Friday, 31 December 2010

A New Years Eve Reflection

When I look back at 2010 I look back as it being the best year of my life.

It's odd that a man can get to 37 years of age and be able to say that.

It wasn't the best year because of any financial acheivements, in fact in that respect the year has been somewhat of a rollercoaster particularly with being made redunandant at the start of it.

No, the reason that 2010 has been my best year has been because I have realised the value of putting hard work in to all aspects of my life.

After losing my job in March I was so fortunate to get to spend time looking after my family. If you will doing the chores of a housewife. I did the school run, cooked dinners and started doing more and more work in our community to name just a few things.

I took on a role in our local school governors, helped out at village litter picks and even completed a lifelong ambition of becoming involved in local politics.

I have loved every minute of it.

When I was lucky enough to get a post working for a local charity I realised even more the value of working your hardest for your family and community and how much fulfillment that can bring.

One particular thing springs to mind.

On a recent Christmas shopping trip to Leicester I found myself stood at the clocktower with a tear in my eye when a memory came to me about a similar visit to the city I had with my parents when I was about twelve years old.

I recalled how that year my father, who has long since passed away, had been on short time at work and how we had been to Leicester so I could choose my presents. I remember being exceptionally ungrateful because my parents had not spent their usual amount on me and in hindsight I did not appreciate how much they must have struggled.

However, when I had that memory I didn't look back with regret but fondness and a great deal of love for it came to me that with luck and hard work my children, who may not be the most appreciative now, will look back and realise how much their Mum and Dad love them and what they do for them.

The beautiful thing is that although 2010 has been my best year I am not worried what 2011 will bring and fully expect it to be even better.

Things may not always go right but I realise that with hard work, a sense of perspective and most importantly love and caring anyone can take control of what happens to them.

Happy New Year...

The 'Big Society' or a veil to mask massive cuts?

When you look at those regular lists you see in the newspapers at this time of year about new words and phrases which have come in to our lexicon one term you will undoubtedly see is 'Big Society'.

For months in the run up to the general election Mr Cameron kept telling us how he wanted to deliver it. We heard that the 'Big Society' was something to do with charities and volunteering in our community although even many of the Tories didn't know what he was talking about, let alone the rest of us.

Well, at last I think I have figured out some of Mr Cameron's plans.

You may have seen in the past couple of days the government have produced a white paper about how donations to charities can be increased. Many suggestions are being contemplated to drive up donation levels from allowing you to donate on ATM machines through to 'rounding up' your shopping as a charitable donation.

Now in itself these options, and the ones that go with it in the white paper, are all ones that should be at least considered - and if they contribute to an increase in charitable income they would of course be welcome - but my question is why are the government taking such an interest in this area right now? And I think the answer is obvious for two reasons.

Firstly, as we see prices in shops go up and taxes increase inevitably one of the things that will drop will be our willingness to give to charity.

Cabinet Minister Francis Maude suggested we could all donate 1% of our income to raise £4 billion for charity. Does this man not realise we will already be spending an extra 2.5% of our wages in a couple of days time in his governments regressive tax rises?

Secondly and whilst more 'hidden' many charities rely for a significant part of their income from grant-funding bodies such as local government or the national lottery. The simple reason for this is that historically the charity has been better placed in the community to deliver services in a more cost-efficient and personalised way than a funding body ever could. Of course with  large cuts to local government budgets we are seeing even more significant cuts to charities.

Many charities are fully aware that for these two reasons they will not survive the next couple of years and many vital commmunity-based services will be lost forever.

It is not just the public-sector that is reeling from the tory-led governments cuts. The charity sector will be hit harder than ever before and the only thing that will go to make us a 'bigger society' will be our communal experience of higher taxes and less services!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

My Santa Adventure

Back in October I started a new job working for MRC Community Action at the Marlene Reid Centre in Coalville. Although the position is a fixed term contract which I know will come to an end in April it is without doubt the best job I have ever had.

My colleagues are wonderful, the job is varied and challenging and most importantly you know you are making a difference to the most disadvantaged in our community.

The job is also the principle reason why I am looking forward to this Christmas more than any I ever have previously.

Let me explain...

Not long after I started the role we were having a discussion in the office about the possibility of me dressing up as Father Christmas. I said that I would but with one proviso, the stipulation was that we should seek to give children a first class experience of Santa.

In short I said I would throw myself into the role only if we could get our hands on a top quality suit in order that we could give a 'department store' quality experience like the Father Christmas' of yesteryear.

I argued that hardly any children from a difficult background would have ever had such an experience and that it was a right of being a child that a visit to Santa should be both believable and magical. I insisted that if I was going to play the big man then we had to do it properly.

After a little persuasion and a rudimentary business case to prove that a premium quality suit was worthwhile to their eternal credit MRC agreed to purchase one.

Part of the business case was that we should offer our Santa, i.e. me, out to local schools, community organisations and our own events in order that we could give as many children (and those young at heart) as possible the best Father Christmas experience and obviously at the same time we could raise the profile of our charity.

The results have been astonishing.

After a period of time researching how a real Santa should act (always know the names of the reindeer and put blusher on your cheeks) over the past few weeks I have dressed up many times in the red suit and visited numerous primary schools, ladies luncheon clubs and other venues throughout the district.

I have learned two things throughout the process:

Firstly, it does not matter who they are but as soon as you put on that suit ladies start making suggestive comments to you. In short, they can be old, young, professional (or not so professional) but for some reason Father Christmas turns women a bit 'fruity'! I LOVED IT!!!

Secondly, to dress up as the big man is a real privilege and honour.

I have been lucky to be Santa at many different places. I have been to retired ladies groups (very fruity), primary schools, special needs units, teenage mums groups to name just a few.

Every time under my wig I have welled up a little.

Whether it was to the five year olds who were astonished, or the girl with learning needs who couldn't contain her excitement at meeting Father Christmas, or the young boy from a difficult background who only wanted a puncture repair kit, or even the teenage mum with the five week old baby.

It cannot fail to touch you to know you are bringing a little magic to a someone at this time of year.

There are so many bad things happening in the world and I know I moan about them most of the time on this blog but for a few short years children can believe in the most fantastic and good spirited thing possible and I am privileged to have been a part in keeping that alive this year.

And it's true. It's made me feel a lot more Christmassy because I have been able to capture some of that wonderment and for the first time in many years I really am excited about what is to come.

I'm just hoping that I'm on the good list and come Christmas night I get a visit from the real man in red.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas, and with that Ho Ho Ho!

Getting ready for a visit!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Coalition Government Lies

I read a rather wonderful article a couple of days ago.

The whole basis of the piece was to document the various 'lies' the coalition have told since they came to power (and you thought it was just the LibDems fibs about tuition fees).

Here is a list of some of those untruths...

  • In the election campaign the Tories denounced Labour for letting out 80,000 prisoners early and promised to 'increase prison capacity'. The reality - the government have announced the closing of up to 10 prisons.
  • In the election campaign the Tories said they would reduce the number of MP's by 10%. The LibDems said they would cut 20%. The reality - a cut of just 5% with no commensurate cut in ministerial pay.
  • In the campaign both coalition parties said they would introduce a right to recall unpopular MPs based upon local demand. The reality - the right to recall by local people has been dropped and replaced by the power being given to a small committee of members of parliament.
  • Neither of the two coalition parties offered a referendum on Alternative Vote, but we are getting one. However both parties, as well as Labour, said there would be a referendum on the European Union. It seems that this one has been quietly dropped.
Now are you ready for the best part?

The list didn't come out of The Guardian, New Statesman or some other left-wing tome.

No, the list is lifted from the bastion of conservative values The Spectator.

Isn't it coming to something when even your own people are highlighting your failings...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Groundbreaking Day

In case you missed it yesterday was a huge day for equal rights in the United States. The 18th of December 2010 was the day that witnessed the jumping of the final hurdle for the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' legislation for the US Armed Forces, a truly momentous occasion.

Back in 1993 when President Clinton was in the White House there were moves to remove the legislative barrier banning gay and bisexual men and women serving in the armed forces. Instead of an outright lifting of the ban however what was introduced was a half-measure designed in order to placate the conservative right of the country.

The alternative legislation which was introduced was called 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) and in essence what it meant was that whilst superiors could not ask servicemen and women their sexual orientation if it became apparent that the serviceman (or woman) was LGBT then they would automatically be discharged from the services.

Since 1993 13,389 servicemen and women have been discharged from the US armed forces because of their sexuality.

What an indictment of a nation that nearly 14 thousand men and women, who were prepared to give their lives for their country, were ejected from their careers simply because of who they were.

Many on the conservative right argued that DADT was necessary to protect morale. Would any reasonable person suppose even for one minute that a LGBT serviceman was inferior to a heterosexual one? It's interesting to note that 889 of those discharged were from the elite Marine Corps, are we to suppose that that being gay made those servicemen and women more effeminate?

Were the conservative right concerned that LGBT servicemen could not control their urges? Who knows, but this assertion in itself is highly offensive. What on earth would make a gay man more likely to grope a colleague over a straight man doing the same to a female? The answer is, of course, nothing.

Whether we willingly accept it or not the USA are the leaders of the 'free world'. Their economic and military might are unparalleled and this civil rights anomaly was an indictment upon them.

President Obama has been criticised from all directions over many of his actions, however, undoubtedly in this one area alone he has elevated his position significantly as the protector of equal rights.

Thursday, 16 December 2010 haven't seen nothing yet!

When the Tory / Lib-Dem government announced it's austerity measures a few weeks back we knew there were going to be tough times ahead for ordinary working and middle class people.

Are you ready for the rollercoaster to start?

In a front page article today The Guardian has revealed that by 31 March next year (only 4 months away) the public sector will have made 100,000 job cuts.

Now, let us put to one side for a moment how each of those redundancies are going to affect ordinary families where the breadwinner gets their P45, although the impact on them will be dire.

Let us instead concentrate on the majority who will be affected by these cuts, the general public.

Those of a right wing disposition will tell you that there is enormous waste in the public sector. Whilst I accept there is some the simple fact remains that for 10 years the previous Labour government have been striving to implement 'cashable' efficiencies to reduce the cost of public services.

Can anyone really believe therefore that there are 100,000 non-jobs in the public sector?


As a result of these cuts we are going to see front line services used by all of us deteriorate and our quality of life be eroded.

We will see less police officers in our community, poorer education outcomes for our children, reductions in the operations offered by hospitals and cuts to council services.

Everyone in our communities will be affected.

And this isn't the end of it....

On 1st January we will see VAT increase to 20%. Everyone of us will be paying more tax on goods but because it is the same rate for everyone those with restricted incomes will be worse affected than the well off.

How fair is that?

The most excluded in our society will have massively diminished access to services and have to pay much more for that privilege.

The most galling thing about this whole situation is that it was not inevtiable but is purely ideological on the part of our government. Yes, a Labour government would have had to have made cuts - but on a much more progressive scale.

What we are seeing is Tories and Lib-Dems protecting themselves and their rich businessmen friends whilst the rest of us can face the troubles ahead alone.

A wise man once said that a society is measured on how it treats its weakest individuals. If that is the case the society that our new government is delivering isn't 'big' it's deplorable!

Monday, 13 December 2010

An open letter regarding Green Wedge Development from Labour Group Leader, Cllr. John Legrys

The text below is an open letter issued by NWLDC Labour Group Leader, Councillor John Legrys:

Whitwick/Thringstone Green Wedge
The housing developer William Davis with landowner Perks have submitted a Planning Application for approximately 1,500 new homes on Green Wedge land between Hall Lane Whitwick and the A511 Stephenson Way. This suggested new community is known as Stephenson Green.
Back in the 1990’s the NWLDC Labour Administration earmarked land between Whitwick/Thringstone, Swannington and Coalville as ‘Green Wedge’ to ensure that there was a ‘green lung’ within the urban area and to keep the communities with clear sustainable identities. The then Government accepted the principle of the ‘Green Wedge’ as part of the Local Plan regulations – and these regulations continue in force today.
In 2007 the NWLDC Conservative administration reversed years of community protection under Labour and drafted plans that identified the urban Green Wedge as suitable land for housing development. Following strong vocal objection to the idea that the Green Wedge should be built on the NWLDC Administration ‘U Turned’ on the draft plans and withdrew support from the idea.
The Tories’ retreat has left a breach in the community’s defences. Their aimless draft plans are on the records, a statement in writing that developers will be able to use as ammunition in any appeals against planning refusals.
They now hope the new Government will send them a long ladder to get them out of the political pit they have dug for themselves. This long ladder is the ‘Localism Bill’ – which starts the Parliamentary process on Monday 13th December.
 Waiting for the protection of the ‘Localism Bill’ is not an option as it will take at least 18 months to process through Parliament. Developers will want the appeal process out of the way before the new Act comes into force.
I am angry that the Administration did not consult the community before drafting plans. Not only have these draft plans gifted the developers they have antagonised communities.
We accept that we need more homes in the Coalville area, but communities need to be engaged in how we plan for our children and families’ needs before putting pen to paper.
Planning Law will prevent my Labour colleagues, Derek Howe and Dave Everritt who sit on the Planning Committee, from voicing an opinion, but I along with Ray Woodward and Felix Fenning will be opposing this and any other application to build on the Green Wedge”.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Is this the answer to where the 'secretive' BNP conference is being held?

The BNP are holding their annual conference at a secret Leicestershire venue (according to the BBC news report).

And by a process of elimination I reckon I know where it is being held...

Take a look at the link below:

BBC News Report - BNP Annual Conference

Did you notice the distinctive pointed roofline of the conference centre venue?

Now take a look at the picture below:

So where is this hotel?

It's The Best Western Leicester Stage Hotel in Wigston Fields, Leicester.

Now, I could be completely wrong and this may not be the venue of the BNP Annual Conference, but they do appear to be the same venue don't they?

Unless The Stage Hotel can confirm that they are not the venue for this extreme right wing party hotel I for one know that in the future I won't be taking my business to this or any other Best Western venue.

Your views, as always, are welcome.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The 'Battle for the Green Wedge' has entered a new phase (is it the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?)

Over the past few years the has been much talk about the development of a tract of land which forms a natural green border between the villages of Whitwick, Swannington and Thringstone and the town of Coalville.

The land has come to be known as The Green Wedge and organised objection to any development has become the focal point of the Whitwick Action Group, a body with a substantial membership who were established to campaign in particular on this issue.

During those years locals have known that it would be likely that at some point a formal planning application for housing development would be forthcoming. At last that time is here and for WAG and other interested residents the campaigning must now become even more vociferous.

Yesterday, 9 December 2010, an application was made to North West Leicestershire District Council to build 1,500 homes on the land.

Now, I have not yet seen that application (and to my knowledge it is not yet in the public domain) but it is indisputable that if approved the Green Wedge will be destroyed and the individual communities of Thringstone, Swannington and Whitwick in particular will be absorbed into the Coalville urban core and will lose their sense of identity forever.

This should not be allowed to happen and the reason is this.

Opposition to development is nothing to do with being a NIMBY, and yes, within the district new housing is needed. However, those three villages have long histories going back to the middle ages and therefore my question is do we really want to be the last generation to know them as historic villages instead of being a forgotten part of urban sprawl? Each village has a sense of community and residents justifiably fear that this will be lost if major development takes place.

At the next district council elections I hope to be standing as a Labour candidate for Thringstone. Whilst I cannot begin to presume to speak for the party as a whole what I can say is this:

I will do everything within my power to object against the development of The Green Wedge, and I mean that sincerely - not in a Liberal Democrat kind of way!

Now, I am sure over the coming months the rhetoric is going to increase from some local councillors about how they will object to development (probably directly correlating to the pressure emanating from residents). Some councillors may even make a point that they are the only ones objecting to development.

It is important that local residents know and bear in mind this single fact when it comes to next years elections.

Councillors are free to express their opinion and even campaign on this (usually in accordance with their party grouping), however, Councillors who serve on the planning committee are obligated to keep an open mind until a decision is made.

In the run up to the election residents of Whitwick in particular should remember that two of their councillors are on that planning committee and therefore cannot make comments about whether development should take place otherwise they cannot be part of the decision making process.

Whitwick people need to remember that not all candidates at the elections will be on the same level playing field when it comes to campaigning.

The Whitwick Action Group has done a great job and now is the time for local people to unite and object to this unwanted development.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

You Learn Something Every Day

There is an old maxim that you learn something new every day and it certainly is true.

In the past week different people have told me about two men who lived in Coalville within the past 125 years, of whom I knew nothing, and both of whom in their ways were very much heroes.

Thomas Elsdon Ashford

As I was sat talking to a colleague a few days ago he asked me if I knew that a man who had won the Victoria Cross was buried in Whitwick. I said that I did not and my colleague began to tell me about Thomas Ashford:

Ashford was born in Suffolk and when he was old enough went to join the Royal Fusiliers. Whilst with that regiment he was posted to Afghanistan where in 1880 following an incident near Kandahar he was cited for conspicuous gallantry alongside a Lieutenant Chase

'in having rescued and carried for a distance of over 200 yards, under the fire of the enemy, a wounded soldier, Private Massey, of the Royal Fusiliers, who had taken shelter in a blockhouse. Several times they were compelled to rest, but they persevered in bringing him to a place of safety'.

After he left the Army Ashford went on to become a postman, lived in Thringstone, marrying a local girl Betty Ann Sisson.

When he died in 1913 thousands attended his funeral in Whitwick Church.

George Smith

Another colleague a few days ago told me about a man named George Smith, again someone I had never heard of but who I have since read about and came to understand his contribution to society:

Smith was born in 1831 in Tunstall, Staffordshire and from the age of 9 he began working in the potteries brickfields. At the same time as working 13 hours a day the young Smith received some education and through hard work he became the manager of a brickworks.

In 1857, by which time he was living in Coalville, Smith had discovered large seams of clay in the town and a brickworks had sprung up.

However, Smith could not condone and would not use child labour in the brickworks and began campaigning for a change in the law.

By 1871 Smith had managed to interest two parliamentarians to his cause, the Earl of Shaftesbury and A.J. Mundella and eventually with their support legislation was introduced which would ultimately lead to the banning of child labour.

Smith, a Methodist Sunday School teacher, who by this stage had been dismissed by his employers was living in extreme poverty but continued to fight for childrens rights ultimately being a fundamental contributor to further legislation protecting children living on canal boats.

Smith died in poverty in 1895 in Northamptonshire.

So, I sit here today typing with a tear in my eye at the memory of these two great men and I want to raise three points.

1. Today in Coalville George Smith will finally be getting some of the recognition he deserves when a blue heritage plaque will be unveiled in his memory on the newly named George Smith Drive off London Road. Please take the time to go and view it along with Thomas Ashford's gravestone in Whitwick.

2. There are many people, often unknown to us, who in the past have done remarkable things. Please do not let their contribution to history die. The internet is a terrific resource for recording information but in reality their efforts can only truly be passed by telling our children and grandchildren about these great people.

3. Thomas Ashford and George Smith were ordinary men who did amazing things. There is a potential for anyone to do such acts of courage and bravery but how many of us do?

Edmund Burke said 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing'. Ashford and Smith were good men who did not look on doing nothing and as such they are an example to us all.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The NWLDC Tories waste £40,000 of taxpayers money (again?)

Today North West Leicestershire District Council announced that they would 'Secure Future Management of Leisure Centres' in the district. To put it mildly this is possibly the most hogwash ever coming out of our local Council Offices.

In a comprehensive about turn today the Tories said that they would be 'ruling out private sector management', in other words privatisation.

Let us not make any bones about this for the past several months the Tory administration have been going through an exploratory, but nevertheless formal, process of talking to private sector suppliers with the view of privatising management of our council-owned leisure centres.

The Tories, along with their counterpart groups at Charnwood and Melton, may argue that this was simply a 'market-testing' exercise.  But we should be clear that the intention throughout was the ideological outsourcing of our community owned facilities.

Why do I say that this was the case? The answer my friends is simple.

In a report on 31 August the Cabinet approved a very detailed timetable and evaluation criteria which would lead to privatisation. This isn't the actions of a body who are simply 'dipping their toe'.

What is worse in that report it was revealed that £41,350 had already been committed in this folly and that officers were requesting a further £10,000 be added to the pre-approved budget of £50,000 to allow the process to be completed on time.

And what has been the outcome of this process?

If you accept the press release issued by Councillor Pendleton it is because 'we have succeeded in delivering on a number of savings targets...'

Now I wouldn't want to call this statement into question, however, is you look at the previously approved timetable you will see what should have been happening now was 'pre-submission meetings'. I have been party to processes such as this and the only thing, I would suggest, which would have stopped this process would be private sector companies stating that they were not interested in moving forward with the formal exercise.

I would add that there is only one reason that those self same companies don't want to move forward and that is because there isn't any money to be made! And the reason for that is because our Leisure Centres have been well run historically by both officers and members!

Now I am at the end of this tirade I have two points to make.

My first point is ideological and needs to be set out in capitals for emphasis. THE PRIVATE SECTOR ISN'T A PANACEA AND THE PUBLIC SECTOR CAN DO THINGS WELL.

Over the past ten years under both Labour and now Tory governments the entire public sector has been striving to rid itself of inefficiencies. Why on earth does anyone think that the private sector will simply step in and find huge amounts of savings?

In simple terms if at present we are paying for efficient services all privatisation will mean is that we are paying for those same efficient services AND shareholder profits!

My second point is much more local. When is this Tory administration at our district council going to stop wasting money on ridiculous cost cutting plans?

If we accept that no more money has been spent since that August report (and incidentally I would be astonished if that was the case) our cash strapped council has wasted over £40,000 on this exercise.

That would be bad enough but this isn't a one off incident.

You may recall that as recently as 21 September the Cabinet resolved that they would no longer pursue their preferred option of moving to a site at Stephenson College after an extended investigation. Once again that process wouldn't have been cheap, although the cost is not particularly easy to determine because as I write this supporting reports are missing from the councils minutes website.

How many times is our council going to waste taxpayer money on money saving initiatives?

Let's hope that this administration is voted out before any more!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Panorama / FIFA debate

I have just finished watching the 'explosive' Panorama which was shown on BBC1 last night about alleged corruption in FIFA and I have a problem.

In case you missed it the program outlined how three FIFA executive committee members have accepted bribes (some time ago) from a sports media company wanting to obtain exclusive rights to marketing the World Cup.

It went on to cast what appeared to be rehashed allegations against two other officials about bribery and corruption on a rather grand scale.

The final point of the documentary concerned what appeared to be a fairly tenuous link about the guarantees which FIFA require of bidding nations which are supposed to be kept confidential but the Netherlands (another bidding country) have published.

To my mind the Panorama argument was weak and the reason for this could be for one of two reasons.

Either Panorama in order to simplify had time only to give headline facts in its half hour format OR allegations did not have substantive evidence behind them. Now I cannot believe for one moment that BBC lawyers had not gone through the allegations and supporting evidence with a fine tooth comb or litigation will surely follow and therefore I must assume that the first possibility is at least plausible.

On the other hand, the documentary did appear to take somewhat of a scatter gun approach and surely if the proof of wrongdoing was incontrovertible then there could have been time to concentrate on the major allegations?

However, assuming that there was a glimmer of truth in the program it is very worrying that FIFA may be riddled with corruption.

The key issue here is that the allegations in Panorama WERE plausible. As such it is entirely wrong of FIFA not to comment or provide a defence.

Let us not forget we are talking about an organisation which has already had to suspend two members of its executive committee as they were proved to corrupt.

Therefore if plausible allegations are levied then FIFA should provide a defence to prove that in this respect they are above suspicion. This is only a common standard of probity.

We are talking here about a body who has wide reaching powers and whom people at the highest level of our society are courting for the privilege of holding a world cup.

That same body therefore must be above reproach.

What we have here is an organisation that at best seems sordid and at worst thoroughly corrupt.

My question is, irrespective of the Panorama allegations, do we really want to be associated and subordinate to that body in holding a world cup?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Watching the Lib-Dems

I must confess that in the past I have always been quite partial to the Lib-Dems. They have always been like a 'second team' to me.

It's just the same as being a Leicester City supporter but I always check out Macclesfield's score come Saturday tea time.

I always liked Mr Ashdown and following on from that I often thought that out of all the political leaders Charlie Kennedy would be the best one to go out for a pint with. His blend of bonhomie and principled political stand really did make you warm to him.

I think that it is for this reason I have to save a special brand of vitriol for the current Lib Dems and their shameful evaporation of principles in order to seek power.

In simple terms if at the general election you put your X in the Tory box you knew what you were getting.

However, on the other hand, if you voted Lib-Dem you were hoping that you might end up with a decent and principled MP with a fair and equitable set of views who, whilst there was little chance of them ever getting governmental power, could be depended upon.

How wrong you were...

I find it astonishing that one Lib-Dem constituency has today issued a leaflet in their community which states as its headline 'Clegg delivers on promises'.

Can this be the same Nick Clegg whose party candidates, prior to the election, signed pledges to oppose any rise to student tuition fees?

And now only months later that same party is spearheading a virtual trebling of those self same fees!

Of course, what the Lib-Dems are now saying is that such promises were only made on the basis of them becoming a government in their own right and as part of a coalition they have to take a more pragmatic approach.


If you don't believe me just listen to what Nick had to say about tuition fees prior to the election...

When it comes to the Lib-Dems I feel like a father does to a child who has let them down. 'I'm not angry, just very very disappointed.'

Saturday, 20 November 2010

For once even I am astonished!

Since I started writing this blog I have been absolutely open and above board about my views. If you take the time to look back at previous entries I am sure you will arrive at the view I am a bit of a liberally minded leftie. In short I like to think that I am pretty open-minded.

Having said that as I sat reading yesterdays Metro even I was astonished by the crass and moronic stupidity of a couple in Minneapolis, USA.

You see, the couple in question, Pete and Alisha Arnold, have set up a website called . You can perhaps get an inkling from the name of the website what its aim is but if not I shall explain.

Pete and Alisha have decided to set up a website in order that other internet users can vote on whether Alisha, who is currently pregnant, should have an abortion or not!

Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice (and I readily admit to leaning towards the pro-choice option - with caveats) this poll should outrage you, it certainly did me.

Many, many people believe that life begins at conception and abortion should never be allowed. On the other hand the statutory and majority view is that abortion should be legal and that women, with restrictions, should have a right to choose.

That right to choose was a hard won fight with strong and persuasive arguments from either viewpoint being made by some very serious people. One thing that all were agreed upon is that the decision to abort should be one of the most difficult and soul searching that any individual can make.

To reduce that decision to an 'X Factor' type vote made by a simple click of the mouse is an abomination which to my mind anyone should be disgusted by.

So, why am I maddened by this story?

The answer is straightforward. I regularly disagree with people. People with different religions, different viewpoints and different political persuasions. What I respect, however, is that those people have taken the time to think abut why they have arrived at that opposing view - just as I have thought why I have arrived at mine.

To abdicate responsibility and the need to think on such a major issue, as Pete and Alisha Arnold have done, is an aberration which they should be ashamed of and no doubt will  be in years to come.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Electioneering really has started!

You can tell that district council elections aren't that far off when political parties start putting out newsletters that only contain aspects of a full story in order to shape views with an eye-catching headline.

We are only in November and the elections aren't until next May but already the BNP are publishing selective information to denigrate the sitting councillors in their target wards.

From the outset of this blog it is only right that I nail my colours to the mast. I am a proud member of the Labour party and wholeheartedly support their principles and views. Nevertheless I will try to be objective.

The local BNP team have produced a newsletter for the Thringstone ward. In that newsletter an article is written and in the interests of fairness I will set out the text in full below:

' Do you know just how much your local Labour Party Councillors are costing, us the taxpayer each year? Do you even know who they are?

See the shocking table below, to see how British National Party councillors perform against the greed of the of the Labour party. BNP Councillors also attend more meetings.

Labour Party - Value for money? Or taking advantage? You decide.

Average amount of money claimed per Political Party this year

Labour           £8,041.48 per councillor
Conservative   £7,395.16 per councillor
BNP              £3,765.16 per councillor

Lib Dem and IND Cllr's also take more on average than the BNP.'

Now there is no doubt if you carry out the simple task of taking the total allowances for all members of a party and dividing this by the number of councillors they have then you will get an average Labour allowance greater than any other party. But this is a simple and highly emotive method of calculating worth which hides the true facts.

ALL Councillors receive a basic allowance of £3,765.16 (inclusive of £150 telephone rental) and this is the amount that BNP Councillors are rightfully entitled and which they receive.

At the same time Councillors are also entitled to 'Special Responsibility Allowances' for carrying out certain roles. Now for the most part the special responsibility allowances go to the party in control of the council and this is the situation with NWLDC.

Historically the Leader and members of the Cabinet receive the highest allowances and when you look at the figures for 2009/10 this is indeed the case. Councillor Richard Blunt, who is leader of the Council received special allowances of £14,687.82. Similarly Councillor Matthew Blain received an allowance of £9,180.26.

So  I hear you ask, if I have not lost you by now, why in the basic BNP calculation do the Tories only receive £7,395.16 per councillor? Once again the answer is simple. There are a number of Tory councillors, Councillor Richichi for instance, who only receive the basic allowance so when you divide the total allowances paid by the number of councillors you get to an average figure set out in the BNP leaflet.

Turning to Labour it is important to note that my party is the official opposition. As a result of this fact Labour Councillors are asked to take on the chairmanship of various committees and otherwise provide input to the decision-making process in order to provide democratic representation. For these duties once again special allowances are paid.

When you are looking at a simple average cost per councillor however it becomes apparent that all 5 Labour councillors have some kind a 'special responsability'. As a result dividing those total allowances by 5 means that the average per councillor is higher, in short Labour doesn't have backbenchers to dilute the allowances.

Now the Lib Dems, BNP and Independents do not have any form of special responsibility and as a result they are never going to have total allowances as high as either the controlling party or official opposition.

A quick word on attendance at meetings. The BNP Councillors have excellent attendance records and they are to be applauded for this. However, let's not beat about the bush our Labour Councillors have attendance records which stand up to scrutiny as well.

For example BNP Councillor Ian Meller has a 95% attendance record at meetings. Thringstone Labour Councillor Ray Woodward has a 98% attendance record. It's simple headline figures can always be used to support a story!

Now from a personal point of view I abhor everything the BNP stand for and I certainly hope that come next May there are no BNP councillors on our District Council, at the same time however I accept that in 2007 those same councillors were elected by residents of their respective wards and if you look in pure terms of attendance it could be argued they have done a good job.

Being a councillor is more however than just an attendance record and I would fervently argue that those wards lucky enough to have been represented by Labour councillors have had some of the most hard working and dedicated councillors that they could have wished to hope for.

And yes, in answer to the BNP leaflet, I would suggest that just as many know who their Labour councillor is as know their BNP elected member.

There is, of course, a time and place for electioneering but why can't we be honest and present the electorate with the full picture rather than give snippets and half facts?

The people of North West Leicestershire aren't stupid. If the BNP give whole truths and win then I would say congratulations but this kind of cherry picking isn't insulting to Labour, it's insulting to the voters.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Blimey, teaching really is difficult...

I was talking to my two oldest children this morning and it finally struck home to me what a difficult job teaching really is and, more pertinently, just how much teachers must feel like they are banging their collective heads against brick walls.

Let me explain a little...

Every morning before I start work it is my job to take the children to their respective nurseries and schools. All in all from leaving home to dropping Regan and Roisin at school it takes me around thirty five minutes.

Invariably, each morning one of them will ask me a question about some issue or other which I will seek to expand on a little to give them some 'education'.

A couple of days ago, and after they had been watching the DVD of Hairspray, one of them asked me what 'Negro Day' was?

I explained, in what I thought was a very primary friendly style, that we don't use the word 'Negro' and then went on to discuss for an enlightening twenty minutes the words connotations with slavery and the general oppression of the African American in society.

I was so proud of myself in my liberal lefty way!

This morning, only two days later, I asked Regan to explain to Mummy why we don't use the word 'Negro' to which his response was 'I can't remember'.

So much for my teaching ability! When you try and disseminate anything to your children and later question them on it it makes you realise just how little they are taking in and how tough (and at times soul destroying) it must be to be a teacher.

This morning on the way to school we had a lesson on poppies and their symbolism in the context of the First World War (once again done as a result of a one sentence question).

I fear, however, the children might have been preoccupied with their game of 'Yellow Car' and punching each other. As a result I think that there is a real chance they may fail their test on Monday morning.

My lesson planning really must get better...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

What are Friends?

I have just finished listening to a rather wonderful podcast that I regularly download called This American Life.

The podcast itself is about an hour long and always presents two or three human interest stories based on a theme. This weeks theme was about a new word that has come into the lexicon, the word being 'Frenemies'.

Now I had never heard about frenemies and so I looked it up online. The definition shown on Wikipedia (I appreciate not necessarily the first port of call for factual explanation) is 'A Frenemy is a portmanteau of 'friend' and 'enemy' which can either refer to an enemy disguised as a friend or to a partner who is simultaneously a competitor and rival'.

I am fairly sure I don't have any frenemies. I am also pretty certain that I do not have any straight out enemies either but the whole subject has got me thinking about friends.

I  can remember vividly my early years at school making lots of 'schoolfriends' and I also remember that I always seemed to find making friends more difficult than other children did. Subsequent to that in various workplaces I have always got on well with colleagues but as for developing continuing friendships with those workmates outside of or after leaving the workplace that has always been tough too.

What I am saying is that I realised at a very early age that for the most part friends are about relationships with others at a given point in time.

Whilst I am lucky to say that I have a (very) small number of friends with whom I believe I will be close to on an enduring basis I also realise that the vast majority of friends will be that for a given period of time and eventually due to circumstances you will drift apart.

That isn't to say that you fall out or break up with those individuals and when you do meet on an infrequent basis everything is quite amicable. But it does mean that when you meet up you are conscious of the relationship you once had and the fact that although you share past expereiences that relationship has essentially gone.

It isn't a bad thing that friendships drift apart merely a statement of fact. I have always been able to acknowledge this fact but I also regret that this is what has happened in one or two cases. Perhaps I have always been too ready to acknowledge it and should have worked harder in a small number of cases.

I have just been looking at the number of friends I have on Facebook and see that I have 138 friendships. What sort of mad number is this?

I would urge you to do the same and I am sure that if you are being honest you will see that this massive number of people (though in their own ways each one is wonderful and I am delighted to be associated with all of them) is merely a contact list and that your number of true friends is a tiny fraction of this.

This weekend I have been given the opportunity to resurrect some of those friendships that I had previously let go (and a number of those are some of the ones I regret having released first time around) and I am thoroughly looking forward to the opportunity.

So what, after all this, is the moral of todays blog?

We should all realise that friendship in most cases doesn't last a life time and that you can probably count the number of 'true' friends you have on one hand. But at the same time we must work hard to retain those special friends that we have and jump at the opportunities when they face us to reinvigorate those periodically flagging relationships.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Mr Bridgen really is showing his ignorance about Council Tax

Have you seen this weeks Coalville Times?

Our local MP is quoted in a page 8 article expressing his views about the cancellation of a council tax revaluation.

In short he has 'responded enthusiastically to the government's announcement to cancel Labour's plans for a revaluation in England, which would have led to local tax hikes'.

Mr Bridgen, I am afraid, is completely mistaken in his views about the effects of a revaluation. What's more those views in all likelihood are working to the detriment of people living around North West Leicestershire.

I have worked in council tax since it was first introduced in 1993 and I would venture to say I probably could be classified as having expert views in this area having run the council tax department in two highly performing district councils.

Up until the general election we regularly read in the right wing media that Labour was demonstrating astonishing stealth and guile in their plans to increase tax income through a revaluation of council tax bands.

It seems that even after the election Mr Bridgen is continuing with this rhetoric.

Let me be clear about this.


What revaluation does do is to redistribute the overall tax burden based on more relevant property values.

In very simple terms a home, based on its tax band, is attributed a weighting. The council, which has already set its budget, then arrives at a council tax by dividing that budget by the cumulative total of all of the weightings thus arriving at a different charge for each band.

When a revaluation takes place the council still has to set a budget first and divide by cumulative weightings it is specifically prohibited from increasing its budget just because the total cumulation of weightings has increased.

So, in real terms what should this mean?

In some ways we don't really know as there has never been a revaluation of council tax in England. Mr Bridgen's assertion that 'in Wales four times as many homes moved up one or more bands as down' is a little misleading as the number of council tax bands was increased at the Welsh revaluation in order to allow valuers to be slightly more accurate when determining property values.

The theory of a revaluation however has been long established and that theory is quite simple. Roughly one third of people would see their tax (not their tax band) increase. One third would see their level of tax stay the same and one third would see a reduction in how much they have to pay.

Now, here is the real kicker!

Tax bands at the moment are completely unfair. Your house is valued at what it would have been worth in 1991 and doesn't take into account any improving modifications since (as long as the house hasn't changed hands).

So when we bought our house we were allocated band E (don't worry it's all public record) but since then we have had a fairly big conservatory ubilt which hopefully has increased the value of the house fairly substantially. But the great bit is we could carry on building until we had a mansion and our tax wouldn't ever go up. Is that really fair?

You can absolutely guarantee the same has happened with a neighbour of yours, or even you yourself. Bandings just do not reflect in any way the current real value of homes BECAUSE THEY ARE 18 YEARS OUT OF DATE!

....and that's not even the worst part.

We don't know what would be the effects of a council tax valuation but we do know how business properties have been revalued as they DO have revaluations every 5 years.



So, in reality in agreeing with no revaluation what Mr Bridgen is doing is potentially keeping our taxes higher than they would be if a revaluation took place just to benefit those living in affluent areas in the South East of the country.

It's hardly representing the people of North West Leicestershire is it?

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Tories are getting it wrong

No one can deny that Britain has a massive budget deficit. Similarly no one would want to deny that that deficit has to be reduced - it's what all of the political parties were talking about at the general election (albeit that each party wanted to address the deficit in different ways).

The coalition government has got tough decisions to make, many of which will be unpopular amongst the electorate simply because increasing taxes and cutting services is bound to be.

Nobody ever wants to pay more to get less, imagine going to the supermarket and forking out £10 more than you usually do but coming out with a half empty trolley. That is what is happening with this government.

So today our Chancellor unveiled some big changes to the benefit system.

First of all Mr Osborne anounced that anyone who now pays higher rate tax from 2013 will no longer be eligible for Child Benefit. In itself not the worst possible cut which could be introduced, the Labour party have long opined about the well off in society making a greater contribution to the tax burden.

Secondly, the Chancellor has revealed that no claimant shall ever receive more in benefit than the average working family. Once again on the face of it many many people would agree with this measure.

So where, I hear you ask, is my problem with these announcements?

The answer is simple. Mr Osborne is oversimplifying major issues on a massive scale.

You will have heard on the news no doubt that a single parent earning £45K per year and raising three children will no longer receive child benefit and yet two parents raising a single child and each earning £38K will continue to be eligible. Where is the equity in this? No one is saying not to stop child benefit for the well off in our society but to have such a glaring inequity is a travesty.

As for benefit claimants receiving high levels of income once again we have simplification gone mad. What are we to do with large families living in our cities and claiming housing benefit? Do they need to be moved into areas away from their community to meet an arbitrary cap or do we simply allow them to live under the strains of poverty?

The last Government spent years, admittedly with varying success, trying to raise families and children in particular out of poverty. This government will see many fall into it on the stroke of a pen. Is this the society we want or deserve?

Mr Osborne is a highly educated man. Surely he appreciates that our society isn't simple. In fact it is highly complex.

Unfortunately, for those that will be affected, we should consider the circumstances of families and not simply make swingeing changes based on arbitrary tokenism in a vain effort to make things easy.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The 'Magnetism' of the Ryder Cup

I must be clear about my views on the game of golf. I find the entire game, the premise, the 'etiquette' and the snobbery utterly ridiculous.

I must confess that I have attempted to play the game and the only word to describe my ability is pathetic. I once even invested in clubs, bags, clothing and membership of a club in the feint hope that I would improve (I was told that successful people play golf) but I simply discovered that when I addressed the ball the only thing that would happen would be for my nose to run uncontrollably.

So much has been said about the bizarre culture of the average golfer and the inherent middle class pretensions of the members club that I wouldn't even attempt to add anything new. The only thing I would say is that all of those argyle-clad allegations are true.

I have thought long and hard as to whether it is my lack of ability which provides my aversion to the game and have come to the conclusion that yes, partially it is. I am sure that if I had more natural talent I would probably not mind so much kitting myself out in pastel Pringles and deferring to the Captain. At the same time the sheer inanity of the pursuit simply results in me not wanting to improve my long game (I have far better things that I would rather practice).

Having said all of that, and God strike me down if I would watch golf at any other time, there is something indescribably magnetic about the Ryder Cup.

I was loving it yesterday when 'rain stopped play'.  The sight of those soaking wealthy spectators vaguely resembling moody teenagers on a washed out camping trip was to put it mildly, uplifting.

However, today the players are out on the course and I am sat (not quite) avidly listening to whether Ian Poulter and someone called Ronny Fisher can half the game against Simon Stricker and Tiger Woods (apologies for making up names the BBC website only says R Fisher and S Stricker).

My patriotic pride in being a European is being stirred and until tomorrow  I may even be a fan of the game.

My Question then is 'Why'? and the answer is simple.

Radio is a marvellous thing when it comes to commentating on protracted and weather affected sports. The hushed whispers of John Inverdale pausing before a ball drops is a thing of wonder in exactly the same way as listening to descriptions of cakes on Test Match Special or delighting to the greatness of Rod Laver at Wimbledon makes one feel warm and content.

So until Sunday I will sit listening and probably even cheer if we get a dramatic win on the final green but on Monday morning I won't even remember the result or who scored points and Golf can once again it's proper place in my priorities, that is absolutely nowhere.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

What mid-life crisis?

I noticed in todays newspaper that more and more thirty somethings are suffering from mid-life crises.

I don't get it.

Six months ago now I was made redundant from my job working for a local authority. To face the prospect of being out of work for the first time since leaving college was, I suppose, quite frightening.

I worried how would the bills get paid and would I lose all of my self worth? In reality walking out of work on my final day with no new job to go to was a terrifying prospect.

And yet, still out of work, something marvellous has happened since that day.

The past six months have been, without question, the best of my life and the reason is simple. I have realised the mind-blowing importance of my family, friends and community.

For the first time I have got to spend a lot of time with my children and you know what? They are wonderful.

Whether it has been watching my eldest son starting to cycle to school on his own, or helping my daughter with her homework and her pride when she gets a 'well done' from her teacher or enjoying the chats with my youngest when I put him to bed at night. It is all amazing.

I went in to my sons class recently to pick him up at the end of the day. He and his classmates had been doing a piece of work about the person they admire most and Regan had done his work about me. To say I welled up is somewhat of an understatement, but would he have done the same piece before I started spending so much time with him? I doubt it.

Spending more time with my wife, Clare, has also been reinvigorating and I have no doubt has lead to us having a much more fulfilling, loving and happy marriage. Clare has recently started a new, and demanding, job and the time I have spent at home as given me the opportunity to support her as much as she deserves and I am more than content to do this.

Likewise, for the first time ever we got to spend the whole of the long summer holidays as a family. It is true that we didn't go on any expensive holidays this year (a mobile home in The Netherlands on a very cold Easter was our substitute for a summer holiday) but the time we spent on day trips, picnics and visiting stately homes more than made up for that.

My time away from a rat-race job has also given me the chance to realise what a contribution we can make in our local communities. I have been lucky enough to help out at a couple of local schools in one capacity or another and seeing the difference a person can make there easily makes up for the terror of being out of work.

As for the future, who knows? Like anyone else we continue to worry about paying bills but what I do know for certain is this. These months out of work have been ones that I can happily say I will never forget.

Anyway, now back to the job search. I have to get a job if for no other reason that we did mention to the children that we would take them to Disneyworld when I got one. The only problem is that my youngest is now asking me at least five times a day 'Have you got that job yet Daddy?'

So as to those who say mid-life crises are on the up I say make the most of those people and things that are under your nose. They are more valuable than you can ever imagine.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Very proud to be from Thringstone

Back in the summer of 1973 I was brought from the maternity unit of Leicester Royal Infirmary and taken to what would become my home for the next 25 years of my life on Main Street in Thringstone.

In those 25 years there appeared to me to be very little change in the village.

I can vividly remember daily walks to and from Thringstone Primary School, my regular drink (when I was slightly older) on a Thursday night at the Queens Head after badminton at the Community Centre, and crossing the road on what seemed like a daily basis to Foxons shop for either a bar of chocolate or a comic (my weekly edition of 'Match' was my favourite).

So vivid are my memories of Foxons I am still slightly perturbed now when I go down Main Street and realise I can't buy a copy of the Dandy (I was never a Beano man) but I could have my roots done if I wanted.

When I left Thringstone to get married, I didn't exactly move far - only to Whitwick, in some ways I failed to notice that the village was changing.

First one pub closed, and then almost overnight all of them were gone. The newsagent shut. Even Thringstone Aquatics was gone.

The only constant seems to be Ruby's (where I still go for my fabulous fish and chips) but even Michael and Sonia have reduced trading hours. Long gone are the times when you could call in for a post-pub portion of chips and battered sausage. There is, after all, no point in staying open that late when there are no post-pub customers left to serve.

Yet, even from this position of many long-treasured family businesses closing over the past few years there has been a reawakening of community spirit in the village. Much of this has been down to the success of what was initially a small but now growing number of dedicated people who formed the 'Friends of Thringstone' group.

The stated aims of the Friend of Thringstone are to '...improve the environment of Thringstone and to preserve and promote its history for the benefit of residents and visitors'. And boy, they are doing a cracking job!

Take a walk around the village and you will see how much pride there is. Have a look at the flower beds and other planting schemes. Ponder on the historic blue plaques. Stroll down to Bob's Closs (it was always massively overgrown when I was a kid). Have a read of some of the excellent local history booklets that have been produced....and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The thing that particularly strikes me when I am in Thringstone is the lack of litter. This is in no small part down to the regular litter picks that Friend of Thringstone organise and everyone who live or visits the village should be thankful for this.

If you want to know more about the Friends of Thringstone take a look at their comprehensive website at . You will see I am doing them a huge disservice when I mention only a few of the many things they have accomplished.

OK, the village still hasn't got a pub on The Green and some of the businesses have closed but due to the fantastic work of groups like Friends of Thringstone I am very proud to say that's where I'm from.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

I feel like I have accomplished an ambition!

How excited am I?

I have just taken the dog for a sunny but slightly chilly Saturday morning walk (and very nice it was too - the fields are just giving enough to walk on swiftly but not at that muddy state which we will get next month).

As usual I took my ipod and listened to yesterdays edition of the Mark Kermode film podcast on Radio 5.

Anyway, to cut a long story relatively short, I caught a few minutes of the live program yesterday when I was picking up the children from school. During my short period of listening I sent what I thought was a witty and informed text to the show when Mark and Simon were discussing an upcoming live recording at the Phoenix Cinema, Finchley.

Moving forward to this morning I was ecstatic when not only did Simon Mayo read out the text from 'Leon in Coalville', but the two gods of radio then went on to have a (very) brief discussion on the topic and gave me a second namecheck! I actually gave a small, and some would describe girly, scream of delight as I was walking along the footpath.

I cannot quantify just how much I enjoy the Kermode program and I feel like a long held ambition has been accomplished and as soon as I got home I made Clare listen to the excerpt three times.

Two things...

Firstly, I do understand how pathetic this makes me sound. Although I would strongly recommend the podcast to anyone who enjoys film.

Secondly, Clare has now banished me to my computer until I calm down...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Getting Excited!

I must confess I am getting very excited about the prospect of standing in the 2011 District Council elections.

Over the past 4 years we have seen a period of stagnation under the current Conservative administration at North West Leicestershire.

Just what has been done since May 2007 to help the district? We have seen Coalville town centre deteriorate, uncertainty about building thousands of new houses and village life being eroded through the closure of post offices and pubs.

There is so much that the Council can do to enhance the community and instead all we have seen is torpor.

I have no doubt we can make a real difference in 2011.

Watch this space....