Thursday, December 30, 2010

There are more important things than blogging...

I admit that blogging has been a bit light of late, with ill health, Christmas and my campaign in Stowupland either getting in the way, or taking priority.

Both Ros and I went down with flu-like symptoms, although whilst Ros was relatively stoic about it, I ended up out of action for three days. Christmas was fun though, and I rather enjoyed the whole presents, food and general socialising stuff.

Since Christmas, we've been concentrating on getting calendars delivered across Stowupland ward. Neither of us is 100% by any means, but we've plodded on and, with a day to spare, the task is complete.

And so to 2011, with much to do, and a few changes on Planet 'Liberal Bureaucracy'. But I'll save that until next year...

Another thing learnt about country life...

Funny looking thing, isn't it? But what is it?

The answer is, a sugarbeet, or what's left after an enormous piece of farming equipment has gone through a field of beet, digging them up for transfer to the nearest sugar factory - in our case, at Bury St Edmunds.

The 'campaign' has been somewhat delayed by the frozen ground, although it was fairly late in our parts last year in any event. However, for part of a day, the main road out of our village to the north, towards Stowupland, was blocked by large lorries being loaded up with newly unearthed beet. Now I don't have the world's greatest sense of smell, but I could have sworn that the air smelt a bit like sugar.

I've also seen fields full of sugarcane, in places like Mauritius and Fiji, and when the fields are burnt, the air is filled with a caramel smell. The difference is that you can make a fairly lethal liquor out of sugarcane, and I'm yet to be convinced that you can do anything interesting with sugarbeet. Does anyone know any different?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

East of England Liberal Democrat election results

It's hard to believe that the Regional Conference took place more than seven weeks ago, but we've finally concluded our business with the announcement of our Executive Committee election results for 2011. Admittedly, the Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and Candidates Chair were all elected unopposed, but we did need a new Vice Chair, and there were slightly fewer Executive member vacancies than there were candidates.

And so it gives me great pleasure to announce that that the results are as follows;

Chair: Julie Smith

Vice Chair: Baroness (Ros) Scott

Chair of Candidates Committee: Catherine Smart

Secretary: Mark Valladares

Treasurer: Ian Radford

Executive Members: Roy Benford, Paul Clark, Nick Hollinghurst, Sal Jarvis, Steve Jarvis, James Joyce, Graham Longley, Rupert Moss-Eccardt, Stephen Robinson, Sandy Walkington, Jon Whitehouse and Allan Siao Ming Witherick

The other sub-committee chairs will be elected in the New Year, as will the Regional Training Co-ordinator.

I'm particularly impressed at the strength at the top of the 'batting lineup', although the overall gender imbalance is a little troubling. Luckily, we have some co-options at our disposal...

Fantasy Football: Lib Dems in the Fantasy Cup - 1st Round

Alright, you knew that someone was going to start to take an interest in the Fantasy Football eventually, and those of you who hate these things might want to look away now, as they used to say on a Saturday evening before Match of the Day was on.

This week saw the first round of the Fantasy Cup, and with ninety-seven of the Liberal Democrat League's participants surviving Week 17's qualifying round, there were the prospects for a decent number of survivors, especially given the form shown by some of our leading exponents of the beautiful game thus far. And so it turned out, with fifty-six winners and forty-one losers on a weather-decimated weekend.

Given that only three 'real' matches beat the freeze, teams scouring the relative bargain basement for players from teams such as Sunderland were far better off than those focussing on the big six, only one of whom played (and don't Manchester City wish that they hadn't?). That meant plenty of potential for the top sides to be ambushed by minnows with a bit of luck, and a random element not sought after by those who have put a lot of trouble into their selections.

So, here are some of the highlights from the first round;

Easiest victories

Nick Davies's 'Wenger's 2nd XI' blew their opponents, 'Tripp United', out of the water, 36 - 0, but that's what you should do to a team ranking nearly a million places below you. On the other hand, David Powell's 'Beedophiles' 36 -5 thrashing of Marts Yellow Army, ranking one hundred thousand places better, and in the top quintile to boot, was probably very satisfying indeed.

Most effortless victories

In a week when the average score was just fourteen, it was quite possible to beat your opponent by getting a player onto the pitch at all. James Staff's 'Realpolitick' probably didn't even need to do that, defeating 'Astros' 4 - -4 (when the only player in your squad to see action gets sent off, that's never going to end well). At least Andrew Dandilly's 'Keith' had to defeat opponents who scored more than zero, even if 'Olympiakos' still went down 5 - 2.

The top guns

Some unexpected defeats in the first round saw the demise of Ryan Cullen's 'Artesea Athletic', beaten 4 - 17 by '', and the Chair of Federal Conference Committee, Andrew Wiseman's 'Wiseman Wanderers', beaten 7 - 31 by 'Urgi'. Both sides went into their fixtures ranked in the top 12,000 globally (to give you an idea as to just how good that is, it ranks them in the top 0.5%) and would have fancied the prospects of a decent cup run.

Meanwhile, league leading Alick Cotterill's 'The Welsh Wanglers' glided past lowly 'Danson Queens' 32 - 4, and Charlie Garnett's 'Waa Hageeg' scraped past 'Relegation 10/11' by the odd point in 41. On rankings alone, it shouldn't have been close, until you noted that the opposition had only entered the league in week 13...

MP corner

Just in case the Daily Telegraph are eavesdropping, John Leech's 'Mike's Dodgy Beard' beat 'Dingle FC' 25 -14, and Adrian Sanders' 'Torquay Utd' scraped through 6 - 0 against 'Leijona Jonna'.

And finally, classic Liberal Democrat underdog victories...

To be honest, most of the teams near the bottom of the Liberal Democrat Fantasy League are there because they're rubbish. Harsh, I know, but true. So, we should celebrate their successes.

The weakest team in the league, and one that, with the exception of the reserve goalkeeper, appears to consist entirely of Scots, is R Provan's 'The Huhney Monsters'. Ranked 2,187,831 against opponent 'mudhaFC', ranked 290,070, you wouldn't have given them much of a chance, but by pulling off a 14 - 9 victory, the plucky minnow lives to fight another day.

But for sheer nail-biting randomness, how about Clea Curtis's 'Purple People'? Ranked 2,135,713, her gallant heroes snatched a 23 -23 draw against 'Timooo', ranked 469,271. Goals scored couldn't separate the two teams, but by conceding two goals to her opponent's three, she's snatched a place in the second round.

Author's postscript

And yes, my personal interest remains strong, especially after 'Deportivo Creeting' beat 'Winky Wanderers' 28 - 17...

And so, until next week, cue 'Match of the Day' theme...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Liberal Democrat Court Circular: your guide to forthcoming introductions in the Lords…

It is with breathless excitement that ‘Liberal Bureaucracy’ can bring you news of our newest Peers, who are beginning to don ermine for their big day, being introduced to the House of Lords. And whilst introductions smack somewhat of a conveyor belt at the moment (there are as many as three a day in the coming weeks), it is useful to know when our corner of the red benches becomes more populous.

Today, in fact, saw the first of the fifteen new Liberal Democrat Peers to be introduced, so step forward Lord Sharkey, who was introduced about three hours ago by the noble Baronesses Scott of Needham Market, and Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury. He has picked an excellent day to be introduced, as the ermine robes will be welcome on such a cold day.

On a personal note, I’m delighted for John, as he’s one of the good guys, and has given generously of his time, experience and knowledge without seeking the limelight or trying to change the philosophical culture of the Party. It is very tempting for people relatively new to the culture of any organisation to try to ‘kick over the traces’, but John has shown due respect for the way we traditionally do things. In a party notoriously cynical about anything that smacks of ‘public relations’ or ‘media management’, he has quietly and effectively gone about his work. He will bring valuable knowledge of the creative and marketing sectors into our team in the Lords, and will remain a valued advisor to the Leader.

Future scheduled introductions to mark in your diary are;
  • 22 December – Dee Doocey
  • 10 January – Susan Kramer
  • 11 January – Judith Jolly
  • 12 January – Paul Strasburger
  • 13 January – Jonathan Marks
  • 17 January – Rajinder Loomba
  • 19 January – Ben Stoneham
The remainder are yet to be scheduled, but we’ll report them all here as news reaches us…

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thoughts from the Train: gosh, people really are that stupid!

The British delight in snow having been proved to possess a very short shelf life, the inquests have started into why we are so rubbish in dealing with snow. And whilst there is no doubt that our basic infrastructure weaknesses are highlighted in such extreme conditions, the stupidity of some of our fellow citizens has also become apparent.

As Ros drove me to the station this morning, across the skating rink that is the Creeting St Peter highway network, we were somewhat surprised to encounter fellow road users with a mobile phone clamped to their ear. It isn't a complex debate. Driving whilst using a non-handsfree mobile phone is illegal. The reason that it's illegal is because it is a distraction from the task of safely controlling a heavy metal box capable of causing damage to anything it hits, like me. And in these conditions? Are these people really so ignorant of the dangers, or so insouciant to the risk they represent to other road users? Or perhaps one should assume that they are just stupid.

There have been horror stories from the airports in particular this weekend, with terminal buildings designed for throughput suddenly having to become places of shelter. It does seem to have come as a surprise to people that airports aren't very good at that. And let's be honest, how many airports are designed to be cosy? They're generally big metal and glass retail opportunities.

I understand why people might want to stay at the airport. Any possibility that their flight might get away, especially for those heading home for Christmas on longhaul flights, would be clung to, especially given the allegedly contradictory advice given by airlines and airport operators. But one case caught my attention, the case of a Ryanair flight which had become the scene of an occupation by angry passengers. A woman, talking to one of the rolling news channels, was complaining that Ryanair weren't supplying drinks or food, and that children were suffering. Perhaps if they had followed the advice that Ryanair had given them, and gotten off the cancelled flight, the suffering might have been avoided. Oh, and yes, this is Ryanair we're talking about, not an operator noted for its frills.

I didn't note that there was anyone from Ryanair to respond, but I suspect that Michael O'Leary would have had a sharp response. It might even have included the use of the word 'stupid'...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Eric Pickles: if urban myths are truth...?

Ah yes, Eric Pickles has dragged the 'Winterval' legend out for another airing, as a stick to beat local government with. As has been pointed out elsewhere, it's just a story, based on a strategic decision, more than a decade ago, to attract people into Birmingham by bringing together a collection of winter festivals under one banner.

But this latest outpouring merely continues a worrying tendency to focus on marginal issues as a means of disguising the very serious dilemma facing councils across the country. Here in the foothills of local government, I worry about balancing the books whilst maintaining local services. Luckily, getting the grass cut or not is unlikely to be fatal unless a villager suffers from really bad hay fever, and a loss of street lights might cause us all to drive with greater caution, but we'd get by somehow, I'm sure.

But there are big, philosophical issues nonetheless. In a time of austerity, how do you decide what to retain? Is potentially expensive investment to save future running costs something you can justify against a generally hostile opposition? Is contracting out of services merely converting a public, democratically accountable monopoly into a private, barely accountable one? Are there services which can be best described as the icing on the cake of public provision, and what, if any, are the social costs of axing them? And the biggest of all, does the target-driven culture of service provision add intolerable amounts to the overall cost?

And here, Eric is pretty silent. We traditionally haven't been, and our philosophy is, if Andrew Stunell is to believed (and I do), will shine through in the new Localism Bill. But it would really help if the case could be made by someone with a less knockabout manner, someone who uses his or her intellect to win arguments, rather than bluster.

So, let me wish Eric a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year, spending much more time with his loved ones in Brentwood and Ongar...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More examples of Labour's belief in bribing you with somebody else's money...

Last week saw the Second Reading debate on the 'Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill'. This Bill abolishes the Child Trust Fund, cancels the savings gateway scheme and the health in pregnancy grant. Naturally, Labour are opposed to the measures, and accuse the Government of abolishing these as a matter of dogma.

What they don't tell you is that these were introduced at the very end of the Labour administration, as a time when it was already clear that the country couldn't afford them. They weren't even very effective as a means of supporting the most vulnerable.

Let's take the health in pregnancy grant. Introduced on 6 April 2009, it is a £190 grant given to pregnant mothers upon reaching the twenty-fifth week of pregnancy. That is, all pregnant mothers making a claim, regardless of household income. The National Childbirth Trust weren't particularly impressed;

    "if dietary intervention is to have an impact on birth weight and outcomes for the baby in later life, it should be started as early as possible"

And, of course, there was already the Healthy Start programme, which provides support by means of vouchers rather than cash, and means that you can determine how it will be spent in a much more targeted way than simply handing over some banknotes and saying, "We'd like you to behave sensibly please."

Now don't get me wrong, supporting actions designed to improve fetal health is obviously a good thing, if it is effective. But when it is introduced as a means of bribing an electorate by an unpopular government which knows that it is unaffordable, it is playing politics with the health of children. Frankly, I wish that there was the money to provide more support to pregnant women. But there isn't, and I'd rather take away the relative cream than the substantial support that families have grown used to.

And at some point, Labour politicians are going to have to come up with an answer to the question, "Where were you going to make the cuts?", rather than simply take the morally and fiscally bankrupt so-called high ground. So far, no sign of that...

Richard Grayson: he was high on intellectualism - I've never been there but the brochure looked nice

And so, farewell Richard Grayson. Or perhaps not.

There has been much criticism of his acceptance of Ed Milliband's offer to take part in Labour's policy review and, whilst I for one won't be joining him, he does offer a potential bridge on the long road towards future collaboration with New Labour Mark III (ish).

Now I have to admit at this point that, when I started in politics, I was of the view that there was only one thing better than kicking a Tory, and that was kicking one when he was down. I was young, and not frightfully clever, but after seven or so years of a Thatcher administration, they really were an awfully tempting target. I knew that I wasn't a Conservative, even if I was by the standards of most Young Liberals, pretty right wing. Add to the fact that most of the Young Conservatives I encountered were pretty vile, and it was a fairly easy choice.

At that time, Labour were still emerging from the years of Bennite agit-politics, offering nothing that could possibly appeal to anyone who thought that loosening the grip of the State could only be a good thing. And later, I had to do politics in areas where it was us versus Labour. Their utter vileness in Southwark in particular was a real eye-opener, and that was where I learned how much some of their activists really hate us. Us personally, not our ideas, as we should, in their eyes, be part of their rather ragged 'big tent'.

Over the years, all three parties have shifted somewhat. We've become somewhat less interfering, Labour fell under the spell of the market, and the Conservatives became less focused on ideology and rather more so on winning. What they were going to do when they won was rather vague, but whilst Labour's support hemorrhaged through 2008 and 2009, it didn't matter much.

And then it did. And here we are, in coalition with them. No matter how Labour whine, they made the Tories the only show in town (please don't bother trying to convince me otherwise, I had a ringside seat during those days post-election). Comfortable? No. Necessary? Certainly.

But that doesn't mean that we must inevitably drift rightwards, bound ever more closely to the Conservatives. And that's where Richard comes in. Now, suppose his efforts lead to a Labour Party more sympathetic to civil liberties, less inclined towards hoarding power at the centre and rather less messianic about the incontrovertible truth of its stance on the economy (sarcasm alert, for those who don't know me...). Wouldn't that offer a genuine choice in terms of coalition partners in 2015?

And yes, it will be more social democratic than is ideal. But they aren't us, and we aren't them. In a new, pluralist politics, we owe it to Labour to keep a watching brief on what emerges, to question, to challenge where it seems to be far from our stance, to indicate where we might share a common perspective.

In return, Labour are going to have to learn that, if they try to pick us off one by one, they end up without a dance partner. By trying to engineer splits in the Coalition by taking stances that contradict their own policy for short term advantage, they demonstrate that they don't get pluralism, and are less likely to make a credible partner in the future.

Once upon a time, I was part of a Young Liberal Democrat Executive Committee that employed Richard. He was fearfully bright then, and whilst his actions may be a bit naive, he is remaining true to his guiding principles. Just remember who your friends were, Richard...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tonight, the Doctor Who Christmas Special...

I'm a bit busy this evening, watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Yes, the one that's on at Christmas. And yes, it's a bit early, and no, I don't have a preview copy. It's just that I have an invite to a screening.

I promise not to spoil it for you though...

Blog List: a couple of deletions

Funnily enough, I had been thinking that I really ought to review my blog design to take out clutter and ineffective links, and the news that Iain Dale has decided to give up blogging has provided me with an incentive to act.

'Letters from a Tory' bit the dust some months ago, which was rather a pity, as I enjoyed his style. However, I had stopped reading 'Iain Dale's Diary' on a regular basis some time ago, once he had left the Daily Dozen to his personal assistant. To be blunt, if I had wanted to read Grant Tucker's views on anything, I would have sought them out, and it was a bit of an insult to his readership to 'contract out' some of the work on what was a personal blog.

So, in that sense, Iain is right, it's time to go... Good luck with the other projects, vieux chap...

Big Society or Liberalism? Or both?

I note that Nick Clegg has been suggesting that the 'Big Society', as proposed by David Cameron, is not dissimilar to liberalism, as proposed by us. Well, yes... after a fashion, if you take it at face value. And that's the catch.

You see, liberalism is a philosophy which, if followed, guides a decision maker in certain directions, creating policy which has a consistent thread running through it, even if the policies aren't always consistent. The 'Big Society' is a concept, interpretable as one wishes. So, if Nick is trying to capture the concept, and make it safe for liberalism, then all well and good.

And there certainly are elements that sit well with liberalism. The notion of giving people more influence over how their local services are provided, indeed what local services are provided, is certainly a liberal one. Getting people to take on responsibility for service delivery is liberal, if they are given the freedom to choose whether they want to or not.

However, my abiding suspicion is that the 'Big Society' is intended as a cloak to cover significant cuts in grants to, and degradation of, local services to reduce the cost of central government, whilst increasing the cost of local government, i.e. a transference of liability rather than a genuine saving.

So, I watch the changes with a degree of healthy scepticism, but with a equal measure of hope. As a Parish Councillor, I am apprehensive about the prospects of being forced to take on responsibilities that my colleagues and I may not be equipped to handle. At the same time, the Localism Bill may allow the creation of new structures that bring decision making closer to our community.

There is much to ponder over the coming months...

Friday, December 10, 2010

And now for the big finale - 'Good Evening, Merthyr Tydfil!'

Yes, I'm on my way to my last gig as Presidential Consort, a dinner at the head of the Valleys. It's a particularly appropriate way to end two years in the role, as our campaign team in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney represents, in microcosm, much of what is good about being a Liberal Democrat.

We first met Amy, Kevin and Bob during the Presidential campaign, spending an afternoon meeting local businesses (Ros, Amy and Bob) and delivering leaflets to the side of a hill (Kevin and me). We were impressed that they were so determined to bring our message to a community so utterly taken for granted by Labour. There was a buzz, a sense of passion that you don't always see. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that I rather admired them.

We were back during the General Election campaign, visiting the HQ office, doing a little canvassing on a sunny afternoon between visits to Montgomery and Brecon and Radnor. The response on the doorstep was friendly, almost enthusiastic, and we almost ran out of window posters. Amy was the candidate, Kevin her agent, and Bob the calm voice in the background. And it was nearly enough, with a huge swing from Labour slashing the majority to a scarcely imaginable 4,000 or so.

So, when they asked Ros if she could do a Friday night event, I was keen that we did it. After all, it sounds like it'll be fun...

Tuition Fees: the Peter Sarstedt dilemma

It's not been a great day in the political history of our nation. Obviously, the public agonies of the Liberal Democrats over tuition fees have provided an all too inviting target for the media, for the National Union of Students and for our political enemies. 

But it hasn't been a great day for the student cause either. Scenes of violence against the police, of masked individuals clearly tooled up for trouble, of damage to Winston Churchill's statue and, most unfortunate of all, the attack on a vehicle carrying the heir to the throne and his wife, have probably done more to alter public perception of the demonstrators than any of the many positive aspects of the campaign against fees.

There is another casualty too, although the damage may not become apparent for some years. Labour's cynical opposition to a set of proposals rather more progressive than their own manifesto pledge means that they are boxed into a corner in terms of future policy for the funding of the university sector. They'll no doubt be counting on the fact that the media have short memories.

But I want to focus on the damage that this has done to the Party...

Where Do You Go To My Lovely?

It has been, in emotional terms, probably the most difficult time since the merger between the Liberals and the Social Democrats. As then, there are people announcing that they've had enough and are quitting, some of whom I would describe as friends. I'll miss them, even if I don't agree with their decision.

And my question, as they close the door behind them is, where do they go? Labour, the party that introduced tuition fees and was committed to accepting the proposals of the Browne Commission? The Conservatives, who happily entered the 'yes' lobby without much in the way of public dissent? The Greens, who may be on the right side of this debate but share little philosophical ground with us? Not a terribly edifying choice unless tuition fees are a single issue cause.

I suspect that those who have quit on a point of principle will refocus on single issue campaigning, and some will trickle back to us over time. Others, disenchanted with politics altogether, will turn to community activism or retire to their armchairs. And a few will wonder why they ever thought that they could make a difference. All of them will be missed, and the political culture of a country will be a little poorer for their loss.

And so, in the words of another Anglo-Indian...

So look into my eyes Marie-Claire
And remember just who you are
Then go and forget me forever
But I know you still bear
The scar, deep inside, yes you do

Goodnight, my friends, and fare thee well...

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Another year, another precept...

I have to admit that I'm quite pleased with myself today. Last night saw the discussion of next year's budget for Creeting St Peter and, like last year, I have emerged fairly triumphant from the discussion.

Our Parish Clerk is a cautious soul, allowing generous scope for cost increases of those key services that we provide - street lighting and grass cutting - and attempting to build up an appropriate general reserve. I, on the other hand, am more frugal. It's somebody else's money, at the end of the day, and whilst I am happy to fund services that support the village, I prefer not to spend it just because it's there.

Of course, you can't just slash and burn. With a small budget like ours, you have to be conscious that, whilst your expenditure might have been low in one year, the next year you might need to replace a dog waste bin, and for a small, but perfectly-formed, Parish council, that represents quite a chunk of expenditure. So you smooth things out, on the basis that you balance an underspend one year with an overspend the next. You also have to allow for potential expenses, like elections.

Luckily, I was able to find some areas that come under the category of discretionary spending, like councillor training, which might be cut back, and discovered that we had over-provisioned for legal costs related to the playground, which allowed me to propose a precept 3.4% lower than last years, but which corresponds to a standstill for the council tax payers of our village - our taxpayer base has shrunk recently.

Best of all, we'll be able to make very significant progress towards establishing a sensible general reserve, the aim being to have six months expenditure in the bank for a rainy day. And before you get carried away about our holding vast sums that might be better off in the hands of local residents, that represents £2,000...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Income tax changes - something really progressive to enthuse over

Whilst there has been a lot to ponder over of late - tuition fees and the spending review merely top the list - it is easy to lost track of those acts which have truly reflected a uniquely Liberal Democrat view of society.

For all of the figures, click here, but here are some of the key numbers;
  • Personal allowance up £1,000 to £7,475 (up 15.4%), 
  • Basic rate band reduced from £37,400 to £35,000 (down 6.4%),
  • Starting level for the 50% rate band frozen at £150,000
So, what does this mean?

Firstly, it should be borne in mind that indexation of allowances was based on the inflation figure for September (4.7%) so, had everything gone up accordingly, the tax bands would have been;
  • Personal allowance up £310 to £6,785
  • Basic rate band up from £37,400 to £39,200
  • Starting level for the 50% rate band up from £150,000 to £157,000
So, those earning between £7,475 and £42,475 will be £138 per annum better off in real terms. Those earning between £46,675 and £157,475 will be £702 worse off in real terms, and those earning over £164,475 will be £1,402 worse off, if my arithmetic is correct.

You might agree or disagree with the notion that the heaviest burden should fall upon the broadest shoulders, but there can be little doubting that, in isolation, this does look pretty fair. And taking the best part of 900,000 people out of the income tax net altogether is certainly a contribution towards a more just society...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Surviving the approval process in Mid Suffolk

You may recall that I was preparing for my approval interview to be a potential candidate in next year's District Council elections. Well, this afternoon saw that moment arrive, and Ros drove me to Little Finborough, a village just outside Stowmarket, where the panel awaited.

There was tea, and a chance to catch up with John Field, one of our District and County Councillors, whose wife was on the approval panel. Chaired by Ros's replacement as County Councillor for Bosmere, Julia Truelove, and with two District Councillors, Patricia Godden (Ringshall ward) and Tony Fowler (The Stonhams ward), making up the rest of the panel, it wasn't going to be easy, and I was a mite apprehensive.

That said, as an interview location, Julia's living room has much to commend it, and I got to sit in a comfortable armchair, near to a fire, with a cat sprawled across the rug in front of it. There was even tea to drink, most civilised. And then came the questions, which I won't list, simply because other people have to be approved yet. They were suitably challenging, and I had to think a bit, whilst attempting not to be distracted by the hen pheasant standing by the back window - think of it as a feathered bunny rabbit.

Interview over, I retired to the holding pen to await my fate. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long, and the news was good - I've been approved. Now, all I've got to do is achieve a 17% swing from the Conservatives, and I'm elected. That might prove to be the tricky bit...

Friday, December 03, 2010

Bill Bailey's 'Dandelion Mind' - don't look at me, I'm just a stranded Belgian tourist

I'm still gluing my sides together after a fiercely funny evening at the Wyndham Theatre, courtesy of the surreal comedic mind that is Bill Bailey.

Last year, we went to see 'Tinselworm' which was pretty damned funny, but this year we were expecting something special. We weren't let down, as the bearded one did everything from an excerpt from 'Last Christmas' in the style of Kraftwerk, to a Lady Gaga tribute in the style of the Wurzels, via a series of Dutch gags. It was clearly all too much for one woman in the audience, whose raucous and uncontrolled laughter drew Bill's attention, to the extent that she really couldn't stop.

The Large Hadron Collider, a critique of depictions of St Thomas testing Jesus's wounds, a range of musical instruments, some of them unknown to the audience, the show had it all, and we certainly had our money's worth.

So, if you get the chance to go, I heartily commend it...

So, no pressure then?

I must admit that, on discovering that the rather more talented, and certainly more prolific, blogger, Jonathan Calder has steered his readers towards me whilst he takes a break, my heart sank a little. Don't get me wrong, I'm flattered beyond measure, but, if truth be told, the force hasn't been with me much for a week or so.

Fortunately, life has become a little more thought provoking all of a sudden, so there might actually be something here to read after all. So, sit back with a glass of something you enjoy, as a bureaucrat writes... 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

An announcement confirming the new tax rates for next year

There are, it must be said, some terribly dull pieces of government. What follows is one of them, albeit one of the most important dull pieces of government there is...

Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (David Gauke): Following decisions announced at the June Budget and the release of retail and consumer prices data for September, the Government has today confirmed 2011-12 rates and thresholds for income tax, National Insurance Contributions (NICs), and tax credits. The limit for Individual Savings Accounts (ISA) for 2011-12 has also been confirmed.

A note containing this information has been deposited in the libraries of both Houses and is available on the HM Treasury website at:

There is a statutory obligation on the Treasury to make an order to replace the existing amounts of income tax rate limits and personal allowances for the following tax year. The 2010 indexation order has been made today and sets out the indexed amounts of income tax rate limits and personal allowances for 2011-12. In the case of the personal allowance and basic rate limit, this order will be over-ridden by the Finance Bill next year that will legislate for the changes announced at Budget 2010.

The relevant regulations and orders for NICs and tax credits will be laid in spring 2011.

Time to have a look at what this means later...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Changing lives, one bus at a time

I've lived my life in three cities, Mumbai, London and Norwich, and one of the aspects of urban life that means most to me is the sense of freedom, of mobility, that public transport engenders. And now that I live in a small village in the Suffolk countryside, that freedom is particularly valuable, especially as a non-driver.

Previously, to leave my small, but perfectly formed, village in the morning, I either had to take an 8.26 taxibus to Little Stonham, connecting with route 114 to Ipswich, or book a cab to Stowmarket, costing about £7. The first option involved a potential twenty-five minute wait, the latter being rather expensive.

But now, my village has 'Suffolk Links Gipping North', a refinement of the existing Taxibus service. Now, I can book the bus as much as a week in advance, and use it to commute. Alright, I don't commute now, but I do occasionally need to get to the station on the morning after a Parish Council meeting, for example. Best of all, it is much cheaper than a taxi, about 20% of the cost.

What it also means is a potential escape from isolation for villagers across our part of Mid-Suffolk. In a city, you can get around, using a regular bus, but somewhere like Creeting St Peter, without a shop, or pub, or other meeting point, it can be too easy to become cut off. Services like the mobile library and our mobile coffee caravan help, but they are only a sticking plaster without independence.

So, good news for the upper Gipping Valley, and good news for a Suffolk bureaucrat...