Friday, 19 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Just a short note to wish all my readers a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Activity on the bloging front has been a little quiet recently mainly due to too much going on to have time to blog and secondly due to on-going illness which has left me feeling completely washed out at the end of the day and only really fit for my bed.

However, I am spending Christmas in warmer climes and maybe a bit of sun on my back will perk me up no end. If the opportunity arises I may do some holiday bloging but in case it doesn't I hope normal bloging service will be resumed 5th January 2009. Until then, Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Whoever gets the most votes wins!

The latest Guardian poll has the Tories on 37%, down from 45% in November, the Lib Dems up 1% to 19% and Labour’s share up 3% at 33%. "Others" are on 10% which is up 2%.

However the interesting thing to me is putting these numbers into the UK Polling Report "Seat calculator" gives the Tories 279 Seats, Labour 295 Seats and the Lib Dems 47 Seats. So despite being ahead in the votes cast the Tories would still get fewer seats than Labour who would be thirty seats short of an overall majority but still ahead of the Tories. How can that be fair?

I always used to say democracy was quite simple! Whoever got the most votes wins! Obviously that's not true in the UK anymore but then we are now in a post democratic era where voting is still allowed but isn't allowed to really influence the results.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Bitter and Twisted

I have someone who regularly posts anonymous comments on my blog which I read and then delete. He (or she) of course is very upset that I don't allow their comments through onto the public area of my blog.

This post is directed to them. It's quite simple mate, have the balls to put your name on your postings and I'll let them through! Your real name of course! Not some pen name. Although something like "Bitter and Twisted" would probably fairly accurately describe most of your posts.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Did I upset the Mayor? Apparently I did!

As someone has been quick to point out I've "apparently" upset the Mayor because I wasn't at the Council Meeting last night when he made his remarks about me. Well this is true, I wasn't there, I'd sent my apologies.

I was intending to be there and had submitted two questions to the Mayor to which I wanted some answers. Unfortunately for personal, family reasons I wasn't able to make the meeting and that is all I'm saying on that matter. No-one was more disappointed than me because the alternative commitment I attended did not go well and I knew that having questions down and not be at the Council Meeting to ask the necessary follow up supplementaries just gives the Mayor a free ride and the rest of the Councilors an opportunity to have a go at me in my absence. However, the battle to obtain access to the information is not lost. It is back on the Cabinet Agenda in January and the Mayor did say the report would eventually be released to the rest of the Council. Unfortunately he didn't say when nor did he confirm the report would be issued unabridged!

I’ve upset the Mayor!

I have been told I’ve upset the Mayor! He apparently claimed at last night's Full Council Meeting that I'd been very rude to him. I can’t remember being rude to him but I do remember attempting to represent my constituents and being denied the right to do so. The Mayor claims he got upset when I challenged my exclusion from observing a cabinet discussion. The topic of discussion being an investigation by “external advisors” (Consultants) on the senior management structure of Hartlepool Council. These Consultants are receiving half a million pounds of public money! It seemed to me only fair that the public’s elected representatives should be allowed to know what all their money has been spent on?

The Mayor reportedly feels that when told to leave “his” meeting I should have gone without protest. I believe that excluding me was illegal and unconstitutional and ultimately it came down to a vote of 6 – 1 by Cabinet to have me removed. Perhaps the Mayor would prefer the old Soviet system where people like me daring to ask questions could be shipped off to Siberia? Of course the Mayor referred to “his” meeting showing he seems to have forgotten it is a public meeting that he is chairing on the publics’ behalf. It’s not “his” Council, the employees are not “his” officers and the millions of pounds spent by the council is definitely not “his” money.

Too many people in public office forget who their bosses really are and where the money they spend comes from! To paraphrase Tony Blair, “Politicians are the servants of the people NOT their Masters” Maybe some politicians on Hartlepool Council should think about that?

Mugabe Vs Brown



This was sent to me today by e-mail, not sure where it originated from but I suspect Guido Fawke's blog (www.order-order.com) since that looks like his avatar in the middle of it all.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Diet Report No:7

Bit late with the diet report this week. Weight on Friday morning 15stone 11lb (100kg) so it looks like its settled at 2lb a week loss. Another 3 stone to go so it will take me about 6 months........of course Christmas interupts this schedule....lol..

Friday, 5 December 2008

Euro Preparations Unit

Just as well there is no shortage of money sloshing around the UK Government’s coffers. There might not be enough to meet spending commitments to British Sport but at least £43million has been lavished on the Euro Preparations Unit, which exists deep within the Treasury.

Of course it is absurd for Labour to waste any taxpayer money on preparing Britain to join the Euro when that policy is adamantly opposed by the vast majority of the
British people. News of the unit’s spending comes days after it emerged Gordon Brown held secret talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso - and Business Secretary Peter Mandelson´s admission that joining the euro was still Labour´s long-term plan.

The contempt in which the EUrocrats hold the public was revealed at the weekend when Mr Barroso said he has discussed the UK joining the euro with "the people that matter in Britain". He said senior Government figures believed Britain would be "better off" without the pound and that UK membership was "closer than ever".

The last Commons committee to investigate the cost of Britain joining put the
total bill for the UK economy at £40billion at 2008 prices - roughly double the
total amount of Mr Brown´s recently-unveiled economic stimulus package. When other European countries changed currencies in 2002, shoppers there saw
huge increases as businesses rounded up prices in the new money.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

NOT the Queen's Speech

My Lords and Members of Parliament. I am your Queen and I have come to this place to read you a list of tedious forthcoming legislation. Do please appear to look excited.

My Government has pretty much run out of policies, but has scraped the barrel to cobble together a few half-hearted ideas to see them through the next Parliamentary session. My Government's programme is a last ditch attempt to persuade the electorate to vote for them next time, and not necessarily a list of what is good for the country.

My Government will continue to plod on towards the introduction of ID cards, even though they're expensive and don't work and a serious infringement of civil liberties and everybody hates them. My Government will continue to solve the world's economic problems single-handedly with a brave but prudent global financial rescue policy, so it says here.

My Government will waffle on a lot about fairness. My Government will ban pubs and bars from running extra specially cheap drinks promotions, although it'll still be possible to binge drink on value lager from the corner shop. My Government had better not raise duty on sherry, else that's one's Christmas ruined.

My Government will introduce a new Minister for Outrage, someone whose job it is to spot petty annoying things that might get Middle England riled, you know like BBC personalities swearing at sick kittens. My Government will talk a lot about reducing carbon emissions, but won't actually do anything about it because of the cost.

My Government will drag the country even further into debt, on the basis that the Opposition will end up having to pay it off. My Government wants all children to have the best possible start in life, and other meaningless platitudes.

My Government will shout across the despatch box at Question Time rah rah rah like a bunch of public schooolboy oiks. My Government will introduce lots of new targets, including a target to increase the number of targets by 50%. My Government know not to increase taxes on horse racing, because one would be very upset.

My Government will continue to bugger about with the National Health Service. My Government are already busy networking with big business bosses to make sure they have executive roles to step into once they lose their seats at the next election. My Government will balls something up spectacularly, because that's what Governments do.

My Government will introduce legislation to allow the police to do whatever they like, but only under special circumstances (i.e. whenever they feel like it). My Government will continue to bandy around words like freedom and equality and security and globalisation because it makes them sound important. I'd better hurry up, this crown's getting bloody heavy.

My Government will send me round the world to meet various foreign heads of state, and I'll have to sit there listening to tedious speeches and attending banquets where they serve up roast creatures in sauce, oh God, why do I let them? Every Government's the same really, they all try hard but they always end up buggering everything.

Still, at the end of their day they're my Government, and I don't have to sign any of their poxy laws if I don't want to. The Duke of Edinburgh and I will be going home now. It's racing from Catterick this afternoon, and we don't want to miss it.

(Nod to http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/2008_12_01_archive.html#2107005556133628178)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Economics of Tourism

I am giving some serious thought to going back to University next year to study for an MA in Heritage Tourism. Probably not the best time to be contemplating a change of direction but tourism (and heritage) is something I'm getting more and more involved in. Some indication of the importance of heritage tourism can be gained through examination of visitor figures and this is where an Internet connection becomes a key tool.

According to official sites for instance the Georges Pompidou Centre of Art and Culture in Paris attracts over 7 million visitors annually. The paintings and sculpture exhibited at the Louvre attract more than 5 million visitors, the Paris based Musee d’ Orsay and the Picasso Museum each receive several million visitors and these and other art galleries support Paris’s tourist image as a city associated with a rich heritage of art. London's top heritage attraction, The British Museum currently attracts around 5.6 million visitors a year and 4.8 million visit the National Gallery.

Museums, theaters, art galleries, heritage sites, castles and country houses consistently rank among the most popular UK tourist attractions. Of course none of these will be as popular as the Hartlepool Tall Ships race in 2010 which will attact 1,000,000 visitors in just 4 days. Read it and weep at the Tower of London, Tate Gallery and the Natural History Museum where their ANNUAL visitor numbers are only about 2.6 million visitors for the Tower, 2.2 Million at the Tate Gallery and a pathetic 1.9 million visit the Natural History Museum.

Tall Ships - Some Answers

The Tall Ships Briefing yesterday morning was attended by half a dozen Councilors. The evening session had a few more there but it was interesting to chat to one of the evening attendees to compare notes.

One thing that wasn't discussed in the evening session was the current £1.2 Million pound budget shortfall. Currently the budget for the event is £3.2 Million pounds. This is being covered by £800K from Hartlepool Council, £775K from One North East, £350K from Private sponsorship and £200K (estimate) from merchandise sales. Add that up and it comes up about a Million Pounds short. Also the vast majority of the £350K Private funding is still to be found and of course merchandising sales are also only estimates.

However, all is not lost. There is a cunning plan! The 1,000,000 visitors are estimated to be coming in 60,000 cars each day, all of which will need somewhere to park. So the plan is to charge £10 per car. This will give £600K a day income so for the four days of the event there should be £2.4Million come in from car parking charges. Wonderful, the event is going to make a profit! No worries. Even at only 500,000 visitors and only 30,000 cars a day we should still cover the funding black hole.

Plans are also in place in case it rains to ensure that the event is not a wash out. These plans appear to be putting up tents for the visitors to be able to take shelter. These same tents of course service dual duty to protect people from the sun should it be a scorcher!

Plans to view the Tall Ships Parade of Sail from Old Cemetery Road might need looking at and the old Steetly Site will have to be tidied up. The organisers are also appealing to residents of the town to stay at home as much as possible during the four days, or at least use their cars as little as possible, this will keep the roads free for the event traffic.

Overall a very upbeat presentation and the few Councilors there agreed that we all wanted the event to be a triumph for Hartlepool and to put us on the map. There will unfortunately be no permanent legacy of buildings left by the event as there is "no capital spend" for the race. What this means to you and I is that everything will be in tents or in the case of the toilets i Port-a-loos. My main concern however was the undeniable face that currently Hartlepool Council is underwriting a £3.2 Million Project with less than half that amount firmly committed. If the private sponsors don't come in and the £10 fee per car doesn't cover the hole then it does appear it will be Hartlepool Council that is picking up the bill.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

euro santa


With a nod to Trixy and More to life than Shoes. A report from Santa on his build up to the big nite from http://berlaymonster.blogspot.com.

The year started badly, thanks to global warming. We lost several workshops when the ice sheet melted and they drifted off - checked ocean current charts, and they're due in the Hudson Bay in 2014. Must put a reminder in my Google calendar about that. Everything is now wet underfoot and I was getting grief about installing a drainage system.

It was time to move and we, for reasons that now elude me, decided to relocate to Brussels.

We settled into our new premises at Tours and Taxis. Then things started to go seriously wrong. Off to the Commune to register - they asked what was the nature of my work? “Well, I sneak into children's bedrooms when they're asleep, and if they're good I give them a present.” Eventually I got released from the cells. Apparently, I'm on some sort of 'watch list' now.

Had to put the sleigh in for a 'control technique' even though sleighs don't have engines. Still got a 400€ bill, though. Got stopped by the police on the way back and fined for not having a reflective vest and a red warning triangle. For the love of God, who could miss seeing me and a dozen reindeer?

Had a lunch meeting with Commissioner Wallström - I'm sure she's part Elf. She wanted me to deliver a copy of the Proposed EU Constitution to every child as part of their communication strategy. “Even if they've been naughty?” “Especially if they've been naughty,” she purred. We manage to find a compromise and they're going to produce it as a colouring book. What sold me on the idea is thinking of the look on Nigel Farage's face on Christmas morning. As I leave, she calls out, asking what I would think of a rebrand. Pardon? Would I consider rebranding myself as EuroSanta, as it would give the EU a friendlier image? I take a huge slug from my hip flask and promise to think it over.

Noticed that expenses were climbing alarmingly and production was down. Popped round to check the reindeer and found out one reason why - they've been stuffing their faces with waffles and beer and put on so much weight that they're about as aerodynamic as Louis Michel. Went to talk to the elves, but they were all in the pub. For 'lunch'. All day. Dead important meeting, apparently.

DG Environment come round to discuss my carbon emissions. They decide to make an impact assessment. Commissioner Dimas turns up in the reindeer shed: “What is the carbon footprint of a reindeer fart?” “Let's find out,” I say, grab him and stuff his head up Prancer's backside. One of the Elves filmed it on their mobile phone and had uploaded it to You Tube before I could stop laughing.

Jamie Shea calls from NATO to give me a telling off about flight plans. Seems that last year I crossed the flight path of an unmanned drone over Khandahar and scared the daylights out of the remote pilot when I suddenly appeared on his monitor. Poor chap's still off work. Well, if you're going to spend the season of goodwill to all men by lobbing missiles at destitute Afghan farmers, then you get what you deserve. Call it karma.

Summoned to Berlaymont, where Commissioner Mandelson lectured me on our toy production being against EU tariffs and upsetting the Chinese. I express my sympathy through the medium of a fist and get a couple of good ones in before security pounce and bundle me out of the building. I get back to the office, make a couple of calls, pull a few strings and the next thing we know, Mandy's on a one-way ticket back to London.

It's about this point that I realize I'm getting too old for this. But finding a replacement is impossible as they would need to be able to cope with reindeer and work with elves and have impeccable planning skills. I have a moment of sheer genius. I reach for the phone and dial.

“Margot Wallström speaking.”

“Hey babe, have you thought about breaking through the ultimate glass ceiling?”

Sorted. Put the toys on eBay and buy a small Caribbean island with the proceeds.

So, I hope you enjoy Christmas. I'll be distilling my own rum on a tropical beach and you'll have EuroSanta in your chimney.

Ho, ho, ho.

Tall Ships Briefing

It's the Member's Briefing on the Tall Ships on today and several people asked the same or very similar questions so I have summarised them into the five points below:

1) What steps are being taken to minimise the effect on the residents of the town who will need to continue their daily lives during the event?

In particular this question was raised by residents of the Headland, where traffic problems during the Headland Carnival are horrendous, and residents of Seaton who suffer during the November 5th celebrations when considerably less than 1,000,000 visitors are involved.

2) How many Hartlepool residents actually own a sea going vessel?

The reasoning behind this question apparently is that assuming its actually quite a small proportion of the town’s residents then are the Council taxpayers of Hartlepool free to assume that if we are affluent enough to spend public money on an event which caters to such a very small number of Hartlepudlians that it becomes a massive hand-out to short term visitors that there will be no increase what so ever in council tax for the foreseeable future ?

3) How many jobs are being predicted to be created by the tall ships race? How many of these will still be in existence 12 months after the circus has left the town?

4) How many corporate sponsors have been signed up and what is the split between public sector funded sponsors and private sector sponsors? What is the split in sponsorship between hard cash contributions or help in kind. (I note that the last information available on hartlepool.gov.uk on this area is some months old. (target suggested was to raise is £350,000)).

5) Hartlepool has committed a “significant” budget. What is the latest estimate regarding the actual cost of the event and what steps have been taken to limit the liability of Hartlepool council taxpayers as regards the costs of this event (Especially relevant as Hartlepool have committed to pay all invoices within 30 days of receipt).

From my own point of view I am interested in status of the Project Risk Register. What action has been taken on the top half dozen risks identified in the risk register. I have looked several times for the register on the intranet but can't find it? Also what has been the progress on the commissioning, design and production of the event prizes and Hartlepool is required to arrange at least £10,000,000 public liability insurance and indemnify the organisers and their representatives in relation to any claims arising. What steps have been taken to limit the liability of Hartlepool council taxpayers from such claims?

Should be an interesting meeting!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Plastic Windows

The planning committee this week finally made a decision. It was hard fought and there was a move to defer it again but eventually it was agreed that enforcement actions started up to seven years ago and still not resolved should in fact be dropped and no further action taken.

The fact that actions had been left in abeyance for so long really made me feel the Council had abdicated all moral authority on these matters. It seems patently unfair that people could have committed serious crimes, been sent to prison and released back into society in a shorter time scale than it has taken Hartlepool Council to deal with upvc replacement windows.

The Chairman wanted to delay the decision for a special meting on the Council! I pointed out the issue had already been to full Council and had been referred to the Planning committee. Maybe it was time to stop "Noting the report" and actually do something. The next delaying tactic was to say as there were several members of the Planning Committee absent then the matter was so important it should be delayed until more members could be present. It was pointed out the Committee was quorate and every member had been notified in advance of the agenda. If they didn't want to be involved in the decision then that was up to them.

Finally I managed to get the motion on the table. That Hartlepool Council take no further action on outstanding enforcement issues relating to replacement upvc windows in conservation areas. A huddle of Council Officers ensued and the proviso was added that this would create no precedent and would refer only to actions on the list submitted to the Committee that day. Once the new rules were agreed then there would be a clean slate to start and subsequent actions would not be pre-determined by this decision which was purely based on the unreasonable length of time these actions had been outstanding.

The motion passed, by the narrowest of margins (5 to 3). Hopefully those people who have faced every Christmas since March 2001 without knowing if they were going to be prosecuted or see in Christmas through boarded up windows will be able to relax this year.

I am not anti-conservation but I do believe people should be able to have warm, dry, draft proof homes. Anyone who has lived on the headland will agree that the wind can really rattle the windows when it gets going. Of course as one Councillor said "The group who think we should all still live in caves won't be pleased" and I know what he means, for too many people conservation means keeping things exactly as they are, changing nothing, stopping progress. If you apply that logic then our first mistake was building anything in the first place, after all a mud hut was a step up from a burrow or a cave and no doubt there were people then who complained about all these new fangled ideas. A cave was good enough for granddad, it should be good enough for us.

Merry Christmas

Local Government Secrecy Part 4



Denied Again! My latest attempt has again been denied in my quest to discover exactly what was in the report by some highly expensive consultants retained by Hartlepool Council and presented to Cabinet on 14th November.

The Chief Solicitor does not accept my interpretation of the legal position and has set aside it being considered as “exempt” (paragraph 2 of Schedule 12A of the LGA, as amended) and also decided he is not convinced that paragraph 32 of Part 4 of the Council’s Constitution (Additional rights of access for Members) has any application to the present case.

The key point now appears to be that no business was "transacted" by cabinet since the decision on this item was in fact deferred until 8th December, 2008. In the opinion of the Chief Solicitor disclosure could have the potential for undermining a proper consideration and determination of particular sensitive information. The author of this report has issued it on a severely restricted circulation, effectively limited to Members of the Executive and to those officers fulfilling statutory responsibilities.

My own legal adviser has some different views and opinions but she is not available to go through it in detail until next week. The battle however is not yet over and she has already given me some points to work on which will keep this one moving along.

It's not over till the fat lady sings.

Diet Report No:6

Weight this morning 15stone 13lb (101kg).

Very disappointing week in one way but quite heartening in others. Disappointing because I have lost just one single, solitary pound this week. Heartening in that I still lost something while popping steroids into my mouth by the handful to combat the "weakness" in my chest. As a common side effect of these steroids is weight GAIN I suppose losing anything this week is a definite bonus.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Introducing our next speaker

I am speaking at an event in Cambridge this weekend and the organiser has asked me to send down a brief introduction for the program. I've sent the following. I wonder if they'll use it?

It gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction to introduce one of the giants of our time. Stephen Allison.

Stephen is a wonderful, kind, generous man who gives freely of himself to help others who are less fortunate than himself. A close personal friend of several members of the UK Royal Family, advisor and friend to prominent international business men such as Richard Branson and Alan Sugar and of course a key strategist guiding the campaign of President Elect Obama who has said that Steve is the man who really put him in the white house.

Despite moving in such circles Steve still finds time for the lighter side of life and his sense of humour is a wonder to all who encounter him. He himself however would be the first to admit that he has struggled with his own inner demons and was in the past considered conceited by some people, however, now that he has confronted and overcome that possibly forgivable minor flaw I an certain no one will disagree that Steve is now perfect.

Woolworths gone! MFI gone! Who next

The news that MFI has gone into recession came as no surprise to me.

I used to be a customer of theirs on a fairly regular basis but stopped when they introduced the stupid system of having to get everything delivered! In the good old days you looked round the store, picked what you wanted, paid for it and then waited beside a counter at the side of the building until your flat pack kitchen, chest of drawers, wardrobe, etc appeared out of the warehouse. You loaded up your roof rack and went home for a fun filled weekend (because it was usually a Saturday morning when I was at MFI) self assembling. There was always a small group of people loitering near the collections counter and it seemed the store did steady business.

However, when they closed the warehouse and everything had to be delivered that was when I stopped using MFI. The sheer inconvenience of having to wait in for delivery men who never came when they said they would, the inconvenience of waiting two or three or sometimes even more weeks for a bedside table to be delivered was just to much. I can see exactly why MFI did it. They saved the cost of the warehouse full of stock attached to each store, they needed fewer backroom staff, their cash flow as improved as people handed over their money weeks before the stuff was delivered rather than paying and getting the same day. Al fantastic stuff FOR MFI, unfortunately they forgot the basic lesson in business! It is customers who pay the bills! If you make it harder and less convenient to get hold of your products then the customers go somewhere where it is easier. Once MFI stopped holding stock at the point of sale it became just another furniture display shop. Go there, find what you want, order cheaper on line. Easy!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Local Government Secrecy....PART 3


Latest update on my quest to get sight of the report relating to the review of Senior Management Posts within Hartlepool Council.

It's at times like these you realise how important it is to read the rules, or in the case of local councils, read the Constitution.

Reading this weighty document (its almost 2 inches thick, but only A5) I have discovered that Part 4, Paragraph 13 of the Council's Rules of procedure, under which I have been told I can't see the report, refers to exclusion of access by the PUBLIC to meetings.

However, I am seeking access to the information relating to the review of Senior Management Posts within Hartlepool Council, as an ELECTED COUNCILLOR. This is covered under Part 4 Paragraph 32, Additional Rights of Access for MEMBERS which identifies only two paragraphs, No:3 and No:6 (under Schedule 12A of the Local Government, Act 1972) as the only grounds for refusing access to the information.

As the Chief Solicitor has identified Paragraph 2 as the reason for refusal to release the information to me then this is NOT a permitted reason for keeping this information from a MEMBER of Hartlepool Council.

Ball back over the net!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

New Bank Logo


SCOTTISH WIDOWS - Preparation is everything

Not TAX and spend! It's SPEND and tax

They say a leopard doesn't change his spots and so under pressure Gordon Brown reverted to type. Tax and spend, tax and spend. The only variation being it is now Spend and Tax, Spend and Tax!

If you were particularly devious you'd say Gordon was digging as big a hole as possible for the economy so that when the Tories finally do take over in 2010 they will be faced with years and years of economic hardship to pull the country round again. I don't think there has ever been a Labour Government that hasn't left this country in a financial meltdown. We might even soon be reminiscent for Healey and Callaghan! All they did was ruin the economy, they didn't mortgage the future as well, which is exactly what Brown and Darling have done. I note it's all gone very quiet on the PFI Front! another source of future pain, Gordon's "brilliant" move of funding the public sector without it appearing on the books, but which will need to be paid for bu our children (and probably their children too).

The much trumpeted cut in vat also comes with a hidden sting. I'm not sure how much difference a 2.5% cut will make on the High Street when most shops I visited this weekend already had half price sales going on. Several even had "additional 10% off this weekend" so if the shops have cut by up to 60% already and we're not buying will the vat cut make us change our mind?

Of course if you're a taxi driver, a road haulier, bus company, or indeed anyone VAT Registered who travels for business then the VAT Cut is BAD NEWS. The cut in VAT on fuel is being matched by a corresponding increase in fuel duty to keep petrol prices the same (and of course keep money coming in to the government). Unfortunately for taxi drivers, hauliers, etc VAT is reclaimable but fuel duty isn't. Hence the cut in VAT will actually cost Taxi Drivers, road hauliers, bus companies, etc more money. The same applies to the pub trade I think as the VAT cut there will be matched by an increase in alcohol duty, hence overall the effect is to cost the publicans more since the level of reclaimable VAT drops but the level of non recoverable duty is going up.

Merry Christmas

Monday, 24 November 2008

Happy Monday!

Happy Monday! Started the week with a cough that feels like it is tearing my insides out. Twenty minutes hitting redial on telephone got me a Doctor's appointment at 3.10 and by 3.50 I was the proud possessor of a prescription for steroids.

The Doctor did congratulate me on my weight loss (15kg since i was there last), said I had the blood pressure of a man of my age and the lung function of a man 20 years older, so i suppose one out of three ain't bad.

Home again now, checked e-mails and dealt with urgent stuff and now going back to bed with a hot water bottle. I did briefly wish I was going got bed with a hot blond but I don't think I'd be any use to her at the moment.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

UKIP a none racist, none sectarian party dedicate to withdrawal of the UK from the EU

Interesting article in "Varsity News" (The Independent Cambridge Student Newspaper since 1947) regarding a University Technician exposed as a member of the BNP by the list posted on the internet.

The individual in question admits to being a paid-up BNP member saying he joined the party after Gordon Brown refused to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and as the 3 main parties are all pro-Europ he felt he didn't have a choice but to look to the BNP or UKIP.

In a statement the Head of CUSU's Black Students Campaign agrees that this person is within his rights to be a BNP member, but does not accept his reasons for joining, arguing that in a choice between the BNP and UKIP he chose the "party of racial hatred".

I am glad to see that this massive, fundamental, difference between UKIP and the BNP is appreciated by someone. UKIP is a none racist, none sectarian party dedicate to withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. The BNP are to quote the Head of CUSU's Black Students, "the party of racial hatred".

Read the full article here

Local Government Secrecy....PART 2

Update....

Following the refusal by Democratic Services to release to me the report and cabinet minutes relating to the review of Senior Management Posts within Hartlepool Council, I have escalated the issue direct to the Chief Solicitor.

I asked him to please confirm why, under the Constitution of Hartlepool Council, these papers are being withheld from an elected member such as myself?

His justification for refusing to allow me access to the report and minutes is that they are "exempt" under Para 2 (namely, information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual) under Schedule 12A of the Local Government, Act 1972, as amended. The same is covered under the Council's Constitution under Part 4 - Rules of Procedure paragraph 13.

I am preparing my response! I have not yet begun to fight!

Can anyone help?




The best bit is definitely about 2min 30 seconds in!

As Oscar Wilde (would) have said "There is only one thing worse than appearing in a satirical video, and that is NOT appearing in a satirical video."

So thank you to "Get Real Productions". You keep on taking the p**s and I'll keep on fighting for the future of our country.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Diet Report No:5

Just realised its been three weeks since my last Diet Report. I fell off the diet for a while after the first four weeks, then there were trips to London and various other events, with buffets, that tempted me astray (Clive!!) and of course the urge to have a curry was just too great...lol...

However, as I am off to Majorca for Christmas I've decide to give it another four weeks on the diet (plus the fact that I'd already paid for the package so a shame to waste it).

So taking today as Day 1 of the next cycle I tip the scales at exactly 16 Stones (101.5kg). I doubt very much that I'll be able to loose another 3 Stone in four weeks but a stone should be achievable. I'd really like to loose 15lbs as that would make me 14stone and a bit, OK the "bit" would be 13lbs but its like when you buy something for £19.99 you never say £20 yo always say £19, makes it seem cheaper.

The Great Barack Obama Joke Contest!

Still no real Barack Jokes out there yet. Best effort so far I've found on the web is

Q: How many Barack Obamas does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Only one, but it has to be a change the light bulb can believe in.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Job evaluation assessment and grading for senior management


At their meeting on 14th November the Mayor of Hartlepool and his cabinet heard a presentation by the Chief Personnel Officer on the contents of reports prepared by external advisors following their review of job evaluation and grading for senior management posts in Hartlepool Council.

These external advisors are being paid a great deal of money by Hartlepool Council, however when I asked to see what was in the report and what the Cabinet decided regarding the implementation of the advisors recommendations I was refused any access to the documents. Information such as this is defined as "exempt information" so only the Mayor and his hand picked Cabinet are allowed to see it. As a Back Bench Councilor I am apparently expressly and legally excluded from having access to it.

When I was first elected as a Councilor I naively assumed I would be entitled to ask questions and challenge decisions on behalf of the people who voted for me. Unfortunately under the culture of secrecy prevailing in local government the majority of the public's elected representatives are increasingly being kept in the dark over anything that is really important. How democracy and accountability is maintained under these circumstances is hard for me to work out. Interestingly the minutes of the meeting record that several of the Senior Officers themselves were present to hear the report!

Data leak, but not the government for once!

Several people have contacted me regarding the publication on the internet of the BNP Membership Lists. Of course I would never do anything so illegal as to look at such information placed into the public domain by dubious means. After all if I got hold of everyone’s medical records after they were left on a Hartlepool Bus or the bank details of Councillors from a data stick dropped in the Civic Centre then I wouldn’t dream of looking at them.

However if people want to tell me there are approximately 20 BNP contact details in Hartlepool on the list, one of which is using a “@hartlepool.gov.uk” e-mail address then I can hardly refuse to listen! Of course the outrage by the BNP is rather amusing since one of the things they have been doing for years is sending letters and leaflets to UKIP Members in their own homes allegedly using an old UKIP membership database they have reportedly obtained from somewhere. As UKIP leader Nigel Farage has reportedly said "It's the classic case of the biter bit. They've had no compunction about using parts of our database which they managed to obtain to contact our members directly. In fact the Information Commissioner is still dealing with our complaint of last summer about this misuse”

It does however say a lot about being a BNP Member that so many of them seem to be very worried that this is becoming public knowledge. I personally think the BNP is an abhorrent group of people who should be ashamed of their activities. Of course they are not an illegal organisation so membership should not lead to fear of intimidation and violence. These people will probably be targeted by mindless thugs masquerading as defenders of freedom and liberty who feel quite justified in denying freedom and liberty to others!

I’ve had some fairly nasty things said about me and my UKIP Membership but this is usually by ignorant people who have never bothered to find out what UKIP stands for. When someone calls me a “little Englander” but then goes on to say they think we should leave the EU I am always saddened by their lack of understanding about UKIP and their inability to separate smears and propaganda from the true position.

UKIP are a none racists, none sectarian party dedicated to withdrawing this country from the European Union. Clear and simple,

Of course not clear and simple enough for people who have made up their minds and don’t want to be confused by facts. Lib/Lab/Con believers as I usually call them!

Plastic Windows. 7 Years 9 Months and counting

At the meeting of Hartlepool Council on October 30th I tabled a motion requesting resolution of the on-going "plastic windows" issue in Hartlepool Conservation areas. I agreed that this motion be passed to the planning committee for action and it has now appeared on the agenda for the meeting of November 26th 2008. Unfortunately this item is being dealt with under "pink papers" which means I am unable to reveal any of the significant details without risking being hauled before the Council Standards Board.

However, my understanding of the rules, in my opinion, does not prevent me from noting that one of the properties in question have been waiting since 2001 for this situation to be resolved. The report does say that this situation was brought to the attention of the "planning working group" in July 2008 who "noted the position". Having the threat of legal action hanging over your head for over 7 years seems to be unreasonable to me and the Council should do a bit more than note the position. The confidential report makes two recommendations, one of which is to do nothing "defer any decision" until 17th December when another meeting will be held to discuss the new draft policy relating to windows in the conservation area. So even after 7years and 9 months the Council are still trying to avoid making a decision.

I am not going to say how I will be voting on this motion as that could leave me open to charges of "predetermining my position" and hence not be allowed to remain in the meeting due to conflict of interests. I will of course listen to the discussions on both sides and then vote as the arguments convince me to do!

Tall Ships Team Briefing

The Tall Ships Team are briefing Councillors on developments with the planning of The Tall Ships’ Races 2010 on Tuesday 2nd December 2008. A presentation will be given lasting approximately 20 minutes and will set out the background to The Tall Ships’ Races 2010, where we are to date with the planning and delivery of The Tall Ships’ Races, an overview of the recent inspection visit by Sail Training International and an update on work in the 6 Workstreams (Event Technical, Event Management, Fleet Technical, Marketing and Communications, Finance and Legal and the Safety Advisory Group).

Councillors will have the opportunity to ask questions on issues relating to the planning and delivery of The Tall Ships’ Races 2010 event so if any member of the Hartlepool public has anything that would like me to ask at the event then please get in touch and I will table their question.

Private Jets and public handouts!

During the Presidential Campaign I signed up to the Washington Post Newslink and there are quite a lot of interesting stories that come my way from across the pond. One that caught my eye today was Richard Wagoner of General Motors, Robert Nardelli of Chrysler and Alan Mulally of Ford asking the US Government for a $25 Billion handout. The chief executives of the Big Three automakers appeared on Capitol Hill after flying into Washington Airport in their company jets. An ill-timed display of corporate excess, a trio of executives getting off private luxury jets with tin begging cups in their hands. One analogy given was its almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high-hat and tuxedo. I'm not an opponent of private flights by any means, but flying in on private jet at tens of thousands of dollars of cost is a bit arrogant before asking the taxpayers for money.

The trio were asked if it might have been better to have downgraded to first class or even as they all flew from Detroit couldn’t the have shared one jet? The Big Three said nothing. They were then asked if they planned to sell their jets? No Answer.

Later in the hearing Wagoner of General Motors and Alan Mulally of Ford were asked whether, in symbolic gesture, they would be willing to work for $1 a year, as Richard Nardelli of Chrysler has offered to do. "I don't have a position on that today," demurred Wagoner (2007 total compensation: $15.7 million). "I understand the intent, but I think where we are is okay," said Mulally ($21.7 million). Just another example of the fat cats at the top having no idea about how ordinary people exist. On a smaller scale closer to home how can a Mayor on £1,500 a week or a Chief Executive on £3,000 a week (with gold plated pension and rock solid job security) even begin to understand a minimum wage existence or how to survive on social security? Maybe as a gesture of solidarity the Mayor and Hartlepool's Chief Executive should offer to work for a “symbolic” £5.73 per hour?

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Do you speak Swedish?

It's not just UKIP who are concerned about lack of language skills from doctors from other EU countries. A report on Swedish TV has identified more than half of Sweden’s county councils, which are responsible for runningthe country’s health care system, are encountering problems with doctors from other EU Countries who lack sufficient command of the Swedish language.

The TV show highlighted the case of a Swedish man who visited a local clinic to have doctors examine a pain in his foot, he was sent home with a prescription for heavy sedatives because of miscommunication with the doctor.

According to the Swedish National Board of Health they are concerned that if a doctor can’t master the Swedish language it can, in the worst case, endanger patient safety. However, the Board is powerless to reduce the prevalence of doctors with poor language skills in the Swedish health care system because doctors from other EU countries don’t need to take a language test in order to receive a license to practice in Sweden.

In one way it's nice to know the UK is not alone with its problems about Doctors who can't speak our language. Of course closing our doors to Doctors (and nurses, architects, plumbers, skilled people of all kinds) from Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and other Commonwealth Countries who speak English as a native tongue has made our problem worse. I don't know how many countries around the world apart from Sweden have Swedish as their first language? Possibly not all that many?

Some research on Wikipedia (that trusty reference source)uncovered that Swedish is the first language for the overwhelming majority of roughly eight million Swedish-born citizens. Although given the status of an official language of the European Union and used in Swedish local and state government and most of the educational system, Swedish is not legally recognized as an official language in most of Sweden itself, possibly because there are over 20 different dialects. A bill in the Swedish Parliament was proposed in 2005 that would have made Swedish an official language, but it failed to pass!

Forward Plan Published

Every month a "Forward Plan" is published by Hartlepool Council showing the key decisions to be made by the Mayor and his cabinet over the next three months. It is usually riveting reading, if you enjoy sticking pins in your eyes then this one is for you. However, it was even better than usual this month as it outlined a packed program for December to March 2009. n this period the Executive will be deciding on the following issues of vital importance to Hartlepool residents:

Adoption of new software for payroll system
Business Case for Building Schools for the future
Contract for removal of abandoned and nuisance vehicles
Dog Kenneling Contract
Supplementary Planning Document for a new Development
Sale of Football Ground Lease to Hartlepool United FC
Endorsement of Tees Valley Metro Proposal
Schools Admissions Arrangement review
Re-designation of a Special school to mainstream status
Refreshment of Local Area Agreement

The Mayor will no doubt be keeping a close eye on the sale of the football ground and the endorsement of the Metro Proposal will leave Hartlepool as the only single spoke "hub" on the system. The Business Case for Building schools for the future will have been dictated by the government and the rest will have been decided by the Council Officers long before they get anywhere near Cabinet ofr the Mayor. For this the Mayor and his trusty Cabinet team of 6 Councillors (4 Labour, 1 Independent Labour and 1 Independent (former Lib-Dem)) will receive between them allowances of over £30,000, admittedly the Mayor gets half of that and the rest is shared out amongst his cabinet colleagues (although colleagues is probably stretching the point). Of course this £30,000 is less than the Chief Executive alone receives in the same period but then he is after all the person really running Hartlepool.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Psst, want to buy some influence?

A watchdog investigation of why the Tories registered £47,000 in donations from the teenage daughter of a foreign arms dealer will be told it was purely an administrative error! It would have been illegal for the Arms dealer to donate the cash directly since despite having homes in the UK he is still registered as an overseas resident and therefore not an eligible donor.

Brussels gravy train still rolling along

The credit crunch may be biting with over 1,000 people a day joining the dole queues but in Brussels the gravy train is still rolling along. For the 14th successive year the EU Accounts have not been signed off because they are so mired in mismanagement, corruption and fraud. This year a record six billion euros is unaccounted for.

It is not clear whether this includes the £850,000 forked out to teach tango dancing (although not to John Sergeant judging by his recent TV Performances), the £10 million given to a Belgian town which spent it on eating, drinking, partying and had enough left over to fund a hunting trip to Belarus for its local councillors. The £60 million handed over to a consortium of Italian businessmen who spent most of it on cars, motorbikes, and yachts. One member, a dentist, owned a Ferrari as well as 55 other luxury cars.

However it almost certainly included the former Mayor of a Spanish town who used his £40,000 slice of the Euro budget to open a hostess club and the charitable horse riding school in Italy which collared £326,000 to train disabled pupils but when they couldn't find enough they simply forged signatures until they´d reached their target.

There were identified "irregularities" of up to five per cent in the 51 billion euros the EU pays farmers to produce, or often, not to produce food. The largest scale of fraud and mismanagement was in the 114 billion euro regional and social funds designed to raise living standards in poorer areas.

British taxpayers subsidise this annual ritual to the tune of £10 billion a year and contribute 10 per cent of all EU spending. Surely there are better ways of spending our money at the moment?

The "Free Rider" Problem

Peter Mandelson has gone on record as saying the era of democracy is drawing to a close and we are entering a post democratic period. There is a growing band of support for the theory that a Democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the treasury with the result that democracies always collapse over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship.

This is known as the "free-rider problem" (or as we might say no such thing as a free lunch) which occurs when a significant number of citizens are content to enjoy the benefits of living in a democracy while leaving it to others to pay the costs.

Maybe the time to end universal suffrage is upon us?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Grammar Schools

I am a product of the Grammar School system and as a mechanism for producing middle class professionals it was without doubt a system without peer. Every year the local newspaper would publish the group photograph on page 4 or 5 of the dozen or so kids who were off to Oxbridge. Since the death of the Grammar Schools anyone from my town getting a place at Oxbridge seems to be worthy of a front page spread.

The key phrase however is, in my opinion "a mechanism for producing middle class professionals" The Boys Grammar schools produced the Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Architects, local Government Officers, Junior Civil Servants (Senior Civil Servants were Independent school and then Oxbridge), Teachers, Junior Officers for the Armed Forces (Senior Officers were like Senior Civil Servants), small businessmen, etc. As a matter of interest the Hasrtlepool Girls High School, even in the 70's, was still producing the wives of middle class professionals, the nurses to the Doctors from the Grammar school, the Secretaries for the local Captains of Industry, etc.

What made Grammar schools ultimately indefensible in my opinion was the social stigma attached to "failing" the 11 plus if you were not selected for Grammar School. This wasthe class system at its worst and showed how unbalanced society's values were at the time and in many ways the imbalance continues to this day. It was a failure to be practical rather than academic. Society valued the Lawyer over the car mechanic, the accountant over the electrician, the Civil Servant over the assembly line worker. Blue Collar Bad, White Collar Good, but Blue Blood Best!

As a system it might have promoted social mobility from the working class to the middle class but it also imposed a glass ceiling at the point where "He's a Grammar School Oik" prevented anyone reaching the real heights unless they were very, very talented and/or lucky.

So over all there was a case for destroying the Grammar schools.

However, what was put in their place was worse. People who want a return to Grammar schools are actually calling for the re-introduction of a bad system that is only preferable to the current system as the lesser of two evils. The theory of comprehensive education, equality of opportunity for all, is exactly the one I support. However, comprehensive education was hijacked by the left wing bleeding hearts to not be equality of opportunity but equality of achievement. Properly streamed Comprehensives are infinitely preferable to Grammar Schools. Teaching by ability group within a mix ability population. Kids may be in the top group for one subject and the bottom group for another, why not? My daughter excels at English, History and Sociology but struggles with Maths, Chemistry and Physics. She has offers from several top Universities to read Law. Under the old system she would not have been encouraged to do that!

So overall I'm glad the Grammar Schools are gone and I wouldn't like to see them back. What I would like is Comprehensive Education run properly. Where it works it works well, where it doesn't work then no amount of Grammar Schools will fix it.

The end of Windmills?

Scientists in the USA are predicting nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years. The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

A company has taken a licence to manufacture the plants which will be capable of powering 20,000 average homes for 7 to 10 years before needing to be refueled. The cost will be around £1,500 a home so that's between £150 to £220 a year depending on how long they last. Refueling costs will be considerably lower than buying the plant in the first place. If someone offered me the chance to buy 7 to 10 years electricity for a one-off payment of £1,500 then I'm sure I'd sign up to buy a reactor. After all they would be better than these horrible (and ultimately useless) wind turbines that are springing up everywhere

Thursday, 13 November 2008

That Clive leads me astray

Feeling a little delicate this morning. Came down to the Smoke for a meeting with the Royal Mail yesterday which was unfortunately cancelled at the last minute. However I was already en-route so that was that. I still have my meeting today which looks like being good fun, especially with a hangover! Yes I've got a hangover, "that Clive" is to blame, mind you I had to drink to try and forget the fact that it was £3.80 a pint! Will just drop in a teasing hint about the fantastic experience I had last night at an exhibition of dresses worn by Marylin Munroe. Yes I did say dresses worn by Marylin Munroe! Bet you didn't think that would be my kind of thing did you!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Obama Jokes

Apparently the election of Obama is causing considerable angst amongst comedians and satirists. It was apparently acceptable to mock Reagan about Alzheimer's, mock Clinton about sex with interns and being hen pecked by Hilary and of course it was open season on "W" for being dumb. However, how can they mock Obama without appearing racist?

One US Daily Show played an Obama campaign speech where it started to rain and the presidential candidate said "The sun will be shining after Tuesday..." They cut back to an incredulous presenter who said "What? The weather is going to be better in an Obama presidency!"

Of course when the first policy announcement made by the new president is that he is going to get his angelic daughters a new puppy it is hard to find things to poke fun at. I checked the Internet for "Obama Jokes" and this was about the best one I found

"Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting. Well, for example, the other day I went downtown and into a shop. I was only there for about 5 minutes, and when I came out, there was a cop writing out a parking ticket. I said to him, 'Come on, man, how about giving a retired person a break'? He ignored me and continued writing the ticket. I called him a 'Nazi.' He glared at me and wrote another ticket for having worn tires. So I called him a 'doughnut eating Gestapo.' He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first. Then he wrote a third ticket. This went on for about 20 minutes. The more I abused him the more tickets he wrote. Personally, I didn't care. I came downtown on the bus, and the car that he was putting the tickets on had a bumper sticker that said, 'Obama in '08 .' I try to have a little fun each day now that I'm retired. It's important to my health."

Not bad but not really about Obama. I wonder how long the honeymoon period will last or will political correctness win the day?

Parents Evening

It was parent's evening for son and heir at Brinkburn sixth form college today. The lad is studying psychology, maths, physics and chemistry at AS level this year and will probably take three of them onto A2 next year.

The psychology lecturer described a keen, well motivated student, with a good sense of humour, who was performing well in the subject. Well done Ed. The physics lecturer was a bit puzzled by Ed's results after he performed poorly in the first few weeks of term and seemed to lack basic knowledge getting only 40% in his first test which was deliberately quite easy to help the student settle in. Ed then got 60% and 80% in the next two tests, totally reversing the usual trend where marks fall as the tests get harder. That's my boy I thought, paddling his own canoe and refusing to conform to expectations. I wonder where he gets it from? The physics lab where Ed is taught is the same lab where I took my first steps in secondary education back in 1971 when as a brand new first former (1 PT) at Hartlepool Grammar School for Boys. Thirty seven years ago and they still had the same lab benches. I sat at that same bench right through to my O Level (Grade A) with (if memory serves me correctly) Philly Henderson, Nigel Shaw and Colin Stead. Of course those benches will all be gone next year when the old school is demolished to make way for the new building. End of an era.

Anyway Chemistry was a bit disappointing and he needs to work smarter if not harder, his lecturer said he needs to think a bit more before he opens his mouth or commits his thoughts to paper, don't just rush in. Spooky I thought, he is getting more like me every day, the poor sod!

Waiting outside the maths department for our appointment Ed was ready to pack it all in and go off to do Geography and History instead of maths and Chemistry. Unfortunately if he wants too be an engineer he won't get far without maths. However, as it turns out his Maths lecturer was quite upbeat about Ed's performance. No doubt he could do it, if he worked at it. So Ed remains on course. at least until the January Modules when he will get his first real test of how he's doing. However at the end of the day his mother and I are both very, very proud of him. That's my boy!

Trust and honesty

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has apparently found that trust in government ministers has fallen to a fresh low. 78% of people thinking all or most ministers do not tell the truth, compared to only 73% thinking they were all liars in 2006 and 72% in 2004.

The survey revealed that 62% of the public believe the majority of ministers use their power for personal gain, a fall from only 51% thinking politicians were only in it for themselves two years ago. Four out of five members of the public now believe all or most ministers are out of touch with what the general public think. Voters also believe that ministers are now more likely to take bribes, not to set a good example for others in their private lives, are less competent in their jobs and do not use public money as wisely.

The only thing that surprises me is that anyone is surprised by these findings after MPs recently decided against reforming their expenses system and retained a £23,000-a-year second home allowance.

The other area where we distrust our politicians is over paying family members with public funds to do little or no real work.

Interestingly the study also found 94 per cent of people have trust in GPs, even after the Harold Shipman case. This compares top only 26 per cent trusting their MPs, only slightly more than the 21 per cent who believe in estate agents.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

British firms need NOT apply

With the UK building industry down in the dumps the possibility of a £275 Million contract to build the new US Embassy in London would seem like a job any firm would love to land. However, British Firms need not apply, since only contractors holding US Defence Department Security Service Secret Facility Clearance, with secret safeguarding capability, are eligible to carry out the work. Unfortunately this clearance is only available to US contractors. The US Defence Department clearly states "Foreign firms are not eligible for Secret Facility Clearance."

Surely the US/UK Special Relationship should count for something here? Apparently not! The special relationship works fine when we are giving and the yanks are taking. Try to do it the other way round and somehow it never seems to work out. As I have written previously on the blog, according to the US there are two types of people in the world, Americans and NOT Americans. No matter how people might try to spin it the British are NOT Americans. This is not a new thing. At the end of WWII it was the Americans who occupied Japan, the British and Commonwealth forces, who lets face it had been fighting alone against the Japanese for years, were pointed excluded. The imbalance in the "special relationship" continues right up to the present day. We now have the situation where US Courts have the power to have British Subjects extradited to the US upon request. British Courts have no such reciprocal power over American Citizens.

The exclusion of British firms from the embassy contract, indeed the exclusion of firms from anywhere in the EU from a contract of this size is illegal under British (for that read European Union) Law. Of course an Embassy comes under diplomatic privilege so the laws of the host country are set aside, just so long as the host country isn't the USA!

When is someone "black enough"

Apparently Obama isn't America's first black President, that honour still lies somewhere in the future since no less a person than civil rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson has pointed out Obama "isn't black enough"

To make matter worse there is speculation that he should really be called O'bama and there is a touch of the Irish in there somewhere on the white side of his family!

Never mind, everyone knows that before Daniel Craig was given the role there was a serious search for a black actor to play James Bond, Beyonce is being tipped to become the first black Wonder Woman in the Marvel Comics remake and the BBC are reportedly considering whether the next Dr.Who will also be black. The person I feel sorry for in all this is my son and heir, Edward. As a white, heterosexual, middle class male he has absolutely nothing going for him. At least his sister is a woman so she does have that one thing going for her. I of course am the ultimate PC hate figure, white, late 40's, heterosexual, grammar school educated, property owning, male. However at least I'm not a member of that institutionally racist organisation, the Labour Party!

For their tomorrow, we gave our today

Remembrance Sunday and as usual the weather was cold and miserable but the sun did come out and the rain held off during the actual service. Chatting to a few people mention was made of the terrible weather and a comment was made that we only have to put up with it for an hour a year, the lads in the trenches in WWI, who survived, had it for 4 years. Very True.

The service this year included the epitaph

‘When you go home, tell them of us and say,
for their tomorrow, we gave our today’

This got me wondering about who wrote it and when. The Internet is a wonderful thing and I soon learned the words are attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875 -1958) who had put them together among a collection of 12 epitaphs for World War One. However it is now more widely known as the Kohima Epitaph, adopted by the Burma Star Association at the end of World War II.

In March 1944, the Japanese 31st Division moved northwestward in Burma, swept through the Naga hills, invaded India, and fell upon Imphal and Kohima. Confidently the Japanese planned to press toward the India Plains. The Allies faced a disaster of monumental proportions unless the enemy was stopped.

A crucial battle ensued at Kohima where some 2,500 British Empire troops came under siege. They fought a formidable Japanese force numbering 15,000 soldiers supported by 10,000 ammunition laden oxen. For weeks the belligerents sparred in bloody artillery duels interrupted only by hand to hand skirmishes and bayonet attacks. Finally, after 64 days, amid terrible losses on both sides, the Japanese were beaten back. They withdrew from Kohima. Japan’s dominance in northern Burma had begun its crumble.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

10,000 Page Views

Hi, I started this blog on 10th September 2007 and today had my 10,000th page view.

That's 14 months, just over 700 per month or approximately 25 per day. Half of these are repeats and half are one off hits. Considering I wasn't expecting anyone to read my ramblings this means there must be some sad people out there who actually find it interesting what I have to say.

My top posting accounted for almost 2,000 of these hits and was my attempt to be ironic about "Common Purpose" in fact it generated so much traffic I am even considering deleting any mention of it from this post, but what the heck, live dangerously!

More Lawyers..........

My daughter is doing her A2’s this year and has applied to Universities for a place to read Law. She’s been offered a place at Leeds without even going for an interview so her UCAS Form must have been good! Of course Cambridge is her first choice but so far they haven’t got back to her. If being a Lawyer is what she really wants to do then fair enough, but to quote Lionel Hutz (Attorney at Law in Springfield) “Just what this country needs, MORE Lawyers”

However, the UK has in fact needed over 1,000 new lawyers in the last 10 years just to keep up with the demand for defending the rights of convicted criminals, hate preachers, murderers and terrorists under the Human Rights Act.

This became British Law when NU Labour signed us up to the European Convention on Human Rights. This was originally intended to protect fundamental freedoms from slavery, torture and unfair trials. It was quickly abused by criminals who wanted to avoid punishment and remain in Britain, while lawyers were quick to realise the potential it had to keep them in work and earn them thousands in Legal Aid. One of the chief beneficiaries of the work generated by the Human Rights Act was of course Cherie Blair, the former Prime Minister's wife but research shows that there are at least 1,200 specialist human rights lawyers now practising in Britain and more than 130 textbooks have been published on the Act with another title added to the pile every week.

Human rights arguments have been used in at least 4,200 court cases over the past decade including the right of a Sikh schoolgirl to wear a religious bangle, and the right of Northern Rock shareholders not to see the bank nationalised.

Abu Qatada, the Muslim cleric dubbed Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe", won his fight against deportation to Jordan on human rights grounds, with the cost of his legal hearings, benefits and police monitoring put at £1.5m.

Learco Chindamo, the man who murdered headteacher Philip Lawrence, was allowed to stay in Britain after his lawyers argued that returning him to Italy, where he was born, would breach his right to a family life.

Convicted rapist Anthony Rice was released early from jail because probation staff feared his human rights would be breached if he were held any longer. He went on to murder again.

Around 200 drug-addicted prisoners have been awarded almost £700,000 after the Home Office agreed that their human rights were breached by the Prison Service trying to make them go "cold turkey" rather than giving them the heroin substitute methadone.

However, the most notorious case was the nine Afghan men who hijacked a passenger plane and forced it to land at Stansted. They were convicted but freed on appeal that human rights law meant they could not be deported in case they faced persecution from the Taliban in their home country. The cost of their court cases, asylum processing and benefits was put at £30m.

Blues frozen out in their bid to go green

I thought Greg Beaman might have picked up this story, he being a City Fan (or was it United, all the same to me anyway!). Apparently Manchester City's plans for a giant wind turbine have been hit by European Union Health and Safety Regulations. The 360ft turbine in front of the stadium has been put on hold amid fears people could be injured by icicles falling from the huge blades. The scheme would have produced almost 25 per cent more energy than the stadium needed, enough to power 1,250 homes, and would have made Eastlands the first football stadium to generate its own energy.

But EU health and safety laws meant there would have been an exclusion zone
around the turbine, making large areas of the car park and TV and radio facilities
out of bounds on match days causing City 'huge problems'. The club say
they won't be deterred from going green after the setback and are looking at all sorts of different options to be "responsible to the community and the environment."

Of course the giant turbine still wouldn't have answered the basic problem with wind power, namely "What do you do when the wind isn't blowing?" How about a scheme to harness all the groans of frustration from the City Fans when their latest high priced foreign signing misses an open goal? Finding away to capture all that energy would probably power half of Manchester not just a few hundred houses!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Unemployment Benefits for all!

The UK is rightly proud of its social security and benefit system which was invented as a safety net for people in this country fallen on hard times. However it has now been admitted by the British government that under EU rules unemployment benefits and social security payments are being paid to workers who have now left the UK and returned to their country of origin after loosing their jobs in the face of the credit crunch and downturn in the British economy.

It should come as no surprise to learn that this is due to another of those little-known EU directives which says, that provided an unemployed worker is seeking a job in their homeland, they can continue to be paid benefits by the country where they were laid off. This means thousands of EU migrant workers who have returned home and subsequently failed to find work in their own country are being paid dole money by the British taxpayer.

This is on top of child benefits being paid for children who have never even been to this country. The government admits to 34,000 children in Eastern Europe for example are receiving UK taxpayer funded child benefit at a rate of £18.10 a week for the first child and £12.10 a week for subsequent children. The EU rules do allow any Britons living and working another EU country to claim their child benefit from the government of the country where they are located. However, should that be Poland for example the total paid by that government is £160 a year. Doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out which country is the soft touch does it!

Americans and NOT Americans

Well I tried to resist it but I suppose I have to have my two pennyworth about President Elect Obama. His election reminded me somewhat of the 2004 Hartlepool by-election campaign fought by Labour to ultimately retain the seat! By the end of the campaign we all knew the Labour Candidate (now MP) was a local man, his children were local children, his wife was a local wife, his parents were local parents and even his dog was a local dog. We knew nothing at all about what he believed in, what he stood for or what motivated him to want to become the next MP for Hartlepool. The whole election was a policy free zone as far as the Labour Campaign Managers could make it.

Now the Presidential election is over we know Obama wants change, his wife supports change, his children are desperate for change and no doubt if he had a dog then that to would be pro-change. His parents haven't figured quite so prominently in the campaign, as he is actually not the USA's first black President as he is the son of a white mother and black father but I suppose the first mixed race President doesn't have the same ring. So apart from him being black (ish) and in favour of change we know almost nothing else about him as the whole election was almost a totally policy free zone.

He reminds me somewhat of Tony Blair who rode the "Clause 4" debate into Downing Street without actually having Any real convictions, principles or beliefs other than he would be a great Prime Minister (rather like Cameron!). I hope Obama will be a great President but suspect he'll leave us holding the baby in Iraq, will leave us in Afghanistan and will ultimately apply the acid test of all US Politicians "If its good for the USA then its good for the world". Time will tell but remember there are two types of people in the world, the Americans and the NOT Americans and as far as the Americans are concerned only the former really matter and the latter are all expendable in pursuit of the American dream!

Stealth Tax

We are all familiar with the concept of stealth taxes in the UK. Almost everything you buy these days has an element of taxation either hidden in the price (like petrol) or added on as an extra (like Insurance Premium tax). However most people are still unaware (or refuse to admit) that one of our biggest taxes, Value Added Tax, is not a UK tax at all but is imposed from Brussels.

Of coursed it’s not a level playing field, 18 of the 27 EU members to levy value-added tax (VAT) rates below the 15 percent standard level on a variety of labour-intensive local services (such as bicycle repairs and haircuts). These exemptions end in 2010 and a proposal to extend them is being blocked by Germany as they claim it makes no sense in terms of harmonising tax rates in Europe. France is keen for a deal as during the recent elections President Sarkozy campaigned on a promise to introduce reduced rates on restaurant meals, a move which requires backing from all EU states. Currently only 11 of the bloc's 27 states are currently allowed to levy reduced rates on restaurant meals. Some member states are sensing an opportunity to horse-trade and have dusted down longstanding requests. Portugal, for instance, would like reduced rates on tolls for domestic road bridges as so many people commute to work over bridges in Lisbon. Britain wants the construction of new monuments to qualify for reduced rates so maybe Gordon Brown is planning a major statue to himself in every town, which would be one way to re-start the building industry I suppose!

Of course Germany’s real objection is to do with the EU aim of harmonising tax rates in Europe. It is a long term objective of the EU to transfer to Brussels all powers to set taxes. This would reduce national parliaments to the level of regional assemblies and centralising control with the politburo of the EU, the unelected and unaccountable EU Commission.

Honda 400/4

In the spirit of days gone by, (and in an attempt to top Greg Beaman's Honda SS50) I did a quick google search for Honda 400/4 which was the bike I moved onto after I passed my full licence and before succumbing to the attraction of four wheels and sitting in a steel box with a heater and a radio.

The Honda pictured is the 1976 model which was the one I had.



I found the picture under "classic bikes" which I suppose it is now. In its day it was a fantastic bike, all I did was change the oil occasionally and remove the stupid metal covers from the spark plug caps (there was a tendency for these to short out if the bike got dirty enough, which I'm afraid mine did). Electric start so no bouncing on a kick start and off course smooth four stroke power. I've still got the boots and the black leather jacket hanging in the wardrobe. The boots still fit me but the jacket is a bit tight, OK the jacket won't zip up any more! Son and heir tried them on the other day. The Jacket fits him fine but the boots are too small. Where in the world did he get size 11 feet from, not from me that's for sure!

Keep the pound (well at least until after the next election)

A Poll of 1614 Conservative members asked the question: "Should Britain join the Euro?" Only 65% of them gave an outright 'No'. Five percent actually said yes and 30% of them wanted to keep their options open.

If this had been a survey of UKIP members it would have been 100% NO. How can a sovereign nation ever consider sacrificing its fiscal freedom and right to control its own currency and economy? Once again this proves that the Conservative Party can never be trusted on this issue. Privately the Tory Leadership is very, very Pro-EU but the Tories do get publicly more Eurosceptic as an election approaches and the Leadership allows grass roots feelings to be expressed. Once the votes are safely in the ballot box of course the Tory Leadership swings back fully behind the European Union and ignores its members for another few years until ballot fodder is needed again. Maybe it is time for those 65% of Conservative Party members who want to keep our pound to make the move to UKIP which more accurately represents their views.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd



Wonderful story in the Times yesterday about an English/Welsh Traffic sign. The Taffy's insist that all road signs are produced in English and Welsh so when they needed a sign for “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only.” the lads at the Council dutifully sent the wording off to be translated and received, by return e-mail the following message "Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith l'w gyfieithu”. The sign was manufactured and erected and that was the end of the matter.

Unfortunately it wasn't quite the end. “Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith l'w gyfieithu” actually means “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” it was the translator's automated out of the office message, in Welsh of course.

Obviously nobody in the traffic department that commissioned the sign spoke any Welsh, nor did anybody, at any stage of the proofing, manufacturing and erection process. They can't use the excuse that the sign was made by ignorant English people, because there are at least three Welsh firms that make road signs and I cannot believe that a Welsh council would send work out of the principality. Basically, nobody gave a damn, including the workmen who put it up.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

James Bond

Just got back from the cinema where we watched the latest James Bond Film. Verdict, total rubbish! If I had been watching it on the TV at home then I'd have lost interest and started channel flicking after the first 20 minutes.

Starts with an extended car chase at the conclusion of which Bond unloads a man out of the boot, how this man got there and his identity are never explained but he is threatened with torture by M who is then shot by her own bodyguard which results in an extended chase over the rooftops with lots of shooting and damage to property. Bond kills the bodyguard and the action flicks to London where M is totally unharmed and a "marked" banknote from the bodyguard's flat leads Bond to South America (or possibly Cuba I'd lost what little plot there was by now) where there is a long boat chase with lots of shooting and damage to property. After the boat chase we move to Italy where Tosca is being performed in front of 1,000's of people but Bond manages to get hold of an ear piece and flush out the baddies, taking their photos on his camera. Action flicks to Bolivia and a redhead girl briefly appears, mainly to allow Bond some bedroom action shots I think. There is also a long plane chase with lots of low flying and shots of Bond grimacing! Bond now discovers the secret and in a big fight in an exploding hotel which appears to be mainly constructed from papier mache considering how quickly it catches fire. Bond then dumps the bady in the middle of the desert, AFTER he has told Bond everything he wants to know, unfortunately this is not included in the film so you are just left to work it out for yourself. Bond then confronts someone in Russia who killed Vesper but doesn't kill him, M turns up to take him away. The End.

Plot almost zero and what there was was impossible to follow. Director in love with chases shot by cutting between camera angles at a rapid rate making it disjointed and jerky. Dialogue almost zero. No Miss Moneypenny, No Q or clever gadgets, no touches of humour at all and Felix Lighter from the CIA is Jordie Le Forge from Star Trek the Next Generation. Apparently if you had seen Casino Royal and could remember the plot details then some of Quantum of Solace made more sense. When this was explained to me then I assumed the whole film was put together with car chases, boat chases, plane chases and fight scenes that didn't make the final edit for Casino Royal but cost too much money to make to just drop on the cutting room floor.

Out of 10 I'd give it 1 or possibly 2. As a Bond film it was without doubt the worst I've ever seen! In fact just as a film and leaving aside the Bond angle I can't think of many worse films I've seen and I include some right turkeys on Movies for Men at 3.00am in the morning!

Plain speaking

Government guidelines for the management of school play times encourage schools to facilitate aerobic activities engaging students in mutually participative but limited contact game orientated play. WHICH MEANS? Send them outside to play tag! This is a joke by the way. Sorry that I have to say this but too many people were taking it seriously!

Strictly Come Boring

After spending lots of money on Sky+HD I found myself watching the visual equivalent of sticking pins in my eyes last night! I was forced to endure Strictly Come Dancing for the first time. I managed to stay with it for almost three couples before I ran screaming from the room. I have successfully avoided the X Factor, Britain's got talent and I have never knowingly watched more than a few seconds of Big Brother (I switched on the TV late one night and was treated to a low light view of what appeared to be people sleeping. I waited for the program to start and when nothing happened I checked the schedule and discovered I was watching Big Brother. Why does anyone want to watch live TV of people asleep?). I have also managed to keep away from anything involving jungles and switch off immediately anything with "Celebrity" in the title appears on the screen.

However, back to Strictly come Dancing. I've finally found something worse than endless repeats of Top Gear on Dave (I mean who calls a TV Chanel "Dave" for goodness sake). Each to their own, live and let live and all that but is this drivel really prime time TV. Bring back Scrap Heap Challenge I say!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Scooters


Spent a fair chunk of today going round scooter shops looking for a 50cc Moped for the son and heir, Edward. Edward is already sick of me singing "When I get me moped out on the road I'm gonna ride ride ride" from the classic "Funky Moped" by Jasper Carrot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKnoffPV8m0). I didn't realise that was released in 1975, when I wasn't even old enough to have a moped of my own! In those days the Yamaha FS1E was the dream machine but I always thought my Suzuki AP50 had the edge!

Anyway, the main problem today seems to be mopeds are built for the 16 year olds of days gone, every bike Ed tried resulted in his knees hitting the handlebars on full lock! Did manage to find one that fit him, but of course it was a new model only released this year which was a few inches taller than the next biggest bike we found. Unfortunately as its a 2008 Model there are no second hand ones on the market yet which does rather blow the budget (even with Grandad promising to help with funding). However, on the bright side I have convinced Ed that November is not the right time to buy a motorbike so he's going to wait until the spring, which gives him a bit longer to save up and also made his mother much happier since it means her baby will not be on the roads on two wheels for another few months at least!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Political Double Speak


At last night's Council meeting I was struggling with political double speak. Protecting local interests and trying to ensure local jobs were retained was a definite good thing said one "independent" councillor, a sentiment I had already expressed and with which she was agreeing with me. She then went on to say that protecting British Interests and trying to ensure UK Jobs were retained in the UK made me a "Little Englander"

So protecting Hartlepool is good but protecting the UK is bad? How can we do one without the other? The Councillor in question trotted out the good things about the European Union in her opinion, including much better health and safety regulation and keeping the peace in Europe. Well no-one could argue about health and safety being a good thing, I wouldn't want to go back to the bad old days of people regularly being killed at work, however most reasonable people now accept that health and safety has swung so far into risk adverse that we are in danger of not being able to do anything! The old chestnut about keeping the peace of course ignores a little organisation called NATO which has done more for peace in Europe than the EU has ever done.

But back to double speak, protecting local interests good, protecting British interests bad! How can she, and others like her, be so blinkered as not to be able to see the basic contradiction in that stance. You have to protect British interests to be able to retain the ability to protect local interests. It's bad enough being micro managed by Westminster but even that is preferable to centralist control from Brussels!

Give me Victory!


Having finally given in to the demands of my children I've subscribed to Sky TV. There are literally now 100's of channels pouring into the 50inch plasma screen (known as "the Beast") which dominates the TV Room. Some of the channels are literally unbelievable, "Movies for Men" caught my eye but it didn't show the sort of programming I was expecting, it appears to be none stop Westerns or War Films!

HD is quite impressive, but not sure it's worth the extra £10 a month. However the Military History Chanel is a definite favourite bookmark. Their series on the Royal Navy is something I would definitely recommend. I didn't know for example that it was a statutory requirement at the beginning of the last century that the Royal Navy must maintain in commission a navy bigger than the combined fleets of the second and third largest navies in the world. This law was only repealed in 1921 when the USA decided to out build the British Empire and so began a navy build up we couldn't match. It was also revealed that we owe the fact we have a navy at all these days to Argentina. If they had waited another year to invade the Falklands then our navy would have been so gutted and downsized by the Tory Government that we could never have taken the islands back. It was only the public reaction after the Falklands that enabled the Royal Navy to hang on as anything more than a glorified coast guard.

The Navy may now be getting two new aircraft carriers (well over due!) but it still faces savage cuts, this time from Labour under Brown. MoD penny-pincher's have the official flagship of the Navy's Commander in Chief in their sights. This role has been filled since 1889 by HMS Victory. The MoD want the Navy to end centuries of tradition by abandoning running the celebrated vessel, which lures 500,000 visitors a year to its dry dock in Portsmouth. The Navy spends £1.5million a year on its upkeep, a tiny sum in the greater scheme of things, to maintain this magnificent ship that means so much to both naval people and the whole nation.

Selling Victory to a private firm could turn it into a Disneyland type attraction and that would make a mockery of Britain’s naval heritage.

Since a campaign has been launched to save The Victory for the nation the MoD has back pedaled a little, now insisting there was no question of Victory being flogged off, but they do admit that her future is to be reviewed like any other warship. A spokesman stressed: “We are looking at a range of funding options.”

Diet Report No:4

Completed the four weeks diet yesterday and the final weigh in this morning put me at 104kg giving a total loss for the four weeks of 17kg. In real money that is a fall from 19stones 1lb to 16stones 6lb. So I suppose that's not bad! 2Stone 9lb lost.

The next four week package has already arrived and is ready to go but I'm having the weekend off before starting again. The urge to have a curry is just too great...lol...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Protecting local jobs

Impassioned speeches were made by two Labour Councillors at tonight's Council Meeting wanting to protect local jobs and stop the work going out of town. Unfortunately both of the Councilors had to admit that under European Union Rules the work was of sufficient value that it had to be tendered across the whole of the EU. Best value rules then meant we couldn't favour our own local workforce over companies from Paris, Berlin, Warsaw or a tiny hamlet in deepest, darkest Bulgaria.

So long as we stay in the European Union we have to play by their rules. Complaining about it isn't enough. If these people really wanted to protect local workers and make local decisions locally then they'd admit we would be better off out of the EU. Of course they can't do that as they would then be off message and going against their Party Policy. Just another case of no matter what they might say their actions speak louder than their words and their actions are definitely party first, party second and always party ahead of principle or integrity of belief.

When is a business viable?

In today's credit crunch and businesses going to the wall it was interesting to get a local authority's interpretation of "viable" when applied to small businesses. Apparently after trading for three years and making a profit every year a business located in the countryside was deemed not to be viable by Hartlepool Planning Committee as the profit made was only £5,000 a year. As someone who has been involved in business for over 20 years I think three profitable years trading shows a fair degree of viability, especially when establishing the business from scratch. After investing many thousands of pounds in a business it is not unusual to make no profit at all for the first couple of years, its called investing in the future!

I suppose if you are sitting in your local authority post with your public sector pension to look forward to then you wouldn't get out of bed for only £5,000 a year, which incidentally is about the same as my Councillor's Allowance. Does that mean I'm not "viable" or "sustainable" as a Councillor? Admittedly if I had to live on it for the rest of my life then I'd struggle but then I'm not building a political career which will ultimately lead me to bigger money, unless of course I managed to get elected Mayor then I'd make more than £5,000 a month!

So when is a business viable? If making a trading profit in these current times doesn't count then I dread to think how many none viable businesses there are out there. Of course all he has to do is put his prices up until he makes more money doesn't he? Local authorities might just be able to hike Council Tax on the basis that their customers have no choice but to pay whatever is demanded but unfortunately its not that simple in the competitive world of the private sector. If the price goes up too much the customers go elsewhere. Ah just imagine if you could do that with Council Tax. Sorry you could say, I'm paying my Council Tax to somewhere else this year, they've offered me a much better deal! Bring your rates down next year and I might switch back to you!