TC Mismanagement Gives Way To More Adizone Stories This Week

Cllr Peter Burch exercising at Canvey's Adizone

AS IF IN AN EFFORT to quickly change the subject, the Echo, this week, decided not to follow-up this Blog’s revelations regarding Canvey Island Town Council’s financial mismanagement. 

Max Orbach, presumably stung into action by a Canvey Island Independent Party source, was, I am told, querying my interpretation of the Town Council’s latest budget; but dispensed with trying to contact me after looking at the actual figures

Interestingly though, the Echo did not run a similar article. Instead it reverted to rehashing an old piece on Kismet Park’s Adizone – with a twist. 

Instead of padding its allegations of yobbish behaviour with comments drawn from CIIP councillors, it introduced the island’s latest local celebrity, Colin Letchford, as the unhappy residents’ spokesman. And Colin, true to form, gave his own inconsistent take on why the public gym should be removed. 

Whenever I go past there are children as young as eight playing on it, even though a sign clearly states it is only meant for 12 years and over. 

It is dangerous for them, but they use it because the neighbouring playground for younger children is so run down. 

Shouldn’t the council have some form of security to ensure younger children are not injured using it? 

This is the same Colin Letchford who, when speaking to Rebecca Harris, in my presence, completely sided with her view (regarding Canvey’s Concord pool) that the Labour Government’s onerous Health and Safety Legislation needed to be rolled-back and a more sensible approach adopted to public facilities. And the same Colin Letchford (whose own report on the Concord pool highlighted its dangers to youngsters) who took the view that those dangers were acceptable and the council need only erect a sign saying that the facility is used at the public’s own risk to avoid any possible prosecution. 

So, having a youngster injure a limb through jamming it in dangerous rock crevices, or falling 1.8 metres from a slippery foothold is acceptable to Colin; but having the same child use the Adizone’s equipment as a climbing frame is not. 

The Echo does not make clear which council Colin is referring to in his statement. Logically, it is the Town Council (TC) to whom residents should first make their complaints; but it seems that the TC, rather than taking responsibility for the island’s yobbery alluded to in the article, would rather remain silent and pass the buck onto the local Borough Council, via Colin, in an effort to gain political points. (The Echo willingly conspired with this strategy later in the week by again raising the Concord pool topic – and quoting more Letchford comments). 

Refreshingly though, Matthew Stanton at the Yellow Advertiser, decided to adopt an objective approach to the Kismet park story. Moreover, he actually chased down Lee Barrett for a comment and succeeded in getting behind the real reason for CIIP-led residents’ protests. Despite the numerous press articles on the Adizone facility’s proposed location; coverage of its installation; announcements of its opening and, some time beforehand, having been informed by CPBC letter of the decision to erect it in Kismet Park, it seems that some 40 residents do not check their letter-box or read the local papers. 

Lee Barrett was reported as saying:- 

… The residents who want the equipment moved feel they were not consulted properly and only knew about the work when it was happening. 

I had a few calls from confused residents asking what was going on but it was too late to do anything about it. 

Meanwhile, on the subject of the Town Council and my Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act requests, the TC has not even acknowledged my last FOI’s receipt. Nor has it deemed to provide any further information regarding my first. It seems that, like denying residents their right to an Annual Town Meeting this year, the Town Council is determined not to release details of the companies and individuals whom have benefitted from their enormous expenditure over the past three years.

Spink’s Gambit For An Elected Mayor In Question

BOB SPINK and Dave Blackwell will be wondering what on earth they have done, this bank holiday week-end, to upset their tame poodle Colin Letchford.

On Friday, the Echo reported that Letchford would prefer a return to the old committee system of local government – rather than having an elected mayor.

He is reported as saying: ‘A system which involves the whole council making decisions has got to be more democratic.’

That Letchford should publicly come to this conclusion, now that he is so close to achieving the 3,364 signatures he requires to force a referendum on the issue, may well derail our two conspirators’ ambitions to create a lucrative position from which to engineer their separatist plans.

The discredited committee structure

In the same article, Blackwell is quoted as saying: ‘In Castle Point, we are desperate to put democracy back into the council. The leader and the cabinet should sit up and take note and bring back the very democratic committee system as soon as possible.’

‘The leader and cabinet should… bring back the… committee system’?

Blackwell cannot resist the temptation to allude that the cabinet holds all the power; but, as has been shown previously on this Blog, the most powerful body in the cabinet system is the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) – of which Blackwell just happens to be chairman.

That the OSC can be abused by an opposition to undermine the elected majority is, however, not a good reason to return to the simpler, older system, in which all decisions are made by full council and in which all opposition members vote.

Whilst it is true that, under the old system, Blackwell would not be able to sit back and watch as cabinet are forced to make unpalatable choices – like closing the Concord pool – and could not then ‘call-in’ the decision to make political capital from a situation he had allowed to take place, the fact is that Blackwell’s particular form of politics was born of the old committee system (so it should not come as a surprise to find that the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP) would still benefit from a return to the old, discredited, routine).

So, how do the two systems differ?

CPBC's Cabinet System

Well, the cabinet system was imposed by the last Labour Government in an effort to streamline decision making. Rather than requiring all members to vote on every single matter that came before council, day to day matters were removed to a separate cabinet body consisting of a selection of between eight and ten majority members.

Cabinet meetings were still held in public – and non cabinet members could ask questions regarding matters in hand; but they could not vote. However, their questions could always ask the cabinet to refer a certain matter to full council if they thought there were reasons for doing so – and any member could bring any matter debated in cabinet to the attention of another body, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which was given extensive powers to ‘call-in’ any cabinet decision; investigate the matter in detail and, if necessary, refer it to full council.

Day-to-day decision making was made much quicker – because it removed the ability of an obstructive opposition to tie members up debating matters of little local concern – thereby frustrating the ability of the majority to move-on to policy matters. It was argued, by the then Labour Government, that too little was being done by local councils because necessary decisions were being purposely held-up in committees whose make-up did not represent the majority’s views.

Under the old system, many majority election pledges found their way into political committee dungeons to never again see the light of day. The cabinet system broke the back of such obstruction by ensuring that a majority’s pledges could at least be rubber stamped by cabinet before being exhaustively scrutinised. Moreover, it laid the basis for any subsequent full council vote that would either approve or reject an intact proposal. (Committees were no longer able to tinker with original majority proposals in order to ensure their subsequent rejection).

In short, the cabinet system breathed new life into councils where the majority was unable, through opposition obstruction, to implement the policies they had been elected to implement.

It could be argued that the cabinet system is actually more democratic than the old committee system; because the majority is not clandestinely denied the means of implementing its manifesto. However, there is no doubt that many long serving members feel slighted by not being able to vote on every single matter – just as government back-benchers feel slighted that they have not been picked for a lucrative cabinet post.

Of course, Blackwell and his cronies promote the idea that the cabinet holds all the power. But the fact is that the cabinet is just a means for the majority to filter matters into those that can be quickly dealt with and those that might need fuller debate. It is rather like a production line, overlooked by the opposition leader who has the power to remove any product from reaching the stores. But, of course, Blackwell will never admit to that.

You see, Blackwell is not a willing production-line employee. He is not looking to remove faulty products from the conveyor belt before they reach the packing department. He is much more concerned with allowing faulty goods to pass unnoticed so he can complain about the firm’s management when they hit the stores.

That is why you will rarely see opposition councillors attending cabinet meetings. If they did, the attending public might well ask why no CIIP member asked questions when a controversial decision was made. Just as Blackwell ensured he was not around to chair the scrutiny of the Concord pool decision, he and his CIIP councillors like to make themselves scarce when any decisions have to be made. After all, it is easier to join a protest than it is to launch one of your own (and take the risk of wrongly judging the public mood). And the CIIP’s absence has also helped to affirm the lie that cabinet takes all its decisions in ‘secret.’

Tuesday evening’s cabinet meeting was interesting, because it seems, at last, that the ruling group is finally aware of CIIP strategy. At that meeting, Pam Challis introduced an item for the council’s constitution to be modified to allow members of the general public to ask questions directly of cabinet. (At the moment they can only do so through an elected representative).

The motion, calling upon officers to investigate the legal position and asking them to draw-up a revised constitution, was passed unanimously.

The move will be warmly welcomed by residents – although CIIP members made no supportive noises when the decision was taken. Perhaps they took cabinets’ vote as a direct reflection of their own abilities to represent their constituents at cabinet – since the proposal would effectively make them redundant…

You Can Never Trust An Inde

Policy breakers - Lee Barrett and Anne Wood

IT WAS Anne Wood, the Deputy Leader of the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP), whom received the most reader attention this week.

In the matter of Kismet Park’s Adizone, Wood demonstrated just how reluctant she was to comply with her party’s policies – when she could instead gain some welcome local media attention by supporting a 41-weak resident petition to none other than Castle Point Borough Council’s Cabinet.

That is the same Cabinet that Wood and her CIIP colleagues, together with Colin Letchford and the Swann sisters, have continuously accused of being undemocratic; meeting behind closed doors; and taking all decisions in secret.

On Tuesday evening, the Cabinet met as usual in the Council Chambers – along with general members of the public and non-Cabinet members wishing to raise questions on their electors’ behalf. And, as in the case of all other Cabinet meetings, it was Webcast for the benefit of any resident unable to attend.

Following David Marchant’s presentation of the Adizone petition, a confused Lee Barrett (CIIP, East Ward) used his question to call upon Cabinet member Peter Burch to postpone any decisions over the Adizone equipment.

Peter Burch (Conservative, Cedar Ward) was forced to explain to him that it was impossible to postpone a decision that had already been taken and enacted.

That Barrett was so out-of-touch with political reality will come as no surprise to residents who will remember his vague proposals, made to council, regarding the provision of youth facilities in the Paddocks (which would have not received the cursory rejection it did, had he made any attempt to put forward a detailed proposal – rather than a nebulous idea).

But Barrett did not seek to raise any of the anti-social behaviour aspects, which would be later alleged by Wood. He addressed only the petition’s first point – that its signatories did not want it. ‘Our councillors were not consulted,’ the petition read. ‘We were not consulted and we do not want it [the Adizone].’

Wood used her question to paint a graphic picture of local unruly youths throwing stones, bricks and eggs at local resident’s houses; smashing bottles and urinating.

The Adizone, she said, had become a magnet for all the island’s unruly youth.

‘What action are the Cabinet going to take?’ she demanded.

A surprised Godfrey Isaacs (Conservative, St James) explained that he was unaware of any such problems. Nor was he aware of any increased level of complaints regarding anti-social behaviour to the local police. He would, he assured her, look into the matter and come-back with a proposal she might accept.

Neither Wood, nor Barrett, sought to highlight the petition’s concluding reason to have the Adizone removed: that, ‘There are no public parking and no public toilets.’

Had Wood and Barrett been paying attention to the wording of the petition they were supporting, a case might have been made for restoring part of the £60,000 budget savings (made by Council from installing the Adizone – and constantly criticised by the CIIP) to address the toilet issue. But neither co-operative, nor intelligent, politics, through which CIIP policies might be achieved and community lives and facilities improved, are part of the Indes’ strategy.

The CIIP would rather trash three of its seven policies, upon which it was duly elected, and disregard its responsibilities to residents in order to obtain some meagre column inches in the local press.

Throughout their local election campaign, the CIIP cried Freudulently from their Website: ‘You can never trust a Tory;’ but events this week illustrate that the exact opposite is true.

It is the Canvey Island Independent Party that cannot be trusted – and their actions this week have proved it…

‘The People Have Spoken – We Are Just Not Sure What They Said’

For the first time since the Second World War, Britain is to be governed by a coalition. On Tuesday, Gordon Brown decided to break the hiatus by tendering his resignation to the Queen whilst David Cameron and Nick Clegg were still in the midst of final negotiations.

As Cameron addressed the press in front of Number 10 Downing Street, it was still unclear as to whether the Lib-Con agreement would be finalised; but, on Wednesday morning, the markets were finally buoyed as Cameron and Clegg shook hands on the steps of the prime ministerial residence.

A new government had taken shape against the background of UK unemployment passing 2.5 million – the highest since 1994 – and a staggering financial crisis.

One of biggest tasks facing the new government lays in paying-down the country’s debt – and the Liberal Democrats have shifted their position by supporting 6 billion pounds of cuts to take place this year. The Conservatives have modified their aims too, to incorporate Lib Dem policy.

Cameron and Clegg outside no 10

From next April, the first stage in increasing the personal tax allowance to £10,000 per year will come into force – providing a welcome respite for the lower paid in times of economic frugality.

Constitutional and voting reform will take place under the eyes of the new Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and we can anticipate a referendum on the latter. In return, the Lib Dem pro European stance has been set aside for this, five-year, parliament.

The National Identity Card scheme will be scrapped; but the employee portion of Labour’s NHI increase will take place next year, countering some of the benefits of reduced taxation from the personal allowance rise.

Constitutionally, it is likely that the first Act of Parliament in the new session will be to ensure fixed term parliaments from 2015.

The next general election will take place on the first Thursday in May, 2015.

During Wednesday afternoon, it became clear that this was to be a full coalition government. Despite its limited seats, the Liberal Democrats were to be fully embedded within government departments and their subsequent roles were by no means minor. Vince Cable was given the post of Business Secretary; David Laws was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Chris Huhne as Energy and Climate Change Secretary; and Danny Alexander became the Secretary for Scotland.

The full list of cabinet posts is as follows:-

  • Prime minister: David Cameron, 43, Conservative
  • Deputy prime minister: Nick Clegg, 43, Liberal Democrat
  • Chancellor: George Osborne, 38, Conservative
  • Home secretary: Theresa May, 53, Conservative
  • Foreign secretary: William Hague, 49, Conservative
  • Defence secretary: Liam Fox, 48, Conservative
  • Justice secretary: Kenneth Clarke, 69, Conservative
  • Health secretary: Andrew Lansley, 53, Conservative
  • Education secretary: Michael Gove, 42, Conservative
  • Business secretary: Vincent Cable, 67, Liberal Democrat
  • Chief secretary to the Treasury: David Laws, 67, Liberal Democrat
  • Work and pensions secretary: Iain Duncan Smith, 56, Conservative
  • Energy and climate change secretary: Chris Huhne, 55, Liberal Democrat
  • Local government secretary: Eric Pickles, 58, Conservative
  • Transport secretary: Philip Hammond, 55, Conservative
  • Environment secretary: Caroline Spelman, 52, Conservative
  • International development secretary: Andrew Mitchell, 54, Conservative
  • Northern Ireland secretary: Owen Paterson, 53, Conservative
  • Scotland secretary: Danny Alexander, 37, Liberal Democrat
  • Welsh secretary: Cheryl Gillan, 58, Conservative
  • Culture, media and sport secretary: Jeremy Hunt, 43, Conservative
  • Leader of the Lords: Lord Strathclyde, 50, Conservative
  • Minister without portfolio: Lady Warsi, 39, Conservative

Also attending cabinet will be the Minster for the Cabinet Office: Francis Maude, paymaster general (Conservative); the Minister of state, Cabinet Office, Oliver Letwin (Conservative); Minister of state (universities and science), David Willetts(Conservative); Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young (Conservative); and Parliamentary chief secretary to the Treasury and chief whip, Patrick McLoughlin (Conservative).

Attorney general, Dominic Grieve (Conservative) will be invited when required.

As soon as the posts had been formally declared, ministers were hurrying to their new offices, determined to get to work.

There was no such drama in Castle Point, where the Conservatives retained a comfortable majority in last Thursday’s local elections. But it did not take long for the Canvey Island Independence Party (CIIP), in the shape of Nick Harvey (leader of Canvey Island’s Town Council and Canvey Island North Ward Councillor) and Canvey Island South resident Colin Letchford to begin berating, what both see as, the lack of democracy in the borough.

Colin Letchford had apparently put pen to paper the day after this Blog published its Dave Blackwell: A Changed Man? piece. In a letter written to the Echo, and copied to this Blog, Letchford alleges that he was banned from the local elections count  – in which he had been asked to act as a teller by Harvey. He further alleges that the reason given was that he had had the gall to begin a petition for an elected mayor – and that the Swann sisters had been similarly banned for beginning the ‘Save Our Pool’ petition.

Like Liz Swann and her remarks regarding ‘it was actually told to Lea Swann by a Conservative Cabinet Councillor in front of one of Conservatives own who is above reproach,’ in the readers’ forum on this blog, Letchford provides no evidence for his allegations.

His letter is a confused patchwork of unfounded statistics and innuendo aimed at manufacturing a case for the CIIP to be represented in the borough’s cabinet. Along with CIIP members, he seems incapable of realising that the Conservatives hold a comfortable 33% majority and that they are therefore entitled to none. He argues that 94% of islanders are unrepresented in cabinet; but that figure is totally discredited. The fact is that 48.6% of island residents, whom took part in the last local election, are not represented by their newly elected councillors – and that the CIIP has no firm mandate because, on a proportional basis, they only have the slimmest of majorities (just 469 votes across the whole of the island – representing only 2.7%).

Letchford is keen to take the opportunity for promoting his petition for an elected mayor; but it transpired in our discussion that the true purpose behind it is not to provide residents with the opportunity of electing a charismatic council leader. Letchford states that the purpose behind his petition to have an elected mayor is because: ‘The mayor chooses the cabinet members.’

As already pointed-out on this Blog, Letchford’s petition is simply another means by which the CIIP hopes to infiltrate the policy making body of Castle Point Borough Council – and provide a lucrative post for its main sponsor.

And Letchford, it seems, is also unable to understand that, even if Spink were elected as mayor, and he were to fill the eight cabinet positions with CIIP colleagues, that there would still be no change in the balance of power. If mainlanders voted in the same way as now, they would still retain their majority. Consequently they would hold a majority on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, as they do now, and be in a position to call-in every cabinet decision and refer it to full council – where it could be easily defeated.

Spink: "I've been here before. Maybe I'll be here again..."

But Spink is not that disorganised. He knows that, with his media savvy and increased profile, a position as elected mayor would provide him with a platform that could be used to his advantage. And again it is the far-left protest strategy that will be employed. Despite it being the majority whom would defeat his ambitions in the chamber, Spink would continue to call ‘foul’ and point to the Conservatives as continually blocking him.

Same old, same old. And the borough and this island would continue to stagnate while Spink and his colleagues played their political games (while lining their pockets with taxpayer funds and enjoying civil benefits).

Is this all about island independence from Castle Point? Well, if it is, Blackwell and his colleagues are not saying anything. Just as they have never made clear their position on any other matter. If it is, then residents have a right to know just how much separation will cost them. A rough estimate, at the present time, is that islanders’ Council Tax would soar three-fold.

But if it were about island independence, why do the CIIP not stand on the mainland and provide all residents with the opportunity of voting for separation? That way they could democratically achieve a majority with which to pass such a resolution.

The answer is that it would not create a power-base for Spink’s own Independent Save Our Green Belt Party – and his and Blackwell’s ambitions to be Lords of their purposely divided manors would not be fulfilled…

‘Like children refusing to play a game because their arch enemy is more popular than they are’

THE QUOTE IS STOLEN from a comment made by a regular contributor to this blog, Cynical Observer, whom was referring to the Canvey Island Independence Party (CIIP).   

This week Bob Spink, our local MP, has maintained an uncharacteristically low profile whilst the CIIP and Neville Watson have been keen to muster the local press and disrupt local online forums. While Dave Blackwell, the CIIP’s leader, was misrepresenting himself here in an attempt to manipulate resident opinion, it now transpires that Anne Wood, the deputy CIIP leader, was abusing the Methane, Mud and Memories blog in a similar fashion.   

Meanwhile, in the Echo, Janice Payne was reported scorning the idea of any part of Canvey being used for 48 hours as an Olympic Park and Ride station; Dave Blackwell and John Anderson were photographed side-by-side in a piece about an ‘ex-cons’ hostel’ in Second Avenue (that both were apparently unaware of despite being town and borough councillors with their ears devoted to residents’ concerns); Nick Harvey had his photo taken with the backdrop of a sign he was complaining about, which the borough council had erected; Dave Blackwell made another print appearance attacking ‘the council and Natural England’ (Blackwell is keen to shorten his phrase to ‘council’ when the county council is concerned – just so there can be some confusion) over its plans for an invertebrate reserve; and Colin Letchford (Concord Pool report man – and totally unconnected with island politics) decided to start a petition for an elected Castle Point Mayor.   

The latter piece is interesting, because, as the Echo states in its article:-   

Elected mayors may choose their cabinet and then decide how much power they want to share with other members, but the buck ultimately stops with them.   

Here we go with the CIIP’s second front. If they cannot seize power via the election box they will again conspire with Spink (in the same way as they did for establishing a Canvey Town Council) to subvert the majority’s wishes. No doubt, if Spink is not re-elected, we will see him installed as mayor. The conspirators’ plan is obvious – wrench power at any cost.   

What Colin is apparently unaware of is that his proposals do nothing to change the current position where some decisions are taken by Cabinet. In other words: an elected mayor would appoint the Cabinet (in the same way as the Prime Minister appoints his) – rather than having full-council elect a leader whom then appoints their Cabinet, as is currently the case.   

The current system, because the leader is chosen by full council, is, in most people’s mind, more democratic.   

Now, I am not a political journalist. But what frustrates me, in this island’s politics, is the constant whining of the CIIP about the Cabinet – as though they have been denied some ‘right’ to participate in it.   

It is complete, utter, nonsense. And, were the CIIP ever to form a majority in the borough, you can be sure that their Cabinet would consist only of CIIP members.   

Margaret Thatcher had no Labour or Liberal members in her Cabinet. Gordon Brown has no Conservative or Lib Dem members in his. That is how British Democracy works. The majority are given the power to implement their manifesto, which the public has democratically chosen. And local government is no different in that respect.   

Letchford’s petition is a distraction; but, if he does obtain enough ‘signatures’ to force a referendum and residents vote ‘yes’ to an elected Mayor, we know who the ‘Independents’’ candidate for mayor will be: a defeated Bob Spink or his puppet Dave Blackwell.   

As the CIIP’s support begins to drain away, their thoughts now turn to seizing power by other means. They know they cannot win with empty pledges and a blank manifesto, so they attempt to introduce the alternative: a personality contest to elect an all-powerful mayor (and save themselves the trouble of establishing a new front with an Independent Save Our Green Belt Party force).   

Bob Spink may have been uncharacteristically silent in the local press; but he has been busy begging for funds to support his re-election campaign. The interesting point, in his email, is that he will apparently be standing as an Independent. He makes no mention of his new Independent Save Our Green Belt Party; but readers should note that his message was sent on April 1st (April Fools’ Day) – so anything could happen, I guess.   

Spink's Yellow Advertiser Advert

Apparently, Spink’s proposed press conference, for the 20th March (don’t set too much store by readers’ voting in the link – it has been heavily modified by the CIIP) did not go ahead. So he and his new ISOGBP candidates were spared the indignity of being questioned by journalists. Moreover, the anticipated follow-up for Bob’s new party in the Yellow Advertiser, planned for the 25th according to his email, did not materialise. Instead he seems to have changed his mind and launched himself on a purely independent platform. In his advert he resorts to using the same ‘What part of [X] don’t you understand?’ sound-bites that proved so successful for him in his last campaign – when standing for the Conservatives – on immigration.   

So what has happened to the ISOGBP? It appears that Spink and his cohorts have discarded the idea of another party altogether in preference to Colin Letchford’s campaign. The strategy would allow them to rule the borough with a single mayor appointing just eight other like minds to the Cabinet. (And you can be sure that ALL decisions would then be taken there – particularly concerning members’ allowances; salaries; and the council’s own Constitution).   

This is such an obvious ‘flanker’ that I am surprised at Colin Letchford’s involvement.   

Colin: you are an intelligent man. Please do not let yourself be used by these people. How can anyone vote for, and put their trust in, any party that refuses to answer all questions put to them by the people’s representative, the Press?..   

Meanwhile, Spink, on his site, berated Cameron and Brown for, apparently, not agreeing to debate with him. Bob has this to say:-   

Like David Cameron, Gordon Brown has now refused to debate issues that affect Castle Point people with Independent MP Bob Spink   

Bob says:
“Last month David Cameron said he was going to visit Castle Point during the election but he bottled out when I challenged him to a public meeting to face the questions that local people feel are important. Questions such as:
-Improving the state pension and a bit more respect for pensioners
-Our local NHS hospitals, dentists and doctors.
-Cutting Immigration
-Protecting our greenbelt and flood plains
-Canvey Island’s new road which the Conservatives are blocking
-Removing politics from Local Government and passing power back to each Castle Point community to make their own decisions [separation]
Neither David Cameron nor Gordon Brown have the guts to debate these with me. They have no answers to the important questions, they’re both running scared.”
Bob has often debated with Brown and Cameron at Westminster but they must feel unable to debate with him on his own turf. They do not want to take the risk of being embarrassed by a straight talking, honest, Independent MP, who believes that serving the people is more important than serving a political party.   

It is interesting to see how Bob is admitting to supporting Canvey Island’s separation from the mainland – without admitting to it. (If you see what I mean).   

But Bob does like the new Nature Reserve on Canvey Marshes. He gives no credit to the Tory-led Borough Council for instigating and championing the development, of course – Bob would rather let readers assume that he was the driving force for that particular project.   

Independent MP Bob Spink today congratulates all the partners who work together to make the West Canvey Marshes Reserve such a fantastic asset for all to enjoy.
Bob says:
“I particularly congratulate the RSPB and area manager David Hedges who worked tirelessly to create this new environmental asset that will raise the profile of Castle Point for years to come.
“Two windmills, (not wind farm), will sustainably pump fresh water to maintain the lakes and wet grassland for breeding waders.
“On the site I saw British Kingfishers, a fantastic sight, they are one of the most beautiful of our birds. Of course the key attractions will be the breeding lapwings, redshanks, oystercatchers, knots, dunlins, godwits, sandpipers and little egrets. There will be many breeds of birds and ducks and also many small mammals, including the renowned great crested newt.
Work has been delayed somewhat by the wet weather but I am hoping the site can open informally in April and I am very much looking forward to the official grand opening just before summer”.   

I feel it is appropriate to leave Bob Spink hereaway with the birds, as usual…

It’s All About Respect…

THERE IS A COMMON THEME running through articles and comments on this blog, and it has to do with ‘respect.’

Perhaps I am guilty for promoting the topic by refusing to allow the ‘Page that will not go away’ to be archived and disappear from its prime position; but two events this week have once again highlighted the Respect issue.

The first was a fairly innocuous piece entitled ‘Former Canvey Soldier Wins Her Case’ – taken directly from an impartial report by the BBC; and the second concerned my own angle on the old Concord pool affair.

Many more facts are yet to emerge in the case of our own Donna Rayment, about whose case against the Army the BBC report refers. But, fortunately, The Canvey Beat was first to publish locally, showing the BBC version of the facts alongside the Echo’s opening paragraph from its RSS feed. Many readers, therefore, read the BBC version before examining the Echo link or reading the printed article.

I do not buy the local Echo, for reasons which readers will know. But I do follow its reporting of Canvey on its Website.

Whomever wrote the piece about Donna did not provide a by-line. And that is probably because the piece was designed to curry favour with the ‘just for the money’ and ‘wretched single mums’ brigade. Indeed, its opening sentence even leads ‘A SINGLE mum…’ in preference to referring to Donna as a once-serving NCO in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

It was an amateurish attempt to copy the Daily Mail’s angle, aimed at their sedentary armed-forces supporters whom wish they can somehow achieve, for themselves, a particle of the Fallen’s Glory from the comfort of their well-worn, civilian, armchairs. Not only did they denigrate Donna’s attempts at righting the undeniable wrong done to her, some even went so far as to attack her regiment.

‘Sorry chaps,’ says Jim, ‘she’s unlikely to ever to be in the front line. She’s in the HAC. The HAC is TA and may become operational but their role will not put them under fire. They’re more like an exclusive club for City slickers.’

Tell the HAC’s Fallen that!

And as to her not putting herself in harms way: she was the Commanding Officer’s driver! But Jim appears to believe that COs simply conduct operations from their own armchairs – like him.

Like virtually all other contributors to the Mail’s offering, the nearest the reprehensible Jim has ever come to combat is probably changing the uniform on his beloved Action Man doll.

Donna was a lance sergeant, for goodness sake. Do these (predominantly sexist) male contributors think that the Army promotes individuals to such a rank because they have a pretty face?..

Gratefully, the Echo’s piece did not generate anywhere near the wannabe-soldier-but-was-afraid-to-apply feedback that the Daily Mail’s article did. But the Echo can take no responsibility for the respect paid to Donna by its silent readers. Indeed, the Echo has form when it comes to generating public outcries against the righteous. Their coverage of the Julie Abel affair was written from their position of support for Dave Blackwell, then leader of the Canvey Island Town Council. And the paper even reported that Bob Spink, our local MP, would be appearing at the disciplinary hearing on the former’s behalf (as if this was evident proof that Julie would lose her case).

But were residents informed of the Borough Council’s decision in that ‘newspaper’s’ pages? No. They were not.

Well, what a surprise

Respect was the theme of that second piece this week, regarding the Borough Council’s decision to fill-in the old Concord pool. In this case, there was no respect shown to islanders. And I am not referring to Tory Borough Councillors here (whom, with the exception of Ray Howard and Tony Belford, do not live on the island).

Ray has already made clear that he disagreed with the CPBC decision to lump-in a decision on the Concord pool with other motions he agreed with, and then be whipped into a voting position. Tory councillors should be admonished for taking their eye off the ball; but it is the Canvey Island Independent Party that must bear the majority’s criticism. It is they who are responsible for the lack of any intelligent, political argument in Castle Point – and their entrenched opposition to anything that is Tory proposed has fatally wounded democracy in this borough.

Readers will know, I hope, that I personally have no political affiliation; but that I am a strong supporter of the organised Party system, which, I believe, enables problems to be quickly resolved. I certainly have no time for a disorganised rabble with no detailed manifesto for this island or its inhabitants.

Colin Letchford emailed me his report on the two seafront pools on Tuesday, and I immediately decided to publish once I had confirmed what it contained. Unfortunately, I was unable to meet-up with him until Friday morning – and only made arrangements with him to meet-up late Thursday night. I was unaware that he had also emailed the Echo.

I knew the story was ‘hot,’ and was also worried that this Blog could not do it justice. So, when I saw Matthew Stanton’s piece in the Yellow Advertiser, I sent him Colin’s report to use as follow-up.

Embarrassingly (for those who wish to provide documents to the Yellow Advertiser) Matthew emailed me back, saying that he could not open .docx files. Could I supply them as .jpgs?

Eventually I did; but it was not until late that evening (and I was a bit peeved by having to grab various screen shots in Windows 7 and then stitch them together in Photoshop to enable a fellow journalist to do his job). Moreover, I had converted and sent Colin’s .docx files as old MS Word .docs – and provided them as an email grab. As a freelance, I work constantly in Word, and could not understand the problem.

Anyway, Matthew probably didn’t get the .jpg version until the next morning – by which time he was probably thinking: ‘Who is this fool of a blogger who has sent me this when the Echo has already published it?’

Mmm… A ‘news journalist’ who does not take the local paper…

Anyway, it was late the following evening when I arranged to meet-up with Colin and verify his facts. And, as I was putting down the phone, it occurred to me that I was proposing to do nothing more than blog the story. I was not taking an active part in trying to get the problem resolved.

‘Not a good example to set your readers,’ I thought. So, despite the late hour and an early meet set for 9.00am the next morning, I decided to test my own theories on the party-political system.

Normally I would have called the local MP; but, given facts revealed on this blog, I decided not to bother. I thought about contacting Pam Challis; but Collin had told me that he had already emailed her; so I thought about contacting Julian; but that would probably back-fire on me by creating a local election issue that would see the problem remain unsolved.

Could I instigate a speedy resolution to the matter by calling on the one Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) whom I have constantly criticised in these pages for being too feeble to speak?

Well, I was not prepared to have her hang-up on me at that late hour – and decided an email would better suffice (supplemented with a ‘you have mail’ text).

I simply asked if she could meet-up with Colin and me the next morning, and sent her a copy of his report. But I received no reply. She was probably, like all sensible people at that hour, firmly asleep.

I met Colin at 9:00am as promised, and we were some ten minutes into our discussion near the old pool when Rebecca Harris arrived.

She did not bring a photographer; and she was completely unaccompanied. Just Colin, Rebecca, and myself.

I took up observer status as the Conservative Party’s PPC immediately placed the surprised Colin at ease, and then accompanied us both around the two pools while allowing him to fully present his case. She was attentive and, from time to time, gently probed Colin’s extensive island knowledge to fully grasp the situation.

Rebecca is highly intelligent, with a firm grasp of all island matters. She even knew where the Concord Cafe was (which I thought I did; only to be proved wrong – and completely unassisted by locals I stopped to ask, whom had no idea of where it was either).

Fortunately for me, Colin had said he would be wearing a distinctive red coat!

I am not going to turn this into a ‘he said, she said’ piece; because it would not do justice to the intelligent and exhaustive discussion I was witness to. But I will say that Rebecca identified an extremely original way in which the problem, which basically rests in a technical ‘what is Council Revenue and what is Capital Expenditure’ issue, might be resolved.

This was not a PPC fighting a rearguard action over her party’s Council Members; and it was not someone trying to proclaim she could immediately solve the problem. As a mere PPC she has no power or authority; but she is in a position to mediate on islanders’ behalves with her fellow Tories and, like me, she is passionate about Democracy.

I had not expected Rebecca to turn-up. I had, most certainly, not expected her to turn-up on her own (providing a non-Tory journalist with the opportunity of taking any of her candid remarks out of context or ‘quoting’ things she did not actually say). And it bothered her not one jot that Colin might have arranged to be accompanied by a troop of angry islanders to ensure his message was taken-up by this blog.

The reason why Rebecca has so little press coverage is because she does not seek it. She just likes to get on quietly with matters and give them her full attention.

In the Labworth over coffee, afterwards, I could not get her to say one bad or controversial thing about her opponents. It seems she is determined to ‘just let the public decide.’

I walked Rebecca back to her car, and she stopped to look at three plaques, peering up from the earth and uncut grass on the seawall side of the road from the council car park.

The plaques were aged and weather-beaten, proclaiming the names of lifeguards that are no longer with us.

Mounted upon stubs of wooden board, just above foot level, Rebecca read: ‘This tree is dedicated…’

She stood there a little while, letting the full impact settle in. And then she read out loud, almost to herself: ‘This tree is dedicated…’

[For non-Canvey readers: there are no trees there. Just an expanse of grass.]

When she turned around there was a tear in her eye.

‘That is so sad,’ she said.

Her words resonated with me as I walked back along the seawall to my own car. They seemed to fit my view perfectly of the island’s political situation – and I was reminded of those numerous Town Council trees and plaques.

It is all about Respect…

… (22/02/2010) – If You Are Listening Ray: Rebecca Has An Idea…

… (Yellow Advertiser, 18/03/2010) – Plans for memorial to mark lost coastguards