Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The success of the Iron Men

The Iron men on Crosby beach have been a great hit. Like the Angel of the North-by the same artist-they have been recognised as some of the better bits of public art. As Ronnie was heard to remark; 'who would have thought that lots of naked men on a beach would arouse such interest'.

Locally the Tories initially opposed them and their PPC even went on the BBC World at One championing Health and Safety as the reason for their opposition.

Birkdale Focus roving report Cllr Connell has sent me another good example from East Anglia; the Sea Shell is IN MEMORY OF Benjamin Britten (Alderburgh) . Interestingly is was originally put in the Town Centre but residents thought is was better on the beach(I agree).

Sadly not all public art is as good .

Monday, 28 September 2009

Vince Vindicated

I see that in his Daily Mail column Vince has gone on the offensive over is 'mansion tax'. I also note that in the poll on Lib Dem voice approval for the policy is racing ahead of those loud -but unrepresentative -voices that have attacked it.

There are two issues here; firstly the principle of how such policy initiative should emerge and secondly the policy itself.

Let us begin with how ideas like this should emerge. Now I am a veteran of the policy committee in the days of the Alliance and before when as the standing committee many a bloody battle was fought. I suppose that the most public ones were around the terms of the Lib/Lab pact and later over defence and the Euro bomb.

I came to believe that the party had a right to a view and to express it. I also accepted that the parliamentary party and individual parliamentarians had the same rights. Now clearly this can soon turn into a major media debacle if some restraint is not shown. But it is clear that there is a difference between a political party having a policy and campaigning for it and those elected to public office having to take a view about its priority in any given circumstances.

In government it is clear that the part has no role in vetoing or vetting policy-although I was impressed to learn at the Lib History group meeting on the balance of power that the Scottish Policy committee had a formal role in approving the coalition deal done between Wallace and Dewar.

So in relation to the pact the Policy Committee came out firmly in favour of PR for European, the strengthening of civil liberties and various over things which Steel ignored-in my view wrongly.

In relation to the Euro Bomb-bomb was always pronounced the way Peter Sellars would have done when playing Inspector Clouseau- the Party Assembly took a stand. That was a game of bluff and brink man ship initiated by Owen who well understood the what he was doing. Like MacDonald before him he had joined a coalition with the clear intention of destroying his partner.

So I have no problem with Vince floating an idea. I realise that there are a lot of bruised egos out there who thought they ought to be consulted. I suspect quite a few of them would have been happy to launch their own initiative without widespread consultation. All this must to some significant extent based on trust. If you get the mood of the party wrong that will be damaging and a good leader will understand that. Jo Grimond who regularly tops polls as the best Liberal Leader was not adverse to confronting the party with a policy announcement.

And so to the mansion tax itself. Well in my estimation it hits the spot. I say that not because Birkdale has very few £1m houses (I realise that if many of them were transported to SW London or Belgravia they would be) . Since 1979 the rich have faired well under Blair/Thatcher /Brown . A lot of the increased 'wealth' is stored in the unearned increase of land values upon which £1m houses sit. Unlike many of their other assets the super-rich will find it hard to get their accountants to hide such properties.

A Liberal Chancellor once before tried to tax the land of the wealthy and how they squealed. Their friends in the media raged against the socialist inequity of raising taxes to establish old age pensions.

Today Cable is suggesting that the money raised will contribute toward funding taking people who have an income of less than £10k out of income tax altogether. Rather like the land tax proposals of Lloyd George in 1909 the message is political as well as fiscal. The money it will raise will not fund the whole tax reform programme, but it does give a democratic appeal to what is otherwise going be a difficult period of public sector restraint and general tax increases.

A hundred years on we still sing the Land Song demanding that the rich pay their taxes. Tax may not have become entirely voluntary for the super rich but those who use offshore residence to avoid UK tax or use all the other loop hole Vince has identified know that a mansion tax will not be easily avoided.

Personally I am happy to campaign to reduce the tax burden of many of the old age pensioners in my ward and to take out of tax the folk on minimum wage many of whom work in the holiday, care and catering industries in our town.

Finally here is a video from Bournemouth taken at the Glee Club of the singing of The Land

My colleague Roy Connell was much taken by this tribute to Ted Kennedy delivered by Joe Biden. Roy fully recognised the sentimentality was a bit hyped but thought it worth sharing. All I remember Biden for is plagiarising Neil Kinnock's speeches -a move which dished his Presidential ambitions.

McMillan coffee morning

On Sat morning as part of the 'biggest coffee morning' fundraising for Mc Millan Cancer, John Pugh put on an event held in St Lukes Church Hall

Paddy's two tribes go to war- again

Paddy thought he'd told this story for 15 years on the trot. For those of you who haven't here is the concluding bit of the tale about two tribes who go to war and the outcome when one of them seeks the advice of a sage...........

Paddy at the Glee club

And finally for conference videos Paddy at the Glee Club coming on after the lads from the Arts Alliance and demonstrating his 'softer' leadership skills

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Erin's First Conference

First time delegate from Southport, Erin Harvey, certainly got the most out of her visit. She spoke in two debates and closely questioned NicK Clegg at the fringe meeting hosted by Liberty.

Here she tells us about her conference:

Arts Alliance fringe meeting with Billy Bragg

The Arts Alliance fringe meeting sandwiched between the Scotch Whisky reception and the Glee club looked likely to struggle for an audience, but the presence of Billy Bragg and the quality of the presentation was more than sufficient reward for the packed room at the Highcliffe Hotel.

The Arts Alliance does work with prisoners throughout Britain. Actors, musicians and other people from the creative industries volunteer their time. The evidenced is overwhelming that the arts can be a powerful and robust tool in rehabilitation. As Tim Robertson, Director Koestler Trust said

'Promoting creative activity in prisons can bring light and hope to broken, dysfunctional lives. Whether it be drama, music, literature, painting or any other aspect of human creativity, engaging with art is a life-enhancing experience'.

Billy Bragg spoke about his work and that of the 'Jail Guitar Doors' charity he has set up. I urge to go and visit both websites. With new Prisons arriving in Sefton we need to be alert to such initiatives and help to promote them.

Bragg brought with him two graduates of his project who played at the fringe meeting. They both went later into the Glee Club where their performance brought the house down. A genuine and spontaneous standing ovation was followed by an encore.

I should say that is is one of several posts about this fringe meeting which concludes with the Hughes/Bragg rendition of Walk the Line-well a bit of it

Billy Bragg introduces April Fool song

Billy Bragg explains the background to the April Fool song written in response to some petty restriction introduced dealing with the content of materials prisoners can receive.

April Fool song-Billy Bragg

After explaining the song Billy Bragg Sang:

Songs of Freedom

Another song from Billy Bragg at the Arts Alliance Fringe meeting

' Walk the Line'-Billy Bragg and Simon Hughes

And finally in this report from the Arts Alliance fringe meeting just a snatch of a performance of Walk the Line with Simon Hughes supported by Billy Bragg and Don Foster on Ukulele. Personally I regret the Ukulele. This clip is here just to prove it happened. I fancy Bragg's reputation is strong enough to survive. For those of you who landed on this posting first there are five dealing with the Arts Alliance fringe meeting including must longer videos of Billy Bragg talking about the projects and singing

Global Security Fringe Meeting

There are no issues of greater importance than global security. War and climate change require us to seek better ways of managing our planet. Most people realise that what the old Liberal Party constitution called the 'warping influence of nationalism' which has raised it ugly and unwanted headed again militates against effective solutions to these matters.

At the fringe meeting David Grace had the job of summing up. He took the chance to re-state the case for federalism. 30 years of negative propoganda from Thatcher, Callaghan, and their ilk have meant that even when folk suggest federalist solutions they sky away from the name. Some of that is straight forward ignorance, but often it is because the name has become politically inacceptable. It is time to reclaim not only the name but the literature and thinking. It does light the way to global security.

David explains:

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Climbing the Bookshelves

Shirley Williams-who was of course a Sefton MP-was in fine form when she turned up at Bournemouth. She spoke at fringe meetings and did a book signing. We were all delighted to notice that Antony Hill get s mention in the new book; Climbing the Bookshelves.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

another celeb diet booking in the offing?

It was good to see Chris Rennard around yesterday. I wouldn't normally discuss people's body size but Chris looks spectacularly healthier for having shed a few stone. I'm sure that will cheer many Lib Dems and spread fear and trembling amongst the opposition!

Taking tea with the Taliban

I bumped into Jonathon Fryer yesterday and told him that he ought to do a piece on the fate of Edward MacMillan Scott and the Tory alliance in Europe. I'm sure reders will know all about the bunch of right wing odd balls the Tories have as friends in the Euro Parliament-climate change deniers, homophobes etc (mind you it is not difficult to see why some Tory activists feel at home there)
This whole area of politics is going to become very important after the Irish referendum. If they vote 'yes' what does Cameron do? The Tories have so 'pissed off' the powerful governing centre right parties especially in France and Germany it is doubtful they will lift a finger to help him if he tries to 'renogociate' the Lisbon Treaty. I wouldn't be surprised to see right wing moves to get Britain to take up a Norway option. In essence that would mean we withdrew from Europe and had to put up with the rules that the rest draw up. We can't ignore Europe it is our biggest single trading partner.

Anyway back to Jonathon, he said he would try to get around to doing a post on the Tories Euro woes. In the meantime he has done a good write up on Ed Davey's speach which many delgates have rated very highly

Monday, 21 September 2009

Can history teach us anything about the balance of power?


The Liberal History group was spoilt for choice this year as Duncan Brack pointed out it is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Liberal Party at the Willis Rooms, it is 100 years since the people's budget (mind you the Cable/Clegg proposal to tax houses worth over £1m is a very practical commemoration of that event) and it is also the 200 years since Gladstone was born in Liverpool.

So instead of doing anniversaries they chose instead to look at the lessons history can teach us about hung parliaments. This hasn't happened as often as you might imagine; 1924,1929, the Lib/Lab pact of 1978 and if you stretch a point the Scots Parliament and the Welsh Senydd.

It is clear that Liberals have got better at handling this dilemma. The first time in 1924 Asquith screwed up badly. He was far too laid back-not to mention befuddled with brandy and he was up against Ramsey MacDonald whose clear objective was to destroy the Liberal Party. No good faith there then. Interestingly he was dealt by far the strongest hand if we judge by number of MPs. Having fallen to only 40 seats after the fall of Bonar Law's Tory government, the 1923 general election returned 159 seats . Southport Liberals won with John Brunner-the son of Sir John Brunner the long time Radical MP for Cheshire-and co founder of ICC. This is also the election where the correlation between the Liberal vote and conformist chapel was strongest and it was certainly the chapels that underpinned the Liberal success in the town

A significant boost was given to the campaign by the decision of Baldwin-the new Tory PM to cut and run early allegedly in order to get a mandate for his policy of introducing import tariffs. Both Lloyd George Liberals and Asquithians could unite around free trade. But as the speaker Professor Martin Pugh pointed out the unity did not run very deep. This point was picked up later by Michael Meadowcroft-a Sandgrounder and former MP for Leeds West-who told us about a conversation with a long time Leeds Liberal who as a young man was hired to work in a by election in city. It turned out that his job was to run messages between the two groups who occupied separate floors of the campaign HQ.

There was no arrangements to sustain the government. Asquith appears to have taken the view that there was going to be a Labour government at some stage and the no overall majority situation of 1924 was as safe as it got.

1929 was far better. The election campaign had given Lloyd George a clear policy mandate and momentum. Although he had far fewer seats than in 1924 he did have clear direction. Many who voted Labour expected them to introduce the sort of policy that the Liberals had campaigned on to conquer unemployment. Sadly Lloyd George was slow to understand the need for PR-indeed he had missed the chance in 1916 to enact the legalisation.

Initially it looked as if Lloyd George was doing well. He served notice that he was not going to a compliant. There was a Coal Bill early on and some of the votes were very close indicating that the Liberals could not be taken for granted.

Sadly as time drifted on and the economic situation got worse unemployment rose and the radical plans in the Liberal manifesto were not followed the chance was lost. Those Sir John Simon began to feel increasingly uncomfortable and the seeds of the Liberal Nationals were sewn.

From this period we can see that unity of purpose is essential, as is having a clear and well researched policy position. Despite the large Liberal vote in each of these elections there was no parity of esteem-especially from the Labour Party.

Martin Pugh, drew attention to the impact that the personalities of the key players. In particular he saw in the emotionally repressed and insecure -possibly even paranoid- behavior of MacDonald a man who could not trust his own party let alone Lloyd George or Asquith. You can't help wondering whether 80 years on whether the Labour Party has saddled themselves with a leader with similar characteristics?

The two modern examples -the Lib Lab pact and the devolved administrations- are very different. Most of the particpants are still about. Certainly in relation to the Pact the wounds have not all healed. Many Liberals identify the failure to get PR for Europe-or indeed seemingly even to fight for it as a betrayal. Maybe that it would be best-if you are interested-to read the review of that bit of the meeting on the Liberal History website when it is published there.

Britain's most trusted politican

It is often easier to get a perspective on what is going on at a conference if you are viewing it from outside. My colleague Simon Shaw emails me from Birkdale observing that it is hardly surprising that Vince Cable is one of the stars in Bournemouth this week. He is reminded of a very interesting article in last Wednesday's Times, headlined "Voters tip their hats to trusty Mr Cable". It reported that Vince Cable is the politician most trusted by the general public in a recent 1500-strong opinion poll conducted by Populus. To quote: "By contrast Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman, is the most trusted, especially by Conservative voters who have more faith in him than they have in Gearge Osborne, their own Shadow Chancellor. Mind you coming above George Osborne in a poll about who you trust is not setting the hurdle that high. "The results are presented in a chart here:

Here in Bournemouth that there is widespread approval that it is the Lib Dems who are leading the debate on the economy. There can't have been a time since the 1929 election when we have had the economy as our strongest suit. (I shall return to the 1929 election and the its aftermath; a hung parliament when I post about the Liberal History Group meeting) Suffice to say that it is the economy that determines elections more than any other single factor and to be leading the way in this policy area will pay electoral dividends if we present our case locally as well as Vince is doing nationally.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Animal & Insect Act

The Animal & Insect Act

Finally, in order to ensure
absolute national security

they passed the Animal & Insect

Emergency Control & DisciplineAct.

Under this new Act, buffaloes

cows and goats were prohibited

from grazing in herds of

more than three.

Neither could birds flock,

nor bees swarm .....

This constituted unlawfulassembly.

As they had not obtained prior

planning permission, mud-wasp

sand swallows were issued with

summary Notices to Quit.

Theirhomes were declared subversive

extensions to private property.

Monkeys and mynahs

were warned to stop

relaying their noisy

morning orisons until an official

Broadcasting Licence was issued

by the appropriate Ministry.

Unmonitored publications &

broadcasts posed the gravestt

hreats in times of a National


Similarly, woodpeckers had

to stop tapping their morse-code

messages from coconut

tree-top to chempaka tree.

All messages were subject

to a thorough pre-scrutiny

by the relevant authorities.

Java sparrows were arrested in

droves for rumour-mongering.

Cats (suspected of conspiracy)

had to be indoors by 9 o'clock

Cicadas and crickets received

notification to turn their amp-lifiers down.

Ducks could not

quack nor turkeys gobble during

restricted hours.

Need I say,

all dogs -- alsatians,


pointers and even

little chihuahuas -- were muzzled.

In the interests of security

penguins and zebras were

ordered to discard their

non-regulation uniforms.

The deer had to surrender

their dangerous antlers.

Tigers and all carnivores

with retracted claws were

sent directly to prison

for concealing lethal weapons.

And by virtue of ArticleFour,

paragraph 2(b)sub-Subsection sixteen,

under no circumstances

were elephants allowed

to break wind between

the hours of six and six.

Their farts could easily

be interpreted as gunshot.

Might spark off a riot .....

A month after the Act

was properly gazetted

the birds and insects

started migrating south

the animals went north

and an eerie silence

handcuffed the forests.

There was now

Total Security.
I've just ben sat quietly having a cup tea and listening to Radio 4's Poetry Please programme. I had not heard this poem before nor about its composer Cecil Rajendra.
I'm in Bournemouth for the Lib Dem Conference this week. I travelled down on the train with Ronnie and Joyce Fearn. It was good to see a peer of the realm slumming it in standard class. And before anyone gets upset about describing travelling by train a slumming it; you have clearly not been on the Southport to Wigan line recently. It has been starved of investment. I've begun to think that if present operator doesn't want the franchise then the regulator should take it off them. I shall return to this matter later as I know that I am not alone in being disgusted with the way this service has been neglected
Anyway we finally got to the South coast-delayed in the New Forest because someone pulled the communication cord-and I am sitting out in the sunshine overlooking the sea.

I bumped into Ronnie again this morning. He had been induced into trying out the wi-fit game on one of the exhibition stalls. Now we have this game at home and late at night some adults have been trapped by their children into trying out the ski version of the wi fit. This was the game Ronnie was attempting this morning. Now I can think of many folk-younger than Ronnie- who wouldn't have been so 'game' as Ronnie.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

A Liberal moment or two

I don’t know how many editorials in The Times Clem Davies had devoted to his policies in his like time-not many would be my guess. I do recall reading somewhere that when Davies was deeply involved in the plotting and maneuvering around the removal Chamberlain as Prime Minister he had dinner with the editor of the Times. Davies managed to get agreement about Chamberlain, but like most of the establishment and the Tory party the editor wanted to have Halifax take over. Thank goodness that didn't happen.
Well Davies made it this week in the Times editorial page when in reviewing Nick Clegg’s new Demos Pamphlet the ‘Liberal Moment’ the Times recalls the incident when Churchill invited him to join the cabinet as Secretary of State for Education. Davis turned it down and in that one unselfish act he preserved the independence of the Liberal Party. His rejection of the post was made from a very week position. Today because of that-and countless other acts –Nick Clegg is in a position to pitch his claim that Liberalism can take over from Labour and lead progressive politics in Britain.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Plans made public

At last, after several requests, there is a proper report on Sefton website about the state of the so called 'Cultural Centre'-the Library, Art Gallery and Arts Centre in Southport and the plans for the future. If you are interested please go and have a look. There have been time in the last couple of weeks when I have began to have an inkling about how whoever it was (Sisyphus ?) in Greek mythology felt. He was condemned to endlessly repeat the same task-in his case push a stone up a mountain and in mine repeat my request that the information on the Cultural Centre be made widely available to the public.

I have believed for some while that the case for investing in the Centre has not been properly made to the public. This is by no means the whole story, there are still important issues to be discussed-ie where the library will be place temporaly whilst this essential refurbishment is carried out and what facilities will be available there. Nevertheless the public can now see why many of us feel that this project is important for the town.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Farnborough Rd School canteen

It has taken a generation but at last the old inadequate canteen at Farnborough Rd Schools is going!

The full story is best found on the school's website with lots of photos the children have taken.

The schools have almost a thousand primary age pupils and as such is one of the biggest in the country. The old single brick structure with its 'tin' roof was erected as a temporary structure decades ago. After much lobbying and pushing the project is now underway. The completed building may be available for community use which is in short supply in Birkdale.

Vince Cable tackle the fiscal crisis

It would be pointless me reviewing the latest Vince Cable initiative-lots of people have already done it better than I can-suffice to say that his controversial views have been well received. But you can read the press release here and download the whole pamphlet here

First Mandy and now Hattersley; is PR no longer a lost cause?

Next in my series on lost causes that are suddenly being taken up comes PR. In recent times Industrial Democracy has re-emerged and allotments (don't laugh. it was a vote on allotments that once brought down a Tory Government) and now PR is back. Lib Dem Voice reported the Lord High Mandy's view yesterday and today in the Times Roy Hattersley declares himself as a convert:

I admit to arguing the case for PR with the zeal of a recent convert. My mind has been changed by disappointment. Ten years of timid Labour government has convinced me that under the present voting system, social democracy will never thrive in a society where winning power depends on one party securing an overall parliamentary majority.

Now let us not get carried away, I remember when Tories facing certain defeat suddenly embraced the notion. Nevertheless if the progressive majority in Britain is ever to be translated into government PR is essential.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Labour should hire capital

The second in my series of folk rallying to once unfashionable causes. I see Demos have published a report on what used to be called Industrial Democracy. For years Liberals argued this case to be met with general disinterest or hostility. In the aftermath of the economic crash people are beginning to look again at models for running firms and realising that the one which has been dominant for so long-increasing share owner value-has failed. As Demos says:

How can firms be modelled so that not only shareholders but employees, the economy and society profit? Many of these models already exist. Mutual and employee-owned models of business operate with longer time-horizons, achieving higher levels of performance and customer satisfaction. They nurture greater power for individuals over their economic lives and increase the accountability of managers. This report argues it is time to bring these models out of the wilderness and into the debate about where capitalism goes next

When I first joined the Liberal Party the example of co-ownership Liberals quoted was Scott Bader, a firm that was essentially gifted to its workforce by their founder. I recall Richard Wainwright arguing at a Liberal Assembly that the model we should promote was one where 'labour hired capital' and not viser versa. He was drawing on a rich vein of Liberal thought going back to John Stuart Mill and his book on Political Economy when he asserted:

Mill goes on to examine the 'gang' structure of Cornish tin miners as an early form of self management. This practice continued in English industry and my father working for the Standard Motor Company immediately after WW2 worked in a self managing group of workers (discussed on page 61 here) . Such ideas appeared in Liberal Party policy in the early 1920's and their is a whole chapter in the famous Yellow Book 'Britain's Industrial Future' published in 1928 and reviewed here by Duncan Brack. The Demos pamphlet does give the Liberal Part passing credit for its stand.

As Young Liberals in the early 1970's we were enthusiastic about the notion and Roger Cowe-late of Liberator and the Guardian-published a review of all the workers' co-ops in England to promote the idea. Towards the end of his life Jo Grimond got very enthusiastic about industrial models of 'job ownership' that existed in Spain.

One of the big problems of 'building share value' as the only objective of a firm is that it leads to high risk taking by managers and clearly shareholders have not been an adequate check on that. Vince Cable identified some while ago the negative impact that de-mutualising the Building Societies have had on the banking sector. The Northern Rock debacle would surely not have happened if it was still owned and controlled by its members.

Anyway it is good that this discussion is back on the agenda. The crude market capitalism of Thatcher and Regan blotted out all other models of firms save one- and that has failed.

FA Cup draw

SOUTHPORT have been handed a home draw in the Second Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.
The Sandgrounders will host Northern League side Spennymoor Town on Saturday September, 26 looking to avenge last season's Third Qualifying Round defeat to Boston United.

Can you dig it

Having championed allotments when they were out of fashion it is good to see so many people and organisations now rallying to the cause. The New Local Government Network is the latest with the publication today of their pamphlet: 'Can you dig it?-meeting the community demand for allotments'. You can download it for free here.

Essentially they argue that local authorities should manage their 'brown field' sites better making some into allotment as they await development. They also identify that landowners can contribute to meeting this demand and call upon the Government to offer tax incentives for landowners to allow allotments to be built on unused sections of their property. They go so far as to suggest that if a voluntary scheme isn't successful then the Government should consider a Large Private Estates Commission which could have the power to temporarily transfer unused plots of private land to the local community for agricultural use.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

An Elected Mayor for Sefton, and two interesting views of democracy

A strange letter in last Friday’s Southport Visiter gives me the opportunity to share the 'quote of the week .

The letter was anonymous (aren’t they always-though for the life of me I can’t see why the Editor agreed to preserve the anonymity of the writer. I’ve a hunch that the writer didn’t even attend the meeting.) The letter complained about the Southport Area Committee meeting held earlier this month on Wednesday 2nd September.

The letter suggested, in a non-specific way, that councillors should have been reprimanded for “trying to pull down various members of the public”.

Councillors of all parties thoroughly are thoroughly confused, as September’s Area Committee meeting was both brief and thoroughly good-natured.

There were only six questions from members of the public and two of these were about the recent consultation exercise on the possibility of an Elected Mayor for Sefton – this is a matter which falls in my area of responsibility as the Cabinet Member for Performance & Governance.

We have all been racking our brains and can only assume that the Visiter letter relates to one of these two questions.

“Does this Committee and the separate Parties consider that the consultation about the Elected Mayor has been a success?”

As Cabinet Member responsible, I can tell you that the consultation period lasted 10 weeks, and was advertised via the local press, the Council’s website, reports to all 7 Area Committees and through leaflets and information in local Libraries and ‘One Stop Shops’ and a letter to every household in the borough.

Despite this, in her response to the question Southport’s leading Conservative councillor said that what she thought was needed was yet more consultation!

This was countered by another Conservative, who pointed out that this suggestion was on the level of requiring that residents of the Irish Republic should keep having referendums on the European Constitution until they come up with the right answer!
Or as I remarked on the way to the pub afterwards, it reminded me of a line in a Bertolt Brecht play where a totalitarian politician concerned that an election might produce the 'wrong result' muses that perhaps they should 'dissolve the electorate and choose another'

We can only assume that the Visiter letter was prompted by one of my Lib Dem colleagues who, in his response to the question, had the audacity to quote verbatim from the submission made by the Southport Party. And now here is the quote of the week direct from that submission:

“Whilst leaning towards the proposal of a democratically elected Mayor by the residents of the Sefton MBC area, the Southport Party are very reluctant to commit to public opinion without knowing who the eventual person would be and where he/she would be from.”

See the original on pages 45 and 46 here

Certainly an interesting view of democracy.

Mind you it was a daft question to ask. Contrary to what New Labour fondly imagine there is not wild enthusiasm for elected mayors and the question has little relevance to Sefton which has evolved its own political settlement. Now if we had asked the residents whether they wanted Southport to get out of Sefton there would have been an avalanche mail. The trouble is New Labour aren’t really interested in what the people think-only if the can be brow beaten to agree with them. The bludgeoning of the many by the few-to misquote Oscar Wilde.

10th Sandgrounder Beer Festival

The 10th Sandgrounder Beer Festival has been happening over the last few days at the Arts Centre-where I wonder will they go during the refurbishment? I visited on Saturday afternoon. As the picture shows the beers were lined up as a War of the Roses; Yorks v Lancs. Pride of position went to the Southport Brewery with the award winning Golden Sands best bitter-also on their mini stand were the session bitter Natterjack (3.8%) and Carousel (4%).

It is truly amazing how many micro breweries are now operating. There seemed to me to be a lot of 'golden' bitters which were unheard of a few years ago. Clearly this is an attempt by thye brewers to temp young folk off lagers on to real ale.

This being Southport the definition of Lancashire was that of the county palatine which ignores Merseyside and stretching up into what is Cumbria in local government terms today. Interesting one new brewery Liverpool Organic has opened up in Brasenose Rd Bootle. ( Bootle named lots of it's streets after Oxbridge colleges) Their Bitter at 5.5% is certainly not a session bitter but did win plaudits from those around me who were drinking it.

Cambride Ward Coffee morning

Carmel and Charlie Preston organised an excellent coffee morning up a Marshside today. The women and men there are getting a reputation for their home baking and today they put on a great spread and a goodly crowd turned out-helped by the fact that Southport were playing away at Gainsborough Trinity where they ran out 2-4 winners. I've stocked up on ginger and orange marmalade and managed to get a bag of scones before they all went.

Norwood Pea & Pie

The certainly know how to put on a good Pea and Pie supper in Norwood Ward and there were lots of people there on Friday night sample the catering of Pat and David Sumner and their team.
There was a fiendishly difficult quiz about Southport that occupied us whilst the first course was cleared away. (Did you know that the last man to put in the stocks in Churchtown was a Rimmer?)
The quiz -with a bottle of House of Lord Whisky as first prize-raised a record amount. Many thanks to all who helped put on the event.

Housing land in Birkdale identified.

The Straegic Housing Land Availability Study for Birkdale is out. Few can deny that folk living longer and more smaller households there is a real unmet need for housing. In Southport we are desperately in need of homes for keyworkers and those looking for their first home. This report looks at all the available land. We have been campaigning for some while to bring some of these sites in to use-especially those owned by housing associations that have been vacant for years.
Some of the site are more problematic. The document is out for consultation. We would be pleased to hear your views.

I was interested to see that the study looked at the whole of Birkdale-not just the local government ward. Now I don't want to sound like a Serbian nationalist arguing for a Greater Birkdale but folk who live South of Boundary Street consider themselves to be in Birkdale even if they are represented on the Council by Kew Ward Councillors. Equally the southern boundary of Birkdale is not Carr Lane but goes a long way down Heathfield Rd to Philip Drive. And, of course Shoreside Birkdale with the famous golf course is part of Birkdale even though it is in Dukes Ward. Some people struggle to understand that.

Students face loans chaos

Students face loans chaos

That’s the frontpage headline in today’s Times, which reports:

Tens of thousands of students could start the academic year with no funding and unable to register at university because the loans company is in crisis and struggling to cope with a deluge of applications.

Weeks before the start of term, 150,000 applications out of almost a million still have not been processed.”

If only someone had had the sense to see this problem coming – well they had!

As long as 7 months ago, Birkdale’s Councillor Simon Shaw, and Southport MP John Pugh were voicing their serious concerns about the Government’s decision to centralize student finance applications from September 2009. Unlike previous years, where students applied through their local council, from this year students have to apply direct to the Student Loan Company via a national call centre.

Simon warned of ‘a disaster waiting to happen’ when he first spoke out at a meeting of Sefton’s Scrutiny Committee for Education and Children’s Services held on 10 February 2009. This is what he said then:

“I am concerned that this change is a big mistake. Many people have experiences of centralized government operations going seriously wrong – problems over the last 5 years with the tax credit system being the obvious example.”

“More recently, in recent months many young people have encountered serious difficulties in claiming Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The government’s track record with these centralized IT-based operations is far from good. I am worried that this could be another disaster waiting to happen.”

Simon also warned then about the problems of dealing with a remote bureaucracy.

“Now the only contact will be with a call centre 150 miles away. One of the biggest concerns is in relation to vulnerable students. How many of those are going to be discouraged from going into higher education through having to deal with a remote bureaucracy?”

As Southport MP John Pugh commented in February to the local press: “I am concerned that this will be yet another example of government-inspired ‘improvements’ which prove to be exactly the opposite.”

This was reported on the Birkdale FOCUS Blog last February:

Thursday, 10 September 2009

of cauliflowers and canvassing

Birkdale Lib Dems went canvassing this evening. It was very encouraging. As far as we could see our vote is very firm. Some people who we previously had down as Labour are now positive Lib Dems. We even found a couple of 'soft Tories' swinging our way.
It is always pleasing when people speak well of your efforts and we had a good few of those this evening. I did come across one 'hard Tory' who told me how useless the Tory candidate was and how Osborne was an embarrassment. He then went on to say only Vince Cable was credible on the economy, but he was still going to vote Tory. Ah well he was the only one like that tonight, there used to be lots of them!

Before I went out I went to the allotment. I have an embarrassment of large cauliflowers. Ellie got bored waiting for me to find the camera to take this photo ( mind you she will get a lot more fed up with all the cauliflower soup she is going to be eating!)

It is an enigma as to why it has taken so long

The 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2 continues continues to be marked by all manner of means. In our household this has been taken on a momentum of its own as our youngest daughter is starting out on her History GCSE course. We have read and watched numerous things about that period. Amongst them was the film with Kate Winslett about Bletchley Park and the cracking of the enigma code. One of our long standing ward members, who died last year, worked at Bletchley and so the whole episode has been of special interest. I was therefore interested in Johnathon Fryers posting on Alan Turing. There is a petition on the No. 10 website to support the campaign

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Allotment strategy for Sefton

It was good today to take time out from discusions about next years budget-not a year for the faint hearted-and what the future of the Library, Art Gallery and Arts Centre is -to join John Pugh our MP in talks with counci officals about allotments.

There has been a great surge in applications for allotments. Clearly there needs to be more land made available. I am keen to support that move. There is land available; some on sites where there used to be plots e.g. Segars Lane in Ainsdale, some on site awaiting development and also some on playing fields at Schools that have been shut. I also understand that there is a possibility of private sites becoming available attached to garden centres. The development of such sites need not be mega expensive-and given Sefton's budget next year they can't be.
In addition there is the option of providing more half plots as existing plot holders retire.
I do believe that a significant number of people expressing interest today will stay the course. Others, obviously, will drop out as the fashion fades and the hard work kicks in. Nevertheless we do have a golden opportunity to bring new people and ideas into allotments and like any other human activity it will profit from such recruits.
It would be good to see some schools take a plot as I am sure that the more different groups of people are using the plots the better support there will be in the community for the provision. Allotments can become very inward look and apart from the community and that is not desirable.
Several people have suggested that the allotment competitions that the council used to run should be brought back and certainly there is some silverware around.
Anyway the discussions that we had were very constructive and a new strategy for allotments is soon to be published for wide public consultation. I don't think that the issue is going to become the dominant issue in next May's elections as it was at the first county council elections in 1889. That was an important elections in many respects-it was the first since Gladstone expanded the franchise in1884 and became known as the allotment election with candidates declaring for and against an expansion of provisions. The allotmenteers (Liberals) won by a narrow margin and by 1890 the number of plots had reached close to half a million. We don't need that scale of expansion today but a bit of the spirit engendered 120 years ago would be welcome!

UKIP rattle Labour's cage whilst squabbling

UKIP have been causing a flurry of activity in Bootle. The Labour Party have always seen it as a no go area for other parties. Already this year they have suffered a defection to us on the council which offended their sense of what was divinely ordained. Now UKIP are rattling their cage as well. In last May's election Paul Nuttal came close to winning a seat from them. He was then elected as an MEP and plans to set up his office in Bootle I am told. He is the national Chair of UKIP and made the news today by falling out with another MEP-the party treasurer-over an internal matter .Mrs Andreason is a high profile UKIP MEP and it is good to see that UKIP continue to squabble Anyway back to Bootle. All of a sudden we have seen a rather pathetic version of a Labour leaflet appearing.
There are now three parties and Labour aren't use to challenge. They have been chased out of the rest of the borough-it wasn't so long ago that they held seats in Formby and Manor ward. Part of the issue is that they have failed to respond to the new political environment and are seeking comfort in the old political slogans popular in the 1970s and part is that Bootle is changing. There has been significant redevelopment and the old Labour certainties do not ring true to the new residents. Bootle -at least in the short term-will remain one of the safest of Labour seats but the earth is shifting.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The People's Pint

The People's Pint is a campaign launched by CAMRA to promote low alcohol beer. At the big Earls Court beer festival this year CAMRA was show casing a 2.8% beer. The campaign is backed by Alcohol Concern.
Today the BMA also launched a campaign to stop alcohol advertising.
There is a real problem surrounding the denial that a lot of Brits have about the impact of alcohol. When I was a young lad many folk simply did not accept that it was a drug-and what's more a powerful drug.
I like the idea of the People's Pint and I would certainly like to see the contribution it could make to a wider strategy on reducing the harm alcohol does acknowledged. I wonder if there with be any at the Southport Beer Festival this weekend?

putting up the price of salads will not balance the books

The obvious lack of substance in Cameron's speach this morning will have done nothing to persuade the doubters in his own party and in the country at large.
I was quite taken with Danny Alexander's rejoinder quoted on Libdem Voice:

There is a good argument to be made for cutting the cost of politics, the Liberal Democrats have proposed reducing the number of MPs by 150, but if the Conservatives seriously hope to convince people they are fit to govern it is time they stopped dodging the tough questions.

The Liberal Democrats have proposed not renewing Trident, David Cameron wants to increase the price of salads. While it’s nice to finally have some concrete proposals from the Conservatives, at this rate it would take them several centuries to balance the books.

David Cameron claims to want to cut spending but refuses to tell anyone how he hopes to achieve it. The Conservatives need to stop insulting our intelligence and set out what they really believe.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Question a doctor and lose your child?

Sefton council is again part of a news story about social care and children. This story raises important issues of principle. Here is the story as it impacts on Sefton. The full article can be found here.

Question a doctor and lose your child
By Daniel Foggo, Sunday Times, 6 September 2009

PARENTS are being threatened with having their children taken into care after questioning doctors’ diagnoses or objecting to their medical care.
John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP, who campaigns to stop injustices in the family court, said: “Very often care proceedings are used as retaliation by local authorities against ‘uppity’ people who question the system.”
Cases are emerging across the UK:
The mother of a 13-year-old girl who became partly paralysed after being given a cervical cancer vaccination says social workers have told her the child may be removed if she (the mother) continues to link her condition with the vaccination.
In the first of those cases, Ashleigh Cave, 13, from Liverpool, began experiencing severe headaches and dizziness half an hour after being inoculated last October with Cervarix, which guards against girls contracting the human papilloma virus.
The schoolgirl was soon collapsing repeatedly; she lost the use of her legs and was admitted to Alder Hey children’s hospital. Nearly 11 months later she is still in hospital and is unable to stand or walk unaided. Her mother, Cheryl, has now been told that doctors believe her condition must be psychosomatic.
“The hospital brought in social workers from the local authority who have told me they are considering putting Ashleigh on an at-risk register,” Cheryl Cave said. She is convinced her daughter’s paralysis was caused by the vaccination.
Cave said that a social worker from Sefton council said she suspected her of having Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy or factitious illness syndrome — controversial conditions in which mothers are said to attribute illnesses falsely to their children in order to gain attention.
Cave said: “The social worker said I should stop believing the injection has anything to do with Ashleigh’s condition because I am putting my thoughts on to her and stopping her getting well.
“Since Ashleigh was in hospital she has become incontinent and had double kidney infections and chest infections. Have I made all these up?”
Sefton council did not comment on the Ashleigh Cave case.

Friday, 4 September 2009

of course they haven't changed

I must admit I do feel a little sympathy for Cameron on some days. There he is deperate to prove his 'green' credentials-riding his bike, re-designing his logo and jetting off to have his photo taken watching the ice cap melt- then the whole project is undermined by his unreconstructed membership.
How his heart must sink when one of his members elected to public offices chooses to buy a gas-guzzler with the carbon footprint of a small nation. Sod the environment, sod the common good if you feel that you need that sort of status symbol then you declare a lot about your values. Mind you the young lass stood next to me observing this obscenity had a straight forward Freudian explanation why some men would feel the need to make such a purchase.
Alternatively they may just believe that climate change is a myth............

the parable of the mote and the beam?

A little vignette from yesterdays cabinet meeting of Sefton Council.

Firstly by way of background I should let you know that our Tory leader sees herself as a no nonsense commander of her troops. She doesn't like people doing things she disapproves of and feels free to say so. A few weeks ago she was up at a council meeting demanding to know which of our councillors had failed to attend a particular visit or meeting.

At the time I thought it was a bit rich coming from her as of the various Tories who have been designated (and paid) to shadow me in my cabinet role some have had very poor attendance records. But I kept my counsel thinking that such attacks would rebound.

And so it came to pass yesterday. Paul Cummins was presenting the report of a working party. The names of those involved were listed. Paul, Cliff and Sylvia Mainey. One Labour two Lib Dems. The Tory had no questions on the substance of the report but wanted to know whether there was a Tory on the working party. Paul was all politeness.
'Yes one had been appointed but not attended.'
' Was it just one meeting'
(well if she had read the report -it was on support for those who are socially disadvantaged-she would have known that there had been half a dozen meeting)
'We will speak afterwards so you can give me his name'

I daren't look round as the man behind me was humming the death march

Now the problem is some folk feel that the Tory leader is more influenced by whether she likes someone rather than basing her judgement on the worth of their contribution.

It would be best if she 'chilled out' a bit and took Mr Bennett's advice from Pride and Prejudice and recognised:

"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?"

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Phone Masts-new policy plea

Tonight we have another attempt to change Sefton Council's policy on phone masts. We have found that masts land up in residential areas despite better unpopulated sites being available because the council bans all masts on its own land. Surely it is better for a mast to be situated in a cemetery rather than yards from someones bedroom window?

Richard Hands explains in this video:

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Thomas More Children's Home

Nugent Care -the Catholic Church's Social Care Charity-have their Children's Home on Liverpool Rd., Birkdale up for sale. It has been boarded up for a while and local people have been anxious to know what its fate will be.

Firstly we ought to say that we fully understand that there is no call for the large scale Children's Home today, so that it entirely understandable that the Charity wishes to sell the asset and use the money for its activities.

The estate agents blurb suggests that it could become Old People's village or some such. The Southport Visiter carried the story where I made an alternative suggestion:

Liberal Democrat councillor Iain Brodie Browne has called on any
potential buyer to ease Southport’s affordable homes crisis.
Experts reckon the town is in need of some 6,000 properties for low-income and first time buyers.
Cllr Brodie Browne said: “We don't want a ghetto of properties that
only the mega rich can afford.
“We would want a proper mix and a good proportion of affordable homes. We are in desperate need of starter homes so young people can get a foothold on the property ladder.”
He added: “It would be great if instead of just doing the statutory minimum in environmental matters, Southport got a development that pioneered new eco-friendly methods which could help reduce our carbon footprint.
“We could create a 'green village' with homes that use new cutting edge technologies for power and construction.”

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Southport library,Art Gallery and Arts Centre

At last a report that tells us why we need to act over the 'Cultural Centre' There has been much controvesy in the press about the council's actions. Few have realised what a dire state the building is in or the impact of doing nothing. So to keep people up to date please read this report. The detail is a little buried sometimes but it is there. It is time to act and save our Library, art gallery and Arts Centre.

The phone mast story and the one about the flipping portfolio can wait....

I was blissfully unaware that that Total Politics were doing a poll of Lib Dem blogs and therefore was a little gobsmacked to see that the Birkdale Focus came in at No. 39 after 1500 people voted.

Congratulations to Charlotte Gore who topped the poll, also in the top ten were the excellent Liberal England and Mark Reckons who was no doubt boosted by his Radio 4 appearance to discuss his statistical analysis of the MPs expenses debacle.

In the Top 75 were The Disgruntled Radical up from 45 last year to 42, Nick Clegg's blog was at 45 and Johnathon Fryer whose on European and World Affairs have been mentioned here regularly-not to mention all things to do with Oscar Wilde- is at 32 with Chris Davis at 33.

Anyway back to business, I was going to tell you about the curious incident of the flipping portfolio. The mystery is was it caused by fear or opportunism? I've no time to explain now but I will return to this highly significant mystery.