Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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An idea for improving democracy in Ipswich

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Why does Ipswich Borough Council not webcast its meetings?

Next Wednesday on a cold winter’s night all the councillors of Ipswich Borough Council and most of the senior officer team will traipse down to the Town Hall to have a meeting of the Full Council.

As wind farms or hackney carriage fares are not being discussed, there will be very few members of the public present. If it wasn’t for three bloggers who plan to be in attendance, including myself, the Ipswich public would hardly know anything of the decisions that will be made in their name by councillors next week.

As much as I disagree with everything Labour council leader Cllr David Ellesmere says, I strongly believe his every utterance in his role as a councillor should be heard by as many Ipswich residents as possible. That’s why I would like to see the Borough Council follow the lead of other local authorities and start webcasting key council meetings, such as the town hall meeting and major committee meetings at Grafton House.

Brighton & Hove City Council already webcast their public meetings, as do Maidstone Borough Council, Leicester City Council and Thanet District Council plus many other local authorities.

Why doesn’t Ipswich Borough Council? The technology is simple, the initial investment is not onerous, and with the internet accessible by most Ipswich residents the democratic gain is enormous.

The Borough Council currently makes good use of social media like Facebook and Twitter, with alerts on bin collections during the current snowy cold snap being a particular good example. So why not develop democracy in Ipswich further by introducing webcasting? There’s no excuse really. Ipswich Borough Council has three IT professionals serving as councillors, which was four when I sat on the council, and two current councillors work for telecommunications giant BT at the firm’s R&D site on the edge of Ipswich.

Ipswich should have been one of the first councils to start webcasting. What’s stopping you, IBC?


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The Socialist Republic of Ipswich

Ipswich Council doesn’t even try to hide it’s Socialist ideology

I don’t know if the sight of a snowman sitting in a park without a care in the world is more surreal than the sight of a park bench dedicated to Socialism in Ipswich, England.

This bench is in Alexandra Park and I am told, when the snow isn’t covering it, a very sturdy concrete base has been embedded into the ground as well, no doubt to stop those pesky Tories from removing the bench. The fault in that thinking is Tories believe in law and order whereas Labour are soft on crime.

Anyway, back to the immortalisation of Socialism in Alexandra Park. This is the same park which hosts the annual TUC Tory-bashing event, heavily subsidised by Ipswich Borough Council (as in you and I pay for a bunch of Socialists to sing the Red Flag and drone on about the evil “Tory cuts”).

It was particularly gut-wrenching to learn that it was the former Conservative-led coalition at Grafton House who allowed the multi-acre park to continue to be rented for a measly £250 (less than a meeting room costs to rent in central Ipswich) with security and cleaning-up thrown in for free. Needless to say, Labour have carried on as normal and gone one further by spending tax payers’ money to install a homage to one of the worst and truly evil political systems in the world: Socialism.

You couldn’t make it up.


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I back Nadia Cenci for Tory Leader

Ipswich Spy have being doing some good political reporting on the Ipswich Borough Council Conservative Group leadership contest with their sources telling them there will only be two contenders for the top job: current Deputy Leader Cllr Chris Stewart and Cllr Nadia Cenci.

Current canvassing looks as if Cllr Chris Stewart will win the ballot. This is not good news. As much as Cllr Stewart is an intelligent chap, who I have always found amiable, and instinctively is a Tory rather than a “wet” Cameroon, he is not exactly box office. The current Deputy Leader of the Tory Group might have a grasp of detail and could quite happily table and trundle through pointless motion after motion (which is all opposition parties can do) but he does not stir people to sit up and listen. His diction is at best monotonous, at worst, dare I say it, boring. With most of the electorate not even bothering to turn up and vote for local government councillors, do the Tories really want a man leading them who would not stand out in a crowd?

But the Conservatives at Grafton House are in luck. They have a person in their midst, who despite having some strange views, DOES make people sit up and listen: Cllr Nadia Cenci. And she can actually be heard in a Council chamber: the acoustics might be bad but I can always hear every word Cllr Cenci says whereas when most councillors stand up they drone on to the point individual words don’t punctuate through the ether. Given politics is about the art of communication, this is a pretty dire state of affairs.

I have not always agreed with Cllr Cenci. For instance, when she was Communities Portfolio Holder, during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at the Borough Council, I saw her give far much lee-way to so-called “charities”, some of which basically were businesses in another guise, but I always respected Cllr Cenci’s passion and active approach to her brief. When it comes to bread-and-butter Tory subjects like the economy, you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between Cllr Cenci and I. Nadia Cenci is no shrinking violet. She says what’s on her mind and be damned with the consequences. Some members of her own political group might not like this but the media love it. Cllr Cenci is a reporter’s dream: copy guaranteed on every occasion!

Experience is also a big factor when it comes to choosing a leader. This does not mean they should be 101 years old and have done and seen it all. That is not experience, that’s just an ability to not die. Cllr Stewart’s Achilles heel is his lack of experience as a councillor with only two years spent in an Opposition role, which, frankly, is a basic level. Cllr Cenci on the other hand has been on the Executive Committee as a Portfolio Holder when the Tories ran the Council between 2004 and 2011: that counts for a lot when it comes to knowing how to deal with officers (ever a thorn in a Tory councillor’s side) and the politics of local government, skills which a Conservative Opposition will need in droves just to survive as a distinct force on the Council over the coming years.

So, who do the Tories want to be their face to the public: a retired schoolteacher with a touch of the Sir Humphrey about him or a brash Anglo-Italian who, when she stands up and speaks, the blogosphere and the Ipswich Morning Star’s Mr Geater reach for their notebooks. How does the old saying go? All publicity is good publicity. You never know, there might be some votes in it – if I was standing as a Conservative candidate this year or next, I’d be happy with that.

As a sidebar, it is disappointing to see two young Tory councillors sitting on the sidelines in this leadership election. Both Cllr Richard Pope and Cllr Kym Stroet sit in ultra-safe Bixley ward in the east of the town; they are both capable of taking on the mantle of leader but have decided not to throw their hat into the ring. The Conservative Group ARE going to lose seats in 2014: would it have not been wiser for Cllrs Pope and Stroet to step up to the plate rather than see the leadership being decapitated next year?


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Tory leader resigns

Stepping down: Cllr John Carnall

No, not that one (if only!). Cllr John Carnall, leader of the Tory Group on Ipswich Borough Council resigned on Thursday for reasons unknown.

I learnt about this news via Ipswich Borough Council’s Facebook post. An email from the powers that be in the local Conservative Association announcing the move would have been nice but I guess I’m only a fully-paid up member of said Party.

Deputy Tory Group leader Cllr Chris Stewart will be stewarding the Opposition Group during the Leadership Election period.

My front runners for the top job in no particular order are Chris Stewart, Richard Pope, Nadia Cenci, Kym Stroet and Judy Terry.


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I am your father, Richard

Christmas spirit: Ipswich Town Hall

I attended the full meeting of Ipswich Borough Council, where all 48 councillors should (but rarely all do) turn up for a good old political ding-dong.

Local Government, and especially district councils like Ipswich, is terribly bloated with councils having probably double the number of staff they really need to do the basics: collect the rubbish from the kerbside and the litter from the street (although this is rarely done in residential areas if at all), tend to the parks, collect the business rates and do the only thing district councils have any real power over: processing planning applications. The rest of their activity on community cohesion, applying for Fairtrade town status, ensuring council house residents eat five pieces of fruit a day etc is merely done to keep people in non-jobs. When did government become a place for people who can’t get any meaningful productive work to spend their days?
Wannabe MP: Cllr David Ellesmere
Anyway, this is why full council meetings are 80% pointless. Motions are put forward which boil down to an hour of hot air which achieve a big fat zero. Take the motion proposed by wannabe Labour MP David Ellesmere, Labour council leader and part-time software engineer on the rumoured closure of the Royal Mail sorting office on Commercial Road. What power has Ipswich Borough Council got to stop it? That’s right, no power at all. Do you think Royal Mail even know a motion was proposed last night? Did they hear it? A few posties turned up but was anyone from Royal Mail management there taking note of this earnest motion. No. Most Royal Mail management wouldn’t even know when or where Ipswich Borough Council met or which political party was in charge.
On a political note, Cllr Ellesmere’s motion backfired on him. He was hoping the Tories would be in favour of the sorting office closure. Not so. The Tory amendment  presented by their leader Cllr John Carnall, went one further and said Ipswich should be the sorting office centre of East Anglia. The posties even clapped Tory John. When the motion ping-pong ball was batted back to the Labour leader he didn’t know what to do with himself. So he proceeded to tie himself in knots by saying he agreed with the Tory amendment but didn’t agree with it and he wanted Cllr Carnall to drop his amendment so Labour could adopt the Tory amendment and present it as their own amendment. Cllr Ellesmere made himself look like a little schoolboy who wanted to have the last word. The arithmetic at the council meant Cllr Carnall had little choice but to agree to Cllr Ellesmere’s childish plan.
Then the meeting moved on to Council Questions. This is probably the only part of the gathering which has any meaning and benefit to the democratic process. It’s just a pity no one hears the questions and answers other than the councillors and two or three members of the public who normally turn up. This is why Ipswich Borough Council’s communications officers should pull their finger out and get on with web-casting council meetings to the wider Ipswich community. 
I love wind farms: Cllr Sandy Martin
Questions about the height (they will each be 130 metres tall) of the proposed wind turbines at Thorington Hall were asked by A Riverside View blogger Kevin Algar to Cllr Sandy Martin, Portfolio Holder for Fairer and Greener Ipswich, who yet again dismissed the concerns of local residents over these monstrosities. Labour love wind farms so why bother standing up for the majority of residents who don’t: it is clear Labour will not represent local residents and in doing so are actively supporting the wind farm development by not standing in the way of energy firm Partnership for Renewables . 
There was also a question from Cllr Carnall on council tax for 2013/14 to finance chief Cllr Martin Cook. Cllr Cook refused to say whether council tax would increase. Labour have form in raising council tax rather than find savings so don’t be surprised if the Ipswich precept goes up in April.
We also learnt at the meeting through a question from Cllr Robin Vickery that emergency repairs to County Hall, the former home of Suffolk County Council, are taking place. The site has been stood derelict since 2005 and is in a bad state. Its listed status and current financial climate seems to be delaying any development. And Cllr Judy Terry got out of culture chief Cllr Bryony Rudkin that the number of performances at council-owned The Regent theatre dropped in 2011. This is typical of Labour: they inherit a revitalised Regent theatre – masterminded by former culture chief Cllr Terry when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats ran the council – and they begin to run it down the moment they get their hands on it. Just like the economy.
Next up was a report on Council benefits and how from April 2013 local councils will be responsible for paying out discounts on council tax to those on low incomes from their own budgets as determined in the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The Coalition Government’s aim is to force councils to find savings in all that non-job stuff like five-a-day coordinators and segregating communities in the name of multiculturalism (didn’t they get the memo from David Cameron?) rather than see their low wage voters miss out on a council tax discount. This got socialist Cllr Keith Rawlingson very excited about people deserving hand-outs. He should try living in Eastern or Southern Europe where they wouldn’t know to laugh or cry if you told them how much taxpayer’s money was dished out to people to top up their salaries here in the UK. Despite all this fuming from Red Keith and for the record, Labour in Ipswich chose to hit people on low incomes rather than scrap pointless activity at Grafton House.
Paternity test: Cllr Richard Pope
The final business item was another motion, this time from Tory Cllr Richard Pope, the Shadow Housing Portfolio Holder. Cllr Pope proposed, in keeping with the Christmas spirit and saying thank you to Father Christmas for our presents, the council should ask the Chief Executive, Russell Williams, to write a thank you letter to the Government’s housing minister, Mark Prisk MP, congratulating the Government on their Housing Revenue Account reforms, which will allow local councils to keep more of the money they collect from council housing tenants. This money is being used by the current Labour administration in Ipswich to build new council houses. 
As amusing as the motion was it served no purpose other than a light political knock-about before the Christmas recess. Cllr Ellesmere questioned why Cllr Pope didn’t write his own thank you letter but instead wanted to get his “dad” to write it for him. A sound of bemusement spread through the council chamber. Was Russell Williams Cllr Pope’s father? 
This little quip from the Labour leader spoke volumes on how Labour councillors see officers as superior to them. Either that, or the chief executive is to tell Cllr Pope: “I am your father, Richard”.


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Ipswich Borough Council accused of political bias

The front page of Ipswich Borough Council’s The Angle this month leads with the headline “Will you be hit by welfare cuts?”.  Ipswich Spy reported last week Conservative councillors at the Borough were not happy with the content before it was pushed out.

Either the Communications department at the Council is incompetent or complicit in political campaigning for the Labour Party. The Angle is meant to be an information publication for the residents of Ipswich to keep them up-to-date with council services and community events. It is not meant to be used by the political administration of the day to peddle their “cuts” agenda.
The word “cuts” is loaded and highly political at the present time. The fifth paragraph even says: “These are Government plans
but the Council is advising thousands of Ipswich residents
on benefits that they could be affected.” Why would a neutral local authority newspaper use the word “Government” as if it were a far off entity when in fact the civil servant led aspect of Ipswich Borough Council is merely an extension of the Whitehall civil service. It is a deliberate political piece of writing.
Political parties and people who vote for those parties have differing views on how to deal with the current economic crisis in this country. Some see Government as bloated and requiring cuts in spending to reduce the deficit and pay down the national debt (although the Coalition Government has clearly failed to do that) but others believe the Government is cutting “too far, too fast“, with others actually suggesting we increase public spending (these people are quite mad or bad in my opinion).
But a local authority should not be coming down on one side or another of this debate. The Angle is paid for by the taxpayers of Ipswich who don’t all believe reductions in public spending is a bad thing. The front-page article makes it clear in the headline that is what Ipswich Borough Council as a body (not the political administration who run the council) think: that is wrong and dangerous to our democracy.
The chief civil servant at Grafton House, Russell Williams, should get a grip and ensure the Council abides by the law on civil service impartiality.


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EU imposed wind farms need to stop

Wind farms: Next stop, Ipswich

Mixed in with the furore over the Ipswich Tory Group trying to ban Twitter, there were several wind farm questions at the Town Hall Council meeting on Wednesday.

This was the reason for the public gallery overflowing into the main chamber, with additional seating needing to be brought out to cope with the demand. There were lots of irate South West Ipswich residents.
The irritation was because it is possible in the coming months planning permission will be granted for two 130 metres tall wind turbines on land owned by Ipswich Borough Council between Belstead and Pinewood, known as Thorington Hall. The planning authority is actually Babergh District Council but I believe Ipswich Borough Council has a democratic duty to listen and support residents in the Borough who will be affected by these pointless monstrosities. The residents who turned out last night are not very happy at all with the prospect of noise and shadow flicker impacting on their quality of life.
You see wind turbines have very little impact on the electricity grid. For large parts of the day they either don’t turn at all or need to be switched off if the wind is too fast. They are merely the playthings of watermelon politicians (green on the outside, red on the inside) to meet Co2 targets imposed by Brussels to meet non-existent anthropogenic global warming. Wind turbines are great at putting energy prices up rather than increasing the amount of energy available in the national grid. A socialist’s dream: more money for less benefit!
A watermelon spoke last night in the form of Labour’s Cllr Sandy Martin – the Fairer and Greener Ipswich Portfolio Holder (now there’s a USSR title if there ever was one!) – who discourteously answered the questions and concerns from residents by saying the potential erection of the wind turbines had nothing to do with him or Ipswich Borough Council as Babergh District Council was the planning authority. I suppose as the land owner the Council has no say at all in how their land is used?  Of course they do, and that is why ‘green’ energy firm ‘Partnerships for Renewables’ has been given permission by the Borough Council to site the wind turbines on their land!
Cllr Martin even had the audacity to say it would be improper for the Borough Council to put its views and that of its residents to the planning committee at Babergh. Why? I thought we lived in a representative democracy? Basically the socialists in Ipswich love anything to connected to make-believe global warming and Co2 emission targets and if it causes grief to the masses then so much the better.
This is what living by a wind turbine is really like:


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Tweetgate: Ipswich Tories try to ban Twitter

If I were still a member of the Conservative Group at Ipswich Borough Council I’d be doing everything I could to raise the profile of the Conservative Party, its councillors and candidates.

Twitterphobe: Cllr Richard Pope
So it was particularly bizarre to see Tory Cllr Richard Pope at last night’s Borough Council meeting try to ban Twitter from future meetings, thereby denying councillors from communicating with Ipswich residents and I suspect also to ban bloggers from reporting council meeting live via Twitter. Another politician I can think of who tries to suppress social media is a certain President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Hardly a bedfellow of the Conservative Party I would have thought?
Dictator: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria
Cllr Pope asked Cllr Martin Cook, who is responsible for IT and democratic services at the Borough, if standing orders could be updated to include the banning of Twitter at council meetings. Whilst Cllr Pope was saying this, a flurry of tweets were being sent by Morning Ipswich Star political editor Paul Geater, Labour backbencher Cllr Alasdair Ross, a reporter from Ipswich Spy and by myself.
Cllr Cook retorted that smartphones were seen as a tool by many people, including disabled people who use specialised software to help them participate in meetings, and Twitter itself is allowed in the House of Commons where it is used by MPs to allow the public better access to debates.
I just can’t understand the Tory Group’s thinking here and for their youngest councillor to stand up to try and ban social media is perverse. All political blogs and the Morning Ipswich Star have ridiculed their attempt to ban Twitter.
The Tory Group is a shadow of its former self when it was the leading party on the Council between 2004 and 2011 with now only 12 councillors to the ruling Labour Group’s 32 councillors. With political tactics like this and being devoid of any policy they better get use to decades in the wilderness. 
Ipswich Borough Council has made it clear they are a fan of social media, with the appointment of a social media officer, and also with the removal of the dead tree press bench. Therefore, I think we can safely say Twitter will be here to stay at future Ipswich Borough Council meetings!


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Sir Humphrey finally finishes the job

At last!: The Gladstone-Foxhall path is finally paved

It only took three years and two months but Ipswich Borough Council civil servants have finally got their act together and completed the paving of a 20 metre stretch of dirt track, which is heavily used by residents and shoppers every day.

Lighting please: New path at night
Back in August 2009, when I was an elected Conservative councillor, the Committee I chaired – Community Improvements – approved the spending of funds to finish off what the East of England Cooperative Society should have done when they built there new food store on Foxhall Road back in 2005, paid for out of their Section 106 money.
But then the lawyer at Ipswich Borough Council – known for her Labour Party sympathies – got involved and put a spanner in the works. You see the path is in Holywells Ward – a Conservative ward. But of course that had nothing to do with the obfuscation and delay by bureaucrats at Grafton House!
It took another 18 months before the Community Improvements decision was taken to the Executive Committee by Borough officers. The Executive duly approved it without even a whimper. Then some strange Local Government law was invoked by the said lawyer, which meant after Executive Committee approval of the Community Improvements Committee decision approval the decision also had to go to the Full Council of 48 councillors for a green light! Even the Soviet Union wasn’t this bureaucratic. Unsurprisingly, a confused Council in March 2011 nodded through the decision already made by two Committees.
Action: Ipswich Borough Council workmen “hard at work”
And then another one and half years passed before the workmen arrived on site. I am told during this time a design for the new path had to be written – 18 months to design how to lay concrete slabs!!
But now the work is done and local residents and shoppers can enjoy walking to the shopping parade on Foxhall Road without worrying unduly about what undesirable items are underfoot. The path is now adopted by Ipswich Borough Council, which means they must clean it and litter pick. Hurrah!!
Now, we just need some lighting.


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Better late than never

Finally: Council begins paving the Gladstone-Foxhall Road footpath

Breaking News. Hold the front page. Well, it wouldn’t be such a big deal if Ipswich Borough Council hadn’t taken three years and two months to implement a councillor decision.

That’s how long ago it was that my Committee agreed to spend what in the grand scheme of things is a tiny amount of money paving the remainder of the heavily used footpath between Gladstone Road and Foxhall Road alongside the Co-op store.  If planners at the Borough had half a brain between them they would have got the Co-op to pay for the WHOLE path and not just the bit alongside their premises out of their Section 106 money when they built their new shop on Foxhall Road back in the boom year of 2005. But I guess civil servants only pretend to care about the public part of public sector when they are trying to cream even more money off the State into their own pockets.

So after my Community Improvements Committee approved the paving of this urban dirt track back in August 2009, after the Executive Committee approved it, after all 48 councillors at a full meeting of the Council approved it, after two questions at Full Council, after extensive lobbying by Cllr Liz Harsant and newly elected Cllr Pam Stewart, and of course after my persistent blogging, Ipswich Borough Council’s workmen finally turned up this week to start laying the concrete slabs!

Marvellous.