Category Archives: Soap Box Column
Fun Times Ahead
As has been mentioned elsewhere, the 2019 Election Campaign seems to have begun early.
The usual old tricks from the usual suspects are all out there; character assassination, general nastiness, name-calling, false claims of wrong-doing. Petitions “demanding” things that are already happening, so that they can then pretend they “saved the day.” Par for the course. Nothing new here.
But this time around there appears to be a new tactic being used.
Claims to victimhood. Here we have people who have literally spent the last couple of years making personal remarks, attacks and telling outright lies, suddenly attempting to portray themselves as “victims.” People claiming to have been “personally attacked” even though they have barely even been mentioned and certainly not in any “personal” way.
Well, it’s reverse psychology, of course. Not particularly developed or considered reverse psychology, but reverse psychology nonetheless. It’s like the schoolyard bully who is caught out and then says “no, no! It was them who bullied me” while wiping the blood quickly from his knuckles.
Will it work?
I doubt it. It was possible in the old days for them to get away with it. There wasn’t several years of clear evidence stacked up to prove them liars. But things are different now and that’s why these cowards have an ever-shrinking base of support. As i’ve always said, the truth is out there and given enough time people do find it.
I have also noticed as increased attempt to “lure” folks into saying or doing something that can then be complained about. So they will make some claim that somebody is “scared” of somebody else, in the hope that the person in question will respond in a way that could get them in trouble with the Conduct Committee. It’s all about headlines and narratives and this is an attempt to get some steam under the forthcoming campaign of negativity they are planning. It’s the same thing they do every time. It’s not worked before, so I don’t know why they think it will work this time, but God bless them for being predictable, at least.
Just imagine if, one time, people campaigned on actual issues and policies? Discussed opposing views on how to solve problems logically and respectfully. Wouldn’t that be nice? We can but dream.
It is often said amongst Conservative circles that “blue on blue” is a fight we should never have.
I don’t agree with that, but I do try and always make sure my criticisms are logical and valid.
I would just like to make a plea to Prime Minister Theresa May.
Yes, I know, she doesn’t read my little blog and never will. But sometimes it takes many small voices to get one big voice to listen.
Mrs May. Please make way for a new Leader.
I am sure you have done your best. I am sure you believed in what you were doing. I am sure you meant well.
But you led us into a disastrous early election, you ran the worst campaign many of us have ever seen.
And now you are reneging on our commitment to a proper Brexit.
Inside the Westminster bubble it must seem as though things are going okay.
Things are not going okay.
Your present path leads the Conservative Party to disaster and the country into dark waters.
We voted for Brexit. You said you would deliver it. This sham you are trying to push through is not real Brexit.
Please. Go now. Make way for a Leader who has the ability, courage and desire to deliver on the democratic will of the British people.
It is nearly too late, but not quite. Yet. Do the right thing for Party and Country. Please.
You may think it will be messy, and you are right. But not nearly as messy and damaging as if you hold on.
New Leadership Team At FDC
I’ve been away for a week and in my absence the new leader of Fenland District has been announced and his choice of top positions laid out by the Wisbech Standard here.
This is interesting, since it takes a meeting of Full Council to elect a new Leader and that hasn’t happened yet. But I guess what the Wisbech Standard is saying is that its got wind of what new Leader the Conservative Group has chosen and is presuming a foregone conclusion. So, not entirely accurate, but still probably a fair assumption.
The “New Leader” (to be confirmed at Full Council) of FDC is the veteran Councillor, Chris Seaton and the newspaper goes into some depth about the people he has chosen as his leadership team.
I feel cautiously optimistic with the news as reported. I’ll be honest, I’d expected Chris Seaton as Leader would be just the same as John Clark as Leader, with broadly the same faces and broadly the same choices. I have nothing against John Clark, who I always found to be a genuine man with honest intentions, but I am certainly one of the Conservative group who has hoped for some fresh ideas and a new approach.
It would appear that I have underestimated Cllr. Seaton. Because, against all expectations (on my part, anyway) he has made some fairly radical changes. Cllr. Mark Buckton in for the Leisure and Young People portfolio is a good choice, I think. Cllr Buckton has long been an underused individual whose talents were crying out for a bigger role. Tourism, in particular, needs a shot in the arm urgently and I think he may well be able to gain some ground in this area.
Even more importantly, Cllr Dee Laws is taking on the Planning portfolio. In my opinion this is an inspirational choice. Planning is an area which FDC has really struggled with in the last couple of years and given how important it is for our communities that the correct forward-thinking decisions are taken, getting the right innovative person in place is a key consideration.
Cllr. Ann Hay takes on the Finance portfolio. I don’t know Cllr Hay very well and I think she probably sits on a different “wing” of Conservatism to me, but her reputation is of somebody whose skills would be well-suited to this role and I am sure she will excel. I’d like to see a lot more challenge of figures presented by Officers and I hope she will lead on this.
I would have liked to see Chris Boden in a Cabinet role. Nevertheless, by making him Chairman of Overview & Scrutiny, Cllr Seaton has made a very smart placement. Cllr. Boden is an analytical thinker of the first order and under his guidance I would expect O&S to take on a sharp, focused and insightful direction. The purpose of any O&S committee is to challenge, review and act as a critical friend. Run properly, a strong O&S Committee will catch poor policy early and put it right or stop it outright, amend, suggest, propose and consider in such a way as to make decisions more robust, more accurate and more likely to deliver decent outcomes. A strong O&S Committee can make life uncomfortable for a weak Leader and it shows a strength of character to put somebody like Cllr Boden in charge of it – it represents a real desire to see the job done well and done right. Very commendable, in my view.
I was away during the week this all happened and my information is gleaned from reading the Wisbech Standard – which may yet turn out not to be 100% correct. But if it all pans out as the newspaper claims then I would think that a very positive outcome. Cllr Seaton appears to have understood what needed changing as a priority and what did not, and has taken decisions that will earn him some grumpiness in some quarters, but in my opinion are pretty good choices as a starting point for a new direction of healthy travel*.
*I should stress that you should read no implicit criticism of previous office-holders in my writing. Each Councillor serves as best they can, in the positions as assigned by the Council Leader. I have no doubt that the previous office holders worked hard and did the best they could. Nevertheless, I reserve the right to the opinion that these are positive changes for the Council and for Fenland as a whole. There remains a lot of work to be done, of course. And this new team will be tested by challenges and circumstances. I wish them all the best.
Why Radical Conservative Leaders Are Rare
*This blog post is just general thinking. It does not relate to any specific body or individuals.
This thought experiment came about as a result of a conversation I was having with a friend who lives in America. The gist of the debate was why it is that, a few obvious exceptions aside, it is so rare to find Conservative leaders who are ready to enact radical change.
It’s not that Conservatives don’t want radical change. Although its a broad church, conservatism is a political movement that believes, like all political movements believe, that the world would be a better place if it operated under the structures they prefer.
But still it seems that organisations, councils and Governments slip, over time, ever left-wards in their policies. The “norm” which is “accepted” also drifts relentlessly to the liberal left, leaving long-time Conservatives asking questions like: “Where are the real Conservatives?” of their leaders, or even: “What is the difference between the parties?”
I believe the truth comes down to the very nature of what makes those on the left, and those on the right, “tick.” The Left is absolutely comfortable with radicals. In fact, the rise of Momentum and Corbyn is a clear demonstration of how the party and its supporters react if it perceives there has not been enough radicalism.
The political right-of-centre, on the other hand, has a real problem. It is uncomfortable and wary of change. Now this can be a good thing, for preserving what is best about society, for taking a careful view of proposals, for not just changing for change’s sake. But it does also lead to a fear of anybody who might in any way “rock the boat.”
By their very nature, radicals will always rock the boat. They challenge, argue, propose and throw ideas out. Many of those ideas are bad ones. Some of them are very good ones. But any Leader and institution that is too wary of change gets stuck, institutionalised, afraid of its own shadow.
Time and again we chose leaders who we perceive as a “safe pair of hands.” Which translates as meaning “somebody who won’t do anything too scary.” Or somebody who’s appetite for risk is very limited. Like the epitome of a middle manager, happy to serve their days doing just what needs to be done and no more.
Now to be completely fair, in the normal political swing from left to right and back, a new right-wing administration often ends up spending an inordinate amount of time just fixing the problms the previous Left-Wing administration made. This is always politically-difficult, as the left are famous for giving away free stuff that can’t be afforded and then leaving it to those who come after to take that free stuff away and be branded for it.
But here’s the problem. Unafraid of being radical, left-wing leaders will push their administration hard to the left. They will plough on, ignoring warning signs, borrowing, spending and enacting constitutional and administrative changes at very fundamental levels. When they inevitably get booted out, all this must be reversed. In order to just get back to the status quo, the right-wing leader would have to be at least as radical as their predecessor, which they seldom are.
And so the cycle continues, with the left-wing pushing hard to the left, and the right-wing gentle correcting the course. Never enough. So with each decade we drift further towards left-liberal dogma and further from any opposing ideas.
The only way for this to change is for Conservative politicians, at every level, in every organisation, to be more courageous in their convictions. To choose leaders who articulate a common-sense view of conservatism and are not afraid to put those views into practice. This is not a low-stakes task. Because Conservatives believe that following fundamental principles of liberty, justice, free markets, family, tradition and fair play – is the best way to build a safer, stronger, healthier and more prosperous community for everybody. We can’t do that if we allow a relentless leftward shift to take place. We have to shake our natural concern in regards to change and be ready to embrace old ideas and new ones. Or we are simply ceding victory to the socialists, marxists and communists. That’s a dark place and a hard place to return from.
Future Of The LEP*
This is an important post, from Mayor James Palmer of the Combined Authority of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
In fact, I’d say it is vital.
It is patently clear to anybody who looks that the LEP in Cambridgeshire has utterly lost its way. It has lost the confidence of MPs, Councillors and local people and it would appear that it has also lost the confidence of Government.
As a personal viewpoint, I think it was an ill-fated scheme from the start. Putting a broadly unelected and mostly unaccountable body in charge of such huge chunks of public funding was never going to end well. Business folk are very good at looking at the bottom line, but Government is not just about bottom lines. It’s also about places, communities and people. It’s about ambition and dreams and the glue that holds us together.
Having an eye on the money is all well and good, but there’s nothing visionary about judging everything by a simplistic cost benefit ratio. Primarily because you can fudge the figures to say what you want them to say, sometimes accidentally as a form of confirmation bias. “We’d love to do this, but the business case doesn’t stack up” can be translated into: “Our friendly economist looked at this through the lens we selected, and saw the image we expected them to see.”
I hope the LEP is bundled into the Combined Authority. I think that’s the perfect place for them, where they can offer business input into political decisions, but where those decisions are ultimately made by elected people. That’s how a democratic system works best.
* LEP = Local Enterprise Partnership
General Election Wash-Up
Everybody and their Sister seems to have written a “what went wrong” piece about the last General Election. I’ve avoided it so far because (a) nobody probably cares what I think and (b) I wanted to mull it over.
Having spent a few months doing so, my personal view is that it’s much simpler than many people think.
In the first instance I’d like to say that I think the Prime Minister was correct to call the election. The polls made it a safe gamble and she needed a strong majority to push Brexit through and get significant Parliamentary work done. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off. But that doesn’t make it a bad idea. Just badly implemented.
So, in my view, the reason the General Election didn’t go as expected boils down to three things.
(1) It was an ideologically poor campaign. There wasn’t much “conservatism” in there. It was managerial and failed to inspire enthusiasm. In fact, there were some hostages to fortune, ill-conceived ideas that had no business appearing in any manifesto, let alone a Conservative one. But that alone wouldn’t have turned the tide.
(2) Theresa May made the entire election about her and how strong she was. This was a perfectly good thing to do, but she then needed to go ahead and BE strong in public appearances. Personally, I think she probably is strong, but the campaign did not showcase that. In fact, it did the opposite. And the danger of campaigning on strength is that if you can’t look like it’s true, the campaign crumbles. But that alone wouldn’t have turned the tide.
(3) The main reason is the choice to run a negative campaign. Don’t get me wrong, negative campaigns are just as effective as positive ones, in the right setting. But Theresa May called the early election, which suggested she thought she was going to win. A negative campaign revolves around demonstrating the dangers of the “other guy” getting elected. How can you reasonably suggest that disaster will happen if the other guy gets elected, when you called the early election in the first place? It doesn’t ring true. Though, in actual fact, it was closer to the truth than anybody knew!
Some readers may wonder why I don’t credit any of this to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. Honestly, I really don’t. I think they were bit players who benefited from mistakes made on the Conservative side during the campaign. If they can be credited at all, it is for running a “safe” campaign that avoided their glaring weaknesses – and not being called on it. For the record, despite Corbyn’s current fairly good polling and Theresa May’s falling stats, I still don’t actually believe the country would ever vote for a Prime Minister Corbyn. I could be wrong, stranger things have happened. But I find it very hard to believe that the UK would commit itself to a financial and social basket case when it came to the crunch.
All just my opinion, of course, and many will disagree.
And Here They Go Again…
(*from Facebook discussion)
I had rather hoped that the small but nasty crowd had given up.
But of course not. :) John Elworthy (what a surprise) is sharing a link to a petition on Twitter which renews all the failed attacks in just about as nasty a way as they can manage.
Over the last year they have tried everything to slander my name. After a year of nasty memes, personal insults about myself and my family, regular outright lies, false and mean newspaper articles, a relentless campaign of harassment across social media which was 100% supported by the press, nasty rumours, a constructed “protest” in the Town Council Chambers, and even a political election campaign they have failed over and over again. There is not a week that passes where some new strategy, or a revamp of an old strategy, is attempted.
Well, they will need to get this into their heads. This mean and vindictive little group, with their sidekick newspaper Editor, will not grind me down. Every time they attack, it makes me work harder. Every time they try another tactic to get at me,it makes me work harder. Every time they try and bring me down, it makes me work harder. So #bringiton you third rate playground#bullies. I left school a very long time ago, I’m not a delicate snowflake you can frighten or insult into submission, and the only effect your antics will have is to make me up my level of commitment and work to counter your nastiness.
Far too often in the United Kingdom we see some of the most vulnerable members of our society i:e the Autistic community being abused to the highest degree, they are subjected to horrific levels of bullying and psychological torture; often by those who pretend to befriend them just so they can exploit them for their own personal gain and amusement.
Autistic teenager 16 year old Emily O’Reilly (pictured above) was brutalised on her way to a friends house.
If you follow the link above then you will see the urgency of this epidemic, the consequences of such treatment and atrocities are often fatal; why should it be allowed to continue that the lives of some of our most vulnerable are left so undervalued in both society and the justice system?
The 1 in 100 people in the United Kingdom who are born with this condition who will most likely experience this kind of abuse is far too many to not implement stronger sentencing for those who commit targeted violent attacks against the autistic community.
I urge the government to advise and work with the justice system to put in new legislation, and to follow the guidelines in sentencing already regarding racially, religiously and sexually motivated attacks; let them be just as protected under hate crime laws as everyone else.
Observations On Landlord Licensing and the Tenant Tax
A year ago, the Conservative grassroots website ConservativeHome published an interested piece about how Labour Councils are introducing Landlord Licensing schemes and why this is a sad state of affairs.
The article is worth a read and can be found here:
Labour-controlled Croydon Council had a go at it back in 2015/16
Croydon’s Landlords and Tenants had a champion though in Cllr. Mario Creatura, who worked with his Conservative colleagues to oppose the Tenants Tax introduction and even used his maiden speech to challenge them. It’s here:
Croydon’s Labour-controlled Council ignored the Conservative opposition and introduced it anyway, to the great cost of Landlords and Tenants. Conservative Councillor Alison Butler continues to ask them very difficult questions about the scheme’s activities, here:
Labour-controlled Enfield Council didn’t manage to fleece their Tenants and Landlords though. They were strongly opposed by the Conservative opposition group, including valiant defender Cllr Terry Neville. But it was the Landlords who defeated them in the end, through a judicial review. The courts overturned the Landlord Licensing, which failed to prove a causal and direct link between private tenants and high levels of antisocial behaviour in a limited geographical area. Story is here:
That turned out to be quite expensive for the Council, who had pushed ahead with the scheme despite failing to meet many of the criteria and who ended up footing the expensive legal bill and being embarrassed as they had to cancel the scheme entirely.
The issue has proved contentious in Weston-Super-Mare too where Landlords have banded together to challenge the policy.
Milton Keynes faced such stiff opposition that it completely gave up its own plans to introduce Landlord Licensing.
Labour-controlled Liverpool City Council couldn’t wait to implement Landlord Licensing, of course. It’s not worked out particularly well for them and they continue to face criticism for the poor system.
The Labour Party have always been a party that thinks piling regulations and fees up will solve issues. But not everybody on the Left agrees. Here’s an interesting article in the New Statesman, of all places!
Then Conservative Housing Minister Brandon Lewis had strong words about the Landlord Licensing:
“Housing Minister Brandon Lewis pledged to end the “tenants’ tax” that pushes up rents and imposes unnecessary red tape on decent landlords.”
Here’s an article in the Guardian (yes! I know!) making the point that Landlord Licensing will hinder, rather than help, Councils tackle rogue Landlords. They say: “… an underfunded, ill-conceived scheme (that) will fail in its purpose and simply drive rogue landlords further underground.
What seems to confuse the proponents of Landlord Licensing is that it is just as strongly opposed by tenants as it is by Landlords. But it shouldn’t confuse them. There are plenty of tenants who know the basic rules of supply and demand. Do they think them all economically illiterate?
In Hastings, the Labour-controlled Borough Council introduced Landlord Licensing. It was strongly opposed by the Conservative opposition and by the local Conservative MP, Amber Rudd.
Amber Rudd MP said: the officers failed to demonstrate why the proposed sum of £415 would be necessary. This would raise over £4million. The equivalent charge in Scotland is £11, after a one off registration. The opposition from landlords is not to the principle of the scheme but to the cost, which will be passed on to tenants and lead to higher rents.
While we are on the subject of Conservative MPs, back in Croydon Gavin Barwell MP had this to say:
Croydon Council is consulting on introducing a ‘Selective Licensing’ scheme for private rented accommodation. Despite the title, there’s nothing selective about it. Every private landlord in the borough would have to pay £200 a year to the Council for the privilege of renting out a property. If they don’t, they could be liable to a fine of up to £20,000.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out what will happen if this scheme goes ahead: landlords who make the payment will simply pass the cost on to their tenants. Lest I be accused of scaremongering, the Council admits this.
Quite damning, huh?
The same argument is going on in Coventry, where commentators are well aware that the cost of this money-spinning wheeze will pass commonly onto the tenants. The (you guessed it) Labour-led Council is gung ho for Landlord Licensing anyway.
You have to wonder if the “consultations” for all of these ill-considered schemes were the same:
How much antisocial behaviour to you think originates from Private Rented Accomodation?
(1) All of it
(2) Most of it
(3) A very great deal of it
(4) The Majority of it
(5) Absolutely none at all.
The local debate continues…
A Day In The Life Of A Forum Admin
Although all of the following people and situations are fictional, they are nonetheless an accurate depiction of a fairly normal situation Admins face.
Wake up to 30 new overnight notifications on forum. Huh? That’s a lot. Something kicking off?
Checked the situation. It seems that somebody’s child has been punched by a much larger child on the way to school. Person has put a picture of their child with a black eye and has written an emotional and believable account of a nasty act of bullying. Lots of forum members saying things like: “Little brat deserves a come-uppance”, and “I blame the parents, they must be scum” and “what is this Town coming to?” Not interfering, as nobody named, but keeping an eye on the thread in case it becomes nastier.
Received a message from the mother of the child who is alleged to have done the punching. Emotional and believable account that the other child was in fact the victim. Mother gives various names of people who can vouch for her child and her, asks that the thread be removed as it is “full of lies” and that it contains enough information to identify her child, even though they were not named.
Put a polite message on forum asking people to stop commenting and to control language used as full information is not known. Cannot relate second mother’s comments as they were sent privately, so have to try and politely control debate until more information is forthcoming.
Forum thread is getting more heated. Lots of people insisting alleged bully is “named and shamed.” People demanding Admins not prevent their “free speech” and that the thread is a “public service to prevent kids being bullied.” Nobody seems to have been there or know the actual facts and are just assuming what they have told is the absolute truth.
Second Mother sends another message saying Police have been contacted and please could the thread be removed as it is upsetting the family and friends and the child, and she believes there is a real threat to her child. Repeats her claim that the original statement is false.
Don’t know the truth either way and don’t want to take sides or risk harm to either party, or legal challenge to forum and admins/members, so I delete the thread.
A new thread starts, accusing Admins of unfair behaviour. Name-calling begins, with Admins called “Nazis” and accused of “stifling free speech.”
Still unable to share private post from second mother, I attempt to remain reasonable and polite. Keep reminding people politely of the rules. Keep giving people more and more chances despite more and more unpleasantness now being directed at Admins. Give several final warnings and then close the commenting on the new thread so that further comments cannot be made.
Unable to let it lie, and utterly convinced they are “in the right” despite not having been there and having nothing other than the original poster’s word, some commenters grow increasingly abusive and insulting. The same people who would be up in arms if something were said about *them* are insisting “we must have free speech.” The same people who just recently voted in a poll that claims of illegal behaviour without evidence should be removed from the forum now find they don’t think that – when they happen to agree (for whatever reason) with the post. The one they agree with is the exception apparently.
Sick of giving polite warnings and receiving insults, prolific rule-breakers are removed from the forum.
The insulting private messages begin. This is where the person who was repeatedly and politely warned about the rules, and then removed for ignoring the warnings and breaking the rules even more, begins calling the Admin names and demanding they are in the right and, quite often, making vague threats about what they are going to “do” about being removed.
We often never discover the end result. It may be that it turns out Mother 1 was right, or Mother 2 was right, or that there was some combination of truth and lies between them. Sometimes it is revealed after the fact, often it never is. But it is inevitable that Admins, doing our best to keep some fairly simple rules, and not to “take sides”, will be accused of everything and anything by those who cannot follow those rules and always believe they are in the right.
Of course, if at 9.10 AM I’d left the thread and not deleted it the situation could have gone completely differently. The friends of both sides could then pitch in to the argument, calling each other liars and becoming increasingly unpleasant and hostile – while Admins who attempt to calm the fury end up being the ones who take the worst of the flack.
And this is why the forum I run has strict rules which are quickly (and politely) enforced. Some people hate forum rules and don’t want to be subject to them. But those people have a million other forums to choose from. They should find the one that suits their style and temperament.