Thursday, 24 March 2011

EDL hit the streets in Reading

Politics came to the streets of Reading last weekend as the proto-racial English Defence League staged a march from Reading Station to rally outside the Old Town Hall.

Participants explained they were stating their opposition to the 'Islamification' of the country and described the Oxford Road mosque as an "absolute eyesore" which they don't want replicated in East Reading.

Official estimates of 200 attendees were met with a heavy police presence and about 50 anti-EDL protesters as onlookers described "a real feeling of menace and intimidation" surrounding the event.

EDL-supporter and anti-EU campaigner European Freedom Initiative was clearly proud of the turn-out, publishing a digital photo-album from the event.

Leader of Reading Borough Council Cllr Andrew Cumpsty condemned the activities of a small minority of 'hateful' voices, stating that nobody who preaches division has a place in civilised political debate, emphasising how "In Reading we celebrate all the varied parts of our town."

Indeed leaders of all three political groups on RBC maintained an officially-united front in support of political pluralism.

However the cracks in the facade were visible as Labour activist Richard McKenzie was "shocked, frustrated and disgusted" that the EDL are advertising their existence at all with their 'frightening' and 'apalling' opinions.

Via email while attempting to build a response, the Reading Against Racism group argues,
"Dont be fooled. We dont need no 'english' defence league. We only need working-class defence...[to] unite ordinary people of all backgrounds and support us to resist inequality, poverty, exploitation, authoritarianism and division."

On the other hand Jane Griffiths explains this is a counter-productive and contradictory attitude, as banning unacceptable views is authoritarian and simply plays directly into the hands of the intolerant by driving them into the shadows where they can't be challenged - and it certainly doesn't deal with any real concerns they may have.

Coincidentally Cllr Swaine also suggests the EDL may be approaching politics in completely the wrong way. As he says, drawing on the individual experience of suffering is a good way to identify shared universal truths but particular facts are easily obscured through mis-interpretation and re-interpretation, especially by those with wilfully ignorant, selfish or malicious motives.

And the plain intention of the march and rally was to try to stimulate a negative response, as an EDL spokesman indicated with a series of accusations,
"There are 12 Islamic centres in Reading and that's fine, within the Muslim community that's fine - but the trouble with the Muslim community is they don't want to interact with our ways and our laws and they start preaching their hate."
Meanwhile Reading Muslim Council showed how they're engaging with the suburban middle-classes as Berkshire Humanists advertise an Islamic Exhibition hosted at the Oakwood Centre in Woodley from 5-7th May.

Nonetheless full social integration still has some way to go, as Reading Council for Racial Equality's Ejaz Elahi expressed some reservations about the nature of identity,
"Obviously the Muslim community is unhappy about it. They don't like to be picked on by people who don't even belong to Reading."
Reading Police commander, Supt Stuart Greenfield, confirmed over 80 officers were on duty and no arrests were made on the day. He described the police's role in maintaining public order as a success, adding that officers mainly kept to a watching brief, before concluding,
"It's a democracy, people have the right to peacefully protest - but that's the key, it's about peaceful protest."


Oranjepan says:
EDL has recently been stepping forward with a series of political rallies as it tries to build popular momentum as a political force and potentially stand candidates at future elections.

Just seven arrests were made in Luton as 5,000 EDL supporters were confronted by the extreme Muslim group Islam4UK, but in Rochdale 31 arrests were the result of clashes between the 400 EDL supporters and 100 members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

Reading's public and authorities each deserve congratulations for preventing an outbreak of violence and disorder - it shows the high standards of local political debate and the value placed on contrasting viewpoints as a way to help produce constructive policy outcomes.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Round-up: The Power Generation

Events in Libya and Japan have caused Berkshire commentators to broach questions about the future of energy generation.


Across the spectrum

Eco-libertarian Robin Smith sets out the main groupings and attempts to position a safe nuclear option at the core of debate.

On the other side of the fence eco-authoritarian Adrian Windisch is implacably opposed to all nuclear sources. He describes Fukushima as a 'crisis' for the industry and hails the triumph of off-shore wind turbines which have 'kept the lights on'. He also highlights the theory of 'peak oil', using this populist argument against fossil fuel dependency to draw crowds, although he can't accurately predict at what level or when oil production will top out.

Meanwhile Darren Bridgeman provides a balanced summation of his party's position, arguing that nuclear can remain part of the energy mix provided it isn't shown any unfair favoritism and huge-scale commercial investments don't distort the energy production market, adding, "we can not just rely on green technology only at this point."

He may be surprised to find some overlap with Wokingham's John Redwood MP, who makes his support plain for greater efficiency and capacity on the grounds that this provides greater security and self-sufficiency.

However the arch-capitalist says that much will depend on Mr Huhne's judgement in setting the prices for the 'carbon floor' and any carbon taxes. He urges caution and says he should make careful consideration of all the facts.

Many overlooked the coalition government's new energy policy and carbon plan when it was recently announced as it got bounced by the more immediate and visceral events, all despite David Cameron's assertive attempt to attract attention by laying claim to be 'the greenest government ever'.

Adrian Windisch was first off the mark to report on the announcements, but he could hardly have been more scathing, using the phrase 'shambles', alongside what he calls a 'dodgy definition of zero' and a quote from his party leader of 'flimsy greenwash'.

Then in a strange twist he says he can't give his support to the plans because they are 'not ambitious enough'.

Elsewhere I also have a look at the same policies, and conclude that the reforms are generally positive, but the claims made for them are probably a bit too bold.

What's required is a sense of proportion and appropriateness.

So it's also worth having a look at what's happening around the county.


Solar power

St George's Church in Newbury has been praised by former Archbishop of Canterbury as an environmental leader, after it installed 129 photo-voltaic solar panels to become the first 'carbon-neutral' church in the whole country. Rev. George Carey said he hoped it would become a 'beacon' for others - you can check out some pictures of the panels on the blog set up for this purpose.

The initiative has certainly helped inspire parishioners to raise money as £40,000 was donated towards the £900,000 costs within 12 hours of opening the appeal.

In Reading Rachel Eden debates the merits of installing solar panels on her own roof, before concluding it is worth the investment on educational grounds as much as anything else.


Wind power

Controversy was raised recently when UKIP released figures showing wind generation doesn't pay its own way. The totemic turbine at Green Park in south Reading runs at 17% capacity and consequently requires a £30,000 annual subsidy from taxpayers.

And the new development of a 4-turbine wind farm at Rushy Mead near Arborfield is stirring opposition as residents say they haven't been consulted and the location may not be ideal.

But over in West Berkshire Adrian Hollister bemoans NIMBY's who threaten a new wind turbine at Sheepdrove Farm on the Lambourne Downs. He argues it is short-sighted not to ensure every farm has a wind generator and every new house maximises self-generation capacity.


Hydro power

Berkshire may be landlocked, but that hasn't stopped community activists from dipping into the well of history to infuse their imagination.

After previous suggestions to Newbury Town Council and West Berkshire Borough Council fell by the wayside, a discussion on Newbury Forum raised the prospect of using the Kennet and Avon to generate water power.

Greenham Mill previously supplied a constant source of electricity to the town in the early part of the last century, and over 200 businesses could benefit from fresh proposals which could be brought about as part of the government's Big Society scheme.

Mark Knight urged for a visible location to help transparency around the project,
"I think there is the interest, it is just about energising people and I think, we the people, can make it happen and make a sense of community."
The plan has been given impetus by the Sustainable Newbury group where supporter Cllr Roger Hunneman expressed concern about the possibility of exhorbitant capital costs, but was buioyed by attendees at a public meeting who suggested these could easily be surmounted if local experts volunteered their assistance.


Oranjepan says:
As Darren Bridgeman aptly explained,
"Those that don't want wind farms on their doorstep also wouldn't want a coal fire or nuclear power station in it's place. Energy generation is not pretty, but we all use it and all need it."
...so, to be able to understand how things can be used in our best interests we need to be able to reconnect with where they come from - and that includes our energy sources!

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More local environment stories

Monday, 14 March 2011

Newsweek

Newsweek is an edited selection of local news, as reported elsewhere in the week to 11th March:


Spring smiles were brought out everywhere for the gratuitous pancake races of Shrove Tuesday!

Lent is traditionally a time of self-sacrifice for a higher purpose, and deferred gratification commonly takes the form of altruism, compassion and charitable giving - need is sadly something which never goes away so concern is rightly drawn to the fact that ever more people are becoming dependant upon generosity and goodwill.

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Previous Newsweeks

Forever FA

#ReadingFC - 755 down, only 4 clubs remaining. But the Royals won't be among them after suffering elimination.

A tight fought contest saw Reading come away from Eastlands with a narrow defeat at the hands of globetrotting billionaires Manchester City in the 6th Round of the FA Cup.

England international defender Micah Richards scored the 73rd-minute winner in the 1-0 result as David Silva was man-of-the-match.

Fans who can't get enough can check out all the reports collected via agg-bot.

With over 40,000 fans in attandance it was by long chalk the biggest game of the season so far for Berkshire's finest.

Stuart Croucher comments that the team stayed 'defiant and resilient' and "deservedly took the plaudits from the visiting supporters" to go home with "a genuine sense of pride".

Midfielder Jem Karacan definitely took the positives from the experience and the team hopes to use it as a stepping stone to move onwards and upwards.

In anticipation of the tie ReadingFanMan expressed his excitement at the challenge of knock-out competition and cautioned against making wholesale changes to the format which would remove the romance of playing against better teams. Despite only seeing a couple of giant-killings each year he says, "the magic is still there, you just need to know what you're looking for."

This chimes with manager Brian McDermott, who tasted Wembley success as a player with Arsenal in the late 1970s. He is a 'self-described cup-a-holic' who strongly defends the tradition of the historic tournament. Here he argues that "the Cup brings a lot of kudos" for teams such as Reading, adding, "what's not to love about it? Just leave it alone."

You can read his post-match analysis here.

The Royal's presence in the 6th Round of the FA Cup is put in context over on the official Reading FC site.

It was the fourth occasion that the club has reached the last-8 in 140 years, but after only managing the feat twice in the first 138 they offer a warm vote of confidence in Brian McDermott's leadership by stating it is "incredible" that they have repeated it in successive seasons in his short tenure.

But Reading may be able to look forward to further success in the future if the results of a recent survey are to be believed.

Data gathered by TrueKnowledge.com shows that of 1,323 English-born professionals to play in the top flight since the introduction of the Premiership in 1992 Berkshire ranks as the 4th highest county of origin. With 5.97 premiership footballers per 100,000 population Berkshire lags behind only traditional heartlands County Durham, North Yorkshire and Merseyside as the most common footballing hotbed in the country.

According to Coventry University's Prof. Simon Chadwick the figures reflect the level of 'social importance' attached to the national game in those areas and suggests the 'anomalous' appearance of Berkshire as a relatively high-income county in the chart may reflect the changing nature of the sport.

He explains this may signify the game is broadening it's appeal and is now being taken as a valid career path for children of more affluent backgrounds - although try telling that to Slough-born Brian McDermott!

Or it may just reflect his lack of appreciation for some of the good human structures in place locally which creates a consistently high standard of general play on the fields and parks in the county.

Efforts to discover and develop the next generation of talent continue as Reading FC recently extended a partnership scheme with St Crispin's School where it's hoped pupils can be inspired to reach the heights and possibly emulate local lads such as Arsenal's Theo Walcott or Stoke City's Dean Whitehead by performing on the highest stage.

Meanwhile current Reading winger Jobi McAnuff explains his plans to mentor aspiring pros to create opportunities for the less privileged and Chris Armstrong's experience has provided some real perspective on what's really important - all of which the current finance-obsessed establishment would do well to pay heed to.


Oranjepan says:
If Reading can continue to lead by example and enhance a burgeoning reputation within the game as an honest club where diverse personal ambitions can be harnessed to regularly reach the latter stages of tournaments it will eventually be less of a surprise when our local and national teams actually return one day with some serious trophies and are finally called deserving champions!

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More Sports stories

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Driven to despair

Berkshire motorists who suffer from a persecution complex will be feeling vindicated this week after a new survey placed Reading and Slough at the bottom of a national league table for 'car-friendliness'.

The story hit headlines across the media. Watch the ITV news report here.

Many of the more reactionary sources quoted the famous Betjeman line that Slough 'isn't fit for humans,' although it now seems isn't it fit for machines either!

Anyone who commutes through Sonning or along the Shinfield Road knows exactly what they're getting at. And a recent road rage incident on Richfield Avenue shows what effect the pressures can cause.

Reading dropped from 63rd to 65th-out-of-65 since 2010 while Slough fell one place to 61st according to the list compiled by insurer Virgin Money, which takes into account a range of criteria including vehicle crime, petrol prices, the average cost of parking for two hours and the number of speed cameras on main roads.

In the circulated press release Virgin spokesperson Grant Bather noted rises in fuel duty and VAT contributed to petrol price inflation of 20%, while on-going parking problems, speeding tickets and vehicle crime meant some "UK drivers can be forgiven for feeling as though they need to steer clear of urban areas."

He emphasised the role of local officials, saying, "not all towns and cities are the same and many local authorities do their best to ensure driver’s aren’t treated like second-class citizens."

There is hope though, as the West Bromwich's typically yo-yoing example shows what is possible, rising from 34th a year ago to 2nd in the most recent rankings.
 
RBC's Cabinet member for Transport, Cllr Richard Willis, identifies this as a political matter and puts the blame squarely on the previous Labour administration, describing how he is "very conscious that measures that have been taken over many decades have led Reading to be seen as car unfriendly," before pointing to a series of reforms which are already having a positive impact.

These include the removal of several sets of traffic lights across the borough to aid the flow of vehicles.

Tilehurst's Cllr Ricky Duveen explains a review of road management found a number of controlled junctions served 'no useful purpose'. He is clearly relieved, saying of one unpopular set in the Meadway, "they will not be missed."

But this doesn't amount to carte blanche for petrol-heads.

A 'Speedwatch' scheme will be expanded borough-wide after a successful trial by the East Tilehurst NAG. Volunteers are being given access to speed monitoring equipment to help identify registration numbers.

NAG chairperson David Webber offered praise to the efforts of residents, RBC and Thames Valley Police which has seen over 150 educational letters sent to speeding drivers. He said,
"The most impressive aspect was the number of motorists who supported the campaign by stopping and thanking those taking part in the initiative."
And action on rat-running is another a long-term campaigning issue.

Conservative Cllr Wazir Hussain is pleased to have a sympathetic administration to oversee the introduction of 20mph zones in residential roads, but the Green Party's Cllr Rob White attempts to claim personal credit for this policy.

Meanwhile the leader for neighbourhoods and renewal on Slough Borough Council, Labour's Cllr James Swindlehurst, attempted to defend his administration's record against the perceived attack, arguing that road safety and maintenance weren't taken sufficiently into account. He said:
"It is a shame a survey like this concentrates only on issues which involve the expenses incurred by car drivers rather than the whole experience of driving."

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More transport matters

Monday, 7 March 2011

Newsweek

Newsweek is an edited selection of local news, as reported elsewhere in the week to 4th March:


As local and national funding decisions filter through to their end targets in health, education, transport and other frontline areas the debate over whether authorities are 'cutting services to save millions' or 'cutting millions to save services' remains at the forefront of the media mind.

Those in the firing line may not be happy about it, but in the final reckoning and after all the consequences of our choices are explained to us it is still a public decision - and one over which we may get to have an even more direct say in the future!

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Previous Newsweeks

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Debating language

The war over words which broke out this week between the political parties has suddenly increased in intensity.

Reading Post reports on an exchange of emails between the three party leaders stemming from a remark which a leading Labour representative was forced to withdraw during the council debate.

Cllr Pete Ruhemann called his opponent a 'quisling' - in reference to the Norweigan wartime leader who submitted his nation to Germany. He stated this was a reference to apparent betrayal of principles and cited his own family history as a defence that he would never deliberately implicate associations with Nazi ideals, claiming it would be 'repugnant and unacceptable' to make light of historical atrocities in this way.

And in a comment on this site Labour's Cllr John Ennis appeared to back this up this line of reasoning with a suggestion that who you are matters more than what you say - he's obviously a bit miffed he doesn't know who writes this blog!

However, RCRE chair Rajinder Sophal started off the matter by pointing out that prejudice is colour-blind - meaning who you are and where you come from is irrelevant when placed against your behaviour.

For Gideon Mack the matter is also more about effect than intent.

As he says, calling a Labour MP a 'muppet' was intentionally negative and that the use of 'Is it because I is black?' was actually race-based, so despite it not being the most serious offence and irrespective whether or not it was accidental this conjunction still constitutes unacceptable racial prejudice.

Writing on his own blog the straight-talking Cllr Swaine seems to concede some wrong-doing, as he picks up on the intemperate language of Cllr Ruhemann. He says he was "wriggling like a worm on a hook" and that his defence seemed to be "but sir, he called us names first."

It's also worth remembering the systemic failings in the childrens services department which resulted in the scandal surrounding the Baby T case over which Cllr Ruhemann was himself forced to resign by those he is now criticising. So there may well be powerful personal motives at play.

Meanwhile Jane Griffiths notes the use of 'an apartheid-era idiom' by Cllr Jo Lovelock, which she says raises questions about calculated intent as the Labour leader came to the defence of her partner.

And Jane follows up with a forlorn critique of twentieth-century totalitarian epithets by offering a bemused imagining of breakfast table chatter in the Lovelock-Ruhemann household!

Elsewhere the Green party's Cllr Rob White expresses his frustration with the political bickering, explaining how Labour are suffering from 'heroic amnesia' as they attempt to cover-up their own failings by attacking the coalition administration.

He uses the opportunity to seize hold of the political language, arguing that Labour are 'contaminated' by their track record and are therefore unreliable opponents of Conservative-LibDem budget plans.


Oranjepan says:
The overblown and sometimes affected outrage over inappropriate words in political discourse is a proxy battle to set the terms of public debate, in this case surrounding the current reform agenda. Whoever wins will gain effective control of perceptions and is likely to see an advantage at the ballot box come election time, so it might seem like petty bickering but it in fact reflects fundamental questions of future political direction.

Yet the use of emotive descriptions also has the effect of hardening opinion and polarising support for each side. This dramatises the issues and makes them easier for the public to consume, making decisions more clear-cut, but is not in the best interest of creating sustainable policies for the people of Reading - let alone at a time of economic uncertainty.

Most worrying for concerned citizens is the potential for the episode to prove counter-productive by opening the door to more extreme viewpoints who might wish a plague on all their houses...

So if equality is to be served and the situation is to be kept in proportion then resolution requires equal punishment for the equal crimes of all three councillors.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Mud-slinging, muck-spreading and muck-raking

Partisan vitriol and hyperbole is run-of-the-mill stuff in politics, and it's one of the main reasons why our elected officials are generally held in such low esteem.

With the emergence of numerous social media networks the motive to get your voice heard is now combining with the urge to shout ever-louder to get a message across, which in turn encourages others to use all means at their disposal in attempts to get a charge to stick.

So it was almost inevitable that the opportunity provided by a tweeting Reading councillor forced to resign as a lead councillor would 'grow legs'.

In the latest development Cllr Swaine has been suspended from the LibDems pending an internal  investigation. Party activist site LibDemVoice records the news: 'What not to Tweet, part 94'.

But this was itself only ever likely to be used by opponents to pour additional fuel on the fire.

Chair of Reading Greens, Adrian Windisch, comments that he was "surprised that it took the regional party to suspend him, not the local one," although it's probably fair to say he's more familiar with disiplinary procedures in his own party than those in others.

And one Labour election manager uses the occasion to offer some insider 'dirt' under the guise of asking several seemingly reasonable questions.

Tony Jones describes the suspension as a 'penalty' which usually lasts 14 days. Then he jumps in with both feet to attack what he describes as a 'void of leadership' and stir up speculation of a poisonous electoral pact between the coalition partners.

However Jane Griffiths also offers reliable gossip, and she says only one Labour candidate standing in the local elections thinks the original remark was actually racist - by pure coincidence it's the same one Tony Jones is responsible for!

Jane then follows up with biting criticism of the news policy of the local Reading Post newspaper, suggesting the close personal relationship between the editor and members of the local Labour heirarchy indicates a connection where their mutual interests are artificially contriving to keep the story alive and in its' pages, to thereby help the opposition's election bid with a steady flow of new and supposedly-favorable content.

Perhaps so, as the unsigned Reading Post report quotes Labour leader Cllr Jo Lovelock, who argued in Council without any apparent trace of irony to insist the alleged racism in the 103 character tweet "really did go beyond the pale."

She then ramped up the story another notch to demand Cllr Swaine's resignation - using the Ali G joke hasn't inspired so much outrage since the late Queen Mum directed it at the Duke of Edinburgh!

But balance was provided by RBC's Conservative leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty, who intervened in the spat to accuse Labour of playing partisan games. He said her response looked more like a "slur, hypocrisy and double standards" when placed alongside the multiple occasions when she personally defended acknowledged racist remarks within her party's own ranks.

Labour activist Richard McKenzie lets the cat out of the bag.

He explains that Labour couldn't defeat the coalition over its' budget proposals, so have decided to trump up the allegations and try to link the exaggerated outrage to feelings aroused by official policy.

And in a clear indication of his own lack of imagination and willingness to prejudge the pending investigation, he attempts to hammer home his preferred message by attaching the prefix 'disgraced' to his opponent's name three times in that single post - there's nothing like jumping to conclusions for self-affirmation!
 
Cllr Swaine himself first rose to attention as the publisher of 'scurrillous' satire on the popular and controversial muckspReading site. He has been an avid participator in, and beneficiary of, the social media revolution. But as the circle turned again his confrontational and witty style clearly started to conflict with the duties of the position he'd grown to attain.

So it raises an eybrow that his replacement in the RBC cabinet as Lead Councillor for Environment and Sustainability, Cllr Ricky Duveen, is able to wryly note his expectations of advancement never amounted to taking up such 'an exalted role' as being responsible for waste management and street cleaning (among other things) in the borough.

He says, "its pretty much rubbish from here on in!"


Oranjepan says:
Cllr Duveen will have his work cut out if he takes it into his brief to also clean up the general tone of local political debate...

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