Cameron’s Dichotomy

August 9, 2010

I read with fascination David Cameron’s article in The Sunday Times ("The pain – and the prize – before us", p21) which compared his coalition Government’s mission to repair our broken economy and restore national confidence, with "the methodical turnaround of a failing business".

He talks of cutting obvious waste, attacking ingrained waste, stopping things that don’t add value or are unaffordable, and raising revenue. And he points out that the ‘ingrained waste that outranks all others’ is welfare and tax credit fraud and error, at £5.2bn a year. He maintains that he "passionately disagrees" that we have no hope of resolving this; of stopping the handouts to cheats and scroungers.

So why isn’t this the overwhelming, ‘above-all-else’ priority of Government? Because by the time we’ve saved this £5.2bn, we’ll already have cut off vital health and social care services to countless sick, vulnerable and needy citizens, and made life immeasurably worse for countless more.

The dichotomy is surely that in its fervency to show strong resolve, the Coalition Government is in danger of a ‘shotgun approach’ which will pepper everything with a modicum of effort. How can it be right to curtail critical services to those in need at the same time as knowingly allowing others to dishonestly take cash from the system?


Bradley Wernham – gambling with other people’s property

August 6, 2010

It’s good to see that British justice is alive and well in the case of Essex teenager Bradley Wernham. Bradley’s voracious kleptomanic urges apparently knew no bounds – he admitted to no less than six hundred and fifty crimes, with the total value of his haul at over a million pounds.

At Bradley’s trial last October, the judge decided not to incarcerate him, but instead arranged for the police to put him in a rent-subsidised flat, offer him training and education, and call to have a chat with him twice a week.

And the result? Bradley was later caught breaking into a house in Essex. He’s now been put away for five years, which at his age doesn’t seem a lot for over a million pounds’ worth of swag.

The judge says he had ‘taken a gamble’ with Bradley’s previous sentence. He certainly had – a gamble with other people’s property.

Big Society – if the wrapping ever tears

August 4, 2010

The key plank of the coalition government, David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is viewed by some as the answer to our problems, and by others as a glimpse of the ‘spin’ to come.

Essentially, the idea can’t be faulted – why wouldn’t it be good to get citizens to take direct responsibility for their own communities? But the difficulty begins when we attempt to define ‘communities’. Take the ward of Sherwood in my own constituency. For many residents of properties worth hundreds of thousands on the Pembury Road, or the maze of private closes off Sandown Park, the idea that they reside in "Sherwood" is an alien concept.

The same can be said also for residents of the roads off Oak Road – they’re not living on the Sherwood Estate; they’re Oak Road residents. In some locations, just two or three roads could be a world away.

Yet this is surely just the kind of ‘sense of place’ on which Cameron’s localism agenda is based. We simply need to find a way to harness people’s sense of pride in where they live and those around them.

And we won’t do that with a snappy strapline or logo. We won’t do by telling people to be proud of where they live. We’ll do it through trust – not the box-ticking, headline-grabbing ‘trust’ which simply lengthens the lead around the neck of a community. Real trust means allowing failure to create success. It means building relationships over time, not writing ‘inclusive strategies’ in which not a line has been written by those professed to be included.

Lord Wei, Cameron’s ‘Big Society guru’ has a big job on his hands. He must first tap into the aspirations of a generation who have been sold out and written off by successive agencies of power. He must open a true channel of communication, which allows for aspiration and dreams and ambition.

And then he must persuade David Cameron to deliver against managed expectations. Because without all these things, Cameron’s Big Society will be no more credible than Blair’s Big Conversation of yesteryear.

And if the wrapping ever tears away, and this turns out to be just the latest way of saving money and providing cheap services, people will lose their last vestige of trust in Government for a generation.

Kent: the ‘film-friendly’ county

August 2, 2010

I was delighted to hear that Kent County Council’s latest piece of legislation, the Kent (Filming on Highways) Bill has successfully made it through the numerous hurdles and passed into law last week.

This piece of legislation now gives police the powers they need to close off a road for the purposes of holding a ‘significant event’ such as filming, and makes the county of Kent the only other area outside of London to have such powers.

Since it was set up in 2006, the Kent Film Office has facilitated a spend into Kent businesses of around £14million by film and production companies, as well as raising the profile of our beautiful county as a backdrop for countless films and television programmes.

With this new legislation in place, we will represent an even more film-friendly location. Who knows, maybe your town or village will feature in the next blockbuster?

The Diamond Days of Naomi Campbell

August 1, 2010

It’s been thirteen years since the dinner party held by Nelson Mandela to celebrate the inauguration of the ‘Blue Train’ – South Africa’s version of the Orient Express. Around table, Imran and Jemima Khan, producer Quincy Jones, actress Mia Farrow, model Naomi Campbell and newly-made President of Liberia Charles Taylor.

Thirteen years on, and Taylor faces trial a war crimes trial in The Hague. A key plank for the prosecution is whether Taylor gave a so-called ‘blood diamond’ – diamonds traded by Sierra Leone rebels in return for supplies of arms – to Campbell.

Naomi Campbell denies receiving the diamonds, but her denial is refuted by other diners from that night – notably Mia Farrow and Campbell’s former agent Carole White. And so this week Campbell is due to give evidence in court and has employed former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord MacDonald to ensure a ban on both media and the public from taking photos, movies or even following Campbell "during her transit to the court".

But if her denial is true, wouldn’t she want as much publicity as possible to lay this thirteen year old ghost to rest once and for all?

BA strikers grounded

July 31, 2010

At a time when many are enjoying their summer break in far-off climes, spare a thought for the six thousand poor militant workers at British Airways.

It seems that Willie Walsh, BA Chief Executive and ‘bete noir’ of the strikers, decided to take away their perks and privileges whilst they refused to work – including worldwide air travel at up to a tenth of the fares the rest of us pay.

Thanks heavens for Unite, the union representing these tragic unfortunates. It seems they’ve stepped in with the argument that withdrawal of these perks "…breaches European human rights legislation".

British Airways has commented that if Unite’s claim is made formally through the courts, they will vigorously defend their position.

Somehow I don’t think that will be too hard.

Oiling the wheels of Hayward’s departure

July 28, 2010

I see BP have finally come to their senses and decided to change their Chief Executive, Tony Hayward. I’m sure many will share in my surprise that last year, between salary, bonus, long-term incentive and share options he earned a total of four and a half million pounds.

Mr Hayward spent much of last weekend ‘in negotiations’ over his farewell package, which will probably include early access to an annual pension payment of almost £600,000 from a pot of almost £11m.

It’s not quite on a par with Fred "The Shred" Goodwin’s £700,000 annual payout from his RBS pension pot of £16m, but it’s up there in the league table of vulgarity against the environmental nightmare which BP have caused under Mr Hayward’s leadership.