Lib Dems Debate Football

The Lib Dems attracted derision yesterday for their conference motion on football which said “Winning has become the primary motive in the sport”, and it was a very weird thing to say. But now they have had their debate, and not all of it was all that bonkers.

The motion correctly identified the Football Creditor Rule as an evil, that many supporters have been “priced out” by soaring ticket prices, that there has been a power shift to the Premier League clubs, that the game doesn’t do enough to channel the vast TV revenues down the pyramid, and that the game could do more to promote diversity and equality.

Therefore the motion demanded that all league clubs should have “formally recognised” Supporters’ Trusts, that the Owners’ and Directors’ Test be made more robust and clearer, and that we must have total transparency and better governance.

There were some more contentious things, like demanding all stewards be SIA registered (overkill – a fair proportion already are at senior clubs and the safety regulatory environment is pretty tight as it is), or that clubs be held more responsible for the on-pitch behaviour of their players (in an age of soaring player salaries, it’s up to the authorities to fine and ban the players more aggressively). There was a rather daft line about an influx of overseas investment unjustified on purely financial grounds” which read like a complaint about “bloody foreigners” but didn’t mean a lot else. It was more UKIP than Lib Dem.

But the debate got under way. Edward Lord, who has recently been kicked off the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board for speaking out, had a good go at all the governing bodies for doing too little about racism and sexism within their own premises. He’s right, the failure to do anything about the Scudamore scandal is proof how entrenched sexist attitudes and sexist administrators are. Scudamore should have been sacked.

Then we heard from John Bridges, who told us a bit about Manchester Village FC, a team inclusive of gay footballers who are the current International Gay and Lesbian FA European Champions. He gave an instance of homophobic abuse of such an extent that they were obliged to make an official complaint, which took the FA seven months to adjudicate on. Two offending players were disciplined, their club fined £50, and when the two teams met again the match had to be abandoned at half time. Bridges complained that although their County FA had been supportive, the FA itself is just not geared up to deal with complaints in the amateur game. They make no resources available to the grass-roots to provide training in these kinds of issues.

Ross Pepper from Lincoln told the surprising story of how the Lincoln City Ladies team decamped to Nottingham, where they now play as Notts County.  This was a scandalous move, one of several misadventures associated with the birth of the FA Womens’ Super League.  It is a tacky attempt to commercialise the womens’ game and one which I am pleased to see is meeting with indifference outside its own ‘walled garden’.  There is plenty of genuine community-based football played by womens’ teams elsewhere.

After that, things got a bit mad.  Joe Otton, the PPC for Sheffield Central correctly identified the ridiculousness of the line in the motion about winning being a bad thing.  But he then veered off himself into saying that the game offers unparalleled opportunities to ethnic minority players (because they can earn money in football they can’t earn elsewhere in the corporate world), that there is less room for racial prejudice because of the pressure to win, and that it is “smug and condescending” to lecture football about racism.  It is a very strange argument.  I am just glad that racism in football is at a relatively low ebb, because his analysis of it is thoroughly muddled.

Cllr Prue Bray fairly pointed out that the motion ignored the women’s game (which, as we’ve seen is mired in controversy), saying “It’s bad enough that the media ignore womens’ sport without us doing it as well”.  Given the complete misgovernance of the womens’ game at the top level, that’s a very reasonable complaint.

Cllr Paul Baker, co-owner  of Cheltenham Town, delivered a defence of the Football League and its “great new regulations and disciplines”.  These are a bolted stable door if ever there was one, assuming we even think they are “great”, which I do not.  He blamed ITV Digital, and not carried-away owners, for the problems many clubs faced after that company collapsed. He even went so far as to say that legislation to drive governance reform should be a “final straw” answer.  I happen to think the camel’s back was broken a long time ago, and if Cllr Baker reads the Coalition Agreement he will see that both our parties have so far broken the promise we made in it to sort this mess out.

Jenni Ferrans, from Milton Keynes, delivered an even crazier defence of MK Dons, saying how great it was that moving the football club there means the town has a stadium which can host Rugby World Cup games next year.  We were going off-the-scale for bonkersness by now.

Andrew Page redeemed proceedings a bit with a joke (one of the few during conference season anywhere which was actually funny). In his playing days he once scored against Leeds United, but as everyone does these days he didn’t think it was anything to shout about.  He told the conference about the excellent work Annan Athletic are doing in guiding their young supporters to be resistant to discrimination and homophobia, and that Scottish football generally is not rampantly homophobic.  It was an enlightening contribution.

Winding up the debate, the Manchester Withington MP John Leech thanked those who’d turned up (the hall was about a quarter full) for what he called the “redeye debate” (it kicked off at the unexceptional hour of 9am). But he slightly reworked the much-ridiculed line about winning becoming the primary motive to say it is the “win at all costs” attitude which brings problems with it; and he’s quite right.  Look at the shocking behaviour on pitches up and down the country, the revolving-door culture of hiring and firing managers, the rampant commercialism, the obsession with what’s happening in the top 4 of the Premier League.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to win, but there definitely is something wrong with “win at all costs”, and it’s a shame the original motion used such a silly form of words.

I was surprised Cllr Vernon-Jackson, the ‘saviour of Portsmouth FC’ didn’t turn up to speak and share with the conference how he single-handedly rescued Pompey from the clutches of Chainrai, as explained in his latest bit of propaganda. As one of the speakers mentioned Pompey but got his figures round the wrong way, I wondered where he got them from. But Gerald wasn’t there.

The motion was duly passed, but we need more from all the parties than just conference resolutions.  With the Lib Dems at 7% in the polls, it’s debatable whether they will have much say in the next government anyway. If they do, they will probably have more pressing concerns – Ed Davey wowed a much larger audience later on with a policy of banning coal-fired power stations, covering the countryside with solar panels and wind turbines, and hiking energy prices so much that the cost of a football ticket will seem like a trifling concern.


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Labour Conference – Alexander Amazes the Audience, Keith Gets Confused

I had the Labour Conference on the telly earlier in the background, and caught the speeches on International Development and Foreign Affairs.  To start with, I thought the BBC were televising the wrong event, as the stage has a garish purple backdrop.  I though it might be a UKIP bash.  Then I spotted the sky-blue header panel with video screens.  Maybe I’d got the date of the Tory conference wrong.  I don’t know who does Labour’s brand guidelines, but I hope they are giving someone a bollocking for creating such a mish-mash of visual stupidity.


Then came Jim Murphy, fresh from his soapbox tour of Scotland defending the Union.  He is one of the tiny number of competent people available to Ed Miliband for Shadow portfolios; and yet in a fairly recent reshuffle, he was booted out of Defence and demoted to International Development.  Murphy put the boot into FIFA over working practices in Qatar, which was controversially awarded the 2022 World Cup and where migrant workers are dying at a shocking rate.  He made the only half-decent speech of the session.

We did also hear this morning from Vernon Coaker, who now shadows Defence, but he said nothing of any note, and he never does.  Labour has got no Defence policy beyond attacking the Coalition for not spending enough.  For the record, Labour halved the Type 45 frigate order, fatally undermining the marketplace for warship construction, but now attacks the Coalition for having to deal with the consequences of too many shipyards and too few ship orders.  It’s pathetic, and I suspect many in the Labour Party are embarrassed at the weak hand Coaker and Miliband are dealing them.

But we had some moments of unintentional humour amid the dross.  First came Dougie Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary.  He was talking about the crisis of legitimacy politicians at the top level face and what he has learnt on his travels:

All over Britain – in big houses, in little houses, in penthouses and in static caravans, from Bognor to Belfast – people will feel that in Dougie Alexander, Labour has a foreign affairs spokesman with a grasp of things to rival an Ernest Bevin or an Arthur Henderson.  That clip was literally the highlight of his speech, which, as with his comments in House of Commons debates on Foreign Affairs, was devoid of any policy or insight into how the problems of the world can be solved.  “Can’t we all just get along?” is a reasonable summary.

Immediately afterwards, in a spirit of recognising one who has made such a great contribution to peace and love in the Middle East, Keith Vaz demanded a standing ovation for former Foreign Secretary and Extraordinary Renderer, Jack Straw.  It is Straw’s last Labour conference as an MP before he retires to spend more time with his conscience, and the audience shamelessly rose to their feet.

But as the old guard shuffle off, the new recruits arrive.  Keith Vaz had been barking at speakers all morning to hurry up like a grumpy NCO drilling new recruits.  “Walk to the platform more quickly!”, “Keep your speeches short or you won’t all get in!”  A couple of new Parliamentary candidates made the foolish mistake of leaving pauses for people to laugh at their “jokes”, which didn’t help timekeeping, and nobody laughed anyway.  The PPC for Great Yarmouth even started by saying, “I’m told it’s a good idea to start with a joke”, but then delivered such a clunker that people forgot she had effectively begged them to laugh at it, and sat there unmoved.  Oratory is a thing of the past at Labour conferences.  Corporal Vaz seemed to have a bit of trouble deciding what to call female speakers; one was “Sister”, one got a “Madam”, one was “You there in the teeshirt”.

After a couple of excruciating speakers, Vaz ended that debate and moved on to a session on Business.  The Shadow Secretary of State for West End Nightclubs, Chuka Umunna, was called upon by Vaz to introduce the next speaker:

Sadly it seems Vaz has never heard of him.  Chuka Umanna? Shaka Unamma? Who? Chaka Khan?


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South Parade Pier Sale – Dead or “Just Sleeping”?

We are now almost exactly six months on from the first claims made by the parties involved that South Parade Pier had been sold.  It still hasn’t, if you check the Land Registry.  The claims have been repeated at intervals, even sometimes supported by members of the shadowy consortium seeking to buy it, but nothing ever changes.

A key member of the consortium has lost patience with the fiasco and is about to pull out.  He has told people he is “fed up” and “has had enough”.  If he doesn’t change his mind, the sale of the Pier is in serious doubt.  There are a couple of theories in the air about what the hold-up is.

We know that the-then leader of the council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, promised the would-be owners £100,000 pounds from council funds.  As I have argued since this was announced, subsidising the purchase of the Pier by a private consortium would not be a legitimate use of CIL funding.  Then the Lib Dems lost power in the city and the scheme quite rightly came to a halt. Cllr Vernon-Jackson was hoping to get the sale done before the elections in May, claim the credit, and hope nobody questioned the legitimacy of his manoeuvres later on.  In the absence of the £100k from the council, it may be the consortium has had to have a rethink about their finances.

Another possibility is that the current owners of the Pier are reluctant to sell it because of upcoming legal action.  The company which owns it, People’s Pier (Southsea) Ltd, is in dispute with a third party, and the Pier is its only asset.  As such, they could be in hot water later on if they lose the case having disposed of the Pier knowing action was coming.  Certainly the electricity company EDF have been in dispute with the Pier’s owners for a long time over unpaid bills, although there is no sign of a court action taking place in their name yet.  At some point though, they are going to want to recoup some of the tens of thousands of Pounds they are owed in unpaid bills.

Adding to the mystery is the apparent presence in the Pier of several gaming machines belonging to another company.  It was the presence of these which led to the consortium demanding that About My Area editor Haley Storey remove photos from her website, even though they had given her permission to take them in the first place!  Are the owners of these machines under the impression they are actually somewhere else?

The other development is that another of the current owners’ companies has just been liquidated – Demasios Limited, registered at South Parade Pier itself.  This is one of several businesses under which the Pier has operated, and its disappearance may be a sign that “the end is nigh” for Fred Nash and Dawn Randall in Southsea.

We are now six months on from the initial claims of a sale, and we still don’t have many answers.  There was a flurry of activity with some scaffolding going up and a quick stopgap repair to one part of the damaged structure.  Some surveying has been carried out.  Whether the consortium will be prepared to spend more money on the Pier while there is still uncertainty over their ability to buy it, we’ll have to see.  It has been an absolute disaster for the Pier that we have had six months of largely glorious weather wasted while the uncertainty about ownership has persisted.  We have never had a convincing explanation of what the hold-up is.  It will now have to survive another winter’s battering without any of the major structural work it badly needs.

A side-effect of this dithering is that the City Council is in an impossible position when it comes to the calls from the South Parade Trust to take legal action against the owners.  If the Pier had been sold, it would be reasonable to give the new owners time to prove their good faith before marching them into court.  That’s the position Council Leader Donna Jones has taken, and it’s perfectly understandable.  However, given the failure of the consortium to complete a purchase, it’s also understandable that people will continue to support the Trust in its efforts.  Until the sale definitely falls through or is completed, we are stuck in a legal no-man’s-land.

The Trust is still in discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund about an eventual purchase and restoration of the Pier.   Their online petition now stands just short of 7,000 signatories, and the Trust gathered even more when they had a stall at the Victorious Festival recently.  The South Parade Trust still look like the only prospective buyers who have any idea what is needed to save South Parade Pier, or the ability to do it.

If the Council had taken timely action while the Lib Dems were in charge, as I’ve argued constantly on this blog, then there might already have been a repair order in place before the current pass-the-parcel game got started between Fred Nash and Dawn Randall and the mysterious consortium.  As things are, with the future ownership position getting less and less clear as the nights start to draw in, the City Council would be wise to keep the situation under review.




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Mike Hancock interviewed on Radio Solent 2/9/14

Radio Solent were yesterday trailing an interview with Mike Hancock, which apparently culminated in him hanging up on interviewer Jessica Parker.  Sadly, we didn’t get to hear the full version this morning, which is understandable in one sense as there is a lot to get into a programme while we still have the outrageous treatment of the King family rumbling along.

However, what we did get was interesting enough.  The audio of the interview is below.  Hancock claims he has been in poor health, and still is, saying that “for the first time in my life I am going to do what I’ve been advised to do by doctors”.  This is true – when he first came back from his heart operation, it was much more quickly than doctors advised.  He is a man who is keen not to let the grass grow under his feet.

On returning to Parliamentary duty, he said “As soon as I’m well enough and I feel strong enough to be able to deal with it…..I can’t go back as I was straight away”.  Given that “as he was” from long before he was ill was pretty much a part-time MP with an appalling attendance record, I’m not sure that is any comfort to his constituents.  I wouldn’t wish ill-health on anyone, but if he’s not up to the job, after years of under-representing Portsmouth South, it’s time he set the people free and stepped down.

As it is, he is still keeping an open mind about standing in 2015.  “There will be a very interesting election come May,and I think it will be a very hard-fought contest whoever the candidates are”.  Pressed on his relationship with Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who has now replaced him as the Lib Dem candidate in Portsmouth South, all he would say was “I have nothing to say about Gerald Vernon-Jackson. When I do say it I will say it publicly at the appropriate time”.  

It sounds like there are more Lib Dem skeletons in the cupboard.  Have relations between the two broken down irreparably, even after everything Gerald has done for Mike?  He helped him get “the best deal we could” out of the Lib Dem chief whip when the disciplinary process started, after all.

There is now no question of Hancock being able to stand as a Lib Dem, so he will have to stand as an independent, as he did in Fratton Ward in May.  On that occasion, the Lib Dems gave him a free run and he still lost.  Hancock said  “I’m not making any decision about my future until I know exactly how I stand in regards to my health”.

Finally, he was asked about the disciplinary inquiry into his behaviour by the Lib Dems.  As I’ve previously explained, there presently isn’t one, because it was suspended by the Lib Dems at the start of the year to allow his court case to take place.  The court case never has taken place, because Hancock has admitted most of the complaints against him, made a grovelling apology, and agreed a financial settlement with the complainant.  Even so, the Lib Dems have failed after nine weeks to restart the process.  In that time they have managed to consider the similar case against Lord Rennard and re-admit him.  Nobody in the party can explain why the Regional Parties Committee, which only meets a couple of times a year, didn’t take the opportunity of dealing with Hancock in a timely manner.

All Hancock had to say when questioned was “I’ve not been here.  I’ve been on holiday with my grandchildren. I didn’t want to have any communications at all about any of this until I was back and I was settled myself”.

Has he been ill or has he been on holiday?  It gives the impression that the Lib Dems are letting Hancock set the pace of their inquiry into him.  There is nothing to suggest otherwise from the Lib Dem party, because they have been totally inactive.

When Jessica Parker pressed him on the contradiction between claiming he’s been ill and claiming he’s been a busy constituency MP while he’s been on holiday, he ended with the pitiable statement that “You can ask whatever you like…the answer I want to give you is that I’m not discussing those sort of things. I’m not going to fall into the trap I did before of trying to answer a running commentary of what’s going on in my life”.  You see people, none of this is his fault.  It’s all these people asking awkward questions about him molesting a constituent.  If only they’d leave him alone, everything would be alright!

Here’s the audio of the interview:



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The news about the long-running operation of rape gangs in Rotherham exploded across the media with the force of Krakatoa (which blew up on this day in 1883).  But it’s not the first case of this kind – there have already been far too many – and given the failings that permitted it to happen, I doubt it will be the last.

Some history: in Keighley in 2003, the then-MP Ann Cryer made a series of allegations that Asian gangs were grooming and abusing girls in the town.  Channel 4 News ran the story, and although the report I’ve linked to leaves the story at an early stage, over the next few years there was a stream of convictions for sexual assault and rape following up on cases related to the story.  You’ll see there that it was contentious that Cryer highlighted the ethnicity of the attackers and victims.

In the years that followed, similar cases came to light – in Oxford, in Rochdale, in Blackpool, in Derby, and now Rotherham.  Let’s immediately pick out two of those examples.  The Blackpool case is one where it is clear that the abusers were at least mainly white men preying on vulnerable kids.  We shouldn’t kid ourselves that the only abusers are “Asian gangs”.  The Oxford case is relevant because it very quickly came to light that although Oxford was the “base of operations”, in fact it was attracting abusers from around the country, especially the North.  We shouldn’t kid ourselves that what happens in one place happens in isolation.

There is a clear problem in this country with widespread abuse of young girls, organised, and working to proven patterns of grooming.  It involves a network of abusers travelling themselves, and transporting girls too for their perverted ends.  There has been for a long time – Keighley was over a decade ago – and yet nothing much seems to prevent the repetition of the same horror-story at fairly short intervals.

In a case like Rotherham, where the report explicitly identifies ethnicity as an issue, ethnicity comes to dominate the debate.  Twitter has exploded with angst about “political correctness”, immigration, Islamism, and a variety of similar themes.  The case is given added piquancy by the campaign of rape and abuse carried on by Islamist fighters in the Middle East and Africa at present.  Some welcome the likelihood that this will bring conflict between different parts of the community, as if there is some reckoning to be had for the perceived wrongs of multicultural Britain.

However, it isn’t actually ethnicity that matters.  I am quite sure that wherever this abuse happened, and whoever was carrying it out, the outcome would have been the same – no real action.

I want to get away from the idea that only white girls are suffering here – Jay makes the point (p91 of her report) that Rotherham had the biggest problem with forced marriage in the South Yorkshire Police area, with the young age of the victims being an additional concern.  Abuse in Rotherham clearly affects all women and girls, and not just white ones.  If we make this purely a “white girls v Asian gangs” row, we are going to condemn any others who are victims of sexual abuse (boys, Asians, whoever) to virtual invisibility and further suffering.  Jay says that a growing number of cases of abuse affect children from Roma and Slovak groups.  She says that there is evidence of non-Asian men getting involved in the grooming and trafficking network that started out as an Asian concern.  The problem extends across all sorts of groups in society and it would be wrong to narrow the focus.

The root cause of the abuse isn’t ethnicity, either of victims or abusers.  It is an imbalance of power.  It always is.  Abusers always rely on making victims feel they have none – “nobody will believe you”, “we’ll hurt you even more”, “we’ll hurt people you care about”.  Unless victims feel they can challenge that by reaching over the heads of their abusers, the abuse continues.

What happened in Rotherham was that however loudly victims shouted, they were disbelieved or even just ignored.  People in responsible positions just ignored them because they were an inconvenience.  They got away with doing that because so much of the state operates beyond the reach of public scrutiny and accountability.  Most of the decisions that affect our lives are taken by such people and we have no power over them at all at present.  That is another imbalance of power, equally pernicious.

Forget the standard model of Parliamentary government, Cabinet, or even “Prime Ministerial government”.  The state has reached such a grotesque size that nobody really controls it any more.  Most bits of it are run to suit the needs of its managers, be they Police officers, heads of council departments, CEOs of quangos, and so on.  Every now and again one of them does something outrageous and a QC or a judge pokes around in the wreckage, writes a report, everyone “learns the lessons”, and nothing actually changes.

“Community leaders” and “business leaders” wheedle their way into the decision-making process.  In the case of charities, look at how the cat-murdering RSPCA now behaves with the most breathtaking arrogance, pretending they have Police powers.  Barnardo’s now advise councils on child protection policy – an organisation who attribute a rocketing in their salary bill to “an expansion in our retail operations and other changes in our business requirements”.  You can watch their CEO (salary IRO £160k) get shredded by Eamonn Holmes for the failure of his charity  here.  All Khan can say is “that there are questions to be asked and answers to be found”.  He is petrified of speaking out against the incompetence at Rotherham for fear of jeopardizing his charity’s position with local authorities elsewhere.  It was a craven exhibition.

All these people and organisations I’m talking about have accumulated power to which they have no right at all.

The state is a godless cult, with members kept in their compartments and with the chain of command soon disappearing into darkness.   It espouses no particular set of values except “keep your nose clean”, “do as your told”, or even more accurately (hat-tip to @FrancisTDavis) “do as you’re targetted”.

The state has replaced all previous cultural norms, and none of the old ones may now be asserted.  All that matters now is managerial convenience.  Children have no rights to be protected from abuse; mothers have no right to their babies; fathers have few rights at all, even when courts find in their favour.  The state decided some time ago that it could care for children by putting them in homes, rather than by working with families to keep them together.  What happened then was that care homes became the playgrounds of perverts.  (Jimmy Savile was neither Asian nor a Moslem)

And despite all this, people fall willingly into the arms of the state.  We are encouraged to rely on it from the day we start school.  What has happened, progressively, is that individual responsibility and initiative has been destroyed by that reliance.  I am not arguing that we must abolish the welfare state, far from it.  I have always been the sort of Conservative who believes that our institutions should be looked after and improved.  But at the same time, we cannot allow ourselves to carry on as we are at present.

The state currently threatens to destroy democracy and liberty.  It is already doing it in Rotherham where local government is a “one-party state”, as it is in so much of the country.  It is doing it in the ever-denser tangle of laws which are passed in the name of “protecting us”.  It is an irony that “paedo panic” is used, with terrorism, to justify ever-greater levels of intrusion in our lives and yet none of these laws seem to do any good at all.  They certainly seem to make no difference to paedophiles.

The only cure for these ills are the disinfectants of democracy and transparency.  In Rotherham, or anywhere else where the local authority can be shown to have failed so completely, the entire local authority should be ripped up and rebuilt.  It is alarming that we have such completely dysfunctional authorities as Rotherham and Tower Hamlets and it is a stain on democracy, especially in the latter case given how long the problem has existed, that central government hasn’t been more militant in his response.  Those who have failed at Rotherham but have moved on to other authorities should be brought back to the scene of the crimes and made to answer for them.

South Yorkshire Police couldn’t stop 1400 girls being abused in Rotherham, but they did manage to get down to Sir Cliff Richard’s place with the BBC and run a televised fishing expedition.  The Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, was the Rotherham councillor responsible for child protection while the rape campaign was at its height.  He refuses to resign, and incredibly there is no mechanism at all for removing him (unless he is charged with a serious criminal offence – watch this space).  South Yorkshire Police should be purged immediately and run from the Home Office if necessary, with outside support from other forces.  It is totally unfit and can hardly be expected to “police with consent” when nobody anywhere has any confidence in the force.

These may seem like drastic measures, but they are necessary to convince the public that central government is responding seriously.  It is no good commissioning further reports and mulling over them later.  We need action now.  The alternative, allowing the situation to drift, will just exacerbate the tensions around race which bubble through this crisis.  It is not in our interests to allow strife to break out between communities.  If there are elements within certain communities which have an habitually abusive streak, then the correct response is to empower their victims to deal with them and bring them to justice.

Empowerment has become a word that is sniggered at a bit by people who think it is some politically-correct buzzword, but it is the fundamental gift of the rule of law.  All of the advances of civil liberties in this country were the empowerment of the individual when faced with some or other abuse by someone in authority.  It seems that we have gone backwards in the last few decades, we must push the state back, and demand that our politicians join in the effort.  There is no more powerful weapon against abuse and tyranny in the democratic world than the House of Commons.  Our MPs, who are still figuring out that the party system is dying around them, often forget that (see my previous rant about why they should have recalled themselves to debate the foreign crisis).  They also seem happy with a subversion of the power of the state by all the people I’ve spent the last two thousand words moaning about.  That has to change too.

The kinds of abuses and subversions of state power we saw in Rotherham are probably more widespread, and I don’t doubt that further such awful cases will come to light elsewhere.  But the real lesson is this: voters have to demand higher standards and actually participate in society, rather than just accept what the state doles out to them, or just sit around moaning about it when it goes wrong.  We have to restate our faith in society, and recognise that the state is much more like an enemy of society than its guardian.  If you argue about Rotherham from a starting point based on the race of the offenders, you really are missing a much bigger and more important point.






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South Parade Pier 15/8/14

Rather than keep flooding this blog with pictures of “that bit of cross bracing that’s still hanging on by one bolt at one end” taken from four different angles, I’ve got a Tumblr page to dump the pictures in.  Tumblr’s a better tool than WordPress for uploading lots of photos with simple captions.

We had a very low tide on Wednesday, so I took the chance to wade out into the beautifully-warm water and snap a few bits that can’t often be seen close-up.  That tide was forecast to be down to 0.25m, which translates to a tide going out as far as in the picture below.  I keep an eye on tides, because I love running on the beach on Saturday mornings, and I like to know whether I’ll be skimming over soft sand with the sun on my back, or slogging along the stones into a force 7 sou’westerly.  It’s a wonderful experience either way, except that at present I have to divert up the beach rather than run under the Pier.

2014-08-13 07.13.38

We don’t often get tides that low, as you’ll see here, if you look at “Lowest Equinoctial Spring Tides”.

The seaward end of the Pier looks in better shape than a lot of the landward end.  I think this is to do with the angle of the beach.  The beach at the seaward end slopes gently, and although the columns are subject to constant exertion of pressure from wind and tide, the beams holding the deck up aren’t smashed out of place as they are nearer the land.  I think the sharper upward slope of the beach at the landward end ramps waves up, and causes a lot more damage to underside of the Pier.

The cleaning and surveying of columns was going on on Wednesday when I was down there, and it’s good to see.  If they start collapsing, then the Pier really is in trouble.  Holes in the concrete decking are a worry, but I accept that in some ways they are not the main threat.

The business of the scaffolding that went up is strange.  I can see it was there to provide access rather than support the Pier.  It wasn’t capable of taking any great load in the environment it was in, so it had to be for access.  Then a report appeared in The News saying that some work had been completed.  The scaffolding has been taken down at some point in the last couple of days.

Now, if this was work referred to in The News was on columns or something else that I hadn’t been looking at, fair enough.  But the area around the scaffolding doesn’t look much less in danger of “imminent collapse” (to quote the article).  The left hand photo below is from April, the right hand photo was taken earlier on today after the scaffolding had gone.  The hole is no bigger, thankfully.  There is some additional bracing on the wonky panel of bracing, with a steel running out from the main longitudinal supports to the edge of the Pier.  The wonky panel is anchored to that steel at three points.  It will hold it up for now, but it’s not a long-term solution.  Much heavier bits of metalwork were dislodged during the storms over the winter.

AprAug1That loose panel angled inwards at the edge of the deck is still hanging on by one bolt at one end even though it’s better secured at the other.

No doubt surveying work will continue through the autumn and winter, and we may not see until next spring how much intent there is behind the signs that have gone up:

2014-08-11 18.20.22Some of the spelling is a bit wonky, and the “(anticipated)” looks like a bit of a bet-hedging, but let’s see what happens.

Posted in South Parade Pier | 1 Comment

St James’ Hospital Consultation

Plans go before the Cabinet tomorrow from PCC officers recommending guideline figures for how much housing could be built at St James’ Hospital. The NHS has started to sell it off for housing development, and it is vital that PCC has a policy for the area in place to ensure that it is able to exert what little control local authorities have in planning matters of this kind.

Despite Lib Dem claims, this is classed as a “brown field site” in national planning policy, and there is a presumption that it can be redeveloped regardless of the wishes of councils and residents.  It was lazy and negligent of the Lib Dems to ignore the NHS plans for St James’, which can have come as no surprise to them when the NHS presented their plans to the then-Lib Dem administration in February.

This is another one of those bizarre areas where the Lib Dems are disavowing locally a policy they have supported nationally in government, of encouraging redevelopment of “brown field sites”.  The bulk of any housing at St James’ is going to come from converting the main hospital building.  Having had a very quick scan of the Cabinet paper, the new administration have put into the plan a lower density of new-build housing than that permitted by the Lib Dems in the past when the new estates on the fringes of the hospital site were built.

I’ll have much more to say on this in another blog, but for now, at the bottom of the page is the audio from a discussion between Cllrs Luke Stubbs and Gerald Vernon-Jackson on Radio Solent earlier, on the Julian Clegg show.  It was a pretty uncomfortable experience for GVJ, who is not only under pressure with his seat up in the local elections next May, but also only second favourite now to succeed his Lib Dem colleague Mike Hancock for the Lib Dem Westminster nomination.

Will Cllr Vernon-Jackson get a life peerage out of Clegg in the honours list after the elections to sweeten a bitter pill?  Kath Pinnock, his good friend from the Association of Lib Dem Councillors, has just been given one.  I think it’s fair to suggest it’s for “services to covering up a mess in Portsmouth”.  It’s also fair to say that there are Lib Dem councillors backing Tamora Langley who are starting to break cover and say that Pinnock ignored evidence they put to her of problems in the party locally.  This one is going to run and run.  Still running, EIGHT WEEKS after he settled with his victim out-of-court, Mike Hancock is still a Lib Dem, there is still no date set for a disciplinary hearing, and even his local office claim not to know where he is hiding.

Posted in Politics, Portsmouth City Council | Comments Off on St James’ Hospital Consultation

Recalling Parliament

It seemed to me to be idiotic of Parliament to adjourn for the summer on July 22nd just as the crisis in the Middle East escalated to new levels of atrocity.  There were some murmurings from more astute MPs that they would look ridiculous going into recess at that point without first debating the crisis fully, and they have been proven right.  Ridiculous, perhaps even negligent.

What good would it do to recall Parliament?  It’s a fair question.  Passing a resolution is not going to bring either conflict to a halt.  But Parliament is not just a factory for legislation or a tool of the Executive, and indeed it is not on these occasions a mere debating society.  Parliament represents the British people to the outside world just as much as individual MPs represent their constituents.  We will never be able to defend our interests in the world if we are unable to express what they are.

We have a right to hear our MPs’ counsel in a crisis like this.  That for me is the final argument against MPs like Mike Thornton who say this sort of thing:

We had some futher exchanges which got us nowhere, because Mike just can’t see the function of Parliament that I outlined above.  It is better to debate an issue and be a divided House at the end of it, than to do nothing but fire off anguished Tweets or newspaper articles.

Conor Burns is calling for Parliament to be recalled:

I agree with him, but I’d go further.  Don’t wait for the Speaker’s permission, or for the Prime Minister’s.  Do it yourself, Conor.  A quorum in the House of Commons is just 40 MPs.  Round up that number, go to Westminster, demand access to the Chamber, and get working.  If Bercow tries to bar you all, elect one of your number to take the Chair in his place and meet somewhere else if need be.  The power of the House of Commons has always been exerted in the assembled persons of its members, and not at the pleasure of the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Crown, or anybody else.  Assert your powers as Members, assert the power of the House of Commons.  You have every right to do it, indeed it is your duty to do it.

The Kurds in northern Iraq seem to be the only force capable of resisting the Islamists on the ground.  The NATO powers, a moribund alliance though they are, should be providing every assistance to them.  Had John Major not taken a stand on the Kurds’ behalf in 1991, they would all have suffered the same fate the Islamists are now inflicting on other minorities in the rest of Iraq.  In people like Conor Burns, and also Mike Gapes whose excellent article I’ve spotted since I started typing this, we can see that there are MPs who grasp the importance of Parliamentary action.  If the government won’t act promptly to bring about a meeting of Parliament, one of them will have to provide the leadership instead.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

ARK Schools’ Insult to Portsmouth and Charles Dickens

The News are carrying the story on their front page today of how Charles Dickens Primary school, which is converting to an Academy this coming school year, is losing the “Charles” from its name.  I am in general a supporter of Academy schools, though I note the growing centralising trend in large chains of them being formed and branded like car dealerships or estate agencies.  It’s tacky.

ARK Schools do seem to be in a bit of a pickle.  They refer to themselves all in capitals in text, but their logo has ark all in lower-case.  In Enfield, they have recently opened John Keats Academy, and Keats is properly commemorated in the name.  So why in Portsmouth must we put up with the chopping out of “Charles” in a school which has served the community for generations?  Why one rule in Enfield and another in Pompey?

Other nations take great pride (the French and Americans, especially) in commemorating important figures in the names of schools and other public buildings.  It is something we could do more of in Portsmouth.

Everyone knows about Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle.  HG Wells worked in Kings Rd in his younger years and is less-well commemorated.  Rudyard Kipling lived in Campbell Rd in his childhood (albeit not particularly happily), and he at least has a blue plaque.  Many of us will have had relatives and ancestors who worked for Neville Shute at Airspeed on the airport, and he’s got Norway Road (a big improvement on “Rat Lane” – Neville Shute Norway being his full name).  Jim Callaghan had a road named after him, and he was rather ashamed of his roots.  As soon as he got to Cardiff, where he was an MP, he pretended he’d appeared in the world in a puff of coal-dust.  But I don’t begrudge him the honour. (The matter of honours we should revoke is a topic for another blog and an examination of Harry Redknapp’s Freedom of the City)

There are some lapses in how we honour our authors.  The best the Lib Dems could do for Neil Gaiman, sadly, was to name a bus stop in his honour, but he seemed pretty happy with it.  His family’s shop stood where the Sainsbury’s is now in Albert Road.  Christopher Hitchens was born in Pompey, and was proud of his roots – but official recognition of his towering genius is currently entirely lacking (I am always envious of Southend’s plan for a 300′ statue of Lee Brilleaux, if we do ever do something – or should we save that for Joe Jackson?).

It is important that we honour our famous sons and daughters (I realise the list is VERY male so far).  Charles Dickens school should keep its full name, and ARK or ark or whatever they want to call themselves should listen to the community, which is incensed at the change.  I note with dismay, but not surprise, that Lib Dem Cllr Rob Wood told The News “I don’t have a problem with it”.  I don’t think many of them “get” Pompey at all.  When he was Cabinet member responsible for schools, he “didn’t have a problem” with merging three schools in Milton against the wishes of parents and the advice of governors.  The results of the consultation were 80% against the change, but he stubbornly refused to kick the proposal out.  Thank goodness the new regime, in the shape of Cllr Young, has done just that.

Unfortunately, as it’s an academy, the City Council doesn’t have the power to compel ARK to listen.  But you can make yourself heard – email them at and tell them what you think of this insult.  They are on Twitter at @ARKschools and may well respond if you tweet them.  They tell me it’s a “minor change”, which I dispute, but if that’s how they see it then it will cost them nothing to admit they are wrong, and change it back.

Come on, ARK, leave “Charles” in the name.  You serve the community, you should listen to it and honour it, just as we have done here for decades.  You have no right to weaken the links the generations you educate have with their past, and you do them a disservice if you do so.  Especially when the school honours one of the greatest writers in the language!

Posted in History, Portsmouth City Council | 3 Comments

My Latest Newsletter for Milton Ward

This is what I’m delivering around Milton over the weekend and the early part of next week.  St James’ Hospital, Tesco at Fratton Park, and the overturning of the daft Lib Dem plan to merge three schools (all of which are successful as they are) all feature.  There’s a link to pdfs below the images if they aren’t clear enough on your screen as jpgs.

It’s clear from talking to people around Milton that there is a dearth of information about St James’.  The NHS event about plans for the site seems to have made no impact – but I was pleased at the number of people who have remembered how I raised the issue before the election.  I am sure that as the Conservative administration at PCC gets to grips with the situation it will keep residents properly informed.  The Lib Dems themselves have a leaflet going out at present and it says nothing at all in terms of what they think should happen and what they are going to do about it.  I suspect they will carry on doing what they’ve done since they were warned about the NHS plans in February, and do nothing while blaming everyone else for their mess.

I will get round to writing up a blog on my “qualified opposition” to the Tesco plans before the Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday – there wasn’t enough time or space in the production of this leaflet to go into great detail.  I will be attending the meeting to make a deputation, though I expect there will be a lot of people doing the same thing and we may only get a very limited amount of time each to say our piece.

However the basics are clear – the road layout as it stands is idiotic and will generate more traffic chaos in an area where there’s already too much; and the concerns of traders, although they aren’t counted as “planning considerations” under the law, they should be heard.  National planning policy means councils have a lot less power to control development than the public often imagine.  There’s also a possible procedural issue as to whether the scheme can only be given the go-ahead by the Secretary of State, rather than decided either way on Wednesday.  We’ll see what happens.

There is also another Milton issue on Wednesday which didn’t make it into this leaflet, and that’s the shoddy work being done on the former Old Canal pub to convert it into a convenience store and flats.  I used to pop in there reasonably often, it used to serve a great pint of Old Thumper, and wasn’t until right before the end an obvious “endangered pub”.  It is one of many architecturally important pubs in Pompey and I hope the Planning Committee will safeguard it from vandalism by any future owners.  There have been other, more sympathetic conversions of pubs in the same style (the former King George V off Arundel St for instance) in the past, so it can be done.

In Touch Milton Aug14 2 ColIn Touch Milton Aug14 2 Col

If these images aren’t clear, you can download the leaflet as a pdf:

Page 1 pdf: In Touch Milton Aug14 P1

Page 2 pdf: In Touch Milton Aug14 P2



Posted in Politics, Portsmouth City Council | Comments Off on My Latest Newsletter for Milton Ward