Monday, March 28, 2016

A la recherche du Stowupland perdu*

It is hard to believe that it is now nearly five years since my gallant, but ill-fated, attempt to become the District Councillor for Stowupland ward, but I found myself on familiar territory this weekend, delivering leaflets for the Remain campaign. After all, a majority of those who actually turned out that day voted for parties that support our membership of the European Union, and if Ros and I don't get a pro-European message out, who will?

Funnily enough, five years ago, there was controversy over plans to build some new housing association properties, and now, the hedges and windows are full of signs condemning a proposal to build one hundred and seventy-five houses on a greenfield site on the edge of the village. There is little doubt that it is highly speculative, but it does offer up a slightly uncomfortable dilemma for local residents.

You see, Stowupland is quite a nice place, and people want to live there. More homes and thus, more people, means, potentially, better services or, in the current climate, more chance of keeping the ones they have. It also means that their children and grandchildren have some prospect of living locally when it becomes their turn to set up home.

And yet, with Stowmarket growing apace, there is a risk of one being absorbed into the other. One wonders how a local councillor might reconcile the opposing tensions, but luckily, I guess, that isn't my problem.

At least my memories of the 2011 campaign make deliveries rather easier - I remember where some of the trickier letterboxes are - and we've made pretty good progress thus far. If only the weather wasn't so unreliable...

* (for those of you whose French is rather better than mine, an apology...)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spring Conference - a report back from the Mid Suffolk delegation...

I've just got back after a very pleasant trip to York. Apparently, there was a conference on, although I couldn't say that I was an active participant - I did attend the Conference Quiz and a fringe meeting on the referendum campaign. I wasn't in the hall for the cannabis motion, or the economy motion or even the diversity one. On the other hand, I may have been the only person from Mid Suffolk who got to York at all.

So, what do I put in my report to my Local Party Executive Committee?

Well, we now have a policy to improve the diversity of our Parliamentary Party in the Commons. Of course, we do have a Member of Parliament in Mid Suffolk already, and best of all, she's a woman. Admittedly, Ros is in the Lords, where the relative diversity of the Parliamentary Party seems not to be of interest currently. And, the policy doesn't obvious have any immediate salience to us, as we don't meet the criteria for All Women Shortlists. In general, we try to encourage anyone to do pretty much anything they want to, including candidacy.

There's a new policy on cannabis. I'm not convinced that it's the revenue raiser it is purported to be - look at the proportion of hand rolling tobacco that is smuggled into the country for an idea of how much duty evasion is likely to take place - but I'd rather the police focus their efforts on those drugs that lead to crime, ill health and addiction. Is it a burning issue in Mid Suffolk? I don't think so.

We also passed an economic policy motion, which basically endorses previous policy - reassuring, if not exactly radical. On the other hand, the Conservatives don't appear to have much in the way of coherent policy, so we're ahead of the game there.

The Party is now against fracking in England. In fairness, Suffolk is not an area where fracking is likely to take place, so it isn't likely to be an issue for us. 

We're not in favour of enhanced surveillance powers for the State either - we are sceptical as to whether or not the security services can be trusted not to misuse such powers. Admittedly, given the woeful broadband provision in large parts of Mid Suffolk, they might be better off opening our post instead...

And finally, in policy terms, there's policy on the private rental sector, seeking to protect tenants. Am I sure that it's entirely practical? Or would simply addressing the supply side of the supply/demand equation effectively solve most of the problems the motion seeks to mitigate?

Elsewhere, the fringe was nice. Our Honorary President made a splendid Conference quizmaster, and our Treasurer wasn't a bad assistant either (let's not kid ourselves about the notion of prefixing that word with 'glamorous'), and she also chaired an interesting event about referendum strategy.

I even have an IN campaign t-shirt, which might make a good raffle prize...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Time to reach for my trusty Party Constitution...

I received an unexpected e-mail the other day, from our Regional Chair, Stephen Robinson. "The Region has to nominate someone to be on English Appeals Panel. You would seem like an obvious candidate and so I wondered if you would be willing to be nominated?".

I thought for about a millisecond and replied, "I would be honoured - count me in!".

And so, it seems, I am to be a member of the 'secret society' that is the Appeals Panel for England. Except, of course, that it is no such thing, it's just that it is legitimately low-key - how visible do you want your 'judiciary' to be, after all? I would argue that what the Party needs is accountability, proper justification and an adherence to both the word and the spirit of the Constitution. And that's what I'll aim to deliver, as and when I am called upon.

So, how does one qualify to be a member of the Appeals Panel for England? Well, you can't be a Parliamentary candidate, or a member of the English Council Executive. You can't be an MP or and MEP, you can't be a Party employee, and you can't be a member of the English Candidates Committee. Luckily, I am none of these things and, for the most part, wouldn't want to be even if given a free ride to become one.

English Council elect three members of the Federal Appeals Panel, all of whom are members of the Appeals Panel for England as of right - they also usually chair any constituted panel convened to hear a specific appeal - and they are joined by a nominee from each of the Regional Parties, which is where I come in. The appointment is for five years, with the option to renew once, unless infirmity, death or inability to perform the duties of the role intervenes.

And so, it seems to me that reading the Party's Constitution might just be a good idea, as well as finding time to take the designated unconscious bias course that the Party offers. Interestingly, my gallant employer insists that I take one too - I passed, you'll be pleased to know - so it will be interesting to 'compare and contrast'. I'm also wondering if there is scope to analyse some of the Appeals Panel's recent rulings to gain a sense of the type of issues it more often deals with, and explore those in context.

So, much to dwell on. But first, back to Conference...

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

"Building a Better Walrus" - refurbishment work continues

Two months gone, and despite a food poisoning related glitch which lost me three days, I'm still going strong with the ten thousand steps and nearly two litres of water. Indeed, the steps are averaging over twelve thousand per day. Naturally, losing the will to eat for a week has helped...

And, actually, I'm beginning to enjoy the new regime. I even sneak out into the darkness for an extra two thousand steps or so just because. The diet isn't too stressful, as the extra weight I carry about means that I'm burning more calories - this perhaps explains why my weight had stabilised in the first place. All that I've done is cut out the snacks and made a few substitutions - ham for cheese, for example - or introduced some minor portion reductions. Ros is also being very helpful, encouraging my walks and cooking delicious healthy meals over the weekend.

But, I hear you ask, how have I got on? Is there less walrus in mid-Suffolk? Well, the answer is that I've lost another four kilos, making seven in total, the equivalent of more than a stone in old money. That puts me more than halfway towards my target of losing two stones by early October (and no, I don't intend to change my target yet).

So, a slightly more limber bureaucrat will be seen in York in just over a week. Don't worry, I'll be easily recognisable - I'll be the slightly bemused one nursing a glass of sparkling mineral water...