Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sittingbourne and Sheppey - the latest news

So what’s been happening in our local constituency I hear you ask? Well, not a lot. The towns have settled back into their routine of not much happening.

The Sittingbourne and Sheppey Conservatives remain a one man band. Our new MP, Gordon Henderson, has thrown himself into parliamentary life, currently campaigning for the Isle of Sheppey Academy (which I visited during the campaign). He is keeping an excellent diary on his blog giving a view into the life of a new MP. I hope he keeps it going.

The rest of the Tories remain invisible. Their web site has not been updated for over a year and their councillors keep a low profile (having seen a few of them in action this is probably wise). However, to be fair, being invisible has given them considerable local electoral success in the last two years (although of course local election results tend to be guided by national trends).

The much awaited redevelopment plan continues to be much awaited. During the campaign, one of the most commonly raised issues was how there is so little to do in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. People go to Maidstone and Canterbury to spend their money, money which could be spent and invested in the local economy. There have been much worthy efforts by individuals to bring something to the area, such as a new cinema, but unfortunately Tory-dominated Swale council has all the energy of a three-legged tortoise so overall this situation is likely to remain the case for a while yet.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey Labour party had a quiet patch after ‘a hard general election result to take’ but are slowly coming back to life with new members and the leadership debate. According to their blog, they are giving the Council leaders a hard time and campaigning against the VAT increase. Both worthy exercises.

By next May’s elections, Labour should be revitalised under a new leader (please, not Ed Balls!) while the government will be struggling under the cuts agenda. It remains to be seen if Labour will take this opportunity to revive their Swale fortunes.

As for us in the Lib Dems, we are preparing our campaign for next May (we have to start early as there’s not many of us). The first priority will be defending our seats and then hoping to pick up some more. Also we will have the referendum campaign for fairer votes to fight. I am in the process of contacting our membership and supporters and intend to keep them in touch.

UKIP intend to fight 20 seats in the council elections. As I have mentioned before, I have a soft spot for UKIP. For obvious reasons, we can’t have an agreement but I hope they do well.

Then there is the nuclear possibility – that the media get their wish and the coalition breaks down. This would force us into a snap election. Let’s not go there.

And that’s the local news. And now the sport. In the Ryman South, Sittingbourne Town will kick off on 21 August at home to Dulwich Hamlet.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Radio .. killed the radio star

An advantage of having a blog is having the chance to grumble and, to prove I don’t always talk about politics, the subject of my grumble today is radio stations.

Now I like listening to music while I’m driving or typing or whatever, but I always play my own CDs rather than put the radio on. The reason – radio stations NEVER PLAY ANY MUSIC! I can understand that smaller stations need the income from advertising but it is all the other bits that I object to.

For example: let’s take an example of a 30 minute car journey where I got the below.

- The second half of a Kylie song as I switched on

- The DJ giving me a long list of people I am ‘about to hear’

- An advert on car insurance

- The DJ: ‘what are you doing right now?’ (driving a car actually)
- ‘Do you want to tell us what you are doing?’ (no, not really)
- ‘If so, ring us on .. or email us on .. or text us on .. or tweet us on our Twitter page which is .. or leave a message on our wall on Facebook’ (I’ve forgotten the question now) or send a pigeon to .. (OK, I made that bit up)

- An advert on windows

- A trailer for the news (!) ‘ coming up you can hear about .. and .. and ..’ (well, I don’t need to hear about them, you’ve just told me)

- The weather, ‘today it is sunny’ (I know, I have windows)
- ‘It is raining in Scotland’ (I don’t care, I’m in Kent)
- ‘Do you want to know tomorrow’s weather?’ (All right then)
- ‘Well. I’ll tell you in 15 minutes’ (Oh the suspense)

- An advert for the next show after this one

- Travel news: ‘on the M2 it is fine, on the M20 it is fine, on the A249 it is fine ‘ etc etc ‘moving into Essex, on this road it is fine, no problems on that road’ etc etc (wouldn’t it be quicker just to say which roads do have problems?)
- ‘The trains also have no problems and neither do the ferries. No point me being here really’. (You took the words right out of my thoughts).

- An advert on holidays

- ‘Who do we have on line 1?’
- ‘It’s Stella. I’m so excited’
- ‘And where are you calling from, Stella?’
- (pause) ‘from my living room’
- ‘Er, right, and what are you doing right now?’
- (pause) ‘talking on the phone’
(I’ll spare you the rest of this conversation)

Eventually I did get to hear a song before arriving at which point they started to go round again - so a Scissors Sisters tune and half a Kylie in return for 30 minutes seems a poor return. Plan B, flicking through channels, just gives you all the above in a different order. I am sure this just adds to road rage as you are eventually BEGGING them to put a record on.

If someone would like to introduce a radio channel that just plays music (I’ll allow the occasional SHORT commercial) please let me know.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Keep the flag flying high

Those of us who are supportive of the coalition still recognise the need for our own identity and there are some in the Liberal Democrats who are concerned that this is being lost – and for good reason.

In Swale we are planning to take on the almighty iron grip of the Conservative party but of course some voters may think we are now on their side. Labour’s strategy has been to concentrate their fire on the Lib Dems, presumably hoping to bring down the coalition, although another general election may not be favourable to the Labour party.

Liberal Democrat members are as unhappy as anyone with the VAT rise – but we could either (i) ensure that measures are there to protect those on lower incomes or (ii) break up the coalition and force a general election. I think the public would expect the first option and find the second option, of cutting and running at the first disagreement, irresponsible.

We need to make two lists.

1. Which of the coalition’s policies is uniquely Liberal Democrat?
2. Which Liberal Democrat policies are not in the coalition agreement which we want to see?

To list 1 we can point out:

-The raise of the threshold to take nearly a million people out of tax
-The rise of the capital gains tax rate to reduce tax avoidance and ensure the burden shifts more to those who can afford it
-A series of measures to protect our civil liberties and freedoms
-The referendum on a fairer votes system
-Reform of the House of Lords

Can you imagine a Conservative government doing any of this? Of course not. These are all ours. They wouldn’t be there without us.

And, to coin a phrase, what do we want?

-The replacement of council tax with a local income tax
-The abolition of university tuition fees
-No like-for-like replacement of Trident to save £100bn
-Proportional representation in parliamentary and council elections
-Ensure the programme of cuts does not harm the most vulnerable in society

Above all we must continue to campaign for good liberal democratic values of decentralisation and bringing powers back to local levels.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From one election to the next

Last night I was at the Houses of Parliament for the Liberal Democrats Parliamentary Candidates Association reception – a post-election party. This was a nice event, a chance to put the suit on, visit the House and this time I could take Mary along. It was good weather to stand on the terrace balcony overlooking the Thames (fenced off from the Lords section – and they had chairs!), chat generally and drink a lot of good wine under the eye of a disapproving wife.

Words of thanks for the campaign were made by Nick Clegg and various others and there was an excellent pep talk by our new deputy leader, Simon Hughes. This might be selfish of me but I hope he stays outside the government, is a cheerleader for our independence and pushes for those of our policies which were not in the coalition agreement (e.g. abolition of tuition fees).

Mention of tuition fees and students brings me on to my own university town. I spent four happy years as a student in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion in mid-Wales – so when I saw the party advertise for candidates for next year’s Welsh Assembly elections I jumped at the chance. I have applied for the Assembly seat of Ceredigion (currently held by Plaid Cymru) as it would be a pleasure to represent and campaign for the area.

As an approved candidate for England, I had to be approved for Wales and so was interviewed by our policy officers about Welsh affairs and our policies etc. Happily I passed selection and so can now attempt to be a Lib Dem candidate for any seat in England and Wales.

Ceredigion currently has a Lib Dem MP and we have a lot of support there. A lot of ifs though. If I am shortlisted and if I am invited to a hustings and if I am the selected candidate and if we win the seat next May then I would be an Assembly Member – but a long way to go to get there. Being a winnable seat, there will be tough competition for the candidature. But I am hoping that, if I am unsuccessful in becoming the candidate, at least the experience will stand me well when seeking a parliamentary seat to fight for the next election.

Much work to do in Sittingbourne of course. Last week we had a strategy group meeting to discuss our initial plans for the ‘all-out’ council elections next May. We won’t be fighting every seat and ward but we need a good show to put more Liberal Democrats into Swale's council chamber – so we have identified some target areas which we can focus on. And there will be a referendum to win as well.

As membership officer I am aiming to build up our members and supporters. We gained quite a few during the campaign and I am hoping to keep the momentum up.

So things are still busy! The election is over. But there are more to come!