Friday, 2 August 2013

Weekly Political Digest – 2 August 2013

Despite being within the holiday season, this has been  a surprisingly busy week, so there are a number of subjects I need to cover – though I'll try to make it all reasonably concise...

Daniel Pelka

There can be no doubt that this is the biggest human story of the week, where yet again we find a child treated so badly, so abominably, that he eventually dies, in this case at the age of four years.

Predictably, out of the woodwork spring all those whose agenda is to use any excuse they can to have officialdom allowed ever greater powers to intrude into people's lives, as in Scotland where the SNP plans to allocate a State 'guardian' to every child; but in reality if the authorities were doing their job properly, this could easily have been spotted under existing powers.

Not that these facts have stopped the BBC trying to manipulate the story away from being about the child to being about the 'concerned' public sector workers. This is transparent and, as so often occurs, shows the true nature of the BBC. No regular reader of this 'blog should be taken in and be diverted from the core issue.

As far as the social workers et al are concerned: if they could even handle this, no additional powers would change that situation: indeed, existing resources would end up spread more thinly across a wider spectrum of 'potentials' and many more would be missed. No: sensible and intelligent targeting is what is needed here; and so far the record is somewhat dismal, though not as bad as these occasional isolated severe cases might suggest.

The truth lies in between; but the only way to achieve a better and safer country for all our children is to think straight and avoid the pitfall of 'more regulation/intrusion/whatever' that seems to have become the near-universal answer to all ills and (in particular) shocking headlines ever since 1997, significantly. Remember the then Labour government's response to the Climbié case and the impositions on councils that were well-intentioned, but were demanding on resources yet unfunded, so deprived other services as a consequence...

Rochester Airport

?I touched on this last week; but this (admittedly simplistic, to suit the needs of the local newspaper) column by the Deputy Leader of Medway Council explains at least some of what it's really all about. The most important aspect is that the council is investing in one of its own ongoing assets – hardly a first – and will generate a considerable amount more in return, and in fairly short order (it should break even in a relatively short period, and it's all gain from then on).

Those of us who have been involved with this subject, and especially those (seemingly comparatively few) who have a clue about how such  things work, fully understand what it means – but the chip-on-shoulder local Lefties, who haven't a clue, continually show their complete ignorance and inability to comprehend.

For now, while the public consultation is under way, I shall leave matters there (unless something huge comes up), but I fully expect to comment in considerable detail in a special post once that period has passed...

Untie the Union

Untie or otherwise detach it from Labour. That is the message that is increasingly bearing down upon that party and, in particular, its nominal leader. Ed[ward] Miliband is being seen as weak by ever more people in a widening circle, and it looks as if it's heading towards an untenable leadership.

Although this at The Commentator is written in a slightly sensationalist style, and I for one do not go along with all of it (even the quoted song lyrics are wrong!), much of what is in that piece is beyond reasonable challenge.  This is turning out to be a lot more than a mere storm in a teacup, awkwardly for Mili-E and Labour, and it just isn't going away.

How the public perception of this 'in their back pocket' suggestion can be changed is far from clear, as the Unions will not permit it anyway – and they are the ones who really call the shots. I do not envy Ed-M on this: the 'rock and hard place' analogy never seemed more apt.

Nevertheless, he has no realistic alternative but to devise an original and manageable (to all sides of the party) solution to this issue, or Labour will tear itself apart from the inside and also call for his replacement as party leader. He will be unable to resist that widespread a demand, and he obviously realises this.

It's probably why he and the shadow cabinet are so quiet on the news front right now, as at least one leading commentator has remarked: my guess is that they're probably spending the time trying to thrash out a workable plan to deal with the Unions...

Banking On Success

Here's another example of Labour and other Lefties not 'getting it', as I saw at the Medway Council meeting just over a week ago. Their banker-bashing Motion for a financial transactions tax (not part of the council's business anyway!) shows a complete lack of understanding of how the competitive world works, and would if implemented put us at a significant disadvantage relative to the parts of the world without such an imposition.

The present government is able to be 'played' by officials (one Coalition partner against the other, using Sir Humphrey.-style methods), so is also failing to take the best approach that it could. Let Patrick Minford explain the fallacies and a possible way forward in just eleven paragraphs – which is good going for what is a complex subject.

Politically, what he suggests is bold, neck-sticking-out stuff; but it looks to be the only way I have seen proposed that has the feel of a real improvement to the way the sector operates in this country and within the global market as well (it is inextricably intertwined with the world's monetary sector).

I fear that the proposals in the City AM article have little chance of being implemented by anything other than a Conservative majority government, and that with a Chancellor who by then feels able to make such changes through being no longer encumbered by coalition partners who, frankly, haven't (as a party) much of an idea about this kind of activity.

The Royal Baby

This is interesting: was the media coverage of the event appropriate or over the top? Two opposing views appear together in The Observer (Sunday Guardian), from a slightly tongue-in-cheek Quentin Letts and the Observer features editor Elizabeth Day, put their views in an interleaved print debate, with the latter naturally being given the last word.

What each of us thinks will vary from one person to another; but the advantage of the media is that one can always avoid them, which is what I did and thus got only a minimal amount of news and commentary during those last few days and beyond. We're not all telly-obsessed, tabloid-buying soaps-and-celebs' followers...

Not that all (public) commenters had what might be considered a normal, straightforward take on the baby, as this image comprising a number of oddball tweets reveals(!)

Councils' Parking Income

Now here's a classic example of cause-and-effect – and it isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it isn't ideal however it is done. Parking charges are the 'Kobayashi Maru' (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) of council activitity: there is no 'correct' approach, only the best compromise one can devise to fit all the prevailing circumstances at least reasonably well.

This Independent article does rather mix up parking charges and parking fines, and isn't always as clear as it ought to be (and I suspect this is a deliberate attempt at conflation), but it is a thorny subject, including here in Medway where the council's CCTV cars have become far too controversial, largely through their drivers' behaviour.

I have long wondered whether that was a deliberate (perhaps Union-driven) attempt to discredit the Conservative administration, but sadly have no solid evidence one way or the other – yet. That could change one day...

The whole point behind parking charges being made into a money-spinner is the sheer cost of maintaining a council's road network and the government grant system having been substantially gerrymandered during (mostly) the Labour years of government, along with those years' never-ending programme of costly and unfunded (except perhaps, if we were lucky, the first year or two) impositions from Westminster via Whitehall.

It should be noted that most of what has been implemented during the past fifteen years or so has been engineered by Whitehall 'mandarins', especially in regard to councils where they are sufficiently remote to escape being directly accountable and thus vulnerable to scrutiny, such as the Cabinet-and-Scrutiny political management model whose only purpose was to allow those same mandarins to control council's policy agendas: look at any council Cabinet agendas to see what I mean, including here in Medway – it's staring you in the face!

Thus the reality behind the parking charges is Whitehall's powerful efforts to minimise local democracy, with the ultimate aim of destroying it by starving councils of funds – so those councils have been forced to find other ways to fund the work that their electorate expect of them. Thus we end up with the so-called 'cash cow' of parking charges, and – more relevantly – parking fines.

The fines are fair enough, of course, provided they are justified; and I am pleased to see that challenging dubious and borderline decisions has a tendency to have fines rescinded in a number of cases. eventually this will settle down, with a body of what in other circles would be termed Case Law (but without having needed to go to that extreme to demonstrate).

As we all here know that the road repair programme is even now failing to meet the needs of road users, it suggests that fines in particular might need to be raised. I do not automatically go along with that, not because I have any particular sympathy with road users (it's all such ancient and primitive technology, any form of 'carts on wheels', so I am no fan of any of it) but because one always needs to strike a sensible balance.

If it hadn't been for the Labour-era starvation of many (especially the good) councils of necessary funding, none of this is likely to have arisen. Now that we are living with that legacy, our local elected representatives need to find innovative ways of getting this balance right without discouraging those who might otherwise spend their money in our town centres and tourist spots, among other places.

It has become increasingly tricky over the years to make it work well, as I have seen from the inside – but let us give our councillors a chance and support their efforts rather than perpetually criticising them. Monitor by all means, but do try to understand the difficult situation they face, and put yourself in their place. Could you do any better? Seriously? I very much doubt it!.

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