Monday, 20 October 2014

Scrap Broadband Councillor Allowance

For the benefit of clarity, I do think that our local councillors deserve decent remuneration and I do not think they should be hammered just because they are "politicians". They are paid way less than the lowest pay grade and are expected to put in many hours of work and make all the very tough decisions, so this is not an attack on their pay. It is, however, a note of frustration about the allowances.

I made a cursory glance over the expenses sheet and I noticed councillors can claim £7 per month (or £84 per year and as a fund, up to £10,584) for "Broadband Allowance" which is defined as "contribution of £7 per month paid to Councillor's who are using their own home broadband facilities for DCC (Durham County Council) matters".

I can categorically say I would not claim this allowance, nor would I ever claim for Food on a matter of principle. I don't care what others say this suggests I am saying about them, I'm saying nothing against anyone, they can claim whatever they are allowed to claim and I don't judge them. I just personally wouldn't claim it. Why? Because I eat anyway. Simple. The same goes for Broadband, I get a hell of a lot out of using the Internet at home on my blogs, YouTube, Facetime to my family around the country and checking my E-Mails. I would not get rid of Broadband if I ever left elected office and if I happen to check a county council email on my home computer, I don't see why this should entitle me to more money.

I would already be getting at least £12,000 to be a Councillor and that's pretty good and more than covers a cost of what is almost an essential service we use anyway at home. What's next? Being able to get your shopping and utility bills covered if you ate whilst reading a DCC email or writing a letter? The only time this would be acceptable would be if a Councillor had no Internet to begin with, I'd be fine with that. Interestingly, I noted two Councillors I know very well got a Broadband line put into their home having not had any Internet previously and they have claimed £0! Well done to them.

The system should not allow claims of this nature. It plays right into the hands of the anti-political mob who will note this also and see it as a backhand way of getting extra expenses. By the way, feel free to hold me to this in the future if I am fortunate enough to ever be elected. You won't need to remind me.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

19th October Political Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

Here is our latest politics podcast (a day early this week!) It is hosted by North West Durham Labour activist Malcolm Clarke and the Labour Party Candidate for the Hexham Constituency for the May 2015 General Election, Liam Carr.

This week we discuss the comments about disabled earners and their wage from Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform, Liam's visit to a major employer in Hexham and other local updates.

Please press play to listen to the podcast or subscribe via our talkshoe page by clicking this link.

Our political podcast is available on iTunes where you can subscribe FREE by visiting their iTunes store. Click here to subscribe to our Politics Podcast on iTunes. There is no better way of ensuring you do not miss a show as any new shows as they will automatically be downloaded to your computer each time you open the iTunes application.

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to listen in and we hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Saturday Afternoon at Willington AFC

I usually watch my team Consett FC play in the Northern League Division 1 at Belle View Stadium, where as you may know I sell programmes and raffle tickets before the match to help raise funds for the club. This week and for a sequence of weeks, Consett have been playing away from home. I have promised Willington Town Mayor Fraser Tinsley some time ago that I would visit a Willington AFC match, I took the opportunity today to go along and check it out. Today's match was Willington hosting Team Northumbria in a Division 2 contest.

I love the Northern League. If Premiership Football seems like a different world to you (and it is), you should check out a league where players are hard-working and play for a love of the game and modest earnings. Some players make £100+ per week but the norm is about £20 - £40 per match. You also feel so much more a part of the grassroots football culture.

I am told that Willington AFC are the only club in the Northern League that has covered stands on all four sides of the pitch in the Northern League. The Greater Willington Town Council have invested money from the community into the club and I think it is money well-spent as the community unites around the team in many towns. There has a real community feel and spirit around the place. Their pitch was in good condition, probably due in part to the kind weather conditions but also due to volunteers looking after it. This allowed a great game of Football to take place.

Coming into the ground there is some grass space surrounding the pitch which makes the whole area seem spacious. They had a lovely snack bar and there is a traditional club house that has probably been there for many years. This is not a criticism, I loved it! The players came in after the match and everyone gathered to watch the results of the bigger games on T.V. There was a bit of a laugh when Sunderland were found to have lost 8-0 and happiness/surprise to see that Newcastle had won 1-0!

In the match itself it was a tight affair and towards the end of the game, with the score tied at 2-2, the referee missed an attacking player from Team Northumbria handling the ball whilst on the ground in the Willington box and as the players appealed to the referee, Team Northumbria scored from that attack. It was too late to push for a third equaliser and the match finished 3-2 to Team Northumbria. Willington will feel very hard done by, I think they deserved a point and the referee unfortunately make a mistake that they will feel cost them the game. It certainly cost them a point.

I really enjoyed visiting Willington AFC today and would recommend you check it out too. I will visit again when The Steelmen play away from home and look forward to going back, perhaps in midweek when there is a game.

Visit Willington AFC on Twitter via this link (@WillingtonAFC) and visit their website by going to http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/willingtonafc/

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Parking to be Free After Three in December

Durham County Council has offered an early Christmas gift to residents and businesses in the county with free parking after 3.00pm at all council car parks throughout December.

They have arranged this to help support high street businesses and make affording Christmas that little bit easier. The offer applies to all council-owned car parks in the county as well as on-street parking in Durham City.

In a further boost for businesses, there 'll also be free parking after 10.00am on Saturday 6 December as part of a number of council projects in support of Small Business Saturday. The nationally recognised day aims to help small businesses by encouraging people to 'think big, shop small' and support local traders.

Councillor Neil Foster, Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said:

"We've been working with local businesses throughout the summer to look at ways of encouraging more people into our town centres. By offering 'free after three' parking throughout December we hope to provide a welcome boost to local businesses as well as help to cut the cost of Christmas for residents across the county.

"As the lifeblood of our towns and villages, it's vital that we all support our local high street businesses so we're delighted to show our ongoing commitment to Small Business Saturday by also offering free parking on 6 December."

Analysing Ed Miliband's Keynote Speech

This is the final analysis of the keynote speeches, I did not realise what I was taking on! Labour activists will say I left the best until last, but one of the difficulties of politics is that you can guarantee that most Labour activists will say it was a great speech and most others will say it was terrible. I hope this is an objective analysis, but then the reader will probably already hold strong views.

It may be unfair that Ed Miliband’s final keynote speech to a Labour conference before the General Election was focused on what he did not say rather than the points he did cover. The media continue to question Ed Miliband’s ability to lead the country and openly suggest that for him to reach No. 10 Downing Street then he must be propelled there by the ineptitude of his rivals, rather than his own strengths. They do not go quite as far as saying Labour would win in spite of their leader, but they come close. The scrutiny and criticism is intense and likely to intensify as May 2015 draws nearer, particularly as Prime Minister David Cameron notes the polls that show that given the choice between the big two parties leaders. Cameron wins as the best Prime Minister in the eyes of the polling public.

Ed took to the stage surrounded by activists. He spoke on the same level as them and he spoke without notes. I am afraid I must be slightly critical here. When David Cameron first spoke without notes and he received praise for his oratorical skills. Ed is also a great speaker and his best speech was in 2011 when he first spoke without notes and made a breakthrough. That said, my preference for the final keynote speech was much more about getting all the points across, rather than risking what actually happened in missing something important out. When this occurs, it becomes the story despite lots of other good things he discussed. I am not sure the reward of people praising his speaking, when anyone knows the speeches are vigorously rehearsed anyway, outweighs the risk of making a mistake.

My views on Ed Miliband are positive. Ed has grown into the role very well and having met him, I can sincerely say that he has an air of authority and confidence that may not come across on T.V. He performs well in Prime Ministers Questions and as the Tories find themselves having to defend their own record, rather than criticising Labour, they struggle to deal with Ed’s questions.

Ed set the General Election question as “who is going to make life better for the working people in Britain?” He pushed the message that the improving economy is not being felt by the majority of working families. Ed acknowledged that for a lot of people politics is “rubbish” and people feel politics does not solve the issues being experienced by many people. It is difficult to deny this, UKIP are winning elections because of it so it was correct that Labour attempts to re-engage. It will not be easy, but I am pleased to note Ed Miliband is open about accepting this as a problem.

One of the fundamental differences between Labour and Conservatives is their belief in big and small government respectively. Ed used the term “together” many times. It was an updated version of his phrase One Nation, which was not mentioned as far as I could tell, saying that there must be a fair balance and equality across cultures, incomes and classes. This is a direct challenge to the UKIP ideologies who seek to divide and gain support from the uncertainties and divisions that do exist in society. Ed Miliband wants to unite Britain. This message still holds support and it is admirable that the principles of the Labour movement continue to drive party policy, rather than a lurch to the right in fear of a challenge from UKIP.

One of the big political issues is Youth Unemployment. Ed pledged a goal that by 2025 as many people would leave college to go into an apprenticeship as currently go to University. My views on this will be well-known to a regular reader. I believe young people want a job, not an apprenticeship. So I hope that we take the policy right through to its close and ensure that once apprenticeships are completed there are actual jobs waiting for them at the end of it. If this is not the case, the policy will be a failure and the problem of youth unemployment will be deferred, not solved. This does not mean I am against the idea, I just hope it leads to proper jobs, proper incomes and better futures, not just skills for young people. Skills are useless without jobs.

Ed said that we will “be building as many homes as we need” and “we will not let developers sit on land.” He finished this section by saying “this party will get Britain building again”. This means challenging ‘Nimbyism’ which attempts to scupper local building projects. I believe it is right to build more and I have a tolerance for planning applications because of this. We do have a shortage of homes and only building more can solve this problem. We must also safeguard first-time buyers and help get Britain buying.

The post speech discussions criticised Ed Miliband for not discussing the deficit. Ed admitted this was a mistake and I admire him for that honesty. The media gleefully danced all over him, however, it is worth noting that the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, had gone into great detail in his speech about the prudent fiscal plans of a future Labour government, so it was not like Labour were in denial throughout the conference to the challenges that lie ahead. Ed certainly did not promise a tax cut for millions of people and then not highlight how it would be paid for like the PM did in his speech. Overall Ed delivered a good speech which struck an honest tone without straying into the populist territory so easily adopted by others.

To watch Ed Miliband’s keynote speech in full, press play on the video below.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Analysing Nigel Farage's Keynote Speech

UKIP's conference was an interesting affair. There was a populist feel to his speech, where he played to the gallery in a way very much within his comfort zone. I watched a number of speeches before the keynote address by Nigel Farage. A cheap pop was gained each time a speaker went to the dispatch box and said they had consumed, or planned to consume, a lot of alcohol during the conference. This was not something that the other party delegates would have cheered, but this is the point, the appeal of UKIP is that they are different.

A key theme to his speech was that Farage adopted a siege mentality and immediately sought to differentiate himself between the "establishment" parties and collectively blamed them for the drop in living standards. That is no surprise. What was a surprise was that he talked of "their friends in the media" who were against UKIP. Really? The papers have been very good to UKIP and I would suspect other parties envy their coverage rather than UKIP feeling they have a raw deal. If they think they have a raw deal, well, just wait! They have been in the papers almost every day and Farage as an individual enjoys unprecedented coverage. To hear him admonish the press and accuse them of unfair coverage is not something I expected to hear and I imagine this surprised the press too.

There is a reality for UKIP in that they decry the establishment and talk of "meeting aspirations" of British people but they do not go into detail of what that brave new world will look like. They have benefited from the by-election vote which we all know is based largely on a motivated anti-establishment statement than a choice of government. However, their success means they are part of this establishment. Can they rely only on the anti-establishment vote, who the BNP has found out is notoriously fickle, to support them as they become accountable? As they grow, they become more establishment. The Lib Dems found that once they got in, the anti vote left the building.

As a voter I struggle with their massaging and inflaming of anti-political sentiment. Farage discussed sensitive issues like multiculturalism in a fashion that did not do justice to the complexity of those issues and used phrases and terms that would be offensive to some areas of our society. UKIP try hard to be different but they are fundamentally political. They want to win elections just the same as everyone and their candidates stand for election in the hope of victory just like everyone else. Voting in the UK is becoming as much about voting against someone as it is voting for someone else. Ask anyone why they vote for someone it is quite common to hear, "I'm not voting for the other one!" instead of "I support this candidate and what they stand for." This is a very rare statement and whilst UKIP have every right to stand for election in this way, it is a further deterioration of engagement in politics and it is worrying.

Farage has previously talked of "bringing an end to the political class and career politician". The public eats this up, from a man who leads a political party, who made a fortune as a banker and who is an MEP standing as an MP next year and may have three massive jobs to do, where he cannot possibly do all well. Another challenge for UKIP is how many times their speakers said to the audience, "this is what we stand for in UKIP!" which was quite often met with a murmur. It was clear the idea of UKIP appeals to many, but the reality of UKIP might appeal to far less. People are telling UKIP they want 'change'. UKIP embrace this idea, but what will it look like? We know what they are against, but as LBC humorously outlined via a UKIP supporter, it is far more difficult for their supporters to say what they stand for, rather than against. I think many voters will want more flesh on the bones before giving their support. It is sad that so many do not require this, the fact they are "not them" is enough.

There is little doubt UKIP is on the up. They have an MP, they have a charismatic leader that enjoys good media coverage, not that he would agree it seems. They also have many challenges, not least keeping their supporters happy, supporters who are often prone to rash changes of political allegiance, however, they are in the mix and the parties cannot afford to be complacent and underestimate them. Populism holds appeal, whether we like it or not.

To watch Nigel Farage's keynote speech in full, click play below.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

12th October Political Podcast with Malcolm Clarke and Liam Carr

Here is our latest politics podcast (a day early this week!) It is hosted by North West Durham Labour activist Malcolm Clarke and the Labour Party Candidate for the Hexham Constituency for the May 2015 General Election, Liam Carr.

This week we discuss the by-elections of Clacton and Heywood & Middleton and the implications of the results. We also discuss our latest local information which includes Malcolm giving his views on leaving the post of CLP Chairman.

Please press play to listen to the podcast or subscribe via our talkshoe page by clicking this link.

Our political podcast is available on iTunes where you can subscribe FREE by visiting their iTunes store. Click here to subscribe to our Politics Podcast on iTunes. There is no better way of ensuring you do not miss a show as any new shows as they will automatically be downloaded to your computer each time you open the iTunes application.

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to listen in and we hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Durham County Council Website Re-Launch

Durham County Council has re-launched their website with a fresh new design. You can take a look at it by visiting http://www.durham.gov.uk/ It looks the part and it is very modern. Below is a screenshot taken this morning of the homepage.

I like that the "Apply for It", "Pay for It" etc and the search bar is right at the top of the page. This is likely to be the main reason someone visits their website so it is right this information is readily available. I am not so sure about the stories and graphics boxes in a scrolling area, this is a classic trick of Wordpress and it is full of functionality and fancy code, but how many people will scroll through it to find stories? That said, it certainly looks professional. I would have preferred the information below the scrolling story area to be view right from arriving at the site, as I think this would be very often exactly what information the user needs.

Unfortunately these new modern formats give less information per page than you could see previously. I use the Press Releases page a lot to get information both for third parties and to use on this blog. Below is a screenshot of the new press page.

Without scrolling you can see only two stories. I will not deny it looks more professional than the old press archive, but compare this with the Pre-October 2014 links, where you can see far more information. I am unsure whether it is wise to choose aesthetics over the efficient presentation and easy access to the information people will be searching for.

Following the redesign there is a regression from seeing 16 visible links on the old page to 2 visible links now and this new format and look is mirrored across any page where search results are collated. I might sound grumpy and I do like the site, but I am concerned that Internet users like quick access to information and the new site, whilst looking great, will slow the speed at which you can access the information on the site.

The fresh design is welcome as the Durham County Council website has looked the same for many years. It will take some getting used to and some of the links have changed, so you will need to update your bookmarks for pages you might regularly visit. Users should not that the A-Z feature is currently not available and the council are working on it and the "My Durham" section, where you can find out when your bins are due for collection etc, are still within the old site and will be transferred in due course. So work is still ongoing, but it's a good start.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Analysing Nick Clegg's Conference Speech

Nick Clegg has endured a parliamentary term under heavy fire from his opponents and his coalition partners. Appeasing his members at conference has seen motions passed against his wishes. In 2010 there was the scandal of his party's electioneering in signing pledges that ousted MPs like Charles Clarke only for them to u-turn and increase tuition fees anyway. This lost them a lot of support by people disgusted by their convenient casting aside of their pre-election pledges. Then there was the "we are in it for the greater good" whilst hundreds of their councillors lost their seats, often losing their deposits in the process. The Lib Dems MPs vowed to stand firm, but then began to stand down one by one, particularly those with small majorities, an extraordinary coincidence given their poor electoral chances.

Despite everything, Clegg turned up year after year to defend his record in government, or more accurately perhaps, plead for a fair hearing from his party members. With his customary stuttering (I too have a small stammer and blocks on certain words) he got through it. As it happens I believe his stammer is a product of the huge amounts of criticism he has endured since 2010. A pre-speech rumour that he was to announce he was standing down proved to be unfounded, although Norman Lamb had made a comment that he would stand for party leader when there was a vacancy. The press hungrily announced Lamb as having made a pitch for the party leadership, which when I actually read what was said was a far-reaching story and somewhat typical of the media.

Throughout this years conference speech, Clegg listed a number of achievements that were "designed and delivered by Liberal Democrats" including what he said was his main achievements in government, equal marriage and increasing the threshold of income before tax. Unfortunately for the Lib Dems, no-one is listening and they have not been listening for some time. Their only hope at the next General Election is to be saved by tactical voting where people "hold their nose" and vote Lib Dem, like they did in Eastleigh, in order to keep the Tories out. The Lib Dems could previously really on the anti-political vote, but UKIP has taken all those votes as they actively offer anti-politics a voice by being deliberately anti-establishment (the antis don't see the difference between the two). This has cost the Lib Dems a lot of support and they have never rebounded.

Nick Clegg will end up in the House of Lords and he had his stint in government against all the odds. A personal success perhaps, but it cost his party dear. But if they had not gone into coalition, what would have been the point of them? The point of them in this parliamentary term has been the facilitator to Tory policy, not a buffer as they would like you to believe. Whatever their pledge to become the brake mechanism for the Tories, the fact is they have voted through all the major policies that define this government, which includes The Bedroom Tax and the Health and Social Care Act that has seen the NHS begin a worrying road towards privatisation. Their MPs have consistently talked left and voted right. Clegg talked very left again today, but check his voting record. I think people know this already, there is a lot of water under the bridge that has not yet been forgotten. The awkward delivery, the pleading for reason and the multiple descents into rapid-fire list delivery (a trick similar to the memory thing), it all seemed a bit desperate. I think the game is up, but we will see how tactical voting skews the result next May, it might just save them some face.

Worryingly, the trend now is to vote against who you don't want rather than vote for who you do want. Nobody wants anyone! This could lead to a weird result and I think it will. the capitulation of the Lib Dems is just one of a number of interesting facets to May 2015's General Election result.

If you wish to watch Nick Clegg's keynote speech in full, here it is below.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

4th October 2014 Political Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

Here is our latest politics podcast (a day early this week!) It is hosted by Malcolm Clarke and the Labour Party Candidate for the Hexham Constituency for the May 2015 General Election, Liam Carr.

This week we discuss lots of important issues the very tragic news of the IS murder of Alan Henning. We discuss the great difficulty but importance of covering this issue and the heartbreak of the ongoing brutality for good people like Alan who take real risks to help others who are suffering. We also discuss Conference season and our views of the conferences so far. Liam updates us on the campaigning activities he has undertaken in Hexham this week.

Please press play to listen to the podcast or subscribe via our talkshoe page by clicking this link.

Our political podcast is available on iTunes where you can subscribe FREE by visiting their iTunes store. Click here to subscribe to our Politics Podcast on iTunes. There is no better way of ensuring you do not miss a show as any new shows as they will automatically be downloaded to your computer each time you open the iTunes application.

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to listen in and we hope you enjoy it.