Politics is not a game known for honesty but I am getting really fed up with the twisting of the facts being spouted by the No2AV campaigners in the run up to the referendum.

Think for a moment, if they had a good argument for voting against AV, why do they only use sniping and sneering? Why do they try to scare people with threats of “the BNP will be stronger” (far from true, ask the BNP)? It’s because they’re scared they’re going to lose their unfair advantage.

They don’t want the millions who voted against them in the last election to have an equal say. Despite this, if AV is so awful, why would so many Labour MPs be in favour of it when they know it’ll make their work harder? The reason is simple; they believe in democracy and AV will result in governments that are closer to what the WHOLE nation wants.

Here are a few No Voter myths exploded:

• “The Lib Dems would always be part of a coalition government” RUBBISH! – Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University has calculated that the 1997 election being run under AV would have given Tony Blair’s Labour Party an even bigger majority. In 2010, the LibDems would have only won about 20 more seats but that would have made a Labour/LibDem coalition more feasible, which probably better reflects what the 7 million LibDem voters and 9 million Labour voters would have preferred. In the 90 years that Australia has used AV, it has elected only one coalition, while Britain has had at least three and Canada’s provinces even more. Both of them use First Past The Post.

• “AV is unfair because supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times.” TWISTING THE FACTS! What they’re actually scared of is that those voters have any say at all. Only one of your crosses on your ballot paper can actually affect the result. It might not be your first choice but it means your opinion is counted. For the first time, voters for party’s other that the main two are heard.

• “Only three other countries use AV” NOT TRUE. France and Ireland use similar systems. So do many British unions and the Conservative and Labour parties of Great Britain use it to choose their leaders. If it’s good enough for them, why not us?

• “It takes ages to count and it has to be done by machine” – NOT TRUE. The Australians have been counting their elections this way since before most of Australia had electricity. If they can do it, why can’t we?

• “The next election will cost £250 million under AV” – NOT TRUE. The only difference in cost is if we buy counting machines, which we don’t have to, and if we do the cost will be spread across several elections, so this is a CON.

• “First Past The Post is fair” – Only if you have a two party system. Remember the words of the Tory canvasser on your doorstep – under the First Past The Post, “a vote for anyone except us is wasted.” Very Fair I don’t think!

 • “First Past The Post is the most widely used system in the world” –  NOT TRUE. Various forms of proportional representation are much more widely used but the Conservative Party wouldn’t offer that option in the referendum. AV is the next best thing and far better that we vote for an improvement than stay with our tired old unfair First Past The Post system.

• “First Past The Post excludes extremist parties” – NOT TRUE. AV naturally gives a more balanced representation of a constituency’s electorate’s views because it takes everyone’s preferences into account. It is actually more likely to favour the parties towards the middle.

• “First Past The Post creates strong governments.” – Which is like saying we shouldn’t allow people who don’t vote for the main two parties to have their views heard. Why not go the whole hog and have a dictatorship?

• “AV would have no effect on safe seats” – NOT TRUE. It might not get rid of all of them but it will certainly reduce their numbers and it will definitely make all MPs work harder to prove their worth. It’s a good way of stopping them cheating on their expenses. 

• “Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats want the change the way we vote” – So do UKip, the Green Party and much of the Labour Party, including its leader, who was chosen by AV, and many millions of others who are sick of being told that their vote is wasted.

• “Under coalitions, any promises they made during the campaign are thrown out of the window.” NOT TRUE! Of course, coalition means compromise because the parties involved will have different views and must negotiate to see which of their policies get enacted. Don’t just take my word for it. Read the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos from last year and compare to what they’ve done in coalition. You’ll find a surprising number of both parties’ policies succeeding, including over 60 Liberal Democrat policies. But under a one-party government, more than half the voters will never see the policies they voted for happening. Anyway, this coalition was elected under their precious First Past The Post system, so what has it got to do with this debate?

 Remember this, in the last election, over 10 million people voted against both Labour and the Conservatives. That’s more than voted for Labour. Under our current system, over one third of the country’s votes would have been “wasted”. Under AV, those voters would have been heard! I’m voting for AV because I’m fed up with being told my vote is wasted. An honest politician would be willing to fight his or her campaign on a level playing field. Take Karen Buck MP, an honourable Labour MP who is voting for AV even though she knows it would have cost her her seat last year. She’s voting for it because she knows the importance of honest democracy. Anyone voting against AV clearly doesn’t want to lose their unfair advantage. That is anti-democratic and like the NO campaign, as dishonest as a Duck House.

I want British people to vote FOR the preferences they want not AGAINST the party they don’t want. That’s why I’m voting FOR AV on May 5th.

Edward Woolard’s impulsive throwing of a fire extinguisher from Millbank Tower and Jared Loughner’s pre-meditated massacre in Arizona may seem as far apart in motive as they are in miles. Yet both may share a connection that is steadily becoming part of our lives. Both had their ire whipped up by rabid political posturing and deliberately provocative press reporting. And while we may proclaim our disgust at their behaviour and feel some sense of cleansing in their sentencing, we are all as guilty of accepting and, indeed, encouraging this dangerous behaviour from our politicians and press.

I’ve always believed that nature and history are the best sources of advice on one’s philosophical and moral choices. True, they can be abused and misread but if they’re considered dispassionately and in depth, they can provide good guidance.  The problem is that most of us get all our nature lessons from TV and our history in lists and facts and soundbites. We forget why things are the way they are. People become so comfortable with the status quo, they assume it was always that way, not realising the pains their forebears suffered to create our system. The principles of Free Press and Free Speech and Democracy are accepted without question or reason – just as many Americans accept Jared Loughner’s right to buy an automatic assault weapon as inalienable.

But it is no good we armchair critics in Britain – and that includes our lazy news media – sitting and pointing at Sarah Palin and Fox News and Rush Limbaugh as though that would never happen here. Innaccurate and inflammatory reporting is rife in the UK. Newspapers and broadcast media alike are playing games with our lives just to see what might happen. It’s as though reporting history is no longer enough. They have to change it. 

For example, notice the way some big political “scandals” have been held back by editors for months to inflict the maximum pain on a political party.  Surely, the news media’s responsibility is to publish as soon as possible? Well, not if there’s an election looming that a news channel can deliberately destabilise.

Here in the UK, we still do things in a more sedate way than our American friends but the behaviour is no less immoral. This is not the journalism I was taught to admire. This is not the activity of a responsible free press. This is dangerous game-playing with people’s lives and with democratic society. The British media may not be as venomous or simple-minded as Fox News but it is equally manipulative. This is an abuse of privilege that is becoming more the norm than the exception.  

We smug Brits may think ourselves above our gun-toting cowboy cousins but dropped from a great height, even a fire extinguisher can be a lethal weapon. It’s about time our press woke up to the reason why it’s been given the power it wields and thinks long and hard about its responsiblities before it finds its hands covered in British blood.

Some might have noticed our Dear Leader, John Campion’s claims that the full council chose his ne-er-do-well gang-of-six cabinet. Well after next week, he need no longer pretend. Next Wednesday (Dec 1st ) there will be an extraordinary council meeting to decide on a change in the way our council is run. Sadly, the decision can only be a bad one.
 
Thanks to government legislation brought in before the general election, the council must decide whether (a) to have an elected mayor or (b) a “strong leader. The latter is the probable Wyre Forest outcome but both options set in stone the right of the leader to appoint his/her cabinet without dissent. 

Now some may say this means no change. After all, despite his protestations to the contrary, no council opposition group can vote down John Campion on the cabinet members he wants and his own team wouldn’t dare. But this stupid idea lets him do it legitimately – unless a few hundred angry people go down to the Civic Centre next Wednesday evening and demand the council agree to a mayor elected by the public. Who fancies standing?

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. On Monday, the Localism Bill was announced which, should a council so desire, makes it possible to end the dictatorial Blairite cabinet system and return to committees. It will take about 18 months to get through, so we have a long campaign to ensure that the one-party cabal that runs our district and our county into the ground is never allowed to do so again.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

For anyone who cares about the principle democracy, there appears to be a perfect storm looming.  The turbulence is heading towards us from several fronts. Stirring it up are the robber barons, Murdoch Snr and Jnr, Lord Ashcroft and the Brothers Barclay. None of them have the slightest interest in the free speech and true popular vote that they claim to champion. They rarely live here; I bet their tax payments are “interesting” and, as the Barclays demonstrated in Sark and Murdoch is now doing in the USA, they see the whole concept of democracy as a bit of a game.

To we mere pawns it is no game, at all. Between them they are attempting to strangle the news media, kill off the BBC and wreck the only real opportunity for a fairer electoral system in Britain.  Already, Ashcroft lackeys are talking down the Alternative Voting system by twisting the way it works and scaring the public. Mark Garnier, the Wyre Forest MP, wrote the most distorted piece of disinformation about the way AV would have worked in the last election. He is just one of hundreds of Tories who recognise that AV means having to fight for their jobs, rather than just assuming they will win.

Meanwhile, Murdoch’s non-news channels are pulling the strings of the Tea Party movement that threatens to shatter intelligent political debate in the US. While here, he is running crying to the European Commission because he’s not allowed to buy 100% of BSkyB – a purchase that would give him domination of the British media.

His son is also stirring up a little tornado over the unfairness of the BBC’s funding. What on earth would he know or care about fairness? The BBC is flawed, especially under the watch of the visionless Mark Thompson, but it is one of the finest creations we have. Sky, on the other hand, is anything but. The BBC is a creator and sets standards (sometimes). Sky does neither. If life’s so unfair for Sky, why do the Murdochs want to buy it? Further, the Murdoch’s are trying to persuade Cameron to ditch the official ruling that news channels must be balanced. If they win we will end up with the kind of rabid rabble rousing rubbish that has given America the Tea Party – a movement of moronic, self-destructive idiocy whose success, if it does succeed, threatens the stability of the whole world. Imagine President Sarah Palin? Murdoch seems to think that would be a bit of a laugh.

What we are facing goes far beyond the moral fairy tales of Robin Hood and Citizen Kane. This is the sort of upheaval that required the Magna Carta in 1215. Almost 800 years on, we have learned little if we let these deeply selfish and detached people decide what we are allowed to know and say.

Well done to the sixth formers of Stourport School for their letter to Mark Garnier. Stourport and King Charles needed rebuilding most of all in Wyre Forest and I hope Mark will ensure that he passes their letter on to the relevant Minister.

This month, Michael Gove, the Conservative Secretary of Education, will be announcing the results of his department’s review of capital spending project on schools, which will come along with the double whammy of George Osborne’s spending review – expected to be the most painful ever. So, when I went to the Liberal Democrats Conference in Liverpool two weeks ago, I wanted to collar any LibDem MP or Minister involved with schools to ask them to put in a good word for Wyre Forest. I know Mark Garnier told me there was nothing much I could do and I’m sure he’s doing what he can, but shy boys get no cake… and Wyre Forest schools haven’t had their fair share of the cake in the last 30 years.

Sadly, I was shocked to discover that Michael Gove’s department’s review seems to be a back-of-the-envelope job. As I wrote in the Shuttle last month, the agency in charge of capital spending, Partnerships for Schools, wrote to me to let me know that the DoE was taking evidence from schools, local authorities and construction firms to decide which schools needed the money most. I passed this information on to councillors, who in turn gave it to school heads and our MP.  It appears no-one was aware of this opportunity. Worse, at a meeting in Liverpool with MPs and Russell Hobby, Chief Executive of the Association of Head Teachers, I found they didn’t know about it either, including Tessa Munt MP, who sits on the Select Committee for Schools and who was shocked when she read the letter.  

It may well be that Michael Gove has no idea his Civil Servants are not doing their job, but it is his job to take responsibility for their actions.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Mark Garnier, our recently elected MP said in his “View From Westminster” (Kidderminster Shuttle, 7th September) that he was against the AV voting system that is up for referendum next May. He argued that the 31% of voters who opted for Richard Taylor would have not had their second preferences considered until last because he’d come a close second.

Mark is picking a very warped way of looking at the system. The people who voted for Richard first might well have been elated, not because their second preference wouldn’t have been considered before BNP, Ukip, Liberal Democrats or Labour (in that order), but because as the second votes for each of those parties had mounted up until one candidate had more than 50%, Richard may well have beaten Mark. I think he would.

Mark subtly sells our current “first past the post” voting system as “a system we are all familiar with”. Well, after the expenses scandal, familiarity breeds contempt. He also says, “Electors are asked not to pick their favourite candidate, but to rank them in order of preference.” Typical political double-talk. He should have said, “Electors are asked not just to pick their favourite candidate, but also their order of preference for the others.” Isn’t it better to say to someone, “If you don’t get your first choice, who would you like next?” rather than, “You didn’t get your first choice so your vote is wasted?”

AV is not perfect, but it’s the system that both the Conservative and Labour parties use for electing their leader, so why not us? Are these people so much cleverer than us? Of course not. What the AV vote offers is the chance for people to vote for what they want instead of what they don’t. How many people reading this voted against Cameron or against Brown instead of for something? What way is that to run an electoral system?

AV also offers the chance for a regular turn-over of MPs, all of whom really have to prove themselves to win again, rather than sit smugly knowing no other party will ever oust them. It’s the multitude of safe seats across the country that lay at the heart of the expenses scandal. To be honest, AV may well not favour my party. It probably won’t but it’s better than an archaic system that forces people to vote tactically and gives us stale, complacent MPs.

Many of us inside and outside the coalition might be having a hard time coming to terms with this way of working. Yet, how much better is it to have several points of view at the decision making table than one with a massive majority riding roughshod over anybody else’s views as we have in Wyre Forest District Council and Worcestershire County Council? That’s why I’m voting in favour of a fairer voting system next May.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

The problem with Wyre Forest District Council’s parking review is not that they want to increase parking fees. That’s life these days. The problem is the unfairness and dishonesty of the council’s approach. The on-line document that the public were supposed to find during the “secret” consultation period concealed vital facts and confused others.  It’s little wonder the public and press didn’t catch on to what the council was up to. It’s also little wonder that this document seems to have disappeared now the “consultation” is over.

What really galls is the council’s constant use of words like “consistency, fairness and equity” as the reason for the changes, while being anything but.  The people of, say, Franche or Sutton Park, don’t need parking permits on car parks because they have ample space on their drives or on the street. My father has a small house in Nursery Grove but it has sufficient drive and frontage to squeeze three cars; all free of charge.  In Mitton, Stourport or the narrow streets of Bewdley’s old town, many people have no parking space, at all. They can only use the car parks,  so, of course, fairness and equity are impossible. Indeed, the plans do not even attempt to be equitable. Why, for instance, is the proposed daily rate for parking in Vale Road, Stourport, double that of Blakedown? How is that consistent, fair or equitable? It isn’t and the council is either lying or in denial for saying it is.

People have cars because Wyre Forest cannot afford the comprehensive public transport system of a major city and because most people work outside the area.  It is the council’s duty to help their taxpayers to accommodate these vehicles and to do so at a fair price.  £260 per year is not a fair price. It is double that of St Johns Wood or Mayfair in London. The council knows it’s not fair, which is why it omitted the amount from its public consultation document and why it snidely remarked that the current Residents’ Parking Permits in Bewdley are “subsidised”. They are not. The council profited by half a million pounds on off-street parking last year. There is no subsidy involved in on-street parking in Wyre Forest. Anyone buying something in bulk in advance, should rightly expect a discount. It’s the same principle whatever they’re buying, including parking, and for the council, every resident’s parking permit paid for a year in advance is money in the bank.

 As to the free car park in Vale Road, the council seems determined to dig an even deeper hole for itself. Twice in the past the council has attempted to levy charges on its users, even though many of them are residents of Mitton with no choice; even though it would be damaging to the economy of Stourport’s main and beleagured shopping streets; even though everyone in Stourport believes the land was given over by Thomas Vale for the free use of Stourport residents. On both occasions the council was rebuffed by the family who gave the land for the road that bears its name, Vale.

Even the recently deleted council parking review document admitted that there was agreement that the car park would be free until a footbridge was built across the road. It gave the County Council’s disinterest in investing in such a crossing as the reason to ignore the agreement and charge fees regardless. It is a sad sign of the times that “a man’s word is his bond” is regarded as irrelevant when cash is involved. The council itself destroyed thousands of documents in the 1970s and now regards the lack of hardcopy legal proof of the agreement as reason to ignore the weight of public opinion that the agreement existed.

I met with members of the Vale family last week and they are convinced that there was such an agreement. They wrote to the council when they heard of the changes and were brusquely dismissed with a bill of sale from 1947 that “proved” the council’s right to do what it liked. The document was missing the page with the signatures and therefore was no proof, at all. It is currently posted on the council website. What else was on that missing page? And such documents usually follow a chain of correspondence to agree the terms. Where are they? Were they destroyed? The council seems happy to offer incomplete evidence as “proof” and yet dismiss the opinions of those who remember. Where’s the fairness and equity in that?

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

You’d never guess which way the Conservative Cabinet of Wyre Forest District Council want you to vote in the “Mayor or Strong Leader” referendum, would you? I don’t hold with the Kingmaker principle which gives such power to the likes of Red Ken or Bonkers Boris and I would really like a change to a “strong leader” in Wyre Forest. Most of all, however, I do not want to see deliberate bias in the way the electoral campaign is run. The phrase “Mayor or Strong Leader” is slanted.

If they’d wanted it the other way, would they have put “Elected Mayor or Unelected Council Leader”? Either way, it’s wrong and anti-democratic and the council has a duty to be impartial.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman,

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Coalition is difficult when your philosophy on life is so different from your partners. The announcement in George Osborne’s emergency budget that housing benefit is to be slashed (a benefit that goes largely to people who are working but low paid – not simply to Cameron’s “benefit scroungers”) clashes directly with Eric Pickles decision to set council’s free from affordable home building schemes. It creates a perfect property storm which,  as a Liberal Democrat who believes in social justice, I cannot agree with this, however bleak our financial situation.

The result is a trap from which only those who already have their own homes can escape. Cutting house building will keep property prices artificially high – and therefore private sector rents, as well. Cutting housing benefit will make it impossible for many thousands of families to afford adequate accommodation. The long term cost of this is further social disruption, poorly educated young people and increased crime – all of which will cost Britain more in the long run.

In addition, those employed young people who are working to better themselves will be caught in the trap because increased pressure on banks for fiscal responsibility and the lack of affordable housing will mean they cannot get mortgages. These are the people that we older ones will be relying on to run the country when we retire. We are letting them down.

There is an alternative, however; one which would cut benefit bills and help get young people on the housing  ladder – a crash in property prices.  If British housing reverted to the sort of value it had in the 1980s – about three times the average salary, rents could fall, benefits could fall and working young people could buy their own homes.

Having spoken to a developer about this, such a crash will only work if land prices tumble, too but there is another problem blocking this. City companies have spent many years buying up land whenever it comes onto the market. Although land banking in the 19th century started the honourable path to mutual building societies, these days it serves no productive purpose other than to make rich people richer – or to rip off naive investors. It also keeps the price of land artificially high by locking it away until the price is right, much as the De Beers company only lets its vast stocks of diamonds out in a trickle.  At current exhorbitant land prices, developers cannot profit from “affordable” house building unless the government subsidises it, which Pickles refuses to do. This is a vicious circle in which productive business and the most vulnerable of the British public are caught. It has to stop.

There is no doubt that a property crash will be painful for some. Those who have ridden the property gravy train since the eighties will find their portfolios collapsing in value. This is not to be taken lightly as it includes pension funds and many honest individuals. It will doubtless cause problems in the markets, as well. The government will have to protect those whose mortgages suddenly exceed the equity in the houses and the building societies will have to play along. After all, the building societies were the reckless ones offering outrageous loans on limited proof of ability to pay.

It will be painful but these are short term issues and certainly not as damaging as the measures the Government is planning against the poorest of our society. In time, perhaps we’ll get back to remembering that a house is not an investment but a home. Whether you live in it yourself or rent it to someone else, a home for everyone is key to a stable society and a prosperous future for Britain.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

It’s been a weird few days. The British national press, undoubtedly the most miserable and destructively dishonest in the world, has driven us all into a hole about the post-election negotiations. But although we’re not used to it, it is nowhere near the disaster that pundits and hacks state.

We have actually got exactly what many people were saying they wanted – no single party so powerful it could wreck our lives. We could have been left with an unfettered Tory government, slashing and burning jobs, businesses and families across the nation and isolating us from the world. We could have had Gordon still in power, exhausted, bereft and without the nouse or  influence to do anything. Or we could have what we voted for – none of the above without the influence and commonsense of the Liberal Democrats to temper their excesses.

Difficult as it is for me to swallow, profoundly opposed as I am to the mean-spiritedness of Conservative doctrine, I would rather they sat round the table with us and gave in to some of the policies our 7 million voters fought for than “Nightmare on Downing Street 2” in which the role of Margaret is played by Dave.

Chin up, Britain.

After making the second most stupid mistake of his career (letting the Liberal Democrats get equal billing on the Prime Ministerial debates),David Cameron has called in the Tory press and told them to destroy Nick Clegg.  This desperate measure was exposed by BBC political editor Nick Robinson after he heard that the Mail, Telegraph, Times and Sun had separately visited Tory head office for a briefing on removing the Clegg factor.

Luckily, the press went so over the top, the plot has backfired. Cameron has exposed the fact that these papers are biased and have no interest in true journalism. Messers Barclay, Rothermere and Murdoch all think our government is a toy for them to tinker with in their spare time. Cameron is their puppet. The British deserve better than this spoiled brat who has thrown a hissy fit because he’s not getting his way.

And the first mistake? Squandering Britain’s negotiating power in Europe by siding with a bunch of extremists who have no say and no ideas.

Vote Liberal Democrat and save us from this child.

On Sunday, 28th of March I was invited to talk on the BBC1 Politics Show about David Cameron’s statement on repealing the Hunting Act. I gave my opinion that Cameron’s offer of a free vote was a piece of electoral grandstanding that showed poor prioritisation at a time when we should be debating the economy, schools, the two wars we are still embroiled in etc.

Naturally, there was only time for an outline comment in the minute that I had, so I hope you’ll take the time to read my more detailed response here.

What Cameron is offering is the opportunity for a free vote to repeal The Hunting Act, which was brought in after 700 hours of Parliamentary debate in 2004. What Cameron is not saying is how he will vote or what he will do about the elements of the act that even the hunting fraternity believes needs regulating.

Now, there are plenty of reasons for changing the act. There are poorly drafted areas of vagueness that can trap farmers into breaking the law for using dogs merely to chase foxes away from their livestock.  The police, too, find it difficult to enforce and so tend to avoid getting involved as it’s far too difficult to obtain a conviction without wasting weeks of police time. This has led to animal rights activists taking on the monitoring role, which is confrontational and has recently caused the death of a hunt follower.

 Yet rewriting the law is not what Cameron is offering.  He’s just suggesting a free vote on its complete repeal with no thought to a more sensible replacement.  This leaves areas of hunting that even decent members of the hunting community find cruel and unnecessary. Basically, he’s just chasing votes and hasn’t considered the consequences… other than winning.

What is truly insulting to me about this is that David Cameron is willing to waste time repealing a law that took over 700 hours of Parliamentary time to instate.  His own Lords caused much of the delay last time, killing off the chance for many other worthy bills to pass legislation.

This time round, if Cameron actually cares at all about the rural community, why is he wasting his time on this retrograde step instead of reining in the food conglomerates and retailers who have squeezed dairy farmers out of business? Why is he not seeking help for the thousands of rural post offices that the Conservative and Labour Governments sacrificed? Why is he not seeking help for the hill farming community that is so vital to the protection of the British landscape? Why is he not saving local shops, pubs and schools in rural areas or seeking a solution to the lack of affordable housing for rural first time buyers? Why is he not seeking improvements to the Common Agricultural Policy?  These are the things the Liberal Democrats are putting way before another lengthy argument about the rights and wrongs of hunting with dogs.

I hunted as a teenager. I went beagling near Worcester and I shot my own food (largely guinea fowl) in Botswana. I found beagling a muddy bore and hunting for food purely functional, if distasteful. My stepfather is one of a large family of hunt-endorsing Herefordshire farmers, but I know plenty of other farmers and rural residents who hated it. I personally understood the thrill of the chase but not of the kill, especially by a pack of dogs.

I don’t like hunting but I also accept the need to keep pests and vermin numbers down.  The idea that chasing something to its death should be fun baffles me. On the other hand, little scientific evidence confirms that shooting is more effective or less cruel. The polarisation of the hunting debate has swept commonsense aside, so I find it very hard to find a reasonable argument in either direction. That’s not fence-sitting, merely an honest statement of fact.

What I do know, however, is that David Cameron, who refuses to air his personal views, is likely to tie up Parliament with more debate when he’s supposed to be putting all his resources into saving our shattered economy. This is cynical electioneering at its worst. It’s a disgrace.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Candidate,

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats.

What logic says that voting Tory will give us a better government? Nothing about David Cameron’s behaviour would suggest it. On Monday 4th Jan, in front of a billboard of himself looking like a botoxed Oil of Olay model, Cameron made some grand “promises” on paying off debt while protecting the NHS. It was a sham.

Within hours, both the Liberal Democrats and Labour had exposed a £34 billion hole in Cameron’s figures. By the afternoon, Cameron was reversing many of the things he’d promised, such as 45,000 single-bed hospital rooms and tax-breaks for married couples etc etc etc. Just when every penny matters, the man who would be Prime Minister had shown he couldn’t count.

Cameron’s acolytes whinged that the other parties were deliberately putting forward Tory aspirations as promises. Well, you can’t fill an election manifesto with aspirations. I aspire to a Britain where no-one pays tax, everyone has the job they want, world-class free education and healthcare are on tap, war and crime are abolished, poverty eradicated and everyone is permanently happy. People don’t want to hear aspirations. They want facts, commitments, leadership and hope.

By the end of the day, Cameron had to admit that the only thing he could commit to is that anyone who dies leaving more than half a million pounds in assets won’t pay tax on the next half a million. It’s a two year old promise affecting around 16,000 people. That’s it.

The only thing that has made the smooth-talking, silky-skinned Cameron look good is Gordon Brown. But that is only a reason to vote against Brown, not for Cameron. Surely we should be aiming for better, not just different government?

 Using the election simply to punish the incumbent is cutting our noses off to spite our faces. It’s our government and whoever is voted in will rule our lives for the next few years. Swinging back to the Tory world view is no improvement, especially for those whose jobs are at risk or who are on or below average income.

Thanks to successive Labour and Conservative maladministrations Britain is in trouble. If we really want better government, we need to do more than vote against the current lot.

There are other choices we can make so, how about these Liberal Democrat commitments?

  • Make the first £10,000 of everyone’s income tax free by taxing capital gains at the same rate as income, closing the £40 billion per year of super rich tax dodges and taxing the big polluters.
  • Reduce the size of education department bureaucracy and spend the money on smaller classes and targeted support for disadvantaged children. Give adults access to free learning that broadens their career opportunities.
  • Break up the banking industry to reduce the risk on us, get them to pay back the money we gave them and let the gamblers underwrite their own mistakes.
  • Establish accountable and more localised government so voters can sack their MPs and have more control over local healthcare, education and policing. Stop ex-patriot millionaires sitting in the House of Lords or funding political parties as Belize resident, Lord Ashcroft funds the Tory party.

If there’s one thing that scares the Tories and Labour, it’s the idea that the Liberal Democrats might get elected. They use phrases like “wasted vote” to dupe the public into playing safe and voting for them. They spread the myth that nobody votes Lib Dem. At the last election, six million people did – 25% of those who voted. There are currently over 60 Liberal Democrat MPs and Lib Dems run many of the cities of Britain. The voting tide is turning. The number of people voting for parties other than the Tories and Labour has risen from 2% in 1960 to 40% last year.

In the internet age it is much easier to find out what your candidates and their parties stand for (even Dr Taylor has a party, though it doesn’t offer any plans for pulling Britain out of the mire). So, read all the websites; watch the news; read the press and the blogs; consider, discuss and decide. The way the election goes will affect your future in a big way. So vote, not on the basis of which party you think has a chance of winning but on the basis of what you want for Wyre Forest and Britain.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Candidate

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Tony Blair says he would still have favoured regime change even if Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction – which, of course, he didn’t. Tony Blair was a lawyer and a Christian before he was a politician. Invading a sovereign nation that is not a threat to you and killing tens of thousands of its citizens in the process is neither lawful nor Christian, Tony.

There is an important difference between not preventing the deaths of a foreign people and giving the orders that result in those deaths. Saddam was a murderous crook but then so are Robert Mugabe, the governments of Russia, Turkmenistan, China, Burma and more. We are not the world police and do not have the right to pretend to be. Go to Jail, Tony. Go Straight To Jail. Do not pass Go and do not collect vast consultancy fees.

Ed Balls U-turn on CRB checks for everybody coming into contact with children is welcome but inadequate. It comes with the explanation that the independent report showed the law as drafted had “unexpected consequences”.

Well, Ed your government has created law after law after law that has unexpected consequences thanks to its obsession with control. He says that people, such as head teachers who ban conkers or stop filming of nativity plays, have over-reacted to such laws. Is it any wonder that councils, schools and other groups in authority steer well clear of clashing with such poorly-constructed, knee-jerk laws? They are too vague; too easily mis-read; too easily abused by a “no-win, no-fee” legal system that makes it far too easy for people to sue without a second thought.  The “unexpected consequence”? Nobody in authority dares risk doing anything that might result in as much as a grazed knee.

Ripon Cathedral’s ban of their ancient annual pancake race last year is a classic example. The Health and Safety Commission Chair, Judith Hackitt’s terse reaction to the ban demonstrates her naïveté at the “unexpected consequences” of her authority’s actions. The zealous enforcement of Health and Safety, combined with “no win no fee” has opened the door for the insurance industry and cynical TV-marketed legal firms to profit hugely from authorities overseeing such “high risk” events.

Thanks to Labour’s rapid and rabid reactions to tragedies like Soham, Dunblane, Milly Dowling etc, people have been deterred from volunteering. Schools, Scouts, cadets, swimming clubs have felt forced to make volunteering a difficult and uncomfortable procedure.

Even those complying with the law have to wait months to get clearance, which means shorter term projects simply can’t go ahead. I was recently contacted by someone trying to get work in the care industry in Kidderminster but failing because it took so long to acquire a Disclosure Certificate to even get an interview. A film that I have just made about children’s football could not have been commissioned if we’d had to comply with Ed Ball’s business-crippling law, costing several jobs.

Our children may be safer in the short term but their lives are so much the poorer. Can a child who cannot seek a hug from a teacher, or feel safe amongst adults be expected to face the world when they grow up? Labour might say that this wasn’t how their laws were supposed to be interpreted but what teacher would risk suspension because a parent sues if their crying child is given a reassuring hug?

However much Labour might have wanted to make our lives better, there have been far too many “unexpected consequences” from their 30,000 new laws. The slipping in of side-clauses has resulted in acts of up to 700 pages, making it impossible for proper debate by MPs.

These have inevitably caused clashes between laws. This, in turn, means judges have to make guesses as to the meaning of such laws – note the ex-soldier, Paul Clarke, who faces five years for handing the police a sawn-off shotgun he found two days late. Shabby legislation has left people not knowing where they stand and make authorities scared to cross lines or make judgements.

This is the sad legacy of the Blair / Brown years, beyond even the economic collapse or “The War On Terror”. It will be a brave future government that will go against the grain and start unravelling the mess.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Candidate, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Once again, I participated in the Kemp Hospice Santa Fun Run, along with over 300 other Santas. With the largest turnout ever, the event was a positive statement about the community spirit of many Wyre Forest citizens.

Sadly, I was the only politician to participate this year as most were busy elsewhere. Having staggered round last year on sticks, I was hoping my fitter, though not nearly fit enough, self might stand a better chance against my opposite numbers than I did last year. The Shuttle’s photographer seemed equally disappointed, so the photo is from last year by Mark Garnier. Never mind, at least I was saved from being run over by Mark who was a steward this year – a cold and lonely task. 

Kemp Hospice remains a focus for good deeds from local people and particular congratulations should go to the Co-op, which fielded a team of 50 scarlet and white beardies. Well done all.

The Tory Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne says he wants to scrap the Financial Services Agency and hand all regulation over to the Bank of England. This places himself in something of a dilemma. He has ridiculed the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable’s policy to protect our money from casino banking by splitting High Street banks from the Investment Banks. Yet the Bank of England’s Governor, Mervyn King agrees with Vince and advocates the same actions. Does George Osborne’s policy mean that he’ll capitulate and accept the Cable / King plan or that he’ll just dictate policy to the Bank of England, as the Conservatives did before 1997?

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Candidate, Wyre Forest

Nick Griffin talks of protecting the indigenous English who are the people who have predominantly been here for the last 17000 years.

Hmmm? As it’s generally accepted that the Celts turned up from eastern Europe about 3000 years ago (clearly not indigenous by the Griffin standard), followed by the Romans (with people from just about every country round the Mediterranean), the Angles, the Jutes, The Saxons, The Norse, The Vikings, The Normans and so on, that doesn’t leave many people that fit Griffin’s idea of indigenous.

Perhaps he’s decended directly from The Beaker People but as they didn’t write much down, it would be difficult to do a “Who Do You Think You Are” programme to prove it. Anyway, it seems that they spread out from Spain and were found as far away as Sicily so they’d quite possibly be… erm, Europeans!

There is nothing whatsoever about the BNP’s claims about races and nationalities that bears close scrutiny. Britain is a nation built on the blood and sweat of millions of people of every colour and creed. To suggest otherwise is cowardice. After his pathetic performance the other night, I hope people will realise that to vote for the BNP you have to be either thick or sick or both.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Candidate, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

 We’re all sick of the MPs’ expenses scandal. It’s boring, undermines our beliefs in British fair play and drives people away from politics. The best thing to happen when the MPs open their letters is to accept them, pay up and move on. I understand those MPs who want to stand and fight against being told to pay back thousands of pounds they were originally told were legitimate expenses but that’s the price that must be paid for not fixing the system earlier. It’s nothing compared to the price we’re all going to pay for the collapsed economy, which could also have been sorted years ago.

There is a bigger story, however; the story of the lack of responsibility throughout society. Britain stands or falls on the efforts of all its people. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Whether you are a multi-millionaire or surviving on benefits, you owe it to Britain and generations of its citizens that you’re alive and fed and sheltered and educated. You owe it to Britain to pay back that investment, whether by volunteering for something, working hard, complying with its laws, paying all the taxes you’re supposed to or by voting for something you believe in. There is no excuse, at all for sitting back and saying “it’s got nothing to do with me” or “well, why doesn’t the government do something about it?” Usually, the government is the last lot you want to sort things out.

I’ve been attacked recently for getting involved in exposing shoddy behaviour by local government, as though that’s the way life is and there’s no point trying to stop it. Well, I’m sorry but that kind of defeatism impoverishes us all. We are all flawed and I’m no less likely to fail than the next man, but that doesn’t mean morals don’t matter and that we should just ignore it when people do wrong. We have a collective responsibility to fix things when they need it.

As the MPs’ expenses scandal shows, if you ignore little problems, they soon turn rotten. The purpose of democracy is to give us government that best reflects the dominant view of the people. As long as people don’t vote; don’t stand up for what they believe to be right; don’t hold their chosen leaders to account, we open the doors for incompetence and corruption.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Candidate, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

For the last three years, I have worked with the business community across the country to fight the unworkable and un-constitutional immigration laws that Baroness Scotland helped draft. There is a bittersweet irony in the fact that she has been caught out by her own idiotic policy.

I met her last winter to discuss debating societies for children and found her a warm, likeable and intelligent women, as you might expect. But the way in which this law was written is just plain wrong-headed. She has proven it to herself by being fined £5000 without a court hearing for failing to photocopy the papers of a maid who, it turned out, was an illegal immigrant.

The problem with the law is multi-faceted. 1. It expects employers to be immigration officers by placing threat of instant £5000 fines on them if they employ illegal immigrants. 2. There are over 80 different types of document that confirm the right to work and although the government offers guidelines to employers, many are easily forged. 3. The instant fines are called “civil penalties”, meaning they don’t require a court case and deny the employer the right to confirm innocence before being punished; totally at odds with British principles of justice.

Again and again the government denied that this was a problem. The then Home Office minister, Liam Byrne sneered and laughed at me when I pointed it out to him in a meeting at Parliament. Now Patricia Scotland has shot herself and her government in the foot by proving my point exactly.

There is no point expecting employers to carry the can for giving work to illegal immigrants if the government does not set out a clear way of proving someone’s status. It is against British justice to fine someone a huge amount of money without trial.

For the Baroness, the £5000 civil penalty is an embarrassing but affordable amount. To a Chinese or Bangladeshi restaurant that fine could bankrupt them, especially when it is multiplied by the number of apparent illegals employed. That is why thousands of restaurant workers who’s papers seem slightly vague have been kicked out on the street where they have no choice but to work for criminal gangs selling pirate goods, drugs or sex.

Once again, Labour has proved its contempt for the law, justice, humanity and business. Baroness Scotland, nice or not, must resign if she is to retain the slightest honour and this law must be withdrawn until it is workable.

Neville Farmer

Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate

Wyre Forest

Boris Johnson, the Tory toff mayor of London, thinks his ultra-rich chums in the banking industry should be let off paying their full tax responsibilities. That is the Tory view because they, like the government, are terrified of losing banks from the City of London.  Boris was defending the indefensible against former a former banker’s comments that the British banking industry was “swollen”, “socially useless” and should be taxed to prevent the excessive profiteering that has brought our economy to its knees.

The taxes suggest by financial top-dog, Lord Adair Turner might not work as he describes, but is Boris saying that the people who destroyed our economy should be a protected species?

It’s true that, while freeing up the banks to act so irresponsibly, Thatcher’s government left British industry in tatters, so any government would be nervous about losing its last golden goose.  Does that mean we are to be held to ransom by people who, from recent experience, care nothing for Britain?

As Lib Dem Economic spokesman, Vince Cable told me a few weeks ago, all countries want to rein in the bankers, so where will they go? Surely, those decent members of the British banking industry, like Lord Turner, are here for more than pure profit? Surely there are good, responsible bankers who are proud to be British and don’t mind having their huge incomes fairly taxed for the nation’s benefit? Britain’s great banking reputation was built on commonsense and trust, not gambling and greed. A return to that culture should mean a return to a City the world can have faith in.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Candidate,

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

YOUR VOTE IS YOUR WAY OF SAYING WHO YOU WANT TO WIN.

IT IS NOT A BET ON WHO YOU THINK MIGHT WIN. 

 

THAT IS A WASTED VOTE.

 

MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE VOTING FOR.

YOUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT.

Neville Farmer, Parliamentary Spokesman, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Here’s an interesting chain of events –

In an effort to help the little guy defend himself against the big bullies, Tony Blair brings in California style “no win no fee” legal services which can be advertised on TV…

…Many of us, including me, predict disaster from this but it goes ahead regardless…

…Seeing a good business opportunity large firms employing dozens of hungry young lawyers are established to entice people to sue other people…

…Daytime TV is largely funded by adverts telling you how you’ll win 100 percent of the compensation at no risk to yourself…

…Thousands of people start suing everybody they can, for grazed knees, work stress, overgrown leylandii trees, wet holiday weather…

…legal firms and insurance companies work together to create a business model that allows lawyers to take a piece of the action from grossly overinflated insurance premiums charged against schools, hospitals, councils, restaurants, scout groups, public transport companies and even, now, the armed forces…

…All these bodies cease offering school trips, scout camps, rare-cooked beef, pancake races, soft-boiled eggs, swimming lessons, sports days, old people’s events or kids parties because the extra insurance is too expensive…

…Our great traditions are terminated…

…No-one is able or willing to volunteer for anything…

…Our children become listless, bored, unhealthy and anti-social…

…Our bills with policing, the NHS and schooling increase dramatically…

…We complain about health and safety, the EU, human rights, everything…

…Lawyers and Insurance companies dictate our lifestyles and laugh all the way to the bank…

… There now, Tony, wasn’t that a good idea?

Certainly, this system has allowed some people to get restitution from companies who would previously have beaten them down with legal expenses. But it’s also allowed people to sue other people who still have to pay for a defence lawyer, even in nuisance cases. Most of all, as I and many others predicted at the time, we are now beholden to a bunch of opportunists profiteers who impoverish our lives.

What we need is easy, rapid, low-cost court systems that helps the little guy without encouraging this flood of destructive and unnecessary claims.

 Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

A couple of weeks ago I met with members of the Falun Gong group. I’m not a religious person and am wary of “movements” or “cults” but I wanted to hear about the treatment their supporters have received since the Chinese government turned against them 10 years ago. On the face of it, Falun Gong promotes peace, tolerance, healthy living. It’s founder was accused of being homophobic and racist but this certainly wasn’t the view of the people I met. Indeed, the initial reaction of the Chinese Communist Government was encouraging, with many officials and military leaders joining up. The problem started when they realised Falun Gong had more members than the Communist Party. Then they turned nasty.

 I spoke with a woman who was ensnared in the Chinese government crackdown. She told me in detail how she was tortured for about 18 months until she cracked and recanted her belief in Falun Gong. She would be forced to sit on a small stool for over 20 hours a day with her back straight, and knees and feet together. If she needed the toilet she would be forced to wait so long she often soiled herself but she was never allowed to clean her clothes. Even on hot days, she was allowed just half a litre of water and a small piece of hard, black bread. She had no bed and little exercise.

 What was really sinister was the medical examinations every few months. They weren’t normal. It was as if they were being checked out for body parts.

 It now seems that this is exactly what was happening. From the estimates of two Canadian politicians and an American journalist who is investigating the subject, it seems that members of the special Chinese Government unit set up to stamp out Falun Gong, thousands of their members have been imprisoned, “disappeared” and harvested for their hearts, livers, lungs, gall bladders and corneas. These organs are then sold to hospitals across the world and to “transplant tourists” who go to China to get operations they cannot wait for at home. Only Israel has had the moral integrity to legislate against their citizens going to China for that purpose.

CHINESE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS falun gong protest 004cropped

 It is for that reason that I spoke in Parliament Square on July 21st along with my Lib Dem colleague, Tom Brake MP. I was told that I was probably being filmed and photographed by Chinese agents. If that means I am no longer welcome in China, that is a shame. I love China and would love to see more of it but surely there are people in the Chinese Government who see this as wrong and understand why we have to speak out?

 Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Giving Tesco planning consent in Stourport was almost inevitable. Many local people want it, regardless of the obvious threat to the high street traders, the officially predicted traffic problems and resulting poor air quality. A couple of weeks back, I spoke to a planning consultant who advises companies like Tesco and he told me that all these three were good grounds for refusal. But he admitted that most councils have nowhere near the knowhow or the muscle to take on Tesco lawyers so, councillors of all parties voted in favour of the plan.

What is interesting is the way Wyre Forest’s Tory Councillors are now positioning themselves against the project. It looks like a classic political trap being set for the beleaguered Health Concern County Councillors. It makes for an entertaining scuffle if you set aside the fact that this shoddy piece of political one-upmanship involves the lives of thousands of local taxpayers and the future of a rather lovely Georgian town.

This is how it appears to be panning out –  

Because the inexperienced Health Concern County Councillors didn’t see fit to attend the Tesco planning meeting, the Tories of Wyre Forest can argue fairly that they didn’t care about the implications for the town’s roads – a County Council matter.

Talking to the Shuttle, the Tory District Council leader appeared to support the project, decrying the “bully boy tactics” of the Co-op, which sees its own supermarket ending up on the slab in their new funereal home down the street and tried to prevent Tesco moving in. But in the same interview, he deftly passed the buck to Health Concern, saying that sorting out the Tesco traffic was down to Stourport’s County Councillors.

A few days later, his tone changed. Armed with two Tory District Councillors (who also missed the planning meeting), he told The Wyre FM that he is against the Tesco project until the traffic issues are attended to. He didn’t mention that the Highways officer at the meeting, who works for the Tory County Council of which he is also a member, could offer absolutely no workable solutions to the inevitable nightmare of car-bound Tesco shoppers pouring onto Stourport’s clogged little streets.

Perhaps the councillor knows that when the poor Health Concern County boys go cap in hand to County Hall for help with traffic management, they will get short shrift… and the blame from Stourport’s residents for an almighty cock-up.

Of course, as I say, this political game-playing is only entertaining if you don’t care about Stourport’s long-suffering citizens. Personally, it sticks in my throat. Interesting, isn’t it, that this occurs as a by election is called on a former Health Concern seat in Lickhill.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Here’s a conundrum… If you lock up public conveniences early you protect the facilities from vandalism but people end up peeing in doorways.  

Well,  there is an answer that has found favour in Richmond on Thames – pay a couple of hundred pounds a year to a few of the pubs in return for letting the public use their toilets. A simple sticker in the window can inform passers by of the relief offered within. 

Far from being a burden for the pubs, the landlords that have tried it say their business has increased with many of those caught short stopping for a spontaneous pint.

I did suggest this in a development plan early last year but as the Broadwaters residents had commented on the problem, it seems worth repeating.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

I attended the Broadwaters, St Georges, St Oswalds and Horsefair Partners meeting a week ago and fell into discussion with some of the local residents about the parking problems in Broadwaters when the Rose Theatre is open.

On a few occasions now, I’ve heard of people clogging up Broadwaters Drive, blocking driveways, churning up the grass in the park and becoming aggressive with residents.  According to the residents, they’ve asked the theatre management to discuss the matter with them but have been given the brush-off.  Also, they have offered to build a rail along the edge of the park to prevent cars driving onto the grass but were refused permission by the council.

I used to be a member of the Young Nonentities theatre group and greatly appreciate the value of Kidderminster’s remaining theatre but perhaps its time for a little sensible discussion here.

A number of options spring to mind.

  • One councillor has offered to put some of his annual fund to pay for helping install the rail and some sensible thinking from the council should make it possible for locals to build it.
  •  The theatre could employ parking stewards to prevent irresponsible parking from customers, including giving information about where people can park sensibly.
  • The landlords of the small shopping parade by the roundabout could offer the land behind for parking purposes – it lies empty at nights.
  • The council could provide a barrier on Broadwaters Drive that would only be closed during theatre events with keys or a code for all residents.

What we do not need is war breaking out between residents and theatre-goers.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman,

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Were you taught not to cheat as a child? I was. So why does almost everything we do in life involve some kind of cheating? For instance, why to hospitals cheat on waiting time rules? Last January, when I checked myself into A&E after prolapsing a disc and paralysing my legs, why did they move me from A&E to an almost identical department called Rapid Reaction something-or-other? Was it because they wanted to beat the 4 hour government limit on waiting times in Accident and Emergency?

It would make sense if it was, because I spent over 5 hours in that mysterious department while they tried to find me a bed in an orthopaedic ward. Indeed, having chatted with Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem Shadow Health Secretary, it appears that many hospitals are cheating on this particular target. In a survey across the country a massive spike occurs in discharges from A&E only minutes before the 4 hour limit is hit, implying a mad dash to clear the books.

An acquaintance in the NHS in Walsall argues that this is because serious emergencies are prioritised and less critical cases are likely to be bumped back, leading to lots of quick cases occurring at the end of the four hours. This suggests that the target actually works, because had it not been there, there would have been no compunction for the hospital to treat the minor cases, at all. What it doesn’t point to is a responsible attitude from the hospital administrators, rather than a mad dash to please their Whitehall masters. 

The problem is that with so much effort going into meeting this target, treatments without such targets are being swept under the carpet. No government can legislate for everything, however much Labour might try, and so those expected to meet specific targets are naturally tempted to sacrifice treatments without targets to avoid sanctions.

This begs a wider question about what motivates the management of some hospitals? My January experience in hospital was not a happy one but I cannot fault the efforts of anyone who treated me clinically or surgically. I can only confirm that I never heard a kind word said by the nurses and doctors about the management of the hospital and I never heard a compassionate word spoken to me from the managers I encountered.

Perhaps the tail is wagging the dog here. Target obsession becomes a race to please the press rather than a genuine effort to raise standards of care. Of course, it would be easier to ditch all these targets if it wasn’t for the fact that cheating is the accepted practice.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Did anyone see this week’s episode of Fifth Gear? Attempting to look intelligent and journalistic, they carried out a vaguely scientific experiment to prove that dropping the national single carriageway speed limit from 60mph to 50 doesn’t work? They showed that hitting the back of a very old tractor at 50 in a very old Ford Mondeo will kill you just as hitting it at 60 would.

What a shockingly ignorant piece of cod journalism!  Does it not occur to them that the reason for reducing the limit is to give people a better chance of reacting to avoid having the collision in the first place? Most accidents in a 60 mile an hour limit happen at much lower speeds because the driver has reacted, too late, and slowed down. At 50, that might have made the difference between fatal accident, non-fatal injury or a safe emergency stop. Of course, they didn’t think of that and didn’t test for it.

Now, I’m not sure how I feel about the limit reduction yet.  Limits often seem set in a rather arbitrary way and I’m a committed motorist, who believes in making my own judgements. However, In the last month, the teenage sons of two friends have had serious accidents on country roads because they didn’t know how to handle themselves. So, perhaps I need to think again.

I do believe in 20 mph limits on narrow side-streets and Home Zones to give residential side streets back to the residents. I see no reason to drive down Park Street in Kidderminster at 30, when so many children might run out from between the parked cars. It’s their street, too after all. But on open country roads, where one might encounter horses or that tractor, I hope that drivers might act with a little more commonsense than the simpletons presenting Fifth Gear.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Cllr Ahmed’s sacking from Wyre Forest Tories by its leader, John Paul Campion seems nothing more than a sham.

Two days after Richard Taylor and I wrote to David Cameron asking why Campion had defended his criminal colleague in the Shuttle, Campion U-turned and removed Ahmed’s committee seats, his whip and his party membership.

Yet today, at the first Full Council meeting of Worcestershire CC since Ahmed was elected, a motion of no confidence in him was defeated by an overwhelming Tory vote. Councillor Campion even spoke in his defence, completing a full 360 degree spin. This is the same Cllr Campion who wrote… “The Conservative Group on Wyre Forest District Council expects the very highest of standards of behaviour from its members and it is now apparent that Cllr Ahmed has dramatically failed to meet those standards and his membership is now untenable.”  Cllr Campion is typical of the “right to rule” Tory who thinks the law is only for those who aren’t in the party.

Meanwhile, Cllr George Lord , leader of Worcestershire Tory Cabinet awarded Ahmed with a Resources Scrutiny Committee seat. This, to a former Tory who they say lied to and humiliated the party membership and cost them a seat on two councils. Such hypocrisy can only come from politicians who believe they are above the law and invulnerable.

Fact: Cllr Sayed Mumshad Ahmed knew that he was breaking the law on both occasions that he was arrested for driving while disqualified and uninsured.

Fact: The West Mercia CPS order that the police should cease investigating a third alleged breach of his ban because it would not affect his punishment contradicts the judge’s statement that he would go to prison if convicted.

Fact: 77% of voters on a Kidderminster Shuttle poll said Ahmed should resign his councillorships. 

Fact: In Jan 08, Tory leader, David Cameron said, “This phrase ‘moral fabric of society’ is something of a cliché. But it really does mean something. It’s the idea that your status in the eyes of your relatives, friends and neighbours depended on living up to positive social expectations. And what we see now is a perversion of that.

He was clearly talking about his own party officials, Cllrs Lord (Worcs CC leader), John Campion (Wyre Forest DC leader) and Mumshad Ahmed (Convicted Criminal).

Neville Farmer

Prospective Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

 “There is no such thing as society.” Margaret Thatcher, wicked witch of Grantham.

“Human rights culture has infected every part of our life.” David Cameron, Bullingdon Club veteran.

Back in 1215, even Britain’s robber barons recognised there was something wrong with letting the school bullies run the schoolyard. So the Magna Carta was written, a one page document that laid out the rights of all. It was basically aimed at reining in King John but it also started our road to democracy and human rights.

Someone said to me the other day that whoever you vote for in Britain, you’re screwed. On what basis does living in Britain, compared to most countries on the planet, constitute being screwed? We are born into a safe, supportive society which educates us, guards our health, protects us from invasion, crime, disease, starvation and oppression. Of course, it could always be better but “screwed”?

This lack of balance is becoming all too typical. We are so untroubled in Britain but so determined to complain that we believe every foreigner is either stealing our jobs or our benefits, every teenager with a hooded sweatshirt is a vandal, every man in a paedophile, every other country is out to get us and every politician is a crook. Yet do we vote? Do we participate in improving society? Not many of us, no. I hear it all the time, “Where’s the point?”

As I see the pictures of millions of Afghanis, Iranians, Zimbabweans and Iraqis risking their lives to vote, I feel ashamed that we live in one of the most privileged and beautiful countries in the world and yet we can’t be bothered. The reason I’m standing for Parliament in the next election is because I got fed up with complaining and yet doing nothing. I really do want to make a difference – to improve the things that can be improved and to protect the things that I cherish about being British. It’s not a power trip and it’s not the best way of making friends at the moment. It’s about getting involved in helping something I love.

What are you going to do? Well, you could start by voting and by thinking hard about who you’re voting for. Don’t just do what your dad did. Don’t just do what the papers or Jeremy Paxman tell you. Find out whether your favourite party has actually selected a candidate for you who will do the job or whether you’ve been landed with a party sheep? Read the party websites and the candidates’ blogs, read articles about them, read the oppositions arguments against them. Judge for yourself.

Then, why not volunteer? Stand for your parish, town, district or county council, or against me. You could stand for the education board or the hospital trust board or volunteer for the scouts. Age Concern are begging for volunteers to help the elderly in Wyre Forest (it’s only a couple of hours a week). There are endless charity shops, faith groups, hospital visitor groups, sponsored events. Dare I say you could even join a political party and help get your favourite candidate elected! You could join mine via www.wyreforestlibdems.org, if you’d like.

If one thing should come out of the current economic collapse it should be that we cannot sit back and leave it to those currently at the top. If we, we will end up back where we were before the Magna Carta with just a few, very rich bullies kicking us around. Check out who have been put up as your local candidates in the next general elections.  Democracy and community and humanity are precious things. Let’s help protect them for our own sakes.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Convicted criminal, Cllr Mumshad Ahmed, says he wants to draw a line under the happenings of the last few weeks. How dare he? Because he didn’t tell the voters that he was up on a charge he knew would stick, they won’t be able to draw a line under it for years.

He says in the Shuttle at he admitted his guilt from the outset. If so, how come the Tories didn’t know they had a criminal standing for them on June 4th? Surely, the party placed an obligation on him to inform them when he was banned from driving last December or when he was charged with driving while banned on two further occasions? Our local LibDem party has had to instigate such rules after past problems with unelected members but Ahmed was already an elected representative and should surely have made a commitment not to bring the party or council into disrepute?

If Cllr Ahmed had really admitted his guilt from the outset, did the Tories of Wyre Forest not question why he was driving to their HQ, Margaret Thatcher House, as one of the convictions states?

Cllr Ahmed’s case is not as Wyre Forest District Council leader, John Campion understates, a “lapse of judgement.” What he did was wilful criminality. As for Cllr Campion saying he was disappointed but supported Councillor Ahmed! Would he have said that if the drunk driver had run down a child or caused a serious accident while banned and uninsured? I believe in people being allowed to atone for their crimes but Cllr Ahmed actually stood for election while awaiting a trial he knew he would lose.

David Cameron talks of cleaning up the Conservative party. He has sacked senior MPs for non-criminal offences. Wyre Forest’s Tory council cabinet are supporting a convicted criminal, humiliating their membership and demonstrating contempt for the law and for their constituents.

I call on Dr Richard Taylor MP, Nigel Knowles (Labour PPC), Lib Dem Cllr Helen Dyke, Cllr Fran Oborski of the Liberal Party, Health Concern Cllr Howard Martin, Kate Spohrer of the Green Party, Mike Wrench of Ukip and Mark Garnier, Conservative candidate to join me in writing to David Cameron to request Mumshad Ahmed’s expulsion from the Conservative Party and for him and John Campion to vacate their posts forthwith.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

If there was ever a reason for voting out Gordon Brown it is the state of the economy. However, if there was ever a reason for not voting the Tories in it is the same one.

For, who is the man who the Tories trust as their party treasurer and chief fundraiser? Why, Mr Michael Spencer, the Chief Executive of the two companies that supplies Wyre Forest’s credit rating service and brokered the Wyre Forest Council £9 million investment deal with the Icelandic banks.

On the 11th June, the Independent newspaper said, “The Communities Select Committee say in a scathing report that the Financial Services Agency (FSA) should investigate whether it is appropriate for one part of Mr Spencer’s ICAP empire to assist council finance officers with council investments while another part receives fees for brokering the deals. This could give rise to “actual or perceived conflicts of interest”, it said.”

In all, 51 councils accepted Butlers’ credit rating services and invested £470 million in Iceland. Of them, 16 percent, including Wyre Forest DC, also took on the services of ICAP to broker the deals.

Though Butlers insist they are “segregated” from ICAP, Wyre Forest’s Treasury Management Review Panel report of February 19th says the Butlers representatives called themselves the “go between” for WFDC and ICAP. The report makes interesting reading. You can find the link on http://www.wyreforest.gov.uk/council/docs/doc39536_20090219_cabinet_report.pdf 

The rather restrained document exonerates Wyre Forest’s own financial officers, largely because they weren’t qualified enough to be responsible, with the council relying instead on Butlers. In return, Butlers says it is only a credit rating agency and offered Wyre Forest no investment advice.

If this sounds like buck-passing, the government Select Committee report puts it this way…”Responsibility for local authorities’ investment decisions lies, and must lie, with the local authorities themselves. However, the claim by some treasury management advisers that they give information only, not advice, on investment counterparty creditworthiness is, in our view, misleading.”

What is not misleading is that while Wyre Forest’s residents are £9 million out of pocket, ICAP, Butlers and Michael Spencer are not and Butlers continues to be under contract to Wyre Forest until September 2010.

So, there’s Tory financial management for you. I know that as a Lib Dem I’m biased, but even the Mail on Sunday, The Observer and former Tory chancellor, Nigel Lawson seem to think Vince Cable MP is a better man to revive our economy than George “Flipper” Osborne. Flipper’s chums in the banking industry might disagree but who are they to judge?

Neville Farmer

As everyone now knows, Churchill, unwitting and doubtless grave-spinning icon of BNP and Ukip, said democracy was the worst kind of government apart from all the other kinds, or words to that effect. Last week’s Euro elections showed the downside of democracy.

Satisfied that the Daily Telegraph and the rabid pack of hacks slavering at their heels must have told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about politicians, the populace voted with its feet. Only just over a third voted, at all. Many people didn’t because they said all politicians were crooks. Many of those who did voted for fringe parties, as though they must be clean and only the three main parties were at the trough. Many voted for Ukip, a party with one former MEP in prison for fraud, one awaiting trial, two sacked,  a self-confessed single purpose and no concept of government. Some voted BNP, though for all the money spent, no more than last time.

What all of this illuminated was a great failing in the political classes. We have spent decades navel-gazing while the public became more and more isolated. Tony Blair was undoubtedly the worst at putting out messages yet ignoring the responses but Margaret Thatcher wouldn’t listen to anyone without a very positive bank balance, John Major had the communications skills of a whelk and Gordon Brown seems irritated the public even exists.

Few politicians of any hue recognised the public’s disenchantment in time. Even in Wyre Forest, local politicians claim that the public knows what they know and will act accordingly. But they don’t and the vote showed it.

Barely a week goes by when a letter doesn’t appear in the Shuttle claiming councillors earn fortunes and all politicians are crooks – a statement based on no evidence whatsoever that the writers would be horrified at if applied to rumours about themselves. However hard a councillor might work and however little they are rewarded for their efforts, the public doesn’t believe it.

So what to do? Well, we could start by handing a few of the responsibilities of government back to the public. Let’s stop thinking we need nannying all the time. Let’s refute any demand that “the government should be doing something about this” for every little thing. And let’s start working together once we are elected. Let’s end the offensive practice of denying district councillors access to county information unless they’re Tories – classic soviet practice if even there was. Let’s make the truth about allowances and the details of expenses public, so people can judge for themselves who’s honest and who’s creaming it.

In central government, we could also start removing the powers of whips, PR consultants and advertising agents, while MPs just do what they’re told. The richer parties hide behind these slick message machines and we have no idea whether our local candidates can even speak.

We could use our local press more – insisting that all politicians and candidates report on their activities every week so the public can see who they might be voting, or against, next time round.

And the public? Well let’s get off our butts and find out just who is representing us – and I don’t mean read the Telegraph and believe it verbatim, because they merely serve the agenda of the Barclay Brothers and their banker friends. We live in an information age and it’s easy to do a little research about candidates to get a broader view.

After all, merely not voting or protesting by voting for a fringe party out of spite is to doom us to four or five years of truly awful government…  as we will shortly discover.

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman,

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

Politicians… and the rest of us… seem to have forgotten that rules are no substitute for moral judgement

We could look at the crisis in Parliament in two ways; we could throw our arms in the air and give up, shredding our ballot papers or deliberately voting for someone extreme that we don’t really want OR we could take the opportunity to grab back our democracy.

In Zimbabwe, Iraq and other countries where the right to vote is new, fresh and seen as a great privilege, people will queue for hours and risk their lives to make their small statement on the type of government they would like working for them.

Here, we have forgotten how lucky we are to have a vote, at all. For years, I was just as bad, thinking there was little point voting because they were all the same. I didn’t think about the thousands who’d died fighting to give us a democracy, disempowering the robber barons who ruled by the sword from their palaces and castles.

Well, they say we get the government we deserve we are now paying the price for being complacent about the representatives that we employed. Because we haven’t kept a weather eye on the candidates the parties offer us, we are now paying for chandelier and moat cleaning for a cartoon caricature cabal of privately wealthy toffs and funding the property speculation of some champagne socialists who are, without doubt, playing the system. We haven’t cared about our government, so why should they?

Now, I see this as an opportunity for us. Perhaps it’s time we started studying not just the parties, but the people they give us. When we vote in the European and County elections next week, and the general election in a few months, let’s start taking a bit more interest in who is standing and what they are standing for. Do they really know the people they are representing? Do they argue intelligently or just toe the party line like a sheep? Can they debate well and so win your argument for you? Is their background knowledge useful to the job they’re going to do? Do they really seem to care or just turn up at the opening of an envelope with nothing of their own to say?

There are plenty of ways of doing it and it’s no good saying you haven’t got time. It’s too important to leave to parties or pressure groups to choose who is going to make our big decisions for the next five years. Every party has a website; most candidates have blogs. They’re all spun to suit their argument, but compare and you’ll soon work out what they really mean. The local press could do more but letters pages are a window into the attitudes of candidates – see if you can spot a standard letter sent by party central office or an honest self-penned expression by a candidate? Leaflets might be little more than adverts, but they often tell you something about the type of person who wrote it, as well as things about their opposition.

Then, cross-check their claims against government statistics, independent research and a range of the quality press. Are they lying to you or just trying to scare you with a twisted version of the truth? If so, you know where not to vote. And if the candidate is already in power, check out their performance on their authority website. Wyre Forest District Councillors, for instance, publish their expenses, attendance records and other aspects on the council website ( for 08-09 in Wyre Forest, see http://www.wyreforestdc.gov.uk/e-dms/resources/includes/file.php?id=2964) and you are entitled to go and view their detailed expenses as and when you like.

In the next two elections, let’s take our democracy back. Let’s choose our representatives on the basis of sound knowledge, rather than tradition. Let’s choose men and women who will represent us first and the party line second, so they’ll stand up in their assembly and speak freely, rather than being told what to say. Let’s choose people who really know their constituency and their constituents. I’m hoping to stand for parliament next year because, after years of not voting, I’ve finally realised that making Britain better takes community participation. I really believe I could do a better job than the current lot. We can’t just leave it to hereditary toffs, rich spivs and subversive extremists. We need to run our country ourselves and that takes work. Get out and vote but know who you’re voting for.

Neville Farmer Wyre Forest LibDems Parliamentary Spokesman

For the first time,  I found myself agreeing with Peter Hitchens last night. We may share little in terms of policy ideas or morality, but he did point ou that the press are so obsessed with getting David Cameron elected, they haven’t noticed that he offers nothing more than Gordon Brown does.

Before you vote Tory, stop for a second, read Cameron’s polcies and ask yourself why you would possibly vote for him… other than the fact you always vote that way.

Two wrongs don’t make a right – think Lib Dem for a Change.

They say you get the government you deserve.  As we light our torches and run up the nooses, let’s be careful about who we hang. The abuses in Parliament is reflected in the behaviour of all of us who’ve forgot that rules are there for those who can’t recognise their own moral boundaries. Bankers, quango management, non-domiciles, tax exiles, celebrities… all are behaving like 18th Century Royals. But then what about friday night binge drinkers, drugs dealers, council tax cheats, road ragers, litterers and benefits fraudsters? Are they not just two sides of the same mirror?

Even those of us who think we fall into neither camp need to be careful. What we have in Britain has taken many centuries and millions of lives to put together. We can’t squander all that work for the sake of giving a few spivs a bloody nose.  Don’t let us pull the whole house down just because we’re unhappy with the wallpaper! Vote in June and vote positively for the decent, tolerant, honest country the best of us want this to be.

Neville Farmer

On his trip to Jordan last week, Pope Benedict said, “Often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence, in society.” He was directing his comments at the centuries of misuse of religious teaching to foment bloodshed in the Middle East.

It applies equally to Britain, though. It has taken us 300 years seriously to consider reversing Queen Anne’s 18th decree that Catholics could not sit on the English throne. Back then, the foiling of the terrorist act called the Gunpowder Plot legitimised the persecution of Catholics just as 9/11 has done for Muslims today. In each case, the idiocy of a few extremists made life hell for their religious compatriots and drove their enemies to the opposite extreme.

Today, no-one seriously considers Catholicism a threat to British life. Similarly, any sensible person knows that “Islamic terrorism” is neither “Islamic” nor part of the lives or thoughts of most peace-loving Muslims. Yet the popular search for someone to blame for our nation’s ills has pushed moderate Brits towards our own extremists, the British National Party. The party is even attempting to ally itself with Jesus Christ in an effort to inflame anti-Muslim attitudes. “What Would Jesus do? Vote BNP,” the party billboard cynically proclaims to the disgust of the church.  

When I met with Wyre Forest’s clergy for breakfast last week, there was clear concern that the BNP should be putting up a candidate in Wyre Forest. But the fact remains that 10 people in St Georges and St Oswalds have nominated a BNP candidate and over 30 people in Wyre Forest have joined the party. I have no desire to publicise the efforts of these misguided people but I hope I can persuade good people of any political persuasion to come out and vote against the BNP on June 4th. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Neville Farmer, 

Wyre Forest Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesman

There is more to the Wyre Hill Playground funding debacle than meets the eye. Health Concern and the Tories are almost neck-a-neck in running Bewdley Town Council, but Health Concern have the edge. So, the Bewdley West by-election in which the playground sits is a make or break issue for Health Concern and an opportunity for the Tories to teach these independent whippersnappers a lesson… as well as to tighten their grip on local politics.
Over the last year, Health Concern’s Town Councillors fell into a couple of traps in their budgeting. They got agreement that lighting the bridge was a good idea on the basis that a company had offered to do it for free. They also alienated the County youth services department in Worcestershire thinking their Lottery Grant was all they needed to build the Youth Café. Sadly, it appears they didn’t read the small print on the lighting contract offer and they didn’t account for the running costs of the café. So they’re asking for bids on a new lighting contract and have tried to offload youth project funding on other authorities.

The town council gets just 1 percent of its constituents’ council tax payments to spend, so it can‘t afford to make mistakes. However, if it takes the right approach, it can raise funding from other authorities. For instance, it‘s entitled to a grant from WFDC, which has to be spent according to Local Area Agreement Priorities and so is dependent on an itemised bid. Rather than take the diplomatic route to accessing these funds, the Health Concern councillors have tried to bludgeon Wyre Forest‘s Tories into taking responsibility for the playground and put in an un-itemised bid for over £11,000, excluding the playground costs, which they say WFDC should pick up.

Now perhaps they should. They run many of the other play areas but they were not asked first and have set their budgets, which are tightly controlled. So to teach Health Concern a lesson, WFDC’s Tory Cabinet, including Bewdley West Town Council By-Election candidate, Julian Phillips, (who claims to be the chief campaigner to save the playground) have voted to withhold the £11,000 grant until they change their attitude. Health Concern are therefore left swinging in the wind.

It’s a typical example of politics over practicality. We’re all in the same community but both sides have decided to go to war while the community suffers. Wyre Forest’s Tories are technically in the right but is this any way to run local government?

The only real losers in this are the children of Bewdley. They don’t care that the unnecessary by-election cost of about £2500 doesn’t come from the right budget to be spent on the playground. They don’t care who runs their playgrounds. They don’t need to know why Worcester County Council has set aside so little money for youth facilities. They don’t need to know that the all councils have agreed to provide more facilities for children to exercise in across Britain and that Bewdley is failing to meet that agreement. They just want the facilities that they’ve been promised to be provided.

Health Concern haven’t been too clever here. They look like the villains of the piece for apparently placing bridge lighting above children’s health – particularly as they hadn’t done a thing about the weeds infesting the bridge for over a year. One might also question the environmental impact of light pollution and carbon emissions if they do illuminate the bridge.

What really disappoints is that this relatively small issue is being used as a political football at the expense of Bewdley’s kids. The Tories are so determined to wield their might, they don’t care who suffers along the way. Health Concern’s shambolic Bewdley Town Council thought they could tinker with the rules to get around some iffy decision making and questionable budget management.  For the sake of about £3000 and a little co-operation from both sides, the children of Bewdley West could continue to enjoy a popular playground AND Bewdley could have it’s enhanced night-time appearance. But all this is lost in the mire of petty party politics.

Neville Farmer

 

 

Yesterday, the mean-spirited minister of “foreigner bashing“, Phil Woolas, added dishonour and disloyalty to his notorious list of talents. His outrageous display of lip-service to retired Ghurkhas demonstrates his total lack of moral fibre. He is a disgrace to Britain and Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown, his bosses, are cowards for hiding behind him.
I doubt any one of them would offer their lives up for this country, but thousands of Gurkhas have for a fraction of the pay, limited medical aid, slave-wage pensions and no post-service security whatsoever. It is estimated that over 45,000 Nepalese Gurkhas have died in British campaigns and hundreds of thousands have been injured.
Not one soldier in the world would deny the bravery and loyalty of the Gurkhas. Yet the British government, who have the opportunity to show some decency after the wilful disrespect of Thatcher, Major, Blair and other governments before them has come up with a scheme so blatantly designed to exclude the maximum number of Gurkha families from the right to settle here that it beggars belief.

The criteria to claim the right to remain in Britain have to include one of the following…

  • Gurkhas who retired before 1997 must have served 20 years. Only officers can stay in the brigade for 20 years so clearly squaddies are not good enough to be British eh, Woolas?
  • Gurkhas who retired before 1997 must have won a level 1-3 bravery medal, such as the Victoria Cross. Being shot at in the Falklands for weeks on end isn’t brave enough eh, Smith?
  • Gurkhas who retired before 1997 must prove they have been resident in Britain for an unbroken period of three years. But they’re not allowed to earn a living so how do they support themselves for three years, Woolas? And what happens if they go home to see their families, eh Brown?
  • Gurkhas who retired before 1997 must have close family living in the UK. That should keep the numbers down eh, Woolas?
  • Gurkhas who retired before 1997 must suffer a chronic illness or disability caused or aggravated while on active duty for the British Army. So that writes off Gulf War Syndrome, which the government refuses to accept, and probably a host of other excuses.

OR they have to meet two out of the following…

  • 10 years service or a campaign medal.
  • Having been awarded an MoD disability pension but no longer having a chronic condition.
  • Having been mentioned in dispatches.

The Government’s excuse? We’ll be overrun by 100,000 Gurkhas and their families. Well, we won’t but even if we were, if we’re not prepared to look after these incredible men and their families, we shouldn’t have expected them to step into harms way for us in the first place.

Basically, what Woolas and Smith are saying is if you’re Nepalese and fight for the British Forces, you have to get hit, be so brave/reckless you should have been hit and have been seen doing so bravely to warrant the gratitude of the British people.

Even Gurkhas who were in service after 1997 have to be in the Army one year longer than any Commonwealth citizen who fights for us before they can apply for residency. This is discrimination and there is no way it can be described otherwise.

Labour, hang your heads in shame! Phil Woolas, these great men have fought for 200 years to save Britain from people like you. You must be stupid to think that anyone would fail to see through the tricks you are playing with this document. You are so scared of the public mood towards immigration that you’re willing to exclude the one group British people would happily accept. You are a disgrace to Britain and everything that it stands for.

Please join the Gurkha Justice Campaign and help Joanna Lumley, who’s father fought with and was saved by the Gurkhas to show that the British are not the dishonourable and racist nation Phil Woolas would have us seen to be.

http://www.gurkhajustice.org.uk/

Neville Farmer

It always baffled me hearing people in Wyre Forest complaining about immigrants. Wyre Forest has far fewer than most – less than 4 percent at the last census and over half  of them were white. The numbers rose with the opening of the European borders but they were largely Poles and Kidderminster has always had a great Polish community. Those who are here largely contribute far more than they take, both to the economy and the community. After leaving King Charles I school, rather longer ago than I care to mention, I sought work in London, undoubtedly the most cosmopolitan city in the world. It was a shock at first after Kidderminster but I soon learned to love the diversity and the great experiences I gained from befriending people from everywhere in the world. For a while I had a tumbledown bolt hole in a tiny Mediaeval village in southern France, as have several of my KCI schoolfriends. The local Catalans couldn’t be more welcoming. I also worked in Japan, China, Malaysia, Egypt, across America and Europe and lived briefly in Botswana. Although something of an oddity in most of these places, I rarely felt unwelcome.

As we head into recession and increasing unemployment, it is tempting to find someone to blame and for many scared people, the easiest target is anyone different from them. It’s at times like these that sick extremists come out to exploit this fear. They are stalking the streets of Wyre Forest at the moment, even claiming that Jesus Christ would have condoned their stomach-churning thuggery. They’ll claim to be family lovers, decent people, tolerant and fair. They’ll ignore the facts to prey upon our darker prejudices. They’ll talk of British culture without knowing a thing about it.

Vulnerable people will join them, unaware that they are being duped into a conspiracy that will impoverish Britain more effectively than any dodgy banker. Imagine what a sad little country this would be if we had spent our great  history shunning Johnny foreigner rather than working with him?

We have nothing to fear but fear itself and all these subversive racists sell is fear. Don’t give in to this cowardice. As we celebrate St George’s Day this month, let us remember that one of the things that makes Britain truly Great and a nation that is respected around the world is our tolerance and our internationalism.

Neville Farmer

It’s 100 years since the Liberals created the state pension and Pensioners’ Convention members across Britain are “celebrating” this week. I put this in parentheses because, as they’ve told me in no uncertain terms, “celebration” is not the appropriate word.

Pensioners are now poorer in real terms than they were under the first pension in 1908. Margaret Thatcher’s “tough” (an alternative word for “brutal”) approach to sorting out the econony included getting rid of the link between average earnings and pensions, as though people relying on state pensions were to blame for assuming “national insurance” meant what it said and for not squirreling a proportion of their meagre incomes towards a private pension scheme.

The result is that today, a third of pensioners are living below the poverty line. The basic pension is less than £100 per week, a third less than the government’s own poverty threshold. Some of them may also be due Pension Credits but Gordon Brown’s cynical approach to “helping” people is so complex and humiliating, most elderly people are too frightened to apply.

This year, Wyre Forest District Council had to make some difficult decisions over its budget. Sadly, three of the cut-backs involved have targetted the most vulnerable members of society.

The uproar over the proposed closure of Dial-a-Ride fails to recognise the council’s understandable issues with the management of the scheme so is not really their fault. However, adding this cut that to limitations on the time when free bus passes can be used and the ending of the taxi coupon scheme seems like Wyre Forest’s pensioners have been a soft target, especially with regard to transport.

A local pensioner recently pointed out to me that, despite their shortage of disposable cash, pensioners still spend money and are more likely to use the older, High Street shops than huge, intimidating superstores. As we now have 31 empty shops in Kidderminster and plenty more in Bewdley and Stourport, and as Labour and the Tories have shut most of the local Post Offices, doesn’t it seem like a false economy to make it harder for pensioners to travel to the shops?

As a Liberal Democrat, I am absolutely committed to restoring the earnings/pensions link immediately. I would hope that those of us capable of earning a living might not feel so bad about paying the extra to give our pensioners a better life?

Neville Farmer

This will stun John Campion…

 

I want to congratulate Worcestershire County Council and Wyre Forest District Council for their bravery!!

 

In the last couple of weeks, a motion proposed by Liberal and District Cllr, Fran Oborski, Lib Dem County Cllr, Di Raynor and Community and Health Concern District Cllr, Howard Martin refusing to co-operate with Government ID card trials was adopted by the Tory cabinets of both councils. Two years ago, the Lib Dem’s new party leader, Nick Clegg was ridiculed for saying he’d rather go to jail than have an ID card but now, even the Tories of Worcestershire have agreed to do the same. Bless them!

 

Sadly, the Labour councillors abstained because they wouldn’t defy their party leaders, even though they know the scheme is wrong. Only two voted against.

 

For those who are still blind to the truth about ID cards, please, please realise that they a serious and expensive threat to your personal freedoms and a cure for nothing. As usual, Gordon Brown is in deep denial and the criminally idiotic Jaqui Smith is ploughing on with something that threatens our very Britishness. Having started out arguing for the cards as a weapon in the war against terrorism, they now suggest they’re about stopping benefit fraud. Yet they will cost far more to implement than the govt’s own estimates of the cost of that fraud and they know it will never stop terrorism. Moreover, they are likely to become a tool for fraudsters. Never mind their incompetence over the economy. This is the true crime of New Labour.

 

·        The British cards will not hold just a photo, a fingerprint, signature and address. These cards are keys to the most valuable database in the world. Identity theft will become easier, not harder. Government after government has failed to protect data. Hackers will inevitably beat the system and this database will be their ultimate target.

·        Far from protecting us from terrorism, placing so much data in one place is likely to increase the risk. Remember, all the Madrid bombers were carrying ID cards when they blew up the trains; the 9/11 bombers were all carrying ID to get on the planes; the London bombers wouldn’t have been checked for theirs if they’d been carrying them; and Pakistan, the world’s most terrorised nation has had compulsory ID cards for 40 years.

·        Blair and Brown’s government officials have lost over 1000 laptops and data sticks. The MoD is shockingly bad at protecting data. If they are, imagine what the Home Office will be like?

·        It is not true that if you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve nothing to worry about. City database experts say they expect a 10 percent error rate on any database. With some of its other databases, the government has admitted that it didn’t put any error correction procedures into place, so if something is wrong with your data, you probably won’t find out till you’re refused a mortgage, or have your car crushed, your children taken into care, or can’t get into the USA, or get your house raided.  Once you discover the error, it may take you years to get it changed. Yes, these are extreme examples but they are all possible.

·        The Government has already said they will sell the data to certain “accredited” companies. They will also probably divulge the information to the FBI in America for reasons of homeland security. This may well include health information, credit ratings, political leanings and a record of anything you’ve done since you were born – think about it! This could prevent you getting certain jobs, buying air tickets, visiting certain countries, getting a loan, getting insurance.

·        The LSE says it will cost about £20 billion to implement and will cost each of us a small fortune to have a card made, whether we want it or not. The Lib Dems would rather spend this money on the police force, so we don’t need the cards in the first place.

 

Labour spin suggests that the Lib Dems are soft on crime for fighting the cards. Well, we are no longer alone and we are not soft on a criminal government, which has become obsessed with controlling the British people.

 

Remember, the reason we have democracy is so the people own the government, not the other way round. No government has the right to this much control over you. However much we fear terrorism, imagine living in a state where the government knows everything about you. We are now reaching a point where 1984 looks rather tame. As usual, Labour is 25 years behind schedule, but Gordon Brown’s Labour is steadily getting there. Wake up Britain! Well done, Wyre Forest!!!

 

Neville Farmer, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson, Wyre Forest

 

“I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principles of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding (i.e. credit), is but swindling futurity on a large scale”

Thomas Jefferson, US President 1801-1809 and author of the Declaration of Independence.

 

“The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temples of our civilisation. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit” 

President FD Roosevelt, Inaugural Speech 1933

Contrary to a certain “doomsday sayer”, I’ve been busy over the last months discussing  positive ideas for Bewdley with local businesses and residents. I actually put this together a while ago but it’s now being debated by the movers and shakers of the town, so it would be great to hear what people think. I’m sure some won’t like everything here, but constructed criticism would be more useful than a slanging match, if you don’t mind. Please read on… Neville Farmer, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Wyre Forest.

A FEW IDEAS

 

  1. Establish a Wyre Forest Chartermark for local farmers, manufacturers and producers – this is for the whole area – It would be wonderful if it were possible to open a weekly market on Load Street, as the street was built for but at the very least, it makes sense for local food retailers to support local farmers and food producers. It makes a good selling point for visitors to know their food has been produced to high standards within the area. The same goes for products such as Bewdley beer, Totally Patched quilts, artworks, clay pipes, jewellery, stained glass and carpentry from the museum. Unifying Bewdley through this kind of trade can be managed by the new trading partnership that seems likely to rise from the recent battle over Severn Trent (see elsewhere on this blog).
  2. Establish a Friends of Bewdley discount card – This is one for the new trading association but a Bewdley loyalty card could offer discounts in retailers, email notification of events and special benefits to customers of the SVR, Safari Park, Golf Course, Ramada and Forestry Commission. If also sold at those tourist attractions, it could increase the number of visitors continuing into Bewdley itself. There should also be a residents’ card that gives discounts to events etc and encourages locals to shop locally.
  3. Create a Bewdley Residents’ version of the discount card – with discounts to exhibitions and shows, restaurants, health clubs, sports clubs and possibly even some shop products. It’s a great way of encouraging loyalty and unifies the community. This could be funded by sponsorship from one of the major businesses who could advertise on the card.  
  4. Begin a Beautiful Bewdley competition to persuade landlords to improve shopfronts and houses – too many properties on Bewdley’s main streets look neglected. The regeneration fund and prizes for effort could reduce that problem. Cleaning the bridge might be a good idea, too!
  5. Establish SVR Shuttle line – I know I’ve gone one about this on this blog and elsewhere but this benefits all of Wyre Forest. It cuts traffic between Bewdley, Stourport and Kidderminster, improves the viability of the Stourport Road industrial Zone, increases the SVR’s business and adds to the possibility of Kidderminster getting an hourly London service on Chiltern Rail as was originally planned. Interestingly, Chiltern has already approached SVR about running this service and SVR is keen to operate it itself.
  6. Open an SVR halt at the back of the Safari Park – Although the Safari Park is built for cars, safari buses could take pedestrian passengers from the Severn Valley Railway on trips through the park. This might decrease Bewdley Road traffic and increase business in Kidderminster and Bewdley. It would be a matter for the Safari Park and SVR to fund the project but WFDC planning dept should look favourably at the idea.
  7. Seek better parking and transport for Bewdley Station – a shuttle service between Bewdley, Foley Park and Kidderminster on the SVR is only possible if there is adequate and additional parking at Bewdley Station. This is a tough one to overcome but it needs addressing urgently.
  8. Seek arts funding for a theatre company such as Pentabus to come to Bewdley’s new St George’s hall – Bewdley should have the same cultural cache as Ludlow and the presence of a high quality fringe theatre company  here will add to the possibilities for cultural events. It would be a good idea for the Festival Committee to run the cultural programme in the centre but a resident theatre company would add real cache.
  9. Dredge the river to allow navigation from  Stourport – I realise this will attract a negative reaction from some anglers and newcomers on Severnside South, but it need not do so. Bewdley was built as a river port. Its quayside is ideal as the ultimate destination for river travellers, attracting business for the town, the railway, the forest and the safari park. It would add a real energy to the town on regatta weekend, especially. This is an expensive project as it means dredging a number of different points between Bewdley and Stourport. Clearly, it requires a lot of negotiation. The change in river flow will change the type of fish swimming here but for the better, adding variety and quality. For the residents of Severnside South and North, I believe the increased activity, while adding a small amount of disruption, returns the waterfront to the active part of the town it was built to be. 
  10. Move the fire station to Bridge House – the redevelopment of St George’s Hall and the library/medical centre complex offers the opportunity to put the fire station somewhere more effective and accessible than Dog Lane car park. Plans are in place to move it 100 yards but that still leaves emergency vehicles trapped by the Welch Gate bottleneck. Bridge house, across the river, is in disrepair and is partly for sale. With emergency traffic lights fitted either side of the bridge, placing the fire station there would give faster access to all parts of the town and Wribbenhall and would rid Bewdley’s waterfront of a hideous seventies eyesore.
  11. Ensure the new community/library/medical centre adds to the town’s aesthetic – the district council has asked that the new complex be a high quality modern design rather than a cheap mock-Georgian copy. This is commendable but runs risks. The architects have told me that budgetary short-cuts would make really good quality modern construction unfeasible. Unless the modernity makes a truly lasting positive statement, we could end up with a building little better and much bigger than the ones it replaces. The public need to watch this space very closely. Further, the single lane access from Load Street through to Dog Lane needs maintaining and it takes a small but vital amount of pressure off Welch Gate.
  12. Create a Wyre Forest Film Location Service – Screen West Midlands is supposed to look after all filming and TV production needs across six counties, including Worcestershire. They have quite substantial funding to assist productions in the region and Wyre Forest offers fantastic location (Georgian streets, river, forest, steam trains, stately homes, churches etc.). This could attract useful income and extra tourism. Screen WM is not going to favour Wyre Forest over anywhere else in the region unless we make it easier for them by funding a brochure, create pages related to film production on the local websites and build a register of property owners interested in being paid to use their property as a location. The area could also provide a location manager on hand who can help fix things (paid freelance when work comes in or given a small retainer). Filming is disruptive and there may be resistance to this idea, but a positive attitude towards it could really boost the area and bring income to those who are disrupted. One successful TV show or film in a location transforms tourist activity and the shoot itself means business for caterers, hotels, bars etc. A successful film can mean substantial long-term tourism business.

 

I spent a very lively couple of hours with the Pensioners’ Convention in Halesowen this week. Thanks to Gordon and Beryl for inviting me and making me so welcome.  Special thanks to the tough questioners who taught me so much about the trials and tribulations our modern life lands upon our elderly citizens. Between Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown governments have consistently fudged the issues that matter to pensioners, happier giving tax breaks to their super-rich buddies than helping those who fought and worked to make Britain livable.

People’s rose-tinted view of Thatcher as a great Prime Minister is so, so far short of reality and her mean-spirited termination of the link between earnings and pensions exemplifies that.  Gordon Brown’s belief that means tested, over-complex and dishonest Pension Credit system was a decent response to the problem demonstrates his inability to function in the real world.

That both main parties have now committed to restoring the link by 2015 shows how little they understand what they’re doing to our elderly. How many people have and will die in poverty by 2015 because of Thatcher’s snatch of their pension rights? Currently, 2.5 million people – former tax payers, war heroes and parents of our citizens are living below the poverty line because they thought their National Insurance contribution would give them a decent pension until  Thatcher’s government reneged on the promise in 1980. 

Thanks to her, who many still regard as a heroine, pensioners now earn less in real terms than they did in the 1950s.  Worse, Gordon Brown’s Pension Credit bureaucracy, which frightens most people away and even its own officers couldn’t understand, asks for the minutest detail about a pensioners assets yet happily mis-calculates the interest they would earn from their  savings to an outrageous 10 percent – 10 times the current truth! Frankly, it’s callous and little short of criminal.

I’m proud that my party would rather save money elsewhere, closing super-rich tax dodges and restore this link immediately. I reckon 2.5 million people lifted out of poverty would be a pretty good first step for a new government, don’t you?

Neville Farmer

Last week I was very proud to play a small part in organising an event to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the tragedy in Morcambe Bay where 23 Chinese illegal immigrants drowned while picking cockles. In stark contrast, it was a very glamorous event, hosted by Hong Kong entrepreneur, Sir David Tang and filmmaker, Nick Broomfield, who wrote and directed “Ghosts”, a film about the tragedy.  It was organised by Sir David, Nick and a number of Chinese and British activists, including myself and Merlene Emerson from the Chinese Liberal Democrats. Attendees came from across the political spectrum, including Lord and Lady Patton  (HK’s last British Governor), Labour MP Andrew Dismore (Chair of the All Party China in Britain Group of which I’m a member) and stars such as Annie Lennox. The aim was to highlight the plight of the thousands of Chinese and others who are robbed and seduced by people traffickers to make the perilous journey to Europe in search of money to support their families. We also wanted to raise money for the 35 orphans of the cocklepickers, many of whom had to give up schooling to pay off their dead parents debts to the criminal gangs who led them to their deaths.

The event, at London’s Electric Cinema, included speeches from Sir David and others, a 20 minute edited version of “Ghosts”, and an auction. With pledges and cheques received on the night and from elsewhere, we raised £85,000. This is enough to pay for the schooling of all the orphans until they are 20 years old, ensuring they will never be tempted to make such a perilous and fruitless journey.

This is part of an on-going campaign by myself and a growing body of other activists to fight the activities of unscrupulous gang-masters, greedy employers and the traffickers who bring illegal workers here every year. But we also aim to show that many of these illegals, far from scrounging off the state, are victims themselves; hard-working people, conned into taking inordinate risks in search of a better life for their families.

Neville Farmer, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson, Wyre Forest

In many ways, Bewdley is the jewel in Wyre Forest’s crown, a beautifully preserved Georgian gem, which could thrive in the recession as thousands of Brits decide to holiday at home.

It’s recent trials have united the town’s leaders and key players as never before, so what better time is there to start looking at ways of ensuring it gets its fair share of the tourist purse?

Having spent some time over the last year discussing ideas and problems with local businesses, I’d like to pitch in a few ideas of my own and see what people think?

BEWDLEY

 

COMMUNITY COLLABORATIONS

 

  1. Create new and relevant business association – This looks quite likely as for some time the Chamber of Trade has struggled to win the support of newer traders in the town. Sometimes these things need refreshing with new blood and new ideas.
  2. Increase support for the Town Council to take on issues with WFDC and WCC – The Town Council has been more or less emasculated by Wyre Forest DC, which is all fine and legal but it is the elected body of the town and better communication and respect between the town and district authorities could give the WFDC better eyes and ears in the town. The same goes for the relationship between the town and county, as the recent debacle over road works shows. According to the county, the Town Council didn’t turn up for planning meetings and according to the town, the County Councillor didn’t consult with them. Either way, this can be improved for the sake of residents and traders.
  3. Improve relationships between the SVR and new town association – Bewdley lost out badly when it ceased to be the terminus of the Severn Valley Railway. A traditional shuttle bus between station and town, better signage and a decent, large car park for commuters could change that situation. SVR and the town could both benefit from closer ties and the railway’s representation on the new trading association would help strengthen ties.
  4. Seek clarification as to what the BDT needs to access AWM grants –  The Bewdley Development Trust has the potential to do good things for the town but it seems to be hamstrung between decisions at WFDC and the development authorities. Time is running out for the BDT to become self-sustaining, so this needs addressing promptly.
  5. Start a Bewdley regeneration fund – Fund-raisers strengthen communities and lift the whole town. Bewdley needs to help itself as much as it needs outside assistance.
  6. Collaborate with The Bridge, BDT, Chamber of Trade current members – Town Council and Shuttle to create a public consultation for a new plan for Bewdley. Nothing enhances the chances of success than full community involvement.

 

A FEW IDEAS

 

  1. Dredge the river for boats – I realise this will attract a negative reaction from some anglers and newcomers on Severnside South, but it need not do so. Bewdley was built as a river port. Its quayside is ideal as the ultimate destination for river travellers, attracting business for the town, the railway, the forest and the safari park. It would add a real energy to the town on regatta weekend, especially. This is an expensive project as it means dredging a number of different points between Bewdley and Stourport. Clearly, it requires a lot of negotiation. The change in river flow will change the type of fish swimming here but for the better, adding variety and quality. For the residents of Severnside South and North, I believe the increased activity, while adding a small amount of disruption, is only returning the waterfront to the active part of the town it was built to be. 
  2. Establish a Bewdley Chartermark for local farmers, manufacturers and producers – It would be wonderful if it were possible to open a weekly market on Load Street as it was designed to support but for the moment, it makes sense for local food retailers to support local farmers and food producers. It makes a good selling point for visitors to know their food has been produced to high standards within the area. The same goes for products such as Bewdley beer, Totally Patched quilts, artworks, clay pipes, jewellery, stained glass and carpentry from the museum.
  3. Establish a Friends of Bewdley discount card – This is one for the new trading association but a Bewdley loyalty card could offer discounts in retailers, email notification of events and special benefits for SVR and Safari Park users. If also sold at those tourist attractions, it could increase the number of visitors continuing into Bewdley itself. There should also be a residents’ card that gives discounts to events etc and encourages locals to shop locally.
  4. Begin a Beautiful Bewdley competition to persuade landlords to improve shopfronts and houses – too many properties on Bewdley’s main streets look neglected. The regeneration fund and prizes for effort could reduce that problem.
  5. Establish SVR Shuttle line – This benefits all of Wyre Forest, cutting traffic between Bewdley, Stourport and Kidderminster, improving the viability of the Stourport Road industrial Zone, improving the SVR’s business and adding to the possibility of Kidderminster getting an hourly London service on Chiltern Rail as was originally planned. Interestingly, Chiltern has already approached SVR about running this service and SVR is keen to operate it itself.
  6. Open an SVR halt at the back of the Safari Park – Although the Safari Park is built for cars, safari buses could take pedestrian passengers from the Severn Valley Railway on trips through the park. This might decrease Bewdley Road traffic and increase business in Kidderminster and Bewdley. It would be a matter for the Safari Park and SVR to fund the project but WFDC planning dept should look favourably at the idea.
  7. Seek better parking and transport for Bewdley Station – a shuttle service between Bewdley, Foley Park and Kidderminster on the SVR is only possible if there is adequate and additional parking at Bewdley Station. This is a tough one to overcome but it needs addressing urgently.
  8. Seek arts funding for a theatre company such as Pentabus to come to Bewdley’s new St George’s hall – Bewdley should have the same cultural cache as Ludlow and the presence of a high quality fringe theatre company  here will add to the possibilities for cultural events.
  9. Move the fire station to Bridge House – the redevelopment of St George’s Hall and the library/medical centre complex offers the opportunity to put the fire station somewhere more effective and accessible than Dog Lane car park. Plans are in place to move it 100 yards but that still leaves emergency vehicles trapped by the Welch Gate bottleneck. Bridge house, across the river, is in disrepair and is partly for sale. With emergency traffic lights fitted either side of the bridge, placing the fire station there would give faster access to all parts of the town and Wribbenhall and would rid Bewdley’s waterfront of a hideous seventies eyesore.
  10. Ensure the new community/library/medical centre adds to the town’s aesthetic – the district council has asked that the new complex be a high quality modern design rather than a cheap mock-Georgian copy. This is commendable but runs risks. The architects have told me that budgetary short-cuts will make really good quality modern construction unfeasible. Unless the modernity makes a truly lasting positive statement, we could end up with a building little better and much bigger than the ones it replaces. The public need to watch this space very closely. Further, the single lane access from Load Street through to Dog Lane needs maintaining and it takes a small but vital amount of pressure off Welch Gate.

 

These are just a few ideas to think about for Bewdley. Clearly, they are not costed and so some may prove unviable as the economy changes but hopefully they’ll provoke more ideas. I’ll add more as they come up but please let me know your thoughts.

 

As he’s facing an election this summer, Bewdley’s Tory County Councillor, John Campion might consider whose side he is on – that of his constituents or that of Severn Trent Water and its contractor, Balfour Beatty. The rescheduling of the town centre water works to clash with the vital tourist season in the face of public opposition has inspired a furious reaction from the town’s leaders, yet Cllr Campion has dismissed warnings of business closures as over-reaction.

 

Until last month, Bewdley businesses understood that Balfour Beatty would re-commence work during the quiet winter months but instead, they announced ten weeks of road closures from April to July. Everyone agrees the work needs doing and accepts the inevitable upheaval but not then.  Last year, Severn Trent agreed to avoid disrupting the tourist season, so why not in this especially difficult year? Even with offers to halt work during tourist events local businesses are saying they won’t survive. Cllr Campion, Worcester County Council’s Highways Dept, Severn Trent and Balfour Beatty seem to think that’s a risk worth taking. 

 

We have spoken to the appropriate parties including the highways department and the decision has been made that the programme should proceed as proposed,” says Balfour Beatty’s Customer Services Manager, Julie Maund in an email rejecting a public request to change the dates. Apparently, the opinions of the fifty angry members of the town council, Bewdley Development Trust, the Chamber of Trade, the business community and local residents who met at the Town Hall on the 2nd February are considered irrelevant. Indeed, one wonders if “appropriate parties” include anyone who actually lives and works in Bewdley?

 

All politicians have to make unpopular decisions but this seems to be a mistake that could threaten Bewdley’s fragile economy. If Cllr Campion, who is also the head of the Wyre Forest’s Tory District Council, wishes to retain his County Councillor’s allowance, perhaps he should remember who pays it.

 

—————————–

 

As I’ve submitted the above to the press, I’ve not altered it but in the light of subsequent events, I thought I should add this update…

 

Cllr Campion, having previously said that Bewdley’s business owners were “Doomsday sayers” (?) for suggesting they risked bankruptcy, has offered his support to the campaign to postpone the road work programme. However welcome this volte face might be, it comes rather late. Cllr Campion says that the County Council couldn’t refuse the planning application for works starting in April because they didn’t have a good reason to object!!!!  Well, why didn’t he give them the reason that is so obvious to everyone else in Bewdley when it was discussed in the County Council – because it threatens the town’s economy?

 

He also says that the utilities involved in the works were forcing through the programme and the council had no say. This contradicts a well-substantiated rumour from one of the utilities that the council were blocking attempts to postpone the project. Where is Bewdley’s voice in that discussion?

 

What is critical here is that Bewdley’s businesses capitalise on the vital tourist season this year. But this episode does beg another question. If the town council and Richard Taylor MP, as elected representatives know what the issues are in Bewdley; and if as yet unelected activists like me are in touch with Bewdley’s business issues; and if the unelected bodies representing Bewdley such as the Bewdley Development Trust and the Chamber of Trade can unite behind this cause, why is the town’s County Council representative so out of touch?

 

I’m quite sure John Campion works his socks off trying to run Wyre Forest District Council but does that really leave him enough time to devote to Bewdley’s County Council needs? Isn’t it a bit like Boris Johnson trying to be Mayor of London and MP for Henley?

 

Neville Farmer

Parliamentary Spokesman, Wyre Forest Liberal Democrats

 

 

 

On a spherical planet, every nation is peripheral.

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