Friday, 10 August 2007

Catching up with paperwork

Yep, I thought that title would get you reading. With the Council in recess, and very few meetings, there's finally time to catch up with all the filing, sorting out and throwing away of stuff which has been accumulating steadily in my Inbox and on my desk at home. Time too to take a look at casework and issues around the ward and discuss with my friend and colleague, Fred Lawton, what we do next in some of our local campaigns.

I have been able to sort out a few problems for local residents during my first three months, which is really pleasing. Back in May I posted on here about the variety of complaints we received at one of our surgeries. Since then I have received more problems to sort out. Residents phone me, email me or stop me when I've been cycling around the ward. I think I should buy a bright yellow jacket with "Liberal Democrat Councillor" emblazoned on the back for when I'm out on my bike.

Some of the issues I've dealt with:

A communal garden in William Street which I reported as being badly overgrown has been tidied up by Streetscene.

A young lady with two children whose mother asked us to find out if her daughter would be allocated a suitable council house soon has now found suitable private rented accomodation nearby. Not an entirely satisfactory outcome, but at least she now has a place of her own near her mother's house. The policy of successive Governments in discouraging the building of decent low-cost public housing to rent is now putting great strain on the more affordable end of the housing market. The new Prime Minister's announcement of increased house building is welcome, but too little, too late, for many people.

Some residents in George Short Close have had to store their black refuse sacks in their flats all week because there was nowhere secure outside for them to leave them away from attack by cats and rats. I contacted the Council, and following a site visit, residents have now been promised a suitable container where they can put their bags.

A resident who lives on North Road who was constantly battling against traders advertising cars for sale right outside her home no longer has this problem, thanks to a quick phone call to the mobile number displayed on these particular vehicles. The wardens have been targetting this area, and there have also been two successful prosecutions against traders on North Road for advertising cars for sale a short distance apart. However, the problem persists along the length of North Road. The legislation is just too weak to be completely effective against this nuisance. We'll keep on fighting them, though.

Several other individual complaints and problems: for example, about anti-social behaviour, the condition of some roads and pavements, overgrowing trees and broken down raised flower beds and borders are being actively pursued with hard-pressed Council officers.

And now I'm off on holiday.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Book of the week

One of my favourite radio slots is Simon Mayo's book review on Radio 5 on Thursday afternoons. Earlier this year his reviewers raved about "Salmon Fishing in The Yemen", the debut novel by Paul Torday. I spotted it on Waterston's shelves as I was looking for books to take on holiday to Egypt next week and bought it as part of a 3 for 2.

Unfortunately, it'll be finished before then, as I just had to read it now. It is quite superb, and for us politicos, its satirical treatment of the Blair-Campbell era, government bureaucracy and UK-Middle East relations gives this hilarious book its edge.

A quiet, unassuming government scientist and fisheries expert, Dr Alfred Jones, is persuaded by his political masters to lead a project to bring salmon fishing to the wadis of The Yemen. His quest to achieve the seemingly impossible, and the pathos of his relationships with the two women in his life, provides the perfect, if unusual, setting for this feelgood comedy - and it doesn't weigh as much as Alistair Campbell's Diaries!

Huhne and Chaplin

Sipping my Sunday morning cup of Darjeeling, I'm watching BBC News 24 Sunday, where Peter Sissons has just handed Chris Huhne an opportunity to endorse the continuing leadership of Ming Campbell: which he patently failed to take.

Asking him whether this was going to be a long summer of discontent for Ming Campbell, Chris sidestepped the question, saying that after our excellent by-election results the pressure is actually on David Cameron. No mention of Ming in his reply.

The next article on the programme is about Charlie Chaplin, with the lovely Richard Briers. I've never been a fan of the silent movie stars, but maybe I'll have to take another look.
Next up is Tory MP Chris Grayling, who at least proves that being follicly challenged is no bar to progress in politics. When Chris Grayling is asked whether David Cameron is struggling as Tory leader, unlike our Chris he launches into a defense of his leader.

And finally, before I venture out nto this glorious sunshine, this blog has been ranked 23rd= among Lib Dem blogs: I'm sandwiched between Duncan Borrowman, Lynne Featherstone MP and Chris Keating. I feel like Reading FC, playing with the big boys!

Friday, 3 August 2007

As if to make my point...

Today's Echo carries two pro-elected mayor letters, including one from the husband of one of our Conservative Councillors, who signs himself as part of the "Mayor for Darlington Group". I wonder if anyone will send in a letter arguing against the points made by these writers?

In our "Say No To Tesco" campaign, every piece of pro-Tesco publicity or comment was immediately countered by someone from our team, either by writing to or by contacting the local paper. But, as far as I know, there is no organised campaign team for a no vote, so it's down to unorganised individuals to put their heads above the parapet.

A good friend of mine with a very popular stall in the Indoor Market tells me his customers are overwhelmingly in favour of a directly elected mayor. Eight weeks from today they'll be counting the votes...tick tock, tick tock.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Sleepwalking and shooting yourself in the foot.

Last week, in a friendly chat with one of our Labour councillors, he expressed the view that we were "sleepwalking towards a directly-elected mayor". Maybe it's because of the holidays, but so far, apart from a press article about the historical role of our traditional mayor, there has been very little heard from the "no" campaign. Is there even going to be a "no" campaign?

Most councillors (particularly Labour councillors, who fear losing their power to a non-Labour mayor) are opposed to the idea of a directly-elected mayor in Darlington, so, with the referendum less than two months away, you'd have thought they would have borne this in mind in yesterday's Planning Applications Committee. But not a bit of it!

The main argument being put forward by the supporters of a directly-elected mayor is that he or she would be more responsive to the wishes of the electorate. Among other cases, they quote the case of the White Horse Hotel and the support of Labour Councillors - against the wishes of local residents - for plans to redevelop it.

So, yesterday, when local residents vociferously opposed plans to create a new riverside path through their neighbourhood, what do the Labour Councillors on the Planning Committee do? They vote against the wishes of local people and approve the new path! Given the opportunity to delay the decision while they made a site visit, they decided to plough on regardless. Local opposition was flagged up well in advance of the meeting: they had the opportunity to placate local opposition, but pushed ahead anyway.

This is just the sort of Council decision that gave the petition group its impetus. Talk about handing your opponents a loaded gun!
Postscript: as is pointed out in the comments below, I haven't specified where this path is to be built, so here's a link to the Echo story.