All posts tagged 'David-Cameron'

Manston, Miller and Mr Farage: The top political stories of the week

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, April 11 2014

Here's my round-up of the top political stories of the week in Kent and beyond:

1. After trying to stave off calls to quit, Maria Miller capitulated to the inevitable and quit her job as culture secretary. Few Kent MPs seemed prepared to comment in public about the saga which left Mr Cameron facing questions about his judgement. One that did was Tracey Crouch, the Chatham and Aylesford MP, who said Mrs Miller was right to resign but expressed frustration that MPs elected in 2010 were being tarred with the same brush despite the expenses rules being tightened.

2. Rarely out of the political spotlight, the definitely not shy or retiring UKIP leader Nigel Farage had another week in the headlines. A poll suggested that if he chose to stand at the general election in Folkestone and Hythe against Conservative incumbent Damian Collins, he would run him close but may not win. Bring it on, said Mr Collins. Mr Farage dropped an even heavier hint that he was eyeing up a Kent seat in 2015 but declined to say which one. Our bet? It will be Thanet South.

3. There may have been a spectacular increase in people cycling but Kent's track record on encouraging more people to use two wheels rather than four was under the spotlight. Census figures suggested fewer people were  cycling to work than ten years ago - compared with more forward-looking places like Brighton and London. The Green county councillor Martin Whybrow denounced the county council for its track record, altlhough given that the Conservative leader of KCC is an enthusiastic rally car driver, maybe he shouldn't have been that surprised.

4. An unfortunate piece of timing left some people wondering whether David Cameron was "running frit' after a scheduled and heavly trailed interview with Radio Kent was abruptly cancelled - supposedly so he could make a telephone call to a fellow unnamed Prime Minister.  Was it coincidence that the interview was due to take place the day after Maria Miller quit? Who knows.

5. Uncertainty continues over the fate of Manston Airport as the final flight by KLM took off on Wednesday and the airline boss of the Dutch operator made clear the carrier would most definitely would not be coming back. There continue to be talks over a possible buyout and owner Ann Gloag has agreed to consider a rescue plan drafted by staff. A case of watch this space.

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Categories: Liberal Democrats | Politics | Precept

Fracking - the political divide in Kent. And Farage coy over general election seat

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, August 27 2013

There are not many issues where David Cameron and Nigel Farage agree. But fracking is one: both believe that shale gas has the potential to drastically reduce energy prices in the UK and that benefit is one that trumps the enivronmental arguments made against it.

The UKIP leader was in characteristically forthright mood on a visit to Kent to rally his troops when asked about fracking, saying it was a "God-given" opportunity for the county and whatever hazards the process of extracting shale gas may have, they are no worse than other industries, such as coal.

Farage: fracking in Kent a God-give opportunity>>>

This UKIP/Conservative consensus over energy is revealing.

Both parties clearly feel the case for lower energy prices has more resonance for hard-pressed families and pensioners who may consider that the anti-fracking protest movement is a luxury they cannot afford.

Their stance also reflects the scepticism that both have over renewable energy sources, particularly wind energy and is a less-than-subtle acknowledgement that many communities fear the blight of wind turbines littering the landscape.

It is a calculated risk. Events in Balcombe suggest that local communities, presented with the prospect of even just exploratory drilling actually taking place on their doorstep, will find the lower energy bills argument rather less persuasive when contrasted with the disruption.

This means there is politically a lot at stake for both parties. Fracking itself won't determine the outcome of the next general election.

But on the back of Balcombe, it is easy to see how revolt in the shires once companies get the go-ahead for licences could swing votes away from both.

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Will he, won't he? Nigel Farage is batting away questions about whether he intends to stand as a candidate at the next general election in Kent.

He says speculation will detract from his focus on the European elections next year.

My suspicion is he that he doesn't actually know or has a few seats in his mind but can't decide. The list may include a few Kent constituencies.

Had the long-standing Roger Gale opted to retire from Thanet North, he might have fancied his chances there.  

While UKIP has taken votes away from Labour in recent elections, its support will probably hold up better at the general election, meaning seats like Dover and Thanet South are probably out of the question.

Which leaves Folkestone and Hythe as one possibility, but even here he would face an uphill battle.

Still, it does incorporate Dungeness, where he does like to fish for sea bass. 

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Categories: Medway

Cameron's finally cooking with gas

by The Codgers' Club Friday, October 26 2012

by Peter Cook

You can rely on governments to take something quite simple and turn it into a mass of complexities that no one understands. What is all this nonsense about gas?

Gas is gas – right? The gas that cooks your Sunday roast is pretty much the same as the gas that warms my living room.

It comprises the same molecules, comes out of the same hole in the ground, and travels through the same pipes for most of its journey.

So why should your gas cost more or less than that consumed by the people next door, even though, sometimes, you might be signed up to the same company.

This all started back in the Thatcher era. Before that the gas industry was nationalised and we all paid the same per therm – whatever a therm is.

Then came the holy grail of privatisation. The gas remained the same, but the people to whom we paid our bills changed. The whole set up was fragmented into a number of companies all vying for our custom.

When it comes to gas, or electricity and water come to that, you can’t really compete on quality – gas is gas as I said.

There isn’t a “Cosytherm” product that will warm your room more enticingly. Or a “Cookwell” gas, guaranteed to produce mouthwatering meals.

So all the gas companies can work on is price. The idea was competition would make them more cost effective, and so bring down the price.

But one company is pretty much as smart as the next, so before long the efficiency options are used up. Now what have they got?

The only thing is a tariff system which becomes so horrendously confusing that only they can understand it. And each company produces a different one, so that comparing like with like is an impossibility.

This makes customers vulnerable to high pressure sales staff who ring us up at inconvenient times, such as in the middle of a football match, to bamboozle us into believing they can offer gas at cheaper rates than the next lot.

Perhaps they can, perhaps they can’t. Who would know? You would need to go on a training course to understand the system. And even if you did understand it, that would be irrelevant, because next month they are going to change it all again.

Politicians make it worse by saying we have a responsibility to shop around in order to bring down prices. If we did that for everything we’d never do anything else. Life’s too short. Especially at my age.

They tell us what we – the consumer – want is choice. Rubbish. What we want is an efficient service at the lowest possible price.

I can’t believe the employment of a massive sales force brings down the price of gas. Nor do advertising campaigns and all the deceitful connivance of marketing.

So I hope Mr Cameron sticks to his guns and really does insist that energy companies are compelled by law to offer their lowest tariff.

If he does, of course, it will destroy the tariff system. Who’s going to opt for anything but the lowest? And they’ll have to offer the same or go out of business.

So if he does what he says we’ll all be better off. But don’t hold your breath.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Cameron's welfare conundrum. And KCC's cash-in-the-attic

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, June 26 2012

Politicians face a conundrum whenever they talk about welfare reform. On the one hand, it can pay to talk tough and vow to cut spending; on the other, they risk being seen as uncaring about those in genuine need at the bottom of the ladder.

David Cameron tried to strike a careful balance when he came to Kent for a set-piece speech on his thoughts about welfare reform - conscious that early trails of his speech had already characterised it as being the end of 'compassionate Conservatism.'

He made clear his thoughts were not yet policies and he wanted "a big debate" about the issue - a tactic beloved of politicians when they are floating contentious ideas.

But he will have calculated that when it comes to benefits, most polls indicate that the public do generally feel too much money is spent on welfare and the bill needs to be cut.

The difficulty with welfare reform is that it can be very tricky deciding what the cut off point should be - there are enormous variations in people's circumstances and reasons for being reliant on benefits.

It may be unpalatable that young adults can claim housing benefits without, as it is claimed, putting in to the system. But sending them scurrying back home to take up residence with their parents might not go down well in some quarters.

The difficulty is deciding what the cut off points should be and avoiding the law of unintended consequences - as has happened with the housing benefit limits that have been introduced.

But it cannot, as Cameron said, be right that in the UK, one in six children are from workless households. That is not evidence of a welfare system working properly.

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KCC has a role to play safeguarding the county's heritage and its important historical assets but even so, it is a surprise to find they are together worth close to £6m. Even more surprising is the collection of art it possesses, worth £2.3m.

It is hard to conceive that all this art has close connections with or origins in Kent. Perhaps it's time to call the auctioneers - or the TV producers of 'Cash In The Attic'.

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Categories: Politics

Cleared for take off? Not quite but maybe Thames Estuary airport is not so much pie in the sky

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, January 18 2012

THERE will be considerable dismay in some quarters that the Prime Minister appears to have agreed that the idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary should be fully investigated.

Government to consult on Boris Island airport scheme>>>

But there ought not to be surprise - even if opponents will throw back at him his declaration more than a year ago that the government had 'no plans' to build such an airport. A similar commitment was given to the Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless by new transport secretary Justine Greening in precisely the same terms.

But it was George Osborne who paved the way for the idea of examining the scheme in November when he announced the government would 'explore all the options' for tackling the problems around aviation capacity.

Even so, today's news will be seen as a U-turn and a politically awkward one given the deep hostility among his own MPs in Kent.

It is worth pointing out that there has never been any likelihood the government itself would 'build' an airport - that would be for private investment consortiums.

Some will see it as a shot in the arm for Boris Johnson's campaign to be re-elected as London Mayor although I've never been persuaded that aviation capacity is something that preoccupies London voters as much as issues like tube fares or crime.

Politically, Mr Cameron will have to confront the fact that among the county's Conservative MPs, there is universal opposition. The Conservative controlled Medway Council remains wholly unconvinced - although there have been recent hints that Kent County Council may not be quite as implacably opposed as it once might have been. 

He may also be seen as having performed an about-turn and of betraying those who took him at his word that the government was not interested in the idea. Never an ideal position for a PM or for backbenchers who, in some cases, have marginal seats to defend in 2015.

What has changed? Underlying the news appears to be the feeling that aside from addressing the problem of capacity, a new airport would deliver a huge jobs boost and regenerate a part of the south east in a way no other project could conceivably get close to.

Perhaps it is no coincidence the news has come out on the day that unemployment figures have shown another rise in both Kent and Medway.

Those arguments will inevitably have to be balanced against the fact that an airport would have huge environmental consequences.

One thing is clear from today's news. Whatever one thinks of the idea, it can no longer be dismissed as 'pie in the sky.'

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Precept

The reasons why Christmas was more enjoyable when I was young

by The Codgers' Club Friday, December 10 2010

by David Jones

Have you ever tried to persuade your Christmas dinner to come down from a tree? It’s not easy, I can tell you. But more of that later.

Alan Watkins’ splendid Codgers’ Club piece last month about growing up as a kid and the complete absence of the health and safety police struck a chord with me.

Strange, isn’t it, that as Codgerdom arrives, it’s easier to remember events more than half a century ago than to recall what happened last Wednesday.

Having fun required a great deal of creativity when you were growing up, as I did, in the early to mid-Fifties. Britain was a drab place then, still in the grip of post-war austerity.

Hard to believe now, but many people were still wearing the suits and coats they had worn during the war years. Of course, I didn’t know that then, aged only 10 or so, but later I realised that domestic life in Britain had barely changed at all between 1939 and 1955.

We lived in what could be described, in estate agent’s parlance, as a semi-rural location. Our small, old-fashioned bungalow had a large, rambling garden, about the size of half a football pitch.

My dad worked, just like everyone else, but we also had a smallholding. My parents kept chickens, rabbits and half a dozen geese in that large garden. It was wise not to upset the geese. They would advance, like a line of infantry, necks extended and hissing furiously. They were scary.

To the left at the bottom of our garden was a cornfield, swarming with rabbits. My father owned a shotgun and occasionally he would bag a couple for Sunday lunch. I had an air rifle but never managed to shoot anything. To the right was a meadow, with a grassy path leading down to a couple of unmade roads.

Like Codger Watkins, we made our own fun. Bike rides, daring each other to run through a field with a bull in it and endless fun with fireworks in the run-up to Bonfire Night.

Penny bangers which exploded with a thunderous crack and jumping jacks which would leap about unpredictably were affordable even on limited pocket money. Oh, and I’d also better mention the catapult I made to fire at old tin cans, using stones picked up from the beach as ammunition.

We had a huge poplar in our garden and I built a crude tree house in one of the massive forks in the branches. It was a 20ft climb to reach the platform. I never once put a foot wrong. We walked to school and back, on our own. There were no parental obsessions about paedophiles lurking round every corner.

It was a different, safer era, not least because there were far fewer cars on the roads. The real dangers for today’s kids are nearly always created by someone other than themselves.

At this point, I know that this Codger’s contribution is beginning to sound like an episode of the Darling Buds of May. It wasn’t idyllic as in the fictional world of Ma and Pa Larkin, but it was a pleasure growing up where there were more fields than houses.

Like all good things, it eventually had to come to an end. We grew up and our parents moved to a more urban location. Today, all the fields around our old bungalow are now housing estates and even our large garden has three or four houses on it.

But back to that Christmas dinner in the tree. One year, my parents bought a young turkey in Maidstone Market – not a frozen one but a turkey very much alive and kicking.

It used to run around with the chickens. It was one of my jobs to feed it and it grew rapidly. Every evening, as dusk approached, it would fly up into a tree and refuse to come down, despite my best efforts to persuade it to rejoin the chickens by doing a passable impression of a turkey calling to its mate.

There were no credit cards then and if your parents didn’t have the money, it didn’t get bought. There were no supermarkets either, shelves bursting with festive goodies – just butcher’s shops, greengrocers, corner stores and the occasional toy shop.

Britain today is a land of plenty compared to those grey days of the Fifties. The range of festive food, toys, and Christmas decorations now available and affordable to some degree by virtually everyone would have seemed like a fairytale paradise to a kid growing up in the Fifties.

This Christmas, however much you might moan about your stretched family finances, however hard-up you claim to be, I can guarantee that your home will be stuffed with more festive treats than any average youngster in the Fifties could ever have imagined.

It was in 1957 that the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan famously, or perhaps infamously, remarked: “You’ve never had it so good.”

For most families then, that was sheer nonsense. More recently, Lord Young, David Cameron’s adviser, was sacked for using almost identical words. But in my view, Lord Young got it right.

Today, most families have a far better standard of living than could ever have been dreamed of 50 years ago, despite the problems caused by recession.

That said, did we enjoy ourselves just as much on Christmas Day 1957, when the food and the presents were far less lavish, when life was far less complicated, and the festive fun simple?

The answer to that is a resounding “yes”.

Who needs technology? Bring back the quill!

by The Codgers' Club Friday, November 5 2010

by Alan Watkins

Grab the New Jerusalem (I gather that’s this week’s in-phrase for the World Wide Web). Seize the communications powers..... I did (puff). I have (puff). I will – if only I can keep up with developments.

These days my legs don’t move as quickly as they used to. Did you know we Codgers now blog and tweet? Now in my younger day tweets were certainly an insult, and might have been grounds for selecting weapons at dawn in Gillingham Park.

Having blagged for most of our lives, we are having to get used to calling ourselves bloggers. Back in the early Eighties I was one of the first to have a computer attached to the internet.

It allowed me to send quick letters to customers and clients. It was a strange device, however, big, grey, extremely hot and noisy.

It needed lots of words set inside funny brackets that might have escaped from a British Railways misguided notice board.

Now, as it happens, I have been blogging for a little time, picking up various tales from Gun Wharf and relaying them to the wider world for Medway Messenger’s on-line readers.

Incidentally, I thought playing on line was dangerous: my old gramp told me you should never play on railways, then took me to a loco shed to look at the brutes on which he worked. I also Google (but the doctor says it is all right providing I keep it under control).

In the past few years new words have appeared, and old ones have been corrupted (something that apparently happens occasionally to hard drives).

There are things I draw the line at undertaking. I refuse to socially network on something called Facebook (whatever it is).  I even have a tag (which, for Mr Cook’s benefit, we used to call a handle).

I have a digital camera. It has a piece of plastic the size of an undernourished thumbnail. Somehow it holds 16,000 pictures, and thanks to an army of pixies (I think that’s what they call themselves) can be uploaded to a computer in a matter of nanoseconds.

You can let loose a Paintshop professional who lives inside your computer. He can turn them green, add faces, words and nu merous other things to distort your original image.You can write a document using a similar number of fonts in different sizes.

As for vocabulary, heaven help my 20-month-old granddaughter. She already knows how to choose TV channels, call grandma on her parents’ mobile phones (another device that deserves kicking into touch) and change the music on the multiplayer at home.

What will she have to confront when she is a Codger herself? It is time for Codgerdom to demand: Bring back the quill!

At least David Cameron should be delighted at the savings that will achieve for the British economy.

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Categories: Moans and groans

What's in a name?

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Sunday, September 12 2010

I'm always suspicious of anyone in a senior public role called Dave.

The name is used in a pejorative sense about the Prime Minister - "Dave" Cameron - but it does not sit easily on the shoulders of a PM. Then there is Dave Prentis, the trade union leader - but that sounds more appropriate.

So when David Hartnett, permanent secretary to HM Revenue and Customs, is introduced as Dave, somehow his stature is diminished.

Should we trust this Dave? Like many tax officials, he comes over as arrogant and his initial failure to apologise for a catastrophic computer error affecting six million people, was contemptible.

No wonder his political masters got him to change his stance and issue a belated apology. But because it was only made after this pressure, the slice of humble pie was distinctly lukewarm.

Dave should have been savvy enough to realise that apologies are the stuff of politics these days. Everyone does it. So he was out of step and out of order.

The most fatuous advertising strapline is - sorry Moira - is "tax isn't taxing." That's a falsehood for it is a huge headache for millions. We have one of the most complex tax systems in the world, and the claim should be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority.

It's a shame that HM Customs and Excise had to merge with the Revenue. They had a reputation for being slightly more human than income tax collectors. The whole department is now too unwieldy and prone to error.

Dave needs to be taught some social skills if his attitude is to come into line with the friendly tone of his department's advertising. The debacle has brought stress to millions and it is time he recognised it as much more than routine "reconciliation."

Perhaps we would have more respect if he restored the name he presumably was given at birth.

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Categories: National Politics | Business

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