Thursday, 26 February 2015

Medway Budget Council Meeting 2015 – Actuals

Well, that was it. I didn't stay until the end, only until the Budget item was dealt with (including convolutions caused by amendments) and voted upon, with the usual (and expected) result: it passed and the amendments were defeated.

So, was the process the same as in previous years? Essentially, yes – just as I outlined in my previous post, but a little shriller, with three Labour members shouting during their speaking times, quite apart from the usual heckling and hectoring for which the Labour group is notorious. It was obvious that elections were coming...

The matters I mentioned in my previous post did come up; and the alert observer would have sussed out very easily what was really going on, especially with the local media present. Tonight's claque was primarily the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) who are probably even more Communist-alike than the Socialist Workers Party – though I suspect it is close to being a tie!

As I always do at these annual events, because one member of each party gets unlimited speaking time, I time each of them, so here are this year's figures, for the record...
  • Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con) – 50 mins 45 secs
  • Cllr Vince Maple (Lab) – 28 mins 48 secs
  • Cllr Geoff Juby (Lib Dem) – 6 mins 40 secs
  • Cllr Chris Irvine (UKIP) – 3 mins 38 secs
An interesting 'factoid' is that Cllr Maple said 'Let me be clear' five times during his (scripted) speech, and once more later in the debate,so that seems to have become his personal phrase.

There was little of particular note this time, policies-wise, really just the FUSE Festival, which (it transpired) had been cancelled because the Arts Council, who had previously provided match-funding, had this year withdrawn that funding as this particular festival was considered 'poor value' to be subsidised from the public purse.

That echoes my own feelings, and I have long considered that the only way to be sure of its ongoing viability would be for it to become essentially self-financing and the council become merely a facilitator and promoter through its 'What's On?' print and on-line facilities.

In the end, what seems to have been some unspecified nifty footwork behind the scenes has resulted in the Arts Council re-opening the file and partially relenting. Thus the festival will go ahead after all, but in a slimmed-down form as its funding will, in total, be a little less than half its customary level.

There were other 'political footballs' including the canard that is the mythos regarding Rochester Airport. I have dealt with this topic elsewhere, and might even upload a video where I discuss the topic in moderate depth (it's already recorded, I am just thinking about whether to make it public) so don't need to go into it again now.

This was, however, a handy opportunity for Cllr Jarrett to give a little history lesson about Labour and the Lib Dems and their pursuance of the closure of the airport for a good fifteen years. A number of truths I know only too well came out in that one-minute summary, but I could have added even more, given the chance!

Another valuable history lesson was given by the Leader of the Council in response to Labour's claim that they were 'expressing the views of the people of Medway' whereas the ruling Conservative group didn't reflect public opinion. The leader  did what I have done on this 'blog and elsewhere in the past: point out the always-increasing Conservative presence on the elected Medway Council, from May 2000 (when I was first elected, incidentally) to the present day. The full Medway public obviously differ in viewpoint from the claque and their Labour buddies, who between them counted as well under a twentieth of a percent of that number...

Labour's 'surveys' (to which they made several references) are selective and slanted in how they are done – I know: I've had them here – and they use scaremongering techniques when surveying by door-knocking – several of my 'eyes and ears' have reported their own first-hand experiences of this, including from three former (Labour) mayors. Therefore, do not fall into the trap of thinking these rather convenient outcomes are valid.

Overall, the budget debate – along with the distractions of the Labour and Lib Dem amendments – went on a little too long, but wasn't quite as bad as I had predicted. It was close, though. 

UPDATE 1: For a (very much) Left-dominated view of the proceedings, in tweeted form, check this out.

UPDATE 2: Here is a breakdown of where much of the money is set to go.

UPDATE 3: This is the audio recording of the entire meeting, lasting 3 hours and 41 minutes (though the first 3 mins 20 secs are blank).

Medway Budget Council Meeting 2015 – Predictions

In this dual-election year, I thought it might be worth placing on the public record my expectations in advance of this evening's budget-setting meeting of the full Medway Council. It's not because it will be momentous, but just worth having 'on file', so to speak, so that one can see after the event whether I was anywhere near accurate.

Of course it will follow the pattern of recent years in particular; and beyond that also, to some degree. The ruling group will present their well-structured budget, bemoaning the reductions in Government grant yet again that mean they are having to 'take difficult decisions. They will gloss over or ignore the mistakes that have been made in the last two or three years that have cost a lot of money, much of which would be said by most to have been wasted – though some of it was, in practice, unavoidable, but by no means all.

It is true that the Conservatives have been able to produce what are known as 'balanced budgets' for many years, though often using a number of wheezes in order to achieve that desired outcome each time. They have, to their credit, been more pragmatic than dogmatic, and that approach has consistently produced the proper 'bottom line', if only by the skin of their teeth on a few occasions!

On the official opposition side, the big difference this decade has been that the only Labour councillor here at Medway who has any idea about council finance, the estimable Cllr Glyn Griffiths, was removed from the position that made him their finance spokesman – deputy leader of the Labour group on the Council.

His replacement as deputy leader hasn't a clue (but is very 'mouthy') so their current group leader has taken it upon himself to double-up on the job of finance spokesman, even though he doesn't have all that much more of an idea than their deputy leader.

As I expected would happen once this structural change within Labour's councillors had occurred, their budget meeting speech in response to the budget proposals turned into an almost entirely irrelevant rant about national politics, point-scoring being the sole driver of most of what was said in these more recent years. The only exceptions were when they had a (Union-dictated) agenda to pursue at local level.

This year's such matters will be (predictably) the so-called 'living wage' and reduction in numbers of (Unionised, subscription-paying!) council staff. They will quote (especially on that first matter) what 'so many other councils, of all political persuasions, are already signed up to' – or similar wording, as if that has a direct bearing on what should happen here.

Incomes have gone up in the country in recent years, not by putting increased pressure on employers – which means fewer jobs affordable from the same-sized salaries pot – but through reduction in Income Tax and raised personal allowances. Note that an increased hourly rate for council staff would mean even more job reductions, directly contradicting Labour's other big policy plank this evening(!)

Purely locally, there is also the anticipated loss of the Fuse festival as an issue that Medway Labour have taken up – again, somewhat predictably..

I have sat through these events for years, and although Glynn's interminable rambling rants were tedious and a lot of what he said was irrelevant, at least some of it was applicable and he did inject some (usually fairly dry) humour into his budget speeches. All that mitigation has now gone, and the whole thing is orchestrated.

Each year a good-sized claque occupies the public gallery, and one can hear in the way Cllr Maple (the Labour group leader these days) uses tone of voice and significant pauses to try to get this (somewhat dim, it has to be said) group to cheer and appluad at the 'right' moments. They have been known to miss their cues several times, and it is a picture to watch Cllr Maple try to signal to them, in order to get the reaction he wanted the journalists in attendance to notice and report on.

Yes, it's all 'manufactured' – and will be more intense this year, as it is both a General Election year and also coincides with the Council's all-out local elections for the 55 seats on Medway Council.

Will the local media fall for it? Are they merely complicit and will go along with it anyway, even knowing the extent of the fakery and deceptions, the slants, selective statistics and the rest of it?

We shall know only when we read what they report after tonight's meeting. I shall be there, though, and I'll know exactly what was really going on!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Keeping Things In Proportion

That old chestnut about our elected positions not being 'representative' has come up yet again in a discussion elsewhere. It is a nonsense: we elect someone to speak and vote for us, on behalf of our area, whether it be a parish, council ward, parliamentary constituency or whatever.

No-one can do that specific job unless voted for only by those in that 'patch', usually as residents though I know variations have been devised for rapid-turnover places such as University towns.

The usual complaint is (conveniently) regarding council elections, where a party that gained no seats despite fielding several candidates still got more votes than another party, who perhaps had fewer candidates (each of whom typically did better than the first party) or won a seat as a subsequent by-election – which happened in my home area just a few months ago.

As far as I am concerned, it is the will of the people to elect their own area's representative, not for any system of wangling the results to allow someone with lesser voting support than the victor to be awarded the seat. That is always a form of electoral corruption. If an outside-chance party (for want of a better name) is really serious about getting a foothold onto the local council, then they'd stand just one candidate and throw all their resources at securing that one seat. One step at a time, walking before trying to run...

This is not to say that I don't appreciate the arguments about having a more proportional system – parliamentary constituency level, where the 'patch' is too big to be represented effectively by someone who spends most if not all of the working week away in London, there is scope for a radically different approach.

Hence the scheme I devised a few years ago that separated legislative and constituency representation functions, each with the most appropriate electoral system for that aspect. Long-term readers of this 'blog will probably remember this: 300 Legislators (full time) elected under a list system where the voter ticks a party box and all the votes are aggregated nationwide, with seats allocated as close as possible to the direct proportions of votes.

Additionally, there would be 600 (part time) Constituency Representatives to cover what back then had been planned – a reduction from 650 to 600 constituencies, which was scuppered by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government going back on their pledge to support that initiative. These would be elected on the current 'first past the post' system, which is obviously the right approach in this case.

The idea is that the Legislators can concentrate on that job, without have any locality issues possibly distorting their view, yet they can have formal representations from any part of the country, affording a broader perspective.

As one can see, the overall cost would be much the same as now – probably less in practice, if one thinks about such matters as travelling expenses. There are lots of details that I worked out when I first devised this scheme, and a few that it wasn't right for me to propose and which needed to be thrashed out by the parliamentary and electoral authorities – but it's workable, and should satify just about everyone, at least in theory!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Suddenly Appearing

One of those things that the more alert will spot happening in our society, whether within the traditional aspects of life of the more modern on-line media, is the sudden appearance of something that is going to be banned, or in some cases is banned with immediate effect.

Today's example comes from Blogger, which is the platform upon which this 'blog is hosted, and which is now popping up the message that, as from a date about four weeks from now, 'explicit sexual content will not be allowed'. Wow! This is really going to hit me hard – or not...

Why now? If this was an issue (and, for all I know, as a non-expert in this whole field, perhaps it was) why has it taken until now to do anything about it? What has so suddenly changed?

This is the question we must always ask ourselves when any such restrictive imposition appears apparently out of nowhere. There are plenty of ready excuses (the most popular being that we are now in a 'more enlightened' era) but these always turn out to be nonsense, as anyone who has delved a little will already have discovered.

The reality is that this sort of thing has been going on for years, and is continuing today. The Blogger business is almost certainly of no real significance in and of itself. Its sole value is to remind us, via a concrete example, of the generic issue of 'sudden imposition', to coin a phrase.

Ever since the Antichrist came into the world, something like fifteen years or so ago (at my best estimate), this and many other dictatorial impositions and restrictions have appeared.

I have no interest in 'explicit sexual content' – indeed, as one who has had a strong case of HSDD all my life I am revolted by the whole subject, I am a rare independent voice in this arena – but I am alert to these moves and what probably ultimately lies behind them, regardless of whatever is pushed as the 'reason' in the public realm.

The bottom line remains: if today's upcoming ban is an issue now, why wasn't it before? Years before, in fact...

Monday, 23 February 2015

Smoke Me A Kipper

"Smoke me a kipper – I'll be back for breakfast!"
So said 'Ace' Rimmer in the comedy sci-fi programme Red Dwarf, just before setting off on a dangerous mission.

In the British political world, our own 'Kippers (a colloquial term for UKIP members and activists) have just been on their most dangerous mission yet: being featured in a television documentary. After last week's drama that purported to show how UKIP's first hundred days of running the country would go (itself a delusion, as it is extremely unlikely that they'll ever do so) and that just about everyone said was nonsense, this effort did at least hold out the prospect of being authentic, if a little dated as it was recorded a good two months ago.

Okay, the editing was bound to emphasize the programme-makers' intended image of the party, and cut out a lot of material that didn't do so, and must therefore not be taken simply at face value. If one watches such production with unblinkered awareness, then one shouldn't be too easily manipulated.

However, the material itself is of course genuine enough, and it should be easy to deduce whether any of it was presented out of context or edited in a way that tells a story that wasn't the one on the day it was recorded. I didn't watch either of these two programmes myself, preferring to follow Twitter comments from various (and very varied) sources. I might catch them later, though not necessarily.

The drama received just about universal panning, whereas this evening's documentary wasn't quite so broad, and concentrated primarily on the apparent streak of racism that was evident in at least a few party members and seemed to go completely unopposed by any of those members who heard those remarks. The Twitter reporting of all this was mostly from Lefties, but also from a few on the right. Mind you, I didn't get the feeling that many right-wingers were watching this, or if they were then they weren't tweeting about it this time.

This in The Guardian gives a fuller picture, and is interesting to read from the other side, so to speak.

The general conclusion seems to have been that UKIP did themselves no favours by allowing this programme to be made and broadcast, especially as they didn't exercise their right of reply, which I know was offered. One commenter put it as UKIP having done 'a hatchet job on themselves' – which, though technically inaccurate, probably conveys the flavour as well as anything. Whether or not it will significantly impact their electoral results this coming May is a different matter, though.

Meanwhile, I consider that UKIP has done the Conservative Party an actual favour, by (in effect) siphoning-off the more 'dodgy' members who have jumped ship to UKIP. Some of these were no doubt obvious cases, but even around my way there have been a few that I didn't know held views they have since expressed, or their raw attitude that has now come to light. At least two have turned out to be really nasty – very much like typical Labour folk in that respect.

They have now gone from the Conservative Party and their true natures revealed. This I consider to be a good outcome, and potential time bombs – which could have caused difficulties for the party in due course – can no longer do any more than superficial harm. Here, their voting public is mixed in opinion, but I notice a slow but definite trend away from the defectors, and this is likely to be a one-way street.

Thus their time in public office or (for those not currently elected) in even vaguely serious contention is probably severely time-limited, which is as it should be. We should, as a nation and especially in places like Medway, soon be back on track.