Sunday, 30 August 2009

Round-Up: Reading Festival 2009

August Bank Holiday weekend is the traditional date of the Reading Festival when tens of thousands of visitors descend on the town in the single biggest cultural and commercial event in the local calendar.

Accordingly the statporn is recited in timely tradition: in "five days, more than 230 artists will perform, 10,000 cars will be parked on site, 50,000 burgers will be sold, 600 tonnes of rubbish will be collected and 4,000 members of staff will be working hard to get the festival up and running."

2009 was no village affair, with an equally massive response generated online.



Previews

Natalie Slater got the plum job of marking the schedule and watching the headliners. She "eagerly anticipated" the return of Kings Of Leon following their 'superb performances in 2005 and 2007', but was sceptical about Arctic Monkeys after they returned from a 'legendary' set on the NME Stage in 2005 with an 'over-confident' effort on the main stage the next year.

However it is Radiohead on Sunday which is the main event for her. They have a "history of awe-inspiring festival performances," she cooed. Their experimental style guarantees they "always give you what you least expect" - excitement and trepidation combine in equal measure to form an undeniably explosive mix.

Reading Post also provided a guide of 'unknown' bands to watch out for which included Bombay Bicycle Club, Sweethead, Golden Silvers, Magistrates and Chase and Status. Marina and the Diamonds were favoured with an interview feature.

But it's not just about the famous and the wannabes. The Alternative Stage offers a vibrant mix of 'comedy, poetry, film, lectures, political debate and party games' giving anyone with even the most far out tastes something to suit their mood.

Meanwhile Maxwell Kusi Obodum trailed Ellen and the Escapades (whose bassist hails from Henley). The band gained their booking as one of 29 groups recommended after playing regional BBC Introducing shows. Singer Ellen Smith gushed "Great bands come to Reading every year so it's been good to be playing alongside them."

BBC DJ Huw Stephens, said
"I thought the line up was exciting and the music was of a really high quality this year. Reading is a real music fans' festival and it's been very special for all the bands to be playing in front of a large audience."
Elsewhere Ben Graham is an old hand at festival-going, but this will be his first experience of Thames-side jiggery (but less of the pokery - you can get too old for that sort of thing). He was particularly looking forward to Placebo.

Cllr Warren Swaine got goosepimples at the thought of The Horrors. Placebo, Kaiser Chiefs, White Lies and Glasvegas also stand up high on his list of 'must see' bands. He's clearly happy to take advantage of his complementary tickets - which means he no longer has to blag his way in!

It is with particularly relish that he records the Telegraph's description of the jamboree as "all about the music, and not much else. It is an utilitarian operation, which simply delivers the best bands across one weekend, without the idealistic claptrap [of Glastonbury]."


Reviews

The Daily Star's James Cabooter agreed with Cllr Swaine's appraisal, stating that "For festival purists it’s hard not to appreciate Reading’s no-nonsense approach to having a bloody good time."

A kindred spirit, clearly, who was also thrilled by The Horrors, but was blown away by The Prodigy.

Reading's notorious reputation as a demanding crowd meant that the lack of a 'heritage' band in the top slot with well-established credentials and who could guarantee a pure celebration of the music left the impression it was more pop than rock, at least according to Amber Cowan of the Evening Standard.

The controversial flag ban also left some feeling this years event downgraded the live experience as it was tailored more towards catering to a multimedia audience. The 20ft plasma screens can't have helped either.

The Guardian makes a short video montage to cater for their readership's expected highlights and the extravagantly named Rosie Swash and Tim Jonze provide separate reviews of 'Day One', 'Day Two' and 'Day Three' - almost as though they'd planned for it like a military campaign!

In contrast to previous years when campers have experienced rain and swamp-like conditions, this year's event was marked by gusty winds. Organisers attempted to defend the sound quality, but the issue was apparently more about the low volume.

The Arctic Monkeys got a frosty response for their 'unfriendly attitude', while the Kings Of Leon grew frustrated with the lack of audience participation as the elements conspired against their set.

This cleared the way for bands with a more distinctive sound to steal the limelight and plaudits - The Prodigy and Radiohead went down a storm with the punters.

Inside in the tents Le Roux tore up the Festival Republic stage with a set which attacted an overspill crowd.

But most of the buzz surrounded Oxford-based indie supergroup Radiohead, who wrong-footed many onlookers with a jazz formation and a short cover of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah's 'Maps' as they approached their own finale.



Radiohead's 'triumphant' 2-hour set included some rarely played favorites from their early albums (such as 'Creep' and 'Street Spirit'), providing a fitting climax after the disappointment suffered by the headliners on Friday and Saturday night.

Jess Grant gives further extensive reviews over at There Goes The Fear.

Meanwhile punk quartet Sixty Watt Bayonets kept the local flag flying (despite that fan flag ban) as the only Berkshire band in the lineup.


On Another Planet

Sleb-spotters weren't left disappointed as Rupert Grint provided a highly visible contrast to Daniel Radcliffe (who cloaked himself in the invisibility of the crowds).

But the oddest occurence of the year must have been to hear Faith No More play a rendition of the Eastenders theme tune - my eardrums are still bleeding!



Local commentators didn't restrict themselves either, as they were more than prepared to hitch their blogs to the band-wagon even without attending.

Adrian Windisch showed he belongs with the the grey brigade by concentrating on advising attendees how to avoid causing residents problems with traffic hold-ups - clearly he isn't a fan and didn't buy tickets or he would have been enthusing about the newly abundant recycling points which meant it took a "little longer than usual to look like an apocalyptic wasteland" (Amber Cowan).

But nevertheless he will have been pleased at the use of a temporary footbridge over the Thames to enable easier access for revellers.

Reading Post's Linda Fort also worries more about toilet rolls more than the music these days - she was able to reminisce about watching Led Zepellin in the 70's without even mentioning John Paul Jones' appearance as a member of special guest band Them Crooked Vultures.

The main focus of the news media's attention however, was inevitably on the attendant levels of crime experienced at the festival.

When 85,000 people are gathered together in such close confinement there will always be some reflection of general society in the crowd, so taxpayers and law & order advocates will be pleased that reported crime fell.

BBC recorded 61 arrests made in connection with 279 incidents (compared with 294 in 2008). Chief Inspector Les Stone was relatively pleased with the way things had gone, stating:

"There was some public orders instances on the campsites but there were no serious crimes or significant incidents."

"Overall, we are pleased with how the festival has gone. The crime levels are in line with last year's festival and it has been a largely good natured event. I'm really pleased with the joint working between ourselves, British Transport Police and the festival's security teams and I think that Reading Borough Council's traffic management in the build up to the festival was excellent."

Perhaps the public should be thankful for the dourness of on-duty officers!


And Finally...

...after it has all passed and you realise to your amazement you've survived the experience you're able to look at Reading in a new way and look forward in a positive mood - at least until you realise there's only another 12 months until the next one...

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Update: Paul Robins grudgingly praises the event, despite the fashion statements on view, the prices charged by on-site vendors and various other incidents, saying "you can't scoff at genius, can you?"

And here's the view from the boaters on the Thames.

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More Reading Festival coverage.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Love Your Lothario

Mr London Street tells an engaging tale involving his two best friends from University, Dave and Eric - they were, he says, "a study in contrasts."

Eric was 'regular and unadventurous', who "worked hard, got brilliant results, was a steadfast and loyal friend and if you had taken him home to meet your parents they would have enthused wholeheartedly."

On the other hand Dave "went through the attractive (and less attractive) female acquaintances of friends in much the same way that haemophilia went through the royal families of Europe in the nineteenth century."

As soon as Dave met Eric's younger sister it was all bound to end badly, but you'll have to read part 1 and part 2 of 'The Marriott Incident' to find out exactly how.

Meanwhile Tim Liew watches his son Zac at a toddlers sports day and discovers an 'incorrigible flirt' who 'knows how to turn it on for the ladies' with 'a smile and a twinkle in his eye' - whether they are a 2-year old girl or a 70-year old granny!

Oranjepan asks:
Should someone offer a warning, or is it wiser to just let things run their own course - how soon can you tell when they're going to be a real Casanova?
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Friday, 28 August 2009

Round-Up: The Results Are In!

The second half of August is a defining time for students everywhere as they recieve confirmation of their achievements.

Missy33 remembers the excitement of her results day as filled with joy and trepidation. It was a pivotal time as she and her class-mates struck out into the big, wide world, but it also revives some poignant memories as long-time friends departed on their different paths.

Interestingly Paul Walter takes a side glance and points out that the current crop of school-leavers is the first to have been completely educated under a Labour regime.

The print media has filled its' pages with pictures of students, parents and teachers sharing in the emotional experience.

Here is a rundown of reports on GCSE results in each local authority area across Berkshire:-

Bracknell Forest
Reading
Slough
West Berkshire
Windsor & Maidenhead
Wokingham

BBC reports this 27th consecutive record-breaking year with Schools minister Vernon Coaker MP (Labour) describing the results as a measure of sustained progress in standards and the product of hard work.

Reading Executive member for Education Cllr John Hartley (Labour) noted the record achievement which continue the above-average trend as 'solid progress' and paid tribute "to the hard work of those involved."

West Berkshire Executive member for Children & Young People Cllr Barbara Alexander (Conservative) welcomed the 'best-ever' results in the area, noting particular improvements in schools where weaker results are the norm.

Bracknell Forest's Executive member for education, Cllr Alan Kendall (Conservative), was particularly pleased that the results matched last years record.

In the Royal Borough Of Windsor & Maidenhead executive member for children's services Cllr Eileen Quick (Conservative) also offered her congratulations and described the success of local students as "absolutely wonderful news."

However Maidenhead Conservative party member Right To Common Sense is less than overwhelmed by the value of the results system.

He says, "The whole point of them is to be able to spot who the top candidates are. The failure of the exam system to do this in itself fails the very best students" and therefore "devalues the achievements of previous generations." He goes on to call for a new 'gold-standard' in academic subjects.

Newsbiscuit provides the satire and offers a free downloadable GCSE certificate.

And amid all the praise for student success Slough LibDems offered the less pleasant reminder that there are still 3 million young people who leave school without 5 A-C grades.

Berkshire Chamber of Commerce joined in the debate about results to temper the emotional response by arguing the economic purpose of exams as a measure of employability has been undermined as they do not necessarily reflect skill levels.

Redlands LibDems have also been on the case noting recent figures for unemployment among 18-24yr olds is 16.6% - the highest for 15 years, which represents a massively disproportionate part of the total. Cllr Benson is scathing about the £1bn Westminster 'future Jobs Fund' initiative which proudly aims to create 150,000 new jobs for young people will aid only 6 local authority areas across the South East region and support 3,300 new work placements.

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A-Level results quickly followed with another round of joyous congratulations.

Local schools in Reading and Wokingham repeated their feat of above median performance levels.

Providing a human interest angle BBC reports on the amazing story of Peter and Paula Imafidon, two eight-year-old twins attending Calcot Junior School, who passed the Univerity of Cambridge Advanced Mathematics A-Level (gaining a C and B grade respectively). They took part in an 'Excellence in Education' programme after their three older sisters had previously passed at a young age.

Meanwhile for anyone struggling with finding a place at university the national corporation provides a helpful guide to navigating the complex UCAS clearing system.
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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Campaign Update: Action On Empty Homes!

In a good example of coordinated blog campaigning Redlands LibDems and Katesgrove LibDems simultaneously published a report on their efforts to prevent empty properties from further spoiling Reading.

Reading East PPC Cllr Gareth Epps explains how officers allowed former policies to lapse under a Labour administration which had become stale.

He praises the newly installed Empty Homes Officer and invites readers to come and visit 5 separate locations in the ward he represents to see what needs doing.

In Redlands ward Cllr Daisy Benson draws attention to three prominent empty properties, while explaining how she has been working to improve the situation.

Between them they explain that the fact of increasing homelessness in town is at a time when the number of properties vacant for more than six months has also increased is a scandal which should motivate anyone to take action.
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Dealing With Kids On Wheels

Reading Borough Council has announced a crackdown on quadbikers to prevent the 'havoc' and 'nuisance' caused in certain areas.

The Safer Reading Partnership has agreed processes which will enable neighbourhood Policing teams to warn, ban or issue ASBOs against riders who 'blight' their community. RBC executive member for Communities & Neighbourhoods, Cllr Bet Tickner explained that
"residents have the right to enjoy their local neighbourhoods without having to worry about being mown down by these bikes or have to put up with the noise they make."
Efforts are been undertaken to publicise to riders their requirement to possess a valid driving license and insurance, and wear an appropriate safety helmet.

Redlands LibDems praised the move which comes after years of complaints by residents.

Cllr Benson details some of the more difficult problems involved, such as parents who are unaware of the law or the dangers of so-called 'mini-motos', which are categorised as motorised vehicles, although all too often treated by users as bicycles.

In separate news a controversial plan for a BMX track in Earley was approved last week amid heated scenes.

The proposed facility at Paddick Drive playing fields had been the subject of campaigning both for and against the development, with a clear generational divide emerging as local householders were pitted against their children who claimed a lack of adequate provision for their needs.

Members from The Manor Residents Association complained about the potential for anti-social behaviour and excessive noise the BMXers would cause, arguing at 300m length it will be the largest track in the county and 4 car parking spaces will be insufficient to cope with additional traffic to cater for all the cyclists.

However Just Around The Corner (JAC) Youth Ambassador Melissa Duncan maintained it would be a complete letdown after all the effort which had gone into the plans, especially to the younger people who had turned out to show their support.

LibDem Cllr Tahir Maher points out the politics behind the issue, explaining that it is necessary to balance the concerns and "be fair to all".

Update: It is subsequently reported that one of the conditions for the go-ahead to be given for the BMX was a ban on regional or national events at the location. A review on parking measures has also been planned after 12 months.
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The Rich Man

On Tuesday BBC4 broadcast a biographical documentary of local businessman Sir John Madejski.

Ian Denyer recorded his subject over a period of three years, concluding when he recieved his knighthood at Buckingham Palace earlier this year.

Sean O'Grady reviewed the programme in the Independent newspaper. He felt it was a disappointment, describing it as 'prosaic' and with large gaps in it filled with 'gawping'.

On the other hand I felt this stylisation reflected a deeper psychological truth about him, which subtly hinted at the drives motivating his desire for success.

Meanwhile Woz writes more succinctly, summing up how he saw a town and a man he didn't recognise.

Update: Reading Post collects Sir John's response to the final version of the film. He is phegmatic about being made to look 'a bit pervy', but despite some 'inaccuracies' he has no regrets about it, as the insights he hoped to offer and the issues he hoped to raise are now in the public domain.
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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Recommended Reading List #33

Ben Duckworth discusses crime figures with a contemporary allusion to Baltimore-on-Thames - surely he can't have visited some of the vacants off the Oxford Rd?

Or was he just filing his report on a speech by the opposition's shadow Home Secretary 'the western district way'?

Interestingly he notes that despite homicide rates falling 17%, while crime rates have generally fallen by 5%, public perception of an unhelpful 'broken Britain' narrative means 3 out of every 4 people now inaccurately think the UK is getting ever more dangerous.

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Update: Cllr Prue Bray says the ridiculous statements made by Conservative Chris Grayling is indicative of how they damage communities by ramping up fear of crime.
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Friday, 21 August 2009

Reading West Selection Up In Air

The battle to replace Martin Salter as MP for Reading West has taken a new twist as LibDem candidate Patrick Murray unexpectedly stood down earlier this week.

According to a statement he explained that time pressures meant he was not able to effectively combine his duties as an Oxford city councillor with his commitment to campaigning. He paid his tributes and explained:
"as I live and work in Oxford I have found that I have not been able to give as much of my time to the residents of Reading West as I should have liked."
Conservative commentators have already jumped to the conclusion that Cllr Murray is leaving the local LibDems in the lurch and that this is a sign of their disarray and 'turmoil'. Cllr Willis is particularly confident this places the seat as a straight two-way contest between Conservative and Labour challengers in which his colleague Alok Sharma is almost certain to win against Labour's 'gaffe-prone' Naz Sarkar.

Meanwhile popular Battle Ward Councillor, Tony Jones, who resigned several decades of Labour party membership in 2008 is not so sure!

He calls for 'a real alternative on election day' - dropping his biggest hint yet that he is preparing to stand as a candidate in Reading West.

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Update: In the Reading Post, Cllr Murray denied that he had been pressured to stand down by party activists hoping to put in a stronger showing as commentators continue predict Labour meltdown.

LibDem activist blog LibDem Voice reports Patrick Murray's decision not to contest the general election, with commenters raising the concern that restrictions limiting the field of potential candidates may not be a good thing.

Cllr Jones has announced he will not stand for re-election in Battle ward, thereby freeing him up to devote resources to a constituency fight.

Reading Post notes that Cllr Jones previously stated it would not be right to stand for council and parliament at the same time.

Former Labour MP for Reading East, Jane Griffiths repeats an unattributed rumour that Reading West LibDems may be lining up to support an 'independent' candidate.

Oranjepan says:
With his experience Cllr Jones isn't interested in helping lifelong opponents, and it is a given he has some indications that he has a realistic chance of putting up a strong fight in Reading West. So all that we're waiting for is the announcement that he will!
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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Campaign Update: Save The Bath Road Reservoir!

The summer recess is the typical time for planners to submit controversial planning applications, and so it proved again as Thames Water subsidiary Kennet Properties applied to build 96 homes on the 5.4 acre Bath Rd Reservoir site.

Meanwhile, Coley Park schoolchildren have become engaged in ongoing community-wide efforts to save the idyllic urban oasis and the architectural gem at it's heart.

Campaigner Mel Woodward expressed the dismay which hit him when he saw the application, "From what we have seen this new application is no different to the one that was withdrawn," adding that this proved they hadn't listened to local views, despite representations including Conservative PPC Alok Sharma.

Thames Water's Margaret Grey attempted to defend the decision, explaining that Reading's Labour council 'earmarked' the site for redevelopment as long ago as 1996 and the proposal would create new construction jobs and address the shortage of family homes in the borough.

She argued that the company had undertaken statutory consultation.

Significantly, she also stated that "We owe it to our customers to get the best price for this land," suggesting that shareholder profits would not be sacrificed as the company continued to maintain and update it's network.

The alternative, she explained would be to simply abandon site, "letting it deteriorate and become unsafe."

Petworth Court resident John Howes noted the uniqueness of the location,
"It has not been polluted by chemicals or earlier building and it forms a resting and feeding haven on an established wildlife corridor which runs along the adjoining railway line"
and completely dismissed the idea that it is 'a typical brownfield site'.

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Update: Labour party representatives have written to Reading Borough Council to ask for consultations to be extended into November from the current September 14th deadline.

Reading West MP Martin Salter said he was "not accusing anyone of seeking to rush this application through or avoid proper public scrutiny."

Oranjepan says:
This is a special location which requires a special solution.

Purely economic considerations will have a massively detrimental effect on the quality of life of future generations in this highly developed area. If Reading has aspirations to become a city, it is exactly this sort of location which requires imagination.

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History: Former Reservoir Is A Green Lung
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Monday, 17 August 2009

Campaign Update: Save Pincents Hill!

West Berkshire Council have confirmed that they have extended the consultation period for the controversial planning application at Pincents Hill. Letters and comments can now be sent by letter or online until Friday September 18th.

If you wish to write remember to include a name and address and send your comment to: Planning Service, West Berkshire Council, Market Street, Newbury RG14 5LD

Alternatively you can email www.westberks.gov.uk/planapps

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At a packed out meeting at the Calcot Centre over 100 people came to register their opposition and support Tilehurst Parish Council's decision to formally oppose the plans.

Cllr Gardner noted Tilehurst's experience with planning battles and the need for solid grounds of objection:
"We are objecting to the principle of building on a greenfield site which is a strategic gap and is outside the settlement boundary."
SCAG chairperson Joan Lawrie was pleased that Tilehurst Parish Council now opposed development on Pincents Hill and hoped this new community unity would help fight off Blue Living, warning that "the fight isn't over yet."

West Reading parliamentary candidates Alok Sharma (Conservative) and Naz Sarkar (Labour were also on hand to show their support for residents as they tried to help their election bids.

Current Labour Reading West MP Martin Salter had blamed Conservative councillors in West Berkshire for not excluding the site from areas with the potential for development, and Naz Sarkar repeated the partisan attack, calling his opponent Alok Sharma an 'apologist' for a party which wants to dump on Reading.

Meanwhile Birch Copse's Cllr Joe Mooney (Con) expressed concern that he wasn't able to speak at the meeting to explain why he voted in favour of the plans to allow development and "to show... active support for real local democracy in action."

Elsewhere Tilehurst borough councillor Ricky Duveen excused himself from the petty wrangling and expressed his suspicion that the reasons why the planning application was submitted over the summer was to try to dampen the public outcry.

Another Public Meeting will be held in the main hall of Little Heath School on September 1st.

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Update: Holybrook Parish councillors have also formally objected to the plans.
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History: Political dispute; Housing in Kennet Valley; Planning application lodged
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Sunday, 16 August 2009

Picture: Across The Muddy Banks Of The Thames


Thanks to the person who pointed out this hazy, impressionistic masterpiece of Maidenhead Bridge by JMW Turner - it's even slightly oranjey!
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Friday, 14 August 2009

Round-Up: Health Battle Causes Election Headache

Local Labour blogger Andy Peacock has published an (ill-fitting) button describing how his party is attempting to coordinate a political campaign around healthcare and the NHS as a means to reestablish their electability.

As Elizabeth Thomas describes, this fits in with the "increasingly bitter debate over President Obama's healthcare reforms". She stimulated an 4-nation discussion about the issue of insurance vs tax-funded healthcare, which as one commenter notes has helped "counter the disinformation" surrounding the subject.

Meanwhile LibDem blogger Cllr Warren Swaine digs into the causes of this sudden outburst of debate - and finds tory party activist favorite Dan Hannan MEP has been attacking the pillar of the welfare state.

On Sky News' anchorman blog, Reading-born Adam Boulton covers the emerging dispute (though more often than not from an editorial position).

Firstly Mr Hannan was interviewed on US TV to provide an 'objective' right-wing analysis in support of the Republican party cause, which was quickly responded to from the left by John Prescott.

Sky News then asked whether Mr Hannan's characterisation of the NHS as congentitally failing at a most basic level is actually a fair representation of the truth, also noting how the attack is a godsend for Labour, given their perception as the defender of the institution - which then health minister (and former Britwell postman) Alan Johnston MP reinforced when he toured RBH after assuming the position.

Ruth Barnett then reports on Labour's use of a twitter campaign to circle their wagons as the political backlash began, which they hope will reinvogorate their demoralised base.

Meanwhile the man himself points out the inescapable conclusion that the fluent expression of tory ideology is massively off-putting for the wider electorate and the divisions in the party that this exposes is causing a headache for Conservative leaders.

Oranjepan asks:
Will David Cameron make a sacrifice of the sacred cow of the NHS, or excommunicate the golden idol of his faithful?

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Update: That other national institution, the BBC reports current Health Sectretary Andy Burnham weighed in to denounce Mr Hannan, pointing out that total expenditure on the healthcare in the UK is approximately half of that in the US.

Conservative party leader David Cameron called Mr Hannan's views 'eccentric' as he attempted to fight the fire threatening his electoral chances of becoming Prime Minister.

Howard Thomas asks: would Hannan decline a tax-payer funded ambulance?

Steve Borthwick notes how Stephen Hawking became enmeshed in the furore when he was honoured by President Obama recently.

Explaining that this debate is wrapped in misinformation, Steve says, "the inference that the UK operates some Orwellian euthanasia scheme via the public health service is frankly disgusting".

Meanwhile, Kezia Obama (Barack Obama's stepmother - who lives in Bracknell) has come out with praise for the NHS in the News Of The World.

Former Slough policeman Michael Pinkstone calls it 'bad timing' on his part that he had to pay for an accidental cut to be stitched up in a Canadian walk-in clinic.

Elizabeth Thomas is impressed by Janice Turner in the Times, who dismisses Daniel Hannan as a 'marginal self-publicist'.

Bracknell Blog reminds us how proposed reforms in the NHS are actually affecting services on the ground within the Berkshire East PCT area - it means downgrading Ascot's Heatherwood Hospital to pay for expensive specialist services and leaving many local people without basic services.

Reading's two Labour PPCs perk up from their recent silence to point out that Conservative shadow health minister, Andrew Lansley MP, has provided the official party line - that they intend to slash wages of health workers as part of an overall 10% cut in spending. In other words, Mr Hannan does not represent an isolated view within the Conservatives, but actually represents the mainstream opinion of activists (although where that leaves Mr Cameron is not stated).

Windsor LibDems report the front-page news in The Observer detailing the extent of anti-NHS sentiment on the opposition frontbench.

Mark Thompson returns to derride the politicised nature of this debate. He says while there is some merit in reforms which give patients choice as a mechanism which will drive up standards, the focus has so far been all on finances, and whether 'reform' means cuts in spending.

The flawed discussion descended into a slanging match, Mark reckons, as a direct consequence of partisan misrepresentations which missed the point of the real and substantial debate.

Finally, over on his Telegraph Blog, the south-east England MEP makes his excuses while congratulating himself for the ability to create a firestorm.

He also makes it clear that this is not a row about personality by advertising his book on the subject (price £10 from Amazon), before allowing his ego to assert that 'dispassionate discussion of healthcare' will only be possible after he returns from holiday in France on August 25th.
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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Don't Forget The Gurkhas

In some news from afar, Sundar Khanal reports on former Mayor of Reading, Cllr Peter Beard, who, as founder of The Forgotten Gurkha Charity, has travelled to Kathmandu as part of the charity's campaign 'to orient and assist' the settlement transition of Gurkhas.


Watch him speak from 1:48 - 2:35

You can find out more about the charity by visiting it's website here: The Forgotten British Gurkha

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For more on the history of the Gurkha campaign to win the right of settlement click here.
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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Slough Promises Invisible Footprint

Slough has become the latest council to sign the Nottingham Declaration in a ceremony on Monday 10th August.

Slough Borough Council leader, Labour's Cllr Rob Anderson said, "We are committed to making Slough a cleaner, greener town, and part of that pledge includes reducing the council's impact on the environment."

Over 300 councils have signed up so far, and some may wonder why the delay, but Slough is not just stopping there - east Berkshire's less glamorous relation has used the opportunity to go much further and joined 13 other cities across the world to form the UN's Climate Neutral Network.

Slough's strategic director for improvement and development, Roger Parkin, explained that energy efficiency is not only good for the planet, but it will also help reduce your utility bills.

The move pushes the town to the forefront of global environmental efforts alongside luminaries like Vancouver, Sydney and Rizhao as the main UK representative for the Copenhagen Climate Conference later this year. It places additional burdens on local service providers and businesses, including ICI and Mars, although the pledge to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2028 is more modest than Vancouver's pledge to be completely carbon neutral by 2012.

Quentin Given of Friends of the Earth called it great news, but warned that to be treated seriously they must be more ambitious.

Meanwhile leader of Slough's opposition Conservative group Cllr Peter Dale-Gough ridiculed the move as a waste of time and a political stunt, saying "How can we even begin to compete with Sydney, we haven't even got a bridge."

"The lunatics have finally taken over the asylum," he said, and called it a "flight of fancy" which was "an incredible waste of money".

Meanwhile it has been noted that Slough has come up with three programmes which it thinks those businesses and service providers will accept as achievable target, including a proposal for greener fuel for the towns' bus fleet (which are operated privately by the First Group), compared to 53 programmes in Sydney.

Oranjepan says:
Slough has been chosen for political purposes by those with vested interest in power and is being objected to for political purposes by those with a vested interest in profit - it's a worthy plan with a less than worthy political debate, and may end up causing any efforts to be worthless.

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Update: Cousin Gideon Mack notes some interesting statistics from fellow Nottingham Declaration signee, Reading Borough Council - drawing the obvious conclusion that there is still a lot of simple things which can be done.
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Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Reviewing The Berkshire Blogosphere

Having collected a wide selection of local blogs to monitor and found a means to rank their performance, my next job it to start reviewing them one by one, which you can find here.

So just to start off with I'll review this blog to show readers how I'll be doing it.

If you want to add your review of this blog or suggest another local site for review, please do so in the comments section.

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Title: Reading List
Publisher: Oranjepan
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Berkshire blog ranking: 5th (July 2009)
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Type: Community hub
Focus: General, local and current affairs
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Sample posting: Mixed Reception For Rebranded Radio Station (March 26th, 2009)
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Style: (1.5 out of 2pts)
Largely impersonal compare and contrast. Tries to be impartial and objective. Some humour.

Specialisms: (1.5 out of 2pts)
Particularly interested in personal and party political views. Several regular and irregular features.

Regularity: (2 out of 2pts)
Mostly daily.

Multi-media: (1 out of 2pts)
Occasional photos and video.

Interactivity: (1.5 out of 2pts)
Large number of links, active in comments section.

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Total rating: (7.5 out of 10pts)
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Quote this: "An excellent digest of the thoughts of local bloggers" (from Reading Guide)

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Saturday, 8 August 2009

Cav Court Completed

Bagpipes, a jazz band, Punch & Judy show and other entertainments were on hand to mark the reopening on Caversham Court after a long-overdue £1.6m renovation with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It marked the culmination of a career in local politics and the highlight of his year as Mayor of Reading for Mapledurham's Cllr Fred Pugh, who was obviously delighted with the outcome.



Cllr Dave Luckett attended the reopening to support his colleague and came away beaming with enthusiasm for one of Reading's 'hidden gems'.

Meanwhile Reading's executive member for culture & sport, Cllr Graeme Hoskin, described the opening as a "lovely, lively afternoon" and said that the Gardens were "looking absolutely stunning thanks to the makeover."

Reading Guide was also in attendance to record the event for posterity with an album of photos shot under glorious sunshine.

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Update: Reading East MP Rob Wilson tries to show he has a sense of humour.

Police Charged With Corruption

Following on from previous allegations of corruption in officialdom, Readers will be concerned to discover two enforcers of the law are to be charged with wilful misconduct in public office, possession and intent to supply cocaine.

Thames Valley Police officer, PC Matthew Alan Kille, and Police Community Support Officer, Lisa Slavin, both based at Slough Police station, will appear at Swindon Magistrates Court on August 20th after a 3-month investigation by the Police's Professional Standards Department.

Three other Police officers have been released from bail while investigations continue into another female officer and a member of Police staff.

'Wilful misconduct in public office' is a relatively recent introduction onto the statute book following recommendations made in the 1997 Nolan Committee report primarily regarding clarification of the offence of bribery. It is a notoriously difficult charge to prosecute, but coming off the back of the case of Mabey & Johnson it appears that the law is finally coming to terms with the insidious and damaging effects of corruption.

Sources: BBC, Maidenhead Advertiser

Friday, 7 August 2009

Taking A Break, Or Not

It' s that time of year again when everyone packs their bags and sets off for a period of rest and recuperation, although politicians also appear to use their holidays as a time for reflection.

Earlier this year columnists were predicting 2009 to be the year of the 'staycation' as the recession took hold of pocket-books and purses. The Local Government Association even went so far as to deliberately confuse the meaning of the term by spotting an opportunity to promote domestic tourism.

A popular (and cheap) alternative according to local bloggers is a cycling tour - with Graeme and Myra Thiessen circling Cornwall in the saddle, while Andrew Sykes decided to undertake the more arduous if equally scenic Pennine Cycleway in preparation for a more ambitious trip to Brindisi next year.

But for bloggers the vexing question of whether to also take a break from blogging is posed by Graham Jones.

Berkshire's top blogger, Mark Thompson, fully justifies that title by reaching a similar conclusion to our local Internet Psychologist independently of him - he had already devised a strategy to keep his site up-to-date while he was away in the land of horrendous mobile charges.

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Update: Even though Crookham Rise's Clive Davis won't be able to satisfy his hankering for Rio he is definitely taking a break from his duties at The Spectator.

Nick Baggott decides that his CRM blog can mind its' own business.

Emily decides to leave her Treetops and visit the beautiful Dorset coastline.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Top of the Berkshire Blogs - July 2009

There have been some significant movers since last month.

Mark Reckons continues his astonishing march up the charts by overtaking Wokingham's Conservative MP to become the No1 Berkshire blogger - and it looks like he's not stopping there!

Nationally-renowned communications professional Neville Hobson jumps into the top-5, while Cllr Dave Luckett makes a spectacular leap (90%) as the main beneficiary of the scoop interview fed to Conservatives by BBC Berkshire presenter Andew Peach which had Labour candidate Naz Sarkar digging himself into a hole.

Elizabeth Thomas, Tony Partridge, June Stoute, The Rock God and Flashing Blade all got into the swing of things with significant rises, but overall the main theme appears to be the continuing consolidation over the top of the chart by elected politicians as demonstrated by Thatcham's Cllr Lee Dillon.

But less of the preambles - here's the ranked list according to Wikio: -

#21 - Mark Reckons (+10)
#47- John Redwood's Diary (-19)
#95 - Boulton & Co (-21)
#230 - Neville Hobson.com (+812)
#253 - Reading List (+56)
#280 - Richard Willis's Blog (+79)
#452 - Bracknell Blog (+81)
#486 - Redlands Libdems (-3)
#652 - Clive Davis (+28)
#654 - Cllr Ricky Duveen (+363)
#655 - Scaryduck (-206)
#674 - Jane Is The One (-27)
#682 - Was Was 'ere (+277)
#885 - naws (-34)
#894 - Cllr Prue Bray (+118)
#918 - Want to be a free thinker, but still a nice person (+1895)
#920 - Cllr Dave Luckett (+8548)
#958 - Green Reading (-106)
#1012 - Reading Roars (-298)
#1156 - Sean Green's Blog (-593)
#1284 - Cllr Glenn Goodall (-576)
#1336 - Gideon Mack - Orangutan (-321)
#1356 - Andy Peacock (-152)
#1393 - windsorfirestation.co.uk (+317)
#1529 - Para//elism (+13314)
#1610 - Bloggy Blanc (-405)
#1622 - British Royal Wedding (+1991)
#1638 - NYOOTW (-752)
#1705 - DTT's Memoirs (+13586)
#1790 - Through A Peep Hole (+13873)
#1847 - gCO2e (-831)
#1895 - Cllr Lee Dillon (+28048)
#1932 - Grasp The Mettle (-854)
#1933 - David Burbage's Weblog (-854)
#1987 - The Flashing Blade (+7480)
#2100 - Right To Common Sense (-896)
#2262 - Beasley's Place (-941)
#2541 - Thames Valley Mums Blog (-900)
#2707 - Ticking To A Different Tock (-999)
#2708 - Windsor Judo Club (-999)
#2709 - EJBC (-998)
#3569 - Marketing By Permission (-1343)
#3705 - Libertarian Party South East (-1993)
#4024 - The Mysterious World Of Matt Blackall (-1318)
#4025 - Adrian Hollister (-1318)
#4026 - East Berkshire Green Party (-1318)
#5166 - Ramblings of a Pheasant Plucker (-1004)
#5167 - Berkshire Websites (+661)
#5168 - Berkeley Blog (+1476)
#5169 - Thames Rail (+3538)
#5170 - matthewmillen.co.uk (+3647)
#5171 - Sophie Berkshire Escort (+3987)
#5172 - The Age Of Stupidity (+4294)
#5173 - Cllr Emma Warman (+4296)
#5174 - Brian Moore - KAMInsighter (+6038)
#5175 - The Timber Yard (+8304)
#5176 - ClayHill Newbury (+9090)
#5177 - Ramblings of the Bum-Nosed Weasel (+9108)
#5178 - berkshireborn (+9118)
#5179 - Basildon Blog (+9138)
#5180 - Greening St John's (+9316)
#5181 - Volunteering With RISC (+9327)
#5182 - Prof Will Hughes (+9339)
#5183 - z0man's Political Thoughts (+9375)
#5184 - Treetops - One-day Classes in Newbury (+9596)
#5185 - Sport Minded (+9597)
#5186 - my random rants (+9642)
#5187 - Knit Happens In Newbury (+9678)
#5188 - hang-on (+9685)
#5189 - Owt4Nowt (+9767)
#5190 - The rise and rise of social media in UK retail (+10013)
#5191 - mishaps (+10049)
#5192 - what's the idea (+10141)
#5193 - dot.green (+10167)
#5194 - Slouching Towards Thatcham (+10410)
#5195 - Woz Write's (+10418)
#5196 - Stumbling blocks to stepping stones (+10476)
#5197 - Let's push the big red button anyway (+10514)
#5198 - Some Thoughts (+10518)
#7277 - Goring-on-Thames (-1213)
#14529 - The Blogshire of Thiessen's on Thames (New Entry)
#14726 - Kurly Wurly (-292)
#14775 - Yasmin (-281)
#14858 - Magic Photography (-257)
#15088 - Macbeth Insurance Brokers (-176)
#15163 - Reading Youth Sikh Association (-150)
#15167 - Reading Toy Run (-150)
#15307 - Scribblings (-166)
#15441 - Jazz From Geoff (-57)
#15696 - View From The Tower Of London (-16)
#15705 - John Llewellyn Blogs France (-15)
#15706 - John Llewellyn Blogs (-15)
#29002 - WendyHouse (New Entry)
#29003 - Katesgrove Libdems (New Entry)
#29004 - Independent Jones (New Entry)
#29005 - Naz Sarkar (New Entry)
#29007 - Puglia2010 (New Entry)
#29009 - The Reading Fan (New Entry)
#29010 - sheepdrove (New Entry)
#29011 - 106 points and 99 points (New Entry)
#29012 - Phil Spray (New Entry)
#29015 - Baba Mzungu (New Entry)
#29016 - Jim Anning (New Entry)
#29017 - PKS Property blog (New Entry)
#29018 - thamesvalley.org.uk (New Entry)
#29019 - Bucolic Frolics (New Entry)
#29028 - Visions of Future Past (New Entry)

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Of course no ranking system will ever be definitive so Reading List encourages all bloggers to participate and apply to add their blog to the Wikio directory - the more the merrier.

If you are a Berkshire blogger or you know of a site you think we may have missed, please let us know in the comments section.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Round-up: Discussing Appropriate Social Media Behaviour

Almost as if on cue, Cllr Willis raises the issue of a mooted code of conduct for politicians and their use of social media.

He cites the current state of regulation, as covered by the current councillors code of conduct and libel laws, before asking - somewhat rhetorically - whether his blog should be regulated. He then goes on to argue - somewhat contradictorily - that anything which seeks to constrain freedom of expression should not be to the detriment of the public interest.

He says that changes proposed by Thanet council seem to set a 'heavy-handed' precedent and adjudges them premature.

However, with Whitehall recently having published a 20-page document governing the use of Twitter [ref], a number of local proposals around the country addressing the issue ahead of the Standards Board for England's consideration of new statutory measures at its national conference in October [ref] and Japan using electoral law to control public communications during forthcoming elections [ref] (among many others), the matter could hardly be more current.

In Berkshire there have been a number of cases where behaviour isn't exemplary, and the issue of anonymous comments by members of all sides (including on this site) means that transparency and accountability aren't always absolute.

Primary among examples is Cllr Swaine's MuckspReading which provided a regular diet of satire and spoofs. Although a standards board hearing concluded the present code did not apply in that specific case the site was voluntarily discontinued as it was clearly becoming a conflict of interest as he became an active voice on council committees.

Meanwhile Cllr Swaine identifies another casualty of the fray.

He describes Tyler's World Of Reading as a "Standard Tory rant masquerading as humour", which was signed off by it's author (the pseudonymous self-styled voice of the ordinary oppressed common man, 'Wat Tyler') in a move which he states "will become apparent in good time."

Reading List understands Andrew Waters intends to restand as the Conservative councillor candidate for Abbey Ward, but was reminded of previous online indiscretions and therefore decided to avoid causing further damage to his side.

According to Jane Griffiths' inside information Labour activists have been officially warned off engaging with the public through social media, though whether this is because they fear additional electoral damage to that suggested by polls or because the party bosses don't trust their ordinary members is not known.

More generally Gil S provides an interesting discussion of the issues from a non-partisan Quaker perspective. She notes how Facebook and blogging require a strategic vision, concluding that it is better to be safe than sorry as it is impossible to know exactly what effect words may have on those who hear them.

Meanwhile Theale Village provides a succinct introduction to Twitter, arguing that there is always value in any communication however small, and inferring that education is the only real way to raise standards and get best value from the service.

Elsewhere in the professional sphere a whole industry has been built out of providing advice on how and what to say through social media communication channels - any of which should be consulted by a hesitant n00b.

Nikki Pilkington rounds up the three main areas of social media with a collection of links including some of the pitfalls.

Maidenhead-based eCommerce professional James Gurd gives an excellent summary of the main concepts to grasp when using social media, Aldermaston communications expert Graham Jones shows his unswerving expertise by describing how to make it work for you, while Wokingham's nationally reknowned communications guru Neville Hobson provides a collection of best practices.

The name of the game is relationship-building, and that means a bit of give and take on each side - Ant Hodges recalls a talk given by Grant Leboff to a Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce lunch, while Nigel Morgan singles-out the bad netiquette of one Newbury estate agent for a free lesson (learnt).

Carloyn Williams and tinnion are clearly worried about the distancing effect, but agree that spreading a bit of positive charisma is the best way to get your personality across, while Katharine Robinson reminds us that not everything can be policed or controlled.

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Jim Anning helpfully resorts to diagrams to show us what he means.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Twittergate

...is what it's being called.

Conservative executive member in West Berkshire and Purley-on-Thames representative Cllr David Betts is facing strong criticism after he unleashed a barrage of offensive comments against his political opponents via social-media microblogging network Twitter.

The incident started when Theale's Cllr Alan Macro (LibDem) gave an interview on local radio station 107fm on June 23rd regarding the recently lodged outline planning application for Pincent's Hill and White Hart Meadow.

Cllr Betts wrote the update:
"Woke to Alan Macro talking bollocks on 107FM. Failed to point out we are consulting on housing in Theale, or that it is Government imposed."
Cllr Macro soon responded that Cllr Betts' language was "immoderate, unnecessary and did not conform to his council's requirement to treat people with respect."

The war of words threatened to bubble over into official business, but council leader Cllr Graham Jones refused to take any questions on the potential subject of an official code of conduct when Cllr Betts presented a report into an ongoing review of the authority's ICT strategy.

Cllr Betts was less than penitant when he subsequently sent an apology to Cllr Macro, saying "you have to accept a bit of knocking about on Twitter" and "I've got to ask whether there was really anything to get upset about."

He then fired his second barrel of criticism by taking offence that his apology wasn't acknowledged.

Meanwhile local PR guru Nigel Morgan says 'shame on Cllr Betts' for his bad manners, and wryly notes how the inconsistency in the excuse of the "foul-beaked local politician" given Cllr Betts has "ignored repeated invites to join the debate over his own bad language on Twitter".

The Newbury-based Public Relations professional delved deeper into the episode and highlights Cllr Betts' self-description: "He calls himself a PR Consultant on his Twitter bio, but it doesn’t take a great deal of PR savvy to know becoming the story isn’t such great practice, especially online when it will be around long after..."

Another nugget of information came from Cllr Betts' discussion with ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomery, in which he was clearly seeking advice on how best to defuse the embarrassment caused. He Twittered: "On reflection, I should not have used the term, for which I apologise. However, mountains and molehills spring to mind."

Nigel Morgan compares Cllr Bett's online habits to that of a stroppy teenager and forcefully argues that this is completely inapropriate for a man in such a senior position in public office - and it is apperently far from being just a one-off slip from a grumpy old man who woke up on the wrong side of bed!

Using the case as an example of bad practice in social media he concludes: "Don’t swear on Twitter. (Especially if you are an elected councillor!)" and "Don’t swear in business... unless you really have to!"

And just to reiterate the consensus view within the industry, Swindon-based Ant Hodges is emphatic: "Swearing does not belong in any professional business context."
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