same way, Virginia Bucknor has sprung to Paul Clapp’s defence this weekend as people began pointing out the various falsehoods in his ridiculous letter to the paper this week.  This is what she says:-

In some Tory 2015 Election leaflets they wrote about tackling speeding vehicles. I’m guessing this may have been what Cllr Paul Clapp was referring to. He may also have been referring to the previous Tory election promises made about 20 mph.

The Waterless Tory leaflet had read: “We will not let …. the petition for the 20 mph speed limit rest”. (There had been a huge petition which the Tory Cllrs for Waterlees had been involved with).

Also the request to introduce 20 mph was raised at every one of our street surgeries so, like the 2 other town councillors for Waterlees who were Tories, we were trying to do what residents were asking.

Sadly though, Virginia’s defence of Paul Clapp is as misleading as the original diatribe.  She suggests that the fact that we have said we want to combat speeding in recent literature is the reason Paul is claiming we support her 20 MPH zones – despite this making no sense whatsoever.  I am sure that virtually every Councillor wants to stop people driving dangerously and thereby keep local folk safe.  What we disagree on is how to go about that.  So us saying we’d like to work to slow people down certainly does not mean we will support her idea, nor have we ever said it did.  We don’t think 20 MPH blanket zones will do what they claim in Wisbech, we think they would be a waste of time and money and we think that it is County Councils job to handle highways issues, not that of Wisbech Town Council.  Her attempt to conflate the two is pretty desperate.

Virginia Bucknor spends some time talking about her “street surgeries.”  It’s pretty hard to verify the truth of this since we have no records of the Street Surgeries, nor of what was said or to whom.  Nor even if it was said by different people, or the same person over and again.  (Which might seem a little distrustful,but see the following paragraph for an example of how words can be used to mislead.)  It’s funny that despite the Bucknors continually claiming to have “mass support”, there’s really no evidence that this is the case.  Even Labour recognised this.  In their election literature this year they said they backed the 20 MPH zones but only if a local referendum proved public support.  Good position that, I commend them on it.  What if another Councillor claimed that they had done street surgeries in Waterlees and had been given the opposite steer from local people?  They haven’t, but the point is good.  If this is strongly supported, let’s have a local referendum and let’s ask local people who vote “yes” to chip in a pound each to make it happen.  In short order the Bucknors would have proof of the support *and* all the money they need, if they were right.

She then goes on to refer to election literature and Councillors in Waterlees who supported her policy.  She does this cleverly, almost immediately after talking about this year’s election literature, so that the reader will link the two.  But this is spin.  In fact, the literature she is referring to is from four years ago and a completely different set of Waterlees candidates, none of whom are still Councillors and none of whom stood for election this year.  So hardly relevant to the current debate or Paul Clapp’s bizarre letter.  There was no mention of support for 20 MPH in any of this year’s Conservative literature, and I would know since I was campaign manager for most of the town’s seats and was involved in the design of most of the literature, alongside the candidates.

I suppose, when perhaps you only win your seat because another party stands aside to give you a free run, you probably feel some obligation to stick up for them.  Particularly if they’ve lost a huge number of their activists over the issue, because those were winnable seats dammit and winnable seats are rare these days.  But that’s just guessing.  What would I know about it?

I Don’t Think Paul Clapp Is An Idiot

I Don’t Think Paul Clapp Is An Idiot

I was asked by somebody today: “Is Paul Clapp an idiot?”  I shook my head, bemused by the very idea that Paul Clapp could possibly be an idiot.  There are a lot of things I will tolerate, but having people take random shots at other Councillors isn’t one of them.  Particularly if those shots are not based on any sort of actual truth.  Truth these days is in short enough supply.

The question was triggered, I believe, by this letter from Paul Clapp in this week’s newspaper:

Last year I was at a Wisbech Town Council meeting to support a proposal put forward by Councillor Virginia Bucknor for a 20mph speed limit in Waterlees Village.

It was laughed out of the town council meeting by the Conservatives. Councillor Samantha Hoy stated that it was unenforceable, this was backed up by Councillor Steve Tierney.

Nearly a year later it is rolled out again by the Conservatives – only this time it’s a good idea.

Surely if it was unenforceable last year it must be unenforceable this year.

Are we going to have the joy of speed bumps down every road in and around Wisbech?

I cannot understand why the Conservatives threw out Cllr Bucknor’s proposal, even though it had the full support from the residents of Waterlees, but now wheel out the same proposal as their own idea.



County councillor, Wisbech North

Now just looking over that letter it is clear that quite a lot of things are wrong with it.  Let’s go through them.  It says the proposal was “laughed out of Town Council.”  An odd description for what was, probably, the single longest and most detailed debate I’ve ever been involved in at Town Council.  One which grew quite heated – there was certainly no “laughing.”  What actually happened is that there was a long protracted debate where people took a number of different positions over both the policy idea itself, and also the suggestion that this County Council issue should be either paid for by Town Council, or funded through a Minor Highways bid instead of the other (better, IMO) application of the day in Walsoken.  The vote went against the Bucknors and UKIP and, as usual, some of them appear to still be sulking about it.  Maybe, next time, prepare a better case?

Quite a lot of people felt that enforcement of a blanket 20 MPH zone was problematic – and so while it’s true that Cllr Hoy and I agreed to some extent on that, so did most other Councillors.  That wasn’t the reason it was turned down, though.  There were a number of reasons it was turned down, but high on the list was the fact that it is a County Council function and that many of us felt that if County Council thought it was a good idea they could get on and do it without asking Town Council for money.  Guess who the County Councillor for Waterlees is?  Cllr Paul Clapp.  So, the Councillor whose job covers highways, came to Town Council to ask us to do some Highways work for him, or pay for it.  Yes, dear reader, it is yet another example of ‘Kipper Councillors having no clue what their responsibilities are, it seems.

Then he says it is “rolled out by the Conservatives nearly a year later.”  I have no clue what on Earth he is on about.  We Wisbech Town Council Conservatives are not rolling out any 20 MPH plans.  Nothing like that has been considered, discussed or proposed by us.  So he has either plucked it from his imagination, or he is talking about some other Conservative group elsewhere.  I have no idea which it is and I don’t really care.  But next time Paul Clapp writes a letter calling me a “hypocrite”, he wants to have his facts straight.  Because, frankly, I’ve had enough of it.

I was struck by the odd comment about “the joy of speed bumps down every road.”  So on the one hand he says he pushed the idea of 20 MPH blanket zones last year, on the other hand he is complaining about the potential consequences of his own idea?  Typical muddled ‘Kipper thinking.

So just to put it straight.  Neither I, nor Samantha Hoy, nor any other Conservative Town Councillor I am aware of is suggesting the Bucknor’s 20MPH zones idea this year.  To the best of my knowledge we all still feel exactly the way we felt about it last year (please see previous blog posts.)  Perhaps this is like the “hospital closure” and the “community house closure”.  A thing to talk up, so that when it doesn’t happen you can claim you “stopped it?”  I have no idea.  I’m bufuddled by it all.  Perhaps it’s just the heat?


Now I Get It

Now I Get It

You know when you are really puzzled by a turn of events and then suddenly you get a new piece of information and you’re like: “Oh, now I get it?” Well, I had one of those moments tonight thanks to the mysterious Twitter person “The Fen Watchman” who pointed out the following statement from a meeting of March Town Council earlier in the year:

156 Fenland District Council Update

Since Councillor Owen was not in attendance, no update was obviously provided by him.
However, the Leader of FDC, Councillor John Clark, provided the following information:
a) With the increasing District budget pressures and limited resources, it is likely that the cost implications will be felt by all Town and Parish Councils. Services currently provided free-of-charge are likely to become chargeable or cease altogether.
b) After May 2015, it is possible that any future Leader may have to give consideration to the dissolution of Fenland District Council, with the four market towns coming under the auspices of various surrounding authorities.

The first part seems to be an early reference to things like the Free/Paid Parking debate.  But it is the second part which caught my eye.  So, the Leader of Fenland District Council, feels that consideration will need to be given to closing Fenland District Council entirely.  And was happy to make this statement publicly in a Town Council meeting while being minuted?

I’m puzzled that the Leader of FDC would feel that such a turn of events would be the Leader’s decision to make.  It wouldn’t.  It would be the job of the leading party’s group and then of the whole Council.  I’m also uncertain why a statement like this would be made without consultation with the wider group or Council.  Maybe it was an error in communication?  I can only hope.  Either way, I think it would take a quite extraordinary Leader to be able to convince his entire group to vote for their own dissolution.  Which is a good thing, since breaking up Fenland District Council would be a poor result for our Market Towns and Fenland as a whole.