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Building on the Greenbelt could be avoided if Politicians were prepared to tackle the causes of Housing Crisis head on. Their failure to do so may leave many of these new homes empty and not just immigrants living in modern-day slums which are currently known as ‘beds in sheds’…

December 19, 2013 Leave a comment

On a day that the reality of modern day, back-garden ‘beds-in-sheds’ or rather the slums springing up across the UK to house immigrants hit the pages, we also see the news that more than half of Councils plan to build on our green belt.

You may be forgiven for thinking that there is an obvious link. But the only real relationship between these two issues, neither of which should arguably have ever have become fact, is that they provide a very telling story not only about the excessive cost of housing, but also the very painful reality that members of our communities from one end to the other are being overlooked by Government Policy.

In a recent blog, I discussed the issues that sit rather uncomfortably behind the incessant drive on the part of Politicians to build more and more houses as a method of stimulating the economy and solving the UK’s housing crisis, whilst actually doing anything but.

As they do so, they are overlooking the permanent damage that will be inflicted upon Towns and Villages up and down the Country, whilst failing to demonstrate either an understanding of the factors which are causing the problems for so many people, or indeed how many more issues that this form of recklessness sold to us as responsibility will cause.

why_do_we_behave_like_lemmings_4677351My own concerns about the foolishness which is leading the development of these Policies throughout the Local Authority Network and specifically at local level – where many Councillors behaviour can most politely be described as being very similar to that of Lemmings going off a cliff, is well known.

My inbox regularly has mail which has been written by local people from right across the area that Tewkesbury Borough Council covers who are rightly and quite simply horrified by the Plans which are now well on the way to being put in place. In many cases these very Plans are being very effectively picked apart by these impassioned members of the public who have very little experience of how the Planning System actually works. Will it make any difference? Probably not.

I recognise the value in the arguments they make. Somehow things really don’t add up when questions about the impact on such essential matters as future infrastructure, the merging of historically separate Towns and both fluvial AND pluvial flooding issues seem to go unanswered.

I also appreciate that I may be doing a disservice to the multitude of other very localised issues which face other communities across the Country which are just as important to the people that live there, but which I have overlooked just because I don’t have first-hand knowledge of them and most respectfully have no reason to do so.

The problem is that the Policy frameworks and guidance on which all local ‘Strategies’ are being set have been stewarded into being by Westminster-based Politicians who should not only know and understand these things, they seem oblivious to the fact that their own knowledge and outlook is actually so limited and are just as immune to hearing or seeing the very clear messages that are out there to tell them all about it.

With Politicians drunk and dependent upon the power and retention of their own positions, and whilst they bound around oblivious to the issues that are facing everyone else, there are sadly no forms of breathalyser out there which will demonstrate just how out of control the drivers of this vehicle may be for the unknown period it will take before it crashes and causes us all some significant damage.

The one thing that is certain is that concreting over the green belt to build houses that nobody can actually be sure we will need won’t solve the housing crisis on its own.

In fact, without dealing with the real issues that sit behind the housing problem and tackling them head on, many more people will find themselves unable to afford to live in them anyway and may have to face the unenviable horror of joining those who are living in what should by now have been consigned to long-term history in the form of anachronistic slums.

Image thanks to unknown source

Self-serving politicians and the whiff of ‘fingers in the till’ remind us regularly how little credibility they actually have. But we are creatures of habit and nothing will change until we all agree that we have reached a place called stop…

December 17, 2013 Leave a comment

downloadCredibility or rather the lack of it forms part of one of today’s greatest paradoxes. Many politicians simply seem to have none, but still they keep on getting elected.

No matter what the level of Government; no matter what they all do, we are still stuck with a majority of politicians who identify and remain sitting within a Party Political system which seems utterly immune from the harm that any form of self-serving action can visit upon it.

Even Members of the Lords have apparently now been rumbled taking full advantage of the current Allowances system and whilst this may be Legal, we really must begin to ask if anyone who can be considered to be ‘on the take’ in public office should really be there in the first place.

Actually, we do ask this question and probably often too. But the lack of any real will to consider anything other than the default political options that we have now had for so long, has so far rendered useless any meaningful opportunity for change. Meanwhile, we all continue to bitch and grow even more angry with what we have given ourselves, despite knowing that the gap between our realities and those of the people who we elect to represent us in Westminster is a very wide one indeed.

So what is it going to take to really bring about the change that we so badly need in British Politics; The change that will see us all taking the steps that we must for something better?

Like many others, I sat and watched the Paxman – Brand Interview a few weeks ago, well knowing that Russell Brand speaks many truths about the injustices within the ‘system’. He should indeed be applauded for using the platforms that he currently has to give a voice to the so-far silent discontent that grows each day.

But with this form of dialogue should also come a word of warning that voting none of the above in its most literal form is a choice for us all just the same. A choice that places even more emphasis on the views of the diminishing number of voters who will no doubt be those more inclined to vote for more of the same, come rain or shine.

Equally foolish would be the act of putting any real hope on alternative political philosophies as being the key to a better future. It is after all the constant and continuing battle between one set of political ideologies with those of others which keep leaving the needs and genuine consideration for the majority of Voters ignored.

It is quite certain that nothing good will come from adopting even more severe forms of socialist theory like the concept of wealth redistribution in its purest form as a practical way forward for us all. Real change does after all not manifest itself through the process of coercion – as has already been well proven by the rise and fall of Communism.

Genuine change will only come about by changing the way that we approach things and if Politics has to change so that we can all have something better; it is all of us who will have to change the way that we approach Politics as a necessary step to realising that change. The question of course is how?

To be fair, if any politician possessed such an ability to change our minds through speaking alone, the political landscape would not even look remotely as diverse as it does today, and it is perhaps in that fact that the greatest truth about change does lie.

The surety is that whether seen or unseen, political change will dictate its arrival at a time of its own choosing. It is likely to be a process of change that will itself begin with an event or events that will either be or have the potential to be life-changing for enough people, that a critical mass is achieved and enough of the right politicians are elected and in place to drive forward and see all the necessary changes in to being that we know will be needed right the way through to completion.

In terms of where we are right now, we should recognise that our current political options represent a status quo or a decision not to embrace change.

Both as humans and as a population, we have an inherent dislike and mistrust of conscious change, and this is why new fashions and trends may continually leave us with the feeling that they were somehow always there. Basically, because we didn’t realise that we were making a choice.

Change of the kind that will place us on the road to delivering something better for us all wont however be something that sneaks up on us in the same way that changes for worse often seem to do. It will take a conscious choice on the part of many after they have first recognised that need for change itself. It will require a leap of faith which will go way beyond the call of fashion, popularity or personal gain and one where as a majority, we have realised that in terms of how things already work, we have come to a place called stop.

Many of us are of course desperate for change right now, as Mr Brand has recognised. But somehow;

  • Extortionate rises in the prices of everything that are essential to live are still at a stage where they are considered sustainable.
  • Convoluted supply chains that add ridiculous and unnecessary margins to the cost of food go unchecked, but we are left with no choice but to buy.
  • Psychopathic bankers wreak worldwide havoc with little more than profit margins in mind, but go unpunished because of the stranglehold they have on the lives of everyone else.
  • Ministers treat the spiralling national debt like a subject not worthy of debate, but sing like songbirds when they predict a zero deficit or point where we will ‘break even’ in just a few years time.
  • Overstretched, but already overfunded public services collapse, because nobody who can be, is being responsible about driving reform.
  • And somehow, just about every decision is made on the basis of ‘what’s in it for me’, rather than what will be the benefits of us doing this for everyone else.

And so we are not there yet and it would be a good guess that stories like those of the metaphorical pigs with their heads in the troughs are here to stay, for at least a whiney bit longer. But when change does come, we can be sure that popularity will not be the driver. It won’t be those who obsess about themselves who will be in the best situation to lead, guide and drive. And it won’t be led by politicians who fear nothing more than the date of the next election.

Change will come, and it’s pretty certain that if you have read this far, you will recognise it when it does. However, it might not look how you currently think.

Image thanks to http://www.theguardian.com

Public Funding of Political Parties: Yet another nail in the coffin of British Democracy and a giant leap away from listening to the voices that must now be heard?

September 6, 2013 2 comments

Political Party funding has once again become a regular topic of discussion in the media and many will today find themselves asking why the Public may now be required to pay to promote an exclusive list of what are membership-based organisations, when many more worthy causes that bring much better value to our communities could never even dream of securing this kind of help.

Following Ed Milliband’s now seemingly disastrous attempt to re-package a few multi-million Pound Union donations into many more smaller and politically expedient ones from union members who should apparently have been just as willing to choose to ‘opt-in’ as pay through the historical non-voluntary default, it seems that we are again faced with the dubious meanderings of a few politicians who will do anything that they can to make the system work just for them and for the parties that they represent.

Talk of a £5000 cap on donations to political parties would have worked extremely well for Labour if they had managed to manipulate 2 or 3 donations to qualify as the same sum given by a sudden deluge of fee-paying Labour supporters. It is after all rather unlikely that the Conservatives could find a way to do the same.

But Ed missed one vital calculation in this plan and one that no considerate and fully cognizant politician should ever miss – that people will only voluntarily pay for things that they actually want.

The penny of impending political disaster having now dropped almost as far as the current Labour Leader’s jaw, we now find ourselves looking public funding for political parties in the eye as the Westminster set again swans around under the misguided belief that the existence and perpetuity of their ideals and their impractical application should be assured by right and statute, rather than by the will and best interests of the majority of people – which isn’t after all what politics is actually supposed to be all about?

Just this week within the Council where I am an Elected Member, a whole Borough has witnessed the down side of party politics when a bad decision which may have profound effects on many lives for years to come is compounded and enforced by the use of the Party Whip to guarantee that the aspirations and agendas of the few will overcome the needs and potential benefits from alternative and better paths for the many.

De facto funding for Political Parties that even their Members no longer want to financially support will make such outcomes even more likely than they are right now and those politicians who are already awake to these perils will be well aware of the potential cost of this approach to us all.

With the common ground between Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour being that the Leadership of all 3 have lost sight that doing what’s right for all, rather than what’s right for the Party or the idea’s that they specifically hold dear; all of the main Parties now fail to gain the lifeblood funding and support that they need from everyday voters, simply because they aren’t considering the realities and practicalities of what it takes to live, work and survive in our everyday world.

The message should therefore be simple. Large donors will always want to influence decisions and processes for their own benefit and adequate membership level financial support will only ever be assured when those members feel that they are likely to benefit – ultimately just the same.

If any political party is unable to secure that support, its leadership and executive should surely ask the question why it cannot do so and then be thinking about changing the way that it operates so that it can – if it can do so.

Those of us outside the Westminster ‘bubble’ should perhaps be asking ourselves whether the funding crisis that Political Parties are now facing is the best illustration yet that Politicians are out of touch and failing to connect with the critical mass of the population.

If their approach to governing our lives cannot be sustained or promoted without State intervention within a democracy, do political parties really have the right to say that they represent anyone but themselves?

Meaningful change for this Country will only be achieved when Politicians accept it is their responsibility to lead us all in doing so

March 19, 2013 Leave a comment

grass-roots-headerMany of us will have grown up with children’s tales and anecdotes which refer to houses built on rock having stronger foundations than those built upon sand. We may have left the stories behind, but the truth still remains that you may be able to fill the gaps, paint over the cracks and reshape the doors and windows on the house built on sand, but its structure will keep moving; the damage will keep appearing in different places and the weight of the constant repairs will soon make the situation a whole lot worse.

If we really want change for the better, we must accept that just about everything with a Government hand upon it is now built on sand, and has been since ‘what’s in it for me’ career Politicians and party politics started selling us all the idea that an island paradise could be real life for us all and promptly moved everything onto its beach.

You get the idea.

So before anything else, there has to be at least some level of acceptance that it is not the young unemployed, single mothers with 11 children, disability claimants, immigrants, those claiming tax-credits, serial re-offenders, ruthless business owners, public-sector fat cats, unscrupulous bankers, or super-rich tax-dodgers who bear all of the responsibility for what they do.

It is the systems that we have in place which made it possible for them to be there; systems that were put there by many different Politicians; Politicians from all parties in Government at different times who were thinking primarily about themselves and their own electability.

Politicians must now put the fear of losing their position to one side and concentrate on making the best of their period of Office – however short – to deliver results on behalf of the people who elected them.

Seeking Office for what you can do for others and seeing it through on the basis of people-centric policies, rather than political ideologies and personal agendas will reap results surprisingly fast if everyone does the same. When they don’t, you experience problems like Coalition Government and times when everyone else begins to wonder if things will ever stop getting worse.

The current way that politics and Government works is not sustainable for Politicians, or for the very people who put them there. A Career is the story of one person, and Politicians have responsibility for a whole lot more.

Principles for meaningful change in British Politics

March 18, 2013 1 comment

grass-roots-headerMost people think that Politicians always lie and that they don’t have principles.

To achieve meaningful change for this Country, this perception must change. The sense of what is right and the sense of justice which inspired many Politicians into seeking Public Office, must no longer be compromised because of decisions made which are best for the individual concerned, or for the benefit of the Political Party to which they have become affiliated.

When I was first Elected on 2007, I was not alone in being horrified at how quickly it became apparent that decisions were made in Government on the pure basis of what was good for the Party, the Group Leaders, or was most likely to result in ‘good press’ or electability in the long run, before anything or anybody else was ever really considered.

Only sheer weight of numbers would ever result in any meaningful results which went against this non-democratic tsunami, primarily because many ‘junior’ Politicians do not want to risk disfavour or risk losing their Seats because they have been seen to disagree with the Party ‘line’.

This is not democracy in its correct sense and every voter is being failed at one point or another. The way that decisions are made in a proper democratic process is by majority, but the way that majorities usually get formed today is wrong, and this means that we are getting wronged the majority of the time.

People before Politics.

Every decision that Politicians make should be focused on the benefit to the majority of people; not the priorities of the few or of the Politicians themselves.

Practicality before Perfection.

We all like the idea of living in a perfect world, but perfection can only ever be an aim in an imperfect world and Politicians must make decisions based upon their practical impact; not just on what they would like to see.

Policies made in isolation lead to isolationist Policies.

Just as one policy may be used as an excuse not for enacting another, new policies should not be created without consideration of their real impact upon or collectively with others. Politicians now need to review the whole System and not use the size of this task as an excuse for not doing so.

Politics is better when it isn’t Personal.

Politics should never be about personalities and when it is, it is a sure sign that those talking are thinking primarily about themselves.

Fear is no excuse in itself.

Any policy made only with emotion and feeling in mind does not consider the wider picture and the full implications. Too many decisions have historically been made by Politicians because of a climate of fear. Over-reaction and under-reaction can be destructive in equal measure and however emotive a subject can be, emotions are personal and do not reflect consideration for what is best for the majority in its strictest and most comprehensive sense.

One size never fits all.

We are all different and policies must recognise and embrace those differences in all ways, but without recourse to any form of discrimination whether that be positive or negative.

Decisions affecting us all similarly should be made by Central Government, whilst decisions based upon Locality should rest in the Locality with Local People and their Political Representatives.

Central Government has as much responsibility to reflect, consider and act upon the decisions made by Local Representatives as it does have the right to ask others to respect the decisions which are made universally for us all.

Lifestyle choices should be for those living that life.

The preferences and actions of individuals should never be questioned or put in doubt so long as they do not compromise the physical safety, security, lifestyle and freedom of choice of others.

A crisis of conscience for one, is no excuse in itself to prevent the lifestyle choices of another and Government should never support it as such.

Government is not the same thing as a business, and should never be run like it is one

AU491810_942longThe word ‘business’ conjures up different meanings for different people, depending on their background and of course what exposure they may have had to its use or application.

Most will agree that its use as a term suggests enterprise and methods of working which would sit snugly within a commercial environment. But should this word actually be applied to the modus operandi of any form of Government when the two terms are completely incongruous?

Much is made of the idea that the best people to run Government at any level are those who have a business background. One of the current arguments against the demographic makeup of our MP’s today is the substantial lack of solid business experience possessed by those who lead the Country from Westminster, with the accompanying notion that MP’s who have run or owned businesses of their own would somehow automatically have an almost esoteric level of understanding and midas touch which would solve just about any problem. They wouldn’t; they don’t and they never have.

With years of Local Government experience as both an Elected Member, an Officer and from working within 3rd Sector Organisations alongside, I have also often heard the term ‘business case’, ‘business plan’ and the idea often suggested that Councils are now run ‘like a business’ in meetings.

The problem with this is of course that the political leadership and members of Councils rarely have ‘hands on’ experience of running any kind of business you could draw reasonable parallels with themselves, and when they do, it is often the case that it has been so long since they did so, that any lack of an appreciation that time moves on or that things continually change will soon erode any tangible benefit.

Perhaps worse is the ability that Officers and Civil Servants have been gifted by political demographics and the opportunity to use such terms in plans, which are then taken as read by those who simply don’t know any better as being a true ‘business case’, when such ‘business’ cases could never be any such thing.

Recognising the differences between running a business in its purest sense, and running Government under the delusion that it can be run as business has never been more essential for today’s politicians, because neither Central or Local Government are businesses, and the people running them have to stop believing and behaving like they are.

A business is of course run for the profit of an individual or shareholders. All decisions will normally be made with the form of pay-off that they will receive firmly in mind. It can be expanded or changed to meet the demands of customers as it sees fit, and a business can choose which customers it may wish to target and how much profit it will seek from delivering any particular product or service. Its revenues are never guaranteed.

On the other hand, Government does not run to make profit, but to provide services and support for all those which it has been elected to serve.

Run properly, Government would not actively target any particular group of customers to provide a different quality of service depending on the feedback or profit that it gets from that group, and would work to meet demand for services as best and prudently as it can, well knowing that it has a duty to do so without seeking payment from one customer to pay for the benefits of another, or to irresponsibly borrow money from lenders that it knows it doesn’t have the appropriate levels of revenue to comfortably repay.

However, Government revenues – as long as they remain sensible – will always be guaranteed, and it is with this significant difference that come the even greater levels of responsibility than no one business should ever realistically be able to have.

One of the greatest dangers facing us as a society comes from the fact that politicians at all levels of Government have either failed to recognise these basic differences and therefore maintain them, or have willingly abused their ability to raise revenues to cover badly managed services or implement policies without any due regard to striking the balance for every member of this society or in applying fairness to all, while they have given every thought to political expedience and electability.

The British political system is broken, because it has adopted those very same values of a profit-making business, which are to further the interests of that business. For politicians, this comes in the form of power, whilst they have ignored the basic rule of business as they have done so; the rule which states they must deliver profit to every single one of the shareholders rather than to themselves. Profit in this sense should always be seen as the delivery of the same results for all.

So if our politicians really feel that they have to treat Government like a business, they then must also realise that if they continue to keep raising the fees on the same old products time and again without offering new products and value for money, they will soon price their offerings way beyond the purse of the people who normally pay, and the cash will soon start ceasing to flow.

Government is not run for a financial profit, any more than it should ever be so for the bottom-line benefit of just the ‘staff’.

Whatever their backgrounds, experience and level, politicians must remember that they are the managers; the facilitators; the decision makers; not the beneficiaries themselves – and especially so where the end profit is not even perceptively the same as what it would be for a business.

The time has long since passed when the electorate could continue to live decent lives, whilst those within Government continue to focus on the end result for themselves. Government is not the same thing as a business, and should never be run like it is one.

Councillors’ Pay: Throwing money at more of the same just increases the odds of things going from bad to even worse

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

If you feel at all cynical about politicians and their motives for seeking power, you are unlikely to have been left feeling refreshed by the latest row over councillors’ pay which has surfaced this morning. After all, one set of politicians laying out the stall to put more money into the pockets of another is hardly the story that anyone outside of politics wants to hear. But is the promise of higher pay for councillors really the only answer to better local government?

The motives for becoming a politician at any level are not what many would hope or perhaps expect. Whilst the pathway to becoming a member of a local authority may be based upon an entirely different set of aspirations from those who become MP’s, the biggest difference between the two is the full-time and fully remunerated nature of all the roles in Westminster which have propagated and supported the rise of the ‘career politician’.

As a Local Councillor myself, I can look back on my own political history to date and know that it was not money which motivated me to contest my first Borough Election in 2003 and come 5th for a 2-seat Ward. It was not looking good and being seen by others as having responsibility in a public role which drove me to take part in the County Elections of 2005 and experience a recount to finish in 3rd place for a 2-seat Division. But it was a belief in something better for all and the sense of providing a voice for those who choose not or are unable to do so for themselves that did push me to go out each time and then win my first Borough Seat in 2007. Sadly it is not the same for all too many others.

The reality of local government, whether you are Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP or Independent, is that it is a place of frustration for the well-intended. A place where the power to influence decision making in its greatest sense simply doesn’t exist – much in the same way that the handful of our better-intentioned MP’s will have discovered to their absolute horror when they first arrived in Parliament.

It is a cold hard fact that within any system of government where so many of the would-be decision makers have arrived on the basis of personal gain and advancement, it is that very same emotional buy-in which propelled them there that prevents them and others from doing anything truly selfless when it has even the slightest risk of making those selfishly-based positions any less secure.

Such fear has propagated the growth of an insidious culture within local government where officers are often left leading the leaders with their own protectionist based views which put jobs, conditions and the limitation of all risks above any decision which actually may be the right one for the Taxpayers who fund them. It is a pathway which over many years has led to the unsustainable cost of direct services that should never have even been put at risk; coupled to a future which above all else is inextricably linked to such wonders as the bottomless pit which is the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Increasing councillors ‘pay’ to ‘realistic levels’, will only encourage more of those with the same self-interest to step forward and to then fight even harder to protect their own interests once elected. Part-time career politicians would quickly become as prevalent throughout the lower tiers of government as their full time counterparts are at Westminster, and it is the very term ‘career’ which in this sense says so very much about what is wrong with politics and where the true motives of many politicians lie today.

Reform at all levels of government should be an absolute priority, but should not be restricted to executive, administrative or technical functions.

The political party system is also failing people as much locally as it is nationally and throwing money at more of the same just increases the odds of things going from bad to even worse.

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