Never Mind The Cost To Residents, Just Keep Voting For An Increase

YESTERDAY’S REVELATIONS regarding the Town Council’s finances exposes the myth behind the Canvey Island Independent Party’s slogan, ‘Canvey for Canvey.’ If residents want to separate Canvey Island from Castle Point: it is going to cost them – big time.

With Bob Spink temporarily removed from the local picture, this week’s Echo coverage was the first, since this Blog’s inception, not to include any reports about protests on Canvey. Despite angling their Castle Point stories from protester viewpoints, the paper’s coverage has only been of Borough Councillors quietly getting on with the job of debating local matters and implementing their promises under the public’s eye.

Nothing has changed in the Council chamber – residents have just not been confronted with Spink and Dave Blackwell posing for the Echo’s cameras and dispensing their stream of lies.

Dave Blackwell, it seems – despite being an avid reader of this Blog – is back in hiding. When questions are raised here, he chooses not to answer – just as his party chooses not to be open about its separatist aims, or to be truthful about how much those ambitions would cost. But readers now know why the CIIP led Town Council has failed to publish an Annual Report on its Website since its first year in 2007/08 – to have done so would have revealed the extent to which pursuing un-costed policies have led to a pumped-up Parish Council’s imminent insolvency.

But Blackwell and the Town Council’s chairman, Nick Harvey, are not concerned with bankruptcy; because, unlike any private organisation, they can simply vote for islanders to contribute more. They know that, next year, they can simply tell the Borough Council to increase Canvey’s Town Council levy by 84% – and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. (If you refuse to pay: you will simply be pursued through the courts and face possible imprisonment).

It is a win-win situation for the CIIP – and one from which they have chosen to spend some three-and-a-half percent of the TC’s precept (over a quarter-of-a-million pounds) on their own remuneration.

The Town Council ploughs on. Posted today, on its Website, is the Spring 2010 newsletter, finally announcing the Armed Forces Day Parade on 26th June and stating their intention to take-over the management of Canvey’s seaside pool from the Borough Council. Moreover, a statement by the new Town Clerk, John Burridge, hints at further plans by the Town Council: ‘to provide ever improving services to our residents.’

At the moment, the Town Council provides no services – they are all provided by CPBC – but it is clear that the TC has that ambition. Furthermore, it is becoming frighteningly clear that neither the CIIP, nor the Town Council, have any idea of how much their ambitions will cost.

Islanders are being forced to write a blank cheque to a financially incompetent administration…

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‘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…

Committee Appointing Parliamentary Standards Team Have Questionable Record

(Telegraph) – THE HEADS OF THE NEW INDEPENDENT PARLIAMENTARY STANDARDS AUTHORITY will have to be approved by a committee of MPs with a questionable record over expenses and improving the transparency of the system.

The special ‘Speaker’s Committee’ is headed by John Bercow. The new speaker employs his wife as a ‘research assistant’ and previously ‘flipped’ his designated second home for expenses purposes.

Other members of the committee include Sir Stuart Bell, who has already attacked Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations. The Labour MP also employs his wife.

Don Touhig, another Labour MP who employs his wife, is also on the committee despite successfully leading attempts to block reform of the MPs’ expenses system last year. He previously argued that employing independent auditors to scrutinise claims was a waste of money.

Sir George Young, the shadow leader of the House, is the Conservative representative. Sir George headed the Standards and Privileges Committee which oversaw MPs behaviour. It has been criticised for failing to clamp down on abuses of the system. He employs his daughter.

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat representative, is the spokesman for the committee which established the previous discredited system of expenses.

The final member of the committee is Liz Blackman, a former Labour whip accused of going on last-minute shopping trips at the end of the financial year to use up her second-home allowance.

The Committee’s membership was announced on Wednesday evening in the House of Commons without public fanfare and with little opportunity for debate. Several MPs have complained over the composition of the group.

Bob Spink, our local MP, said: ‘How can the public have confidence in a so-called independent Committee that is made up of the usual suspects who have so patently failed to carry public confidence with them over the years?’

David Winnick, a Labour MP, said: ‘When it comes to the names, inevitably the question will arise: why these people? Who nominated them?

‘It is in no way to criticise those [MPs] when I say that I would be far happier if there was some sort of system whereby we could elect the Members involved, embracing, of course, the three political parties.’

The Legg Letters

WHILE THE PRESS PACK rightly pursues errant MPs for their comments on the Legg letters they have received, it is worth remembering that Sir Thomas reports to the Members’ Estimate Committee (MEC), which is headed by six MPs whom are themselves tainted by the expenses scandal.

The six committee members, lest we forget, are:-

  1. John Bercow, the Speaker and Conservative MP for Buckingham, who ‘flipped’ his second home from his constituency to a £540,000 flat in London and claimed the maximum possible allowances for it. His expenses files reveal he also twice charged the public purse for the cost of hiring a chartered accountant to complete his annual tax return.
  2. Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons and Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, who hired Scarlett McGuire for ‘consultancy’ services on the public purse. She also claimed for party political propaganda and bought expensive gadgets.
  3. Sir Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, who claimed £750 for food in December 2005, reduced to the maximum monthly amount of £400, and designated his second home as a flat in London and claimed £1,400 a month rent. He is also an outspoken critic of Legg setting ‘retrospective rules.’
  4. Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon, who had to be reminded twice by parliamentary officials to submit receipts with his expenses claims.
  5. David Maclean, Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border,
    who spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money renovating a farmhouse before selling it for £750,000.
  6. Sir George Young, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and Conservative MP for North West Hampshire. Young claimed the maximum second home allowance on his London flat for the past two years and also billed taxpayers for the cost of a video camera so that he could broadcast clips of himself at work on YouTube.
Sir Thomas Legg

Sir Thomas Legg

Public calls for Legg’s inquiry to be broadened from its original remit of carrying out an independent review of second home allowances claimed since 2004/05, are, therefore, unlikely to be satisfied. Diligent Legg is trying his best to make the most of a bad deal; but the fact remains that he is no more than a rabbit sent forth on a foraging mission before returning to the set of foxes that dispatched him. He cannot publish anything without it first being approved by the MEC. 

Sir Christopher Kelly

Sir Christopher Kelly

The battle to uncover the full extent of corruption in our Parliament is likely to drag on for some time. Next month will see the publication, by Parliament, of another set of MPs’ expenses (suitably redacted) and December will see the final report from Legg and the results of the inquiry headed by Sir Christopher Kelly.

This issue will not go away; but it will only be resolved to the public’s satisfaction in May, at the next general election.

Only then will it be possible for the electorate to ensure that any sitting MP, whom has been tainted by the expenses scandal, is not returned to Parliament. And it will be up to the local press to ensure that their citizens are kept fully informed.

… (14/10/2009) – ‘All MPs should be subject to an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs’

… (28/10/2009) – Speaker John Bercow Ensures ‘Flippers’ Get Away With It