Sunday, 31 August 2008

Electoral Reform

Received a copy of the Electoral Reform Society magazine in my post bag this week. The cover picture was a monkey in a top hat, I wondered if Hartlepool had hit the election headlines again but it was just a co-incidence.The report was highlighting the strange results around the country in the local election last May. They mentioned Lincolnshire where 29.5% of the vote gave the Lib-Dems 7 seats while the Tories won 4 seats for their 38.2% of the vote. Ipswich have Labour winning half the sears on 34.1% of the vote, ahead of the Tories on 41.1%. These are of course the result of our first past the post system.

Mind you, Hartlepool should have got a mention. In May 2008 the Labour Party took 46.6% of the seats (7 out of 15) with only 31.6% of the vote. The Tories took only 2 seats with 22.3% of the vote but the Lib Dems also took 2 with only 13.9% of the vote. UKIP managed 11.1% of the vote and won a single seat. Work that out in approximate percentages and it is less than 5% gets you a Labour Councillor, arounf 7% elects a Lib Dem Councillor but you need over 11% to elect a Tory or UKIP.

The figures are even more distorted by the number of wards contested by each party. Labour put up 15 candidates, The Tories 11, Lib Dems 8 and UKIP 7. So UKIP actually got 2,121 votes in 7 wards, average of 303 votes per ward. Average the Labour vote over the 15 wards they fought and their average is only 403 votes per ward. If you actually look at the highest votes for individual Councillors then only 2 (Turner in Seaton ands Morris in Park) achieved more than 1,000 votes. Third place was Marshall in St.Hilda on 742. So the top three places were Independent, Tory, Independent.

Sheila Griffin was Labour's top performer on 715 only 2 vote ahead of another Tory.

So the Top 5 places in Hartlepool's Local Election in May 2008 were, Independent, Tory, Independent, Labour, Tory. Hardly a ringing endorsement for Labour rule in Hartlepool. UKIP's sole winner, Martyn Aiken in Foggy furze was well down the list with 396 votes but he was ahead of Labour's Marjorie James who got the lowest vote of the Councilors actually elected, polling just 318 votes. UKIP's top performer was Eruic Wilson in Park who polled 522 votes, the eighth highest total and more votes than 8 out of the 5 councilors that were actually elected in fact only one other Candidate polled more votes than Eric without being elected. If the 15 seats had gone to the 15 individuals who polled the most votes then Preece for the Lib-Dems, Aiken for UKIP and James for the Lib-Dems would not have been elected. These three would have been replaced by one Labour, one UKIP and 1 BNP. So maybe there is something to be said for first past the post!

Incidentally, taking the average votes cast in wards contested and using this to estimate the result if there had been a representative of every party in every ward gives the following result,

Independents 26%
Labour 18%
Tories 17%
Lib-Dems 15%
UKIP 14%
BNP 10%

Which would give a Council made up of 12 Independents,
8 Labour,
8 Tories,
7 Lib Dems,
6 UKIP and
5 BNP.

As opposed to the current make up of
23 Labour,
9 Independents,
6 Lib-Dems,
5 Tories and

So no matter how you slice it, the Labour Party in Hartlepool is over-represented in the Council Chamber for the number of votes it actually gets in local elections.

Shopping days to Christmas

Under the traditional means of Counting "shopping days to Christmas" Sundays are excluded, which means there are 99 shopping days left. Of course if you add the Sundays back in again you get almost another two weeks of pre-christmas shopping. Just shows how figures can be manipulated for almost any purpose doesn't it.

And then the fight started....

When I got home last night, my wife demanded that I take her someplace expensive. So, I took her to a petrol station.

And then the fight started....

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Jobsworth Heaven

If you think Policemen are getting younger then just wait for “Accredited Persons” to hit our streets. These are the latest idea from the government and are described as an important part of the “extended police family”

A couple of hundred pounds allows people such as private security guards, park keepers, car park attendants and store detectives to be “accredited” by the Home Office. This gives them extensive police-style powers to demand people's names and addresses, hand out fines of £60 and more for offences like truancy, harassment, dropping litter, riding a bike on the pavement or underage drinking. They can even stop vehicles for failure to display a tax disc.

Accredited workers will have a special priority hotline to report their intelligence; they can wear a special badge, and have a uniform approved by the local chief constable. Just think of all the people who would love to dress up in their accredited person uniform” (with special badge) so they can stop people on the street, demand their name and address and issue on the spot fines. The power! Maybe I’m just getting to be a grumpy old man but why does this sound like a jobsworth heaven to me?

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Another Bank Hoilday!!!

Well it's been another corker of a Bank Holiday. It hasn't actually rained but it came very close and the wind was cold enough to keep most people indoors. After getting well wrapped up against the cold I did venture out and about for a brisk walk. I try to keep an eye on things as well as I can but St.Hilda Ward is so spread out it's not that easy. The size of the ward is one reason for a wry smile when I hear certain people still trying to raise the old chestnut about me "not even living in the ward"

One small group, reportedly close to a former St.Hilda Ward Councillor, who never accepted that I beat him for the seat in the 2006 election in St.Hilda Ward, never miss an opportunity to have a dig at the burning question "Where does Steve Allison live?" They have heckled me about it at public meetings, raised it at Council Meetings in attempts to get me disqualified as a St.Hilda Ward Councillor. The Mayor even got into the act on a couple of occasions! Of course they were unsuccessful. I was told they tried to get the Hartlepool Mail to start a crusade against me, also unsuccessful. They hijacked a local website to attack me at every opportunity, reported me to Standards Board (more than once) and ultimately asked the Electoral Commission (and the Police) to investigate me. All these attempts were unsuccessful. The whiff of sour grapes becoming very, very strong. Ultimately I was forced to challenge them to "put up or shut up" through the threat of legal action to stop their attacks which were becoming increasingly slanderous, more and more libellous, desperate and sad.

Of course it is impossible to live in every part of St.Hilda Ward; it’s just too big and too spread out. If I "live" in Beaconsfield Square then I don't live on Central, West View, Bakers Mead or Powlet Road, all of which are part of St.Hilda Ward. It would be much more accurate to complain that all three local Councillors "live" on the Headland! Of course the people complaining about me also live on the Headland so they have to be careful about people in glass houses and throwing stones!

I make an effort to visit the Headland, Central, West View, Bakers Mead and Powlet Road as often as I can. When people say they haven't seen me out and about on the Headland very much I always reply that St.Hilda Ward isn’t just the Headland and I haven't seen them out and about in Central, West View, Bakers Mead or Powlet Road! In fact I was in the Cosmopolitan for lunch on Sunday and I didn't see any of the other two Councillors anywhere! Same with the last time I went to a Central Estate TMO Meeting, no sign of the other two Councillors anywhere and the last time I knocked on doors along Powlet Road one resident commented that she didn't think "Headland" Councillors even knew that Powlet Road was in their ward!

Unfortunately the Headland is where I visit most often. I say unfortunately because I’d like to visit the other areas of the ward more, but practicalities mean it’s the Headland that I visit almost every day. I came to live on the Headland in 1973 and have had my business address at Beaconsfield Square since becoming self employed in 1986. I also maintain living accommodation there, even during 7 years in London I still came "home" on a regular basis and after getting married in 1990 I kept my business address and a bedroom in Beaconsfield Square. I have never made a secret of the fact that my main residence is not in St.Hilda Ward but I do maintain a sufficient presence in the Ward to meet the requirements to appear on the Electoral Register. This has been challenged and subsequently investigated by the Borough Solicitor and agreed that this is a perfectly legitimate situation. So no matter how much certain people may object to it I am perfectly entitled to be an elected Councillor for St.Hilda Ward. I feel where I live is completely irrelevant, its how I do the job that’s important and how I do it for the whole ward, not just the Headland.

No doubt “he doesn’t even live in the ward” will be a point of attack should I stand for re-election in 2010. To that I would say I maintain an office address in Beaconsfield Square and visit almost every single day so there is no problem contacting me there. I am also available through the Civic Centre, on my mobile anywhere in the world (and yes I do mean anywhere, just last week I dealt with several Ward matters on the telephone while sat on a balcony in Majorca) and of course anyone with access to e-mail can get a message to me usually in minutes.

It was a proud day for me when I was elected at a Councillor for St.Hilda Ward in 2002 and an even prouder day when I was re-elected, with an improved majority, in 2006. I enjoy being a Councillor and relish the opportunity to ask uncomfortable questions of the Mayor, Cabinet and the Lib/Lab/Con Councillors who behind closed doors are a cosy club dedicated to keeping themselves where they are and keeping out everyone else.

So I’ll keep on plugging away. Keep on doing my best and should I lose my seat in 2010 then that’s called democracy.

Friday, 22 August 2008


The theft of the Vice Chairman’s Regalia from the Hartlepool Council Offices was a sad day for the town with the loss of irreplaceable historical artefacts that were part of the town’s history. Not all the questions have yet been answered regarding the thefts but an insurance payout of £45,000 has now been received and the mayor’s cabinet have decided that they will commission replacement chains now that the money has been made available.

There were discussions about whether the chains should be replicas of the ones stolen. I sincerely hope that they are NOT. In my opinion there is too much looking back and not enough looking forward. Hartlepool Council has been given the opportunity to spend £45,000 on civic regalia. This should be seen as an opportunity to create new, unique and modern regalia, not just an opportunity to recreate the past by copying what was there before.

The Mayor and Cabinet should display some imagination and commission a new design that reflects the face of Hartlepool in 2008. How about holding a design competition, open to anyone? How many designers get the opportunity these days to create new civic regalia? A competition like that could produce world wide interest. Hartlepool should not throw away an opportunity to develop something new and exciting, rather than living in the past we should be looking to the future. Too often we seem to hang onto something just because it’s old. Remember, the stolen chains were new once!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

faster meetings

It was the North Forum on Wednesday night. Normally these are three to four hour meetings which quite frankly accomplish very little as there is very rarely more than a couple of members of the public present. The main business is taken up by "Resident Representatives" and Ward Councillors complaining about things they should really have raised direct with the appropriate officer rather than waiting for a Forum.

Of course if you raise it at a Forum then you get to make a speech, your contribution is minuted and there is even the chance you will get in the Hartlepool Mail. If you just sort it out behind the scenes then how do your constituents know how hard you are working on their behalf.....ah politics, don't you just love it.

Anyway these meeting usually start at 10.00am and finish mid afternoon. I do go when i can as you get an attendance point for going, very important that you know, not actually contributing something but getting your mark for being there, once again if you don't attend 100's of meetings then how will your constituents know how hard you are working for them.

Tonight's meeting however started at 6.00pm. Unfortunately I was working at that time, I'd finished a meeting at the sixth form college at 4.00pm and went straight to another meeting, neither of which gets me an attendance point, a chance to make a speech or appear in the Hartlepool Mail! So I didn't get to the Forum until just after 7.15pm. No problem I thought, it will only just be getting started. BUT NO, it was already over! The Caretaker at the Centre was just as flummoxed as I was, she was expecting to be throwing us out at 9.00pm.

So maybe the answer to long and tedious meetings is to hold them in the evenings. The Officers will all want to get home after a long day and the Councillors will need to be home for their warm milky drinks before getting tucked up into bed. Actually I think the early finish was more to do with what's on the TV than anything else. Lets face it daytime TV is pretty dire, the evening shows are not much better but sometimes they are worth watching. The early finish tonight was either down to Coronation Street or Liverpool playing Standard Liege in the first leg of the Champions League Qualifier.

PS I didn't see Coronation Street as I was having my tea but Liverpool/Liege was a draw, if anyone really cares!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Nothing is inevitable except death and taxes

There is an old saying that nothing is inevitable except death and taxes. If the European Union has their way then even the cost of dying could soon be going up another 17.5%. Currently we do not pay VAT on the cost of burials and cremations, but the EU Commission is looking into the possibility of removing this special status.

When you pay for your loved one’s coffin then you are charged VAT but the EU proposal means you will have to pay it again on top of the overall bill. You may only live once but they want to tax you twice. The average cost of a funeral is already £2,000 and VAT will add £350 to bill.

The British have had to get used to Gordon Brown taxing everything that moves but now the European Union also wants to get its hands on even more of our money.

When will people realise we’d be better off out!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Here is a picture of my new toy, a tractor, it's not brand new, I got it off e-bay, but its a 20HP machine with three speed pto (power take off) that will really deal with all the weeds and long grass that have taken over this year as I have been away so much that grass cutting didn't even appear on the jobs list, let alone get done. Actually the tractor is totally useless without a mower to tow along behind it (using the pto to turn the blades) and as I haven't got one of those yet it means that e-bay is still my most visited Internet site.

The tractor came from a little village near Northampton and the two guys there (a father and son) really seemed to have it sussed. They had a nice little business, that they obviously enjoyed very much and which appeared to give them a nice living without too much stress and aggravation. My dad and I went to collect the Tractor so it was two father and son teams! We even had a brief discussion on politics, they think the EU is terrible, the Parish Council are a bunch of parochial, small minded idiots and as for the County Council, don't even mention them and their unbelievable planning policies! It was just like being at home!

The day actually ended rather well with my tractor tucked up in its garage behind its steel plate door and numerous padlocks and tie downs. I was a bit surprised as the day started really badly. To collect the Tractor I hired as long wheel base Transit, this was booked and paid for over the Internet and all seemed hunky dory, even though the advertised price of £25 a day ended up at £48 when all the "extras" were added on, you know optional things like insurance, named driver authorisation, collection and delivery fee. This pissed me of quite a bit and "Rip off Britain" was being muttered as I keyed in my Credit Card Number. A question I can't get an answer to is why did it cost £10 PER DRIVER to hire the van. The van will be doing the same mileage and carrying the same load regardless of whether one person drives or two people take turns?

I turned up 9.00am to collect the van, armed with my driving licence, both parts, my passport, my Internet confirmation voucher and my credit card to leave the £300 deposit. Unfortunately the "two forms of ID" which I assumed driving licence and passport, were not acceptable, I had to also produce a Utility Bill. No amount of pleading would allow any other document to substitute, it had to be a utility bill, bank statement, NO Good, pay slip from Hartlepool Council, NO Good. They wanted a Gas Bill and nothing else would do. I pointed out we don't get mains gas so they did relent to electricity bill. I pointed out we pay monthly direct debit on line and don't get printed statements. Not their problem, Utility Bill or no van. OK I said cancel the van. Fine they said but as it is less than 24 hours notice you forfeit the hire fee! I dutifully trudged off home and found a 2007 "Annual statement" from N-Power showing how or direct debit would be calculated for the next 12 month. Hurray, this was accepted and 2 hours later than planned we actually set off.

It needed more paperwork and took more time to hire a van for the day in Middlesbrough than it did to get on a flight from New York to Heathrow. The saga will not be completed until tomorrow of course since they shut at 5.00pm and because of our late start we couldn't get the van returned this evening. I am now seriously expecting then to find a fly speck of damage somewhere and retain my £300 deposit. That will then mean a van for the day from Middlesbrough not only needed more paperwork and took longer to arrange than a flight from New York BUT the van will have cost more than the flight did!

Maybe Robbie Payne had it right when he said he couldn't wait to be retired and out of this country for good!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Be Quiet!!

I had to check the newspaper today to make sure it wasn't April 1st! Apparently the government are considering passing a law to specify the minimum amount of noise that a road vehicle must make when running! The MINIMUM amount! Anyone who has ever had to live with the roar of traffic noise would have thought the quieter a vehicle is the better.

However, according to a pressure group for blind and partially sighted people electric cars are too quiet, they can't hear them coming and so they are dangerous. What about people on bikes? Will they be covered by the minimum road noise requirement? How about disability scooters, will they have to carry a loud speaker system that makes them sound like a formula 1 racing car? Why don't we just go the whole hog and go back to people walking in front of cars with a red flag!

Apparently pedestrians are also in danger from these quiet cars. Well pedestrians are also in danger from inconsiderate cyclists riding on the pavement and the last twice I've been in a vehicle collision while a pedestrian its been when some ignorant person in a disability scooter has run into me in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre.

Noise pollution is one of the things that makes our towns and cities so hard to live in. According to some pieces I've read Noise pollution and light pollution (absence of real darkness) are both contributing factors to increasing levels of mental illness. So lets go the whole hog, electric cars should not only have noise generators they should be made to derive with their lights on at all times. Oh, sorry, the EU is going to make us do that all the time fairly soon anyway!

As regards pedestrians not being able to hear electric cars, well my 16 year old son wouldn't hear a herd of elephants charging at him if he was listening to his i-pod.