The Community House (Waterlees)

The Community House (Waterlees)

I have a confession – I’ve never visited the Community House. I don’t know how or why, but even when I was a County Councillor I never managed to get to it, though I often meant to.

But my friend and colleague Cllr David Wheeler has always proudly told me what an excellent facility it is and how much good work it does – and that’s good enough for me. David Wheeler knows his stuff and he knows Waterlees like few others. If he says it’s awesome, you can take that to the bank, in my opinion.

Also, having shared events and chatted with staff there a few times I’ve always been impressed by their clear dedication and passion for their job.

Now it seems to be a little early to be tolling the bell for the Community House. Cabinet Members seem pretty clear on the fact that this is a consultation only, and you have to have consultations about expenditure at Councils. We must surely expect our Councils to regularly review ALL their spending to see if the way they are using taxpayer’s money is the best use of the funds?

Normally, when something is in consulation, people express their views and Councillors have a heated debate and at some point a conclusion is reached. Rarely do you see anything in the local papers until there is an actual decision one way or another. Sure, let’s be aware of the consultation so that we can – you know – be consulted. But the time to get angry is after a decision we don’t agree with, not before evidence has been gathered and arguments aired.

Instead we’ve got people saying “this wasn’t in the Wisbech2020 meeting” – well of course it wasn’t. Wisbech2020 isn’t a platform for everything Councils may or may not do for the next decade. Its an aspirational set of plans and goals, to allow for cooperation and teamwork between councils, agencies, groups and local people. It didn’t include every consultation the Councils will ever do or it’d have needed to be sixty volumes long.

My feeling about it is that enough of my trusted colleagues speak well of the Community House that I am convinced of its value. But I have to admit I have no idea – presently – what it costs. Until we have all the information, we can’t really know whether money is being used in the best way it can. And that’s what is missing from this heated, vitriolic (and oddly convenient) debate.

It may well be that FDC wont close the Community House because, after the consulation, they’ll take the view that its well worth the cost. No doubt those making the big noise now would then say “See, we saved it!” when they had naff all to do with it. But if not – what would our options be?

Those currently trying to make a media storm about the building focus only on one of the options – force the District Council to change their minds. Sure, if they make a bad decision then I’d support that and will join the voices trying to explain they’ve made a mistake.

But there are other options, depending on what the cost of the place is. We could rescue it by forming a community group and fundraising. We could approach County Council, or Town Council, and ask if they’d be willing to help rescue it. We could approach local businesses and groups and ask for their support.

But there is something different about these latter options, in the worst case scenario that FDC refuse to see the light. These latter options all require some work. Some effort. Some commitment. Rather than just headlines and newspaper quotes. Which is why, if you asked about these other options, you’d probably see tumbleweeds blow across the road.

First Two Campaign Days

First Two Campaign Days

I’ve had a couple of really nice days starting the Medworth campaign.  The weather has been lovely and I’ve enjoyed talking to people on the doorstep.  It’s particularly refreshing to be campaigning in an area which is reasonably close together.  After years of Roman Bank where miles of country lanes and fields separate the villages, and sometimes the houses, it’s remarkably easy to pop letters into hundreds of doors in a much shorter space of time.

We’re getting a positive response on the doorstep.  Solid Conservatives who think Steve Barclay is a great MP, that good work is being done locally by Councillors and that the way to solve problems isn’t to make a petition and get your picture in the local newspaper – but to actually have some knowledge, experience and energy.  I think people also like to meet folks who have positive ideas, rather than just hate hate hate and some bigotry thrown in for seasoning.  Also seem to be gaining support from old Labour and Lib Dem voters, sometimes on their own merits and sometimes tactical voting.  Obviously, we welcome honest and principled support from all sides of the political compass and hope that – if elected – we can live up to the trust that such diverse types would be placing in us.

It’s been nice to meet so many people who already know me, whether from Social Media or one of the various things I get involved in.   My Facebook “friends” list is growing like lightning just lately and it really seems that more and more people are getting engaged with local politics.  I can only see this as a good thing.

Having made an exciting start – looking forward to the rest of the team joining me over the next few weeks.  It’d be nice to break the local record of “helpers in one day of campaigning”, but since that was fixty-six it’s a big ask :)  Still, you’ve gotta have goals!

If you live in Medworth, see you on the doorstep soon!  If you make the tea, I’ll bring the cakes. :)

A4 Poster

Campaign Starts Tomorrow!

Campaign Starts Tomorrow!

The first Conservative leaflet is now ready and I picked them up today.  Which means we can get out on the streets tomorrow for our first day of full campaigning in what, I expect, will be a hectic month.

A bunch of great volunteers have already put their names forward to help, but if any of you dear readers wish to join in – just let me know.

We still don’t know who our opponents are.  Apparently UKIP is putting up Andrew Hunt (who may, or may not be the same Andrew Hunt who stood as a Libertarian Party Candidate a couple of years ago.)  If it IS the same Andrew Hunt then I expect Cllr Michael Bucknor of the Wisbech Independent “Group” will be exceptionally grumpy – since he really doesn’t seem to like Libertarians very much. :)

Anyhow, I digress.  Looking forward to a great day meeting people in Medworth tomorrow as the big start of a positive, upbeat and honest campaign.  Jess Oliver and I will see you soon!

Dispersal

Dispersal

The Police attended the meeting of Wisbech Town Council last night to give a report of their activities in the town.

They clarified the “Dispersal Order” in Waterlees – explaining that the common perception is wrong and that the Police will not “take home” Under 16s who are not committing a crime, only the ones who are involved in antisocial behaviour or criminal damage.

I raised my hand to ask a question because this seemed an odd statement to me. First I thanked them for the clarification as this new explanation did not match what we had previously been told. But then I asked what purpose the “Dispersal Order” served if this was the case.

Surely, if the Police arrive and the young people are committing a crime – ie antisocial behaviour or criminal damage then the Police already have the power to (at the very least) take them home – or even arrest them? So if the Police are not, after all, going to be picking up under 16s and taking them home if they aren’t committing a crime, what does the dispersal order add?

The Officer gave an example: If they had a call alerting them to a disturbance in the Adventure Playground which included descriptions of youths who were throwing eggs or similar then they could go there and pick up the youths who matched the descriptions and take them home.

This all seemed a bit odd to me, it didn’t quite fit together. “If they are committing a crime, surely you could already have arrested them, or escorted them home? I still don’t see what the dispersal order adds.”

“If we turned up and tried to disperse the youths and they told us they were not going to move, and if they were not doing anything wrong when we arrived, we would not have the power to move them,” was the explanation.

But if the Police turn up and the youths aren’t doing anything wrong, then they wont move them anyway – if their explanation of their intended use of the Dispersal Order is true. They said at the start they wouldn’t be using the powers on youths who were not committing a crime.

When I ask the same question several times and get answers which contradict one another it makes me wonder if I’m just not making myself clear, or if somebody is trying to avoid telling me something.

If the intention of the Police is to regularly turn up at “hot spots” and use their new powers to send groups of youths home based on a phone call and a vague description then they should just say so. I expect quite a lot of people would support that, and at least it would be clear.

I remain unsure what they will do when the youths immediately leave the home and head back to where they came from. Or what they will do if the youths say: “No, I’m seventeen.” Or even what they will do if the youths simply run in every direction and come back ten minutes later.

It seems that the only thing the dispersal order really does it to stop groups of young people from hanging around together. I can’t see it will really stop them at all, since young people do tend to want to hang around together and generally wont stop simply because other people don’t approve of it. Seems to me it’ll just make them have to do it somewhere the Police can’t stop them or they can easily get away.

If the Police have the resources to enact this dispersal order, attending every day to keep groups from gathering, then I have to ask why they weren’t there before – using those same resources to prevent the crime?

Nobody could sensibly oppose measures to cut down on crime and antisocial behaviour.  But there are two simple questions.  If somebody is committing a crime, why aren’t you arresting them?  And if somebody is not committing a crime, why are you harassing them?

Medworth By-Election, October 2014

Medworth By-Election, October 2014

There will be a by-election in October for the Wisbech Medworth seat vacated by Jonathan Farmer since the verdict from his court case.  I have been selected as the Conservative candidate.  Jonathan Farmer will be one of my nominees and I will be campaigning with his blessing and support.

There is likely to also be a by-election for the Town Council seat, though at the time of writing that one has not yet been called.

Therefore, I’m afraid we are about to have a frenetic few weeks of election chaos.  I do not yet know who my opponents are going to be although the rumour is that UKIP will be putting up a guy called Andrew Hunt.  I expect Labour will field a candidate.  I do not know if there will be any others.

I intend to run a strong and vigorous campaign, as I always do.  I will attempt to knock on every door and the people of the ward will hopefully see me out and about, with my small but well-formed team of hard-working volunteers.

It’s true we don’t have a gaudy purple “battle bus”, nor union colleagues to ship in from miles away – we are simply local people who believe in hard work, straight-talking and honesty.  I hope very much that the good people of Medworth will elect me to represent them as best I am able.

I’ll be blogging during the campaign to let anybody who is interest know what I’m up to and where.  If you live in Medworth then I very much look forward to meeting you soon.

I should add that I do also live in Medworth, that I was married while living in Medworth, that my Son was born while living in Medworth and that I work in Medworth and own three properties in the ward (a house and two shops.)  Therefore, I understand first hand what the issues and concerns are of my neighbours.

See you out there, soon!

people power

Dyslexia & Paul Clapp

Dyslexia & Paul Clapp

The Wisbech Standard has a report this week on the removal of UKIP Councillor Paul Clapp from his very senior post at Cambridgeshire County Council.

http://www.wisbechstandard.co.uk/news/ukip_committee_chairman_ousted_after_vote_of_no_confidence_threat_by_other_parties_and_diagnosis_of_severe_dyslexia_1_3748940

Now I must admit that I was never impressed by the choice of Cllr Clapp for his earlier Children & Young People Role, nor for his role as Chairman of one of the most senior Committees – and most challenging – in the entire County.  But my reasons for that were more about his personality, affiliations, past comments and overall experience and ability.

So now it turns out that Paul Clapp has been diagnosed dyslexic and it appears this prompted a vote of “No Confidence” threat which has pushed him to quit his post.  Or did it?  Because the newspaper isn’t clear on the issue nor in the role the new diagnosis played in the group leaders decisions.

The newspaper says that the reason they wanted Cllr Clapp gone was:

•struggling to cope with the role

•forgetting to call for votes on committee items

•failing to realise when the next item should be introduced

•reading recommendations from different items to that being debated

•is generally failing to ensure the meeting follows due process

Now if this was happening because Paul Clapp is simply not very good at such a vital and serious role, then fair enough.  But tying this to dyslexia is completely inappropriate.  Dyslexia is certainly a major challenge for sufferers, but it does not in any way preclude a successful career, nor the holding of an important role.  It certainly means that the individual has to work harder, but Paul Clapp doesn’t seem the sort of man to shirk at putting in some extra work.

Dyslexia didn’t stop Actor Anthony Andrews (Bodie, from the Professionals) from having a long and successful career.  It didn’t stop United States Senator Michael Bennet.  It didn’t stop Hugo & Nebula Award Winning Sci-Fi Writer Octavia Butler.  It didn’t stop legal clerk and environmental activist Erin Brockovich, upon whose achievements a successful movie was based.  It didn’t stop British Art Historian Timothy Clifford.  It didn’t stop Tom Cruise, or Paloma Faith or Noel Gallagher or Steve McQueen or Ozzy Osbourne or Keanu Reeves.  Galileo’s dyslexia doesn’t seem to have done too much harm to his historic career as a physicist, mathematician, engineer, astronomer, and philosopher – although it’s certainly true the world didn’t revolve around him.  Director Guy Richie.  Business tycoon and philanthropist David Rockefeller.  Novelist John Irving, IKEA founder Ingar Kamprad, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.  Famous Dragon’s Den celebrity Theo Paphitis.  Pablo Picasso.  Steve Jobs, for goodness sake.

So let’s not pretend that the fact that somebody suffers from dyslexia should be a barrier to success.  That’s demeaning to people who have the condition all over the world and it’s a crock.  But again, it’s not entirely clear that this was actually any part of the reason why the group leaders removed Paul Clapp.  Indeed, the only people who actually seem to mention his dyslexia in the article are the UKIP people.

Cllr Bullen said: “The swap is being recommended to help support Councillor Clapp who has had a recent diagnosis of severe dyslexia.

“While this means he finds it hard to cope with the amount of paperwork a chairman needs to deal with and read it also gives him vital insight for his new role on health. “Equally Councillor Rylance, with a background in caring, will be an ideal chairman for the adults committee. The council will be supporting Councillor Clapp following the recent diagnosis.”

This statement makes me angry, actually.  Because it tries to push the idea that Cllr Clapp was threatened by a vote of no confidence because of his dyslexia, when closer reading reveals that it was actually his poor performance which led to the group leaders being uncomfortable with him continuing in the role.

If Cllr Clapp is actually being removed because he has dyslexia and it is causing him to struggle, then I think it’s absolutely the wrong reason to do it.  UKIP’s Paul Bullen says “we want to support him.”  By agreeing to move him to a lesser role?  Don’t give me this “he’ll have vital insight for his new role in health” guff.  Everybody has insights into the role of health, because we are all affected by health.  That’s just flim flam to excuse pushing the bloke aside for the wrong reason.  What would have been better – IF the reason for his problems as Chairman are due to his dyslexia – would have been to “support him” by giving him help in his role as Chairman.  Not sacking him from it.  Doesn’t he have a vice-chairman?

Because it really boils down to this.  Do they think he is a bad Chairman?  Or do they think he is a good Chairman who just needs some support because of a disability?  If it’s the former, then stop blaming dyslexia.  It’s a slap in the face for the many dyslexics who struggle heroically to beat the odds and succeed.  If it’s the latter, then give him the support to be the great Chairman you believe he can be.

Cllr Paul Clapp being interviewed by the BBC film crew at the Waterlees Spinney play area this week. Picture: Steve Williams.
Cllr Paul Clapp being interviewed by the BBC film crew at the Waterlees Spinney
play area this week. Picture: Steve Williams.
 From Wisbech Standard.

I Feel Sorry For Roger Lord

I Feel Sorry For Roger Lord

I feel sorry for Roger Lord.  It’s not often I feel sorry for UKIP people, but I do feel sorry for him.  What has happened to him is beyond rotten.  It is a complete mystery to me how Nigel Farage is able to get away with it.  If it happened in my party there would be a civil war.  But it wouldn’t happen in the Conservatives because the Conservatives may have some practices which aren’t perfect, and may sometimes take their grass roots members a little too “for granted,” but they do understand the importance of local members selecting their candidates and of the candidacy then being closed, barring some dramatic turn like a criminal offence or death.

Roger Lord, for those who don’t know, is the poor guy who had been selected as the UKIP candidate for Clacton.  I don’t know UKIP’s precise procedures for selecting candidates, but I presume this was done in the proper way with a hustings and members attending and a vote at the end.  Apparently this fellow has been working and campaigning for UKIP for seventeen years – which is astonishing if you bear in mind that most people didn’t even know they existed before a few years ago.  Once he had been selected he should have been safe in the knowledge that this wasn’t going to change unless he resigned, went to prison, or was subject to some other unusual and debilitating turn of events.

Instead, Nigel Farage saw the opportunity to win over a Conservative and seems to have just said: “You can have this seat.  Don’t worry about what the Members or the sitting candidate say.  It’s yours.”  Didn’t even have the courtesy to tell the poor bloke, who apparently found out with everybody else when it hit the news.

If that happened to me I’d be absolutely raging furious.  Wouldn’t you?  If Farage had approached Roger Lord and politely asked if he would step aside that might have been a start.  But he didn’t.  And even then, Roger Lord didn’t select himself for the seat.  He was selected by the Members.  Apparently they don’t get a say when Nigel Farage is wielding his Rod Of Lordly Power.

I can see that this is a great opportunity for UKIP.  But there is a proper way of doing things.  In this case Farage should have first approached Roger Lord and appraised him of the situation, asking for his views.  He could then have asked him politely if he might be willing to step aside.  If Roger Lord was amenable, then Nigel Farage could have called an Extraordinary Meeting of the local UKIP Association (or whatever their equivalent is) and addressed all activists and Members explaining what was going on, explaining that Roger Lord was on board, and seeking their approval for his plan.  But that would have completely scuppered his chance to grab publicity with the element of surprise and get one over on David Cameron.  So with a choice to do the right thing, or the thing that got him the most publicity, he chose the latter.

But never mind – apparently there is an “adjacent constituency” that Roger Lord is going to be “given.”  Except, read the small print, he’s not being “given” it at all, but invited to apply as a candidate and if he does so to get “Nigel Farage’s full support.”  So either this means that Farage is so sure that he is The Law that his “full support” means certain victory, or his consolation prize for Roger Lord is to send him tumbling backwards to have a do-over of the parts he thought he’d already won.  I bet he’s thinking: “Yippee!  You’re so good to me.”

Maybe UKIP Members don’t care about this stuff?  Maybe Nigel Farage is allowed to just do whatever he fancies like some latter day Caesar, throwing yesterday’s candidates to the lions.  It seems pretty rotten to me.  I’m also amazed that Douglas Carswell would want to win selection in such a rum way.  Or maybe he didn’t realise?  In which case, welcome to UKIP Mr. Carswell.  This is how things are done.  Having fun yet?

Skewed Market Sunbed Selection

Skewed Market Sunbed Selection

Long time readers may remember I posted a piece about how the sunbed selection on last year’s Turkish holiday was pretty close to being a perfect example of a free market.

This year’s Tunisian vacation has given me the opportunity to update that a little, since the Sahara Beach Hotel practices a slightly different system which is a pretty good example of its own.

So the rules of the Market in Tunisia were broadly similar to those in Turkey, as were the times people were prepared to go hunting.  10.00 and you were stuck in some terrible location or on  the beach.  8.00 and you’d get a bed, but not in a popular location.  7.00 You were going to have a choice of about half the sunbeds, but none of the really good locations.  6.30 and you were in a small but dedicated number and would get beds in a good location.  5.45 and you were one of the elite dozen or so who would get the absolutely prime spots.

But regular complaints from holidays makers about the need to get up early to reserve sunbeds had pushed the hotel into implementing a regulation on what would otherwise be a free market.  We were warned about this on the first day by staff who told us that it was “forbidden to reserve sunbeds before 7AM” and that staff would remove towels and other items left on sunbeds before that time and they would be taken to lost property.”

I found this fascinating, in the way that only a political and economics nerd could.  There are so many parallels.  Without any interruption we had here a perfect and utterly fair mechanism for allowing the distribution of sunbeds and “good” locations.  Those prepared to go to the most effort would get the best beds in the best spots.  Those who valued their sleep more than a sunbed could choose not to bother.  It was an utterly balanced competition where nobody had an unfair advantage in any serious way.

But those who couldn’t be bothered to participate and felt they “deserved” some portion of use of a limited resource demanded that rules be put in place to skew the market and favour their position.  This is what always happens, in one way or another.  And again, as always happens, the rules didn’t do what they set out to do.  Instead, they made the situation worse.  For everybody.

So this is what happened.  Traditionally you’d get up at the crack of dawn, dump your towers to save your place, then stumble back to bed with the grin of a modern day hunter-gatherer as you drifted back to sleep for another hour or two.  But now, those elite hunters couldn’t do this as they’d lose their towels.  Instead, they had to sit there, from whatever unearthly time they had gotten up until 7.00AM passed, guarding their towels from the unwelcome attentions of staff.  You see, a staff member cannot come and remove stuff from where you are sitting.

So what had been achieved?  The really determined sunbed hunters now had an even more irritating task on their hands.  It didn’t stop them, it just made them really grumpy and put a damper on their vacation.  It also made them surly and irritated with everybody else throughout the day.  Everybody else, on the other hand, were in exactly the same boat as they had been before the new regulation.  Nothing changed for them at all, despite promises that this new rule would free them from their sunbed woes.  In fact, some who foolishly believed the lies they were spun completely failed to get any decent bed for the first couple of days because they took the hotel at its word.  The regulation itself became something of a laughing stock because it was so ineffectual.

The situation was summed up by a French gentleman I was speaking to one morning who said, in perfect English: “We wanted to avoid this brief but tiresome task, but instead we must now sit here for hours. Thank you Sahara Beach.”

Another lady said to me: “I don’t know why they just don’t ban entry to the sunbed areas completely until 7AM – that would solve all of this.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that three years ago, in Benidorm, I stayed in a hotel called Magic Rock Gardens which practised exactly this system.  My wife still tells tales about what she calls “The Great Running Of The Bulls.”  Crowds of people, armed with towels and foul tempers, crammed into a tiny corridor waiting for the lock to be undone at the “opening time” so they could kick, punch, trample and race each other to the beds of their choice.  Not ideal at all.

I Won’t Lie About Douglas Carswell

I Won’t Lie About Douglas Carswell

There are a number of MPs I admire, including my own MP Steve Barclay.  But for many years my favourite MP has been Douglas Carswell.  I met him at Conference in 2009 and purchased a copy of the book he wrote with Dan Hannan MEP, “The Plan”, a book which I have read many times and which I still believe is a defining piece of political philosophy.  It’s worth noting that Dan Hannan is also my favourite MEP.  I have heard them both speak on numerous occasions and it is rare that I disagree with anything either of them say.  I do sometimes, but it’s rare.

It was Douglas Carswell’s blog which gave me the itch to start my own blog.  It was Douglas Carswell’s ideas on the relationship between the State and the Individual, the importance of localism, the vital role of politicians in being representatives of the voice of the electorate, which has influenced my own ideas.

Today there is the news that Douglas Carswell has defected to UKIP and is standing down to force a by-election in his seat, where he will stand as both the sitting MP and the UKIP candidate.  It’s not easy to express how depressed I feel about this.  One of my favourite journalists and writers, James Delingpole, went over to the dark side a year or two ago and I felt that was a tragedy.  But this, for me, is on a whole other scale.

Several times on this blog I have expressed the idea that the country seems to be going mad and that it was going to get worse before it got better.  I still think this is true.  There is a disconnect between elected individuals and the people they represent which has been simmering for years.  It is a recipe liberally spiced with the parliamentary expenses scandal, with the uncontrolled immigration levels made possible by our membership of the EU and encouraged by the previous Labour administration.  The pot is regularly stirred by a predatory, desperate and immoral media, many of whom seem to care nothing about the truth anymore, but only about the next colourful and exaggerated or misleading headline.

I won’t lie about Douglas Carswell.  I am gutted.  I won’t be following him, in case anybody thinks that is where I’m going with this blog post.  I feel UKIP are a racist and truly evil party whose rise in UK politics is a blot on our proud nation.  But the other parties are partly to blame for all this.  We all sowed the seeds for this shadow to fall upon us.  All the parties ignored the warnings, sneered at the concerns, pretended there was no such thing as social damage.  Any damage the rise of UKIP does weighs equally heavy on the shoulders of all national politicians.

The loss of Douglas Carswell is, I feel, significant.  This is a fiercely bright, philosophical and original thinker, a man of integrity and honour.  Losing him is a huge blow to the Conservatives and a massive gain for UKIP.  David Cameron and his team should hang their heads in shame for letting it come to this.  I believe Douglas Carswell will come to regret his decision.  But any thinking Conservative should already be regretting it, in my opinion.  It is a bleak day for us.