Monday, December 21, 2009

A winter wonderland

Not everyone likes to talk about politics, but it is very British to talk about the weather.

Last Friday the snow fell down in Kent and at my usual time of 5.40am I was standing at a coach stop waiting for my commuter coach during the snow storm. My dark coat was gradually turning white and if I had a hat and a pipe I would have made a very good snowman.

Eventually a coach turned up to tell me that the roads were closed and hence all the coaches were cancelled. There were also problems with the trains and so I had to give up trying to get in to London that day. Today, three days on, no problem getting into work although our pavements are still very icy.

Many commented on the fact that this spell of cold weather has coincided with the Copenhagen conference covering global warming – which is indeed ironic – but as I said in an earlier entry, we get nothing like the amount of snow we used to.

The Christmas and new year break will be welcome before what looks like a very busy 2010 – with the general election campaign and the World Cup to look forward to.

Christmas is a time to put our political differences to one side and wish goodwill to all. So to you, dear reader, whoever you follow, whatever your views, I hope you have a happy and a very merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Somebody radical and different

This is my letter to the East Kent Gazette. It is in reply to a letter from a Mr Richard Palmer who states he and his children do not see the point of voting because Labour is a waste of time and Conservatives only benefit the rich. Therefore they will all vote UKIP.

'Richard Palmer is right to criticise the two stale old parties as a waste of time - but he does not mention the other option. For radical and different policies, Mr Palmer should look towards the Liberal Democrats.

We are the only party to promise a massive overhaul of our political system, getting rid of the safe seats and expenses culture - to provide tax cuts for lower and middle incomes - to abolish council tax - to offer universal childcare - with positive policies for a green economy.

That's just for starters - there is a lot more I would love to tell Mr Palmer about which provides the alternative forward thinking choice he seeks.

UKIP is all about looking backwards. There is a lot that is wrong with the EU but sitting in the corner with your arms folded is not going to fix it. However I agree we should have a referendum on EU membership for a proper debate.

At election time, I hope Mr Palmer will consider the options and vote for us as the only major party that offers that genuine much-needed reform and change'.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

March 25? Bring it on!

There are questions in discussion recently – is there a God? – will England win the world cup? – when will the general election be?

Well, yes, there is a God – I would love to see us win the World Cup but don’t think we will – and my money was on an election on the last possible date – 3 June. I figured that, like John Major’s government in 1997, Gordon Brown and co would hang on to every possible last second of power before the inevitable collapse. Others agreed with the common view that the election would be on 6 May.

However some excellent rumours circulated this weekend that the election could be earlier than we thought – on 25 March. From Labour’s point of view this would make sense – simply because it would get them out of having a March budget and the inevitable story of gloom and doom – and it might avoid the meltdown we saw in 1997.

The Tories might still win, but if they don’t have a majority, we might finally force the MPs of the two old parties to accept accountability and the reforms our political system so desperately needs (although we must be wary of a Con-Lab coalition to preserve their vested interests).

So bring it on, I say. Already one has itchy feet, eager to get out and knock on those doors.

The Swale Liberal Democrats have our Hustings next month to select our candidate for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. I have written my manifesto with my background, policies and campaign ideas. My main points are cleaning up parliament, mass constitutional and parliamentary reform, a referendum on EU membership, and emphasis on our unique radical policies – such as tax cuts, the pupil premium and abolishing council tax.

I am now preparing my Hustings speech where I hope to put on a good show and have good news for you all afterwards.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The economics of coach travel

As I read about the pre-budget report on the coach home, two young smart chaps got on at Canary Wharf and took the seat behind me. Immediately they started talking about their Christmas bonuses, how they had been reduced (so they were only getting a few thousand) and isn't the world an unfair place.

Being a public sector worker, this made me think of my own pay rise this year (1%), my own bonus (the fact I am still in a job unlike some colleagues), and my pay rise for the next two years (capped at 1%) - while my national insurance is going up (there goes the 1% pay rise) and the pension will probably soon be a memory. After all, someone's got to pay for the national debt.

Politics of envy? Perhaps. But it is yet another example of how the wrong people are paying the price for the incompetence of government ministers and senior bankers - who I expect will get rather more than a 1% pay rise. I agree that the public sector is too big, especially at the top levels, but there are a lot of low paid staff as well. While public sector staff are easy targets, one must not forget that nurses, teachers, police, cleaners etc do a low paid job that most of us would rather not do.

My two fellow passengers will be all right. The banks will be busy with their lawyers finding loopholes in the rules to make sure the glasses are still full. And if George Osborne is in Number 11, his first budget will ensure they are not reduced to travelling by coach again.

The report was, of course, yet another missed opportunity. To get out of the recession we need more people spending money, so that businesses can recover, and employ people. More people working means more people paying taxes and less people claiming benefits - thus contributing to reducing the deficit. I'm not an economist but that seems obvious to me.

If on the other hand money is taken away from people, especially the low paid, they will have to scrimp and save even more, thus not spending money, thus businesses continuing to suffer.

To conclude, a not very good day - and we only got rid of our boiler last year!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sittingbourne & Sheppey - more candidates

It will be quite a party in Sittingbourne & Sheppey at the next election as now we will have six candidates battling for the votes.

Today UKIP announced Ian Davison as their candidate. I suspect Mr Davison and I would agree about a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU but suspect we would vote differently. Still, a welcome to Ian.

And the BNP have recently announced an intention to put up a candidate. No surprise, really, as they got 15% of the vote in Sheppey at the county council elections this year.

The Conservative party and the Loonies selected their candidates ages ago and Labour just recently. I don't know about the Greens, English Democrats or anyone else.

So that leaves ... us! I am afraid I can't comment at present but only to say the wheels are in motion. And we are very much looking forward to the campaign.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Complaint to BBC

'I would like to complain about Question Time, 26 November, as once again the Liberal Democrats were omitted from the panel.

The programme was in Scotland (where the Liberal Democrats have recently shared power) and the first question was on the Iraq war (where Liberal Democrat opposition to the war has been proved right). Despite this, the decision was made to ignore the right of the Lib Dems to be represented – a common trait amongst the media but one should expect better from the BBC.

In Scotland, there are four major parties – and it is clearly wrong to invite only three to such a prominent programme.

To ignore the Liberal Democrats (who got nearly six million votes at the last election) is complete bias and against the principles of the BBC. It seems strange that the BBC are so quick to promote the right of the BNP to be heard yet are so quick to dismiss the far greater right of the Liberal Democrats.

I would welcome your views'.

(I will let you know if I get a reply but don't hold your breath).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Should the Queen read the Queen's speech?

While watching the Queens’ speech, I found myself saying ‘boo’ and ‘nonsense’ etc, when suddenly I felt very guilty. Here was a lady, 83 years old, 57 years as our Queen, a lifetime of service to the country, one of the greatest Britons that ever lived, and I am sitting here heckling her.

Of course the Queen is merely reading out text written by the Prime Minister – of whom we have every right to boo and heckle – but this made me wonder whether having the government’s programme read by the Queen gives it some sort of false respectability and risks dragging the Queen into party politics by exploiting the automatic loyalty most people have for her.

Apparently it’s an annual game amongst spin doctors as to how much they can get away with. For example, in 1997 Tony Blair’s first Queen’s speech started with ‘My Government intends to govern for the benefit of the whole nation’ – the implication being that the last lot had no such intention.

Here’s a test. Imagine the Queen sitting on her throne, crown and jewels, the Duke next to her, etc. She is reading out. Have you got her voice in your head? Right, she now slowly reads the following:

‘My government will bring forward legislation to offset the national debt by selling parts of British territory to foreign countries. We look forward to welcoming the President of France to commemorate the handover of the Isle of Wight.’

‘My lords and Members of the House of Commons, legislation will be brought before you to provide every roof with a large upside down umbrella to combat the problems of water shortage.’

Now how do these ideas seem when you hear them from the Queen?

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Very British Selection

The new President of the European Union is the gloriously-named Mr Herman Van Rompuy, the Prime Minister of Belgium. On seeing his photo, my first thought was I didn’t know Sven Goran Eriksson had gone into politics – I hope the EU do better than Notts County.

Mr Van Rompuy’s name, pronounced, I think, Rumpy, is a headline writer’s dream. Now if Ed Balls becomes Labour leader, sub-editors everywhere will be leaping for joy.

As I said earlier, I think we should have elected the President. Still, we must wish Mr Van Rompuy luck in his new post.

Despite the media’s scorn, there is something very British about this selection of the least offensive candidate. Instead of cheering someone on, we are more likely to fear the alternative and rally behind a compromise.

The Conservative party have constantly chosen leaders for who they are not – John Major was not Michael Heseltine, William Hague was not Ken Clarke, Ian Duncan Smith was not Michael Portillo and David Cameron was not David Davis. In each case the obvious front runner was defeated by the more conciliatory option. As John Major said at his first cabinet meeting as PM, ‘who would have thought it?’

Not only in politics of course. In business, top quality candidates are often sidelined by their superiors for fear of their own position. When David Frost first applied for a job with the BBC in the 1960s, he was nearly rejected because he did such a great interview that the panel feared his brilliance.

Brian Clough would have made a great England manager, Matthew Le Tissier and Glenn Hoddle should have played for England more often, Geoff Boycott would have made a good chairman of England cricket selectors and James Nesbitt would have made a great Doctor Who. The list of might-have-beens goes on.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sittingbourne and Sheppey election - race hots up

The Labour party have now announced their candidate to defend our parliamentary seat in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. It is Angela Harrison, the leader of the Labour group at Swale Council. This is good in one way, that we have some local candidates in the picture, but not so good in that she would be a more formidable opponent than someone imported from outside.

It also shows how pointless it was to have a woman's only shortlist. As a senior local member, Ms Harrison may well have defeated all other Labour candidates, male and female.

Our MP, Derek Wyatt, will be standing down and Ms Harrison will be defending his majority of 79 which, with the government's unpopularity and the boundary changes, will be almost impossible.

The Conservative candidate, Gordon Henderson, was announced long ago and he has been very busy getting his face in the local paper each week. UKIP will be announcing a candidate soon. The Loonies have already announced 'Mad Mike' Young (who kindly gave me a banana at the county council count). Nothing yet from the Greens or the BNP who may well enter the race.

So that just leaves us. As I said earlier, I am hoping to be our candidate for the election to fight my local seat and will be discussing my intentions at the AGM coming soon. However I have received some details from other constituencies looking for a candidate just in case.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

For once, David Cameron is right - sort of

While damaging to the country’s interests, it is always fun to watch the Conservatives wriggling to avoid self-destruction over Europe – and again we see their leadership furiously backpedalling. For once, however, David Cameron has got something right.

We should have had referendums over the various European treaties – we should have had one on Maastricht (which the Tories denied us), on Nice and on Lisbon. Had we done so, everyone would be much more clued-up over Europe and aware of the advantages. There is much that is wrong and much improvement needed with the European Union, but sitting on the fence doing nothing is not going to change anything. It is reassuring therefore to hear Mr Cameron promise a referendum on any future treaty – better late than never, I guess – assuming he keeps his word this time.

Throughout the history of the EU we have followed, dragged along by others, never led. We were late joining originally and instead joined on the terms of others, we are not in the Euro, we are not in the passport agreement, and has any major EU initiative or treaty originated from the UK?

It’s time to bite the bullet and decide once and for all. We have dithered for too long. We should have a referendum to ask do we want to stay in the EU?

There should be a national debate, both sides can be heard, and then the public can decide. Either we take a full and active role in the European project, join the Euro and the Schengen agreement, have our MEPs as part of the main groupings in the parliament, and take the subject more seriously? Or we simply leave the EU and go it alone?

That is the referendum that David Cameron should be promising us.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Six Months Left

It’s a strange feeling when a long standing government is in its last months and slowly drifts out of power. They can’t acknowledge that, of course, but we are now all thinking of the days when Gordon Brown has moved on and asking ourselves who will be the next Labour leader, and what will David Cameron be like as Prime Minister?

There is, of course, none of that euphoria we saw in 1997. The collapse of the Major government, after 18 years of Tory rule, sparked a national celebration, young faces at the top, Blair’s babes, ‘things can only get better’, Michael Portillo defeated etc. This fitted in with society with ‘cool Britannia’, Britpop, 90s fashion, lots of flag waving. At long long last the Conservatives were gone and the party can start.

Now they are coming back! This is the hard bit. It took so long to get rid of them but ten minutes later they may be returning – the days of using unemployment to control the economy (it was a ‘price worth paying’), tax perks for the wealthy, spending cuts for the rest of us etc. The only good bit will be watching them self-destruct next time there’s a European treaty on the horizon despite the damage this will do to our interests in Europe.

The Labour party of 1997 was completely different to that which lost power in 1979 and much different from the Neil Kinnock party in the 1980s. New Labour changed itself beyond recognition and captured the then spirit of the nation. Now New Labour is tired and bankrupt (as is the nation). But have the Conservatives changed? Are they much different from the Conservatives that were hammered in 1997? I am not so sure.

And what about us in the Lib Dems? We have grown – we control or share control of numerous councils around the country, we have governed in Scotland and Wales, and we have more MPs than any third party since 1929. The days of a handful of Liberals and lost deposits are long gone (although it must have been fun sitting around a table with Cyril Smith and Clement Freud). But we must keep going, keep the pressure on, keep campaigning – as we are needed. A country that only has the choice between Gordon Brown’s Labour and the 'nasty' Conservative party in an out-of-date unrepresentative centuries-old political system is an unlucky country indeed.

Let’s hope we have a good year next year. If there is a Conservative government, the country will need an effective opposition to keep them on their toes, and that’s where we come in.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sittingbourne Local Engagement Forum - report

Last night I attended the Sittingbourne Local Engagement Forum – a three-monthly meeting to allow the people of Swale to meet and ask questions of their councillors and other council representatives.

The forum is a good idea – just a shame that it wasn’t very well advertised as the room was full of councillors and representatives but hardly any members of the public. I only found out about it through a Lib Dem Members Newsletter.

But they didn’t miss much. The first half of the session was very much back patting, ‘aren’t we doing well’ etc. Two senior policemen were particularly pleased with themselves which did not impress me. I’ve had to report anti-social behaviour several times including eggs and stones thrown at the house and promised a visit by a PCSO on three occasions. And gangs of kids regularly congregate in the road with never a police uniform in sight.

The walk from Sittingbourne station through the town centre after dark to get to the meeting past several characters was a nervy experience in itself – although to be fair I did witness one very brave policeman taking on an unruly family who had overdone the lager (and language) somewhat.

So why didn’t I say this at the meeting? Because the chairman only allowed questions at the end – by which time of course the meeting had moved on. One lady, more formidable than I, made good points about communication regarding hate crime and got I felt rather patronising responses.

Things much improved after that – with an interesting activity over voluntary services, a look at spending on certain projects, and a discussion on the regeneration plan – so the whole evening was not a waste of time. It was all very interesting to witness.

I will be back in January - and I will try to encourage more ordinary people to attend.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

'Global warming myth' myth - letter to Sunday Telegraph

This is a letter to the Sunday Telegraph following a long article by Christopher Booker who regularly writes a column disputing climate change etc. I put it here as they are unlikely to publish it.

'Dear Editor'

'Interesting article by Christopher Booker - but I have one question for him.'

'Earlier this year we had a heavy snowfall. Kids aged 12 and 13 were very excited because they 'have never seen snow before'. It was all gone in three days.'

'When I was their age in the 1970s we used to get at least two or three weeks snow every year, with football matches regularly postponed and journeys to school and work disrupted.'

'My parents have told me of the epic winters they used to suffer in the 1940s and 1950s in London - week upon week of heavy snow and cold ice. 1947 and 1963 being just the two most famous examples.'

'Now I am not a scientist, so don't understand all the jargon, but my question is simply this. If global warming is a myth, what happened to those winters and why don't we get as much snow any more?'

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On the List of Approved Candidates!

The big news this week is that I have been successful in getting on the list of Approved Parliamentary Candidates for the Liberal Democrats. This means I can now apply to seats to run for parliament.

Last week I was in Eastbourne for a day of evaluation sessions - it was hard going and I thought I had just run short - so was delighted to discover, while checking emails on a borrowed lap top in a pub in Bayeux (don't ask) that I was successful.

So now to find a seat to contest and I am hoping to get the chance to be the candidate for my local constituency, Sittingbourne and Sheppey. This is of course up to my local party, and we meet for our AGM next month.

Our current MP, Derek Wyatt (Labour) is stepping down and the Labour candidate will be announced next month. The strong front runner is the Conservative Gordon Henderson who only has to overturn a majority of 79. There will probably be a Loony running (or I should say another Loony as UKIP and BNP might also be up for it).

Anyway, it should be fun. Watch this space.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bayeux and back

A break away from the fray. Mary and I have just got back from a holiday at the French town of Bayeux in Normandy.

This was a chance for me to follow my interest in military history and tour the D-Day beaches. We went on two one-day tours, one for the American sector and the other covering the British, and we saw a lot and heard a lot of stories. While we were there we saw the Bayeux tapestry, the cathedral and various museums as well as speaking some basic French and eating too much food.

The most moving part was walking around the Bayeux War Cemetery and reading some of the inscriptions from loved ones. Most were British from the Normandy campaign June-August 1944 and I guessed that Tony Blair had never been there - as anyone who reads those gravestones would never choose to launch a war.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sittingbourne Labour bans men!

Letter to East Kent Gazette

I was surprised to see that the local Labour party are excluding all men from consideration as candidates in defence of Derek Wyatt's parliamentary seat. This is simply discrimination - and insulting to both men and women.

We all want to see more women in politics but the way to do this is to encourage more people overall to get involved and to join whichever political party is closest to their own views.

In the Liberal Democrats we have many talented and able women both at national and local level, who got there through their own skills and abilities. I am sure there are talented women in the Labour party too, but to say they need special rules because they can't compete with the men seems insulting.

Perhaps as it is unlikely that Labour will successfully defend this seat (the majority over the Tories is 79) they are looking for a fall guy (or, rather, a fall girl) so that the 'men' can come back next time round.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vicky Pollard - Conservative minister for Europe

"Yeah, but, no, but, yeah, but, no, but" etc

As their former leaders know, the Conservative party love a good punch-up over Europe. It's almost worth seeing them in government again to witness the fun we saw in the mid-90s. One minute they want to be 'at the heart of Europe', then they are Eurosceptics trying to 'save the pound', now a beautifully poised fudge. (To be fair, we can't blame David Cameron for being vague. He only has to keep everyone quiet and he will be walking into Number 10 - heaven help us).

The Lisbon Treaty process is now two signatures away from completion. I was in favour of a referendum and would have voted 'yes'. The European Union is a bureaucratic nightmare, a total mess, and the treaty goes some way (only a little though) to clearing that up. But a public debate would at least make people more aware of the pros and cons.

What about the Conservatives? Having moved their MEPs to the far fringes of European affairs, they have now promised, after ratification of Lisbon, to 'not let matters rest there' (whatever that means?).

The Lisbon treaty has set out provisions for countries to leave the EU completely - so why doesn't David Cameron promise a referendum on that? Do we want to remain members of the European Union? Then what will their position be - yeah, no, yeah, no?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Investigators and Itches

Four of my work colleagues at the Local Government Ombudsman , all investigators, leave on Wednesday. It’s always sad to see colleagues go (although they never appear sad themselves) but there should be a good party on Wednesday night.

I myself have applied for an investigator position three times but instead they recruited people who left within a year or two. I’m not bitter, of course.

But I digress. Always good to have a party and a few beers and wish our colleagues well.

The other event this week is my wedding anniversary on Friday. Seven years! I am now waiting for Marilyn Monroe to move in next door.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Democracy is great' - Letter to East Kent Gazette

With eight months to an election, the opinion polls are all putting the Conservatives on around 40%, with a healthy lead over the other parties. David Cameron and his colleagues are quietly preparing for government. Based on the turnout usually seen at general elections, this makes approximately a quarter of the electorate.

Wait a minute. After 12 years of Labour, with a massive recession, with a government in disarray, with the economy in turmoil - still only a quarter of the adult population want to see a Conservative government.

Sadly because of our corrupt electoral system, a quarter is all the Tories need for a thumping majority in parliament. Tough luck to the other three quarters.

Democracy is great. I hope one day that we try it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vote for the President

There has been talk of a European President, as set out by the Lisbon treaty, and the front runners include Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, and Jean-Claude Juncker (hands up if you know who he is) as well as various foreign politicians that most of us have never heard of.

The post is for a two and a half year term elected by the various heads of states and governments. But we are missing an opportunity.

The European Union in the UK has a poor image – as indicated by the large vote for UKIP in the European elections and the Conservatives adopting Eurosceptism as a policy. In my view, this is because people don’t know much about the EU – and we always fear what we don’t know. If we had had referendums on Maastricht, Nice, the Euro and so on, we would have had an open debate over the years and appreciate the benefits. We would by now be playing a fuller active role, throwing our weight around, and UKIP would just be a dozen ex-Tories with loud voices. But I digress.

Why don’t we elect the European President? The electorate in all 27 countries could have a straightforward vote using the Supplementary Vote system (as in the London Mayor vote) to ensure the winner has a majority.

Advantage: the candidates would then campaign in all the countries – so we will know more about them – even Mr Juncker. The European people have a greater say in the EU. And with a mandate behind him/her the President can sort out some of the nonsense that the EU has to put up with.

But, I hear some people cry, surely everyone will just vote for their countryman and the President will always be German. Poor Mr Juncker (the Prime Minister of Luxembourg since you ask) wouldn’t have a chance. However under this theory everyone in the UK would vote for Tony Blair – which somehow I doubt.

Balloting 500 million people would take time but if we want everyone to be more Europhile, we must trust them with making these sort of decisions.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bournemouth - good training - not so good beggars

Just got back from a couple of days in Bournemouth. Over two days I have never had so many people approach me asking for money - also in the pubs I would be approached by someone who had clearly had a few. According to my taxi driver, this is a problem in Bournemouth. Advice is to avoid the area round the station and stick to crowded spots in the town.

On a brighter note, the weather was good and lots of people enjoying themselves. Arcades have got a lot more bigger and modern since 1983 so I stick to what I know, play the quiz machines, and invest the winnings in Harry Ramsden's for lunch.

I attended five training sessions - the main two for me were in media training covering TV/radio interviews and press releases, which were both excellent and should be useful in my preparation for my parliamentary candidate list application. Others I attended out of interest, including getting new members and on communications. Recruiting new members involved a bit of sales work - which reminded me of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross - 'ABC'. Alas, I have no experience in sales so will seek advice on this.

Finally, having been told off by one's little sister, will try to update blog more often. There is, after all, a lot to talk about.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Off to Bournemouth

Apologies for not updating for a while.

This weekend it is conference time and I am off to sunny (I hope) Bournemouth. The main items for me will be the various training that is on offer which I hope will strengthen my application to join the approved parliamentary candidates list - and as this is the last conference before the election there is lots of training on offer.

Despite what Alan Duncan may think, the job of MP seems quite attractive to me - and although the chances of becoming a Lib Dem MP are very slim (and the chances of being very slim are also very slim) the prospect of running for parliament and campaigning at a general election sounds great fun. I will be attending an evaluation day next month to give me a grilling to see if I am up to it - hence my desire for training.

My only previous visit to Bournemouth was a family holiday in 1983 when it was very sunny and I spent a lot of time in the arcades. The town is a favourite for conferences, like Brighton and Blackpool, due to its being by the sea. I wonder if they still sell rock?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Letter to East Kent Gazette

'It is interesting to see each week in the letters page that the election is under way with the Conservatives, Labour and even UKIP having an enjoyable time attacking each other. But I hope the voters won’t forget the Liberal Democrats.

'I agree with Roger Truelove, the Labour chairman, that we should have a positive debate about national and local issues and how we should approach the challenges facing us – and we look forward to that debate during the campaign. But the bottom line is that the Labour government has failed and is now drifting through its last days of power.

'Meanwhile, the Conservatives concentrate on negative attacks to disguise their lack of ideas and vision in the assumption that they only have to turn up to win. To be fair, they may well be right.

'Only the Liberal Democrats have a positive agenda for change with tax cuts, a green economy, genuine political reform and an ambitious programme for education investment – and that’s just for starters.

'I hope those who do not want to see Gordon Henderson sitting on the Tory benches as our next MP will consider the only real alternative.

Letter in Sunday Telegraph - 16 August

'Daniel Hannan is right to praise the use of an open primary in Totnes but forgets to state that, even if all MPs were selected this way, the end result would remain an unrepresentative parliament, still disproportionate to the voters wishes.

'The best answer is to adopt an electoral system known as Single Transferable Voting (STV). This is a method of large constituences with a number of MPs and allows voters to choose the individuals they want, rather than parties. A Tory voter would be able to choose from more than one candidate (as Mr Hannan encourages).

'An advantage would be that voters could vote against their MP (if angry over his/her expenses) but still vote for someone from that party, which they can't do at present.

'This is a more flexible and democratic process and the end result, although not exactly proportional representation, would be a far more representative parliament than is currently the case. I would encourage our politicians to back this method.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The debate to have a debate

At every election, the topic arises of a US-style debate between the leaders, and you can’t beat the cut and thrust of a good verbal battle of ideas and propositions.

However debates can be blamed for losing elections but never credited for winning. Nixon’s performance against Kennedy in 1960 and Ford’s Poland gaffe in 1976 are just two examples. For this reason we are, alas, unlikely to ever see them here. It is usually the one who is behind in the polls who is keen for it to happen – hence Labour’s current interest.

For our part, we should not, of course, fear a debate on financial issues. Vince Cable should be able to comfortably wipe the floor with Alastair Darling and George Osborne. It is sad that the most able candidate for Chancellor is the least likely to get it – but such is life. Indeed I myself have been turned down for jobs in favour of less able candidates - some of whom then leave within two years.

At the last election Tony Blair argued that the leaders debate every week in the Commons – but the yah boo session whereby both leaders shout abuse at it other roared on by 300 rabble rousers is hardly the same as a civilised discussion.

Parliament has of course seen many great debaters over the years. Recent examples include Michael Foot, Enoch Powell and Tony Benn. You would take these guys on at your peril. But now leading politicians often avoid a proper debate like the plague.

In Sittingbourne, the Conservative candidate, Gordon Henderson, is a virtual dead-cert to win the seat. Would he have a public debate with the other candidates during the campaign next year? Perhaps not, but I might ask him nearer the time.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Kick off is nearly with us

Today is the first of August and that means one thing - yes, the start of the football season is soon upon us. I've got my FourFourTwo season preview so am almost ready for the kick off. The first live TV game is on Thursday on ITV4 in a game where Fulham are already three up against some team from Lithuania - but a drought is a drought.

My earlier grumble about Sky/ESPN/Setanta etc seems to have nearly reached a solution with ESPN possibly being available on Freeview. Hopefully they will sort this out before the Premiership starts. ESPN is showing the beautiful game from England, Scotland, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Russia (!) and the USA. That's a lot of footy.

This season, for a change, I think I will follow League One (what we used to call the third division). Not only does this appear to be the most competitive of the four divisions (can you guess the top four so easily) but, by co-incidence it contains my team (Norwich City), my local team (Gillingham), the local team of where I grew up (Wycombe) as well as the teams of some friends of mine (Leeds, Southampton, Charlton). Piece of luck eh?

And of course any mention of football must make us think of Sir Bobby Robson who I am sure will get a deserved minute's applause at many of the first games. He was responsible for Ipswich Town being a decent team, and gave us Paul Gascoigne and Jose Mourinho - but let's not hold that against him. He was a jolly good chap and our second best England manager. Rest in Peace Sir Bobby.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The axe of friendly fire

Sometimes in politics, one doesn’t agree with the leadership. I did not agree, for example, with our decision to abandon the pledge for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Nor the decision not to oppose David Davis at his self-declared by-election.

It was on the coach home yesterday that I opened the Evening Standard to see the headline that the Lib Dems were considering axing key pledges – and my heart sank to the floor. Free tuition fees – higher state pensions – all vote-winning eye-catching polices but were now ‘up for review’. In my mind’s eye I had the image of voting papers turning to dust.

It is difficult enough being a Liberal Democrat and getting your argument across to people without your leaders then saying that the message we have all struggled to project might not go ahead after all.

A criticism of the old Liberal-SDP Alliance was that it had no policies or beliefs. With the Liberal Democrats it is the opposite – not only are there too many policies, but they change so fast it is difficult for us members to keep up. I disagreed with the policy to reduce income tax by 4%, as I thought you could not make such a drastic cut coming into government. As I put my case to my local party, the policy was dropped – admittedly for a more sensible one.

I accept the argument that we must be responsible and honest with the electorate (although the other two parties do quite well without this) but with less than a year to an election, we cannot say to the electorate – ‘this is our programme but we might axe bits of it’. It makes us look confused and indecisive and provides ammunition to our opponents.

Faversham Lib Dem barbecue on Sunday. A good time to gauge some opinion from my colleagues over the burgers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back to business

Back to the fray as we had our first Sittingbourne Lib Dem meeting since the county council elections. This time to talk tactics regarding 2010 – when 16 of Swale’s 47 council seats are up for grabs. We are defending one while the Tories are defending 11 and Labour hanging on to four. The Conservatives will be hoping to increase their current majority of nine.

One complicating factor is that these elections may be the same day as a general election which will mean a higher turnout and that voters will have national issues more in mind. On the other hand, if Mr Brown decides to cling on to the very last second, he can go the full distance and have an election in June 2010.

I shall hope to be a candidate myself but whoever wins these 16 wards will only have a year to get comfy before getting back on the pavement – as the Council will be ‘all out’ in 2001 with all 47 seats being re-elected. This is a result of a Labour government granting a Conservative council request to alter the voting timetable with the aim of severely handicapping the smaller parties – especially the Lib Dems, as we don’t have the deep pockets of our two bigger colleagues. However, having said that, the Tories did very well in the county council elections despite doing hardly any work. So maybe less is more.

Of course, of all parties, Labour and the Conservatives have the cosiest relationship - as they have, for them, the perfect political system – where they can take turns to hold unrepresentative power and keep out anyone else who wants to get involved, while we go from one economic crisis to the next. It would be interesting if we were ever to introduce democracy.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Our MP has resigned

The big local news this week has been the decision by Derek Wyatt, our Labour MP, not to stand at the next election. He has been MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey since 1997, although he only held on in 2005 with a majority of 79. He has said it is for family reasons following his divorce and I think the fact that he has to defend a tiny majority against what looks like will be a nasty Conservative campaign was too much.

Like most MPs he got hit by the expenses scandal and his decision to take the second home allowance and not live in this area. He put his foot in it by saying this was because he found the commute from Sittingbourne to Westminster very exhausting. I quite agree, Derek, as I have been doing it for five years - as do hundreds of others!

By all accounts Derek Wyatt has been a good and hard working constituency MP, but unfortunately for him he has the word 'Labour' attached and hence is associated with our dire government.

On the eve of the county council elections, the Conservatives did a mail shot detailing Derek Wyatt's expenses - a rather unnecessary and negative attack in my opinion. The Tory candidate has promised not to claim the second home allowance - that will be interesting.

It is almost certain that the Conservative party will pick up this seat at the next election - then we in Sittingbourne will have a Tory borough council, a Tory county council and a Tory MP under a probable Tory government. Won't we be the lucky ones?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

One Year - or it's back to Square One

The Reform Act 1832 is often referred to as the start of modern democracy – abolishing rotten boroughs, giving seats to the industrial cities and extending the size of the electorate to 20% of adult men. It was also ferociously opposed by the Tories.

Why is this relevant? It is because EVERY item of constitutional and parliamentary reform over the last 177 years, whether it is secret ballots, votes for women, limiting the powers of the House of Lords, or assemblies for Scotland and Wales, has been opposed and argued against by the Conservative party. Once in power, the Tories generally don’t ‘un-do’ reform – but instead roadblock any further reform.

This is why it is essential that, in this last year before an election which seems destined to be won by the Conservative party, we move NOW on political reform. If the new Speaker wants to make improvements then he and the party leaders must get going on attempts now to make MPs genuinely accountable to those who elect them and to make parliament more representative and better able to scrutinise the government.

There have been a few sacrificial lambs and will be a few changes regarding expenses but if we don’t move now, then one year from now, David Cameron will be in Number 10, 400-odd MPs will just move from one side of the House to the other, the same old faces will settle back down in their safe seats, and nothing will happen! We will continue having a government with total power elected by the few and an unrepresentative and impotent parliament.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

York and Setanta

I haven't been updating lately as, like many of us, I have had a post-election campaign break. And, shock, I have had other things than politics on my mind.

We went to York for a few days. I work for the Local Government Ombudsman (on the administration side - so there's no conflict of interest as I don't investigate complaints) and previously all I have seen of York is the taxi ride from the station to our regional office and vice versa - and I have always thought it would be nice to have a few days off to see the sights in York. (We also have an office in Coventry - but I haven't really had the same interest).

York was very nice for a visit, lots of history and sights to see and recommended for a short break. Now preparing our next holiday - Normandy - to walk the D-Day beaches in October.

The other thing on my mind has been the demise of Setanta. For the last two years, in my continued resistance to the dish culture, I have subscribed to Setanta on Freeview and enjoyed the footy. Alas, like ITV Digital, they have now been forced to the wall.

Under competition law, Sky cannot bid for all the live Premier football. So the Setanta packages have gone to ESPN. And to watch ESPN, you have to, wait for it, subscribe to Sky! Something wrong there!

Hopefully there will be some non-Sky option to watch ESPN but there's a danger that Sky will resume a monopoly, indirectly, on Premier football as well as having got all the cricket.

Grumble over. Back to politics next entry! Is the expenses story still running?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sing out loud - for STV

Mixed news for us in Kent. Our vote held steady, we gained one county council seat and are now the official opposition to the Conservatives as a result of Labour’s collapse. The problem is that we have only seven Councillors to oppose the Conservatives 74!

Every administration should have an effective opposition to keep it on its toes but how is this possible against such odds? I would like to know how opponents of voting reform can justify one party getting near complete power on just 40% of the votes.

Our Prime Minister appears to have made a death bed conversion to voting reform, but, not for the first time, it’s right question, wrong answer. We need a system by which the voter can choose between candidates of the same party – and not just have the one foisted on them by the parties. This is true freedom of choice.

Unfortunately the use of the party list and the election of the BNP's MEPs are giving PR a bad reputation. We must make a loud case for the far better option of multi-member constituencies and the Single Transferable Vote (and we must think of a more catchy name for it!).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Meeting characters on their doorstep

Canvassing experiences can tell you interesting things about the people who have decided how they will vote.

Conservatives will look you directly you in the eye and say 'Conservative' in a forceful voice, as if to add, 'what's it to you' or 'what are you going to do about it?' As the Conservatives are the nasty party, then it stands to reason they must have some nasty voters.

Labour votes are very interested in shoes as they will quietly look at your feet, or their own feet, and whisper 'Labour' -as if to add 'please don't tell anybody'. I guess it's not the sort of thing you want too many people in Kent to know.

UKIP voters will stand to their full height, put on their Churchill expression, and boldly declare 'UK Independence Party'. You can almost hear the tones of Land of Hope and Glory.

Greens are very cheerful - as if to say the word 'green' brings on a smile - which it does I suppose.

Lib Dem voters (yes, there are quite a few ) will say 'Liberal Democrat' in a jocular tone - as if to add 'but I don't know why'. We must work more on our message.

I don't know what BNP voters would say (as I didn't meet any) but I imagine it's not repeatable.

Then you will get those who go on about expenses, corruptness and slam the door in your face. The fact that it was Lib Dems who exposed the expenses situation in the UK and the EU seems to have been lost. They will go down as non-voters.

Finally, you will get those that will say along the line of 'I have decided who to vote for but it is not your business but between me and the ballot box' in a pompous 'push off' sort of voice. They should be put down as Conservatives.

Friday, June 5, 2009

My result

Kent County Council - Swale Central
  • Mike Whiting (Conservative) 3,982
  • Alan Willicombe (Conservative) 3,849
  • Roger Truelove (Labour) 2,665
  • Ghlin Whelan (Labour) 2,168
  • Dave Manning (Liberal Democrat) 1,904
  • Keith Nevols (Liberal Democrat) 1,594
  • Sheikh Mihand (Official Monster Raving Loony) 566

Turnout - 33.4%

Considering we did no work in this ward, this was not too bad a result. Dave got 11.4% and I got 9.5%. As expected, long-time local councillor Roger Truelove lost his seat. In fact the Conservatives held five and gained two - so they now have all seven county council seats in Swale.

Despite our small numbers, we did a good campaign in our target ward - Swale West - where we increased our vote from 19.5% to 28.9% - although still well behind the Tories. Overall in Swale the Conservative vote percentage has been virtually identical to 2005 with Labour's vote crumbling and going to the smaller parties.

The whole experience of leafleting, canvassing and 'knocking up' was tiring but has been quite fun.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vote, vote, vote!

It's now 9.30 am on election day and I am about to go to campaign headquarters to see how I can help get our voters out. I was up at 4.30 this morning (being a commuter I am used to early starts) to deliver 'good morning' leaflets for a couple of hours and now my wife and I have just returned from the voting station where I was able to vote for myself (and I hope she did too). I was relieved to see that my name was spelt correctly.

Isn't the European election form quite big? Took me a while to find the party I wanted to vote for.

Everyone - get out and vote today! And good luck to all the Lib Dem candidates.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

An unhappy customer

‘I am fed up and have no interest in any of you and you can tell your leaders that I won’t be voting because I am disgusted with the lot of you.’ Slam!

This was a highlight of an eventful Friday afternoon around Newington. After a lot of knocking on doors to be greeted by some don’t knows, it was nice to put someone down on the sheet as a definite ‘not voting’. So we won’t be calling there on Thursday.

Despite the recent negative publicity though, nearly everyone greeted me with courtesy and politeness. After all, if we were making lots of money out of expenses, we would be doing something different with our Friday afternoons.

Saturday was a day off to enjoy the cup final with a beer or two. Then Sunday back onto the leaflets as we go into the eve of poll and the last lap.

Two days to go. Everyone get ready to vote!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

1979 and all that!

A few weeks ago the BBC repeated their coverage of the 1979 election night. Many people were interviewed about what Mrs Thatcher’s new government might bring. The most amusing part (even more amusing that what people were wearing in 1979) was the fact that absolutely no-one had a clue on the various bombshells that were about to hit them.

There was a factory owner who employed 70 people and was pleased and optimistic for the future. Was his one of the many thousands of small businesses who went to the wall as British manufacturing was virtually wiped out?

There was an industrial worker hoping the new government would do something about unemployment. What happened to him as unemployment doubled and stayed over three million for most of the 1980s?

A trade union leader said they were prepared to take a tough line with the new government – oblivious to the fact that the days of union power were now numbered.

Several Labour politicians gave their thoughts - little knowing it would be 18 years before they see Number 10 again (if they were still alive) during which time their party would abandon most of its socialist principles.

There were the smug fat cat Heath-ite Tories, merrily discussing in their clubs about how to control their new PM, little realising their political careers and principles were now out of date.

Above all, there was a fresh faced, 53 year old, harmless-looking, slightly shy lady in a smart blue suit with a big smile waving to her cheering supporters.

Oh if only we knew!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kent County Council - the Hole Truth

Here is my latest letter - published in the Kent on Sunday (17 May).

'With the upcoming County Council elections on 4 June I hope everyone will consider the state of the roads and pavements. People have fallen over, cars have been damaged, and cycling is much more dangerous. Kent County Council's answer is that, after 12 years of Conservative rule, the backlog of pavement repairs will take 226 years to clear. I'm not sure we'll be around to find out.

Instead KCC has spent millions on publicising itself and paying managers large salaries. And that's not to mention a few quid that went to Iceland. All money which could have been better used to improve our safety. The Tories are relying on the Government's unpopularity to retain control of Kent but I hope voters see through it.

If you are happy with the state of the pavements and highways then vote Conservative, or don't vote at all. If you want the county to be run the way the country is run, then you can vote Labour.

But if you want the plans, the people, and the policies to get the condition of the roads back in the right direction then you should vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Keith Nevols, Lib Dem candidate, Swale Central, Sittingbourne.'

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yes to Reform! No to Tories!

It's all been happening in Westminster lately and now we have calls for a fresh parliament and a general election. I have sympathy with these views but there is one major flaw - an immediate election is likely to result in a Conservative majority. And would a Cameron administration bring us the changes our parliament desperately needs? I think not.

Let's have the reforms first - proportional representation, fixed term parliaments, a written constitution, greater powers for parliament to hold government to account, a bill of rights, moves towards an English parliament and setting up an elected second chamber, fewer MPs etc.

Let's put these reforms, or as many of them, in place in the months ahead to set up a modern forward looking 21st century democracy - and then let's have the general election.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The mercy of self-government

It was once said that Italy were the biggest enthusiasts of the European Union, and of closer political integration, because a European government could not be any worse than their own dire administrations.

This week I saw messages by UKIP, BNP and one or two others saying 'let us govern ourselves'. Hmm, the flaw in this argument is that when you look at the Cabinet, and then you look at the shadow cabinet, you begin to wonder if the Italians had a point.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The missing Conservatives

In Sittingbourne we have a mystery. We've lost the Conservative party!!

The county council candidates were announced this week. Yours truly is on there for Swale Central, and the three major parties have candidates in all of Sittingbourne's six wards. The BNP, UKIP and the Greens all have two and we even have a couple of loonies - Official Loonies, I should say.

We have been out canvassing and leafleting and Labour have also been busy. But the Conservatives have completely vanished - we've seen no leaflets nor canvassing - and there's no mention at all on the Sittingbourne Conservatives web site. Click on the link for 'Council candidates' and you get a profile of the parliamentary candidate instead!

Of course this may be a subtle ploy. Maybe the plan is a blitz in the last couple of weeks, maybe there's a lot of quiet canvassing going on, or maybe, with the Labour party being so unpopular, the policy is to be quiet and win by default. Whatever it is, if they win all seven seats then their tactics would be a success.

Hopefully Swale's voters will recall that the Conservative Party have run the wasteful Kent County Council and that only the Lib Dems have the people and the policies to set Kent back on track.

In the meantime, if you see the Tories in Swale, let me know. But there won't be a reward.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sittingbourne campaign update

The campaign continued this weekend with all the papers being signed and some canvassing in Newington. In the Swale West ward we have long-time councillor and our local leader, Elvie Lowe, up against the incumbent, Conservative Keith Ferrin, who, as Kent’s transport spokesman, has been much in the news lately regarding the Council’s failure to prepare for the bad weather earlier this year, the unhelpfulness regarding Rachel Rook’s A249 campaign (see below) and the admission by the Council that to fix the pavement repairs in Kent would take ‘226 years’ (please note to check in your 2235 diaries).

One lady I called on said ‘if that Mr Ferrin comes calling here, I’ll give him what for.’

In my own Swale Central ward we’ve seen the Labour party. A leaflet arrived, wisely not mentioning Gordon Brown or any national issues – and then a lady called asking me to vote for Roger Truelove, but not mentioning which party he is (also wise) nor the fact that as a double ward there are two Labour candidates. I told her I would be voting for me – which took her aback somewhat.

As for the Conservatives, they must be around somewhere but we haven’t seen anything of them. They are defending five of Sittingbourne’s seven County Council seats (the other two are Labour) but no leaflets or canvassing so far. Perhaps they are expecting the seats to drop in their laps.

Four weeks and two days to go!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A249 Killer Road campaign

I would like to encourage everyone to join Rachel Rook's Facebook group and sign her petition regarding the A249 in Kent.

The A249 runs from Maidstone up to Sheerness, crossing the M2 and M20, and contains sections whereby lorry drivers can do illegal U-turns which are highly dangerous to other road users. Sadly Rachel's father was killed as a result of such an action and she has set up a campaign to get Kent County Council to close these sections to avoid other accidents. There have been at least a dozen other accidents caused by U-turns on the road, not to mention any near misses.

Kent County Council (predictably Tory-controlled) have said that (i) they could put roundabouts on the road (ii) but they won't because they are too expensive. Now they can't decide where to put them. In the meantime, nothing is happening, not even any examination of other options.

Rachel's campaign has 1,323 members on her Facebook group 'A249 Killer Road' and has a petition at

Monday, April 27, 2009

Borden and Upchurch

The campaign trail took me to Borden on Friday evening. Canvassing is a new experience, but after some shadowing, off I went. Many people out (as one should be on a Friday evening) and quite a few ‘haven’t decided yet’ – with one ‘what election?’. And one small dog who found the Focus leaflet delicious.

One lady was quite ferocious. ‘I will vote for you if you can get that Scottish idiot out of Number 10. And that daft woman – we are paying for her husband to watch filthy videos’ and much more along the same line. I never got round to finding out if she will vote for us. Overall though the evening was quite fun so hope to do some more soon.

Saturday morning and yet another small Kent village – Upchurch, not far from Rainham – a village which appears out of nowhere as you drive down country lanes. Lot of big houses with a few problems in finding the front door. Very quiet and sunny day but some more exercise before a pint at The Crown. Thirsty work, this leafleting.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Walking in Borden, Kent

This weekend my delivering took me to Borden, an attractive little village not far from Sittingbourne in Kent. The village is centred around a large church next to a nice pub called The Maypole – which is very popular at Sunday lunch.

Borden is full of quiet, leafy roads with fields and houses wide apart. This last point makes it difficult for delivering leaflets as once you have come to a house it’s then quite a walk to get up to the front door. But it’s all good exercise.

The people we met walking around were friendly and receptive, all saying good morning, and even a large Alsatian that came bounding towards me was, I was assured, ‘soft as a kitten’. (I wasn’t worried, of course). And in keeping with the season I was glad to see one house flying a large flag of St George on their flag pole.

A few hours leafleting, a lot of walking, and a pint back at the Maypole. And hopefully a vote or two. Not a bad days’ work.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"The Storm" has arrived

Today Vince Cable’s book The Storm landed on my doormat. I decided to buy it although this is a challenge for both Vince and myself – as economics is definitely not my thing. I still don’t quite understand how spending £500 billion is saving the world. And I once had to drop out of Economics A-level classes when I simply did not have a clue what was going on.

As Chancellor in the last recession, Norman Lamont said that unemployment was ‘a price worth paying’ to keep inflation down. I was unemployed at the time. Was I being told that my regular collection of dole was patriotically helping out the economy? I remember thinking that if all the unemployed had got jobs, would that have sent inflation up and upset the Chancellor? So you can see that my economic knowledge was a bit basic.

The book has received good reviews, looks a good size and hopefully uses plain English so will let you know how I get on. Anyone out there read it and got some views?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday morning in Newington

A pleasant few hours were spent this morning delivering leaflets around the beautiful little Kent village of Newington - as part of our county council election campaign. The weather was sunny, the houses were nice, and it became a pleasurable stroll.

One lady opened her door as I approached.
'What's this?' she said with suspicion.
'A Focus and a newspaper asking you about local issues' said I cheerfully, 'from the Lib Dems.'
'Oh,' she said brightening up. 'We don't get that from the other parties.'
I may have got us a vote there.

We're fortunate in Kent to have many such small villages and leaflet delivering gives you the perfect excuse to explore.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Political Heavyweights

Who said this: 'Although recent events in the Channel have not necessarily been to our advantage, the country can be assured that, under this administration, any form of hostile force will be met with resistance at the earliest opportunity'. Answer at the end.

I've been thinking about political heavyweights - people with stature and respect across the political spectrum. In the 60s and 70s there were Rab Butler, Enoch Powell, Willie Whitelaw, Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins - and you can add the party leaders Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and, yes, Mrs Thatcher.

But who are the big guys today? Gordon Brown is a giant on a front bench of pygmies - and he'll be gone soon - the Tories could make a case for Ken Clarke - and of course we have our own Vince Cable - but that's about it!

On the other hand, do we want the heavyweights today? The political spotlight means we now favour young photogenic politicians with the right image, rather than establishment types. Would the Tories today choose the Edwardian Macmillan over the young family man Cameron? Would Labour have opted for the reformist Attlee over the bright young thing Blair?

So my conclusion is that we are to blame. We like our politicians to be young, trendy and fashionable in the dumbed down age of Big Brother and The X-Factor. Image and presentation is more important than policy. What would a 21st century spin doctor make of Winston Churchill's grand speeches and expressions?

Which brings me back to the quote - yes, it was Churchill. He actually said 'we shall fight them on the beaches' but I have updated it for a 2009 audience.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jade's words of wisdom

Although I was not a fan of Jade Goody, something she said deserved attention. In the last few months, she has used her profile in order to raise as much money as possible in order to send her sons to private school so they get a good education and don’t become ‘ignorant like me’.

Like all Mums, Jade was clearly concerned about the quality of the state schools in this country (and this is after 18 years of one lot and 12 years of the other) and felt that the best hope for her sons to have a good future was to bypass the state system which failed her and millions of others like her.

Hence in one simple expression, Jade perfectly summed up the current state of education today. Perhaps she was not as ignorant as she thought she was.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hurrah for England and St George - Boo to Swale Conservatives

In hard times, it is always good to have a chance to let one's hair down and celebrate - and what better day than the national day of England - St George's Day - 23 April. Each year Sittingbourne has hosted a St George's Day parade, a popular festival with games, music, competitions and various stalls and events. And it is much needed good business for local retailers.

Unfortunately this year Swale Council have decided to cancel their contribution to this day - saying there is no funding - despite increasing parking and other charges. So the parade is now in doubt unless the organisers can raise over £2,000.

Would any council tax payer complain about the Council contributing towards a day of celebrations - something the local economy could do with at present? I think not. Would a Scottish council cancel celebrations for St Andrews' Day?

In a recent leaflet Gordon Henderson, the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Sittingbourne & Sheppey, says 'As an Englishman I am getting fed up of being treated like a second class citizen in my own country'. I quite agree, Gordon, so how about a phone call to your friends who run Swale Council?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Remembering the days of Margaret

Catching up on my TV dramas, I saw 'Margaret', with Lindsay Duncan powerful in the title role. These were the dramatised events of her downfall in 1990.

At the time I was at university in Aberystwyth and found the events in November fascinating - my only memories of other PMs were of Mike Yarwood's impressions - and as for the winter of discontent, when I was 11, I can well remember all the snow and the black bags outside various gates during the dustman's strike. But by 1990 I simply could not imagine anyone else as Prime Minister. Mrs T had been there throughout my entire teenage years.

Looking back, we should have seen her downfall coming - but it was a shock at the time. Unlike Tony Blair, there was no obvious person to take over. I think we all thought (and feared) that she would indeed 'go on and on'. Certainly not the fact that John Major would step in.

Of course she did great damage to this country, from which we still have not recovered (and probably never will), but two things come to mind. Firstly, for much of her reign, the top rate of tax was 60% and the basic rate was 33% - high by modern day standards. Secondly, again for most of the 1980s, unemployment was over three million - higher than today - and we got so used to it, that it didn't become an issue! I remember a main debate of the 1987 general election was defence.

This last point is quite frightening and could happen again. If David Cameron steps into Number 10, he could be there for ten years simply because we would get used to (and bored by) the recession and would forever blame Gordon Brown for it. So we must be ready to keep up the attack on both of the bigger parties - will a Cameron government cure the recession or just live with it, as the Thatcher government did, as a 'price worth paying' as the Major government did?

I will finish with a brighter note - in the 1980s we had great music, colourful clothes, good television, beer was under a pound a pint, and we were all over 20 years younger. Those were the days!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Meeting Vince Cable MP

In preparation of my FOCUS, a friend suggested to me (thanks, Adam) that I contact Vince Cable MP.

You don’t need to be a political fan to know that Vince Cable’s star has risen sharply over the last few years. The Lib Dem Treasury spokesman correctly forewarned us about the recession, is one of the best parliamentarians in the UK, and is also well known from his spells as acting leader of the party.

It is a sad fact of our party political and electoral systems that next year the Chancellor grappling with the worst recession for decades is likely to be Alastair Darling or George Osbourne (doesn’t fill you with much confidence, does it?) while talented people in other parties have to stay on the fringes. Whoever becomes PM, inviting Vince Cable into Number 11 would be a wise policy. But I digress.

As I work just down the road from Westminster, I emailed Mr Cable to ask if he would agree to our photograph to be taken – while hoping I wouldn’t be kicked out of the party for impertinence. To my surprise, ten minutes after pressing the Send button, a call from his office arrived inviting me over the next day.

Vince Cable’s outer office is what you imagine a real political office to look like – small, warm, shelves full of papers and box files, documents pinned on walls, and four young assistants busy on preparing papers, speeches and presentations. Then Mr Cable himself appeared, we shook hands, and went next door into a larger office. Despite problems with the camera flash, he and his team were very patient and I got a couple of good pictures. I thanked him for his time and then left. All very quick but then they are busy people.

So here’s one of the pics with my thanks again to Vince Cable and his team.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Smile please

Today I had my photo taken for the preparation of a leaflet. This was a surprisingly difficult task. After all, an unfortunate picture could cause problems - just ask David Miliband. One minute he's a candidate for Prime Minister, then a banana and a grin later, and that's the end of that.

I guess it is always human nature to be unsure about one's own image but I aimed to look authoritative and casual at the same time - but standing for a photo, you never know how to hold your arms!

For the location, I chose Milton Regis High Street next to the Old Court Hall, a fine local attraction from the 15th century. It was either that or the Three Hats, an excellent old local pub - but this perhaps would not give the right impression (although I might have got a free pint for the advertising).

Anyway, if you were in the High Street this afternoon and saw us take several pictures, that is what were doing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

UKIP's true colours?

One interesting thing about the Geert Wilders episode is the involvement of the UK Independence Party, as it was Lord Pearson, a UKIP peer, who invited Mr Wilders to the Lords.

The UKIP were formed with the intention of withdrawing Britain from the European Union. I don't agree with this policy, but I can respect those who hold this view. However, inviting someone accused of inciting racial hatred is the sort of thing the British National Party might do.

Could UKIP be encroaching on BNP territory? There is much common ground and there were rumours of an electoral pact between the two parties.

Of course, you can't blame a party for the actions of a Lord (as I am sure the Labour party will agree) so we can look forward to Nigel Farage distancing the UKIP from the whole episode.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Letter - Councillor's Allowances

Here's my letter published in the East Kent Gazette on 4 February 2009. The background is the vote by Swale's Councillors (24 to 7) to increase their allowances despite a suggestion by the Lib Dems that this would send out the wrong message during hard times.

'At a time when public trust of politicians is at an all-time low it is noteworthy that Swale’s Conservative and Labour Councillors didn’t miss the opportunity to increase their allowances. Had they agreed to the Lib Dems’ suggestion to retain existing allowances, they would have set a fine example and restored some public respect – but sadly, like their big brothers in Westminster, they are only too quick to take the cash.'

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Litter & Anti-social behaviour

I have received an email asking me what would I do about graffiti, litter and anti-social behaviour.

To be honest, litter and graffiti are not great problems in Sittingbourne. There are a few certain areas which could do with a bit of tidying – such as the areas around Sittingbourne and Kemsley stations – but the cleansing services seem to be doing a good job at present. The key would be to ensure they retain the resources required to do this duty and don’t fall to the general reduction in cuts and services we see across local government. The overall appearance of the streets is good for image and morale. If you come across an issue give them a call on 01795 417850.

Anti-social behaviour is a general problem of society, but of course Sittingbourne has its share. Just this week my wife was attacked by kids throwing snowballs, and we’ve had eggs thrown at the house in the past, We are fortunate in that these are minor and rare occurrences – and a lot of people get this far worse. An example was on the front page of last week's East Kent Gazette referring to Ypres Drive.

This is something which Councils have to work on in partnership with the police, housing associations and other bodies and again it is a question of ensuring that the responsible teams have the resources and ability to carry out this role. For information I would refer you to or

As a candidate for County Councillor, I would be happy to take forward any of these issues. So if you experience anything specific in the Swale Central area, please email me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Hello, welcome to my blog – this is my first entry. My name is Keith Nevols and I have lived in Sittingbourne in the fine county of Kent for five years. On 4 June 2009 I have the pleasure of contesting the ward of Swale Central for the elections to Kent County Council.

I am a Liberal Democrat because I believe the basic philosophies of the party are very attractive and the best for Kent and the UK. We are the only major party with radical proposals for constitutional reform (although personally I would go further) and the only one with priced, constructive proposals for a way out of the recession, led by perhaps the best parliamentarian in the House, Mr Vince Cable. On issue after issue, whether it be Iraq, council tax or the economy, the Liberal Democrats are being and have been proved right.

Both the other major parties have run away from their past – but after 18 years of one and 12 years of the other, including three recessions, are we happy? Or will we just continue to rumble from one recession to the next – making it difficult to build a career and family. Isn’t it time we considered a different way of doing things?

We in Sittingbourne have our difficulties. Job losses in Swale are increasing at the highest rate in Kent. The improvement plan, which could assist, is arriving at the speed of ‘a snail with heavy shopping’. Commuters have to pay ever greater train fares while getting a worse service. And now we have to fight the proposal of an airport in the middle of the Thames – perhaps one of the daftest ideas in recent politics.

Swale Council give us the introduction of Sunday parking charges to hit church goers in town, the end of weekly bin collections, and Tory/Labour councillors voting to increase their own expenses. Overall, a general indifference. More money from us, the council tax payers, and more cuts and charges in return.

To be fair, in 2009 Kent County Council will introduce the lowest council tax rise ever. Just in time for the County Council elections. What a co-incidence! Who thinks we won’t be seeing bigger rises in 2010 to make up for it?

I want to help the people in Sittingbourne. This is a great town with friendly people. I want to represent people who can’t speak for themselves, who have views and ideas, who feel they are ignored by their council.

In this blog, I will be contributing with my thoughts on a few issues – but I want to hear your thoughts too. What would you like to happen in Sittingbourne and Kent? How can your Councils – both Swale and Kent – make life better for you and your community? And, if I am elected on 4 June 2009, what can I do for you?

Thank you for reading.