Wednesday, 29 March 2006

It's not rocket science

Something puzzles me.

Way back when in “olde” times, did the marauding masses troop belligerently to the planning office to object when the honourable representatives of our good Lord started whacking up 100ft church steeples? Did they moan about the terrible blight on the landscape? Did they claim that birds would fly straight into them and die in a terrible mess of bells and ropes?

When, a little later in the development of the world, people started to create horrid chimneys protruding from their houses, did the masses rise up and again storm the planning offices to complain about the offensiveness of such filthy protrusions? Did they argue that they looked awful in their nice village conservation areas? Did they complain about how much pollution was being pumped into the atmosphere? Did they claim that England’s green and pleasant land would be ruined forever?

And even later in our journey to greatness – have we summoned the harbingers of doom to bring death and destruction on those who erect TV aerials on their homes, or worse still, Satellite dishes? Have we placed in stocks those who erect electricity pylons or massive TV masts in our beauty spots? Where were the Kite Flying lobby groups back then to stir up mass hysteria over the number of children who would be fried by the evil pylons?

The answer of course is a thumping great NO!

The fact of the matter is that all of the examples I cite (apart from church steeples) have been accepted into our hearts because they make our lives easier and better. They deliver energy and entertainment into our homes and we like that – no matter the cost.

So why, oh why do we have protest groups springing up left, right and centre to prevent the widespread adoption of wind power and other renewable energies to fuel our homes?

Why should wind turbines be seen as any more of a nuisance to beauty than the ubiquitous church steeple or electricity pylon? Why should domestic turbines be seen as any more protruding and offensive than a satellite dish or a chimney? For in all cases, the wind turbine brings good to our environment and with practically none of the costs of our current energy sources.

For centuries, our chimneys enabled us to bring energy into our homes for heating and cooking. Wind turbines would do the same only without the pollution. Electricity pylons bring energy from far away cutting swathes through our woods and pastures. A wind turbine brings energy from 30ft above your head for free.

We complain endlessly that our consumption of fossil fuels endangers our environment through the effects of global warming, yet we object to turbines (big and small) because they don’t look very nice and they will spoil our views. It’s the hypocrisy that gets me, you see. How can we justify pylons and all manner of energy production that harms our planet and then object to harnessing wind at no relative cost to either ourselves or our beloved countryside.

So what’s the solution?

Well if I were David Cameron, I would be promising to divert all the wads of cash currently heading to wards ID cards and a new generation of nuclear power stations, and I would commence the biggest community wind and solar energy creation and delivery programme this country has seen since the national grid.

Localised community energy is the way forward. Schemes combining the resources of wind, solar and biomass that would serve each communities needs. A village might have domestic turbines and solar panels only. A town might need that and a couple of big turbines and perhaps a small biomass generator as well.

Cities are a bigger challenge, but again please tell me how wind turbines dotted around our metropolitan areas makes them any less beautiful than they are already? High rise flats and tower blocks contribute sod all, but we are happy enough with them.

For a modicum of effort, you could have most of rural England weaned off the grid pretty quickly and the rest would follow in quick time. There is a space just 50ft above our heads that goes completely to waste and yet which could bring considerably benefit to our lives if only we used it properly.

And here’s how you sell it – you tell people that if they accept these renewable energy supplies in their communities, they can have the energy FOR FREE. That’s right. No more electricity or gas bills, no more heating oil bills, no more red letters. Just energy delivered for free from the twirly thing above your house and those panels stuck to your roof. I would commit tax payers money to changing the way we produce and deliver the energy that makes our lives so lovely and easy.

I have to come out and say it – our objections to renewable energy power are spurious, hypocritical and incredulous. How can we possibly argue any longer that energy derived from burning irreplaceable fossil fuels & pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and then delivered through a network of hideously unsightly pylons is better than energy derived from a constant source of wind, sun and bio-waste that causes no harm to anything and is delivered from a distance of 30ft.

Tuesday, 21 March 2006

Purer than pure update

No sooner than I post my thoughts, do I discover that my own Party is advocating state funded political parties. I am incandescent with rage.

I am supporter of Cameron but his judgement here has been flawed. Surely the Tories can see that this is a scandal cooked up by Brown to wound Blair. Nobody invited us to this party. Shut up and get on with something more constructive like stopping the regionalisation of our police forces or stopping more young men from murdering young girls whilst on probation.

If you are caught with your finger in the till but avoid detection by standing behind someone very large - surely to god, you keep quiet. Not our boys, though.

Worse than their misjudgement, however, is their grasp at the taxpayers millions. Labour believes that the State is the answer to the ills of the world - Conservatives DO NOT.

[How fascinating today's NEC inquiry has been. Brown clearly thought the flames were dying down before they had done enough damage. So he arranges for some parrafin to be applied!!]


The UK swimmers have been a real inspiration all week. The Commonwealth does not always provide genuine world class competition, but in a pool filled with Australians and South Africans it really is a test of metal.
A performance that brings a combined medal haul of 38, of which 15 gold, is very much something to be excited by. The depth of talent is phenomenal. No reliance on the individual dominantion of a Thorpe or Hackett for us. Some 16 or so different people won those medals.
Well done to you all.

I would love to know, based entirely on times, how many of those medals would have converted to success at the last Olympics. But that is hardly the point.

The real question is how many of these medals will convert into success at the next Olympics? Just imagine if we won 38 medals in the pool in Beijing.

So please tell me that these men and women are coming home to a national swimming academy, where they will be free to develop stronger and feed from each others success and confidence. Please tell me that we have the commitment to give them the support they need to step up from empire champions to Olympians.

Only time will tell, but we'll all be watching.

What - the whole world?

I have just discovered, late in life, that the UK number one single on the day of my birth was "Joy to the World". Indeed!!
Click here to see how appropriately your arrival was greeted.

Monday, 20 March 2006

Purer than pure. Whiter than white.

What disgusts me about this Government most is a the way they break something and then constantly get away with taking credit for pretending that they have fixed it.

The current political loan debacle (not scandal) is just the latest in the incidence of political vandalism rife in New Labour and of this recovery phenomenon for which I have yet to find a suitable name.

The Prime Minister has deliberately flouted the rules to allow rich men to fund his craving for power. That it has all been done under cover makes the stench of sleaze all the more pungent but of course the Government fires off flares to defect attention from that act by claiming that the issue is actually about party funding. It is nothing of the sort. It is about men in power committing fraud on a monumental scale.

Peerages have been bought for decades, its just the level of subtlety that has changed. Indeed the entire hereditary House of Lords was created on the basis of who did what favours for the King or Queen of the day.

Under no circumstances whatsoever must this Government be allowed to assert that the answer is state funded politics. No Party has the right to exist and taxes must NEVER be raised or used to funds political parties. That constitutes a tax on the very system which draws such cynicism and derision. Parties should exist because people want them to and are prepared to fund them. I would go to jail rather than pay tax to fund political parties whose existence I deplore.

[More evidence that Blair is near the end - Brown's fingerprints are all over the revealing of this. He knew this was all going to come to light eventually and he has forced it out before he takes the reigns. See how the man at the heart of all Labour's election campaigns stays unfeasably silent. See how his agents in the Party make amazing statements that FOURTEEN MILLION POUNDS slips through the books without anyone knowing. Its incredulous.]

The real solution comes in two parts.

First we must remove all possible connection between Party funding and the Legislature. This is very simple - the House of Lords must become an elected chamber. Then rich people can throw as much money at politics as they like but entry to the Lords will still require them to do a little more. It is symbolic of the situation we are in that Blair is the totem of opposition to this solution.

The second part requires an understanding of when and how sleaze takes hold. In almost all cases money starts to take hold when an administration starts to cling to power. Politicians on the way out are more corruptable. They have nothing to lose and only a little time to make gains.

The answer therefore is to copy the ONE good thing about the American system, and place a constitutional cap on the length of time any one person spends at 10 Downing Street. This step alone would prevent the sort of behaviour that has marred British politics during my lifetime and might even restore faith in the value of elections.

For the avoidance of doubt - I despise Blair with every ounce of my body.

On probation

Its moments like these which should turn the tide. The incompetence of the Probation Service and the ineffectiveness of our weak, liberal law and order regime is exposed again and our political elite bathe in the mire of sleaze and impropriety.

Law and Order is now the single most effective attack zone for the Tories. EVERYONE now has the perception that the law is weak, the police are weak and the criminals come first in a system that now regularly allows convicted men to commit more crime when they should be tucked up nicely out of harms way.

So what ideas and policies come from Whitehall today? That's right - a new law to prevent loans to political parties and a determination to make policing worse by regionalising it. I ask you. The blind leading the mute.

I think it is shameful that we live in a society where gangs of kids seemingly routinely abduct and rape women, where guns seem to be freely available to those who look and where the murder of youth by youth is endemic.

If I were Home Secretary, I would have resigned by now. Zero tolerance policing is fast about to become a most popular policy and it should come in conjunction will police leaders directly answerable to their communities.

Saturday, 18 March 2006

The Grand Alliance

What a great day.

I have the wonderful privilege of changing my national allegiance according to the sport.
Cricket - I'm all English, but rugby - I'm Celtic. Scottish and Irish.
So today has been just perfect. Only Wales let the Celts down by throwing away the chance to beat France.
The final 6 Nations table is published below and is one to savour. Rarely do Scotland and Ireland come ahead of England, and even more rarely do England finish so low. If Wales had clung on for those final 10 minutes, Ireland would be champions and England would have finished a truly embarrassing 5th.
The Grand Alliance of Scotland, France and Ireland have done the business.

Country P W D L Points

France 5 4 0 1 8
Ireland 5 4 0 1 8
Scotland 5 3 0 2 6
England 5 2 0 3 4
Wales 5 1 1 3 3
Italy 5 0 1 4 1

The papers tomorrow will be full of speculation over the England manager and rightly so. England has a year to sort themselves out or their participation in the 2007 World Cup will be a mess.
Andy Robinson must go now and he must take the awful influence of Rugby League with him.
League hardly deserves to share the Rugby name and has no place at Twickenham. England must re-group quickly under someone like Rob Andrew, who knows how the flowing and beautiful game of rugby UNION can be played at its best.

Friday, 17 March 2006

Shh! Don't say a word but...

I have had one of my inspired moments (like tipping Cameron for the leadership as far back as July), so I am posting it on my blog so that if I am proved right I can point to it proudly, and if I am not, I can bury it in my Archive!

Much is being said about the speed of Blair's demise. Some Labour people want Blair to go now before any more damage is done. Some say that Brown wants him to hang on a bit longer so that he can stick as much crap to him as possible before he takes over all nice and clean and ready to order the withdrawal from Iraq as his first act.

Some Tories want him gone now so that Brown has longer to show his true colours before the next election. Some want him to carry on longer so that the stench of sleaze and incompetence grows stronger. They hope that Brown won't have time to recover it before the next election.

Therein lies the problem. We are all assuming the date of the next election.

Brown is no slouch and has the downfall of the Tories embedded in his soul. He will know that much comparison will be made with Major. He will know the risk of taking over midway and then limping through an election only to see it all collapse around him.

How does he avoid it. Well if I were him I would take the leadership from Blair as soon as possible (May / June), purge the Blairites and go straight to the polls to secure a fresh mandate in his own name and based on the withdrawal from Iraq, no matter how soon after the last general election.

You see if I'm wrong. General election in October this year or May 2007 at the latest. That's how to wrong foot a resurgent Tory Party.

Thursday, 16 March 2006

Surely there is something you can give me, Doc?

This drugs trial fiasco is quite horrific but it forces us to face up to a number of truths.

Millions of us will have woken this morning and taken prescribed and unprescribed medicines for all manner of conditions and illnesses. Every one of those drugs passed through a similar trials process that enabled them to come into public use.

Millions of us will today have attended our doctors seeking a cure for whatever complaint we might have. In a number of cases, the doctors will have nothing to offer. In some of those cases, the doctors will know of something that might be available soon but which has not yet completed its trials process.

In situations where the patient becomes aware of this (breast cancer sufferer and Herceptin, for example), the patient is very likely to become quite militant in their demand for the drug. After all their life may depend upon it.

Put quite simply, the need to test drugs is beyond crucial. There is nothing wrong with it. It has been going on for a hundred years. What is amazing is that drug trial crises like this one don't happen much more regularly. But it is unquestionably the case that for this we have to thank the animals which bear the brunt of our initial explorations.

We can demand that drug trials adhere to the strictest regulations possible and minimise the risk of failure but we cannot demand that all drugs travel to the chemist's counter without causing some harm in their development process. The question we must all ask ourselves is how much harm we are prepared to tolerate in the name of our health and longevity and who or what should bear it?

If we don't answer this question, then either young men and women like these will be harmed more often or the doctor will have less to offer you in your hour of need.

Get well soon, men.

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

We can all save our Primary Care Trust

At a time when the majority of PCTs are running wildly over budget, Huntingdonshire PCT, rated 11th out of 264 in 2005, balances its books year after year. Not only that, but it is actually creating opportunities to develop services more effectively.

Read this GP's website to see how bad things can get out there. But beware. He illustrates his case with a pretty gruesome picture of bed sores.

Huntingdonshire proves that small is beautiful. So why are the Government so keen to absorb us into a big, un-manageable bureaucracy and actually punish the District’s ability to deliver health care to its patients?

We must all make our feelings known. If we do, we can stop it. Effective and efficient health care for us all is too important to sacrifice for some expensive bureaucratic dream.

Please write to:
Mr Keith Pearson (Chairman)
Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambs Strategic Health Authority
Victoria House
Capital Park
Cambridge CB1 5XB

and tell him you object to the abolition of Huntingdonshire’s Primary Care Trust.

Community before individual

Well tonight it has finally happened. After two years at the very bottom of the political ladder, I have finally had to choose whether to vote on an emotive issue according to my beliefs or whether to go with the flow. I chose to argue my case and vote accordingly. I ended up in a minority of one and I don't mind admitting that it is unnerving.

The issue is affordable housing and the location is the quiet village of Buckden in Huntingdonshire.

So why did I break the social taboo and vote against an affordable housing proposal?

1. Village Boundaries. Buckden's clear and distinct boundaries are of exceptional importance to maintaining the integrity of the village in the long term. The proposed "exception sites" are outside the village limits and as such would require the compromise of this boundary. A compromise of this sort leaves the village exposed to further development or village creep. Equally, other boundaries start to feel exposed.

2. Housing Need. The cited housing need stemmed from a survey taken 18 months ago which showed that around 20 local people would want to take advantage of affordable housing if more existed. The desire for housing in a place like Buckden will always exist and 18 months after these houses are built, it will be possible to do another housing survey that will show exactly the same thing. Then what? Another 10 houses? And another? And another? There is no question in Buckden to which the answer is "10 houses".

3. Housing balance. For a village of this size (1500 houses) the ratio of high and low cost houses is actually highly respectable. I would say that at least a third would sale on the open market for less than £150,000. On current lending rates, a couple with two earners bringing in around £35 - 40 k (e.g. two teachers or a teacher and a nurse) can afford such a mortgage. The situation is simply not as dire as people make out.

4. Community balance. I believe that Buckden is a well balanced village with a thriving local economy and a very advantageous ratio of people to services. That is what makes this village such a popular place to live and precisely the reason why people will always want to live here. Difficult though it is to say, I believe that Buckden has to hold a line. Allowing development or village creep, however small or seemingly inconsequential, simply destroys the very village qualities that make Buckden such a lovely place to live in the first place.

5. Lack of planning. The proposal had all the hall marks of being driven by the availability of land rather than the needs of the village. It was said many times that the number of houses was not enough to solve the problem. Village creep is the worst form of development as it tends to drift and be unplanned. But the District Council has a development plan. Huntingdonshire does need a great many houses. But the answer, as they know well, is to provide them within a properly planned and infrastructured site, not to bolt them onto the side of villages. The housing shortage both locally and nationally, must be solved on a much more impressive scale.

6. Integration. Many times it was said that affordable housing needs to be integrated into communities. Again, which ever way you look at it, these proposed sites achieve anything but integration. Worst of all they take the village in entirely the wrong direction - towards the River Great Ouse flood plain and closer towards the sewage works. We already have newly built Closes within the village boundaries that are finding it hard to integrate.

7. Assurances. On admission by Council Officers, the "Buckden only" covenant turns out to be a "Buckden first" priority. There is no such assurance that they can give you. There is no way to predict future ownership of such houses within a small village as you can, say, in Huntingdon. Within one or two generations of ownership, you can be sure that gaps in demand will let outsiders in and only months later a Buckden resident will be left without a house.

So there you have it. A large number of problems and issues that left me unable to follow the crowd. In essence, I have not been persuaded that there are sufficient desired benefits to the village in these particular proposals such as to outweigh the many and varied dangers to the long term integrity of the village that they pose.

I have said many times that I believe Buckden is a very healthy size and does not appear to either want or need to grow at this time. I am, however, not against development per se. I am just certain that if it happens, it must be lead by the needs and desire of the community, must demonstrably benefit the community and must be formally planned to ensure that all manner of services and infrastructure are put in place to support it.

History will show that I voted against affordable housing but to be very clear, I voted against this proposal for affordable housing at this time and in this place. If I am wrong I will be the first to admit it but I think carefully about the arguments and decisions I make and I am consistent and I am principalled - the community should come before the individual and the interests of the majority should take precedence over the minority.

Monday, 13 March 2006

Proud father I may be...

... but Oliver's (8yrs old) most recent work of art is rich in style and potential.

Gone and soon forgotten

I hope that there won't be too many people visiting this blog who give two hoots how Milosovic died.
Men like that should be put to the sword on the battlefield, and occassionally I regret that we did not drive into Kosovo all guns blazing and destroy that nasty little bully and his drug fuelled Army once and for all.

Green and Gold

Cricket today is most definitely Green and Gold. The combined forces of Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan are teaching the rest of us how to play.

India will be disappointed (for a brief moment) that England's batting offers such a pathetic competition. It is times like these that you understand completely why the Americans will export their entire food and economic culture as far and wide as they can but they have no desire to see others take up their primary sports - they have no desire to see others do it better than them in the future!

As for the Aussie's and the Boks, well their record breaking one day game puts to bed any idea that cricket is a boring game.

Nearly nine hundred runs in a day, scored at 9 runs an over. In a match of 600 balls, 142 balls crossed the boundary for either a six of a four. That's every fourth ball! Stunning. Of Ponting's individual 164 runs, 102 of them came from boundaries. Of Gibb's 175 runs, 126 of them came from boundaries. Blistering.

Could you say that again more slowly and clearly, Minister

You all know my feelings about Sir Ian Blair, the Government's Metropolitan Police Puppet. I really, really don't like, admire or respect him. He blunders from high profile cock-up to media disaster. He isn't a real policeman and his force has no confidence in him. I greatly want to see him replaced.

Then he goes and does something sensible. I am torn!!

Let me assure you, if I am ever in a situation where I must have telephone calls with some of these Government Ministers, you can be absolutely certain that I will record them.

What is fascinating is that, unless I have missed something, it isn't clear how it became known that he had taped these calls. Are his own staff finally shoving him off the balcony? Or is the Government somehow conspiring to get rid of him before the report on the De Menezes shooting condemns him (and embarrasses them)?

It is rather amusing that Sir Ian is powerless to call off the very political beast that he snuggled up to so successfully and which appointed him with such confidence.

Political naivety can now be added to the long list of incompetences with which Sir Ian is so well endowed.

UPDATE: As always there are clever people at the Telegraph who sum up the case against Ian Blair a little better than I can.

Friday, 10 March 2006

Politics in the blood

I am very proud to have be asked to be a godfather this week. His name is Jozef Pawlukiewicz. He is 3 months old and he lives with his mum and dad in Aberdeenshire. His mum, Natasha, and I have been friends since our earliest memory and our mothers are our respective godmothers, so we are keeping the tradition going.

Anyway, young Josef has made his first media appearance this week and shows that he is a campaigning natural.

P.S. Aboyne has many things to be proud of and is a quite beautiful Highland's town. It sits along the Dee Valley, which stretches from Braemar to Aberdeen and hosts some of Scotlands finest scenery.
In the Meaning of Liff (sic), Douglas Adams and John Lloyd ascribe it the following meaning - "To beat an expert at a game of skill by playing so appallingly badly that none of his clever tactics are of any use to him!!!"

Campaign - Go!

So the first leaflet of my District Council election campaign is out. I am very grateful for the response so far. I have had a number of emails and phone calls saying good luck etc. Many thanks.

In this months leaflet, I have focussed on the work I want to do around improving youth facilities and ensuring the highest confidence in the policing of anti social behaviour. I know that this issue is very important to many people. I think that better policing and better youth facilities are, however, as important as each other. Firm and confident policing, with the full support of everyone in the community is a given but we cannot, in all conscience, continue to berate our youth whilst we fail to provide things for them to do. For them to have respect for their surroundings and neighbours, they must feel that they are a valued part of our community.

At the end of this month I will focus on the issues of affordable housing and Mill Road speeding - to which I believe there may be a relatively quick and happy ending.

Convulsions of a dying Government

Two quick points.

Firstly, this Jowell / Mills affair really is plumbing new depths of absurdity. Some might say that they are in a media spin but I would say it was a flat spin.
She knows what's coming downstream so she half junks her husband to save her career. She spins it as wanting to save the Prime Minister from further headlines and scandal. The Prime Minister clears her of breaking the Ministerial Code even when she has blatantly broken it. He doesn't bother spinning it, he just does it to keep a friend by his side in his final hours. So Blair saves Jowell and Jowell saves Blair and herself - for now. Jowell will be junked by the next Labour leader.
These are now truly desparate days of Ministers clinging to power.

Blair's intolerable mention of his divine guidance continues to rile, but it was only when I heard the story of the vicar who has resigned due to her inability to forgive those who killed her daughter of 7 July in the London bombings, that I understood why.
Her is a woman who quite understandably refuses to forgive anyone who kills in the name of any God.
I am not suggesting for one moment that Blair went to war under the banner of his religion, but here we are living in our own country under a greater threat than ever before, facing an enemy within whose motivation for their unspeakable actions is their belief in God, and what does Blair do - that's right, he places God and religion firmly within his own umbrella of justification.
This was, undoubtedly, the stupidest thing you could do. If we didn't have a religious war before, we do now.
The way to deal with religious zealots is to remove the things they fight against, not to make it a contest of beliefs and godliness.
Alistair Campbell was right - politicans shouldn't do God.

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

God told me to..

In normal circumstances one would have sympathy for anyone mis-quoted in the media and taken wildly out of context. But this is Blair we are talking about - a man who has forged his entire political career on the deliberate use of language to spin whatever truth he was trying to conceal or lie he was trying to promote.

So, after nearly 10 years of this sort of thing, when Tony Blair utters some meaningless drivel about how weighty is the decision to start a war and risk the lives (and deaths) of young servicemen and that he will be judged by God, you'll forgive me if I don't 'share his pain'.

After all, I have personally been sent into a potentially life threatening situation by this man in Kosovo in 1999.

Right and wrong are the sole factors that should influence your decision to step onto a battlefield. It is your ability to weigh a situation, calculate risk to national interest and carry your people with you that counts, not God or your faith.

It is quite literally the height of conceit and ignorance that our Prime Minister should either deliberately or absent mindedly bring his faith in God into the equation on his decison to go to war. But remember, this is the same man whose calculated words in the Commons sought to frighten us all into believing that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction against British targets in under 45 minutes.

Mr Blair is Prime Minister and knows full well that his words are analysed from every angle. He knows full well that you cannot go on Parkinson and raise such a loosely worded concept without being interpreted in a hundred different ways.

No. He did it deliberately and knew exactly what would happen. One can only wonder why and whether it was a cynical ploy to steal the headlines away from his floundering Culture Secretary.

These people have started to inhabit a world far, far away from the rest of us and the electorate will always find a way to punish conceit of this magnitude.

The battle for Lodge Farm pond

Out of my office window, I have a wonderful view of our pond and the myriad of wildlife on and around it. (Trust me - I appreciate how lucky we are!!)

Anyway, upon this pond a bit of a battle has begun between a pair of Moorhens and a pair of wild ducks for the nesting rights on the log that sticks out of the water.

Now its not for me to take sides but the Moorhens were there last year and produced three lovely broods, and to be fair, the ducks are being a bit of a bully. So far today, the Moorhens have taken ownership twice but keep being thrown off.

I think I am going to have to sink a new log for the Moorhens. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 6 March 2006

Mill Road Update

The Cambs Evening News has covered the story too.

The street lights on Mill Road are finally on (with great thanks to our Parish Clerks for three years of tireless effort). This means, however, that:

1. Officially, the speed limit through the lit area is now 40mph.
2. The Council / Highways must ratify and sign post this reduction.
3. The Council / Highways may attempt to rescind this speed reduction by publishing a 60mph reinstatement order in the local press.
4. If published the residents and supporters must write as many letters as possible demanding that the speed restriction is retained.

It is up to us to ensure that we hang onto the 40pmh limit and get it properly sign posted.

Thursday, 2 March 2006

Mill Road Speeding

On Monday this week, I represented the residents of Mill Road at a Hunts Traffic Management Committee meeting. Speeding on Mill Road is a real problem and despite efforts by the Parish Council, the authorities take no notice. So we stepped up a gear and presented a petition. The Committee accepted our petition and will report back in June. We even made it into the local newspaper.

I was allowed 3 mins to represent our cause at the meeting and here is what I said:

"Mill Road is a small ‘B’ road joining Buckden to the Offords. It is a deceptive road. Straight in parts but with close corners. The road leads down from Buckden to the River Ouse where the road narrows to cross the river and then crosses the main east coast railway line. Speeds on this stretch are very high and we know that 80/90 mph is regularly attained. Even at the national speed limit, this road is dangerous.

"The issue of speed combines with the layout of the road and its residential properties to create a fearful situation. There are some 30 households on the road, and at least 15 children. Your attention is needed because of the proximity of houses and residents to the edge of the road with absolutely no protection.

"The accident rate on Mill Road is high and particularly significant. Accidents over the past 5 years number in double figures. Over the years, there have been plenty of vehicle write-offs, many injuries and even loss of life. The danger on Mill Road is, however, out of proportion to its accident rate for two important reasons:

"Firstly, it is a “rat run” and many of those who drive on it do so with the specific intention of achieving a short cut. Faced by the river and railway crossing and the fear of further delays, they are mentally tuned to going as fast as they can to make the short cut worth while. They use the road with the specific intention of driving very fast.

"Secondly, it has become a highly popular weekend race track for young men in the area. Weekends come with the misery of high speed races taking place. Cars and motorcyclists driving deliberately fast, two abreast. The turns and straights of the road provide a challenging experience to young drivers.

"Living alongside this stretch of road is nerve shattering. Operating to the front of the house requires unbelievable care and attention. Unloading shopping or just getting the children into the house safely is a worrying procedure. Moreover, even with the speed limit as it is, we have figures to prove that it is not possible to avoid collisions should one resident pull out the moment before an on-coming car comes into view. Children fear to walk on the footpath into the village due to the wind blast and the speed of traffic entering the village is of great concern, especially since the primary school is the first thing they meet. It is not just the drivers of these cars who are at risk, it is the residents who live along the road and the people from the surrounding villages who use the pathway for recreation and access.

"We know that you have considered safety on this road. The Parish council have raised it in their joint funding bids many times but to no avail. It appears that the lack of deaths on the road is a bitter-sweet factor. Sweet that no-one has died recently, but bitter because we fail to raise the number of points we need to get your attention.

"We are asking you to reconsider earlier dismissive judgments. We ask you to understand the local factors at work and to look again at the speeds being reached. The level of fear among residents and users is very high, and with good reason when cars regularly plough into their fences and even their living rooms.

"Please take us seriously, and give us some support and some protection before an innocent resident is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Please act before a tragedy occurs. Listen to the local people. We have alerted you to this problem and none of us want to have a death on our conscience."

Empty Chalice

The Lib Dems will announce this afternoon the name of the lucky inheritor of the leadership tankard. All bets are on a narrow Campbell win. Huhne to come a close second.

In the short term, a Campbell leadership will be useful. He is of course someone who is incapable of discussing or arguing domestic policies and he will continue within his comfort zone of banging on about those nasty Americans.

In a classic BBC Daily Politics show this week, he defended Scottish MP's (for he is one) voting on English-only issues by saying that he and his constituents had "friends and relatives in England". That is simply embarrassing.

Under him the Party will drift and be roundly ridiculed. Sadly, however, that is the point. In the medium to long term, this leadership outcome is the worst case. The younger, more ambitious element will see their opportunity slipping away and a year from the next election, they will stage a coup.

With Hughes out of the running, a more threatening challenge will take over. Campbell will simply have kept the seat warm while the younger element sort their lives out and get ready to take over. Campbell will promote all sorts of young MP's into limelight positions in the hope that they raise their profile.

Cameron's assault on the Lib Dems was admirable. He threatened them like never before and provoked this rather tawdry leadership campaign. If Campbell wins, the message to Cameron now is that you have just two years to inflict maximum damage to the Lib Dems, to encourage as many defections as you can and to re-attract many lost voters.

I don't mind admitting that I would have preferred Hughes to have won.

P.S. Huhne is a very nasty piece of work. We are asked to believe that he has seen the light and made a Damascan conversion. I don't think so! Here is a man who made an excessive amount of money in the City in the 80's courtescy of one Mrs Margaret Thatcher; a man who pursued profits, wealth and power where ever he could find it, and now that his wealth is secure, he advocates higher taxes for higher earners. Champagne socialism and hypocrisy of the worst kind.

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Introducing the 'Forces Communications Group'

I wrote this article some years ago and tried to get it published while I was still a civil servant. You won't be surprised to hear that I was refused!!
I apologise that it is very long. I am still searching for the button that allows me to split long articles so that only introductory paragraphs appear on the front page from which you determine your interest.
The first section covers the so-far un-told story of the first 24hrs inside Kosovo in June 1999.
I assure you its a good read - if you have time!! Go on, you might enjoy it.
If anyone wants to publish it more widely, just let me know.

Introducing the Forces Communications Group

The marriage of civilian and military media advisers inside the MOD press office has never been easy but as changes to the structure and operation are finally made, Richard Bailey, a former Senior Government Press Officer in Whitehall and former Army Press Officer, puts a new perspective on the problem.

12 June 1999 came to a brief stop for me on the tarmac of Pristina airport surrounded by Russian soldiers, Serbian soldiers, a Company of 1 Para and about 25 highly eminent British journalists (including Kate Adie, Tim Butcher, Michael Evans, Ross Benson, Keith Graves...). We all stood, soaked by a late afternoon downpour, waiting for General Sir Mike Jackson to arrive and proclaim the entry into Kosovo as the complete success that it was. The NATO force had pressed 50 miles into Kosovo in a single day without a shot being fired or a voice raised. The vacuum left by a retreating Serbian Army had been filled before it appeared and even the unexpected appearance of a Russian battalion was to be hailed as a triumph of allied co-operation. General Jackson appeared in his helicopter, stepped out, addressed the waiting media and slipped away to welcome the Russians in private. Priceless PR for a fabulous organisation. But what came next was the most nerve wracking and defining twelve hours of my life.

It was now about half past six in the evening, dusk was falling and as we turned to leave the airport, the plan fell to pieces. The Paras had vanished into thin air, and at that precise moment 4 Army press officers, and 25 journalists, including some instantly recognisable names, were the furthest forward element of the NATO force. But we had no maps, no radios, two vehicles (both media armoured cars), insufficient rations, 4 pistols with a total of 150 rounds of ammunition and no idea where anyone was. We walked quickly but confidently back the way we had come. As we walked through a Russian checkpoint, however, and darkness fell, that confidence fell away and the only Serbian speaker in the group, a journalist, made the crucial decision.

Suddenly veering off the road he marched straight up to the nearest house, rapped on the door and within minutes the occupants were happily walking off into the darkness and we were moving in. Unable to raise anyone on our mobile phones, we settled down for the night, cooked what little food we possessed and chatted nervously about what we would do if either the Serbs or the Russians decided they didn’t want to play General Jackson’s game after all. Two press officers would be on guard during the night - for all the good it would do us. It was as much habit as purpose.

In the morning we rose, washed and shaved (again habit really) and as we gathered together ready to walk further down the road, salvation arrived in the form of a large Army truck. Minutes later we pulled up outside a barrack building where we found our lost Paras sharing a billet with a Company of Serbs. Minutes after that we were back with our Headquarters. No relieved welcome, just the classic British understatement – “Where the bloody hell have you been??!”

I tell that story because it helps to describe the true chaos of military operations and ultimately the sort of challenge that military media relations faces. I have every confidence that during those few hours of uncertainty, our esteemed media colleagues probably thought we were the most useless bunch of press officers in the Army. But of course what I haven’t told you is that none of us were press officers at all – we were just ordinary infantry officers, with little or no training, looking after the media because it had to be done. But these journalists commanded an audience in the UK alone of approaching 20 million people, and would help these people form a life long opinion – Army good or Army bad. I vowed then never to be useless in the eyes of the media again.

Forces media relations is a complex issue tangled in politics and history. In a nutshell, the MOD is the Government Department where the culture gap between the politicians and the civil servants (soldiers, sailors and airmen) is at its widest. Politics thrives in the glare of the media and the public eye. The Forces prefer the shadows and most certainly do not seek any media intrusion. Changes have recently been made to the structure and running of the MOD press office after the most intensive period of British military activity since WW2. The PR changes were driven by politics and now, despite being such great leaders in so many different fields, the military finds itself being led. So the question I wish to address in this essay is solely that concerning the attitude of the modern military towards the media and its public image.

So why then have the politicians been so determined to re-organise the press office? Is this an example of an overbearing Government media machine shifting the goal posts? Well, no, I don’t think so. In actual fact, I believe that such radical steps have been made necessary by decades of military malaise and frankly they were necessary to bring some certainty to the operation. For too long the Forces have ignored public relations and treated it with a mixture of disdain and derision.

I need look no further that my own entry into military media relations for the finest example of that malaise. In 1995, whilst serving with my Regiment in Londonderry, I was summoned to the Commanding Officer’s office to be told that we had to have a press officer while we were in Northern Ireland. Nobody seemed to know what that job actually was, how to do it or how we might measure success. He had to have a name beside the appointment and that name was mine.

It is pure chance that I discovered, to my pleasure, that I was better at PR than I ever had been at soldiering and I had stumbled on a second career just as my first was reaching a ceiling. But across the Army alone there are about 100 officers who are summoned in just the same way and who despise every moment of it, their only thought of a career in tatters. Worse still, neither those doing the appointing nor those being appointed seem able to recognise just how much damage they could do to the reputation of their own beloved employer.

It is only now, of course, that I fully understand PR as a profession in the same way that accountancy or dentistry is a profession. It is a crucial profession that can positively and negatively influence morale, recruiting, budgets, and most importantly public opinion and support. The Army is no less a corporate body with a desperate need to manage its image and reputation than Marks and Spencer or British Gas, but it doesn’t seem to see things that way. The forces have always been troubled by public relations but good communications would help to bring consistency to that age old problem - the forces image and reputation:

“O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away”,
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.”
Tommy by Rudyard Kipling

[It hasn’t always been that way. The most famous General of all – Montgomery – understood spin better than anyone. When he arrived in North Africa to tackle Rommel, Montgomery was no better a tactician or strategist than Auchinleck. Montgomery won because he instinctively knew how to make the 8th Army a corporate brand whose soldiers felt proud to serve. Communication, image, reputation were his key weapons in convincing his men that they could fight together and win, and he created an Army that was so well PR’ed that it remains one of the most recognisable military brands in the world – The Desert Rats.]

The Army has seen sense in relation to so many professions over the years. The establishment of the Royal Army Medical Corp in 1860 underlined the understanding that doctors best serve their soldiers when they are an integrated and respected part of the service. Unless you understand military life and are a part of it, you cannot hope to get the balance of humanity and ruthlessness right. Few soldiers can pull the wool over an Army doctor and most Army doctors can maintain a fit and healthy battalion. The same principle applies to engineering, mechanics, dentists, vets, cooks and musicians. No Commanding Officer would ever summon an Officer and expect him to fix the Land Rovers or the guard dogs. In every case there is an established Army Corp appropriately distributed around the Service, so that the right jobs are done by the right professionals. Commanding Officers may be able to tell the mechanics which vehicles to fix but they do not tell them how to fix them. The very best example is the Army Legal Service (ALS). Here is a group of 100 or so Army lawyers spread around the various Headquarters employed to ensure that military law is applied properly and fairly but with a full understanding of the military context. One and all are professionals first, soldiers second but able to perform under the highest pressure and in the most difficult of circumstances with the full respect of their infantry or artillery colleagues because they walk the walk and live the life.

I imagine you have worked out where this is leading. So, yes, if all of these are respected professions which have been formally integrated into the Forces, why not Communications? How can the Forces be persuaded to respect and understand public relations? How can this gulf of distrust between civilian and military be bridged? Why is there no uniformed, trained and respected professional in each Regiment capable of ensuring that the reputation of that unit is properly maintained? I spent the hours of 12 June 1999 prior to arriving at Pristina airport at the head of a 2000 vehicle convoy dealing with the only element of the plan which no-one had mentioned or considered – the saturation of this tiny road into Kosovo with media. Every time we stopped at a Serb check point, I alone had to keep at least 10 cameras and twice as many journalists away from the Brigadier as he negotiated free passage. I alone had to marshal the eyes of the world safely and professionally without training or direction. (Best day of my life!)

I believe that the MOD must immediately create a new tri-service unit for professional communicators. They must be professionals first and soldiers, sailors and airmen second. The Unit must have the simultaneous respect of the Services, the media and the communications profession. It is a tall order but eminently achievable. Its planning and media management on operations would be an attribute to commanders and it would represent and stand up for the needs and demands of good communications in everything the Forces do. It would recruit young people with a lust for life and adventure and with a little proven experience in the communication industry. Volunteers would be trained in military skills and professional skills before being fully integrated into the Forces. Just like the Doctors, Dentists, lawyers, vets and chaplains, they would then work, live and play with the forces they serve but with one foot firmly anchored in the real world they communicate with. It can be done and would prove an exciting, challenging prospect for any motivated young communications professional. Step forward volunteers for the Forces Communication Group.

Richard Bailey was a Senior Press Officer in Whitehall. After an 8 year commission in The Highlanders, culminating in Kosovo, Richard managed the media operation for the Lockerbie Trial in the Netherlands in 2000, worked as press officer at Conservative Central Office during the 2001 General Election, was Head of Media at the Country Land and Business Association, and handled the media operations for the Hutton Inquiry and the Soham Trial.

He is pretty sure he has not been “useless” to the media for some considerable time!

Numa Numa

Caught this on Channel Four over the weekend. Finally found a link to it. Watch and enjoy.
He is miming, of course, and how brilliantly.
I often get carried away listening to my favourite catchy tunes, so I'm with this guy all the way!


David Cameron has published our values document. At his London launch, he did what he does best - he stood on his feet and spoke from the heart about what it is that drives him, his leadership and a Party that wants to change. He exposes the nerve of our current interfering, regulating, banning, telling, bossing government. He explains how it can be different and where we are going.

Watch it here.

You can't do this if you are shallow and directionless. You build the ship, you launch it, you set the course and then you explain what happens on each deck.