Tuesday 30 April 2013

Why Do I Deserve Your Vote on Thursday May 2nd

I have spent a great deal of time and effort over the election campaign knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and talking and listening to people.  This will come as no surprise to those that know me.  I am passionate about making sure I communicate, feel privileged to represent a Town as great as Whittlesey, and I never take my role lightly.

Earlier today someone suggested that my hard campaigning and the active way I debate issues on Facebook were a sign of panic.  I can say quite categorically it is not.  Good candidates will work for every vote, so even though I have been told continuously on the doorstep that people appreciate the work I have done and that they will support me, I believe people want someone who cares about the area, to work from start to finish in a campaIgn in order to prove that and to earn every vote.  That is what I am doing, it is what I have always done as a candidate.

But is that enough?  As someone that has represented Whittlesey for a number of years, I am pretty sure people will want to see a record of success.  Well, I believe I have that too:

  • When I thought the funding for redevelopment of Sir Harry Smith was under threat before the last general election I visited and spoke to Shadow Ministers to make the case to keep the funding for Fenland.  At the end of that process, our Building Schools for the Future funding was retained which meant every Fenland Secondary school got a considerable refurbishment, including £8m worth of improvements at Sir Harry Smith.
  • I fought a hard battle for the Sainsbury Supermarket solution for Whittlesey, a solution that I maintain was the best planning decision and was, without doubt, the most popular solution.
  • I have continuously made the case for Kings Dyke crossing to be sorted.  This meant that when the County Council was looking for infrastructure improvements that might aid the economic development of Cambridgeshire, they were aware of our situation and have now approved the building of a bridge over the crossing and have set a timescale of 3 years for its delivery.
  • When I did my survey last year, although there was overwhelming support for a supermarket, one of the biggest local concerns was about protection of the Town Centre. I then worked with fellow Conservative Councillors, Stephen Barclay MP and officers at both Fenland and Cambridgeshire County Council on plans to improve our Town Centre and draw more people in.  These plans are moving forwards, I have now seen the proposals and I hope they will be out for public consultation soon.
I realise there is much about me here (no apologies for that, I am seeking your support). But I do want to stress that these achievements are not all my work.  We are lucky in Whittlesey to have a great team of Conservative Councillors at every level of local Government who work well together, helped considerably by our Stephen Barclay MP who is more than willing to make the case for Whittlesey and, in my view, is doing an outstanding job as a Constituency MP.  A big part of that team, and someone who also has a proud record of achievement for Whittlesey is my fellow County Councillor and candidate for Whittlesey South, Ralph Butcher, one thing I know about Ralph is that he is not, and has never been, anyone's puppet, so please treat the nasty comments from one of his opponents with the contempt they deserve.

Keeping this team together in Whittlesey will mean maintaining a group that has proven, first and foremost, that we have our Town at heart. That is yet another positive reason to vote Conservative on Thursday.

I am going to list my specific pledges for Whittlesey for the next four years in a separate post, but I hope you have seen enough from this to see that I care about our Town and I have delivered for it.  If you do recognise that, please make sure you take a few minutes out of your day on Thursday 2nd May to vote for me.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Where next for Whittlesey?

The Combination of the Sainsbury Planning application (and everything that comes with it), an enhanced Town Centre and a bridge over Kings Dyke Crossing will mean Whittlesey is likely to take some major steps forward in the next few years.

One of the reasons I want to be re-elected is because of my desire to ensure that the momentum that has been built up continues and we see these important projects to fruition.  But elections also provide an opportunity to demonstrate that you have ideas for the area you represent and to set out what you want to achieve, so I want to use this blog post to put forward some other thoughts.

For a start, there are other projects for Whittlesey that also need to continue, there is a Station improvement project that other Councillors are working on in the Town, and we are trying to put on some pressure to increase the number of trains that stop at the Station (ably supported by Stephen Barclay MP).  We also need to make sure we keep the pressure on Stagecoach to improve bus services for Whittlesey.  I really think Stagecoach are missing a trick with Whittlesey and if they don't find a way of delivering a decent evening service soon, someone else will step in and fill the gap.  Off course, I will always argue the case for a bypass for Whittlesey, because that is the ultimate solution to our road problems. I also want to continue working on some ideas that Stephen Barclay, Cllr Gary Swan, a few residents and I have had some discussions about, relating to improving the situation around the B1040 and its flooding.

But there are some more basic issues that we still need to get to the bottom of and I want to try some new ways of consulting with residents on a street by street basis to identify priorities and find solutions: it is just not good enough for anyone to say "speeding is a problem and the solution is Speedwatch" when there is quite clearly significant resident concern about Speedwatch, the answer is to talk to residents more, ask for their solutions and then work with the authorities to get those solutions delivered.

Of course, Councillors and Councils should have a good idea of what does work and what has worked in other areas, but that should feed in to solutions, not dictate them.

Here are a few of these basic issues that we need to focus on and find long term solutions:

Speeding in housing estates
Parking aground schools (and indeed in a few other problem areas).
Dog fouling

These are not issues that I have ignored in the past, I have raised and got short term action on all of them.  I just think it is time to try a different approach,  to find out what is going to deliver permanent solutions. This is easier said than done, all of these issues are caused by people, often people behaving badly, so the solutions have to be a combination of prevention, punishment and new thinking.

Why is this important for the election?  I am an experienced councillor, I have a record of delivery and I know the way the system works. I have good links with organisations like the  Local Government Association and I have worked hard over the last few years on how to make consultation work.  I was a first-time candidate once, so I know how easy it is to make promises during election campaigns and I know how easy it is to leap up and down once elected to demand action.  But, all too often, that action deals with the immediate problem but does nothing to solve it in the long term.  I am not saying there is anything wrong with a quick fix, just that this is half the solution, and I believe it will take a Councillor with real experience and contacts to work in the way that is needed.

One of the pledges I am making in my next correspondence to residents is that I will continue to stand up for Whittlesey; Whittlesey is my home, I will always do that, but I believe I can do that with authority and with a real knowledge of how local government works both in Cambridgeshire and Nationally. It is that experience that will continue to move Whittlesey forwards.

Friday 12 April 2013

Music Censorship - Yes or No?

Those that know me know that I am a passionate music lover and will also guess, as a Conservative, that I am something of a fan of Margaret Thatcher and what she achieved for Britain.  I don't support everything she did, but in my view she moved this country from a point where it was a near laughing stock in the Western world to a position where we were thriving and respected.  The difference between where Britain was in 1979 and where it was in 1990 when she resigned is massive, we should never ever forget that transformation.

So, when I started to see the song "Ding-dong the Witch is Dead" being promoted after her passing it sickened me.  In fact the YouTube clip was posted on a Hard Rock music site I belong to and I was really, really angry, to the point where I tried to get the post deleted because it was so utterly disrespectful.  I have not changed my mind about it being disrespectful, there can be no doubt that this is the intent, but it did make me reflect on whether censorship was the right response.

That reflection became morepertinent during the debate about whether the BBC should choose to censor the very same song during its chart show this weekend.

The point is, music is supposed to be rebellious; it is a perfect vehicle to express views, challenge the status quo and, indeed, to show dislike, even if it makes politicians like me uncomfortable.  It has been thus for some time and the punk rock revolution of the late 70s (which you will remember originated during the time of Harold Wilson's failed regime) is the perfect example.

I would much prefer people used music to make their point than react in other ways, even if it is through buying a song to make a point in such a disrespectful way.  In fact, I was one of the many, many people who bought "Killing in the Name" by "Rage Against the Machine" a few Christmases ago in a successful attempt to stop another Simon Cowell monstrosity getting to number one.

The truth is  our mainstream music scene is stale because of the huge influence of people like Simon Cowell.  I would hate censorship to contribute to that and I do not support amy refusal to play "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" in its entirety.  The BBC fudge of playing just a short excerpt is a poor and typical BBC attempt to please the whole world.Every time I hear that song now I will cringe at the disrespect and I will cringe at the lack of understanding that people have about Margaret Thatcher, but I would prefer that to unnecessary censorship.

Thankfully, an alternative solution has arisen.  Those who appreciate what Margaret Thatcher achieved are supporting a campaign to get a punk song by "The Notsensibles" called "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" into the charts.  If you feel like I do, the best way of showing it is not to campaign for censorship, but to download what is, in any case, a classic punk song and make your point. The fact that it is a punk song, from a genre that originated in the mid 1970s when Labour massively failed Britain makes this response all the more appropriate.

Monday 8 April 2013

Out of date, out of touch

I had a leaflet from the English Democrat candidates for Whittlesey through my door today.  To say that I was disappointed is an understatement.

Let me start with the most alarming contradiction in the leaflet.  On the front page is a very carefully worded criticism of Fenland's planning committee decision of 23rd January to support the Sainsbury Supermarket in Whittlesey.  I say it is carefully worded because technically it is a statement of facts, but it is done in a way that, it is clear to me, is meant to be critical in a way that allows the Candidate to deny that when challenged. One particular aspect is that they specifically highlight that members went against the officer recommendation (complete with the obligatory exclamation mark!).  I could talk about that for hours, but what is important about that comment is what it could mean for the future.

We have two very significant planning issues to the North of Whittlesey at the moment, in particular interest has been shown in development on two plots that are very close to the flood plain.  If the criticism inherent in their comments is anything to go by, the Goldspinks are happy for Officers to make whatever recommendations they see fit for those pieces of land and the planning committee to just nod them through.  Personally, I would prefer a democratic input into the process and for Councillors to have the final say.

What else is interesting is the conflict between the comments about Supermarkets and the comment on the other side of the leaflet where the candidates say "you come first".  We can only assume that planning matters are excluded from this statement because the message on the other side of the leaflet is that the views of Officers take precedence over those of Councillors and of the people they serve.  I remind residents that the survey I carried out showed that 62% of residents supported the Sainsbury application and just 17% supported Tesco.

There are many, many other things that I would challenge about this leaflet, but the hypocrisy around the easy to use catch-all "you come first" accompanied by a criticism of others for doing exactly that has to ask serious questions. All I would say is before you consider voting English Democrat, look at my record and look at Ralph Butcher's record and look at our backgrounds.  We have always fought a strong case for Whittlesey and have always represented our residents - that is the reason there has been a genuine decision by the County Council to build a bridge over Kings Dyke Crossing.

One final point.  I am sure many restidents will be disappointed that the information being put through doors today is almost three weeks out of date, given that the Secretary of State made the decision not to call the Sainsbury applications in on 19th March.

Communication - what does it really mean?

This is the first of a number of blog posts I am going to write to discuss and cover issues for the local elections next month.  I want to cover a number of themes, including what I believe I have achieved as a Councillor in Whittlesey, some opposition issues and, importantly, bringing out relevant issues for the Town, including highlighting the priorities (both local and National)  that were brought out in the survey I did last year.

To stand as a Councillor, one of the things that is vital is to be able to show, not only what you have to offer, but what you have already contributed to the Town. I was able to do this way back in 1999 when I first stood as a Town Councillor having been a school Governor for 3 years at Alderman Jacobs School during a period of real change and progress.  I have never stopped being a Governor at Alderman Jacobs and have just started my 5th term, I have also just started my 4th term as a Governor at Sir Harry Smith.  It would have been really easy to have made excuses to stand down in these roles, but the truth is, I enjoy them.  I also enjoy the opportunities they give me to engage with young people.  I try hard to communicate with the people I serve, and that includes young people.

Communication is, I believe, another area that sets me apart from others.  I am constantly complimented for the way I have used technology to communicate.  I have had my own website and blog for many, many years and now also use Twitter and Facebook to communicate. Both of these are not just tools to give out information, but really helpful ways of searching out and discovering what others are saying about Whittlesey. It is interesting that none of the candidates standing against me seem to have engaged in areas like Twitter (although I wouldn't put it past anyone to put up a token Twitter account during the election), this is not just a statement about the use of Twitter, it is the real statement about willingness to communicate.

However, I have done more than that, having held a couple of "politics in the pub" events to discuss the impacts of the parliamentary boundary review on Whittlesey and delivered occasional leaflets. As well as this I continue to write a monthly column for Discovering Whittlesey and invite comments when I do.

I would suggest that when you look at who you vote for, think about how important communication from your local Councillor is, and whether any of your candidates in Whittlesey North are likely to match what I do? And remember communication for a Councillor is about reaching out to receive information, not just giving information out.

However, I am also looking at a few different options post election, including holding localised surgeries using door-knocking and leaflet drops to communicate at a very local level, not just to hear about issues, but to talk to residents about their solutions to those problems.  A good couple of examples where this might work is when looking at speeding issues in areas like Stonald Road, or the parking problem outside our schools.