Sad times

November 10th, 2010

Last week I heard the very sad news that Councillor Colin Kay had died. He’d served for many years, and had been the Chairman since 2009; but far more importantly he was one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever met. I would often give him a lift to meetings, and he would always sound so very genuine in his gratitude, as if I’d moved mountains for him. My thoughts are with his family.

Motcombe Village Shop Post Office Open!

September 12th, 2010

Yesterday I went to the opening of the new village shop. This is some achievement, and I can only “doff my hat” at the wonderful efforts of the whole village in making this happen, especially the committee; Clare, Clem, Alex, Stephen, Paul, Scott, Keith, Julian, Martin, Kay and Cherry.

It’s been an extraordinary piece of work – supported by a number of funds, including the Sowing Seeds fund that, while independent of NDDC, has been won from European funds by the great works of Hilary Ritchie at NDDC. Other funders have helped, local businesses have contributed, and the Plunkett foundation has been an enormous support. They in turn have been very impressed by the speed and efficiency of the Motcombe venture!

But most of all the credit goes to the whole village for rallying around. Approximately £90,000 has come from the village public. It is an extraordinary show of local community. Well done all involved, and long may the new shop last.

Denis Macshane – “I want to be an MP, I don’t want to grapple with all this bureaucracy”

August 27th, 2010

Well, I hate to break it to you, Mr Macshane, but I think most of the population echo your feelings – they’d like to be getting on with the job, rather than being held up with the vast amount of bureaucracy that impedes them, particularly those in the public sector, from doing their job. The difference of course is that you were part of the government that generated all this bureaucracy.
The interview on PM on Wednesday included other such gems as “I don’t get cross with young ladies”. Honestly, it’s no surprise that – as he puts it – “it made him not want to represent his country as an MP”. But I think that’s more a statement on him.

An Evening at Number 10

July 9th, 2010

Last week, rather out of the blue, I received a formal invitation to a reception at Number 10 – and so it was that this evening I was sipping Pimms in the garden of Downing Street. It felt quite weird, but I did think as I wondered through the security cordon that if a few years ago someone had asked me whether I thought I would ever see the inside of Number 10, I’d have laughed it off as absurd. Almost as surprisingly, there were loads of people I knew – mainly MPs and members of the Party Board.

So having secured my efforts for many more years, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to find myself co-opted into helping fix the Party Membership Database – Merlin. Oooh, it was an expensive drink!

Housing Services are pleased to announce their new Open Surgery

July 5th, 2010

For anyone needing housing advice, the District Council will be running open surgeries every day

from 5th July 2010
9:30am till 1:00pm (Emergencies only after 1pm)
Monday to Friday
at North Dorset District Council, Nordon.
No need to make an appointment, just visit our offices during the above
times, and a Housing Needs offi cer will be available to offer advice and
assistance on the following services:-
• Advice on housing options
• Advice on homelessness
• Housing Register
• Support to look for accommodation
• Deposit loan scheme advice
• Mortgage Rescue
• Tenancy & Rent arrears advice
• Advice on any other housing issues
• Appointments available on request
For further information on other services we offer please contact:
Housing Services 01258 484358

I believe in Unfair

June 20th, 2010

Recently I heard Jonathan Dimbleby attempt to ridicule an Any Questions panellist, who was espousing his belief in fairness, by asking “Does anyone believe in unfair?” Despite the laughter and applause this generated, I’d like to rise to the bait, and say yes, I do.

I don’t, of course, mean that I enjoy unfairness. Or think that it is a suitable primary driver of any political philosophy. But – like that wonderful line in the film “The Usual Suspects”, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” – unfairness exists, is real, and needs to be believed in, in order that we can address it appropriately.

Moreover, we can’t eradicate it. Eradication of unfairness would involve everyone thinking that life was fair. In a world as complex as ours, this simply will never happen. This is an evolutionary race – people’s expectations and needs will evolve, and we will need to act upon the world that arises in order to treat the most exigent cases of unfairness. The level of action and treatment is very definitely a political issue; and in this piece I am not intending to belittle the reality of that debate. But there is a very real difference, in rhetoric and approach, between an achievable aspiration and an unattainable utopia.

Incidentally, there is a parallel in the search for the eradication of poverty; another instance of “motherhood and apple pie” corrupting intelligent thought. Absolute poverty can be eradicated – it might be difficult, but it is at least logically coherent to aspire to achieve that. Eradication of relative poverty is not about poverty at all, it is about inequality, as the threshold is determined by the poverty of others. The only ways to eradicate relative poverty is to subjugate everyone to a common level, or – the trick of communist despots through the years – fiddle the figures. But it is a brave politician that says so.

So it is with “fairness”. Fairness of opportunity is similar to seeking to remove absolute poverty. It is a tall order, maybe an impossible one. But it is infinitely more sensible than seeking fairness of outcome. How can fairness of outcome deal with the differences between individuals in their willingness to seize opportunities? If someone is disabled, we correctly recognise that they need assistance relating to that disability. If someone is disadvantaged, we provide services to assist them overcoming those disadvantages. But there must be a limit to this. Are we to consider that a lack of ambition is a disadvantage? Or even a disability? What about laziness? There are of course a plethora of absurd and trite examples – I would quite like to play cricket for England; and it’s “just not fair” that I can’t. These all sound rather childish.

But there is a much bigger issue, that stems from individual freedom and responsibility. I’d prefer to receive fairness of opportunity, rather than equality of outcome. Because only the former can coexist with self-determination. Surely I must have the right to refuse an opportunity?

Is this a semantic argument? Yes, but it still matters. The reason is that the language frames the expectations of people. As Camus put it: “For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”

An illustration on benefits

May 23rd, 2010

Posting this might be considered unwise, as it gives a shocking illustration of what’s on offer if you are minded to work the state, rather than yourself. But there is a lot of confusion, so I thought I’d give you an illustration.

There’s a great website called www.entitledto.co.uk which basically calculates what you should be entitled to. You can play around with the website, but let’s imagine a single parent of two children, of opposite sex. There’ll be a few other assumptions in there, but nothing particularly “underhand”.

Allowances:

Entitlement per year per week
Means-tested income entitlements
Tax Credits £5,153.80 £98.84
Income Support £3,412.75 £65.45
Means-tested bill reductions
Council Tax Benefit £1,199.80 £23.01
Housing Benefit £8,342.85 £160.00
Other income entitlements
Child Benefit £1,757.21 £33.70  
Total Entitlements £19,866.41 £381.00 weekly  

Bear in mind that this doesn’t include any maintenance payments, nor does it include school meal vouchers, free dental, prescriptions, etc, etc.

To earn £381 a week take home, you’d need to earn about £26K gross. Which is roughly the average (median) wage in the UK. The average (median) wage in Dorset is £18K, which means take home of about £275 a week – and of course working tends to have associated costs, not least travel to and from work. Of course it’s true that I’m not comparing like with like – and I’m not going to belittle the amount of work involved in raising children!

Let’s imagine that the single “at-home” mother and the single “working” man were to live together. They would receive his income, and still £220 of benefits. So his full time job is worth about £114 a week, minus travel etc. That’s a pretty depressing return on effort – and about half the government’s “minimum wage”.

Thankfully, people are still working, and still seeking work. The wise realise that work has value, both in terms of future prospects and personal self-worth, and so they continue to work even though the marginal returns are pretty dreadful. But something seems dreadfully wrong.

“I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left”

May 17th, 2010

Well it might have been meant to be funny. But this one sentence note from the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury has a pretty unpleasant ring to it. First of all, it’s not a laughing matter. Secondly, it gives credence to the idea that Labour had left such a “scorched earth” that they refused to enter into serious negotiations with the Liberal democrats, preferring to leave a mess for their opponents to have to deal with.

When considering this, it’s worth noting the point I made last week, that politicians claim that they know better than their opponents – that is the essence of their manifesto; and that therefore they should, putting the country first, want to win at all costs. This evening on the news, the wag who wrote this then reeled out the line that George Osborne shouldn’t cut public services and threaten the recovery. The brazen chutzpah of a man who has helped oversee the near bankruptcy of our country trying to make electoral points is frankly breathtaking.

Finally, it is emerging that there has been a rush to spend money in the last few weeks of the Labour government. More than that, David Laws has suggested that that money seems to have been spent in Labour target seats, and against the advice of officials. Only time will tell quite how sinister it is – but in any event, it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs, and a very long way from the “national interest”.

A wonderful word – snollygoster

May 17th, 2010

One, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles.

To add to the poetry, it appears that this has recently been brought back into the OED. What a lovely language we have. For a fuller explanation, http://www.makli.com/snollygoster-002962/

Motcombe Village Shop

May 17th, 2010

On Saturday I went to the auction of promises for the Motcombe Village Shop. For my part I walked away with a couple of pictures (and a few pennies given to a great cause), and a promise of my own to do a magic show for a group of children – so I’m going to have to dust off all my magic kit from when I was a magician in my teens! It was a great evening, full of bonhomie as well as great food and copious wine – and a brilliant performance by the auctioneer, David.

But much more striking was the wonderful initiative shown by the committee that set to make this happen, and the community spirit of the village. They have, through a variety of funding activities, nearly raised the money necessary for the village to take on the shop. Many people didn’t think this could be done, and it was a disappointment to me that the district council was unlikely to be able to help out beyond advice, but it really looks like they are going to prove the cynics wrong.

When I first moved to the village, there were real doubts as to whether the post office would survive. I wrote up a plan for Andrew and Sarah as to how they might be able to transfer the shop to the village as a community asset, but at the time it wasn’t a goer. It is of course, one thing to write a plan and another to deliver on it! I looked back over my previous comments about the shop, and found this, from back in 2008:

“But the success of a village is not how well it fits a Constable picture, but how it works as a group of people, and a community. And if that community doesn’t think to shop locally, well it won’t need a local shop. There’s great community in Motcombe; the Moviola, and the fete, are great examples. And the plethora of local produce for sale around the village is evidence that maybe all is not lost, just that things are changing. Evolving.

We can, and should, be furious for the government’s treatment of the post offices. But in fact I think maybe the fury should be aimed at the way they have proceeded, not necessarily the actual (likely) closure of post offices – for that we ought maybe look closer ot home.”

Looking back on it, I think I was a bit angry – like Andrew & Sarah I was exhorting the people of Motcombe to do their bit, and support the shop. I lost count of how many times I heard that milk was 5p cheaper at Tesco, with little heed to the added value of a village shop, not to mention the cost – environmental and financial – of driving to Shaftesbury.

But if that was a challenge, the village has risen to it, and how! There’s more to do, and the shop does need the village to use it, not just fund it. But that first hurdle has been achieved, and the sense of “we can do it” was tangible on Saturday. At risk of sounding schmaltzy, I’m privileged to be the councillor for a village that can show such initiative and drive.