Saturday, July 15, 2017

Nadia Cenci learns a valuable lesson just too late...

And so, as I suspected, it came to pass that Nadia Cenci's tenure as Leader of the Conservative Group on Ipswich Borough Council came to a sorry end. It didn't take very long, her resignation coming on Monday without much suggestion that it wasn't inevitable.

Her apology was a fulsome one, and whilst only Nadia knows whether or not it was sincere, she might hope that it doesn't necessarily mean the end of any political aspirations she has much beyond being a Borough councillor.

I fear that she is, however, done for in that sense, because the other problem with the internet, beyond the risk of saying something you wouldn't normally put into the public arena, is that it never goes away. Search engines are entirely unforgiving like that and, if she ever puts her name forward for anything, it will be there, and used as a stick to poke her with.

I am also reminded that, only too often, those describing themselves as outspoken are, ultimately, usually found placing their privilege above their principles, as a former Leader of the UK Libertarian Party did a few years back in a particularly sorry example of the genre. When his job was under threat, he rowed back only too rapidly from his often vile attacks on opponents.

Funnily enough, with freedom of speech comes the freedom to accept the consequences, which is why one has an obligation to consider the implications of one's words and actions beforehand. That's because, as Chris Mounsey found out, the consequences don't just necessarily fall upon you, but on those around you - family, friends, work colleagues, for example, who probably weren't consulted first.

In this instance, can Nadia be trusted to look after the interests of the council tenants of Ipswich? Are her views those of her fellow Council Group members? More importantly, what do those council tenants think? They have votes too, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Ipswich Labour activists use this against the Conservatives in the months to come.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

This Committee isn't working like I'd hoped. Can I start over, please?

And so, I've just spent an evening at Federal International Relations Committee. Not one of the organisation's finest hours, although by no means a painful one. However, it isn't going as I had hoped, nor is it achieving what I think it might. What is its secretariat to do?

But what do I think is wrong?

First, and I can see the irony here in what I am writing, the Committee is too bogged down in process, leaving too little time for the creative part of our role, advising on policy, considering ideas. The notion that policy might be squeezed into a ten minute slot at the end of the meeting when time is against us does seem to me to be a bit of a nonsense.

Second, there is not enough discipline. It is no use submitting a written report to the Secretary by e-mail forty-one minutes before the meeting starts. Effectively, that means a verbal report, and they're always a problem - I've never yet heard a verbal report which didn't run on beyond the time taken to note a written report, especially if those receiving the report are required to do something.

So far, my entreaties for written reports have been taken as a request to be ignored or, at best, the deadline is treated as optional. Which is fine if your Secretary has nothing better to do. Sadly, I do have other, better things to do. In other words, your inadequacy is not my problem.

What I would like to do, therefore, is find ways to reduce the process stuff and increase the intellectual stuff. So, more written reports, submitted in advance, perhaps seeking approval of the minutes online, rather than at the meeting. More papers that suggest ways of progressing matters rather than attempting to address them on the hoof. More collaborative working by the Committee, new sub-committees perhaps to deal with the  process stuff.

Hmmm... sounds like I might be talking about a revolution. Although, given my role in this, let's call it an evolution. I know, let's call it "building a better walrus". It worked for me, so why shouldn't it work for Federal International Relations Committee?

Monday, July 10, 2017

So much lack of organisation, so many choices...

Given what I tend to end up doing for the most part, it often surprises people to discover that, not only do I find bureaucracy a bit tedious, I find process a bit restrictive. I am a bit of a grasshopper, in that I like to hop from task to task, doing whatever appeals to me at the time. That does not, obviously, engender absolute reliability, in that tasks tend to get done when I remember them. Fortunately, I have a very good memory and a willingness to do things at unusual times (normally between midnight and three o'clock in the morning.

It isn't, to put it mildly, always the most effective use of my time. I rely on a keen memory to get me by.

Ros, on the other hand, being outcome focused, has tried, tested and efficient systems to ensure that important things get done. And so, I am encouraged to find my own system, one that works. I've got one for work, and it does work quite well, I think, but it wouldn't be right for the rest of my life.

Luckily, in the modern era, there are plenty of people who want to organise your life for you, and I'm trying one out at the moment. Only time will tell if it works, but what harm is there in trying?

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Dyb, dyb, dyb, in coastal Dorset...

It would be fair to suggest that noting that I have been on a day trip to Poole today would not obviously be the prelude to a tale of enjoyment. You wouldn't rank Poole that far up the chart of non-attractions in Dorset, let alone on a regional or national scale. Perhaps that's fair, but not necessarily accurate. Yes, Bournemouth has beaches and seaside fun, Swanage has a certain quirky charm, and Lyme Regis has the romance of the French Lieutenant's Woman, amongst other things. Poole, on the other hand, has ferries to the Channel Islands and France - a place to connect rather than stop.

I'd never really been there, apart from a few days when I stayed at the then Holiday Inn to save money on the cost of a hotel in Bournemouth. I didn't actually explore Poole at all.

The railway station is not a great gateway to the town, surrounded by ugly concrete buildings, some of which are only too obviously derelict. And the route to the Old Town and the Quay is not as obvious as it might be, leading you towards an overpass of unfortunate ugliness. But stick with it, and you soon find yourself in the High Street, heading towards the waterfront.

Keep going, and you'll find yourself in amongst some rather more interesting architecture, before turning left at the museum and reaching the Quay.

Time for a boat ride. Get the Brownsea Island ferry, because whilst Poole itself is alright, it's when you get on to the water that you begin to appreciate the charms of its setting. Poole Harbour is the second largest natural harbour in the world, offering sanctuary to an armada of small boats, plus plenty of kayaks, jet skis and dinghies.

And then you get to Brownsea Island itself. Not huge, but big enough and nowadays maintained by the National Trust and the Dorset Wildlife Trust. So, what's special about Brownsea Island? It is the spiritual home of the Boy Scout movement, where Baden-Powell held his first camp for young men. Even today, Scouts, Guides and the plethora of age groups come to the island to camp and learn skills.

I was never a Scout. It wasn't really me, and the idea of camp never appealed. Lots of people would disagree with me on the subject though, and who am I to argue?

We could probably all agree, however, that red squirrels are a thoroughly good thing, and they're one of the many animals that live on the island - some two hundred of them, apparently. We didn't see any, because they tend to stay in the cooler upper branches on hot days.

There's an interesting visitor centre, a fine Victorian church and a decent little cafe, as well as some nice walking opportunities.

Once you've finished your visit, the boat takes you back to Poole by completing the circumnavigation of the three main harbour islands - Brownsea, Furzey and Green. It's a pleasant ride and you get to see the northern shore of the Swanage peninsula.

In the sunshine, it was all rather lovely, and an excellent day out. I've also spotted a potential hotel for Federal Conference in September...

I wonder what other surprises Dorset has been keeping from me?

An Ipswich Tory has a social media misadventure...

I have to admit, I don't pay as much attention to local politics in Ipswich, our county town, as I might. Whilst I work in the heart of the town, and thus am there five days of each week, I can't say that I have an attachment to it which is anything other than functional. The shopping isn't as good as that of Norwich, or even Bury St Edmunds, and you just sense that it hasn't always been well-served by a County administration that is dominated by people who don't live there.

And, in truth, those of the town's politicians who are on social media often come across as unnecessarily aggressive and confrontational. It's the sort of politics that I was happy to leave behind when I left London nearly a decade ago.

But, bits and pieces of the online debate do cross my timeline, and, on Friday, I noticed that Nadia Cenci, the leader of the Conservative Group on Ipswich Borough Council, had made a comment about the survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster which was, at best, grossly insensitive and, at worst, downright unpleasant.

Reaction was instantaneous - it tends to be when there's blood in the water - and hostile too. Nadia defended herself. It was a mistake, she'd meant to refer to the left-wing activists causing trouble, an interpretation which didn't have much to commend it. And then, she was gone. Six years of tweets deleted at a stroke.

Given that in her Twitter bio, she described herself as "outspoken female", it seemed odd that she'd simply bolted for the hills like that. After all, if you are outspoken, you stand by your comments, unless they're factually inaccurate, I'd have thought. Admittedly, 'outspoken' is a word used instead of the more accurate 'rude', 'unpleasant', or even 'callous', and whilst it may not reflect who Nadia really is (and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here, Nadia), I was reminded that, surprisingly often, Twitter is a window into people's souls.

Nadia had a series of choices to make when this incident blew up. First, to apologise or stand by her initial thought. She did neither, instead trying to weasel out of it with the old "it was badly worded and I meant something completely different" routine. It seldom works. And then, once the explanation had failed to convince, a credible apology might have dealt with the matter. Unfortunately, deleting your whole Twitter oeuvre leads the more cynical to wonder what else was there.

And now, the story has reached the Daily Mail at a time when the Conservative Party leadership appear desperate to be loved. You wouldn't be optimistic for Nadia's future, even after her fulsome apology. It may be time for her to do some good works by way of rehabilitation. And maybe reintegrate back into social media society over the coming months... with a little more caution this time, perhaps, Nadia?

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Creeting St Peter: the importance of a neatly trimmed bush...

I can't remember if I mentioned that I was co-opted back onto the Parish Council last year somewhat unexpectedly. At least, I hadn't sought to return, nor had I expected to be asked to do so. You know how these things are. But I was, and it was (and is) nice to be back.

I was particularly delighted at our Annual Meeting, to be nominated as Vice Chair, a position I happily accepted, even if it involved very little actual effort. Machala, our Chair, is very good - brisk with the agenda but keen to allow Councillors to participate and have their say. Combined with Jennie, our relatively new Parish Clerk, the Parish Council is a far more amicable place than once it was.

Monday night saw a rather full agenda, including a presentation on the new business park, "Stowmarket East", which will emerge on the fields that lie south of the A14, east of the A1120 and north of Mill Lane. I can't say that we're terribly keen, but our former Conservative District Councillor sold us down the river on that, and all that we can really do is minimise the damage done by having a bunch of warehouses filling half of the gap between the village and Stowmarket.

We discussed the report of our current Green District Councillor, Keith Welham, who is far better than his predecessor, and the lack of a report from our Conservative County Councillor who, having been re-elected in May, won't be as assiduous as he was in the run-up to the election. We also noted that the Suffolk Constabulary don't talk to us any more. We're not alone - the relationship between our local police and the towns and parishes has faded away in recent years - and you wonder what our Police and Crime Commissioner really does in terms of communication with the local communities asked to elect him every four years. But I digress.

The nature reserve was the subject of much discussion. Basically, the problem stems from having a boardwalk in a bog. The boardwalk is made of wood, which rots and needs constant repair, which we can't afford. It is, frankly, an ongoing health and safety risk, and given that we have a responsibility towards users, it is a perpetual worry. I am not optimistic about its future as a visitor attraction.

We also considered the village traffic problems. How many problems can a village of two hundred souls have, I hear you ask? Well, parking is a problem, especially for households with teenagers and older children. Everyone needs access to a car, and so where can they be left? The answer is often in the street, making the narrow lanes even narrower, and making getting tractors and other bulky farm equipment through the village impossible.

But also, the village has a T junction in its centre, and traffic coming out of The Lane has to emerge almost blind into Pound Road because the laurels in the front garden of the corner cottage are rather overgrown. Thus, the need to have someone ask them to trim their bush.

It's all go in Creeting St Peter, I'm telling you...

Just another uneventful train journey...

Usually, it's a simple seventy minute trip on Greater Anglia from Ipswich, where I work, to Liverpool Street, our London terminus. However, it isn't the most resilient piece of railway line, and when things go wrong, they can go spectacularly wrong. As a result, and because I normally have to commute from Stowmarket to Ipswich and back, I am a keen observer of Greater Anglia's Twitter feed, watching out for delays and cancellations.

Except that, on Thursday afternoon, I was distracted by that 'work' thing. You know how it is, you're in the midst of a project and lose sense of time? Like that. I had a train to catch, the 18.13, stopping only at Colchester en route to the big city for a dinner date with Ros.

And so, at six o'clock, I set off for the station. On arrival, a Greater Anglia staff member asked if I was heading to London, saying, "If you run, you'll catch the train on platform 2!"

I didn't hesitate, and threw myself onto the train just in time. But what was I on? It wasn't the 18.13 - it was only 18.10 - so I checked the Greater Anglia app. No sign of the train. We were due to call at Manningtree, Colchester, Chelmsford and Stratford. No sign of this train on their live departure boards. It was going to London though, and that was good enough.

So, what had happened? It was a lovely afternoon in Ipswich but, apparently, it hadn't been so good in Norfolk. Lightning strikes and flash flooding had paralysed the signalling systems, and the overhead lines were damaged between Norwich and Diss. Thus, trains were all over the place.

I had been lucky this time. Whilst the train was slower than usual, I was only ten minutes late into Liverpool Street and on time for dinner. Greater Anglia had got me there...