Sunday, December 04, 2011

Houses aren't evil

I caught a trailer for Channel 4 News the other day where the journalist was on a building site and said something like 'a rare sight in Britain, a house being built'. Except it's not that rare, in Basildon at least. We have had a steady stream of housebuilding down the years, and that has continued though the latest downturn in the economy. This is a good thing. Construction has a long supply chain, so and keeps a great many people in work, including the not insignificant number of builders and building suppliers in Basildon. There is also the simple fact that people actually need homes to live in. This should be obvious, but somehow and to some people it doesn't seem to be. We have an expanding population and our sons and daughters need somewhere to live. So, we need homes for starters, some social and affordable, some private, and then we need homes for those moving up the economic ladder, because we don't want to lose them to other communities. As per the title, houses aren't evil, but from some of the rhetoric applied to them you would have thought that they were.

Of course, the key point with housing is where you build it. In Basildon we haven't built on the Green Belt, preferring to keep in our current urban footprints. That doesn't mean blocks of little flats by the way. In fact, builders tell me that the best returns at the moment are from high quality family homes. However, the problem with a policy of building on land in the urban areas that is not Green Belt is the proximity of other homes, which often means objections. Some of these are justified, some are not, and some are put in terms that living next door to a newly built home leads to the destruction of mind, body and spirit. Houses really aren't evil.

It comes down to this. We need more homes, in Basildon and elsewhere, but we don't want to turn our semi-rural community into an urban sprawl. Local Labour's policy is 'not one brick'. It really is. They don't want any building anywhere. As far as they are concerned if you want a new home in Basildon, whether you are on the social housing waiting list or a company director, you can just shove off. Apparently, Basildon is perfect in every way you see. It's full. Move along. That this is crackers doesn't seem to deter them.

Meanwhile the grown-ups are getting on with managing actual growth, because the whole country needs it right now.

I don't know where Channel 4 were filming, but it wasn't around here.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Dale Farm: Where now?

One of the many Dale Farm myths has been the supposedly staggering costs of the clearance, with figures of £18m or more bandied about. This has usually been by people who did not wish the Council well, but unfortunately the astronomical figures have also been taken up by some of the mainstream press. Well folks, there is a difference between a budget and a spend. In this case the budget was set by two factors: the need to cater for a worst case scenario that was regarded as highly unlikely; and the need not to put the clearance under budgetary pressure to cut corners and do something unsafe. The worst case scenario, which was a much longer and more violent operation, did not happen and the clearance eventually accounted for 7 relatively minor injuries. So, Council spend is a somewhat over £4m and while the police spend is not in yet it is likely to be well below their maximum budget of around £10m. These are very large sums, but in the ways that these things are calculated it is considered that it was an efficient use of resources. However, I would much rather have spent the money on making Basildon Borough better in a more positive way.

There is the other matter of cost recovery, which is likely to result in bills of tens of thousands of pounds for each Traveller family. The Traveller 'supporters', who advised them have very carefully limited their own liability of course and so they can retire back to their comfortable houses and leave the people they care so much about to pick up the tab. Their rubbish advice has resulted in a clearance and crippling bills for the people they have supposedly been representing. So, what are they doing in the face of total failure? Why they are carrying on with the same confrontational and adversarial approach that has worked so well. One has managed to rack himself up a staggering legal bill and liability to compensate the Council in the process, so we will see if he has the hundreds of thousands of pounds he will need to settle it.

For those that have been gloating that the travellers have no assets and that we won't get a penny I would remind that Basildon Council has a legal duty to recover monies owed it. Further, I would hope that, even if you don't like what we are doing, recent events have shown that the Council is pretty efficient once it decides to do something.

What now? Well the legal site at Dale Farm is now over-occupied, and that cannot be allowed to continue. While we can give a bit of leeway, the problem is that crowded caravan sites are very vulnerable to things like fire. This is why caravan density and spacing is taken so seriously in the various regulations that pertain. The Planning conditions on the legal site control the number of pitches that are allowed, and these will be enforced.

For the travellers, my advice is do ditch the useless 'supporters' that have been advising you thus far. Especially get rid of the anarchists and cause-whores from London and further afield. They pretty much destroyed public sympathy for the Travellers when they decided to bombard the police with bricks and urine. As for your longer-term representatives: all they and they  have done is got Dale Farm cleared and got you on the wrong end of a huge financial claim. They are in it for the cause, not for you. Assuming what you want is a legal site or sites somewhere then stop treating this like a war, stop playing the race card and find someone to represent you who is not just in it to big themselves up. The last time we tried to do a deal to find alternative sites a Traveller 'supporter' destroyed the process by issuing a press release on the confidential talks that were taking place. If you keep these same people then you will get nowhere.

It would have been far, far better if this had happened ten years ago by the way. Following the site clearance, and the way the Travellers and their 'supporters' have behaved a solution that pleases everyone is probably impossible to achieve. That is when you negotiate in good faith. The traveller community and their 'supporters' should try it sometime.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dale Farm: Clearance Nearly Complete

The clearance of the illegal part of the Dale Farm traveller site is nearly complete. The work has been carried out without any undue interference, thank God, and an injunction is in place to prevent any illegal reoccupation of the site.

Unfortunately, this is likely to be only the latest phase in an ongoing story. Some of the travellers from the illegal site have moved onto the legal portion next door. The Council cannot allow protracted occupation of the legal part with a vastly increased population of caravans. This is for very practical reasons of fire and service access, and because it is downright dangerous. Caravan sites by their very nature have to especially guard against fire. There was a tragedy on the illegal part of Dale Farm for example. Too high a density of Caravans are simply too much of a hazard to the people in them.

There is also the matter of costs and other legal matters to conclude. The taxpayers of Basildon Borough expect the monies due to their Council to be recovered, and we will certainly be pursuing those who owe us. 

Predictably, most of the traveller 'representatives' and 'supporters' appear to have moved on to other things. After years of giving the Dale Farm residents the worst possible advice and then throwing their own urine at the police another cause beckons I suppose.

That St. Paul's thing looks fun...

John Baron MP criticises Government over Dartford Crossing toll increases during Commons exchange

MP says new technology on existing Crossing should be tried before toll increases introduced

Today in the House of Commons during Transport Questions, John Baron MP criticised the Government for planned toll charge increases to fund the construction of a second crossing so that congestion could be eased. The Government has proposed to increase toll charges to £2 and then to £2.50 in 2012. John has previously raised this issue with Government Ministers and has written to the Government outlining his objections as part of the consultation – see Notes to Editors.

John said:

“Government thinking is flawed. Given that the existing crossing makes £35-40 million profit a year, why not first introduce Automatic Number-Plate Recognition technology at the existing Crossing to see if this solves the problem of congestion, before raising tariffs to fund a second crossing?”

“With a new Secretary of State in post, can we now have some fresh thinking on this issue?”

The Minister said in response that the Government did not think new technology would solve the congestion problem and therefore toll increases are necessary to help fund a second crossing

John said afterwards:

“Increasing toll charges in these difficult economic times is a nonsense. Hard pressed businesses and families need all the help they can get. New free-flow technology would substantially ease congestion. Nothing would be lost in seeing if this works first before raising toll charges for a second crossing.”

“I have written to the Secretary of State requesting a meeting and will be inviting other Essex MPs if I am successful.”

John is, of course, absolutely right on this one. Hiking the crossing fees in these difficult times makes no sense and the options for a second crossing are hopelessly limited anyway.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Richard Howitt ejected from Basildon Council site at Dale Farm

Richard Howitt was ejected from the Basildon Council site at Dale Farm on Wednesday 19th October. The key facts are:
  • The general area in question was a site controlled and operated by Basildon Borough Council. 
  • Access to the site was, and is, strictly controlled because of the general requirement for proper insurance and the real risk that the site would be targeted by violent protesters. 
  • All visitors have to go through an accreditation process, which includes the issue of safety gear. This typically takes a day, so apply on the Wednesday, and access granted on Thursday etc. 
  • The site includes a media area, arranged for their convenience but also to prevent journalists getting in the way of heavy machinery etc. 
  • Subject to obvious practical considerations, journalists do not and did not confine themselves to the Council's media area. Interviews and reports were made from many other locations in and around Dale Farm. 
  • Richard Howitt had asked to come onto the Council site and was accredited for Thursday 20th. There is an email trail to his office confirming this. He was not accredited for Wednesday 19th. 
  • Mr. Howitt came on site in a media vehicle, with gate security mistakenly assuming he was a media staffer. He then proceeded to the Council's media area and presented himself for interviews and so on. 
  • The operational command structure decided that Mr. Howitt should be removed from the Council site. That means exactly what it says; the Dale Farm clearance being run under the standard Gold/Silver/Bronze model that is used for large scale operations. It was not a decision for Councillors, though I am fully support it and I would have made the same call had it been up to me. 
  • Mr. Howitt was duly removed from the Council site. 
Facts aside, the question is was it right to remove Richard Howitt from the Council site? On the basis of the simple application of the rules that have applied to everyone else, including at least one other MEP, then the answer is surely yes. About the last thing that was needed in the middle of a clearance operation that had already turned violent was someone wandering around in a business suit with no safety gear, insurance and where the party in question could not be relied on to obey instructions.

There is also the matter of the astonishing bad faith displayed by Mr. Howitt in sneaking onto the Council site when he was officially due the next day.

Hang on though, what about free speech? Well, what was stopping Mr. Howitt exercising his rights somewhere else? There were plenty of journalists not on the Council site, why didn't he go and talk to them? I note that his ejection from the Council site did not not put an end to his media activities on that day.

What was he even doing there?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dale Farm Clearance

Held off posting for a while because of the legal processes associated with Dale Farm and then the sensitivities of the actual clearance. Frankly, I couldn't risk posting something that might further complicate the situation, so a bit of self-censorship was called for. Now though I think it is time to reflect on what has been going on.

First of all, no-one at Basildon Council wanted it to come to a forced clearance. Ridiculous and contemptible accusations that we are driven by testosterone or bigotry are just rubbish. The reason we are where we are is simply because the Dale Farm Travellers have been used as political pawns by a succession of self-interested people to boost their egos, their causes, or in some cases their incomes. The Travellers have been consistently given awful advice that prevented any effective negotiations with the Council, including when an 'activist' decided to wreck the ongoing negotiations we were having with the HCA to find alternative sites. For that individual his cause was more important than the Dale Farm families. He didn't live there of course.

Then we had the poor people of Cray's Hill, the village next to Dale Farm, who were consistently ignored by the do-gooders and hangers-on 'helping' the Travellers. Apparently, that community didn't matter you see. Well, the main reason why Basildon Borough Council has stuck to its guns over Dale Farm has been those forgotten people. Planning Law is there for many reasons, but one of the most important is to restrict what can be built right next to where you live. The largest Traveller site in Europe had a poisonous effect on Cray's Hill, but almost no-one seemed to notice or even care. Certainly the Labour Party was indifferent, both locally and nationally. In fact our local Labour party seemed to relish the idea of people who largely don't vote for them having their lives wrecked. It was appalling to see how much they hate some parts of the Basildon community, and I don't use the word lightly.

What about the Travellers? Well, I am going to be blunt: but any rational definition of the word, Dale Farm was a slum. It was even run by a couple of slum landlords who collected the rent. It had no proper sewage or basic facilities. If I had tried to get a housing estate built to those standards then I would probably have been locked up, but somehow Traveller 'culture' means that it is fine for them to live in rubbish housing. Unfortunately, the attitude that Travellers are free to live in conditions that the settled community largely moved on from a century ago is prevalent among the various do-gooders that surround them. The result is that Travellers'  social outcomes are catastrophic in terms of life expectancy, education, mental health, treatment of women, alcoholism and so on. Traveller culture is going to have to change, if the various professional enablers that surround them allow it of course.

Within the parameters you apply to such an operation, the clearance has gone well. The Council team have been excellent, and Essex Police have been nothing short of brilliant. They got control of the site against appalling violence with a minimum of injuries on all sides. The courage and professionalism of both Essex Police and the police from other forces has been inspiring. Despite the stupidity of the activists supposedly supporting the Travellers in finding all sorts of ways to put themselves in danger everyone has walked away from this. That is surely the most important thing. It should also be noted that it was these outside activists that caused all of the trouble on the site. For me it was epitomised by that Drama Queen with the crucifix, dancing around with a religious symbol that means nothing to her in one hand, apparently she's a Muslim, and with a coffee in her other hand. You just know she will be on some other protest next week, if it will get her into the newspapers that is. Meanwhile, the actual Travellers have only protested peacefully, because they are reasonably decent people who are not in this for a laugh.

So, we will press on with the clearance, not because of any macho posturing but because in the final analysis the law has to apply equally to everyone, and that's it. Dale Farm has always been about fairness and equality before the law. Being a minority culture does not get you out of obeying the law and this position has been confirmed by the highest courts in the land. It is also the view of the vast majority of the people of Basildon and of this country.

In the end, clearing Dale Farm was simply the right thing to do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dale Farm and Racism

Most of the commentary from those supporting the illegal Traveller site at Dale Farm has included some accusation of racism. The implied, or sometimes explicit statement is that Basildon Council and the settled community are motivated not by a desire to see fairness and equality under the law but by some pathological hatred of Travellers. That Basildon has the largest number of legal Traveller pitches per hectare in England seems to make no odds, we still must be a bunch of racists.

Well, here is my experience: people who casually bandy around accusations that question the motives of others usually do it because of something within themselves. Accusing others of corruption in the first instance and without any evidence for example is a good indication that the accuser would be in the market for a brown envelope if the opportunity arose. Such people cannot conceive that others would not behave in that way, because that is what they themselves are like.

So, on to the people who bandy about accusations of racism, my experience with them is that is because they themselves nurture some deep-seated hatred and so assume everyone else must as well. On the activist left, hatred is usually reserved for the settled middle-class, who are detested because they obey the law and refuse to share is some world-revolutionary view. In the Dale Farm situation the settled community in Cray's Hill doesn't even register with the protesters on the site, because, frankly, they hate them and everything that they stand for. So, one community is lauded and the other ignored and treated with contempt, except to be labelled as racists of course.

Well folks I have a disappointment for you. Most people live their lives without hate and think that those who palpably burn with it are kind of sad. My advice to the people who equate the Dale Farm clearance with ethnic cleansing is first to read a history book or two and try to actually understand what the term means and secondly to have a bit of a think about your world view.

If you find yourself burning with hatred for any group then you are badly in need of a change, or a religious experience, or something.

John Baron MP criticises Dale Farm court ruling

John Baron MP criticises Dale Farm court ruling

MP expects Basildon Council to overturn decision on Friday

Having been on the Dale Farm site yesterday with Cllr Tony Ball and Council officials, John Baron MP has described as “bizarre” the court ruling which prevented the bailiffs from proceeding with the site clearance yesterday afternoon.

John said:
The ruling is bizarre. How can there have been a fair hearing if the Council was unable to be represented? The highest courts in the land have declared Basildon Council right. It is therefore unfortunate that this local judge has fallen for this delaying tactic and added to the cost of the operation. I am confident that the Council will overturn this rogue decision on Friday.
The Council will then proceed with this site clearance. My hope is that it can be achieved peacefully through negotiation. However, this site will be cleared - one way or the other - on behalf of the law abiding majority.
We all accept that minorities have human rights. But all too often in this country we tend to forget that the majority have human rights too, and these include an expectation that the law will be applied fairly and equitably across all of society.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dale Farm - Clearance starts tomorrow

Tomorrow is the day that we have all worked so hard to avoid: the start of the Dale Farm clearance. After ten years of legal battles and pleas that the Irish Traveller occupiers of the illegal pitches there should leave of their own accord, Basildon Council is having to forcibly clear the site.

I suppose the question is how has it come to this? How can it be that an ordinary English local Council is having to spend a fortune on evicting a community numbering in the hundreds and which includes young children and the elderly? There are a whole range of reasons, but if I had to pick just one then I think it would be the non-Travellers that have attached themselves to the Dale Farm saga down the years. We have had the whole spectrum, from lawyers paid from legal aid who were determined to push a weak legal case as far as it would go in the various courts, to 'activists' deliberately sabotaging confidential negotiations. Various academics and UN 'advisors' have dipped in and out claiming spurious and often simply bogus legal points and most have questioned Basildon Council's motives in the most abusive terms, as if that helps when any deal to help the Traveller community would ultimately have to be done with the Council. Our local Labour Councillors did not help, deciding that the moral high ground demanded that they not support any direct action against Dale Farm. God knows what they were saying to the former Labour government, who were in power for most of the dispute. We certainly had no help from them.

Now as we reach the end-game the cavalcade has continued. Vanessa Redgrave, more UN 'advisors' and a range of protesters at the site itself. Against that background and the time all of these interventions have taken we have now come to a forced clearance. I believe that if it had just been between Basildon Council and the Travellers then we would have sorted things out by now. With all of the various do-gooders and hangers-on then we had no chance.

I hope that it all goes peacefully tomorrow, but I worry that the malign influence of outsiders on the Dale Farm situation has not yet finished.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

John Baron MP visits Dale Farm site clearance preparations

MP says he is impressed with Basildon Council and police plans

Today, John Baron MP met with Council Leader Tony Ball, Assistant Chief Constable Sue Harrison and Police Superintendent Tim Stokes, and senior Basildon Council officials when visiting both the ‘Gold’ and ‘Silver’ Cell control rooms in Basildon Council. He also visited the site itself at Dale Farm where he discussed plans with the bailiffs and other officials. John was fully briefed as to preparations for the start of the site clearance on 19th September, and will be with Councillor Tony Ball on site on the day.

John said:

I am impressed with the preparations to clear this site in a safe and professional manner. Every precaution is being taken to ensure everyone’s safety, but the travellers should be in no doubt that this site will be cleared. Anyone breaking the law will be arrested by the police.

At this eleventh hour I once again urge the travellers and their supporters to move off peacefully. Nothing will be gained from resisting the Council’s action to reclaim this greenbelt land on behalf of the law-abiding majority.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Dale Farm: UN recognises Basildon, some of it anyway

As a Borough Councillor I am a pretty small cog in the machine that governs our country. In general the sorts of things I deal with a well below the level of interest of global institutions. So, if you had told me a few weeks ago that I would be pondering an appropriate response to the UN, I don't think I would have believed you. Now though that is pretty much what I am doing. You see the UN Anti-Racism Committee has decided to intervene over Dale Farm, calling on the site clearance to be suspended and that:
The Committee urges the State party to find a peaceful and appropriate solution which fully respects the rights of the families involved. Travellers and Gypsies already face considerable discrimination and hostility in wider society and the Committee is deeply concerned that this could be worsened by actions taken by authorities in the current situation and by some media reporting on the issues.
Heavy stuff indeed, but sometimes things are not exactly what they seem. In coming to their conclusions in what is a complicated situation it appears that the UN Committee has talked to exactly one party: the Travellers. Let us be clear, at no point has the UN spoken to Basildon Borough Council, and they don't appear to have contacted any non-Traveller local residents, Cray's Hill Parish Council, Essex County Council, Essex Police or the local school. What is actually astonishing is that having decided to back one party in the dispute they think that any of the other parties would pay attention to them. If they had shown some simple decency and met with Basildon Council then that would have been one thing. As it is, I feel that I am being lectured by someone who has deliberately decided to ignore anything I might have to say from the first. Except that isn't even the case. The UN isn't even lecturing. They didn't even send us any of their documents. Their thesis is that Basildon Borough Council should read their press release off a random news website and just react to that. I just wonder if this ever actually, you know, works?

On the substantive side of this, and remembering that this is the UN Anti-Racism Committee, a few facts might help. Basildon Borough has one of the largest number of legal Traveller sites in the country. In terms of the number of sites per hectare we are actually number one. We have had Travellers in the Borough for decades. In fact we have had Travellers on the legal part of Dale Farm for decades without any issues. The idea that there is some sort of local pathological bias against Travellers is garbage. It has also been tested in the courts, as has our provision for Travellers as a distinct group. At every stage Basildon Council has been found to not only be acting legally, but also fairly and proportionally. This matter has also faced media scrutiny for the last ten years and especially recently. No actual evidence of racism has been turned up, but, of course, proving a negative is a logical impossibility, especially against people who do nothing but scream 'ethnic cleansing'.

The most depressing thing is that things like the UN intervention and the casual use of accusations of racism simply serve to devalue tolerance and obscure real instances where racism doesn't just blight lives, but ends them. If you accuse large numbers of people of being racists when they simply aren't, then you risk hardening them to the whole issue, or at least reducing it as something they care about. If you talk about ethnic cleansing regarding a planning dispute in Essex, what do you say when sub-Saharan Africans are being dragged off Tripoli's streets just because of their skin colour? Using the same language may make people care less about the second instead of more about the first.

So, what are we going to do about the UN? You know, I think I'll wait until they call to decide.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Dale Farm: Basildon Labour Leader Ashamed of Living in Basildon

Further to my recent post Lynda Gordon, who is the Leader of the Labour Councillors on Basildon Borough Council, has gone into print on Dale Farm. The newspaper is the Irish Times. The key section is this:

The leader of Labour councillors in Basildon, Cllr Linda Gordon, said she was “ashamed of living” in Basildon “and ashamed of the human race” over the level of support in the town for the removal of the Travellers.

Many locals, she said, misunderstand the issues, believing Dale Farm would be Traveller-free after the evictions, “but it won’t, since the ones living at the front of the site are living there legally and are not going anywhere”.

Mr Miliband supported the decision of the Conservative-controlled council to go ahead with the £18 million (€20.5 million) eviction plan, saying: “The law does have to be upheld right across the country, whatever background people are from, wherever people are.”

Cllr Gordon, who said she and her 10 Labour council colleagues had been subjected to local abuse for opposing the evictions, said she was “disappointed” with Mr Miliband’s comments. She believed he made them “without having any idea of the actual circumstances” at Dale Farm.

Much of the local opposition, she said, was coming from people who live nowhere near Dale Farm: “I don’t know if many of them have even driven past the place. It makes me quite ashamed to live in the borough. You would think that we are living in some Third World dictatorship. This isn’t some oasis of loveliness, it was a scrapyard.”

So, let's get this straight: most of the people in Basildon support the Council clearing the Dale Farm site and instead of at least understanding their point of of view she is ashamed to be living amongst them. Remember, she is not some random person off the street, she is a person who is saying she wants to lead the community of Basildon Borough, while at the same time she is ashamed to be living in Basildon and ashamed of its people.

To an outsider this would seem to be unbelievable, but to those who know about local politics it is not much of a surprise. Basildon Labour view Conservatives not as having a different argument, but as basically evil. So, the fact that the nearest settled community in Cray's Hill is in a Conservative-held Council ward is a key factor. If you already dislike the people near Dale Farm because of their politics then their plight is easily discounted when compared to that of the Travellers. Couple that with the desire to see yourself as a paragon of liberal and progressive human rights, which is a common thread among local Labour Councillors, and it is but a short step from damning everyone who doesn't agree with your world view, regardless of the fact that they happen to be your very own people.

Lynda's contempt for those who don't share her views even extend to her own party leader. The idea that the Leader of the Opposition would not have had at least a condensed brief on a major national news story is ridiculous. At the very least she seems to think his staff are morons.

The fact is that on this issue the very well-informed people of Basildon Borough have got it absolutely right. They see a flagrant breach of the law and a Council that has spent years to try and get the Travellers of Dale Farm to leave peacefully. No one wants a forced clearance of the site, but in the final analysis the law is for everyone and must be applied fairly. The vast majority of Basildon's people understand that and expect their Council to act on their behalf. That is what we are doing.

As for Lynda, if you are truly so ashamed to be living in Basildon then I suggest you move somewhere else. Islington is nice I hear.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Dale Farm: Labour leader Ed Miliband supports evictions

As reported by the BBC. I just wish that the local Labour Councillors had the same view. They have voted against every proposed action to remove the illegal settlement at Dale Farm and have stated that if they were running Basildon Council then they would give Dale Farm planning permission.

I just wonder if the Council had been united on this matter, especially when we had a Labour government, then we might have arrived at a solution years ago. Instead Labour's attitude must have helped lead the Travellers to the view that somehow they would be allowed to continue in their illegal Green Belt development.

I hope that this does come to a forced eviction. I hope that the Travellers move off, and the Council has offered accommodation to the vulnerable under our homelessness duty. All the talk of women with young children and the sick elderly being left with nowhere to go is simply nonsense. However, I fear that the outsiders that have attached themselves to Dale Farm will cause trouble.

I just hope that no-one is hurt, but local Labour Councillors bear much of the responsibility of getting us to this point.

Hopefully, Miliband has had a word with them. They have certainly been very quiet on this issue lately.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Riots - Firm punishment and hand-wringers

So, the courts are being firm with rioters. Clearly, a riot is an aggravating factor for any crime and couple that with the fear imposed on whole communities it is right and proper that rioters be punished at the upper end of the scale for their actions. That hasn't stopped the professional do-gooders though, who have complained both about the length of sentences and supposed inconsistencies. For the former it is both a matter of deterrence and public confidence. People who may be considering involvement in a future riot will be brought up short by what has happened to the very large number of those caught for mayhem this time. No-one can argue that people are getting off with a slap on the wrist, and the fact that so many people have been arrested and processed so rapidly should make all but the thickest potential rioter think again. As for inconsistencies, sentencing is not an automatic process and reflects the details of a particular case. The idea that punishments should be drawn from a tightly drawn set of rules regardless of circumstance is actually quite illiberal.

This plays into public confidence. Consider a parallel universe where the police had been less vigorous and the courts had been handing out community service orders for assaults and property damage. Ordinary people would conclude that the system was not there to protect them and would act on that, abandoning high streets or whole areas and engaging in vigilante actions to protect themselves, because who else would be doing it? Society would be seen as distorted in favour of criminals and the loss of faith in our country and institutions would be corrosive. However, this hasn't stopped some talking heads telling us that the poor, misunderstood rioters shouldn't be treated so badly.

My take on this is that if you don't want to do the time, and incidently probably mess up the rest of your life with that criminal record, then don't do the crime. As for those two clowns who used Facebook to try and organise riots in their own communities and got four years apiece for it. All I can say is LOL.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Riots - fools argue the case for doing nothing

There are pretty standard techniques in politics when you don't want anything to happen. One is to seek to widen whatever the issue is until it becomes too broad to be addressed. So, let's link the riots to bankers and MPs expenses or better yet the morals of our entire society. Then argue that unless you fix all of that you can't or shouldn't do anything. This is pretty much Miliband's approach, and that of many commentators on the left, and a few on the right. You see it sounds all grown-up and the voice of wisdom, when in reality it is an abdication of any practical measures. In this case it means having a high-level debate about public morality while dismissing any other measure as 'knee-jerk'. Let's leave our estates under the control of criminal gangs and don't make any practical policing and criminal justice changes while we let the leader writer's pontificate. It's a recipe for people in leafy suburbs or nice detached cottages to feel good about themselves because they aren’t just condemning the criminals who torched our city centres. Of course, while they are off being mature those same inner cities have to deal with criminal thugs who are effectively being protected by the people for whom extended debate is a substitute for action. In fact, these are people who actually hold those who advocate action with contempt.

This approach melds into the second great way to make sure that nothing changes, which is to hold a public enquiry, Miliband's second great idea. So, everything is put on hold until the enquiry reports, which typically takes a year or two. Then the measures that it proposes may or may not be adopted. Meanwhile on the ground nothing changes, which is, of course, what certain people want.

It is one thing for a fool like Miliband to adopt a policy of doing nothing. After all, anything else would mean confronting his own prejudices that families don't matter and that the only issue is how much public money is thrown at a problem. I do find it depressing when those on the right start to ape his language, as if dealing with financial regulation will help the family living next door to a bunch of 'gangstas' on one of our inner-city estates. To those people I simply say that the majority of the public are simply not interested in your hot air and want the primary problems of criminals and gangs dealt with.

If you don't understand that then you need to get out more.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Times Camilla Long decides British teenagers are worthless

This in today's Sunday Times from the pen of Camilla Long:
no British teenagers would dream of attending a camp like Utoya with there is ketamine and tombstoning to be done
She is commenting on the Norwegian tragedy and how much better Norwegian teenagers are than their British counterparts. This is offensive rubbish on many levels. British young people are often involved in politics via the main parties youth organisations. They are not inveterate drug takers, a survey this week actually showed that substance abuse was falling among British teenagers. Then there is the absurdity of generalising about all of the young people in a country of sixty million.

Another question does occur, why is it that Camilla is so prepared to believe that British children a uniformly hard drug users? Did she spend her teenage years tombstoning while out of her mind on Class A substances? Given this piece, a supplementary question is if she actually stopped when she became a journalist?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Baron MP appeals for young men to join Anthony Nolan stem cell register

MP highlights fact 1600 people need potentially lifesaving stem cell transplant

John Baron MP is calling for young men in Basildon and Billericay to do something special this summer. The MP has joined other politicians in helping to recruit men between the ages to 18 and 30 to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register. Anthony Nolan is a pioneering charity that saves the lives of people with blood cancer. Every day, they use their register to match remarkable donors willing to donate their blood stem cells to people who desperately need potentially lifesaving transplants. However, there is a shortage of young male donors on the bone marrow register.

John said:

“Presently, the Anthony Nolan charity can only find a matching donor for half the people who come to them in desperate need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant. There are around 1600 people in the UK in need of this transplant.”

“We therefore need more young men to come forward as donors and join the Anthony Nolan register. By doing so, these young men will be offering patients the chance of life and a new hope to their families.”

Anthony Nolan can be reached on 0303 303 0303 or by email at

Speaking as someone who is alive because of a stem cell transplant, I can only endorse John's call. Donors rapidly replace donated stem cells, it's like giving blood, not like giving up a kidney, and you get to save someone's life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tragedy in Norway

Our hearts must go out to the people of Norway, especially the relatives and friends of those killed and wounded in the terrible events there.

There is no justification of such mass-murder, none. There would be no justification if Norway was some sort of repressive dictatorship as opposed to one of the most open democracies in Europe. Mass murder of innocents in a deliberate effort to advance a cause is always wrong. When that mass murder extends to children it becomes especially heinous. What has been astonishing is that some moral bankrupts on the internet have been trying to use the events in Norway to make political points. So, we have idiots on the Right muttering about 'anger' caused by politicians supposedly ignoring their pet causes and idiots on the Left almost gleeful that the vicious murderer is a political enemy. Both are contemptible.

All of the evidence in this case is that these crimes were the work of a narcissistic psychopathic lunatic who either worked alone or received very limited support by some other extremists via the internet. Sadly, the world has always had nutcases with an inflated view of their own importance relative to the rest of us. Sometimes they do things like this, but it doesn't change their total irrelevance to any political debate carried on by the overwhelming moral and sane majority. The Norweigans are determined that they won't change their society in response to one evil, crazed fruitcake, and that should be our response as well.

We should have nothing but revulsion for anyone on either the Right or the Left who tries to use these events to advance their pet causes. But they will.

John Baron MP backs campaign to save lives from England’s biggest cancer killer

MP highlights postcode lottery and lung cancer survival rates

As Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer, John Baron MP today backed calls to save lives from England’s biggest cancer killer by tackling variations in lung cancer services in England. Your chance of surviving lung cancer depends on where you live in the country, according to a new report from The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation recently launched in the Houses of Parliament. The ‘Explaining Variations in Lung Cancer in England’ report shines a spotlight on the postcode lottery that exists in lung cancer.

John said:

“Someone dies from lung cancer every 15 minutes in the UK. I commend The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s new report which shows that we need to urgently tackle the unacceptable postcode lottery in lung cancer. Everyone deserves to have good quality care, no matter where they live.”

“We need to do more to make sure that people with lung cancer are diagnosed early, when the chances of curative treatment are at their best. I’d encourage everyone to be aware of the signs and symptoms and to go to their doctor if they are concerned. There’s nothing to lose by getting checked out – and everything to gain.”

“And we need to make sure that, when someone is diagnosed, they have a good experience of care, including access to a lung cancer specialist nurse to support them and their families.”

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive of The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said:

“Despite recent advances, lung cancer remains a devastating disease and the most common cause of cancer death in England. Your chance of surviving lung cancer and receiving a treatment which could benefit you should not be decided by where you live in the country. Sadly, it is clear that this is indeed the case and there is significant geographical variation in patient survival and patient access to care and treatment.”
“We hope this report will act as a tool to help bring those areas with a poorer service and outcomes up to the standard of the best, so we can improve the experience of all lung cancer patients and save lives.”
The report was developed using existing data to give a local picture of lung cancer outcomes, services and care.

A full copy of the report is available by visiting or calling 0151 254 7200 to request a copy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Big Gypsy Eviction

The BBC ran this programme last night, a documentary with a human-interest slant on the unauthorised Dale Farm Traveller site and the eviction that may take place shortly. It was reasonably fair, though it didn't go into the technicalities of the matter, rather concentrating on the people involved. Those technicalities are briefly that the Dale Farm land is owned by the Travellers, but it is Green Belt and has no planning permission. Planning rules are there for very good reasons and you just cannot pitch up and build what effectively constitutes a village in any field that you think fit. There has been considerable adverse impact on nearby residents for example, and the documentary illustrated this to some extent.

It also illustrated the culture clash that has made this whole issue so much more difficult. There have been threats of violence from the Travellers when they don't get what they want, as illustrated in this BBC article:

"We're fighting for our homes," says one man, as he adds gas cylinders to a barricade.

He demonstrates how the cylinders can be be lit so a large flame flies out. "The first man that comes in is going to die," the man warns.

And Mimi also has a warning: "Basildon will go up in fire before we go."

The police take this sort of stuff seriously, which is why they are on hand at the Council whenever there is any Traveller business under consideration. So, the professionals think that this is more than just bluster.

I don't know who is advising the Travellers, but do they actually think that this sort of thing helps their cause? Certainly, support among the settled community for action on any unauthorised development in the Green Belt remains high.

Most people do not react well to threats.

Monday, July 04, 2011

John Baron MP hosts Myeloma UK Parliamentary Reception

MP highlights work of the Myeloma Academy

Myeloma UK held a Reception in Parliament earlier this week to launch their new healthcare professional (HCP) programme, the Myeloma Academy™. The Reception was timed to coincide with the 13th annual Myeloma Awareness Week (21 - 28 June).The Academy is an online resource designed to meet the educational needs of all HCPs involved in the treatment and care of myeloma patients. There was a wide range of attendees, including MPs, civil servants, myeloma patients, myeloma HCPs and key individuals from the Royal Colleges and NHS educational community. The event was hosted by John Baron MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer (APPGC).

John said:

“The Myeloma Academy is an excellent example of a charity helping to reduce patient inequality and improve patient experience within a rare cancer community.”

“It reduces inequality by ensuring all patients, wherever they live, have access to a myeloma specialist. It improves the experience of patients by allowing them to become an equal partner in decisions about treatment and care.”

Being a Myeloma sufferer myself, I can only applaud the good work done by John in support of cancer patients everywhere. The good work done by the clinicians and charities in this field has turned Myeloma from a rapid death sentence to an unpleasant chronic condition for many people like me. I am grateful to them all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eurosceptics were dead right about the euro

Back in 2000 the subject of hot debate was should Britain join the euro. This debate was held far and wide, from newspaper columns, to talking heads on the news, to parliament and even in the Conservative association in Basildon, where we had a debate on the matter.

The basic positions were on the one hand that the euro could not work without very large monetary transfers, which were specifically ruled out in the treaty, and on the other hand that if Britain stayed out that we would be sidelined economically and our prosperity would suffer. Actually the latter does not really represent the supposed Götterdämmerung that many pro-euro commentators stated as absolute fact would befall our country if we stayed out. There was also the truly stupid argument that wouldn't it be nice not have change holiday money when travelling to the continent. As if that was more important that the potential to wreck our economy with a failed euro experiment.

In general what was particularly noticable was how the euro-sceptic view on the euro was ridiculed by the BBC and their pro-euro fellow-travellers. It was conflated with a supposed hatred of foreigners by 'little Englanders' and treated with amused contempt. Well, who was right and who was wrong?

The key problem with the euro was, and is, that in the event that European economies diverged, and one or more nations went in recession while others did not, then the currency could not move to match the new economic conditions. It would either be at the wrong value for some nations or others. So, the euro is now at the wrong value for Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal while being right for Germany and France. Without the ability of their currency to devalue, then the smaller nations in trouble have to make cuts to wages and public services instead. They even risk getting into a situation that the cuts make their growth levels so low that they never get out of debt and so face generations of poverty. Meanwhile in Britain, Sterling has devalued by about 20% over the last few years, boosting exports at exactly the right time for our economy.

It has come to a situation where very serious people in the UK Parliament and abroad are discussing, or advocated, some nations leaving the euro. Frankly, in the case of Greece and Ireland that is exactly what they should do. However, expect a rearguard action by, well, the old guard who see the European project as more important than reality.

No apologies by the BCC and various pro-euro commentariat though.

Hell would freeze over first.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Localism in Action

There has been a lot of discussion, in political circles anyway, regarding Localism and what it means. A lot of this seems to be an attempt to provide a dictionary definition rather than anything to do with actual policy. From the perspective of a local Councillor, I have already seen the death of a great deal of government oversight and reporting, which frankly was a complete waste of time and money. So, I no longer have to sit and be lectured by government-appointed know-nothings from the Audit Commission on what's wrong with me, while the professional officers from the Council sit around me on overtime courtesy of the Council taxpayer.

However, the real change has been to the planning system. Now, this is a bit of a dry subject, which is why it gets little attention, but it is actually hugely important. Planning defines how communities develop and grow and for a dynamic place like Basildon Borough it is especially important. So, what's changed? Well the Regional Spatial Strategy, where a bunch of people who never set foot in Basildon decided how many homes we had to build, is history. Well, not quite. Some property developers have fought a rearguard action through the courts, but it is still a case of going, going, soon to be gone. Now, we decide how much housebuilding we need, via a streamlined Local Development Framework process. This used to mean sending documents off to the Government Office for the East of England, for another bunch of know-nothings to mark our work and send it back in a seemingly endless cycle of corrections and changes. Now, with Localism, we write the LDF and a central government inspector reviews it. The only result of this can be a yes or no: either it is accepted as a credible piece of work or rejected. This stops a Council producing a work of fantasy, ignoring population growth in order to appease the 'not one brick' brigade for example, but it stops the government from micro-managing local planning. The net effect is to cut years off the LDF process and to save hundreds of thousands of pounds of the Council's money.

Firing the empty suits who used to look over our shoulders must have saved a few bob too.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

John Baron MP: Dale Farm eviction funding now complete

MP sends message to travellers and says eviction can now proceed

Today John Baron MP confirmed that after detailed negotiations the total potential policing costs arising from the Council’s clearance of the illegal Dale Farm traveller site have now been fully funded. Negotiations between various Government Departments, the Prime Minister’s Office, Essex Police, Essex Police Authority, and Basildon Borough Council have resulted in the £9.5m needed in a worst case scenario being met through a combination of sources [see notes to editors]. This removes the final obstacle in proceeding with the eviction.

John said:
Because the Prime Minister accepted this site had to be cleared and because of the goodwill of various parties to these negotiations, we have now pieced together this financial jigsaw and so guarantee all potential policing costs are met. The eviction can now proceed.
This funding sends a clear message that no one individual or group is above the law. Once again, I urge the travellers at the illegal Dale Farm site to now move off peacefully, as no one wants to see the misery of a forced eviction. If not, the eviction will proceed for it is only fair the law is enforced without exception.
I would like to thank Cllr Tony Ball and his team, Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle and his team, Essex Police Authority, and the Government. These negotiations haven’t always gone smoothly but we got there in the end. I would also like to thank local residents for their patience and trust.

Notes to Editors

Essex Police has costed various scenarios and requires up to £9.5m in a worst case scenario. If necessary, this funding will be met as follows:-
  • The first £2.5m costs to be met by Essex Police Authority
  • The next £2.4m to be shared equally between the Home Office and Basildon Borough Council.
  • The next £2.3m costs to be met by the Home Office alone; and
  • The next £2.3m costs to be shared equally between the Home Office and Essex Police Authority.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Correction - Plan B advocates not economists, still Balls

Very good article on ConservativeHome on the background of those 'economists' who are suggesting a change to government economic policy. It turns out that a fairly large number of them are not economists, but soft-subject academics instead. So, we have expertise in History, Cultural Studies, Human resources and so on, but precious little in the subject that they are pontificating about.

A better headline to yesterday's media coverage would have been 'Labour unable to find actual economists to back Balls'.

Meanwhile the IMF have endorsed the government's approach, the key passage from their report being:
However, the weakness in economic growth and rise in inflation over the last several months was unexpected. This raises the question whether it is time to adjust macroeconomic policies. The answer is no as the deviations are largely temporary. Strong fiscal consolidation is underway and remains essential to achieve a more sustainable budgetary position, thus reducing fiscal risks.
Not exactly equivocal.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Plan B is Balls

A warning from economists that the government's economic policies are not working is reported in the Observer. The article, focusses on recent disappointing economic data, but the quoted arguments don't make a lot of sense. For example Johathan Portes, until recently a government economist, is quoted as giving this opinion on growth:
It isn't just about the international environment, it's because of the strategy the government has followed.
Most government cuts only started to kick in with the new tax year in April, for which there is no economic data yet. So, what is he talking about? He could argue that its all going to be a disaster, but the cause and effect that he implies simply doesn't exist.

The proposed plan B is the usual sort of stuff you get from left-wing economists. They want more government spending and higher taxes, because there is a long and rich history of nations taxing and spending their way out of problems with economic growth. Except that there isn't. The one thing that the government's policy has done is kept Britain out of the eurozone crisis, as a prime victim that is. There are still a lot of UK liabilities in foreign failing economies, but at least we haven't joined them.

Of course, up pops Ed Balls, who is incredibly complaining about government borrowing. Huh? He wants higher spending and where does he think the cash would come from? The tooth fairy?

Meanwhile, grown-ups will be aware that we won't be able to start making a balanced judgement on the outturn of last year's budget until the end of this year at least. By that time one or more European countries may well have defaulted on their government debt.

That will put the real issues into sharp relief and, hopefully put Balls back into his box.

Friday, June 03, 2011

John Baron MP welcomes Dale Farm eviction funding progress

MP says negotiations for the balance drawing to a close

John Baron MP has today confirmed that, after detailed negotiations, the Home Office is prepared to commit £4.65 million towards potential Essex Police costs arising from the Council’s clearance of the illegal Dale Farm traveller site. Essex Police estimate that approximately £9.5 million will cover a worst case scenario.

John said:
Negotiations with Government departments have not always gone smoothly. But after raising the issue both privately and publically with the Prime Minister, the Government has correctly come round to the view that it has a responsibility to ensure the site is cleared, otherwise we would all ask: what price law and order?

£4.65 million from the Home Office and £1.2 million from the Department for Communities and Local Government represents major progress. Negotiations continue regarding the remaining balance needed to cover all potential police costs, but I am hopeful we will have positive news next week.

I am determined that no one individual or group is above the law in the constituency. It is only fair and just that the law is enforced.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Conservatives level pegging Labour in new poll

These are the numbers on ComRes for the Independent:

CON 37%(+3), LAB 37%(nc), LDEM 12%(-3), Others 14%(nc)

There is a YouGov poll for the Sun that has Labour five points up, though the two polls have different methodologies. The point really is that the Conservatives are staying well in touch with Labour, this despite cuts and a contentious reform agenda from the government.

So, what it going on. Well, right now the Labour Party is in the throes of a very complicated policy review process, that has left their spokesmen and women with nothing to say on, well, anything. The idea that the Opposition can go off for two years to build a manifesto is a bit odd to say the least. A more sensible approach would be to develop some key themes early, otherwise you risk looking irrelevant.

The other factor is Ed Milliband, who is simply dismal. Modern politicians need some charisma at least and Ed is sadly bereft in that department. His speech-writer needs firing as well, unless he is accurately articulating what Ed thinks, in which case Ed needs firing.

Labour has no tradition of ditching poor performing leaders, but surely they must realise that they have picked the wrong one here.

Oh, hang on, they didn't pick him. The Unions did.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Save Our Gloucester Park Redux

Councillor Phil Rackley has posted a lengthy comment in response to my previous post on the Save Our Gloucester Park campaign. I think that it deserves a post all of its own.

For those that don't know, Cllr. Rackley is on the Labour front bench at Basildon Countil, and he is deeply in love with the Conservative Party and all of its works.
The point you seem to miss is that the various groups opposed to your administration's policy of selling off open space to fund the Sporting Village is that people value their open space and want to keep it.
I am very well aware that people value open space, especially open space adjacent to their homes. However, it is not engaging in grown-up politics to pretend that is the only issue. Most serious decisions in politics are a balance between a number of interests. What we haven't had from the Labour Party is what you would have done instead to deal with gradual decline of the Council's ability to offer sports facilities to residents. You are aware of course that just about every sporting organisation in Basildon Borough agrees with the Conservative Administration on this matter. Their voices count too you know.
As far as Gloucester Park is concerned you have already taken a big chunk of it for the Sporting Village and rather than compensating the people, and not only those living in the vicinity, by returning the area around the swimming pool to parkland you are intent in flogging that off.
The development at the Southern end of Gloucester Park is a similar balance. In this case between the use of the land, which is all brownfield by the way, or the gradual decline of Basildon Town Centre. Houses here will help fund much-needed infrastructure in both Gloucester Park and the Town Centre, as well as adding to footfall in the Town Centre which the businesses there desperately need. The Conservative Administration view is that allowing Basildon Town Centre to continue on a downward path would be bad for the Borough as a whole, but especially for those residents in central Basildon. These are your constituents by the way. Right now the only policy from Labour appears to be that we should do nothing about this. In fact, according to your Leader there is no actual problem at all, which suggests that a proliferation of closed or charity shops is a good thing. Do you agree with this by the way?
As far as the political allegiances of those supporting the campaign is concerned, I'm not privy to information about their political allegiances but one thing is clear they certainly don't support the plundering of community assets being undertaken by your administration.
The leading light of the Gloucester Park Campaign, the chap who copies you on his emails and you have repeated been photographed in the local press standing next to, stood for Labour for Wickford in a Council election just over a month ago. Yet you are seriously claiming that you didn't know he was a member of the Labour party? Please pull the other one, it's got bells on.

On the Gloucester Park matter, how much do you think your proposed course of action would cost the Council? I would not imagine that you would be suggesting this without having some idea at least, and I think it would move the debate on if you would let us all know what your figure is?

There is a deal of hypocrisy in some of what else you say. For example, the last Labour administration gave Billericay Football Club planning permission for a stadium right where the Sporting Village is today. Arguments about loss of park space clearly did not matter when up against a privately-owned minority sporting interest. At least the current use is publicly-owned and caters to a huge amount of sports participation, as opposed to a few hundred spectators every other Saturday during the football season. For comparison, as of last Wednesday we had 25000 individuals, that is not counting repeat visits, at the Sporting Village. How may do you think would used Labour's alternative football stadium?

I am reminded in this whole thing about the new George Hurd Centre. This took up open space in order to provide a old age person's Day Centre and offices for charities helping the aged. We had a similar row backed by the Labour Party, until the facility was built when it was suddenly the best thing since sliced bread. What characterised that matter was a complete refusal on the part of Basildon Labour to even acknowledge that there was even another point of view. Then, like now, Labour essentially suggested that Conservative Councillors got out of bed one morning and then decided to do something evil before lunch.

Here we are again.