Saturday, January 23, 2021

Creeting St Peter - some thoughts on Poundfield Products

As possibly expected, Monday night saw a slightly uncomfortable meeting. A packed agenda saw us adopt our 2021/22 budget and set our precept - we have not raised the band D charge, leaving it at the same £52.27 that it is this year. We declared a Climate Emergency without challenge, and dealt with the rest of the business in our usual efficient manner.

Of course, the spectre of Gateway 14 hangs over us still, but until the actual planning application comes in, we’re in limbo to a certain extent. However, we did have the application from Poundfield Products to expand their facility to consider. Their Managing Director had sought an invitation to attend - the same gentleman who had announced by e-mail that he would have nothing to do with the Parish Council whilst I was still Chair. You might guess that my welcome might be a less than entirely warm one.

The problem, I suspect, is that he has little understanding of what a Parish Council does. He seems to be under the impression that we should be supporting a growing local business, whereas our role is to represent the interests of our residents. That does lead to a degree of conflict.

It turned out that he wanted to do two things, firstly to explain what his company were doing to meet our concerns and why we should support expansion, secondly to express his unhappiness about the objections from local residents. I did have to politely explain that we had no control over the right to free expression of the citizenry, nor would we seek to influence them - they have a right to express their concerns, just as he does. However, we had to measure the likely impacts of expansion on our community.

We are concerned about the impact on local roads of additional heavy goods vehicles given that they are not designed to handle such weights and are suffering significant, and potentially dangerous, degradation already - the road edges are already collapsing in a number of places, offering hazards to traffic after dark. The rural location of the facility is already impacting on overlooking properties, and by encroaching towards the valley of the River Gipping, it jeopardises the ecosystem of the valley floor.

And finally, the expansion, combined with the company’s continued attempts to overturn the restrictions on operating hours included as part of the conditions for approval of the facility in the first place, will cause disturbance and loss of amenity to those living on Mill Lane and Fen Lane, as heavy lorries and staff arrive as early as 5.30 a.m.

In truth, it was a remarkably stupid place to put such an industrial facility in the first place, with poor infrastructure, no public transport for staff to use and little in the way of parking. However, that fight was lost long ago and whilst relocation to a more appropriate, better resourced site would probably be in everyone’s interests, it is acknowledged that too much capital investment has been sunk into the current site for that to be a credible option.

We voted to object, as was probably always likely, although there was some sympathy for what Poundfield Products are trying to do. The problem is that the business has a long and somewhat ignoble record of subverting planning conditions, and the initial exchange went badly wrong from their perspective. I do not, for example, take kindly to be talked over at a meeting by his local plant manager.

There was an unexpected ending though, when Mr Roddy offered us £7,000 towards Parish projects. I admit to having been taken somewhat by surprise, especially as we had just voted to object to his company’s planning application. I wasn’t really sure what to say in response but took the sensible view that, if in doubt, seek advice. Subsequently, I’ve let the Parochial Church Council know that there are funds potentially available, and that they should approach him - the Church Room needs work done on it, and £7,000 would go a long way towards funding that.

So, another eventful meeting came to a close, and I could retreat to my armchair and ponder over what I had learned...

Friday, January 22, 2021

Why are so many right-wing commentators so touchy?

Gosh, such fuss about a bust of a foreign political leader! Or rather, why should the presence or otherwise of a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office really say so much about the future of United States/United Kingdom relations? Indeed, does it say anything other than the new President wanted to decorate it with things that mean more to him?

Yes, that's one of the things that is exercising right-wing commentators this week. Rather than address the fact that the United Kingdom has one of the worst death rates from Covid-19 in the world, or that we borrowed £31.6 billion in November to deal with a crisis made so much worse by the Government's dithering and desperate need to feel loved, they prefer to create a manufactured outrage about a foreigner's interior design choices.

It is, I'm afraid, all rather sad and pathetic. So much, it seems, for the idea of taking back control, being independent, standing tall in the world. No, apparently, we should feel slighted by the decision of the most powerful man in the free world to change the decor in his office. That really does send out a message to the world, albeit possibly not the one intended.

But then, they'd pinned so much on Donald Trump and the prospect of a beneficial trade agreement. Why that should be was anyone's guess, given his actions in withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership, renegotiating NAFTA to benefit the United States rather more than it had previously done and using tariffs as a stick to beat anyone who didn't worship at his altar. It could not have been more naïve to believe that a Trump administration was going to come to the rescue of the Brexiteers.

Now that we have an administration that is more minded to support the framework of free trade agreements, it's hard to credit that their priority isn't going to be the Trans Pacific Partnership and the European Union - that's where the big money is. What, exactly, do we offer the Americans that they can't get elsewhere? And given that English is widely spoken across our continent, language isn't really a barrier in the way it was before.

But it acts as a reminder that, for all the talk of British influence and pride, so many on the political right turn "snowflake" about things that aren't actually of any great significance, get all moody when called on it, and would rather misdirect their readers rather than admit that there might be some negative impacts from their beloved project. Admittedly, those negative impacts almost certainly won't impact on them, and they almost certainly don't care about the people they're attempting to stir to anger, which is perhaps the point. They want you to believe that it's never their fault, and their judgement is without flaw.

And, the longer and harder they fight a culture war, the more likely it is that their victims will hopefully forget what it is they've had done to them, and look for someone to blame other than the people who got them into this mess in the first place. The bust of Churchill is merely another arrow in their quiver of outrage, an attempt to distract us from asking them why their friends are making such a mess of things.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

"Don't stand, don't stand, don't stand so close to me..."

So, here we are, ten months into the pandemic, ten months since my gallant employers decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and sent me home whilst the situation blew out. Well, so much for that - I'm not expecting to be back in an office with other people until at least the Autumn.

And that's going to present some challenges. Now I haven't got as far as associating other people with death, but my appetite for crowds have never been great, and I've grown accustomed to keeping others at something rather more than arms length. But, at some point, life is probably going to return to something resembling what was normal, and I'm going to have to reconcile myself to commuting to and from a large building full of people whose aversion to risk might well not match my own.

It'll probably be alright, with the vaccination programme rolling out, but it will be difficult at first. Like most modern workplaces, HMRC likes open-plan layouts, with staff tightly packed together - efficient in cost terms but not necessarily conducive to concentration - and hot-desking to get even more value out of that space. Getting used to that, after what may be up to two years of working from an office across the patio from our home, will need to be a gradual, measured process.

And, if Covid-19 becomes endemic, like the common cold, it may simply not be practical to expect a bunch of middle-aged people like myself to operate in that way, even if we wanted to.

What that probably means is a hybrid form of working, where I appear occasionally, booking a desk as I need it, but otherwise staying in the Creetings, operating as HMRC Creeting St Peter. Perhaps I'll hang out a shingle - in accordance with the Departmental style guide, obviously.

Luckily, technology has moved with the times. Due to hot-desking, we don't use fixed computers, operating with Surface Pros instead, which allowed most of a large Government Department to go from office-based to home-based overnight, our letters are received at a central point and scanned there, and any letters we issue ourselves are sent through the ether to a large shed somewhere in the West Midlands where they are printed, enveloped and posted (which also allows bulk postage savings).

All of our guidance is online, there are experts on the other end of a team call, we don't have telephones - calls are made via Microsoft Teams and automatically forwarded to our official iPhones if we're not able to access our Surface Pros, and whilst our managers adapt to remote management, the distractions of workplace life are replaced with the challenge of self-motivation and isolation.

Things are never going to be the same again, are they?...

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A new President in the White House and the promise of decency and competence

courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol
And so, the wearying drama of the last four years is at an end, and we can look forward to something resembling proper governance again. It comes as a relief, and whilst today was emotional for many, I personally look forward to a degree of relative dullness for the next four years.

That, perhaps, sounds a bit like "damning with faint praise" but I genuinely mean it as a compliment. The thing is that good governance is a bit dull, happenstance if you like. You should, in truth, be able to take it as given that the President decides on the basis of facts, underpinned by a political philosophy, that he or she stands for something rather more than personal advantage.

President Biden's inauguration speech expressed hope rather than bombast, talked about the left behind and the vulnerable rather than at them, and was long on the challenges that face the nation collectively and as individuals. It was a call for unity, something that the United States badly needs. I'm not counting on him getting much, and what he may get won't last long, but asking for it puts pressure on moderate Republicans to think about whether or not to reach across the floor to pass whatever legislation he needs.

For, regardless of the poetry of an inaugural speech, he will be obliged to govern in prose. Yes, the Democrats have control of both House and Senate, but the Republicans can still make life painfully difficult for the next two years, and even though the 2022 Senate elections slightly favour Democrats, for the two years after that too.

But, for the rest of us, a Biden Presidency offers reassurance. Greater engagement with Europe, a more activist policy in terms of trade and aid (although a UK/US trade deal looks slightly more distant) and a sense that there are adults in the room rather than a transactional toddler prone to tantrums and in thrall to dictators. That offers hope that some of the more intractable global problems might get the attention they deserve.

There will be calls for the United States to resume its role as the world's policeman, and I find myself hoping that a Biden/Harris administration might take advantage of the opportunity to encourage regional groupings to play a stronger role, and to reassign some of its huge defence budget towards supporting that. Rebuilding its diplomatic capability, both by restoring the State Department's budget, and increasing the use and reach of its soft power, will reassure nervous allies whilst re-establishing trust that has been lost during the Trump years.

What is most needed though is an America which is more at ease with itself, something that clearly isn't so at the moment. It's a huge challenge for any incoming Administration, as polling shows an alarming polarisation between progressives and conservatives, and Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and their colleagues have their share of responsibility to support that effort. I don't expect them to agree with the Administration - I'm not that naïve - but nurturing an atmosphere of courtesy and mutual respect would be a good start, along with a marginalisation of the crazies.

So, I wish Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the very best as they take the reins. I also hope that we don't pin too much upon their success, because just as overpromising and underdelivering is a poor strategy, setting your expectations too high and then complaining when they aren't met is pretty foolish too. Dull, workaday competence needs, perhaps, to be more highly regarded...

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Who is this mystery Parish Councillor?...

The Chief Executive of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils, Sally Longmate, is on a mission to improve the way the organisation works, improving accountability, engagement and our relationships with other parts of the architecture of local government and the voluntary sector across the county.

As part of that, it was suggested that the Board might like to contribute a photograph and a paragraph or so about ourselves for the website, so that our membership might get to know us better. I’m keen on that as a concept, although less keen on the idea of having a photograph of me appear anywhere - I don’t tend to photograph well, especially if I know that I’m being photographed.

Luckily, the photograph is, for the time being, solved, thanks to the 2018 Harwich Shanty Festival and Ros’s Twitter feed. Yes, there is a pirate in shot, but I look relaxed and happy, and not as much like a walrus as is often the case.

As for the biography, the brief reads;

A brief paragraph about yourself, how long you have been a councillor, your position on the council, why you joined the board inc. your specific interests and maybe experience so far to help encourage others to consider this in the future.

So, here’s a perhaps not entirely serious first draft...

Mark Valladares is the current Chair of Creeting St Peter Parish Council, in Mid Suffolk South’s Gipping Valley, having been brought out of retirement by my now fellow councillors for reasons best described by the phrase “process matters”. I joined the SALC Board last year because it seemed that nobody else in Mid Suffolk South wanted to do it, possibly the story of my life in politics and local government. 

As you might guess, as my professional life revolves around stress-testing the accounts and records of small and medium sized enterprises for a major government department, my particular interests are governance and finance. As a somewhat improbable member of the BAME community, I take diversity issues seriously, based on the theory that organisations are best equipped by considering the widest range of perspectives in their decision making.

That does at least give me something to hone over the coming week...

Monday, January 18, 2021

Creeting St Peter: looking plaintively at the exit door?...

Year 1 of being Chair of my Parish Council was alright. Yes, I’d been rather hijacked by my colleagues who sprang a hitherto unknown two year rule for Chair rotation on me, but the job wasn’t very onerous and it was nice to be in charge, albeit notionally. After all, how much power can you have on a council with an annual precept of just over £5,000?

Year 2 ended with the onset of the pandemic. We were having some difficulties with the local concrete products factory, although that has been something of a slow burner, impacting on everyone who has chaired the Council since I joined, but it was as much about being available and helpful as anything else. And, in a village where people are great at looking out for their vulnerable, or even potentially vulnerable, neighbours, it was about passing on information, helping people to help themselves to some extent. Again, not too difficult.

The pandemic led to year 3, as nobody seemed much minded to change things. I’ve spent the year pottering about the village, talking to residents, trying to keep their spirits up (and mine). And now, I’m in the midst of two major planning issues, attempting to balance competing expectations. It does feel a bit more stressful and there is rather more confrontation, something that I must admit to struggling with.

My third term comes to an end in April and, for the first time, I’m beginning to wonder whether or not the Council requires a change. Admittedly, given that I’d not sought the job in the first place, and suffer from a touch of imposter syndrome, I’m a touch surprised that I’ve gotten this far.

This evening’s Parish Council came with a degree of trepidation. With the Managing Director of Poundfield Products, with whom I haven’t entirely seen eye to eye inviting himself, and the ongoing debate over Gateway 14, I worried about how things would go. I’m not a gung-ho sort of Chair, and prefer a more inclusive style. The problem with that is that, if things get heated, timing your intervention becomes more challenging, and that’s when my decision making is at its most fragile.

It was a robust, but mostly courteous affair, however. Whilst I remain to be convinced that the management of Poundfield Products are anything more than tolerant of my existence, that isn’t a problem unless I lose the confidence of Council. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case, which is reassuring.

And so, another Parish Council meeting is safely delivered. Only one more is scheduled before I sleep, so to speak, although it’s highly likely that there’ll be an Extraordinary one to deal with the Gateway 14 hybrid planning application (coming to a District Council near you later this month). Perhaps I’ll fret about that another day...

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Ros in the Lords: Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation and Linked Households) (England) Regulations 2020

Ros’s first speech of 2021 was a brisk affair in the midst of yet another debate on Statutory Instruments linked to the ongoing pandemic. The Lords has spent a lot of time attempting to guide the Government into acting either more efficiently or more effectively, often. Both at the same time. In this contribution, Ros was trying to explore what more individuals might do voluntarily to keep safe at this trying time...

My Lords, there is no doubt that the appearance of this new variant has taken us into a very difficult situation. As welcome as the vaccine is, we have to acknowledge that getting the whole country protected will not be a very quick process. Therefore, the measures that we take, individually and collectively, while we wait to be vaccinated are absolutely key. 
I want to ask the Minister two questions. First, what work is going on to reassess the protocols and procedures that have been developed for workplaces, schools, places of worship and so on to ensure that systems which were fit for purpose with the original virus continue to be so with one that is more transmissible? 
Secondly, on an individual basis, I acknowledge that this is anecdotal but I am hearing a lot of stories about people who contract Covid and say that they have no idea how they caught it because they have been really careful and have followed all the guidance and procedures. Is any reassessment going on of the sorts of behaviours that many of us have fallen into the habit of adopting? Are those preventive measures still fit for purpose or should we be protecting ourselves and others differently? 
Finally, on a different matter, there is a huge role to be played in a vaccine rollout by volunteers, not just as injectors but in a whole range of ways. My plea to the Government is not to rely on a centralised system of the kind we saw last year, as that just does not work. There is a lot of good will but it needs to be harnessed and used locally, because that is where it can be used to best effect.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Sea shanties are fashionable? We’re so ahead of the curve...

Me at the 2018 Harwich
Shanty Festival
I admit that the sudden outbreak of sea shanties on something called TikTok has been fascinating. Not new, but fascinating nonetheless. It’s not new because, for those of us who have discovered the Harwich Shanty Festival, the idea of shanties as entertainment has been there for a while.

Admittedly, Ros and I came about the Shanty Festival by chance to some extent. As Ros was Deputy Chair of the Harwich Haven Authority, we visited Harwich fairly regularly, Ros for work, me for the occasional very nice dinner or New Years’s Eve night out at the Pier Hotel. We spotted the festival and thought that it might be a fun day out for her family.

And, as it turned out, we were right. The Festival is not just an excuse to sell more beer, although it might be fair to note that there is a very significant ale drinking, bearded element amongst the performers and audiences, but it’s a serious international event. And yes, quite a lot of the performances take place in pubs because, well, beer is readily available. For, let’s face it, if you don’t know much about shanty singing, beer helps to relax you into the mood.

I have a Festival t-shirt, which I wear in the gym occasionally (or at least, pre-pandemic, did), and I enjoy a shanty as much as the next pirate. And so I welcome the sudden exposure that shanties have received, all due to a postman from Scotland - he’s very good, by the way.

The Festival is an annual event, and it’s more than just some concerts. Our local Train Operating Company, Greater Anglia, run a shanty train on one day of the festival between Manningtree and Harwich Town, there are demonstrations at the Redoubt Fort and there’s beer. Oh yes, I think that I’d already mentioned that...

Friday, January 15, 2021

Creeting St Peter - a philosophical dilemma for the Chair...

As Chair of Creeting St Peter Parish Council, one of the most troubling aspects of the role is the ongoing saga of the Poundfield Products facility at the southern end of the Parish.

In truth, the problems started with the very establishment of a concrete products factory in a river valley location, poorly served by the road network, and surrounded by agricultural land. The original owners had a rather challenging relationship with the village, tending to disregard planning conditions where it suited and using the weakness of the District Council’s planning enforcement team to extend the business over time.

The takeover of the business by SigmaRoc plc in 2017/18 promised a new relationship between business and community but, sadly, that proved to be a bit of a false dawn. And, following a difficult Parish Council meeting last January during which the local manager decided it was a good idea to talk over the Chair of the meeting despite numerous attempts on my part to restore order, meaningful dialogue ceased.

The problem is that, despite planning conditions that limit their operating hours, they insist on the right to start earlier, with the concomitant impact on local residents. They applied for an alteration on the basis of custom and practice, which was refused by the District Council in the basis that they had not proved their case, and followed that up with a formal request for such an alteration. That’s been pending now for more than a year, with a deafening silence from Mid Suffolk District Council in the meantime. It would be fair to say that residents weren’t keen.

At the time, we were told that the business had no plans to expand its footprint. A year later, the business has lodged a planning application to expand onto an area of agricultural land it owns. The stated intention is that the expansion will be for storage and outdoor manufacture only, with no new buildings proposed.

They are, of course, perfectly at liberty to apply. Likewise, residents are perfectly at liberty to object and have already done so in some cases. As Chair of the Council, my role is to enable councillors to consider the views of residents, determine what might be an appropriate response in our capacity as statutory consultees, and work with our Clerk to ensure that this is submitted in a timely manner.

I have my reservations about the application, some of which are linked to the attitude of the company towards compliance with the planning constraints placed upon it. But, ultimately, we must be guided by policy and impact, and rely on Mid Suffolk District Council to enforce the conditions they choose to set.

It’s likely to be a lively meeting, made more so by the apparent desire of the Managing Director, Michael Roddy, to attend. It would be fair to say that our personal relationship is somewhat strained, but we’ll doubtless see what it is he wants to contribute to our deliberations.

I’m going to have to be on the top of my game on Monday night...

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Young Liberals - it’s like deja vu all over again...

“I’ve been a Young Liberal for many a year...”, we used to sing to the tune of “The Wild Rover” many years ago, and whilst that hasn’t strictly been true for a very long time, you can’t necessarily escape the gravitational pull of the Liberal Democrat youth and student wing forever.

Having served as an officer of the National League of Young Liberals prior to merger - I was the only eligible person left in the room when the vacancy for Secretary General arose - and as (at various times) Secretary, International Officer, Treasurer and, for one slightly bizarre year, President of the Young Liberal Democrats between 1987 and 1992, I made a somewhat unexpected return as the Returning Officer for Liberal Youth in 2008.

I was warned off, mostly by my predecessors, but I served for eighteen months or so, surviving despite the best efforts of Harry Cole (whatever happened to him) and a contest for Chair for which the word ‘volatile’ barely did justice. They then elected me as an Honorary Vice-President...

And now, just as unexpectedly, I’m back, probably for a one-off gig, to help them to fill two Officer vacancies. Thankfully, the process is much eased by technology and Returning Officers serve as much to keep the peace and to manage the process as anything else. I can cope with that, I think.

Whilst for LGBT+ Liberal Democrats last year, it was a job that revolved around running an election in order to reestablish stability, this is a rather less complex task, as much to offer reassuring dullness, competence and occasional compassion where needed as much as anything more demanding.

The only difference this time is that, having been slightly depressed by being old enough to be their parent last time, I’m possibly now old enough to be a grandparent to some of the younger activists. Perhaps being a virtual Returning Officer might lessen that feeling a little this time... I do hope so...

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Conservatives - perhaps telling the truth isn't always a smart move...

I'm a great believer in truth in politics which, on the face of it, seems like an obvious statement. Lying in politics is, to my mind, reprehensible, because you are wilfully offering a false prospectus to those who are asked to choose between candidates and ideologies to find the person or persons most appropriate to represent them and their community.

However, I'm not naïve. As a politician, do you tell the whole truth, or just those parts that support what you're trying to achieve - after all, your opposition has the opportunity to pick out and highlight the faults or negatives of your proposal. You might make a virtue of acknowledging that some people will be worse off, particularly if those who will be worse off aren't particularly popular or numerous, but you might want their votes too.

Sometimes, you might rely on silence or evasion to avoid having to tell an explicitly uncomfortable truth, especially if you see no advantage from addressing the issue directly. That's potentially a bit cowardly, but politicians live and die by their popularity, actual or reflected, so whilst you might not endorse it, you might be secretly sympathetic.

And then, there's telling the truth that doesn't need to be told, and which would rather be better never spoken. Step forward, Victoria Prentis, MP for Banbury and the current Fisheries Minister.

In front of the House of Lords EU Environment Committee, in response to a question from the Liberal Democrat Chair, Robin Teverson, she explained that she hadn't read the Trade and Co-operation Agreement at the time it had been published because she was "very busy organising the local nativity trail".

There is no doubt that what she said was true - you could genuinely find it hard to disbelieve her. But to say that out loud, on camera, in front of a whole bunch of interested parties, does make you wonder. You're asked a direct question, you think about an answer, and then you give one which invites, nay demands, ridicule and calls for your resignation. It also suggests that you were completely out of the loop on the most important document affecting your ministerial portfolio for years, as you wouldn't have needed to read it after it was published if you'd been briefed on its likely contents in advance.

Now I wouldn't say that Victoria Prentis is a bad person - whilst I've met her parents, who I rather like, I don't recall ever meeting Victoria - and although I'm not persuaded that she is anything other than intelligent and possibly fun to know, she might just be a bit naïve to hold high office. And that's fair enough, I'm almost certainly not qualified to hold high office either and possibly with greater cause.

But this is a Government which appears to struggle to find sufficient talent to fill key roles - Gavin Williamson, Priti Patel, Robert Jenrick... are these really the greatest talents that the modern Conservative Party can field? So, perhaps Victoria's talents might find a more appropriate home in another part of the administration once the laughter has stopped, because she's probably lost the room as far as the fishing industry is concerned.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Needham Market - an unlikely home for a conspiracy theorist?

There was, I admit, more than a little disappointment when the Conservatives gained Bosmere from the Liberal Democrats in 2017. After all, it had been Ros’s seat from 1993 to 2005, and whilst it had been defended successfully in 2013 - as much thanks to a UKIP intervention as anything else - the margins had become ever more dependent on piling up votes in Needham Market and hoping that the losses in Barking and Somersham and Ringshall weren’t too much against us.

But, with a new candidate, selected rather too late in the day to establish a track record outside the town, the seat was narrowly lost to Anne Whybrow, the former Conservative county councillor for Stowmarket South who herself had lost in 2013 by one vote to a UKIP candidate now serving a fourteen year sentence for murdering his wife.

It turned out that she wasn’t well, and perhaps hadn’t been expected to win, and her sad death just fifteen months later led to a by-election which... we didn’t win... by 19 votes.

Her replacement, Kay Oakes, had political form in Needham Market, and thus was probably a good choice. It turns out though, that she might not have necessarily been that good a choice.

This week, she was exposed on social media for retweeting comments supportive of the Washington rioters and, as it turns out, being an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump. Indeed, she retweeted conspiracy theories suggesting that the invasion of the Capitol was an antifa act.

What I found most intriguing, however, was her defence;

I would like to apologise for ‘liking’ a small number of posts on Twitter which suggested, inaccurately, that those other than the obvious perpetrators were behind the events at the US Congress. 
It can sometimes be too easy to be taken in by conspiracy theories on social media and my judgement on this occasion was wrong. 
I hope that all those who know me realise how hard I work on behalf of our community and how dear to me our part of Suffolk is.

I suppose that we are being asked to accept that despite her apparent gullibility, and the ease with which she can be persuaded to endorse and promote conspiracy theories, she can be trusted to take decisions on education and social care on the basis of fact rather than fiction.

And if you’re willing to accept that, I’ve got a nice bridge in Brooklyn that you might be interested in purchasing...

Monday, January 11, 2021

Sometimes, it’s one damned thing after another...

The power came back on just before 11 p.m... and went back off just after midnight. And then it came back on at some point in the middle of the night - my phone was plugged in to charge and suddenly sprang into life. At some point after that, it was off, but neighbours confirmed that it came on yet again at about 6 a.m. I slept through that.

Morning came and the power was on, so all was good. Except that we had no broadband. Word reached us that there had been a knock-on effect from the power failures and that we’d lost broadband. Openreach were working on it though which might have been fine had it not been for the small detail that I was supposed to be interviewing candidates for some vacancies HMRC has. A few frantic e-mails later, a substitute was arranged and my manager informed.

But we were promised restoration by noon. And, indeed, Openreach were as good as their word and all was well. That was, until the power was cut again. Apparently, this was caused by an emergency isolation that had been carried out for safety purposes, and we would be out of action for another four hours or so.

The location of the fault became apparent following a brief stroll - Pound Road was blocked just south of the bridge over the A14 by a clutch of large vehicles, one of which had a cherry picker on the back.

I settled back to wait. And wait. Perhaps a stroll would help... but, eventually, the power was restored. Would the broadband still work? Yes, it would.

And so, life returned to normal in Creeting St Peter. At least, for the time being...

Sunday, January 10, 2021

And then the lights went out again...

It has, I must admit, been pretty cold in the Creetings of late. Alright, not bitterly cold, but certainly raw. And, with sunset at about 4 p.m., the nights are long.

Thus, when the lights flickered just before the sun set this evening, it was unhelpful but not serious. We were, according to UK Power Networks, expected to have electricity again by 6.30 p.m. which, whilst somewhat sub-optimal, was hardly the end of the world. Ros and I gave up our dinner plans and ordered Turkish food for home delivery - they’d been before so could find the house, even in darkness.

Yes, eating by candlelight is, under normal circumstances, romantic. Admittedly, having the option to turn the lights on so that you can establish where the cutlery is does help, but we’re hardy souls in the Gipping Valley.

It became apparent, however, that 6.30 p.m. was a mite optimistic. An underground cable had failed, and it might take time to resolve the problem. The new target was 11.30 p.m., a rather different kettle of fish, particularly for the more vulnerable amongst us. It looked like Ros and I might be... whisper it quietly... forced to talk to each other instead of curling up with a good movie.

Luckily, our wood burning stove was keeping the house nice and toasty warm, and our phones and iPads were charged sufficient for the long haul, whilst UK Power Networks requisitioned emergency generators to tide us over and brought a customer support vehicle capable of supplying tea and coffee and answering questions. Meanwhile, regular text updates were passed on via the village Facebook group.

Our power came back on just before 11 p.m. thus giving me the ability to post this. I suspect that there may be an interruption or two before we’re done, but it’s nice to have things back to near normal...

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Why are “free speech” campaigners so touchy when attacked?

It is often suggested that, as a liberal, I should carry a torch for free speech. And, it’s true, I do strongly support freedom of speech. You would therefore think that, in theory, I would therefore be supportive of the Free Speech Union, Toby Young’s latest attempt to get noticed.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, Toby doesn’t actually believe in free speech, at least he doesn’t appear to believe in free speech for those who disagree with him. That doesn’t really come as a great surprise, as he seems to begrudge the notion that with freedom of speech should come the “freedom” to accept the consequences.

Having had those consequences brought home to him when he withdrew from his appointment as a member of the board of the Office for Students, he seems to have chosen the role of martyr. If he was really to make a half decent martyr, he’d have left up the 50,000 plus tweets that he deleted in a frenzy of history rewriting. But, it seems, he didn’t want to stand by his original comments, or the liturgy of offensive articles he wrote and was lucratively paid for.

The thing about liberty is that it is intended for everyone - as long as they’re willing to accept the consequences of their actions. Many so-called libertarians (as opposed to genuine libertarians whom I respect even as I disagree with them) find that a bit difficult to cope with, merely using libertarianism as a justification to offend. Take, for example, Chris Mounsey, who, as leader of the Libertarian Party UK, took great delight in being offensive in a quite vile manner but, when it began to rebound on him, decided that his job and his family were rather more important than his right to offend.

In fairness to him, he was right to protect his job and his family. It was a pity that he hadn’t apparently given the consequences to them much thought up until the point where he was exposed.

Returning to Toby though, he’s been a pretty lucky boy on the whole. He’s ridden his connections to have opportunities that might not have come so easily to the rest of us, and used the benefits he has gleaned to, for the most part, fail at a series of things. Failing upwards, it seems, as there are evidently sufficient people willing to give him money to continue whining self-piteously about how he is oppressed and “cancelled”.

The thing about freedom of speech is not that it is a blank cheque. It is an opportunity to also demonstrate how you regard the rest of the community. What you choose to say, and what you refrain from saying, tell everyone else a lot about the sort of person you are, and whether or not you really respect their liberties as much as you demand your own.

And, by acting as Toby has done in attempting to surreptitiously influence a supposedly independent group campaigning for free speech and to constrain it in its campaigning, he has demonstrated that, far from believing in free speech, he merely believes in abusing others who don’t share his views.

Sadly, like so many self-proclaimed radicals, it turns out that he’s a reactionary after all, only interested in personal advantage. You follow him at your own risk...

Friday, January 08, 2021

Creeting St Peter - a Parish Council and a Climate Emergency...

I noted the other day that I was running out of Liberal Democrat things to do. The last remaining role I have is that of membership of the Appeals Panel for England, and my five-year term expires in March. It can be renewed once, however.

As a courtesy, I notified the Regional Secretary once her re-election had been confirmed more than five weeks ago but, as I haven't heard from her one way or the other, I'm guessing that either my services aren't required, or nobody cares or, quite possibly, that the Appeals Panel for England has become obsolete. In truth, I'm a bit out of touch with the constitutional settlement of the Party these days, which feels a bit strange for a self-confessed political bureaucrat.

Luckily, into that "vacuum" has fallen my work as a Parish Council Chair. And boy, are we busy at the moment, with two large (one of them vast) planning applications to respond to and all of the work that involves.

But it probably isn't enough to be reactive, and so I've decided to initiate a small project, to "green" the Parish Council. The first step is to declare a Climate Emergency.

I know what you're thinking. Isn't little old Creeting St Peter Parish Council, residents 275, precept £5,285, getting a bit up itself with this whole climate emergency thing? And, I suppose, you may have a point. We don't have a building to maintain, or much in the way of energy burning assets, and the village sits in the midst of fields of wheat, barley, oil seed rape and sugar beet.

But, we can play a small part. Our street lights are aged, obsolete and decidedly inefficient. We could print less paper, lobby our District and County Councils to rethink the services they provide to us, encourage recycling and walking, plant trees.

And so, I've drafted a very simple motion for discussion at our next meeting on Monday week which reads;

This Council pledges to:
  1. Declare a climate emergency.
  2. Ensure that, in its decisions, it takes into account the impact of its actions on the environment.
  3. Work with local government partners towards the aspiration of making the county of Suffolk carbon neutral by 2030.

It isn't particularly fancy, but it isn't prescriptive, and I can't help but feel that, like a lot of rather larger local government bodies, we're going to have to rethink how we do much of our business in the coming years. And if, by doing that, we can both offer value for money and improve our communities, no matter how marginally, that must be a good thing.

Luckily, there is much inspiration available, both through the Suffolk Association of Local Councils and the National Association of Local Councils. But, ultimately, it will be up to us as a community to design solutions that suit us.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Suffolk Liberal Democrats select Justice campaigner as their Police & Crime Commissioner candidate

I don’t normally reproduce press releases here but I’ll make an exception for this one...

Justice campaigner and former Parliamentary Candidate James Sandbach has been selected as the Liberal Democrats’ candidate for the upcoming Police and Crime Commissioner election in Suffolk.

James has been involved in Suffolk politics for several years having been the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate in Suffolk Coastal (2015 and 2017) and Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (2019). He lives in Saxmundham where he is Town Councillor.

Professionally, James has an active background in the voluntary sector, the justice system and the challenges it faces – over the past 15 years he has worked for leading national charities Citizens Advice, the Legal Action Group, and LawWorks (the solicitors pro bono group).

On the upcoming election, James said;

I am delighted to have been selected to be the Lib Dem PCC candidate for Suffolk. The PCC has an important role in supporting our fantastic local police force, and ensuring the policing needs of all of Suffolk’s communities are met.
Since I moved to Suffolk, I’ve been struck by the ever-diminishing emphasis on community policing – police numbers down, local stations closed, and the thin blue line stretched far too thinly. I strongly believe that when it comes to fighting crime, anti-social behaviour and low-level disorder, prevention and deterrence is always the best approach but to do that well there must be a strong bond between the police and local communities, accessibility, and a visible presence. 
I’m looking forward to talking to communities across Suffolk about their concerns and my priority will be to fight for better funding and resources to support the police in the vital work they do in the community.

I wish James good luck in the months ahead...

And that’s why democracy and rule of law are as one...

The ghastly scenes at the US Capitol yesterday are a reminder that our democracy is more fragile than many appreciate. Whilst the United States has a written constitution, it still needs to be defended by the people from those who would wish to deny it. The judiciary, a free Press, public servants who serve the Government and the people, all of these should theoretically be responsible for promoting and preserving the freedoms that we take for granted.

It’s funny, really, because it could be argued that the United States is a pretty poor model for a democracy, with judges appointed for their political reliability, the senior bureaucracy likewise and whilst the Press is free, it’s not always fair and balanced, to quote one major (Murdoch-owned) news channel. And with districting controlled, and often gerrymandered, by the majority in each State, you don’t even have the confidence of knowing that, in a two horse race, if you get more votes, you probably get more seats.

How unlike the United Kingdom, where the penalty for breaking electoral law is trivial compared to the advantage gained by doing so, where the basis upon which Parliamentary constituencies are determined has been altered to favour the governing Party, where the Electoral Commission is under threat (from the governing Party), and where spending limits are expected to be increased (to favour the governing Party).

It goes without saying that most of our major news media are owned and controlled by foreign nationals or tax exiles, whilst the governing Party places one of its supporters as Chairman of the state broadcaster. And, of course, we have an election system which disenfranchises so many people but which suits the governing Party just fine. It also seems to suit the Official Opposition for reasons only it can explain.

We do, on the other hand, have an independent judiciary and a Civil Service which, despite the best attempts of some, remains apolitical, if cowed.

Our democracy works, or has worked up until now, because the unwritten conventions have been adhered to in the absence of a written constitution. But, we’re forced to confront the question of what happens if people don’t play by the rules. What is there to protect us from the corruption of our government and our democracy?

The answer, it appears, is “not much”.

And that’s why having rules, and having effective punishments for breaking them, matters.

If we learn one thing from the events of last night, it should be that, if politicians do not stand up for the rule of law and for democracy, the people need to vote them out of office at the first opportunity in order to protect themselves. And, having done that, they must vote for those determined to secure democracy of the people, by the people, for the people. All of the people, all of the time.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Lockdown starts gloomy... outside at least

I noted, a few days ago, that the inclement weather and the generally sodden nature of the countryside offered a challenge in the then circumstances of Tier 4 restrictions. Well, the national lockdown makes things a bit more trying, especially when you're restricted to a limited number of grounds for going outside.

It therefore shouldn't have come as a huge surprise that day one of the new lockdown dawned cold, grey, wet and windy. Luckily, we needed bread and milk, which at least gave me an excuse to walk the more than four miles to and from the Co-op at Stowupland. It isn't as close as Tesco cross country, but given that the footpaths, especially across fields, are a morass, it's a less perilous walk, especially given that it consists of a little used single track road with relatively good sight lines and then pavement along the A1120 (which, frankly, isn't that busy either). The alternative means dicing with the HGV's that journey to and from the concrete products factory to the A14 - I think not.

And the exercise is not only good for me, but the journey requires almost exactly 10,000 steps (and yes, I'm still doing them every day) and, whilst the cold and wet is a bit grim, I can listen to music and think about whatever needs thinking about as I meander across the gently rolling landscape.

I got back to find that Ros's bread baking effort had been rather more successful than she had originally feared, but on days like this, a nice piece of toast never goes amiss...

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Is Mid Suffolk District Council really committed to its sustainable travel policy? We may be about to find out...

Regular readers will know that I take a particular interest in buses, possibly because I am a non-driver. In London, that was just fine - why would you have a car in inner London when traffic speeds are glacial and there’s an excellent public transport system? Out here in the Suffolk countryside, it offers rather more of a challenge.

Creeting St Peter saw its last scheduled bus service in 2011, not that it impinged upon anyone’s consciousness. Indeed, when I raised it at an early Parish Council meeting, my fellow councillors didn’t seem to know that it existed, perhaps because it ran on Thursdays only with just one journey in each direction between Stowmarket and the Creetings. We do have demand responsive transport, but it is likewise little known about, which does make it a bit easier for me to use it as part of my usual route to work. But I digress...

The new business and enterprise park on the edge of the Parish is to be managed by a development company on behalf of its 100% owner, Mid Suffolk District Council. It promises, or at least, promised up to 4,500 new jobs which, on the face of it, is a good thing - we can argue about the quality of those jobs another day. And it struck me that having a bus link to Stowmarket would be a good thing, given that it’s more than one mile from the station to the nearest point of the development.

Coincidentally, in July the District Council agreed to create a “Sustainable Travel Action Plan” so you might think that, if you were going to bring 4,500 workers to an edge of town location, encouraging public transport use might fit neatly into that. Indeed, I found myself wondering if such a link could be extended to serve Creeting St Peter and Stowupland (which is growing fast and lost its regular bus service a few years ago) in a circular route to link up with Stowmarket station and the town centre.

It is now clear that there is no intention to make provision for public transport - I asked and have a written answer from the development company to that effect, which rather disappoints me. The justification is that there is a bus stop within 400 metres of the entrance to the development - the fact that two of the six services that serve the stop run on a Thursday only, and two others are school services appears to have passed them by. And so, I’m going to have to challenge the District Council to “put their money where their mouth is” in terms of the environment and sustainability, and to adhere to the policies they themselves set.

It is unacceptable in the modern era to build a development which effectively obliges its workforce to drive. Given that the employees won’t just come from Stowmarket and the surrounding villages - the population couldn’t supply 4,500 additional workers even if it wanted to - there will be significant increases in traffic, air pollution and noise, and any mitigation that might reduce traffic volumes would be welcome.

Ironically, the development company have been quite responsive in other areas, so it would be nice if they could be persuaded to improve this aspect. We’ll just have to see, I guess...

Monday, January 04, 2021

If only the Government would actually follow the science more closely...

And so, we're back in lockdown again, just as we were in March. The problem is that, given the mixed messages and failure to set an example at the top, the public willingness to adhere to the letter of the guidance is fragile at best.

Walking in Needham Market at the weekend, it was noticeable that people aren't allowing others the required two metre separation, that people are passing each other in narrow spaces without masks, and that multiple households are meeting. Whilst I don't take the view that draconian enforcement is appropriate, the seeming lack of self-awareness is problematic.

You may not care about the rules, but you really ought to respect those who intend to adhere to them, and might have very good reason for doing so. I take the view that, by keeping myself at a safe distance, I am less likely to become a burden to an already hard-pressed National Health Service. There are, quite evidently, plenty of people whose need for treatment is urgent and they don't need me taking unnecessary risks.

The guidance on outdoor recreation and exercise is going to be a bit tougher this time. March and April were dry and bright last year, which made walking rather more tempting, and with longer days, you could at least dodge any inclement weather that might come along. Now, the local footpaths are a morass of mud following persistent and heavy rain, the sun sets at 4 and the single track roads that lead out of the village are not recommended to pedestrians after dark. We will persist, however.

What I do begrudge though is the Government's failure to react in a timely manner to the advice that they're being given. With the Prime Minister unwilling to do or say anything that might be unpopular unless forced to, and his persistently annoying tendency to over promise and underdeliver - why does he keep offering up timetables for a return to normality that are never going to be met? - I sense that every surge is worse than it might have been and the restrictions more burdensome.

That tendency to overpromise has impacted on the vaccination programme too. The initial indication was that I might reasonably expect to be vaccinated in May. To be honest, I now don't expect to be vaccinated until the Autumn, if then. I'll wait my turn patiently - what else is there to do? - but if you keep raising people's hopes and expectations, you shouldn't be surprised if they respond badly to the subsequent disappointment.

Indeed, can you really trust this Government not to mess up the vaccination programme?

Ah well, at least work carries on regardless...

Sunday, January 03, 2021

3 January - a look through the archives...

It is occasionally hard to believe that I’ve been writing this blog for more than fifteen years now. I was, at the beginning, decidedly single, having concluded that this was likely to be the case forever. So much for predictions, eh? And perhaps it’s time to, occasionally, take a look at what was happening in retrospective to see if I learned much...

Fifteen years ago, I was in India, attending a family wedding. That was a part of my life that had fallen into abeyance for the previous decade and a half, given that my then relationship didn’t leave much room for my extended family scattered across the globe. Pretty much the first thing I did once I’d somewhat straightened my head out was to set out on a world tour to find out what uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins were up to - from Mumbai to Toronto, from Auckland to Edmonton.

Having been asked to give one of the readings at the service, I did have some misgivings, especially with a failed marriage so recently behind me (well, mostly behind even if some of the most depressing parts were still to come). But it’s hard to feel depressed for long in the midst of my Indian family, and you end up unable to resist the urge to relax and enjoy the craziness.

We’re all a bit older and, in my case, rather greyer (although I’m about the same weight, curiously) but we still seem able to relax with each other no matter how long we’ve been apart. And, in Ros, I have someone who is happy to share in it, even to encourage it, which is hugely appreciated.

We remain utterly scattered, with twenty time zones between Walter and Felba in San Francisco and Windsor, Beryl, Warren, Tanya and Kim in Auckland, but we keep in touch after a fashion thanks to the wonders of modern technology which allows me to talk to Kim via Facebook Messenger, or be updated on Arlene and Ryan’s progress in Bahrain.

I ought to be better at marking birthdays and anniversaries, and maybe I might aspire to do a little more in 2021. After all, as the oldest of the generation (and we are curiously hierarchical), there are some vague obligations...

Saturday, January 02, 2021

I seem to have accidentally attracted the attention of the anti-5G campaigners...

One of the bits about being a day editor of Liberal Democrat Voice is that, occasionally, you are tempted to respond to the news of the day. And sometimes, you realise why you aren’t often tempted...

On Monday, I was critical of a piece by Nick Cohen, attempting to smear the entire Liberal Democrats on the basis of a rather quirky stance on 5G masts by two councillors in Bath and possibly endorsed by the local Liberal Democrat MP. My view was that his attempt to associate the party with an anti-science stance was indicative of lazy bias.

My understanding is that 5G-capable masts aren’t an issue. At least, that seems to be the generally accepted position amongst experts and, as I know a lot less than them, unless someone is going to offer me overwhelming evidence that the experts are both wrong and corrupt, I’m content to go along with that. I’m not, for example, going to tell the pilot of a flight that I’m on that, just because someone on Twitter is convinced that there’s a better way of doing it than the way he was trained to, he should stop what he is doing and heed my words of wisdom. Expertise and consensus, whilst not foolproof, tend to offer better odds over time.

The bad news is that some anti-5G campaigners have found me and incorrectly assumed that I share their view. So, to be clear, I don’t. Please don’t send me obscure and, doubtless, thoughtfully edited quotes from reports, documents or other sources. As I’m not a scientist, I don’t have the technical knowledge to properly evaluate them, and I haven’t got the time, or the inclination, to teach myself.

It is a reminder that, out there, there are some people absolutely certain that, in the face of the available evidence, that governments are out to control us all through mind control, or microchips administered via fake vaccinations. Frankly, I haven’t encountered the government competent enough to do that or, even if they somehow could, monitor individuals any more than they currently do. The internet has given such people the means to publicise their views and convince the paranoid, the vulnerable and the disturbed to do things that harm society.

Anti-5G campaigners mostly don’t fall into that category, but they are likely to make the same sort of mistake, i.e. believing that because something passionately concerns them, the rest of us should be equally passionately concerned. And in a world where there are plenty of obvious things that need addressing - poverty, climate change, armed conflict to name but three - I really don’t have the bandwidth to worry about something that I currently have no reason to worry about.

So, if you have been trying to contact me without response, perhaps this might explain why. I’m a statistician by training, sceptical of data but prone to accept the odds implied by having most of the experts on one side of the debate, especially in a field that I’m not trained in. It’s not personal though...

Are difficult planning applications like buses? Because it surely feels like it right now...

If having the challenge of the Gateway 14 planning application wasn’t bad enough, we’re now faced with a proposal to expand the Poundfield Products facility at the other end of the Parish.

Given that the applicants had a fairly poor record of compliance with planning constraints previous to their takeover by Sigma Roc plc, and that the relationship between the new owners and the village is, how can I put it, suboptimal, we are wary as to their intent.

The new proposal is to extend towards the River Gipping by adding an outdoor storage and fabrication area and likely objections are pretty obvious, in truth. The impact on the setting of Creeting Hall, both visually and in terms of noise, as well as the probable effect on Mill Lane, already damaged in places by the sheer weight of lorries transporting concrete products out towards the A14, are all likely to be factors in resident objections.

Naturally, the Parish Council will meet to consider our response, and I don’t want to prejudge that. But I am hesitant to support anything that will lead to more traffic from what is already a highly unsuitable site for a concrete products factory, and given the persistent breaches of the working hours conditions - admitted by the local management in the presence of one of our two District councillors - you can’t help but wonder if an outdoor fabrication area is likely to impact on the residents of the clutch of houses at Creeting Hall.

A village resident described the application as being “their traditional Christmas planning application” and, whilst my memory isn’t good enough to recall the accuracy of that, it does feel sometimes as though their strategy is intended to make it as difficult as possible to make a balanced and complete response.

Ah well, we’ll struggle on, I guess, but I have to admit, it does feel a bit wearing so early in the year...

Friday, January 01, 2021

A new year begins here...

It’s funny really, but 2020 has been a bit of a mixed year. Yes, we’ve had the pandemic, which has been awful in the generality, and we’ve finally left the European Union which, whilst traumatic, will only really impact in the months and years ahead, but on a personal note, neither has had an obviously negative impact yet.

I’ve been working from home since 18 March which, at the beginning, was not something I had looked forward to with unalloyed pleasure. I’m kind of institutionalised, having worked for the same organisation, in the same context, for well over thirty years, and working on my own offered some personal challenges. Would I be able to maintain the discipline without supervision, would I have enough to do given the structures and methodologies that had previously constrained my work?

It turned out that the problem would, for the most part, be solved for me. The Job Retention Scheme kept me busy for a while, and I learned how to use webchat software to answer questions before moving on to contact centre work, offering technical advice to employers and explaining to unhappy employees why we couldn’t just furlough them ourselves.

After that, it was time to switch to the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, helping those without internet access to apply, and dealing with those who were unable to self-verify - basically those without U.K. passports or driving licences and without a credit history here. It was, occasionally, entertaining, often complicated, especially when dealing with Eastern Europeans whose English, whilst far better than my grasp of any of their languages, struggled with the legalese of grant applications.

The most difficult cases were those where the potential applicant wasn’t eligible. In many cases, they already knew that, but wanted to hear it for themselves from a genuine human being. Some of the cases demonstrated genuine hardship, but without the discretion to make exceptions, and knowing that their calls were being recorded, all that could be done was to give them an honest explanation, point them towards local council grant schemes and universal credit, and give thanks that you weren’t in their position.

And now, I’m kind of back to the day job. That’s more complex than it sounds, especially now that nearly all of us are in Tier 4. Face to face meetings are difficult at best, obtaining records for examination is challenging and disruption is everywhere. How that changes in 2021 is still not entirely clear - to me at least.

I’ve been, at times, a bit disenchanted by party politics. I’m a liberal democrat, undoubtedly. I’m still a Liberal Democrat too, albeit a somewhat more distant one these days. Shortly, I will cease to hold any formal position in the Party, partly due to the democratic process (which I’m entirely relaxed about), and partly due to creative differences. I’ve made the odd contribution, but in truth my attention has strayed towards the third tier of local government.

I didn’t have much ambition beyond the borders of Creeting St Peter, and was expecting to stand down as Chair in May, but the pandemic rather interfered with that. The autumn saw me fill two new positions merely by being the only person to show an interest - the story of my political career to a great extent. And so, I serve on the Board of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils and as the Suffolk representative on the National Assembly of the National Association of Local Councils - our equivalent of the Local Government Association. I’m still slightly shellshocked if truth be told.

There’s no time to rest on my laurels though. We have a rather daunting planning application due this month for a vast business and logistics park, as well as a proposed expansion of the concrete products factory at Grove Farm. Neither will be popular, and our influence is limited. But, we must try to do our best for residents, and we will.

I am an evil step grandfather too. More virtual than actual, due to the pandemic, but nevertheless I have a role, which mostly consists of smiling warmly and saying how adorable Eleanor is. This, it turns out, is very easy...

But the biggest change in 2020 was in the amount of time Ros and I spent together. You see, we’re used to being apart a fair bit, given that she’s normally in London during the week, and I’m not. There was, I guess, the possibility that I might drive her crazy, but that didn’t happen, which was nice. We’ve been there to help each other through the occasional low points, as well as learning to appreciate a rather simpler life of good food, country walks and our home. It isn’t particularly complicated, but it works for us.

And so, to 2021. I’m expecting to get my first vaccine dose in May or thereabouts, although given the Government’s propensity to make any task so much more hapless than one might imagine, I won’t hold my breath.

A happy New Year to you, gentle reader, and stay safe...