Thursday, 31 December 2009

There's no point in asking you'll get no reply

One thing that is increasingly apparent is that the Tories believe that they are a shoe-in at the next local elections. That is if their arrogant response to the shock news that snow fell in winter is anything to go by.

The official Tory line is that the council were magnificent and beyond reproach. I agree that the efforts by many staff was beyond the call of duty, but the whole farrago was reminiscent of a 1970s public information film where a water leak was dealt with by a family diving for the buckets, locating the stop cock and repairing the leak in the loft... whilst the narrator tells the smug nuclear family: "What a pity you let it happen in the first place".

The Tories revealed their hand when they went into overdrive rubbishing Lib Dem attempts to help residents, instead preferring to brown nose their way through the crisis with an orgy of back slapping and congratulations. What's odd is that we simply reacted to residents calling and emailing us for help because for some reason that's what we think councillors are elected to do. The Tories obviously view being elected merely as a chance to put on fancy dress and expect residents to know their place.

The people who run Reading and have run Reading for most of the last 23 years have not been the politicians but the council officers. There has been very little in the way of real politics, simply rubber stamping of budgets and policy decisions.

The Tories obviously plan to continue with the "Council knows best" approach that has characterised the way the council has approached everything from recycling to traffic management. Their claim that they are “ready for power” is a mere cipher for "don't expect anything different". In fact a very simple look at the voting record at full council meetings reveals that the Tories and Labour vote with each other against the Lib Dems far more times than their alleged Lib-Lab pact. It is more often than not a Labour-Tory consensus that prevails, with both parties hiding behind the fact the council meetings are never reported properly in either of the town's 'newspapers'.

One easy example is the last budget where we asked for speed guns to allow policing of blackspots. Both the Tories and Labour fought tooth and nail against the Lib Dem budget item, yet when it became policy thanks to us refusing to back down, they were falling over themselves to get pictured with them. Two faced muppets!

There is only one opposition in Reading. And only one party that thinks it is their role to reflect the views of and to stick up for council tax payers.

It sure ain't the Tories or Labour. They are both parties of the establishment and the status quo - now an even more appropriate analogy when Status Quo's unoriginal 12 bar three chord boogie merits an OBE from the establishment. The reality is that is was punk that changed music, not safe establishment pub rock. That's your choice with either the Tories or Labour.

If you want change, vote for the punks on the block. You know you want to... just have the courage to stick two fingers up to the boring old farts of British politics.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Shut Up and Let It Snow!

Yet more predictable chaos as once again the nation is shocked by the advent of winter and another occasion when 'once in a century' weather has ravaged the country? And what's more the term is used with absolutely no sense of irony.

Many have blogged and tweeted about the official version of events and quite honestly I'm not sure that I agree with it either. I suspect that some serious spin is being applied. We are to believe that it took until 5pm for someone to decide that there might be a teensy-weeny problem out on the roads.

Well hello! At 1pm it was clear that Mount Pleasant had not been gritted and was starting to freeze with traffic hardly moving. By 2pm there was complete gridlock in the town centre. The official story sees people sat around twiddling their thumbs until an "OMIGOSH have you seen out of the window?" moment at 5pm. Three hours of ignorant bliss? Maybe there was really nothing being done. I cannot remember a single official bulletin on local radio during that period or until the press release went out at 8pm.

I was similarly not impressed by the Council's failure to keep the buses moving. That should have been the number one priority. One of my constituents is 82 and left with no way home and a hill to climb... with shopping. In terms of reducing the congestion in an emergency, cars can be left in car parks overnight, if there is a guaranteed route home by a prioritised bus service. The council announced free parking far too late for anyone to know about it. Yet what if that had been backed up by a guarantee that all bus routes were fully gritted and operational? That is emergency planning.

When it comes to sticking up for residents, Lib Dems were all hands to the pumps, diseminating council information, pointing out where the problems were and trying to keep people up to date. Even so, we also believe that you should not make the same mistake twice and immediately called for an urgent review when it was clear that things had gone Pete Tong.

What was the Tory reaction? Since they can't help themselves - it was to spread lies. Daisy Benson calling for an urgent review apparently meant that the Lib Dems were demanding unlimited budgets for gritting. Putting words in your opponents' mouths and reacting to the words you yourself have put there is the result of taking Harry Enfield shows far too seriously:

"Now if that Daisy Benson come in here and said that she'd tear down the premature baby wing of the Royal Berks to pay for gritting across town, I'd say no Benson, you may be the hardest working councillor and undoubted darling of the local Twitter scene but you are not murdering babies to ensure that people have a safe journey home."

The only slight problem with that tactic us that she said nothing of the sort. Tories reacting to what they hope we'd say rather than we actually say is all they can manage. They really are going to have to invest in a new campaign manual.

On the other hand it is easy to be critical, so perhaps I'm being unfair and should consider how the Tory vision may be superior in some way to the Lib Dem response. Well, as is usual for a Tory promise it is, er, nothing apart from congratulating officers for their hard work. However, we know from their own mouths that the twin pillars of the next Tory budget are capped departmental budgets and cuts across the board. Out of grit? Tough luck, we have a budget to stuck to. The fuss and vitriol they kicked up when we suggested that yes, we would consider an overspend if it was for protecting children makes me think that the collapse of the town's transport infrastructure would be a mere bagatelle. I would recommend you all start packing sleeping backs and a thermos flask of soup before venturing in to a Tory run Reading in winter.

I was looking forward to the Labour reaction but they seem to have all disappeared leaving the Chief Executieve to take the flack which, I have to say, he has coped with extremely well. Doesn't mean of course that a self-critical look at what happened shouldn't be done as soon as possible. Delaying any review could be dumb. This could all be happening again in only a few more short weeks - we've only just started winter.

One of the main things that I'll be asking for is that the council puts in place more facilities to help residents help themselves. If the top of each hilly road had a salt and grit bunker, half the side roads would be clear by now with no expense to the council other than the raw materials. Yet have you seen the grit bin distribution? All nicely clumped in Tilehurst and Caversham. Equally hilly, Katesgrove has one, conveniently situated at the bottom of a hill! My road, Highgrove Street, resembles a ski jump for the winter games. We don't expect the council to grit all the roads, but it is not unreasonable for them to let residents help themselves and waving a bag of Saxa at the ice isn't quite enough.

I see a busy few days ahead for us, so whilst were working, why not have a look at our snow video?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Abnormal Service has been Resumed

Sorry folks. November was a hectic month! Fitting in the day job, council work, football matches, the fanzine and DJing (!) was always going to end up with something going by the wayside. Unlike the local Tories I'm not in favour of "Cuts Across the Board" so this blog slipped down to the equivalent of giving Baby Bonds to millionaires' children in my list of priorities.

The 'not enough hours in a day' scenario was typified by the second issue of UTA! this season being written in one marathon 32 hour session! Given that the only break I had that day was to attend a Lib Dem Group meeting and I had to cancel sleep that night, it surely proves that I truly am an artist suffering for his art!

But with the Work / Life balance now firmly tipped back in favour of Life, the spleen vent can be fully opened again. It's not as though I've had nothing to rant about.

The Thick of It final episode was an absolute classic and I suspect that you will find that being raided for quotes... although I have a lot less to choose from if I have to leave out the swearing. On the other hand it did generated a few ideas for a follow up to the original 'In The Poop'. I'm thinking that a closed circulation limited edition may be in the offing.

I only read a few local blogs on a regular basis but in the online equivalent of viewing a Zietgeist tape before resuming normal service, I had a little refresh to see how people look at the world if they don't have Pantone 1235 tinted contact lenses. Sad to say it only confirmed why I don't bother reading them. Most are the local political equivalent of This Week. On the other hand, at least Andrew Neill knows This Week is rubbish and only watched by people too lazy to turn off after Question Time.

However, I did have one unintended fit of the giggles at a 'a rant by numbers job' mascarading as political commentary. I was shocked to find out that an evil public services union was planning to bring down a major UK business. I was looking forward to this issue being brought up at the next Local Joint Forum and it would also explain what Tony Jones has been up to recently! Then as if by magic, the name UNISON disappeared?

But then we Bloggers would be toast without Find & Replace and a fervent belief that the Google cache will wipe it away in less than an hour. But thanks to a little web page archiver, it's joined the collection... ;0)