Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


The irony of Cameron’s EU speech

The EU wants more of your money

Pro-EU: Ben Gummer MP

Despite the MP for Ipswich adding his name (as reported by Ipswich Spy) to a pro-European salvo dispatched a few days before David Cameron’s historical speech, Ben Gummer, ironically, might win a few votes off the back of the PM’s promise to give the British people an In-Out referendum on our membership of the European Union.

That’s if he doesn’t draw attention to his opposing letter and rabidly pro-European views…can he rein himself in?

But then Ben Gummer is a canny political operator as we saw with his anti-immigration leaflet during the 2010 General Election. If needs must, eh Ben?

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Rail mayhem on Great Eastern mainline

Train to nowhere: Greater Anglia services last night were thrown into chaos

Last night was the worst rail experience – by far – I have ever experienced on the shambles that is the Great Eastern mainline.

It was compounded by delays occurring on Tuesday as well because of “slippery rail conditions” – that is it was raining!

Yesterday though was beyond reason. Firstly, the service was due to be delayed because of speed restrictions. As soon as the conductor had told us this, and before we had even pulled out of London Liverpool Street, she came back on the tannoy to announce there had been a fatality at Goodmayes railway station in north east London. As soon as I heard this, I factored in a two hour delay.

I know how long it takes because I have previously been on a train which has hit a ‘jumper’. And by the time the police had found all the different body parts and bagged them up and once the driver had been relieved of his duty it had been a two hour wait. This is still way too long though to clean up the site.

But last night, things took even longer. Two hours later the conductor told us the police had yet to find a body and were still “investigating”. Half an hour later we were told there was no body, therefore nobody had committed suicide by train, and we would be soon on our way (slowly as you will find out in a moment!).

But first, why does it take two and a half hours for British Transport Police to realise no one has actually jumped in front of a train? The report from Morning Ipswich Star is almost comical. The train driver at Goodmayes thinks he saw someone lean off the platform despite there being no body on the line but there was a dent on the front of the train. So based on that flimsy account of events, thousands of people were held in cramp conditions, which would not be legal for transporting cattle, for hours.

Sardines: People pay good money to travel like this

Then the fun really began. By the time the police had decided they couldn’t find a body or body parts, they opened the line again (how nice of them). Two and half hours had elapsed. Our 19:00 service then became the 21:30 to Norwich and was duly announced on the station concourse at Liverpool Street as ready for departure. Bearing in mind it was standing room only on the held 19:00 service, five hundred people then descended on to the platform to board the same train. Infrequent passengers on the already standing-room-only train were asking where the hoards of people running down the platform were going? The look of incomprehension on their faces when we told them they were boarding this train was a picture to behold.

So, the police closed the line for two and half hours for “safety reasons” to hunt for a non-existent person but cramming in a further 500 people into already overcrowded small compartments for a three hour journey to Norwich is perfectly safe is it?

Health & Safety: Cattle have better travel conditions

We then finally crawled out of Liverpool Street at 21:30 but as if nothing else could go wrong, it did. A freight train broke down in front of us, forcing us to descend to a walking pace. We finally got into Ipswich at midnight. As one fellow commuter said, it would have been quicker to cycle the 80 miles from London.  All in all, because I had travelled from Reading yesterday, it took me seven hours to get home from work!

One thing that struck me last night was how hardly anyone complains when an event like this occurs. There was also a level of stupidity. Some people wanted to get something to eat and a drink (preferably alcoholic) but the buffet car was blocked by people sitting in the aisles. Instead of stepping out of the train on to the platform, walking a short distance and then stepping into the buffet car, several people just moaned (the only time they actually did complain) they couldn’t get through and went back to their seats! I think this must be one of the reasons why we have such a poor rail service in the UK: operators realise they can get away with it because the customers are either too polite or stupid to complain about the criminally expensive service they receive.

Well, you may have guessed I am not one for being quiet. First thing this morning I contacted my MP to highlight the woeful and time-wasting processes British Transport Police follow in the event of an actual or imagined fatality. I await Ben Gummer’s investigation.

To end, there is one main reason travelling in this country is such a horrible experience not matched on the European Continent: there are too many people. The immigration policies of the last fifteen years, primarily caused by the Labour Party to deliberately dilute the British identity, has led to South East England being one of the most densely populated regions in the world. We know it is caused by immigration as the indigenous birth rate has fallen off a cliff and every time I take a train it is like being at a session of the UN assembly considering the number of different languages being spoken into mobile phones up and down the carriage.

Now, I love different cultures and peoples but we can’t just continue ramming thousands of people into a small patch of land off the north coast of the European continent unless the public services are enhanced to reflect the demand. But that can’t happen without massive public spending and the UK taxpayer is already shelling out enough cash to the Exchequer. Therefore, the Government needs to “get with the programme” and start implementing a workable immigration policy. But for now, I’m just glad I am working from home today.

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The EU wants more of your money

EUSSR: You and I are being asked to give Brussels more money

I know – I am bit late to the party but I felt the need to at least say something about Wednesday’s vote on the EU budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening.

First off, I am not a sensationalist blogger unlike some of the mainstream newspapers who carefully forgot to mention Wednesday’s vote was not binding and was not even a vote on the EU budget at all. It was actually a “take note” vote on a report on the upcoming EU budget negotiations, with the catchy title Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020The report was tabled by the Government for the House of Commons to note the report but Conservative backbenchers took the opportunity to make a point about the profligacy of the EU and basically the corruption endemic in Brussels and Strasbourg by tabling an amendment to the report calling for a cut in the EU budget. The amendment was laid down by Tory MP Mark Reckless MP. Labour then duly backed the Conservative rebels as a text-book case of political opportunism.

In all, 53 Conseratives rebelled against the Government, and with Labour MPs voting with the amendment as well, the Government was defeated by 13 votes. Like I said, this was not a binding vote and therefore David Cameron and George Osborne can choose to ignore it but if they have the slightest political instinct they won’t.

53 rebels is a large swathe of the Tory Party and this will have worried Downing Street considerably. In fact, it would be fair to say the Government is in big trouble over it’s stance on Europe. The Prime Minister now needs to come back from the EU budget negotiations in Brussels later this month with some red meat for his restless backbenchers. He can’t veto the EU budget or the remaining 25 EU nations will just ignore the UK and instead of freezing the budget (plus 2% to keep up with inflation) they will increase it along with the UK’s contribution. This is just how corrupt and undemocratic the EU is. The sooner we leave the EU the better.

There is no way the Conservative parliamentary party, and for that matter the Labour Party, are going to allow any more money or power going over to Brussels – at least whilst this Coalition Government is in office.

Rebel: Mark Reckless MP

Let’s be sensible though. Labour haven’t suddenly become Eurosceptic – they would have abolished Britain as a sovereign state if they could have got away with it during their disastrous years in power from 1997-2010.  On Wednesday, they only backed Conservative MP Mark Reckless’ motion by traipsing through the No lobby with many Tory MPs to humiliate the Government and they will continue to do so as long as David Cameron and Nick Clegg are still in power. However, once Labour get back into power, which is likely in 2015, albeit in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, they will be back to their Europhile selves and will start the print run of cash to Brussels once again. Remember this when you come to vote in 2015.

I believe the Conservative rebels were speaking for the majority of the country. Brits are fed up with meddling from the EU. High energy prices are as a result of EU Co2 targets, 70% of our laws are made in Brussels, and dubious jurisdictions in far flung corners of Europe can have a British citizen arrested and extradited at the drop of a hat by deploying the European arrest warrant (police beatings are still part of the interview technique in some European states). To name but three.

The United Kingdom pumps £10 billion a year into EU coffers. Each MEP has the use of their own limo, they have special lanes at airports and for their cars on the roads of Brussels and Strasbourg, and the EU accounts haven’t been signed off for decades because so much money has gone missing. The EU parliament is a democratic front but our elected MEPs don’t even make the 70% of laws imposed on the UK: an unelected Commission does that – the same Commission Peter Mandelson once was a member of after he resigned from Blair’s Government for the SECOND time. A fiction writer couldn’t even make this up. Dictatorships are more democratic than the EU.

The UK economy may have its face out of the mud come the General Election in 2015 but she will still be on her knees. The best thing the Conservative Party can do is highlight the meddling and damage the EU does to our sovereign state during the election campaign, explaining how Labour gave back the rebate Margaret Thatcher won and how even more powers were ceded to Brussels by Gordon Brown sneaking into Portugal to sign the Lisbon Treaty. This campaigning strategy may be the only chance the Tories have of being returned to power.

Europhile: Ben Gummer MP

My MP, Ben Gummer, told Ipswich Spy after Wednesday night’s vote: “Very sad that the Conservative Party continues to do this to itself”. Sad, I’m delighted. At least some MPs represent the real views of the British public. Those on the Tory Far-Left, including Ben Gummer and Ken Clarke (I seriously can’t think of any more), think Europe is an unimportant topic. It is probably the most important topic there is in British politics today. Basically Britain is run by the EU – 70% of our laws are made in Brussels. In the 1990s, the Maastricht rebels were more concerned about British identity; identity politics is very important but the economy is even more important. Back in the 1990s, the European single market along with the US market WERE the economic powerhouses of the world. Not any more they aren’t. Europe and the US are very sick economies indeed. But in 2012, it is the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the so called BRIC countries) which are booming. Can the UK form a trade treaty with any one of these nations unilaterally? No. Only the EU can form a trading agreement. We have given away our sovereign power to trade with anyone we like to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

Therefore, frankly, Europe matters. It matters to every aspect of our lives: energy prices (which are going up because of make-believe EU Co2 emission targets), the right to a fair trial and humane treatment by police (which is not guaranteed because of the EU arrest warrant), jobs (Britain is banned for signing a unilateral trade agreement), and even the weeds growing in the pavement outside your house during the spring and summer are there because the EU has banned your council from spraying weed killer on them!

Like I said, the EU is the only topic in town. It will probably decide the next General Election.

Pretty important, eh?

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East Anglia rail commuters pay more for worse

Creaking: Trains on the Great Eastern mainline have seen better days
The Great Eastern mainline from Norwich to London is single track most of the way, runs the oldest trains on the national network (some were built in the 1970s!), has the worse punctuality in the country but still the passengers pay more per mile than any rail passenger in the UK and probably in Western Europe.
I’m lucky in that when I go to London on business I don’t personally have to pay for the journey from hell (I get to suffer it for free!) as I claim the cost from my employer. But I can’t claim the psychological costs from my employer!
However, I am very aware not only do people have to put up with a smelly, dirty unpunctual service from Greater Anglia (aka Abellio) but they have to pay for the privilege as well out of their own wages.
This has hit home today as my wife has secured a job in London. But this comes at a price: £5,608 and climbing to be precise. This is the cost of a 12 month rail season ticket from the Greater Anglia railway operator. Now, the firm my wife is joining is large and they can afford to provide a loan to my wife for her one and quarter hour commute into work everyday. But there is a limit her new company will loan her: £5,000. It doesn’t take an accountant to work out there is a shortfall of £608 there. When my wife raised this with her employer they would not budge above £5,000 as this is the maximum they can offer for tax law reasons but did state they were shocked by how expensive a season ticket between Ipswich and London is compared to the cost presented by other employees for a similar distance into London from other parts of the country.
Well, there is no need to be shocked any more. The reason East Anglia commuters pay more is because they are being milked by the Government to prop up railway services in the North of England, which if they weren’t subsidised by the hard pressed taxpayers of Suffolk and Norfolk would not be viable and would have to shut down because of a lack of demand. Sounds like socialism to me.
I know Ipswich MP Ben Gummer is lobbying transport ministers to change the funding formula for the railway network in the UK so it is fairer and promotes more investment in the creaking track and rolling stock infrastructure. But it is is a disgrace we have been paying more for a worse service for so long.


Roadworks chaos could decide next election

Whilst walking into the town centre yesterday for an appointment and back to my house again it felt as if East Ipswich had been bombed. There are holes in the road everywhere with what looks like a crater in Fore Street.

As the blogosphere and dead tree press have reported there are two things going on: 1) a gas mains replacement in Fore Street and 2) a series of transport works as part of the £21 Million ‘Travel Ipswich‘ programme.

On the first set of roadworks, this project has overrun. A meeting with business owners, MP Ben Gummer and Suffolk County Council was held this week but there was one noticeable absence: Ipswich Borough Council. It seems from reports in the Morning Ipswich Star the County’s transport chief Cllr Guy McGregor spent the meeting blaming Ipswich Borough Council for National Grid not completing their work sooner. I wonder if he mentioned that his County Council is actually the highways authority and that the Borough Council just facilitates the closure of the road as the highways agency. And did he also mention that Suffolk County Council intend to outsource the entire highways department to a private company in April next year?

Labour Council transport chief Cllr Phil Smart

However, it is true to say Ipswich Borough Council are responsible for putting pressure on National Grid to get their work finished on time and to fill their crater in as soon as possible. The way this is done is through something called “project management”. In short it means transport officers should be on the case of National Grid managers day in, day out, asking for updates on when they will be finished and explaining the legal consequences if they don’t finish by an agreed deadline. Political leadership is also very important. The Labour Borough transport portfolio holder, Cllr Phil Smart, has regular meetings with senior transport officers at Grafton House. At these meetings he should be pushing his officers hard for a swift conclusion of the gas mains work: is he doing this or is he spending these meeting talking about his pet subject: trains. Think trainspotter and you pretty much sum up Cllr Smart!

The only time transport projects got done in a timely manner is when Tory Tanya Maclure (yes, I declare an interest!) was the transport chief at the Borough. Believe me, officers knew to keep to schedule when Tanya was overseeing their work! Cllr Smart is one of those who “steers”, not “leads” it would seem.

With number (2) above, I am all for improving and developing our infrastructure, which ‘Travel Ipswich’ will do, but the disruption is going to be massive and the heavy duty works haven’t even started yet. The Civic Drive/Princes Street roundabout is going to be shortly torn up with the pedestrian underpasses filled in: this will take months to complete and will undoubtedly cause traffic chaos. But this is part of ‘Travel Ipswich”s aims: the government via Suffolk County Council want to make it hell for car drivers to the extent they will be forced to wait in the rain for a bus which is half an hour late. This would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

The ‘Travel Ipswich’ programme has multiple engineering teams, some from the County and some from the Borough. Ipswich Borough Council are in charge of widening and re-laying the pavements along Grimwade Street and Fore Street, along with other schemes. I was walking home yesterday evening and crossed Grimwade Street at the bottom-end close to the Waterfront but I soon met a dead-end on the eastern side of the junction – there was no pavement. It was rectified by turning back to the traffic island and crossing over to the Waterfront side of Fore Street heading up to the Duke Street junction – however, several pedestrians took their lives into their hands and walked along the road instead!

It is by the Council not putting up adequate signs and barriers which compounds the inconvenience experienced by road users and pedestrians alike during major transport works. Better management of ‘Travel Ipswich’ starting from the political leaders at the Borough Council will ease the transition to a better transport system. Alternatively, the patience of voters will snap. The disruption in Ipswich over the coming months WILL have an affect in the County Council elections next year and could also be a deciding factor for Ben Gummer at the next General Election. Now, that should concentrate minds!


Ipswich hears from former M&S boss but will Labour be listening

Successful: Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose

Today the second Beacon Town Conference is taking place in Ipswich at the Corn Exchange. The conference is organised by the Morning Ipswich Star and brings together local business leaders and politicians to discuss how to improve the economy of Suffolk’s county town. 

This time round Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has managed to persuade the former boss of Marks & Spencers, Sir Stuart Rose, to attend the conference as a keynote speaker to offer his thoughts on how Ipswich can improve its retail offering. The conference delegates will also discuss how to get their hands on £24 Million of the government’s Future Cities fund.

Earlier in the week during the Star’s promotion of the conference, I noted how Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere tried to hold on to Mr Gummer’s coattails when he was quoted in the local paper saying it was a “real coup for the town” getting Sir Stuart to attend the event.

Socialist: Cllr David Ellesmere pursues Michael Foot policies

The fact of the matter is that without an MP like Ben Gummer who has connections far and wide through the family business of politics, Cllr Ellesmere would never be able to attract the likes of Sir Stuart Rose to come and speak at a provincial town business conference. 

But the Council can’t rely on the MP to develop Ipswich’s economy. That is not the MP’s job. Ben Gummer is tasked with representing Ipswich in Westminster and bending the ear of ministers and mandarins in Whitehall to get the best deal for Ipswich people. 

However, the political local leadership must come from the local authorities who are at the coal-face in the town day-in, day-out. Council leaders must be the primary drivers of change and development. This is where we are distinctly lacking in Ipswich. We don’t have such a leader. Borough chief executive James Hehir, before his untimely death, came close but he was a civil servant and should never have had to step into the shoes of a political leader. But he had to because no political council leader was a-coming. 

Ipswich has many things going for it, including a shopping centre which is actually quite good with a wide variety of retailers, the largest UK base for Willis insurance brokers outside of London and Europe’s largest research and development centre on its doorstep: BT Adastral Park in Martlesham. And even with dreadful rail infrastructure and chronic overcrowding, Central London is one hour, fifteen minutes away. But more must be done to develop Ipswich fit for the twenty first century: there are very few big private employers with public sector employment heavily relied upon which in the present “cuts” environment is not good for the local economy’s medium to long term health. And the transport links are more akin to the Victorian age rather the Digital age.

Things can be better but it requires local political leadership from Ipswich Borough Council. At the moment we have a Labour council leader and a Labour Administration who yearn for the 1970s, who are rabidly anti-enterprise and anti-aspiration. Cllr Ellesmere fits the bill of a old-style Labour leader – he has everything other than the donkey jacket. Is central government really going to part with £24 Million with this man?

For Ipswich to move forward to the next level, we need a dynamic leader who gets economics, aspiration and growth. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how many high profile retailers, entrepreneurs and other successful leaders appear at provincial town business conferences if, when the keynote speakers go home back to the home counties, there is no one left back in Ipswich who can absorb the ideas and then lead a team to implement them. 

Representative: Ipswich MP Ben Gummer 

Don’t look at Ben Gummer to do the Council leader’s role. The MP is doing his bit: ministers and Whitehall mandarins know for the first time in twenty years where Ipswich actually is on a map. Our health services at Ipswich Hospital and our schools have directly benefited as a result of Mr Gummer’s work representing the town in Westminster. But that isn’t enough if we are to attract investment to Ipswich. Without a go-getting council leader, Ipswich will only ride the economic wave rather than chart a successful course. 

We are certainly not seeing any spark or vision from the current Labour administration and leader. Even before they got their hands back on the levers of power in 2011 they colluded to turn their backs on 900 jobs and £70 Million of investment when they voted against Tesco’s proposed development of the old B&Q site on Grafton Way. Then once they were in power they continued their anti-enterprise agenda by voting against the conversion of a closed Green King pub site on Woodbridge Road into a new retail unit with new jobs. Labour’s campaign slogan should be: “Against jobs and investment”.  

It is not as if Labour can’t deliver growth and prosperity to a town: look at Reading in Berkshire, a town not so dissimilar to our own. The electorate consistently vote a Labour administration into their council but here the Labour councillors actually showed some leadership back in the 1990s and attracted millions of pounds of investment to turn what was a run-down dump of a town centre into one of the best retail environments in the country with The Oracle Centre. Their can-do attitude and strong leadership undoubtedly also attracted some of the biggest IT firms in the world – Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco etc. – to setup shop on the town’s periphery. Ipswich PLP take note!

Back in Ipswich, the Borough Labour leader might not have a donkey jacket but the similarities with Michael Foot are there for all to see. The sad thing for Ipswich is I think Cllr Ellesmere might quite enjoy the comparison.

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Ipswich MP joins the Government

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer

I learnt last night from Ipswich Spy that Ben Gummer has accepted a role in the Coalition Government as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to International Development Minister Alan Duncan.

A PPS is the lowest rung on the greasy pole of Government and is unpaid although the level of access and kudos is certainly an enough reward for an aspiring Government minister, which in accepting this post Mr Gummer must be. But I am not sure this will happen any time soon as David Cameron is unlikely to do a big reshuffle before the next General Election in 2015. And without constituency boundary changes to correct the inbuilt advantage for Labour (now vetoed by the Liberal Democrats as “punishment” for Cameron ditching Lords Reform) it is looking unlikely the Conservatives will win the next election, with or without Boris. I am in full favour of a Conservative majority government but without more Conservative policies going faster and deeper such as debt reduction, actually implementing welfare reforms and getting a grip on immigration this is not going to happen and the Yellow Peril quite frankly can’t wait to jump into bed with Labour, once they’ve ditched Mr Clegg, so a new Conservative-Lib Dem coalition is never going to happen again.

I would have hoped Ben Gummer had got a job in the Business Department or the Treasury as putting aside his bizarre views on the environment and Europe he is a proper Tory when it comes to the economy. But, alas, fellow Conservative Therese Coffey, the MP for the seat next door, Suffolk Coastal, has become PPS to Business Minister, Michael Fallon.

I am sure Ben Gummer is an ardent supporter of International Aid, being on the Left of the Tory Party, but I hope his economics brain is at the forefront when working alongside Mr Duncan and he makes it clear that giving aid to India so they can buy warships has to end.