Post it, don’t pencil it

Everyone who wants to see an end to Tory domination in Fareham is urged to register for postal votes to help Lib Dems make major gains in Hampshire’s biggest – ever Local Elections on May 6.

And the need to vote is heightened by the Government’s announcement that electors voting in person will have to bring their own pen or pencil to the polling station – and the risk of voters being turned away if they forget to do so.

Of course preventing the sharing of objects we handle is vital in curbing the spread of Covid-19. But a much easier and cheaper way to make voting safe would be to hold all-postal elections – something the Government has stubbornly refused to do.

There have been big changes since the last local elections in May 2019, and with increasingly centralised control from Whitehall, the local Conservatives are in disarray.

Several former Conservative councillors from Fareham have already turned independent – no longer willing to toe their party line. Senior leadership has come under scrutiny, with a Fareham – based Tory County Council cabinet member resigning after being found to have broken council rules.

Fareham’s Liberal Democrats chairman Peter Davison said: “ Last year’s Local Elections were postponed and so there’s now a re al opportunity to make a difference.

“We will be contesting 15 Fareham Council seats and a further 7 for the County Council. The political shape of councils across Hampshire may soon look very different – especially if the turnout rises above the usual 40%.

Peter Davison says, “ We are finding that voters are very keen to have their say, but we sense that the ruling Conservatives are rather hoping that voter numbers will remain low , and would rather postpone the election yet again. ”

“By contrast, Fareham’s Lib Dem councillors and all our candidates are still working hard for their communities. Their everyday work of sorting local concerns is very important and voters now really appreciate the local Lib Dems’ attention to detail. ’

“Postal votes are far safer and easier, and anyone can apply for one. The Conservatives are just 12 weeks from their day of reckoning – make sure your vote brings them to account.’

Growth won’t save the planet

We continue to destroy our only planet, driven on by the moneymen – and women. Politicians, in awe of the economists, see growth as the answer to every question.

Anyone who stops to think for a moment can see that more and more growth is not any sort of a solution to today’s problems on a planet with limited resources. 

This view of economics is hard wired into our society through the legal system. Most company directors have as a prime responsibility, that they must maximise the money made by their shareholders. Failure to do this means that they can be sued.

Without changing company law to revise director responsibilities, we will remain locked into money being the measure of everything. And consequent ongoing environmental destruction.

If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend spending four minutes watching Greta Thunberg’s “How dare you” speech to the United Nations. Follow this link.

If the politicians and moneypersons don’t stand up now to save the planet, I will also not forgive them. And I am in my 70s rather than a 16 year old.

Route out of lockdown

Our government doesn’t need to fret over how to get out of lockdown. It just needs to look to the Australian state of Victoria.

Their first criterion was to get to less than 5 new cases a day (roughly 1 per million people). That target was achieved by taking the whole situation seriously with strict lockdowns in different areas. Then having achieved the target rate, the changes to each lockdown rule were announced, along with a timetable for the changes.

The rules were clear; everyone knew what they were, why they were there and therefore they were generally well supported. And Victoria was the worst performing state in Australia re Covid! 

The contrast with the way the UK Conservative government, with all its resources has mishandled the pandemic could not be more embarrassing.

Anyone know what the tier 1/2/3 rules are? It’s tricky because they vary for different areas.

Anyone know what the criteria are for moving into or out of each tier? Is it any wonder there is a strong impression of the government making it up as they go? We deserve better.

Covid: Knowing our place

We should all be thankful that here in Fareham we are one of the Local Authorities least affected by Covid-19.

Leicester’s latest local lockdown, however, raises key questions for all Local Authorities and their communities.

It is now abundantly clear that Leicester’s local management was not fully aware of its Covid-19 crisis. Central government had a rough idea that there was a problem but didn’t share the data or act on it quickly.

But would our Local Authority have managed any better? How well do we know our place? Fareham’s Borough Council is surely not a mere agency of the national Head Office – or at least we would hope not. For who can trust the current competence of Head Office?

Here in Fareham, we and all our residents and local employees need to know that our Local Authority is totally on top of the metrics. And the only way that we will know that is by openly publishing critical up-to-date information.

We should, at least, know the answers to seven basic questions:

  • Is our local population infection rate under control?
  • Is our local healthcare system capacity sufficient?
  • Do we have sufficient local testing and contact tracing, and is the system working effectively and efficiently?
  • How well are folk in Fareham complying with public health safety measures?
  • How well are we ensuring the protection and preparedness of essential workers?
  • Are we protecting and preparing places where people are gathered – like Care Homes?
  • What are we doing to ensure preparedness of businesses for reopening?

The answers for Fareham may be comforting, but this is not rocket science*. These are very basic questions that sit on top of a host of finer detail – essential metrics that must be monitored locally to ensure your community management is in safe hands.

Since the crisis in Leicester, more data on infection rates in every Local Authority has become available but few places, if any, have a complete overview of the current situation in sufficient detail to enable rapid hyper-local responses to any new outbreak. Any lack of local insight illustrates dependency on over-centralised systems – an abdication of local authority.

Here in Fareham, we are truly fortunate to be among the least-affected, but questions of trust remain: How well do we know our place? What can we do locally to reduce the future risk of dependence on outsourced management?

*A full list of the main and subsidiary metrics was compiled by Johns Hopkins University together with a clear specification of the granularity required to identify ‘at risk’ sections of society. The list shown above is a local adaptation of an American text issued by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Selling out our farmers

Mostly hidden by covid-19 and Brexit, the agriculture bill is steadily going through parliament. This bill will define the shape of farming, wildlife, water management and the quality of food we eat.

It will determine whether we continue to push money to big landowners simply because they own land, or whether it is aimed at supporting smaller farmers who are key to protecting our environment. It will decide if we take a serious step towards avoiding climate catastrophe or keep on maintaining the same damaging practices we have so far used. In short, it’s key to what our countryside will look like in the future.

Government ministers repeatedly claim there will be no reduction in food quality or animal welfare standards. In February 2019, Michael Gove (then the environment secretary) pledged that British food standards would not be lowered “in pursuit of trade deals”.

 Why then did the government reject an amendment to the bill which guaranteed that UK farmers would not be undercut by lower standard imports? Clearly, the words they say are not worth anything. Without the safeguard of the law, anything can be negotiated away. Hormone treated beef and pork plus chlorinated chicken may soon be on our shelves. With our food labelling standards also up for negotiation, if the US have their way you will not even be allowed to know what you are eating!

The most recent statement from Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt is that we should trust the consumer to decide and put our faith in government. This shows exactly what they plan to do; to sell the consumer, our farmers and our environment down the river. 

Trustworthy? Remember, this is the government which counted one pair of surgical gloves as two pieces of PPE!

Read more about food standards legislation on Which?

With friends like these…

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage recently called for decisions on two proposed housing developments in Fareham’s Strategic Gap to be taken away from the Planning Inspectorate, and ruled on instead by the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

Yes, that Robert Jenrick! The Minister many say should resign because of his part in giving newspaper tycoon Richard Desmond permission for a huge London property development the day before it would have become liable to a £50million Community Infrastructure Levy.

(Community Infrastructure Levy – CIL – is not some obscure, punitive tax imposed at the whim of a Council which Mr Desmond described as “Marxists”. It’s the contribution developers all over the country pay to councils to provide facilities like schools, clinics, road improvements and play areas – the infrastructure put under strain by new housing developments.)

As it happens, Fareham’s Planning Committee this week voted unanimously against the two proposed developments, totalling 190 homes in the countryside between Newgate Lane and the new relief road. (Full story here). But the developers had already appealed because of delay in considering them, so they will go to the Planning Inspectorate.

Fareham’s planning officers cited 14 issues on which the proposals conflict with the Borough’s adopted policy, and elected planning councillors voted 8-0 to back their recommendation of refusal.

It’s disappointing that this clear local consensus should have to be re-examined by an outside official. But at least we have the comfort that HM Planning Inspectors have made several recent rulings protecting Fareham’s Strategic Gap, which benefits Gosport as well as Fareham.

It’s hard to see why Gosport’s MP believes that Robert Jenrick would be a better friend to our countryside. And indeed, any Housing Minister appointed by Boris Johnson should be regarded with suspicion. Johnson’s henchman – some say puppet-master – Dominic Cummings is said to believe that MORE planning decisions should be taken away from local councils and given to Whitehall.

Fareham’s Conservative councillors blame central government for the increasing demands for more house-building. But it’s not so long since those same Tory councillors were standing outside polling stations urging us to vote for – you’ve guessed it – THIS government.

Owning the future?

Creating & Sustaining Thriving Communities

When the Covid door closes, when lockdown is unlocked, when partying has passed, what then? There will be no ‘ getting back to normal’ , not least because what was once familiar is already history, daring never to be repeated.

Many are determined that life during lockdown should be a learning experience. The disruption, the unexpected time gained by enforced closedowns, should not be wasted. Books and baking, gardening and grieving, DIY and doing something else for others: with unwelcome, unexpected, events, have we ever been busier? But these times of daily doom-scrolling will surely pass. The future ‘whatever’ will become a new normal.

It is not wishful thinking or idle curiosity to spend time thinking ahead. Much of our present predicament reflects a lack of reasoned foresight and preparedness – but ‘learning the lessons’ need not mean indulging in bitter rounds of blame and shame. We must, surely, ‘ rise to play a greater part’ – not least because we have a choice, even if local democracy is, apparently, temporarily suspended.

Thinking through choices for our future is a real test of awareness. Priorities and perspectives may range from ‘saving the planet’ to ‘saving my job’, from ‘working together’ to ‘falling apart’. We could passively accept greater central command or strive to choose priorities uniquely suited to our local community needs.

In one of the most exhaustive studies currently calling for attention (and, for sure, umpteen others are in the pipeline) the future options are categorized as ‘Good, Bad, or Ugly’. The work Owning The Future? by The Democracy Collaborative and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) is not for the faint-hearted – 20 full pages of text – but should be required reading for anyone who leans towards leading.

The least attractive scenario (‘Ugly’) – extreme nationalism – is already discredited by UK- wide polling that rejects the busted Brexit bravado. The scenario categorised as ‘Bad’ assumes a continuing determination to abdicate leadership to market forces with minimal regulatory ‘interference’ to maximise private gain. Finally, a ‘Good’ outcome would bid farewell to exceptional aspirations of national supremacy and see a rebalancing of central & local governance to enable more resilient, sustainable and thriving, local communities.

Even before we are ‘unlocked’, a great many minds are open to considering the lessons learned. ‘Owning The Future’ is just one of many attempts to analyse our future options. Download the full report and add your comments below this article. For too long now, prevailing political forces have outsourced leadership to markets driven entirely by private gain – but, with a new post-Covid appreciation of social values, there is huge scope for municipal enterprise, particularly if social ventures chime with the planetary climate challenge – a destination even more predictable than the current pandemic.

What price for honesty?

We don’t need to look as far as the White House to find fake news. Listening to Matt Hancock repeatedly claiming that care homes have been prioritised since the beginning of the pandemic is an example close to home.

This demonstrably false claim is worse than fake news, it is an attempt to exterminate the truth. This approach to the truth has been going on at least since the vote leave campaign. The leaders of the vote leave campaign are now un-elected advisors at the heart of government.

Make no mistake, this is dangerous territory. Every nasty regime in history has sought to manipulate reality for its own benefit.

The modern “post truth” world is being deliberately encouraged and promoted by the Conservatives. We all need to fight against this perversion of democracy.

Choppy waters lie ahead

By David Chalmers

It is now over 12 weeks since the UK officially left the European Union and Boris Johnson has until 30 June to ask for the transition period we are now in to be extended by one or two years, otherwise we shall be crashing out with No Deal on 31 December.

It has long been argued that one year would not be long enough to negotiate a comprehensive deal governing the UK’s future relationship with the EU, and indeed at the hustings during the December 2019 General Election when questioned by me, Geoffrey Cox – the then Attorney General – admitted as much.

With the Covid-19 crisis having essentially put an end to talks between the UK and the EU with both sides distracted by their efforts to prevent a total melt down of society and the economy – there is just no capacity or willingness to sort out a deal at this moment.

An extension of the transition period would seem to be the only sensible course, but in the fight to stop Brexit over the past four years I have learnt to understand what motivates many of those who brought it about, and I fear that they will now use the impact of Covid- 19 to hide the true impact of Brexit.

Boris Johnson and his hardline Brexiters never really had any intention of negotiating a Deal with the EU, it was always their preference to have a complete break, which would allow them to reshape the economy in their interests and ultimately to secure their own power. The British constitution sadly offers us very little protection, as we experienced late last year, and the intention of the Government is to remove even the ability of the Supreme Court to hold them to account.

In practical terms leaving the transition period with the EU without a Deal will allow a trade agreement to be negotiated with the USA, in which our farming industry is going to be the main trade off. This will lead to the import of cheaper food and the lowering of standards , but also the end of British family farms as we know them today, which is going to have a huge impact on our rural communities in Devon.

Businesses are pleading with the Government not to compound the economic hit from the virus with the pain of a hard Brexit, but all Tory MPs were selected to stand in the recent General Election on the basis that they signed a pledge to support a No Deal Brexit over any delay. Any Conservatives who dared to oppose this position were culled from the Party – hence why we now have the C team in supposed charge of the country during this crisis.

In recent days there has been growing criticism of the Government’s handling of the Coronavirus and it’s lack of preparedness compared to many other countries and calls for a public enquiry. We have the right to ask and to have answers to our questions Why the UK was slow into lock down? Why the UK has been slow on testing? And Why the UK has been slow on providing protective equipment?

Up to 2016 the UK was regarded alongside Germany, as one of countries most well prepared to deal with a pandemic . We have dropped the ball over the past 4 years. Any guesses why? Since the EU Referendum Conservative Governments under Theresa May and Boris Johnson have been so fixated on Brexit that all other elements of governmental work have fallen to the way side

Apparently the Civil Service Task Force preparing us for a pandemic was disbanded and its team shifted to work on preparing for a No Deal Brexit.

We have been told that this would all be a price worth paying to achieve the Utopia of life outside the European Union.

The past few weeks have exposed the price that we have already paid and unless we can make Boris Johnson see reason within the next two months and seek an extension to the transition period that cost is only going to rise. We shall all be asking ourselves for a very long time – Was this really worth it?

David Chalmers is Chair of LDEG, Chair or FIRC EU/Brexit sub-committee and Parliamentary spokesperson for Torridge and West Devon