Friday, August 05, 2016

The MP is coming to town. I wonder if many people will find out?

We've had an e-mail from the office of our new MP for Bury St Edmunds, Jo Churchill. Apparently, she is touring the constituency next week, visiting towns and villages, and offering an opportunity to meet her in an informal setting. It is, you may be surprised to discover, the first we've heard about it, but it is nice that she is coming to one of the smaller, furthermost corners of her patch.

A poster has been sent, which can be printed off and used to publicise the event. Well, we only have one noticeboard, and the leaflet doesn't actually say where she'll be - we've had to suggest a venue as one hasn't been arranged.

And so, I graciously volunteered to adapt the poster to add the venue details, print it out, walk to the noticeboard, and put it up, which I have done. A nice piece of work on PagePlus, if I say so myself.

It's just that I'm not confident that she'll draw much of a crowd. You see, apart from the poster, there has been no other information, and she's coming at 11.10 a.m. on a Wednesday. Most of us have jobs, and so will be at them. And, unless anyone other than the Parish councillors sees the notice (and it is a very nice notice), how will they know to attend?

The Conservatives don't campaign much in our village. Our County Councillor has never delivered so much as a leaflet since he was elected outside of election time, has never canvassed the village to our knowledge, and tends to avoid us as though we have some sort of contagious disease. Our former District Councillor lived fifteen miles away, and tended to treat us as though we were slightly uppity peasants, with the audacity not to be grateful for an occasional visit.

You might think that the MP's tour might be a reason to put out a leaflet. After all, even if people can't meet her, they will at least know that she came. But no, nothing so far, and, to be honest, I don't expect anything, although I stand to be corrected.

It is not for me to offer a Conservative MP any advice, but if you really want to meet your constituents, it is probably better to give better notice, come at a time when people might be around, and use the opportunity for some cheap publicity. I can assure you that if we had a Liberal Democrat MP, I'd be making damned certain that the entire village knew they were coming.

And sadly, I won't be there either, as I'll be at work, as I usually am at 11.10 on a Wednesday morning. That's a pity, as I'd be happy to welcome her to Creeting St Peter. Perhaps she might come to one of our coffee mornings. Second Saturday of the month, in the Church Room at the end of The Lane, more than decent tea, some very good cake, and some excellent company...

Thursday, August 04, 2016

In which your correspondent encounters the bizarre and the fanatical...

I'm a pretty reasonable sort of guy, I like to think. Not prone to excess of any kind, willing to consider a reasoned argument, even if I don't necessarily agree with it. Right all of the time? Hardly, indeed, I tend to make a virtue of uncertainty. After all, there are known knowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns, to erratically quote Donald Rumsfeld. Generalisation is unhelpful, even as a handy debating tool.

And so, when someone popped up on Caron Lindsay's Twitter feed today, stating that they had zero respect for Sunni Islam, I felt moved to respond. Alright, I was a mite confrontational, in the way that a slightly irritable bureaucrat can be...

But let's be honest here, respect is a two way street. No, you don't tolerate violence in the cause of religion, but we have laws to deal with that sort of thing. And, in the same way that I wouldn't say that all UKIP members are racists (some of them might be, but that doesn't mean that they all are), it is hard to credit that the many Sunni that I've worked with, done politics with or otherwise interacted with are out to get me. I did live in inner London for the best part of two decades, after all.

And yet, there are people out there, people with followers, who believe that every following of the Sunni version of Islam is a potential murderer. Either that, or they aren't devout in their faith. And all because they can quote a relatively obscure part of a 1300 year old document, written at a time when might was right and life was generally short and brutal, that suggests that killing your enemies is a good thing. Well, in an environment where killing your neighbours to preserve your access to food and precious resources was advantageous, you can see why a religious text might say that. After all, a deity whose followers survive is more likely to be worshipped than one whose followers don't.

But curiously, we've all moved on a bit since those days. We've found that working together means that instead of burning your resources in conflict, you can pool resources, trade them amongst one another, build relationships based on trust. And followers of the various faiths move with society, albeit usually a few steps behind, adapting the practice of the faith to suit.

I am probably seen as a wet apologist for liberalism by the zealots. I tend to think of myself as someone who believes in keeping the channels of communication open, and in treating my fellow person with a bit of respect. Sadly, the world now offers far more scope for the provocateur, the seeker of scapegoats, through social media. It turns out that these people are not alone, that their echo chamber is a lot bigger than we might hope. And the problem is, they care more. Their passion to build walls, to expel what is different from their communities, to pull up a drawbridge, drives them, and sews the seeds of mistrust in our society.

I hope that our society is better than to fall for that. I fear that it is not...

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

So, a better walrus having been built, how am I getting on?

Readers will recall that I had declared my battle to shed two stone (28 pounds or, for those of you of a metric bent, 12.8 kilos) in weight won. Of course, the challenge is to keep it off...

Or, alternatively, you can attempt to do more.

And, so, I've kept up my 10,000 steps a day regime, generally watched my calorie intake, made a few changes to my habitual diet. Nothing dramatic, all seemingly sustainable. It seems to work and I've now lost 16.2 kilos, or 35 pounds.

I'm still more walrus than gazelle, although frankly, I'm never going to be a gazelle. I have, though, lost four inches around the waist, regained virtually all of my collection of shirts that I've purchased in moments when my taste has deserted me, and exposed a slightly more confident persona. It's all good, as they say.

And, of course, because the changes are sustainable, there's still potential for more weight loss. I am still carrying poundage that really isn't doing me any good, in the key places that men shouldn't, i.e. around the major organs. But the walking has become a habit, the calorie counting an intellectual exercise, and the prospect of some serious clothes shopping has been an incentive.

So, the work to build a better bureaucrat continues. Wish me luck!

It's just one Liberal Democrat thing after another at the moment...

I seem to be popular, and thus busy, at the moment, thanks to my beloved Party. First the by-election, which took up most of May. Then, the aborted European Parliamentary selections - we were just five days of publishing the advert when the process was finally abandoned just days after the Referendum. Next came the snap General Election that might never be, and the job of Senior Returning Officer for my Regional Party. And now that that's pretty much out of the way, I've got the International Relations Committee to take care of.

That isn't all, of course. I have my responsibilities as Treasurer to the Mid Suffolk Local Party, and as Chair of the County Approval Panel, as a member of the ALDE Party's Financial Advisory Committee and, closer to home, as a Parish Councillor.

It all takes time, and effort, and energy. And, as I get older, it gets a little harder to find time, make that effort, preserve that energy.

And yet, without my contribution, the burden of making a political party work would fall on an even smaller number of people, all of whom have lives, jobs, other responsibilities. It seems churlish, if one is really serious about building a meaningful civic society, not to do what one can to support it.

Of course, there are professionals who hold the whole thing together. Not as many of them as the public, and even seasoned political activists, might think, and they are often taken for granted or even abused by people who should know better. I've never wanted to be one, probably for that reason. I prefer my amateur status, and with it the ability to say no, even if I don't do that very often.

It never ceases to be amaze me how much of the Party's processes rely, as a result, in the goodwill of those willing to give of their time for a cause which can be decidedly ungrateful. Returning Officers, Regional Party Executive members, Secretaries at every level, all utterly unglamorous but necessary, and often delivered by people who have plenty of other roles to perform.

And, as politics becomes more confrontational, and the stakes get higher, the demands on the Party bureaucracy grow. More process, new process, more challenges, less patience. Less tolerance of individual limitations, more demands on less resource. Was it ever thus?

Ah well, back to work, I guess...

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

What's so bad about Taylor Swift and Pokemon Go anyway?

It has to be admitted that, whilst I am aware that modern culture exists, I'm not exactly a devoted follower of current cultural events. I prefer villanelle and string quartets over more modern alternatives, and as I watch very little television and listen to even less radio, much talk of bands or genres passes over my head, undisturbed.

However, I do read my newspaper, and Twitter is an endless source of enlightenment, and so the existence of Taylor Swift had come to my attention. If you had asked me to name any of her songs, you would have had me at a loss, I admit, but I had at least heard of her.

I was waiting for my hair to be cut a week or so ago, in a local barber shop, and the television station being broadcast on a large screen was playing Taylor Swift videos in chronological order. As there was a lengthy wait, I was thus exposed to a cross-section of her work. And, whilst I still don't see me buying any of her music, I could see the attraction. She sings of girl meets boy, of teenage heartache and all of the things that I dimly remember of the early eighties - awkwardness, confusion, impossible to express desire to name but three.

And, unless I'm very much mistaken, those emotions never go out of fashion, so the market for her music is an obvious one. She can sing, she apparently writes and performs her own work, and the tunes are vaguely catchy and hummable, all of which seems to be a good thing.

Pokemon Go, on the other hand, is proving to be a useful adjunct to my fitness regime, as one has to walk around in search of monsters and supplies and to hatch eggs. The fighting bit I'm not so sure about, but it seems to provide additional motivation for me to get out and about. The only downside is that I appear to be surrounded by young people unfamiliar with 'outside'. Ah well, it may at least have some effect on the general lack of Vitamin D in our youth...

So, there you go, a bureaucrat has been offered a window into the twenty-first century. The view looks inviting enough, so maybe I'll stay...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Yesterday, Cambridge, today, the world!

Well, that was all a bit accidental. I arrived at the International Relations Committee a bit late - a level crossing problem at Claydon, track failure at Colchester, a rhinoceros on the line at Shenfield, you know, the usual Abellio Greater Anglia experience - having probably missed the Governance Review bit. And you know how much I love governance stuff...

However, it hadn't happened, and the agenda indicated that we were to adopt the idea that all Federal Committees would appoint a Secretary from amongst its own ranks. Apparently, nobody wanted the job... And whilst I have very little experience in a Secretariat role - five years as a Regional Secretary (in two Regions), Secretary General of the Young Liberals, Secretary of one of Liberal Youth's forerunners, etc, etc - I saw an opportunity to serve. And so I now do. 

Of course, this offers up a new challenge, in that without a job description, it is unclear what my role is. I could do whatever takes my fancy, interfering to my heart's content. You will doubtless be reassured that this is not my intention...

But having ideas is one thing, having a strategy is quite another. And so, gentle reader (and Jennie), I turn to you. What do you want to know about our work and how? What would make International Relations Committee more relevant/useful to you?

Stay tuned for more adventures in bureaucracy as "Liberal Bureaucracy" goes global...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Slightly older, a little wiser perhaps, a bureaucrat returns to Parish Council...

The sun beat down on our small, but perfectly formed, village, and I was a bureaucrat on a mission. Partly because I wanted words with our quintessentially useless Conservative County Councillor over his crass dismissal of concerns over our Demand Responsive Transport service - they've withdrawn the right to use the concessionary bus pass altogether - but also because, in his role as a probably equally inept District Councillor, he has been part of a Conservative Group whose failure to ensure sufficient availability of land for housing has led to speculative planning applications being approved despite rejection by the community and the District Council itself.

More on that later...

We had a packed agenda for my first meeting back after a self-imposed, but Chair and Clerk inspired, exile, and I was keen to contribute where I could.

The most important piece of business was a presentation on Village Plans by an Officer of Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils - the two authorities are effectively joined in all but political leadership - following the overturning by the Planning Inspector of rejection of a speculative 170 house development in Stowupland, the neighbouring parish. We can potentially enhance the prospects of guiding any development that might come our way if we take advantage of some of the options - Village Plans etc - that are open to us.

The catch is that Mid Suffolk's planning department doesn't lend itself to much confidence - we've been let down before - and in a village of two hundred and sixty souls, the capacity is probably limited (we would be comfortably the smallest village in Mid Suffolk to attempt such a thing). However, it would be remiss of us not to consider it, and our new Chair is terribly keen (as Lord Bonkers might put it).

And, whilst I worry that we might be at risk of heightening expectations that might not be deliverable, it does offer us a chance to consult residents about what they might want for the village in the coming decade or even more.

We also had a report from our District Councillor, who isn't useless, I have to admit. Elected last year, beating a drop-in Conservative candidate on General Election Day (no mean feat), he has worked hard and assiduously attends local events. His reports are informative and he answers questions put to him, unlike our County Councillor...

...who didn't turn up. He did e-mail over a derisory report, although you'd think he'd make more of an effort given that he's technically up for re-election next year. And so, he dodged another opportunity to explain why the village doesn't have the 20 mph speed limit that he's promised, a year later, or to explain how axing the right of pensioners to use their bus passes on the new Connecting Communities service represents "a better service at lower cost".

All of the usual gaiety ensued with the financial report. I was mildly concerned that we're presented with a financial report at the meeting, one of the previous Clerk's more disconcerting habits, without year to date spending reports or comparisons with the annual budget, and will be proposing a more informative reporting framework at our next meeting.

That said, I like our new Clerk. Jennie is much less prescriptive and much more open to suggestions than her predecessor, and I'm keen to work with her to spread the burden a bit more than it was in the past.

And finally, jollity broke out as we discussed the emergency bag, which had been kept in a loft until recently. It contains some useful items in case of a disaster, including a waterproof whistle. Admittedly, if we get flooded out in Creeting St Peter, the prospects for Stowmarket are pretty grim, but it's nice to know that we covered in the event that the polar icecaps melt spontaneously...

Thursday, June 30, 2016

@BaronessRos in the Lords: Bus Services Bill, Committee Stage (2)

It isn't just about enabling rural communities to get about, because buses are also a means of getting to the countryside, as Ros noted yesterday evening...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD)

My Lords, I added my name to this amendment with great pleasure. I have no particular interest to declare with regard to national parks except as someone who visits them and loves them, and I want to make sure that everyone else has those same opportunities as far as possible. I was thinking on the way here about the Peak District National Park, which has, within an hour’s travelling time, very many millions of people who live close to it and for whom access to it is an important part of their lives. I would hate to think about that being an opportunity that is available only to people with cars. That would be a great inequality issue. If we are sensible about this, we should remember that there are people who live in cities who would rather not have a car, so it helps cities too. It would be ridiculous to punish people by not providing access to a treasure that is on their doorstep.

In particular, we have to remember that national parks are not museums. They are areas of the countryside where people live and work, and there is a really interesting tension for the national park authorities themselves between wanting to encourage visitors and managing the impacts of that, such as congestion; we have all seen problems where people park and cause damage and so on. There is a very difficult balancing act for national park authorities. On the whole, they do it extremely well and they act as very good brokers between the people who live there and the people who want to visit. It could only make their job more difficult if they were to be ignored and not consulted when some of these important decisions about local transport are made. They know their area best.

The other point about national parks is that they do not entirely conform to the same rules as some other areas. Bus services on Sundays, for example, are often seen as unimportant, whereas in a national park Sunday is the most important day that you need to provide transport for.

Finally, there is the question of jobs. The briefing that I received said that something like 68,000 jobs are dependent on tourism to national parks. We want ​people to have access to the jobs as well, and if people without cars want to have access to them, we need to manage public transport too. I hope the Minister will look favourably on this, because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that it is much more powerful to have something like this in the Bill rather than in guidance.