Sunday, 23 August 2009

Books in the West Midlands

People often complain how difficult it is to get things done in August because so many people are away on holiday with their families. I have to say that, over the last two-three weeks, I have encountered this frustration. Phone call after phone call and …

It was therefore almost with relief that my wife dragged me away to the West Midland this weekend to visit her parents.

I used the opportunity to relax and stick my head in some books. If you are interested I revisited my youth to read a Louis L’Amour western (I read dozens of his books when I was a teenager), followed that up with the biography of singer, actor and political campaigner Kris Kristofferson and then an amazing novel by Bernhard Schlink entitled The Reader.

Let us hope I haven’t got any of those names and titles wrong – see previous posting!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Media coverage and ...oops!

Press coverage is a funny beast. Sometimes, it is great to see a campaign or an issue raised in the media; at other times, one can be disappointed at the coverage. And then there are those occasions when newspaper reports do not fully reflect what is said at meetings.

I had that experience recently following a Cornwall Council meeting when councillor expenses were debated. I made what I thought was a balanced contribution. I commented on a range of issues (which I will not go into in depth here) but included the fact that the make-up of the Council, in terms of age, etc, did not reflect the make-up of the wider population and this was partly to do with how the role was renumerated. I made a light-hearted comment about there being a lot of ‘grey hair’ in the Council chamber which was primarily a joke at myself – I may only be 42 but I certainly have few black hairs left on my head. I pointed to my head whilst making the comment and the punchline was so obvious that the Chairman of the meeting even beat me to it.

The ‘grey hair’ comment was reported in the press without the wider context, alongside a disconnected comment about encouraging younger people into politics. As a consequence, I have received post accusing me of being disrespectful to older people.

At the same time, I was pleased to be contacted by the Newquay Voice who told me they were going to report some comments I made on my blog (see my August 2nd posting) in what was last week’s paper. In the event, I was a little disappointed that the edit lost some sense of the original but they also kindly asked me to answer a series of questions (such as my favourite place in Cornwall, my three favourite films, etc) to print a profile of me in the same paper.

I was asked to produce the text within 5-6 hours and I duly obliged. It was a hard thing to do and I pondered over it quite a bit. For example, in terms of favourite books, I considered a number including Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird – both of which I read as a child. Amazingly, I settled on “Laurie Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird” – a schoolboy error happily pointed out by Bob the Hat in his column in this week’s papers. To repeat what he said – oops!

For interest, the corrected version of my answers that were printed in the Newquay Voice is as follows:

Your three favourite books

My house is stacked floor to ceiling with books and it would extremely difficult to choose just three. But I will go for the recent biography of Gwynfor Evans (the first MP for Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales); Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird which I first read as a pupil at Newquay Treviglas School and have re-read since; and 500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians by Alvin M. Josephy.

Your three favourite pieces of music
I have a very wide-ranging taste in music. Three favourites would be the What’s Going On album from Marvin Gaye, which mixes outstanding music with vital social comment; the Too-Rye-Ay album by Dexys Midnight Runners – a favourite of my youth – and a wonderful compilation that I have of the jazz saxophone player Paul Desmond.

Your three favourite films
I love historical epics and powerful films. Favourites would include Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (the Hollywood version of the life of Scottish rebel William Wallace); Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe (the story of boxer Jim Braddock in the US Depression of the 1930s); and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life starring James Stewart.

Your three favourite hobbies
My life is extremely busy and I don’t have hobbies as such. I support Redruth Rugby Club and try to get to most home games. It is also true that nothing beats a good walk on a Cornish moor or along our wonderful coastline.

Your favourite place in Cornwall
I grew up on the edge of the Goss Moor, where I am still at my most happy - especially in those more hidden areas that many walkers do not visit!

Your favourite food
My favourite would be the plate that is piled nice and high!

Your favourite shop
I love second-hand bookshops and have fond, sometimes expensive, memories of such shops throughout Cornwall and further afield.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Area networks

Today, I attended the second meeting of the Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Three items were considered for further scrutiny (i) the Fire Service, (ii) a potential PFI bid for housing and (ii) Area Networks.

Unsurprisingly, I had a lot to say – particularly on the issue of affordable housing (more on that another time).

On the subject of the 19 Area Networks, there has been considerable informal debate by the members of the Council. The portfolio holder with responsibility says there is a commitment to the “Community Network Areas … as administrative areas” but some members appear less than supportive of the panels, that are planned to involve elected members and others, at the centre of the networks.

Some councillors appear worried that a large town would dominate rural parishes or indeed vice versa.

In the China Clay Area, we had a good Area Committee for many years and, for this area in particular, made up of numerous village communities, it is vital that the Network is allowed to function. A strong member-led panel in this area would be an important adjunct to what we do.

I believe there are many issues – but they are not to do with the principle of a panel. They are to do with the detail of how it would work, the links between the Cornwall Councillors, the parishes, etc. And most importantly, the main issue is the appropriate resourcing of the panel.

Take community funding as an example. Councillors have been allocated £2,200 each for a community pot – a total of £13,200 for the six councillors in our area for this coming year. By contrast, I have worked out that in the previous seven years, Restormel had awarded grants to community groups in our patch to a total of £357,000 – an annual figure of £51,000!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Getting to grips with Cornwall's waste

I have been on coach trip today with Cornwall Council’s Waste Panel of which I am a member. We started at United Mines Landfill Site (above) before moving onto the Material Recycling Facility at Pool, a Waste Transfer station and a Household Waste Recycling Centre, both at St Erth, as well as a composting facility at Splattenridden near Lelant.

We saw a lot of good practice but, at the same time, it was horrifying to see so much material, that could reused and recycled, dumped into landfill.

This certainly impressed on me the importance of the work of the Waste Panel and the need to come up with a truly sustainable way to deal with Cornwall’s waste. I am looking forward to playing my role in this.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

MK is doing well in St Austell and Newquay

Over the last six months, I have received the three or four leaflets from Stephen Gilbert, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for St Austell and Newquay. His party seem to be investing a massive amount of money in the constituency – the leaflets were not delivered by Lib Dem volunteers but by the Royal Mail!

The latest one is a booklet rather than a leaflet. It is entitled “Real change for one and all” – even though he wishes to continue the Liberal Democrat representation of the area!

My presence in the race is clearly inconvenient for him. In many places in the booklet, Stephen is referred to as the “only local candidate” before it has to add “from the main political parties.” Interestingly, his localness does not extend to using a local printer. It was printed in London.

The publication does however recognise that MK is doing well in the constituency by telling people not to support us. In the past, we have always been ignored in their literature. They usually claim it is a two-horse race between them and the Tories with Labour unable to win.

This time it states “Labour and Mebyon Kernow are out of the race in St Austell and Newquay – a vote for them will only help the Conservatives win.” We even get to appear on a graph.

Thanks for the kind works and the recognition Stephen.

In the most recent elections, it was certainly more complicated than this.

In the Cornwall Council elections in this area, ten Lib Dems were returned alongside seven Conservatives, five independents and yours truly for MK. I think I am correct in saying that the Conservatives won more votes than the Liberal Democrats. MK did fairly well but only stood in four seats.

In the European Election, the votes from the ‘Restormel’ area reflect the St Austell and Newquay constituency quite well though not exactly. The result was as follows:

Conservative Party - 7,012 (26.59%)
UKIP - 6,109 (23.17%)
Liberal Democrats - 4,794 (18.18%)
Mebyon Kernow - 2,346 (8.90%)
Green Party - 1,598 (6.06%)
Labour Party - 1,250 (4.74%)
British National Party - 1,063 (4.03%)

In spite of the limited coverage given to the campaign, MK was very pleased with the result and we consider it a good base for campaigns over the next few months.

PS. It is normal practice for the Liberals to claim it is a two-horse race, even when it isn’t. In the recent Norwich North By-election, their leaflets claimed that the race was “set for a thrilling finish between local champion April Pond [the Lib Dem] and the Tory Westminster insider” and included "polling evidence" that placed the Lib Dems second. In the event, they came third.

Closer to home, two years ago in an election for a three-seat ward on Kerrier District Council, the Lib Dems put out a last minute leaflet claiming that only the Lib Dems could beat the Tory. MK actually topped the poll and, some days later, one of their activists admitted that they knew we were going to win all along but put out the leaflet anyway!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Eco-town update

It has been interesting to note the comments on the eco-town from my political opponents in recent weeks.

Lib Dem PPC Stephen Gilbert claimed that the “eco-town could bring the Clay Area back to life” (I didn’t know it was dead) while Conservative Caroline Righton welcomed the proposals which she described as “ambitious and brave.”

Labour’s Lee Jameson meanwhile said that “Labour has come though for the people of Cornwall” before criticising the Conservatives and Lib Dems for opposing the scheme. He clearly hasn’t been in the area much in the last few months – if he had been here, he would have seen David Cameron photo-opportunities with Imerys and the Lib Dem Executive of Cornwall Council backing the scheme.

Matthew Taylor MP is also backing the scheme, which he believes is an alternative to “large-scale piecemeal low quality estates over the next few years to meet the housing needs locally without the jobs and facilities these communities need.” I believe this to be an ill-considered position. Accepting top-down diktats also runs counter to the ‘campaign’ by the MPs against the Regional Spatial Strategy.

It seems that I have a distinctive position from all the other PPCs and I will endeavour to make sure that I remain true to these principles.