Saturday, 7 May 2011

Post election re-action; further thoughts

As a first-time Campaigner, who failed to get elected under the Lib-Dem banner in Thursday's local elections, I must now go on record as saying that the Coalition for me is not working.
The Lib Dems have been used as a shield to allow the Tories to make unpopular choices and cuts that have under-mined the public sector in particular and allowed unscrupulous private sector employers to revert to the 'big-stick' method of control seen so often under the dreadful Thatcher years. The party, and Nick Clegg in particular, has also taken all the flak for a tuition fee policy that was always part of the Tories agenda but never the Lib Dems.
Why teflon Cameron never gets any comeback is beyond me- after all the Coalition is Conservative LED and the Lib Dems are, at best, junior-partners only.In order to stop the haemorrhaging of Lib Dem Councils, Councillors and grass-root activists and supporters, I urge Clegg to pull out of the coalition now, stand up to the Tories and say enough is enough by recapturing our unique identity. Lib Dems would NEVER have raised tuition fees in Government alone; Lib Dems would NEVER have made such savage and severe cuts in Government alone. 
The party has been hood-winked by the Tories due to its own naivety and suffered dramatically as a consequence.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Post election reaction

Thank you to the 630 of you that voted for me in Herontye district election (I have left the count before the Town results have been declared) and congratulations to the two Messrs Belsey and Sweatman for their success.  A special thanks to my running mate, Chris Jerrey, who has helped me cope with the occasional rude person  who assumed that people wanting to do their best for the town deserve less respect than the stuff one tries to avoid standing in when walking in the country!

Besides this Chris,(who has so superbly served Herontye for 4 years at Mid Sussex District Council and who will be sorely missed), has been a great mentor and despite the very disappointing result, has become a person whose friendship I value tremendously.

As for the result then it is clear to me that I will no longer be able to sustain any support for the coalition agreement.  The Lib Dems have been used, at national level, as whipping boys by the tories and I now firmly believe that we should have entered a coalition with the Labour party - who can be trusted - rather than got into bed with a party that has never been known to listen to anyone other than their own grass root support......

Nice to see Mr Soames at today's count; the landed gentry keeping in touch with 'his' public wearing a 1980's double breasted suit.....the retro look is after all back in fashion!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Final Day of Campaigning!

Campaigning in 2011 is very different to that in 2001; blogs, Twitter and Facebook have all changed the way that candidates interact with the electorate and, coupled with traditional means of engagement, this surely promotes the democratic ideal.

It is with this in mind that we can further enhance democracy within the United kingdom by taking the next step towards Proportional Representation and voting YES to the Alternative Vote tomorrow at the ballot box.  For Labour voters in seats where the contest is normally between ourselves and the Tories, then YES tomorrow is very likely to improve their return and number of MPs.  This is due to the fact that it is my belief that the majority of Lib Dems have values which are more left of centre than right…..thankfully!

Whilst driving into the office today I was staggered by the choice of headline news that BBC Radio Surrey decided to run with.  Declaring that a prominent statistician had pronounced that YES would make little difference in the South-East, they actually failed to mention that the referendum is a national one and not being voted on constituency lines.  A YES vote tomorrow in Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Newcastle, Manchester and London will carry the same weight in a two-horse contest.  It is future elections where the sensible proposal to return MPS with at least 50.1% of constituency support, will mean that the reliance on tactical voting is reduced and people can start to base their vote on their political leanings.

If you are still in doubt about tomorrow’s vote, I urge you to try the various calculators on the web including the one on Sky News’s site which can be found at

For the Country’s electorate I say vote YES for AV on the 5th May; for the residents of Herontye I say vote YES for Jerrey, Barnett and Joannou-Coetzee!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Best quote of recent days.....

Thanks to Guardian reader Blair Mcpherson who stated "who says men can't multitask?  Cameron manages to be both smug and condescending at the same time"

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Have the media got it wrong?

Don't let the media fool you!  The positive reactions that we have had in Herontye ward continue to suggest that once again the right-winged press have got it wrong!   On the doorsteps the feeling is very much more considered and even if people don't particularly support the Lib Dems, the good news for East Grinstead is that most of it's citizens are savy enough to make their own minds up in an articulate manner!

There is none of this anti-Clegg hysteria that Murdoch et al have whipped up nor is there a sense of impending doom which according to most of the press is about to bestow our party nationally.

Issues that are relevant are discussed of course; lack of choice and concern over the number of shops closing down in the Town, car parking chaos and worries about the future, given the country's continuing perilous financial state, are familiar topics with residents from Herontye Drive to Dunnings Road and all in between.

What is clear though is that the media are wide of the mark!  People want decisions made that affect their everyday lives and those of their children and/or elderly parents.  Tittle-tattle may sell a few tabloid newspapers but the quality and incisive opinion making is made on the doorsteps of Britain and not behind the laptops of Fleet Street.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Hope for cerebral palsy sufferers

Met a very nice lady on Saturday morning whilst out canvassing.  Ellie Thompsopn told me all about her campaign to deliver affordable Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy  (SDR) treatment to the UK.  SDR is a technique designed to improve walking and/or increase the range of motion and improve body positioning for cerebral palsy sufferers.

Ellie’s charity, HUGS, concentrates some of its efforts on raising funds to cover the substantial cost of putting a child through treatment.  Even so, sadly, the success rate in the UK is significantly lower than over in America where pioneer Dr T S Parks, using less invasive surgery, is able to enhance mobility in virtually all the patients he treats.
HUGS, along with other interested bodies, now want the UK to follow Dr Parks lead whilst at the same time securing financial support for patients and/or their families to cover the costs of treatment since NICE (National institute for Health & Clinical excellence) have said that there will be no NHS funding for this procedure.  The good news is that from May Dr Kristian Aquilina will be performing SDR surgery using Dr Parks’ techniques at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol – but at an anticipated cost of £24,000 per patient.  Additionally only children over 6 years of age will be treated in the UK yet statistically Dr Parks has proven that the surgery is more successful the younger the child.
If anybody would like to know more about HUGS then please visit their website
and for further information on selective dorsal rhizotomy then
Without making any political point, it is the responsibility of anybody representing the community to highlight issues such as these that affect the disadvantaged in society irrespective of the party umbrella that they work under.  Personally I do think that funding should be made available to help subsidise the cost of treatment at the very least and that the rules governing the minimum age of treatment be re-visited given Dr Parks’ research.

Monday, 18 April 2011

AV or not AV - that is the question!





It’s dirty tricks time…..”none of your taxes have been used to print this leaflet” claim the Conservative funding and supporting big businessmen in their expensively produced glossy!  News to me that the YES campaign have had public funding….which of course they haven’t!  Talk about corporate manipulation of the ordinary man or woman in the street!
The arguments have been made – it’s clear!  First past the post only results in an MP who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, most of the electorate do not want!
If you take 5 candidates and assume under FPTP the person coming first got 21% of the popular vote with the remaining 4 candidates getting the split of the 79% balance….tell me how can the ‘winner’ be truly representative?
Not only does this latest Tory propaganda rubbish the idea of AV but it is quick to blame Nick Clegg for “broken promises”.  No acceptance of shared responsibility but another attempt by Cameron’s toffs to put all the blame for the cuts on the Coalition’s junior partners.  Shame on the Tories!
In every aspect can YOU really trust the Tories…..?  Same old, same old….always passing the buck!  This is why AV is important – there will be nowhere for MPs to hide and every opportunity to make their actions more accountable and representative for ALL their constituents.
Make sure on 5th May you vote yes for AV and in East Grinstead Herontye ward vote yes for Barnett, Jerry and Joannou-Coetzee!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Policing in East Grinstead

Over recent weeks Lib Dem Councillor Chris Jerrey, the Town Mayor Steve Barnett and campaigner Tony Joannou-Coetzee, have listened to the concerns of residents in Herontye  ward and repeatedly the question of more bobbies on the beat comes up.  

Whilst the station at East Court is to close, as Sussex Police attempt to save £52 million by 2015, there will actually be a greater uniformed presence throughout the Town according to Mid Sussex District Commander, Chief Inspector Ed De La Rue.  Our Lib Dem colleague, and Herontye resident, Ginnie Waddingham was one of the first to react to this news by stating "knowing that there will be more officers around the town makes me feel safer".  

Chris, Steve and Tony are all acutely aware of the need to keep neighbourhoods throughout the Town safe and crime-free and you can be sure that with a Lib Dem Administration returned to East Court in May, this objective will remain firmly on the new Council's agenda.

Monday, 11 April 2011

A nation of animal lovers?

Whilst my 'boy', Fonzo the bulldog, is hot on the campaign trail with me (see picture below), I listened with dismay to a report from BBC Radio Surrey this morning which reported on the cruelty inflicted on some cats in the Aldershot area.  The content of the story was actually too graphic for me, as an animal lover, to be able to convey back now suffice to say that the impression is that the torture appears to have been undertaken by human hands.  This of course comes on the back of  a weekend when another aspect of animal cruelty was highlighted at Aintree.

The 164th Grand National event in Liverpool will go down in history for all the wrong reasons.  Two horses killed (yet the race allowed to carry on; how money talks), the winning jockey disciplined for excessive use of a whip and at an earlier race in the day, a fall suffered by Peter Toole riding Classic Fly, has led to the 22 year old jockey fighting for his life in hospital.

As a firm believer in animal welfare and rights, I will do everything I can to promote well-being and continue to campaign against cruelty at every level.  I am blessed to share my life with my faithful canine and 4 cats too and, no matter what political persuasion, this is an issue that surely unites all parties.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Spring Traders Day - East Grinstead

 Councillor Ginnie Waddingham and candidate for Herontye ward, Tony Joannou-Coetzee at the Spring Trader's Day - 10-04-11
 Candidates Julie Mockford, Catrin Ingham, Tony Joannou-Coetzee supporting the East Grinstead Traders

Catrin Ingham at the Traders' Day - Lib Dems supporting the local economy

What a glorious day!  Sunday in East Grinstead with traders operating street stalls, the sun shining and Lib Dem councillors out and about sharing the experience with their fellow town residents.  These events, put on with the support of the Town Council, are a fantastic way of supporting community engagement whilst, at the same time, giving a boast to shop keepers in these times of austerity.

With the campaign now in full swing, the Lib Dems are continuing to actively engage with the electorate across town and events like today are sure to be repeated and on a regular basis with the return of a Lib Dem administration to East Court on May 5th!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Internships and Social Mobility

I thought that slavery had been abolished in this country in 1833 so I was dismayed to hear more this week about the growing practise of businesses and organisations offering internships ostensibly on the grounds of providing experience and training to University and College leavers.

This means that the 'successful' applicants (and let's be clear here it is free will; a fundamental difference I am willing to concede to the past) are given an opportunity within industry to hone their skills by undertaking unpaid labour where often travel and subsistence costs are not met either.

In an era where we proudly point to National Minimum Wage (currently £5.93 per hour) for all workers aged 22 or over, isn't it about time that the provisions of the Act that introduced the NMW was extended to include internships?

Social mobility has made big headlines this week but it is clear to me that whilst industry has the potential to exploit youngsters, the current arrangement is also elitist since without family financial support, how many of us (at whatever age) could afford to work for no pay?  The danger is that internships will train and develop children from upper and upper-middle class backgrounds and this will make it even more challenging for working class kids to break into the establishment.

Let's end this awful practise before it becomes an even more acceptable path to employment and lets stop propping up the economy in this way.  Nobody should be allowed to undertake any work (unless truly voluntary thus covering areas such as charities etc) in the United Kingdom without at least earning £5.93 per hour.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Think NHS? Think Lib Dem!

Great news today that the Government has announced a period of extended consultation before steamrollering fundamental changes to that beloved, of all our public institutions, the NHS!

This backtrack by Tory Lansley follows on the back of the success of a motion at the recent Lib Dem Conference in Sheffield where, overwhelmingly, delegates registered their concerns over plans that could see groups of doctors spending time bogged down with budget and procurement issues at the expense of dealing with patient care.

So today, safe in the knowledge that he has party backing, Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg alluded to "substantive changes" in the proposal.  Importantly this statement finally gives the electorate the opportunity to see clear light between the caring, compassionate Lib Dems and the money-centric Tories whose primary concern is profit even if this does compromise the health of the Nation.

So the message is simple - if you want to ensure an enviable standard of free medical care for all, make sure that you don't vote for a party who clearly want to dismantle this important provision.  Instead think NHS, think Lib Dem this May!

Undercover Police Plan Pub-Chat Clampdown

Despite the hard earned success of the Lib Dems in forcing Central Government to perform a U-turn on the invasive introduction of Identity Cards, it would appear that the new Chief Inspector of Police in the Surrey borough of Elmbridge, David Hollingsworth, is proposing a course of action that strikes at the very heart of civil liberty.
Announcing with great gusto recentlyy his intention of allowing plain clothed officers to mix-in, undercover, with ordinary pub and club goers does raise concerns.  Predominantly the idea that the guy sitting on his own in a corner nursing half a pint of shandy yet listening in on private conversations assumes that we are all guilty until proven otherwise.  Whatever has happened to habeas corpus?
 Hollingsworth defends his plan by stating that it is not about “monitoring private conversations” yet many think otherwise.  Indeed Bill Sharp of the Guild of Master Victuallers believes the proposal will ”undermine professional licensees” and suggests that this will allow the Police to act in “Stasi-like” fashion.
 Whilst I greatly support the work that our Police force do, I think that the growing tendency of assuming guilt over innocence amongst certain of our boys in blue is a worrying development and action such as this does nothing to enhance relationships between the Country’s law enforcers and her citizens.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Nice to see the Labour Party join up with the Lib Dems in what many would normally regard as the more natural coalition.  Today Ed Miliband joined with the upper echelons of the Lib Dems and Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, to promote the case for the Alternative Vote.
Whilst Nick Clegg was absent from the stand, evidently on a trade visit to Mexico, rumours have done the rounds in Westminster that Miliband would only appear if Nick didn’t.  Not normally one to attack the Labour party, given my left of centre leanings, I can’t help but feel this was rather an immature response, if there is any truth in the allegation. 
Nevertheless whether Miliband  (“the tragedy for progressive politics historically has been that the division on the centre and the left has handed a united right victory after victory”) and Clegg are friends or not – it’s great to see the two Party’s working together in the Country’s common interest.  Saying ‘Yes’ on 5th May is vital if we are to move away from the practise of first past the post which repeatedly fails to reflect the views of the majority ie one can win with less than 50% of the overall vote.
In an article he wrote for The Guardian in May last year, leading campaigner Peter Tatchell explained “every government since the 1950s has taken power based on less than 50% of the popular vote. None has won majority public support at the ballot box”.  Tatchell went on to say “Thanks to the unfair voting system, the anti-Tory majority have frequently ended up with a minority of MPs”.
It is no surprise therefore that the landed gentry of our current times, including Conservative MPs like Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex), object to voting reform.  They know that if the new system is introduced they will have to work harder, and represent all their constituents (and not just the privileged few) if they are to have any chance of retaining their seat going forward.
So on May 5th go out there and vote!  Vote ‘Yes’ to AV; a fairer way to reflect the views of the electorate.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Today's March

It is fantastic that we all live in a democratic state where freedom of speech is permitted and healthy debate encouraged between people holding differing views.  What a shame therefore that some people feel that they only way they can get their voice heard is to undertake anarchic action.  Staging a sit in at Fortnum and Masons, throwing light bulbs filled with ammonia at the police and generally causing mayhem has no place in our society.

Whether Lib Dem, Labour, Tory or Green, there is no excuse for this type of behaviour that undermines the essential infrastructure that keeps our society together.  We will never all agree on an issue but the way to deal with disagreement is by sensible consultation, compromise and acceptance that democracy allows people to have different priorities in life but who can still live side by side with each other.

Anarchy undermines the fibre that keeps society cohesive and no responsible citizen should support or participate in actions that could promote this.  The coalition have a tough job - cuts have to be made unfortunately and some will sadly suffer.  Lets look at constructive ways to lessen the impact and help those most affected instead.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Fantastic News for Alarm Clock Britain!

Using Nick Clegg’s description of those hard working individual on a mediocre salary, never more than one pay cheque away from an overdraft, the Lib Dems in coalition have secured a fantastic tax concession for ‘alarm clock’ workers in Britain.

From 6th April this year, the threshold for which basic rate tax is collected will rise to £7,475 (from the current £6,475) meaning that in West Sussex alone 1,750 people will no longer pay any income tax at all whilst a further 58,300 will pay £200 a year less!
As the concession is restricted, unlike tax breaks introduced by previous administrations, this one really is designed to benefit those on low or average incomes; putting money back into the pocket millions of workers across the Country as a whole.
This was of course centre-piece to the Lib Dem General Election manifesto and credit must be given to Nick and the team for persuading the Tories, not traditionally a party to look after the interests of the less well off, to go along with this!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Nick & Tony - In Conversation!

Local Campaigner and prospective Lib Dem Councillor for Herontye ward, Tony Joannou-Coetzee, recently met up with the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, at the Party’s Spring Conference in Sheffield.

It was clear during this event that Nick supports the work of Lib Dem councils up and down the Country and is aware of the issues that face communities in their daily lives.  Indeed he made the comparison between two north-west cities; Sheffield and Manchester citing how the former, run by a Lib Dem authority, had achieved far greater success in managing the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review than their Lancastrian neighbours led by a Labour local administration.
In Sheffield there will, unfortunately, be 270 jobs but this is a far cry from the loss of 2,000 positions (17% of the workforce) in Manchester.  Clearly a Lib Dem run council is much more likely to be able to protect jobs and front line services in these times of austerity.
Back to East Grinstead, Nick was particularly interested in the ward Tony is standing in and enquired as to how these were going.  It is refreshing that the Deputy Prime Minister can show a positive interest in our town and it is the same ‘man of the people’ type of approach that Tony will adopt if he is returned as one of your two Lib Dem District Councillors on 6th May.
Dame Shirley Williams definition of what it is to be a Lib Dem sums up Tony’s style of politics succinctly – “somewhat left of centre, in favour of public services, not against the market but see(ing) the market as being there to run part of the scene but not all of it.  And above all, people who are extremely conscious of inequalities in society”.

Tony is standing alongside existing Lib Dem Councillor Chris Jerry and many of you will already be aware of the tremendous work that Chris has done for Herontye over the past 4 years.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

In Government; On Your Side!

The strap line for the Liberal Democrat's in conference in Sheffield and how accurately that sums up the Party.....

Nick was totally engaging this weekend - comments like "I genuinely think what you do in local government is remarkable" went down well with the Party faithful including first time campaigners including me.

Despite running the gauntlet of several hundred protesters, who misguidedly ranted "sham on you for turning blue" (my goodness how little they know me!), as delegates entered Sheffield City Hall, the mood was up beat and in typical Liberal fashion, open debate was positively encouraged.

Issues raised were wide and varied and included a discussion on the (lack of) effectiveness of short term custodial sentences for youth offenders; restorative justice winning the day. Party distinctiveness, fighting elections as part of a coalition were also considered along with tuition fees and how the p;arty needs to position itself as a separate,and distinct, entity to the Tories.

However it was the Q&A session with Nick which was the most energising event of the weekend (although acknowledgement of the newly elected and charismatic Party President, Tim Farron, must be made).  With a smooth diplomacy, Nick came across as a warm 'man of the people' type of guy.  Indeed he even had time to ask me personally "how is it going?". It is clear that despite going into coalition with "the other lot", Nick and the other Lib Dem MPs have had a positive impact at keeping the right wing elements of the Conservative party at bay.

Pupil premiums, taking thousands out of paying tax, abandoning the recommissioning of Trident, abolition of ID cards, triple lock pension guarantees are several of the successes that the Lib Dems have helped introduce which probably would not have happened had the Tories had an overall majority last May.

On tutition fees Nick was candidly honest; "we were stuffed" but he did explain that had they gone into coalition with Labour then fees would also have gone up.  Both party's had recommended an increase previously.  Interestingly Nick mentioned that in recent days the National Union of Students have acknowledged that students will actually be better off under the new system than the one it will replace.......where is Aaron Porter now?

More to come but wow.....what a party, what a leader and what a chance the Lib Dems have to positively influence national and local policy - in Government; On Your Side!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Positive Spin - Public Share Ownership

Following the disasterous showing in the Barnsley by-election, it is encouraging to see prominent Lib Dems supporting a radical scheme which could see up to 46 million UK residents owning shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds banking groups. 

The idea would be that each person on the electoral role would receive shares, which based upon current market conditions could be up to £1,000 in value.  Then the Government would set a floor price and it would only be at a value above this that these give-away shares could be sold with individuals retaining any profit made (subject to usual trader fees) over their starting value.

The proposals supported by Stephen Williams, Lib Dem MP for Bristol West, are likely to go down well with the public and put an end to the popular culture of 'banker-bashing'.  Seeing a return on their investment, via an injection of public money, and preventing shareholders from directly benefiting from the current position certainly provides a positive spin on things.  Indeed as Stephen says "this plan would recoup the public's investment and allow the taxpayer to get the benefit from any increased value in the banks."

Whether or not this becomes Government policy it is important that great initiatives like this, which are supported by prominent members of the party, are communicated back to a sceptical electorate to demonstrate that coalition or not, we are still the party of fairness!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Campaigning in Herontye Ward - East Grinstead

Spent a very encouraging Saturday morning canvassing in my ward with six other Lib Dem colleagues.  Whilst the Coalition continues to be battered by the right and left winged press who, following Barnsley, have started writing the Party’s obituary, the feeling on the doorsteps is much more upbeat!

Members of the public were happy to engage and some key issues, affecting the local community, were discussed.  Pot holes, the lack of cycle racks in the town centre and inadequate toilet facilities (recently addressed and resolved by the Lib Dem Town Council) were common themes.  It was apparent that the people of Herontye ward care about their community and the town and, if elected in May, I will be honoured to serve and represent them.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Local man at the heart of referendum campaign in East Grinstead

Local Payroll Manager, Tony Joannou-Coetzee, is to campaign for a Yes vote on May the 5th in East Grinstead. Aged 47 and based in East Grinstead he has been recognised by the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign as one of 100 leading "Faces for Change".

With the AV bill finally on the statute book the Yes campaign has stepped up a gear across the nation with Tony leading the push as the campaign looks to speak directly to millions of voters and build on the lead it has developed in recent polls of the public.

Explaining his support for the campaign Tony detailed his story.

"In an effort to engage our local Conservative MP, I enquired about his thoughts on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill and was dismayed to discover that he will oppose it. His belief that the current system, having "stood the test of time", shows a lack of appreciation that this is simply because no alternative, until now, has been made available for the electorate to decide upon".

Conversely Tony, a prospective Liberal Democrat District Councillor, will be active in his support for this overhaul that has been long overdue. Tony, along with other AV supporters pictured, will do everything possible to make sure that the votes of all the electorate really do matter!
National Campaign Chair Katie Ghose said:

"We're delighted to have people like Tony at the heart of our movement"

"The stories of why people like Tony get involved are the real force behind the campaign. This isn't about party politics. This is about ordinary people showing why we've got to win on May 5th"

Monday, 21 February 2011

Ongoing NHS Reforms

One thing that this Country proudly offers its citizens is a free National Health Service and this has been the case since 1948.  In recent decades there has been facility for the wealthy, or through employment benefit packages, to circumvent the NHS and go to a private provider. 

Measures announced by Coalition (Conservative) Health secretary Andrew Lansley will give doctors and other front-line health professionals the opportunity to buy in services from a whole host of private suppliers rather than relying on their NHS colleagues as a natural default position.  Some have argued that this is the start of the privitisation of the NHS itself and, as a Liberal Democrat, I would be opposed to this.

The health of this country, as measured by life expectancy, is in excellent shape; let's hope by tinkering with one of the contributory factors to this condition does not, ultimately, have a negative impact.  The old adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' comes to mind! 

Like party stalwart, Lady Shirley Williams, I am "deeply troubled" by these proposals.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Gay Marriages; Straight Civil Partnerships!

Lib Dem Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone announced today that the Government is to open a consultation which will consider the following:

1.  Making marriage available to couples regardless of gender or sexuality and
2.  Making civil partnership similarly available to all

Continuing their strong support of the LGBT community, the Lib Dems are the first party of Government to promote this policy which, if successfully incorporated into law, will finally allow any couple that wishes to cement their union, by marriage in church, the capacity to do so.....although some organisations, such as the Church of England, have already said that they will not allow LGBT marriages on their premises.

And what of the Lib Dems coalition partners?  Never known for being a particularly pink-friendly party, it is gratifying that Teressa May, the Home Secretary, appears on this occassion to be sympathetic to the issue.  However back-benchers such as Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, have already registered their contempt for the LGBT community by declaring “Once we have departed from the universally understood framework of marriage, there is no logical reason why the new alternative institution should be limited to two people. Why not three? Or thirty-three?".  Leigh clearly confuses gay-rights with bigamy or should that be bigotry?  Leigh continues to rant that “same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage?" failing to recognise that "they" also have rights and "they" also form part of the electorate that he is supposed to represent.

For those wanting to support this issue then please either get in touch or follow the link

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Councillors - communication & expenses; what the tabloid press won't say!

Once again the 'Stun' and the 'Tory Mail' continue to hoodwink the electorate - the former with outlandish tales of Council's wasting money on "surveys, adverts, questionnaires, public meetings, letter drops, focus groups and adverts to explain the impact of budget cuts" and the latter leading with an article yesterday on " Doing your civic duty never paid so well: How councillors' payouts have soared as local services face savage cuts".

It is somewhat galling for a first time campaigner like me to read this type of irresponsible journalism. 

Fact - the electorate WANT an open and accountable Local Authority so pray, Fleet Street hacks, how can this be achieved without communication? 

Fact - Mid-Sussex District Council recently voted for a reduction in Councillors' allowances, with Lib Dem support, by 5% in 2011-12.  The basic allowance in 2010-11 stands at £4,738.  If this is viewed as being paid “well” then maybe the journos on the same paper would like to be paid a similar amount?  Or would they consider a 5% cut in their salary?  Or maybe a cessation of their 'working lunch' expense accounts?

Whilst the Stun, Mail and Eric ‘I’m a man of the people’ Pickles can all take swipes at Local Government, how does this sit in with the flagship ‘localism’ bill which Cameron supports as part of his ‘Big Society’ ideal?  Equally would it really be fair to those  of us who volunteer hundreds of man-hours per year to undertake civic duties not to be reimbursed a token amount towards the actual expenses incurred?  Most of us do not abuse the system to provide for ornaments for our gardens after all!

Before suggesting that ALL councillors are feckless, money-grabbing and wasteful let’s start to embrace the fact that most of  these individuals, whatever their political colours, firmly believe in doing good for their communities.  Without them – what I wonder would those that criticise put in their place?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Pickles in a pickle

I see that the Communities Secretary, former communist-supporting now Conservative MP Eric Pickles, is brandishing draconian rules on local authorities as his bizarre contribution to the localism ideology.  He is insisting that communication from Town Halls to the community that they serve be restricted to four newspapers a year otherwise, (big stick time by Mr Pickles), they run the risk of being reported to the auditor on the grounds of misuse of public funds.

So, let's get this right.....Central government says power to the people and Pickles long as you don't tell them about anything you do?

Pickles, whose first political flirtation was with communism, is now seen as so far to the right of the political landscape that even his own party Local Councillors are, according to 'The Guardian', hateful of him.  Moreover 91 Lib Dem councillors wrote to the Times this week complaining of the way Pickles treats them with contempt imposing savage cuts on Councils without due consideration of circumstances.

What a short term memory Pickles has.  He was after all temporary Tory leader of Bradford Council in the early nineties when I wonder if his 'northern charm' would have been equally engaging, as it is today, had the Thatcher Government chopped at local services like a mad axeman?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Sussex to lose 1 in 6 police officers

Shocking news emerged this week with Sussex Police announcing the loss of 1 in 6 front-line police officers over "the next few years".  Whilst the claim is these will all be through natural wastage, the fact of the matter is that this county will be in the top 4 who are chopping the most roles - behind massive forces such as Greater Manchester Police and West Midlands.

Whilst our area is indeed a low crime one, let's hope that the loss of officers will not impact on this status.

As usual local, Conservative, MP Nicholas Soames was suitably vague in his reaction which has been quoted as "It's been known for  a long time that police budgets will have to be cut and there's a very good reason for that". One wonders what the good reason is when most people agree that front line policing is a necessity to maintain law and order.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

So, who, Mr Cameron is running the Country?

It is with alarm that we hear today that last year the City made up 50.8% of all donations received by the Conservatives.  Given the ongoing issues with regulation within the Square Mile, and the fact that 57 individuals, in donating in excess of £50,000, are now permitted direct access to the Prime Minister via the so-called 'Leader's Group', it does make one wonder where money really does talk.....or at least influence! 

Is it right in this era of austerity that non-elected elitist rich can determine how the rest of society should repay the Country's debt?  Moreover I belong to the school of thought that thinks it is the bankers, albeit on a global scale, are predominantly responsible for messing up the western economies.   These same financial 'experts' are now enjoying close relations with those that are charged with running the Country.......a worrying revelation indeed.

Monday, 7 February 2011

A nation of animal lovers?

I was shocked to read in this weekend's 'Observer' about how7,933 horses, often healthy and often thoroughbreds at the end of their career in racing, were sent off for slaughter last year to feed the demand for meat in countries that still have horse on their menus.  This is absolutely outrageous!

How can we as a nation that purports to love animals so much, allow this type of behaviour to continue.  Surely a healthy animal has as much right to life as a healthy human and whilst I get the concept of survival of the fittest, I would also argue that we have a duty of care to those specie that we could (and sadly do) dominate.

'The Observer' points out that there has been a staggering increase in the number of foals being born to supply the racing industry - now hovering around the 19,000 plus mark.  Tighter regulation, including birth control, would seem to be an appropriate starting point.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Knock on that door!!

Having done my first bit of door knocking (canvassing) this morning, I have to say that people are not aware of things like the Localism Bill or the Alternative Vote referandum and instead want to talk about lamp posts, grit bins and traffic issues.  It is an absolutely shame that democracy in this Country is viewed so cheaply by some; here we are with an opportunity to make a fundamental change to how we elect our representatives at Westminster yet for the "their all as bad as each other" brigade there is still a lot of convincing to be undertaken.  More on the 'Yes' campaign another time suffice to say that as a Lib Dem I strongly support it.

Friday, 4 February 2011

No health without mental health

Full praise to the coalition, and in particular the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem colleague Paul Burstow, for their latest health initiative.  'No Health Without Mental Health' is designed to rid the so-called stigma attached to illnesses such as depression and anxiety by giving them the same importance, in terms of diagnosis and treatment, as physical health.

As 'Liberal Democrat News' reports today Nick and Paul have " delivered another key campaigning improve access to counselling for people with mental health problems, by continuing the roll out of cognitive and behavioural therapies".

What price the Tories on their own would have been so liberal and understanding in committing over £400m to an issue that affects 1 in 3 at a particular point in the journey through life.

Monday, 31 January 2011

HPV Vaccine

Became aware recently that the national campaign to vaccinate against the human papilloma virus (HPV) has been extended to include, eventually, all girls between the ages of 12 to 17.  Whilst this response to the virus, that caused the cervical cancer that sadly Jade Goody lost her life too, is to be welcomed there is no mention in existing NHS practise to provide for boys also.

The virus can cause various cancers including those affecting the head, neck and anus and as such males are also not immune from contracting it.  Indeed the risks for two young gay men could be significant.

As a Liberal Democrat I argue for equality on all issues.  It is important that we protect all our youngsters against HPV and don't use gender as a basis for deciding who should and should not receive this vaccination.

I shall write to the (Conservative) Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, Anne Milton, and canvass her opinion on this issue.


Sunday, 30 January 2011

Mad dogs and Englishmen!

There I was out walking my bulldog, Fonzo, around 7.30 this morning in the Mount Noddy area of East Grinstead when we encountered Mase (not that I knew his name at this time).  Mase is about 8 years old and a very large boxer-cross male.  He is also incredibly affectionate and loved playing with Fonzo; albeit he was trying to assert his role as alpha-dog.

Anyway Mase followed us all the way home - despite my futile attempts to find his owner - and so I ended up taking him to the RSPCA centre at Godstone.  Although Mase was chipped, and according to the records had come from the Croydon/South Norwood area, the telephone numbers left by his 'owner' were unobtainable.   I was told that tomorrow the Warden will come and collect him and then a 7 day count down starts to reunite dog to owner.

I asked what would happen if the owner was not tracked down and I was told that it depended upon "council policy" and that putting Mase to sleep is an option.  Naturally, as an animal lover, I was horrified to hear this and am still reeling from the shock.

How can an apparently healthy animal be given a death sentence simply for being lost?

There will be a happy ending to this story - I am determined.  I have the number of the Warden and I will call them on Friday for an update.  In the meantime if anybody knows of someone who has either lost a tan and black boxer cross or indeed would like to have one, then please leave me a message on this blog.

If I get elected I will do everything within my designated power and that of the Council to promote animal welfare as one of the top priorities.  Surely anyone with a heart could not just sit back and allow Mase, or dogs like him, to be put down?

Whilst the title of my blog was about "mad dogs", Mase is not mad but in fact a happy, healthy and affectionate male who helped change the entire direction of my day today....but maybe that was for a reason?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Lib Dem Town Council Secure Future of Historic Town Centre Building

I was rather pleased to read that East Grinstead Town Council have agreed to lease out the Small Parish Hall in De La Warr Road. Having been inside this particular building, I can confirm that it is in desperate need of some tlc. Fortunately the length of the lease (28 years) will give the 'Jesus the Living Water Worldwide Church' extra encouragement to invest in upgrading the facilities whilst the Town Council coffers will also benefit from rental income. The headache of the public purse having to continue to pour money into the site will also be removed! No wonder Lib Dem Council Leader James Baldwin is happy with the outcome!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

GDP - double dip recession or just a blip?

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show that in the last quarter UK plc's growth contracted by 0.5%.  Some analysts have speculated that fears about the impact of the Coalition's methods of dealing with the nation's budget deficit along with concerns about the VAT rise have had a negative impact on the public's appetite to spend - and this downturn in demand has had a knock on effect on supply.

Others have taken a more pragmatic approach believing that the real culprit in this ongoing financial drama is in fact ..... the snow! Indeed The Guardian banded a figure about in early December that the snow had hit the UK economy by £6 billion due to lost sales and extra costs to businesses as a direct consequence of staff being unable to get into work.

Whatever the reason, it is hoped that the Bank of England hold a steady nerve and delay the announcement of any increase in the base rate, which has been muted recently, until such a time that growth in GDP is both sustainable and long term.  Acting too hastily now could in fact jeopardise any of the, albeit, slow recovery to date.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Train Station Redevelopment

The port-a-kabin style ticket office at East Grinstead railway station could soon be a thing of the past thanks to exciting new plans that were shared with Lib Dem councillors at a Public Services meeting recently.  Optimum Consultancy's radical proposals will, if approved, convert the tired old station facilities into something which will befit a town with growing tourism aspirations!  The extension of the Bluebell railway line and positive impact that London 2012 will have on East Grinstead visitor traffic needs to be met by plans such as these that include a hotel, flats and parking options that will no longer necessitate navigation through narrow residential streets.

Friday, 21 January 2011

"Religious freedom should not be used as a cloak for prejudice"

Ben Summerskill's comment above sums up nicely the situation surrounding the court case where gay couple, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, were turned away from a guesthouse in Cornwall on homophobic grounds.  Landlords Peter and Hazelmary Bull were ordered to pay £1,800 in compensation to both men but it still shows that bigotry exists within society.

Astonishingly Mrs Bull claimed after the case "a lot has been said about equality laws but it seems some people are more equal than others".  Is Mrs Bull claiming that section 28, banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools during Thatcher's era, an unequal age of consent for decades, prejudice where family members turn their backs on siblings or children due to their sexual orientation, right and that the sensible repeal of the first two points wrong?

As an openly gay man I know we have taken great strides in terms of achieving equality with our heterosexual, bisexual and transgendered citizens since the 1960's when sexual activity between two consenting males was illegal.  However it is a timely reminder that prejudice as outrageous as the Bull's still exists and as a Lib Dem I will do everything possible to oppose such behaviour which has no place in the United Kingdom in 2011.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Reforming the NHS

Always a difficult and emotive subject - whilst the Governments seeks to "modernise" the Health Service, people are understandably concerned about the impact this will have on service provision.  Allowing consortiums of GPs to negotiate contracts with suppliers, rather than via the Primary Care Trust route, could indeed add fuel to the post code lottery arguement.  One hopes that the Coalition has got this right and that the cuts will have no detrim,ental impact on service provision in the short, medium or longer term.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Oldham East and Saddleworth - Reaction

So Labour held this seat in deepest Lancashire.  Unfortunately Elwyn was unable to secure a morale boasting victory for the Party BUT I still believe that this was more of a success story than not.  Our percentage share of the vote actually increased and it was the Tories that went into melt down!  Interestingly Tory arrogance on the local radio station - LBC - suggested that our vote held up due to endorsement by senior Conservatives in the Commons recently.....might it just be that the electorate still recognise the great credentials the Lib dems have to offer?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Dr Vincent McKee

The latest scoop from Sky surrounding Dr McVee must be kept in context.  The Lib Dem party machine will attract people from all walks of life - good, bad and indifferent as indeed will any orgnaisation open to general public membership.  Whilst the allegations against Dr McVee have yet to be proven, the Party has taken quick and decisive action in suspending him whilst further investigations take place.  This is a positive response to a difficult situation and it is hoped that any student who has lost cash is reimbursed soon.

Monday, 10 January 2011

An attack on democracy

The dreadful attack on Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords in Tuscon Arizona on Saturday has been quite rightly condemned by cross-party representatives in the US.  Irrespective of our political persuasions, this incident can only be described as a sad day for democracy. 

In an era where criticising political leaders seems en vogue, we ought to consider the risks these high profile individuals expose themselves too. 

I sincerely hope that Congresswoamn Giffords wins her battle for life and makes a full recovery too.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Thoughts on the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election

Big day for the Lib Dems on Thursday with the by-election due to take place near my old stomping ground 'up north'.  Will Elwyn win the day for Nick and provide the party with a boast despite the media portrayal of thousands of members deserting a sinking ship?  Given all the publicity that I have received down here in Sussex, I can only imagine the hard work being undertaken by those in the actual constituency; I do hope that their efforts are rewarded with victory.  Rather than focus on the negative, the electorate both locally and nationally should be reminded of key Lib Dem successes in Government; Pupil premium - helping disadvantaged kids in the formative years of schooling; Trident - knocked on the head for the life of this Government and therefore saving the taxpayer billions; starting the process of raising the tax threshold to £10,000 thus reducing the Income Tax liability for many; increasing, for the first time in 15 years, the provision of social housing; scrapping the ID card proposal and, perhaps most significantly, starting the process of devolving power from central Government to the people - the Localism Bill will change the political landscape for a generation once it becomes an Act.  Would any of these measures have been introduced by a Tory majority administration?  I very much doubt it!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Alternative Vote

Hi and welcome to my blog!  My first entry is to give resounding support to the Alternative Votes campaign.  Today I emailed our local Tory MP, Nick Soames, to ask where he stood on this issue.  AV is a long way towards the fairest system, proportional representation, and will certainly be an improvement on the current First Past the Post arrangement.  On 5th May it's important that we vote for AV to help ensure the Government we want is the Government we get.