Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Round-up: PCC Elections not HP

A 66-year-old former helicopter commander who served in Borneo and the Falklands War has been elected as the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley Police, describing it as an 'honour' and a 'privilege'.

The Public Interface: TVP Chief Constable Sara Thornton meets PCC Anthony Stansfeld

Read more about his 'eclectic' background here.

He highlighted the democratic nature of the position provides a direct mandate to get things done. "There is more of a public interface," he said.

Turnout was 226,512 or 13.3% (1st preference; 12.9% 2nd preference). More details here and here.

First preferences: -
Patience Awe - Independent: 14,878
Barry Cooper - UKIP: 19,324
Geoff Howard - Independent: 31,716
John Howson - Liberal Democrat: 20,511
Anthony Stansfeld - Conservative Party: 76,011
Tim Starkey - Labour Party: 56,631

The successful Mr Stansfeld is currently a sitting Conservative Councillor for Kintbury ward on West Berkshire Council, and was a member of the 19-strong Thames Valley Police Authority which he will replace in the new role of Commissioner, stating "the most effective committee is a committee of one."

He commented on his election to the new £85,000/year post which oversees the £400m local policing budget and priorities for 8,000 beat officers and other staff:
"When the results came in I felt a mixture of relief and exhiliration, and also a certain amount of inevitable nervousness in taking on a job like this."
Mr Stansfeld also defended the decision to politicise the election by running under a party banner, "There is nothing less democratic than an Independent, as no-one knows what he stands for."

In total he gained 94,238 1st and 2nd preference votes from an electorate of 1.2m, coincidentally endorsing the supplementary voting system having previously rejected any electoral changes in the recent national referendum.

The balance of results aligned closely with recent local council results, suggesting the outcome was based less on the issues of crime and policing than it was a reflection of current opinion towards Westminster parties.

The Candidates and The Campaign
Right-winger Cllr Richard Willis gave his by-now expected preview of candidates, completely immune from all bias, of course!

Luckily, Earley LibDems are able to fill in a few of the missing gaps for their party candidate.

Elsewhere Whitley Labour party had a chance to listen to their candidate (who only recently joined the party after defecting). He talked about resisting cuts, and followed up with a perverse promise to remember to 'stay' independent.

In review John Redwood MP makes several snide and self-serving remarks about democracy, before condescending to platitudinous levels:
"It is now especially important that the new Commissioners work hard to offer great value for money, and to show how they can choose good Chief Constables, and influence police budgets and priorities in helpful ways."
And in a post exhaustive and exhausting in equal parts, former Labour councillor John Howarth gets his excuses in early by blaming coalition members for his party's failure to win, calling the process a 'step backwards'.

He states that Labour's critique of offering nothing more than a defence of the status quo was 'a woefully poor excuse' for democratic progressive party. With a complete lack of irony he argues the elections were 'unnecessary and inappropriate', adding that the massive PCC constituencies are too large to identify with, that a mid-November election was 'less than clever', and that his side apparently had insufficient opportunity to raise awareness of the issues.

In contrast Adrian Windisch gets sanctimonious and over-emotional in his frustrated told-you-so rant from the sidelines, despite or possibly because of his party's refusal to invest in this democratic exercise. You can't complain about democracy if you don't participate in it!

Meanwhile, via Facebook, former Police Officer Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera offered his condolences to his former colleagues and the public for the result, stating his expectation that Mr Stansfeld is unlikely to change from his usual practice of behaving like an 'absent landlord'.

He offers the warning:
"If he tries to influence the policing of Thames Valley with his outdated, and ill-conceived opinions, then he will make policing worse."

Finally, Alan Renwick, Reader in Comparative Politics at the University of Reading, throws his two cents into the mix.

He looks at the number of spoilt ballots, and considers three reasons for this: confusion over the electoral system; dissatisfaction with the candidates; and disapproval of the elections themselves.

However he concludes the case for deliberate spoiling of ballots is exaggerated, which may inspire lurid headlines of mass rejection of the process, but doesn't reflect the reality of low turnout and the actual level of political disengagement.

Contact Point
As if to prove these professional and academic points, the successful candidate set up and operates a personal website to keep members of the public in touch and up-to-date with news and issues.

Looking at the site, however, one might wonder at the new commissioner's commitment to fulfil this pledge: only one non-syndicated 'news' post (on 23rd July) and one modest 'article' (on 12th September) have been published so far.

Similarly his twitter handle @StansfeldPCC showed initial purpose, but has lain dormant since he thanked well-wishers after his election on 16th November, and can clearly be seen now as more of a public relations/campaigning tool for him than as any serious exercise in democratic engagement.

He can be reached by emailing info@anthonystansfeld.org.uk, but don't hold your breath.

PCC Priorities
John Redwood completes the round-up by providing a quick summary of Mr Stansfeld's aims and pledges:
  1. to reduce crime and drive up detection rates
  2. to ensure the police budget is targeted effectively
  3. to protect vulnerable people
  4. to ensure the police act firmly and fairly, using good judgement to deal with the public politely make sure communities are not blighted by anti-social behaviour
  5. to reduce the likelihood of gold theft from Asian families
In a friendly interview with the Maidenhead Advertiser the Conservative Councillor for Kintbury blamed national leadership for his weak mandate, arguing that government failed to promote the role and didn't effectively communicate that devolving responsibility does mean depoliticising the Police - maybe they're yet to be convinced.

With good cause... in a more neutral interview with Oxford Mail crime reporter, Ben Wilkinson, the tory politician refused to be held to his main commitment on cutting crime, saying this is dependent on outside factors such as the growing population and local licensing provisions.

Or perhaps he'd been swiftly reminded of efforts made by TVP under current Chief Constable Sara Thornton since winter 2009 on his watch. Crime is falling consistently by year-on-year by averages of around 13% (April report, July report; official stats) precisely due to a direct policy choice - made during Mr Stansfeld's term on TVPA - to shift resources from crime detection to crime prevention as the means to retain public confidence while dealing with tight budget constraints following the financial crash of 2008.

BBC Berkshire picks up on these public statements, and notes Mr Stansfeld's support for successive 2% and 2.5% rises in the Police precept of Council Tax in 2013 and 2014 to boost detection. This would effectively guarantee another year's pay freeze for TV Police officers while reversing cuts imposed by more senior members of his party, as he took a swipe at Maidenhead's Home Secretary, Theresa May MP... it looks like there may be trouble ahead!

Oranjepan asks:
According to Mr Stansfeld, what the public wants is "an honest, fair and efficient police" which is polite and uses common sense and judgement. Would it be too much to ask the same from him, or is he only interested in re-election to this cushy number by pretending to be all things to all people?


More stories about Crime and Policing

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The knives are out for Newbury MP Benyon

Oh dear! Newbury's Conservative MP and Defra Minister Richard Benyon keeps attracting negative headlines.

On the day his department introduced the hosepipe ban The People's investigative team discovered a 15ft hosepipe 'gushing in the grounds' of his family's £125m, 20,000-acre Englefield estate.

Mr Benyon responded in time-honoured fashion by threatening legal action, and filing complaints with Thames Valley Police over alleged trespassing on 6th April, as well as to the Press Complaints Commission for making false accusations.

According to the Press Gazette, Mr Benyon decided to get into a war of words with the tabloid, accusing the journalists of breaking into his grounds and turning on the hosepipe - claims categorically denied by The People.

Well, Mr Benyon is gracious enough to allow his magnificent gardens designed in 1601 by Sir William Norris to be opened to the public between 1st April and 31st October - provided members of the public pay a £3 charge!

Is the Defra Minister an ally of the countryside?

BBC Berkshire tries to get to the source: apparently the water minister didn't respond to enquiries at his mansion, or not until more than 1/2 hour after his head garden manager was informed that Mr Benyon was breaking the rules he is responsible for enforcing.

Mr Benyon released a statement saying, "Neither I, nor my family, nor anyone who works for me turned that hose on," adding the implication that the journalists were responsible, as they were seen in the vicinity. To which the response came, they couldn't have reported the incident to his staff if they weren't nearby.

Newbury Weekly News allows the local MP to gush forth defiantly: "I am comfortable with everything I've said in relation to the incident... I know where I stand." Yet The People says it may still seek legal action for the damage Mr Benyon has caused to the reputation of their cub reporter.

Well, he can definitely afford any damages, as George Monbiot picks up, the hardline Euro-sceptic tory rakes in more than £200,000 in annual CAP subsidies from the EU, though he refuses to respond to enquiries about this contradiction.

A further striking contradiction is noted by Michael McCarthy in The Independent, who picks out Mr Benyon's Who's Who entry listing his interests as 'conservation and shooting', whereas his department 'has been favouring shooting interests over conservation'.

He states his opinion that Mr Benyon has not been a bad minister, but while he's been making positive noises on the international front regarding the ivory trade and rhino poaching, he has been far less balanced and impartial on the domestic front, among other things, by blocking the prosecution of a private grouse moor for damaging protected bogland.

The Indy's environment editor follows up with a scorching attack against Mr Benyon for supporting a cull of buzzards - with shotguns - in order to protect pheasant stocks... for commercial shooting. His title is telling: Richard Benyon: The Bird-Brained Minister.

And in a leader comment the paper gives it's own final blast: "it is as outrageous as it is incredible."

George Monbiot rounds out a list of Benyon's bizarre decisions, locking his sights on the £375,000 which  will be wasted by DEFRA on the buzzard blitz and taking aim at another discrepancy over the supporting figures used by the minister.

Over at the RSPB's blog conservation director Martin Harper is understandable concerned, even taking time to read and quote some of the welter of negative comments on Mr Benyon's facebook page.

But it doesn't stop there...

Two fishy friends: Martin Salter (Lab) with Richard Benyon MP (Con)

Alarm bells are still ringing this week over ongoing backroom dealings regarding Common Fisheries Policy reforms, which would delay the repopulation of European fish stocks by 5 years, according to BBC Environment correspondent Richard Black.

fishnews.eu reports on Britain's NFFO (National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations) support for the decentralisation of fisheries management, and Greenpeace activist Alicia C promotes the 'Be A Fisherman's Friend' campaign supporting sustainable fisheries by urging the public to send a 'sea shanty petition' to Mr Benyon to remind him of his responsibilities as Defra minister.

Over at the Huffington Post, Shaughan Dolan is angered by the series of hypocritical decisions made by the Conservative MP for Newbury, asking "Is Benyon wilfully ignorant or just out of touch?"

He argues Mr Benyon's behaviour 'smacks of incompetence', that he 'profiteers from greenbelt destruction' and has a 'shambolic knowledge of countryside ecology'.

Shaughan suggests controversial Mr Benyon's position is becoming increasingly untenable with the growing  levels of discomfort caused to Prime Minister David Cameron - according to him, Mr Benyon is clearly unfit to be a minister for Defra.

Annabella Laws has started an official e-petition against Mr Benyon's proposed Pheasant protection scheme/Buzzard cull - you can read more and sign it here.

For the complete list of current e-petitions to Defra click here.

But the final word must go to Michael McCarthy who sums up the mood:
"it is a classic case of a minister so blinded by his personal enthusiasms that his political judgement deserts him completely."

Update: Louise Gray at The Daily Telegraph reports that Defra has responded swiftly to public pressure and announced that it has shelved plans for a buzzard cull in what she calls 'an embarrassing U-turn'.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Local Government: Now & Then

Following on from yesterday's 'Then & Now' post, here is RBC's own video from last Thursday's election and the count held at the Rivermead Centre.


Oranjepan says:
Beyond the significant changes to the role and responsibility of local councils, a comparison of then and now shows a stark change in media perspective - the purpose of the 1940s dramatised narrative is to engage the public by providing information in a deliberately neutral and impartial manner, whereas the contemporary version is faster and reported in a more balanced, democratic 'news' style.

If audience measures such as turnout and viewership are to be believed, then efforts at engagement have gone considerably backwards in 70 years, in spite of the popular emphasis now put on utilising a wider range of digital media resources.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Local Government: Then & Now

Things have changed a lot in local government in the 70 years since the 1940's when the British Council made this wonderfully evocative information film.

Oranjepan asks:
can you spot the differences? Are they for the better or the worse?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Racism in Reading?

Reading Borough Council's local election campaign exploded into controversy this week as accusations and counter-accusations exposed the political divisions between the parties.

Following the deselection of sitting Conservative councillor, Jamie Chaudhary, over an internal 'vendetta', the Peppard ward representative announced his party resignation during the full public session of the Council stating that he would take legal action against the party, amidst cheering by Greens and Labour.

Cllr Chaudhary followed up by declaring he is to stand as an independent candidate against his former colleagues with the backing of local members and officers.

Former Labour representative Jane Griffiths, who had a similar experience when she became the first sitting Labour MP to be deselected, rejects claims that the decision was for 'health' reasons, and provides the insight that public splits inspiring bitter recriminations of this sort are rarely conducive to successful election campaigns.

LibDem Gareth Epps pays tribute to his opposite number, describing Cllr Chaudhary as "one of the most able and hardest-working" members of the tory group, adding his view that these events have been part of a 'murky process' - a euphemism for darker, racial motives.

Meanwhile Labour has since been forced onto the backfoot when they published an election leaflet using phrases described as a 'dog-whistle' to racists.

Battle ward's Cllr Sarah Hacker attempted to defend the combination of two divisive phrases by examining them separately, as more threats of legal action were made by electoral agent (and Labour Peppard candidate) David Absolom if tories didn't withdraw their 'smears'.

She is supported by Green Party stalwart (and former Battle ward resident) Adrian Windisch who similarly prefers to interpret Labour's language in isolation.

Labour candidate Tony Jones rejects outright any accusation of racism towards Azam Janjua, explaining that the underlying attack is because the Conservative candidate for Church ward is a 'political turncoat' who defected from Labour amidst allegations of misconduct - allegations which only arose once the 'betrayal' was enacted.

Other commentators have been scathing in their criticism of Labour.

Jane Griffiths was a victim of Labour's internal party factionalism, and she notes the irony of Mr Absolom's wish for a 'civilised and sensible campaign' having stirred up this vitriolic feud. Jane decides that this amounts to a climbdown by Labour with an implicit acknowledgement of racism.

Another former Reading Labour insider, Andrew Tattersall, knows their habitual practise of 'gas-lighting' all too well. He slams it as a racist campaign which shows Labour's desperation, and names John Howarth as the man responsible for a long-running track-record of epic policy failures and a systematic campaign of artificially stimulating public fears stretching back to the 1990s.

LibDems like to be known for their 'evidence-based' approach, so Warren Swaine (himself a victim of personal attacks by Labour over his use of satire) decides to compare and contrast leaflets delivered by Labour in different wards.

Gareth Epps celebrates the diversity of Reading as 'one of the most harmonious communities in the UK' and agrees with his colleague that the references may not be overt racism, but they create an 'unambiguous reference', one which is designed 'to pander to racism'.

Conservative bloggers are also quick to get in on the bickering. Continuing Peppard ward councillor, Richard Willis (who was previously forced to apologise for describing the racist policies of Rhodesian white-minority leader Ian Smith as 'wise and benign'), is typically straight-forward (if possibly hypocritical) in expressing his view that Labour's position is indefensible.

Meanwhile Cllr Isobell Ballsdon says Labour have 'stooped to a new low'. In particular, she notes Labour's candidate doesn't live anywhere near Church and is trying to play up any 'local' link to potential voters, however tenuous.

Isobell also provides a balanced round-up of alternate views, enabling her to judge Labour's behaviour as 'arrogant' and 'unjust'. She directly criticises Green Party chairperson Adrian Windisch for attempting to defend Labour, saying he has been taken for a fool in defending racism.

But the final word must go to Andrew Tattersall, who completely repudiates Labour's official response - he specifically highlights the inconsistency of Tony Jones on the matter, a man who resigned from his party for two years because of bullying treatment meted out to him, yet has since rejoined and is now apparently happy to bully others.

Oranjepan says:
Racism at any level of society is completely unacceptable, however it is vital that all sides understand the expression of such negative sentiment is an indicator of insecurity - in this case the political insecurity of candidates and campaigners who are trying to withstand an on-rushing tide of public cynicism about politics created by irresponsible representatives.

The politics of fear and division is a vicious circle which is wrecking untold damage our democracy. Political engagement and election turnouts continue to decline as a result and this is presenting opportunities for populists with more extreme motives and hidden agendas.


Update: the invisible man behind the storm, Geordie John Howarth, analyses the recent by-election success of George Galloway in Bradford West. He identifies the strategic reasons why the maverick celebrity candidate was capable of defeating his party with a stunning swing result of 40%:
"the fundamentals were ideal for Mr G [to cause an upset]: discontent to be exploited, community tensions, generational resentment, ethnic division, block votes, deprivation and decay."
Clearly Mr Howarth was taking notes and decided to follow the example.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Anti-Bully Ball!

Local charity Red Balloon has teamed up with new celebrity patron Danyl Johnson to help promote a 'Black & White' charity fund-raising ball

The event will take place  from 7-11.30pm on Saturday 17th March at Shehnai Banqueting Suites, 75-77 London Street, Reading, and is hosted by Yell UK Chief Executive Richard Hanscott with Red Balloon founder Dr Carrie Herbert MBE.

Tickets cost £45 and will include a three-course Indian banquet, with entertainment including comedy dance duo Danny and Dan. Contact Angela Smith on 07711 684034 or angela.smith@yellglobal.com

Red Balloon's mission is to aid the recovery of children who are unable to attend school because they've been severely bullied.

The organisation is in the final stages of preparation to open a new Learner Centre in Reading - these provide a safe environment for full-time 'intensive care' schooling for 9-18 year-olds with academic, pastoral and therapeutic programmes to help reintegrate young individuals back into the mainstream.

As many as 16,000 such children live in the UK, and as many as half have attempted or seriously considered suicide.

Former X-Factor contestant Danyl, who has confirmed he will be attending the event, said he was 'very excited' to be associated with this cause - one which he knows all-too-much about!

The series-6 heartthrob from Arborfield had been accused of sexist bullying competitors girl-group Kandy Rain and singer Stacey Solomon by talent judge Louis Walsh, before experiencing the other side of the tabloid knife when 'accidentally outed' by Danni Minogue. The subsequent public and media outrage at this intrusion into his personal life forced producers to respond with an on-air apology from the antipodean singer.

For more details about Red Balloon Learner Centres visit their website here.

Oranjepan says:
while life in the limelight will magnify the intensity of feeling, any suffering may spread unchecked once it reaches into the shadows. If celebrities can use the lightning rod of their experience to illuminate the issue and stop the vicious circle of violence then we're happy to applaud.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The shock of the cold

Winter weather traditionally inspires giddy childlike enthusiasm, as can be seen on Bracknell's slopes (video) - and this has been replicated on the blogopshere too.

Ceramix notes the generally mild winter to date, but gets excited by his rapidly falling thermometer which bottomed out at -8 degrees Celcius and takes a few snaps of the snow.

Up on the downs Adrian Hollister turns killjoy with a warning to the public to take care, as 3inches of snow will mean ice on the roads. But down in the Kennet valley the canal froze over, and all the enjoyment is lost as it's turning to slush already.

In less rural areas of the county John Redwood MP attempts to reassure panickers about keeping the roads open for business, while Cllr Ricky Duveen is more placid in his concern at the disruption to ordinary people - although you can guess which of the two expects someone else to do the work, and who is prepared to put their own back into sorting it out.

Labour voices are celebrating winning government funding 'which will help save lives' by allowing vulnerable people 'to keep warm' during the winter months.

This is despite acknowledging the 'cold snap' is unlikely to last, and using the funds to initiate a campaign to set up a council telephone line to target advice at those whose health may be affected by cold, with small grants available 'only in extreme cases' (a follow-up on the level of take-up may be informative).

However The Porridge Lady provides a much simpler, more direct and quicker answer with a recipe for feisty ginger porridge to heat up your mornings and beat the cold.

Cllr Sarah Hacker also provides details of RBC's winter plan, as RBC teams up with homelessness charity Launchpad Reading to comply with the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). This is to ensure extra help is available for people without permanent accomodation, having not yet fulfilled a promise to increase the number of beds in the town's hostels from 200 to 224.

Elsewhere Mark Thompson looks at the state of debate on social media about climate change - concluding that the clash of opposing dogmatic beliefs are prevailing over scientific fact and this is proving unhelpful.

Meanwhile Jane Brocket is baffled by backwards attitudes to cold weather of the British. She suggests it is 'old-fashioned' to exist in a perpetual state of unpreparedness, and the annual shock of winter is simply unnecessary.

Not something Elizabeth Thomas suffers from - after escaping the 'ominously' heavy snowclouds she enjoyed a 'magical' evening in front of a roaring fire watching the snow through her bay window with her family.


More Weather Issues

Friday, 3 February 2012

What's that you say?

Cyclists and journalists may seem like occassionally odd bedfellows, but local bloggers appear to think they talk the same language.

Groovy Yank pokes some fun at the self-importance of guardians of public information.

And Andrew Sykes puts a spoke in the wheels of peddalers of stereotypes.

Elsewhere Caroline Everleigh suggests it is the haste of people working under pressure which leads to substandard work. She argues agitated fidgeting doesn't lead to accomplishment: 'We are human beings, not human doings'.

Evidently Scaryduck is so underemployed that he has plenty of spare time to put words in the mouths of prominent figures - possibly the reason why he has been named 'Britain's funniest blogger'.

Congratulations to him!


more eclectica

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Checkout #14, please

#rdgnews - Tesco's remarkable recent growth in the local area has lead to suspicion of backroom favours and secret deals are propping up political interests at the expense of local businesses.

The decision to award a £27m contract for a new 84,000-sq m. distribution centre to Vinci Construction UK on the site of the former Courage brewery in Whitley was greeted by a delighted Chris Pape, who talked up the prospects of creating as many as 1,000 new jobs at the site.

The Worton Grange location was chosen after campaigners forced the rejection of plans for a 'mega-shed' outside Andover. Planning permission was hurriedly granted by RBC in September 2010 after the collapse of the previous proposal, however Vinci won the contract from the retail giant with a promise to go beyond compliance with BREEAM enviromental regulations and cut CO2 emissions by an additional 1/3.

Meanwhile controversy is brewing over the ways which Tesco is able to flex corporate muscle to get planning decisions granted following the refusal on appeal for a 14th store within borough limits, hot on the heels of a 13th store on the site of the former Westside pub in Tilehurst Road.

Local traders complained about the impact on their business and on the visual coherence of the area, which includes Grade-II listed buildings and the adjoining Christchurch Conservation Area, "It would have ruined the look of the entire parade along here."

Commenters on Reading Forum are understandably underwhelmed by the supermarket chain's drive to build an effective local monopoly on the grocery trade, and note recent bad corporate decisions are based on personality rather than sound economic reasoning.

Politicians are also naturally keen to express their positions, and Katesgrove councillors have been anxious to show their democratic credentials in an area promising to be a fiercely contested electoral battle-ground.

LibDem Cllr Warren Swaine spoke against the plans at the appeal hearing, calling the Tesco shop 'excessive' and saying it was 'the wrong location and the wrong building'.

And Labour's Cllr Matt Rodda said, "I hoped I helped as I successfully pushed for more time for residents to feed in comments. I also wrote in myself raising concerns with the inspector," - claims which Cllr Swaine challenged in an extensive blog post after recieving the reply to a Freedom of Information request proving his counterpart is either deluded or attempting to decieve the public.

PR consultant and Internet Psychologist, Graham Jones, discusses the issue of playing to the prejudices of an audience and saying different things to different people, noting how contradictory attitudes can easily be simulated - or covered up - via mixed-messaging in the media.
He provides some powerful insight, stating,
"If someone is unwilling to accept any official story for whatever reason, then it appears changing their mind with logical argument is unlikely as they will counter such debate with illogical and contradictory claims, without seeing the nonsense of their viewpoint."
Graham follows up with another of his excellent-as-standard posts, explaining some of the reasons why people are 'economical with the truth'. According to research, the behavioural incentives for honesty are increased by a reduction in use of feedback mechanisms where cooperation is required, but this can prove counter-productive in competitive situations.

He adequately sums things up, warning decreases in truthfulness at the top of society are undermining trust in authority more generally.

In a perfect demonstration of this theory the Green Party's Adrian Windisch earlier complained that Reading's transformation into 'Tesco-town' is the consequence of a stitch-up between Tories, Labour and LibDems, who he says are all aligned in their common support for the 'leviathan'.

And the consequences have been writ large in grafitti on the walls of a similar new convenience store in Twyford as vandals are repeatedly targetting Tesco for developing a building campaigners had long earmarked for a desperately-needed new library.

Elsewhere Wendy also wonders about the impact of split-personality disorders.

Oranjepan asks:
the establishment stimulates an extremist conspiracy, is it accidental, necessary or deliberate?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Thoughts of flying

It must be that time of year again - when the New Year's resolutions have been put on the backburner and people start dreaming of getting away from routine.

Graeme Thiessen recently emigrated from Reading to Adelaide in Australia - he describes the first part of his family's travels (and some travails too) with a selection of fantastic photos to stir the wanderlust. Putting everyone in the mood he says:
"Like explorers of old, when we crested a hill and saw the stunning view of bright blue waters, crashing surf and white-gold sand, it felt like we were discovering this place for the very first time..."
Students tend to travel at the less glamorous end of the market, broadening horizons and gaining experiences. So RUSU's advice list on what to take should be well-heeded - though packing the fake blood might lead to some intriguing possibilities.

Meanwhile, more serious weather watchers point out a change in European law has added the cost of carbon emissions into the price of a flight.

Meteorologist Irvine discusses the introduction of the European Trading Scheme Cap on aviation, explaining the legal controversy which has delayed implementation and arguing in favour of market-based measures to tackle expected increases in Carbon Dioxide emissions, while admitting a more organised response from the International Civil Aviation Authority will mean some adjustment in the scheme is inevitable.

For the rest of us ordinary mortals, we're resigned to staring at the skies and watching the flocks overhead...

Update: Wendy fancies a flight of inspiration!


More weather issues

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Mole who was a Plant

#rdgnews - Reading's Labour party bosses have admitted they were 'forced' to reveal their plans to eliminate senior management posts in a £1m savings drive earlier than required.

Cllr Jo Lovelock described her 'embarrassment' at discovering the 'leak'.

The anonymous author of the since-deleted Civic Minded in Reading blog had reported 'overhearing' a private supermarket conversation in which a senior Labour councillor proclaimed where the axe would fall, ahead of the mid-December announcement - thereby preempting any requirement to inform or consult with counterparts, as would be normally expected, and producing a fait accompli.

The reorganisation of RBC senior management will involve eliminating the £145,000pa Chief Executive job currently held by Michael Coughlin and combine his role with the equally powerful and well-remunerated Director of Resources post, held by David Peasley. Labour expects this to create annual savings of £920,000.

Mr Coughlin is widely respected for his scrupulous commitment to constructive non-partisan politics and was praised for his smooth oversight of the potentially fractious recent, and short-lived, period of coalition - the first in Reading's modern history. Cynical commenters have suggested the move is personal payback against Mr Coughlin who replaced the more Labour-friendly Trish Haines in 2008. Long-serving Mr Peasley is now expected to assume the newly combined top job.

Effectively conceding the point, Cllr Lovelock has since declared no inquiry will take place to identify the author of the blog or establish the truth of the supermarket allegation, as "there are far more important things to be getting on with."

Well, it's obviously so unimportant to her that serious breaches of councillor conduct by members of her own side are overlooked that she spends extra time whipping-up disciplinary hearings for opponents (see previously)!

Jane Griffiths vents some spleen against her former party colleagues, wondering whether it was simply a coincidence that the accepted culprit (generally acknowledged as Park Ward's Cllr Hartley) is standing down at the next election in May, so it was no loss to remove him from his frontline Cabinet position anyway.

So witness the perverse spectacle of Labour activists cock-a-hoop at the apparent embarrassment for their party!

In what was a pre-arranged and coordinated strategy, Redlands Ward Cllr Jan Gavin gives the game away explaining that she hopes any savings produced from cutting management jobs will prove to be a successful election ploy which will help her local team unseat LibDem leader Cllr Daisy Benson in the ward they both represent.

And Cllr Gavin's electoral agent Tony Jones talks up their chances declaring a belief that people who previously voted LibDem are 'coming home to Labour' - there's nothing like the sight of experienced politicians treating voters like their personal chattel!

But LibDems struck back.

Cllr Warren Swaine republishes the original rumour, adding his comment:
"It is absolutely true that Labour has had a series of meetings which were out of cycle and it was abundantly clear that they were up to something and that something is, it would appear, is to axe officers who they deem as uncooperative."
He then followed up by picking out a phrase used by Labour which he calls a 'slip' - he notes Cllr Lovelock justified the removal of the Chief Executive position on the grounds that the council will employ "a significantly smaller number of council staff."

Cllr Swaine points out that Labour is struggling to contain spending increases currently running at 16% this year having previously promised to reduce outgoings in line with national cuts in central grants, and is thereby seeking to distract attention from the increased level of debt Reading is taking on just to survive - in Reading's budget 1% equates to about £1m.

A fresh local financial crisis is looming locally... is Labour hoping for a bailout, or will they make savings by cutting more jobs?

Oranjepan says:
Having kept a close eye on local political blogs while monitoring the Berkshire blogosphere, it is beyond belief that an obscure blog-site can appear and reproduce a single post of unsubstantiated hearsay before disappearing without a trace after only a few days and be noticed, let alone be taken seriously by any political figure in the town - that is, unless the writer is a known plant operating as a sympathetic source within the  established political ecosystem. The only possible conclusion is: the 'leak' was not by a whistle-blower, but a dog-whistler.

As the Labour leader said, "Rather than pretending it was not happening, we decided we would not be disingenuous" - this is absolutely untrue, she has hardly contained the fact, rather she and her colleagues enthusiastically brought the matter into the open by disingenuous means.

For Cllr Lovelock some things are more important than the truth, though clearly not the jobs of council employees.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Madejski embraces Russki 'dream'

The announcement that Reading FC owner Sir John Madejski has agreed to sell a controlling stake in the club has been met with mixed feelings. Reading Post polls 2:1 of readers in favour.

The deal, which is 'subject to due diligence and league approval', will see Thames Sports Investment Ltd recieve 51% of shares in exchange for an estimated £40m upon completion at the end of March.

At the official press conference he declared "This fit is so good it is not funny" - it is 'a dream' for all sides (update: official club sources put the price paid by TSI at £25m. The club website summarises the key points from the press conference here).

BBC Berkshire's Tim Dellor comments that this is 'uncharted territory', but although many unknowns remain there are grounds for cautious optimism. Mr Madejski will remain Chairman until at least 2014 whereupon he will become life president, in a role which recognises to his development of the club in the past 22 years and ensures a smooth transition.

Boris Zingorevich
Football finance expert Chris Brady reveals TSI is an investment vehicle fronted by Anton Zingarevich on behalf of his billionaire father Boris - who 'has been sniffing around' English football for a while and recently denied making a tentative bid for another club.

Anton with Katia
However 29-year-old Anton Zingarevich has a particular connection to Reading, having studied Sports Management at Sindlesham's Bearwood College between graduating from Reading University and a move into Venture Capital and Private Equity in America.

Mr Zingarevich will be represented by TSI executive Chris Samuelson on the club board. He explained money would be available for improving the squad, "but the club will always be prudent," before reasserting, "Everything we do must be prudent, if it's not prudent then we won't do it."

Possibly a prudent move itself, given 'visa-related' problems kept Mr Zingarevich away from the press conference!

Ben@the.offside publishes the first photo of Reading's new majority owner. He is excited by the move, stating "ultimately, the club will continue as it has, just with a bit more money."

Users of independent club forum Hob Nob Anyone? speculate vigorously on the future. As do those on Royals Rendezvous.

'Limited' funds have been made available during the current transfer window, with reports that a bid for Doncaster sharpshooter Billy Sharp may be in the offing alongside two other rumoured arrivals and Jimmy Kebe's signature on a new contract to appease hungry fans. However other prospects are also going in the opposite direction with Dutch outfit FC Utrecht offering a trial to Jacob Walcott (cousin of England's Theo) and Division 1 promotion-chasers Huddersfield Town re-loaning 21-year-old defender Sean Morrison.

Continuity is a theme, with all sides noting the admiration they hold for John Madejski and a desire to maintain the ethos of responsibility he instilled at the club.

urzz1871 expresses concern among faithful of The Tilehurst End that running a Category One Academy whilst changing from being a 'selling club' may not be a financially sustainable model. He argues for more transparency regarding finances and highlights as-yet unanswered questions from fans' open letter on ownership.

Stephen Dempsey gives his summary: given the jobs of backroom stalwarts like Nicky Hammond are secure the takeover should be viewed "as more of a steady evolution than a Russian revolution." 

He adds, "I don't think we should be expecting, or even wanting, massive amounts of money poured into the first team squad."

In a BBC interview (video), Sir John describes the potential excitement this 'partnership' offers for pushing the club to the next level as a 'win-win situation' which also allows him to slip gracefully into retirement.

Elsewhere Peter Edwards in City AM suggests the name may be more familiar on Merseyside after an attempt to use Brunei-based Fortress Sports Fund as a vehicle for similar investment in Everton. Mr Zingorevich was hailed at the time for his 'encyclopaedic football knowledge' by Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright, but others will note the link between the family's Ilim Pulp company and Dmitry Medvedev, the one-term Russian President.

Anton Zingarevich earlier provided evidence of his outlook when responding to Bloomberg.com. He explained that "The new generation [of Russians] has more freedom... We also have more opportunities; the trick is using them."

RT provides further insight, describing Mr Zingorevich jr. as a supporter of current Russian champion Zenit St Petersburg and quoting his wish to turn Reading into "a profound outfit".

Reading fans may also be interested in connecting with their prospective new owner via his LinkedIn profile, or by inspecting his friend Egor Lavrov's flickr photostream

Meanwhile pictures of Reading's new owner's glamorous lifestyle emerged when he was recently spotted with wife Katia celebrating a 'Russian Christmas' at Dubai's exclusive Burj-al-Arab hotel (see pic above).

More sports stories from the local blogosphere

Saturday, 14 January 2012

13th-time Unlucky!

Friday 13th appears and TV repeats of the horror series are resurrected.

In a similar vein local bloggers are on the scene...

Elizabeth Thomas worries that she has enough accidents as it is, and promises not to get out of bed for the whole day.

Reading some of the bedroom door notices gives a sense of the approaching fear and trepidation.

Elsewhere jabblog scares all-comers with the depth of her background knowledge into the oddness.


more eclectica

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Reading Tories choose new faces... and some old ones too!

#RdgNews - Reading Conservative Group have elected a new frontbench leadership team.

New Leader, Cllr Harris
Church Ward's Cllr Tim Harris was elected unopposed as the new leader, replacing Cllr Andrew Cumpsty.

In a deliberate show of unity he was proposed by Cllr Richard Willis and supported by Cllr Jeanette Skeats, new Group Whip and Deputy Leader respectively. Cllr David Stevens was re-elected as Group Chairman.

Cllr Harris said, "The energy, knowledge and innovation within the Conservative Group is awesome," adding, "the Conservative Group is united in our strategy to continue to set the local political agenda and to hold the minority Labour administration to account."

New Whip, Cllr Willis
Cllr Willis describes his youthful boss as "a great guy" who shouldn't be underestimated.

However former Labour mayor Tony Jones suggests the triathlete may be forced to into a 'chicken run' from his seat at forthcoming local elections.

New Deputy, Cllr Skeats

LibDem PPC Gareth Epps calls it: "a huge promotion for Tim Harris, and a big test" considering "it suggests a real weakening of the position of the hapless Reading East MP and his proxies in the Civic."

Amidst allegations of deep internal divisions among tories over the contentious deselection of Cllr Willis' ward colleague, Cllr Harris explained his neutrality in that matter enabled him to be the unity candidate.

Oranjepan says:
Having waited an age for the eventual departure of Cllr Cumpsty after his failure to build support for coalition politics in Reading, the new Conservative leader faces a race against time to establish his imprint in time for the next round of local elections
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