Sunday, April 29, 2007

Leaving Iraq

Posts on the "Baghdad Burning" blog are rare, and increasingly bitter. Her family are now planning to leave Iraq:

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn't know what our neighbors were- we didn't care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

On a personal note, we've finally decided to leave. I guess I've known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first, someone would suggest it tentatively because, it was just a preposterous idea- leaving ones home and extended family- leaving ones country- and to what? To where?

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Age and Being a Councillor

Age is a funny thing. I'm 48 now, but I don't think I feel different inside to the 38 year old me, or indeed 28 year old me.

I'm sure that part of this is due to being a councillor. For quite a while I was the youngest in the Lib Dem group (and indeed got some invaluable help and advice from my older colleagues on such things as driving lessons, buying a car, buying a flat, and even that biggest decision of my life, a marriage proposal.) I'm still one of the younger councillors on Rochford District , and sometimes feel like a sort of official council 'Nephew' whose enthusiasm is appreciated , rather than the 'Leader of the Opposition'

I've been a councillor now for 23 years. As the years roll by, babies have become voters, young dads get grey hair, and active pensioners became frailer and aren't there to open the front door any more....

But I don't look in the mirror very much. And somehow I've felt untouched by Anno Domini when I'm doing council activities - at least until this week. When I heard that someone had voted Lib Dem because I had been at school with her uncle, it finally came home to me that I wasn't the 'young' councillor any more....

All Good Things Must Come To An End. But Do They Have To End After One Season?

Southend are down.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fears in the Kingdom

More worries for the Conservatives in Essex.

The Echo newspaper has a copy of a memo sent out by the Chair of Rochford and Southend East Tories:

CONSERVATIVES must fight to avoid the "shame" of losing the second leader in two years at next week's elections, a leading activist says.

Catrina Lambert, chairman of Rochford and Southend East Tories, has sent out a stark warning to grassroots members warning three key seats could be lost next Thursday.

In the memo leaked to the Echo, Mrs Lambert admits council leader Murray Foster's seat is at risk in Prittlewell ward where ex-Echo columnist and BBC journalist Ric Morgan is standing for the Lib Dems.

Last year, council leader Anna Waite was ousted by the Lib Dems in the same ward.

Mrs Lambert says: "The priorities are protect the leader, not only because Murray Foster is the right man for the job but because the shame of losing a second leader in two years would cause shockwaves across the whole borough."

Whilst in little old Rochford District:

The memo also reveals concerns about the future of Richard Amner, former Rochford District Council chairman, in his Barling and Sutton seat. He is facing opposition from Independent Robin Allen.

Mrs Lambert wrote: "A loss of this seat, where there are only 700 dwellings, would be seen as a disaster, even though there is a Conservative majority of 29 on Rochford council."

What also struck me was this bit:

Other Tory seats under threat are Shoeburyness and Thorpe ward. Mrs Lambert wrote in the memo it was essential to protect Thorpe, where new candidate Nigel Folkard had been "working 24/7 for the past few weeks".

Blimey. He's working 24/7 ? Seems like that's trying a bit too hard. I mean , can you imagine it:

Thorpe Bay, 3 a.m.

Tory: Good morning. Sorry for waking you up. I'm your Conservative Candidate and I wondered if we can count on your support?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Help - I Lead The Cult Of Skaro

With a slightly giddy feeling I've just realised what Daleks In Manhattan is really all about. The clue is that there are only four of them - four forlorn individuals. Their leader says "If we are SUPERIOR, Why are we not VICTORIOUS"

It's obviously a metaphor for the Lib Dem councillors on Rochford DC. There are only 4 of us. The crowded skyline of New York represents the overdevelopment of Rayleigh. The art deco elevators in the Empire State building symbolise the new lifts in the Rayleigh Civic Suite..... and the blackness of Dalek Sec is obviously because I'm the group leader and my name is Black...

The only way I can break out of this metaphor is to increase our numbers in the council chamber....

Monday, April 23, 2007

Former Tory Leader Blasts His "Lazy" Colleagues

Rochford District Council is overwhelmingly Tory - they have 34 seats out of 39, we have just 4. One of the elder statesmen of the Tory group is Peter Webster, and what he says in tonights local paper, the Echo, has shocked me by its frankness:

Tory raps 'lazy councillors'

A FORMER council leader has claimed his own colleagues are more concerned with their allowances than working for their constituents.

Tory Rochford district councillor Peter Webster launched an astonishing attack on his fellow members who, he claimed, were "too lazy" to fill in a questionnaire about how the authority worked.

The questionnaire was sent to all of the 39 councillors, asking for their views on the workings of the review committee during its first year of operation.

However, only 22 members replied to the questions posed, even though they did not have to give their names.

Mr Webster, who was the council chairman last year and previously led the controlling Tory group, told the committee: "Quite frankly, I feel this is a damning indictment on some members of the council.

"It seems to me that all they are interested in is the amount of money they get at the end of each month."

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Webster said the workload on some councillors was becoming heavier and heavier, especially with the Government demanding the council takes on more responsibility.

He added: "But it is a fact there are others who are doing very little, either to contribute to the working of the council or to look after the interests of their constituents."

He would not name any member but said: "They know who they are and they could easily lose their seats if there was strong opposition".

Mr Webster's wife, Mavis, is currently the chairman of the district council and also serves as a Rayleigh county councillor.

Chris Black, leader of the minority Liberal Democrat group on the council, said: "When you get a party with a massive majority on any council you will have a few who do very little, which is not fair to their constituents or to the members of the minority party.

"I would add there are some Rochford district councillors who aren't even known in their own wards."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

More Friends Reunited

This interweb thingy is marvellous for making contact with long lost Lib Dem friends. Last year one of my former colleagues on Rochford DC, Trevor Powell, said hello to me from his B & B in the Scottish Highlands.

I've now heard from Pam Godsell, a former Lib Dem Councillor in Rayleigh, who is now living in Knaresborough and is a Town Councillor there (and former Mayor!).

And Pam has received the ultimate honour - she is in Wikipedia!

Remembering Virginia

One of my blogging acquaintances has asked me for a synopsis of the media coverage of the Virginia shootings in the UK.

I'm afraid to say that for various reasons the last week has been a bit of a blur, and I really only followed what happened by radio and the net - no TV, didn't read much in the way of newspapers.

But the immediate coverage that I heard on BBC Five Live was pretty comprehensive and struck the right notes. There was a moment when one of the BBC presenters (I think it was Anita Anand ) was interviewing one of the female student survivors - when the interviewee mentioned that she had just heard that one of her missing friends had been killed , she wept live on air - a very raw radio moment, but handled reasonably well by the interviewer.

As an aside, I'm a big fan of after midnight Radio 2 (music) and Radio 5 Live (news and sport). Americans might enjoy listening over the net to Up All Night, Janice Long and Alex Lester

But somehow I don't think that this terrible event has had as much impact as the previous mass killings that we've heard about in the past - and I don't think that the Boomtown Rats or anyone else will be writing a song this time. Sadly, such events have occurred just too many times.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More Trouble In the Kingdom

As the East Anglian Daily Times Reports:

YOU couldn't make it up if you tried. Just as the Conservative Party have the local elctions in the palm of their hand, a bright spark in Essex decides to clamp down on some of the most well known and best loved personalities in Tendring and cause a schism that will take years to heel.

Who knows what advice Conservative Central Office has been listening to, but it has been an absolute public relations disaster and has caused such bad feeling among party members and supporters that any joy for David Cameron as the nationwide results come in on May 3 will be tempered by the knowledge that in True Blue Frinton of all places, and other areas of Tendring, the name of the Tory Party stinks

Tendring was one of the birthplaces of the UK Independence Party. Tories in the area have no qualms about giving UKIP their votes. Now there is a rival for their affections.

Tendring First has been born out of frustration with the party machine and anger that so many hard working local councillors could be so shabbily treated. The ploy was to suspend the councillors from membership of the party so they could not stand for election, and a new "loyal" breed of men and women would smoothly take their place. Once the elections were safely over, these ex-councillors would be allowed back into the fold and suffer for the error of their ways by watching their successors pick up their allowances and take Tendring forward. Iranian-style, they would be expected to sing songs of joy for the a safe deliverance. ....

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Trouble In The Kingdom

Apparently Rodney Bass, the Tory portfolio holder in Essex for highways and transportation has resigned his post. There have been reports of a leadership bid against the current leader, Lord Hanningfield.....

And apparently two more Tories have actually resigned from the Tory Group!

Surely more revelations to come....?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I Hereby Declare That The Following Person Is Approximately Elected.

I happened to be looking at the 2006 election results for Hull City Council, from the council's own webpage. The result for Marfleet Ward caught my eye. It's a clear Labour victory, with us in second, but look at the Conservative "result":


Name of candidate Description Result

ABBOTT John Francis Conservative and Unionist Party 217 approx
CHAYTOR Sean Labour Party 1023
MATTHEWS Joseph Allen Liberal Democrat 452
Total number of votes: 1692

How the blazes can John Francis Abbott get approx 217 votes? And what if he'd got approx 1024 votes? I can only guess this was to do with a disputed spoilt ballot paper, but has anybody else ever seen an 'approx' result?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Car I'd Love to Buy

I'd love to buy this car. To begin with, it looks like a car from the future. The top speed, 115 mph, is more than enough for me. It seats six- four in the front, two in the back (facing the rear)

It has loads of features- a combustion efficiency gauge, oil temperature, manifold vacuum and fuel economizer gauges, battery charge level indicator, altimeter, barometer, compass, oil level gauge, tinted glass, and an all-wave radio.

It also has a thermostatically controlled climate control system and was heavily insulated to control wind and road noise. It has a safety-conscious design, with a padded leather dashboard, a shatter-proof (tri-laminate) windshield, indirectly illuminated gauges, and powerful headlights and fog lamps.

There are also no door handles - the doors open at the touch of buttons located on the outside and on the instrument panel.

It's been written about under the heading "Is This The Motor Car of Tomorrow?" and at a retail price of 12,500 dollars, it sounds affordable.

Only problem is, the Phantom Corsair is from the 1930s

It would fit in quite nicely in Daleks in Manhattan, though.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dangerous ?

From Balkinization:

"When I tried to use the curb-side check in at the Sunport, I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. I was instructed to go inside and talk to a clerk. At this point, I should note that I am not only the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) but also a retired Marine colonel. I fought in the Korean War as a young lieutenant, was wounded, and decorated for heroism. I remained a professional soldier for more than five years and then accepted a commission as a reserve office, serving for an additional 19 years."

"I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that."

Hat-tip : Andrew Sullivan

The End of A Good Day's Canvassing

I don't know about anybody else, but I always prefer to canvass in the sunshine - people seem friendlier, and are more willing to keep their front door open and talk.

And today was warm and sunny, with lots of beautiful cats to talk to, and lots of friendly faces on the doorstep. (In one close of about 20 houses we now have the pleasant problem of having 3 people who want to deliver leaflets for us locally.)

One thing I've noticed - back in the 80s I used to meet lots of residents who wanted to sing the praises of Mrs Thatcher. But not one voter even mentioned Mr Cameron to me over the weekend (although one chap told my colleague that Cameron looked like a double glazing salesman).

The most marginal Lib Dem ward had a majority of 336 last year, the most marginal Conservative ward had a majority of 198 in a by-election two years ago, so there's a quite a bit to play for. If any London Lib Dems have got itchy feet, we're 45 minutes from Liverpool Street Station....

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mostly for Trevor's Benefit

So it's election time again in Rochford District , where the current make-up is 34 Tories, 4 Lib Dems and 1 independent/local party chap. There are 26 candidates this time standing in the 13 seats up for election.

The Conservatives keep their position controlling the council - to begin with, 4 of their councillors have been elected unopposed. But there are going to be some interesting contests in some of the other wards:

Ashingdon and Canewdon - Sitting Tory councillor Tracy Capon faces Andrew Vaughan (Green Party). Mr Vaughan stood in 2004 and lost by more than 300 here. But this time Labour aren’t standing, so the result could be rather closer…

Barling And Sutton. This is the most interesting election of the lot. Sitting Tory Councillor Richard Amner (Tory) faces Independent Robin Allen, who used to be a councillor here. Very difficult to predict how this one will go unless you live in this rural ward - lair of the Barling Bomber - and know the mood on the doorstep. How much impact will the Southend United Stadium application have?

Downhall and Rawreth . Sitting Lib Dem Councillor Ron Oatham faces Tory Roland Adams. Hopefully Ron will win… we got 73 percent of the vote last year.

Foulness and Great Wakering The shock here is that Labour aren’t standing in what used to be a strong area for them. Colin Seagers, the sitting Tory councillor, is re-elected without a contest.

Grange Ward (Rayleigh) Sitting Lib Dem Councillor June Lumley faces David Withers (Conservative). June deserves to be re-elected after the hard work she’s put in over the last 4 years. We got 66 percent of the vote last year. But can she beat off the the Tory political machine?

Hawkwell North. Lucy Cox is a new Tory candidate who lives in Little Wakering, replacing Maureen Starke who is stepping down. And Lucy is the only candidate here, so she is elected unopposed.

Hawkwell South. Sitting Tory Councillor Phil Capon is re-elected unopposed. So he has time to help his wife Tracy in Ashingdon…

Hawkwell West Sitting Tory Councillor Derek Stainsby faces experienced Labour campaigner Myra Weir.

Hockley Central Sitting Tory Councillor Keith Hudson is re-elected unopposed .

Hullbridge . A four-cornered contest . Sitting Tory Councillor Lesley Butcher faces Angelina Marriott (Labour ) Robin Hume (Green Party) and Robert Green (BNP). The rumours that the BNP were standing here have come true, although the fact that their candidate lives far way in Great Wakering won’t help them.

Lodge Ward, Rayleigh. Another four cornered contest. Sitting Tory Terry Livings faces Pat Putt (Lib Dem), Neil Kirsh (Green ) and Paula Hayter (English Democrats). Impossible to tell who’s going to win here. Mrs Hayter’s disadvantage is that not many people have even heard of the English Democrats. There’s a possible Lib Dem win here.

Rochford - A straight contest between sitting Tory councillor Sue Harper and David Lench for Labour. After the Tory victory last year you would expect them to win again…

Sweyne Park (Rayleigh) - This is a ward wedged between the 2 Lib Dem wards. Sitting Tory Peter Savill faces Liberal Democrat campaigner Jackie Dillnutt. The local Conservatives must be feeling a little anxious, they won by less than 200 last time. And this time Labour aren’t standing to split the anti-Tory vote.

So overall the Tories are looking strong but a little over-stretched, Labour are still in decline, the Hockley Residents and Hawkwell residents don’t have any candidates at all at district level and the Greens are standing in just 3 seats.

And what about us in the Lib Dems? To an outsider, having only 4 candidates seems pretty meagre. I've got to admit I feel pretty Ealing comedy compared with what Lib Dems do in other areas. But we are slowly regaining our strength in Rayleigh, though not having any candidates elsewhere is a great pity. And next year we don't have any seats to defend...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Anguish Over the 15

My heart goes out today to the relatives of the 15 naval personnel held in Iran.

This leader in the Telegraph yesterday - and the comments following it - should be preserved as a historical document summarising the international mess that our government has got our country - and servicemen - into. Some key comments:

With UKIP running this country no foreign power would dare to capture any British subjects travelling abroad ~ And thats a promise.

Simple questiona:-

1) What are our troops doing in Iraq
2) Who put in the Iraqi government and procured the execution of Mr Hussain
3) When was the last time that Iran invaded any country that was a neighbour of the UK, or EU
4) When will we stop killing people in Iraq
5) When will Blair stop killing our people as a result of his lies justifying the Iraqi war
6) When will Britain 'grow up' and smell the coffee - vis a vis the USA - even the Americans are beginning to desert Mr Bush.

Answers please.

An air and sea blockade of Iran and if that doesn't produce our servicemen, then an ultimatum - release them our we'll annhilate one of your cities with a nuclear strike.

Nothing would cheer our men more than to show some real fight, and we are going to have to fix the Iranians anyway.

Get off your a**e, Mr. Blair and do something.

warmongering is so easy from a desk and a computer

Launching tactical air strikes on selected military / industrial targets is certainly an option that is within the capability of what is left of the the once great R.A.F. However, when, after the first strike the Iranians publicly execute (say) 3 of the 15 hostages (including the female LS) just what do we do then?
Public pressure from the limp wristed, wimpish, unpatriotic public in Britain would make our subsequent surrender a certainty.
The only time to take military action is, unfortunately, after the release of the hostages which is unlikely to be soon.
The only possible use of that 'time to release' is for our Govt to actively and rapidly increase the capabilities of our Forces by bringing mothballed naval warships back into service, expanding the R.A.F capability by, if necessary, buying US or European aircraft (it takes us too long to build our own) and expanding the Army with new men and new kit.
All the above costs a LOT of money and, whilst creating much needed jobs for the civilian workforce, is not likely to happen with an anti-military Govt in power.
It seems unfortunate but we are going to have to rely on the EU to fully support maximum sanctions to effectively 'close down'Iran. That reliance does not fill me with hope. The only hope comes from persuading the EU countries (and others) that next time it may be their people taken hostage.
Seizure of all available Iranian assets, financial and material is a good start point, as is enforced reduction of their embassy staff and a ring of steel around their embassy to effectively imprison them. Limit and monitor their embassy communications and persuade our EU allies to do the same in the other countries of the EU.
Require all Iranian private citizens at present in the UK to register at a Police station within 24 hrs or face deportation, with re registration daily until our people are released.

If you believe the Iranians are naughty now, wait until they can thrust atomic weapons at you.

My views seem to follow those of Timothy Garton Ash:, that we should and hopefully will, find a way out of this with the help of European allies:

Iran is Germany's third-largest beneficiary of export credit guarantees, outdone only by Russia and China. Iran comes second to none in terms of the proportion of German exports - in recent years up to 65% - underwritten by the German government....

....So here's a challenge for the German presidency of the European Union: will you put your money where your mouth is? Or are all your Sunday speeches about European solidarity in the cause of peace and freedom not even worth the paper they are written on?

Look North for A Mayor

It's typical of the living-in-the-past attitude of today that even a blog I respect - Liberal Democrat Voice - is supporting David Owen as Mayor of London.

This annoys me on several levels - for one thing David Owen was never my cup of tea (although I heard he was very good at encouraging activists, which is a plus point.) But the whole thing reminds me of when a big-name overpaid football thinks he'll automatically be a good manager. Former cabinet ministers are not automatically good a local government.

We should be looking for someone with a track record of being mayor of a big , successful , clean and friendly city, and we should make the most of our international credentials by looking to Scandinavia.

Cities don't come much cleaner than Helsinki, and Eva-Riita Siitonen steps down in May after 7 years as mayor there. However I understand (from my limited Finnish) that she isn't interested.

However, there is an outside chance that last years's Mayor of Stockholm Loof Lirpa will seek the nomination. He speaks faultless English, has impeccable liberal credentials, has lived in the UK and USA, is about the perfect age - 42 - and is even an experienced - if controversial cross-country athlete.

For heavens sake, lets ask Loof.
Chris expresses his own views on this weblog.

I write this blog in a private capacity , but just in case I mention any elections here is a Legal Statement for the purposes of complying with electoral law: This website is published and promoted by Ron Oatham, 8 Brixham Close , Rayleigh Essex on behalf of Liberal Democrat Candidates all at 8 Brixham Close.