Tuesday, 30 April 2013

"The horror ... the horror ..."

Wednesday 1st May

From here at the beginning to here at the end.

And now a long-overdue 'thank you'.

It has overall been a pleasure to be involved and to have represented the residents of the various wards & divisions of which I have been an elected member since 2007. I should like to take this final public opportunity to thank all of those who have voted for me at those elections, selections & votes; all of those who have supported and undertaken the campaigns and the back-office work; and perhaps most importantly of all, those of all colours & creeds who have proven & continued to show faith throughout my sometimes tempestuous tenure of local government office.

It is an over-used phrase but it has been both an honour & a privelege to know & work with you. I hope that along the way, as a progressive if somewhat unconventional team, we have managed to get some good things done. I trust that such good works will continue, above or below the radar of our more myopic & conventional colleagues.

For my part, it is now however the end.

Now, where did I leave the keys to that boat...?

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Gratuitous Baby-Kissing Shot, Part 2.

Sunday 28th April

Long time readers of this blog might recall a blog-post here on the eve of the last County Council elections for the Bagshot, Windlesham & Lightwater West seat back in 2009.
A year into being an elected borough member, Robin Horsley & I set up 'BackMac' in 2008 in order to support the county election campaign online not long after the selection. Quiet to start with - these were of course the days before the advent of the ubiquitous Paul Deach, Twitter and the LeftofLightwater et al blogsphere - we soon found the momentum with the assistance of a certain MP and I recall one particular voter in Windlesham on Election Day telling me that she had come out specifically because of the 'Gratuitous Baby-Kissing Shot' post of June 2nd 2009, which can be found here

I'd long considered myself to have been fortunate enough to have had a relatively privileged upbringing and in my public appointments had always tried to work in the direction of raising the bar for the benefit of all.
'What if', I remember asking a rather stuffy Association Chairman after a meeting in 2009, 'the person with the cure for cancer is currently languishing in some disadvantaged hell-hole of a life with no chance of releasing that potential?'. A ridiculous premise you might think, but useful as an illustration of my political motivation.

The entire experience has had its ups and downs. Able enough to have been recognised to take on positions of authority at both the county & borough levels, there have been some great local successes and some fantastic high points juxtaposed with some disappointments, controversies and some very, very low points.

The rest as they say, is history. And the internet never forgets.

Seven years on and the local conservative president - yes, that one - has determined that this time I'm not standing. Frankly, I'd have preferred a second county term; as Obama will accord, a single four year term simply isn't long enough to settle-in and work into a position sufficiently enough to make things happen in a strategic rather than just tactical manner. Because that's really what this business is all about; the combination of assisting & representing local residents for those matters which are of local import, while at the same time getting to a place where you can make the lives better for many, many more residents than those within your ward or division, by way of creating policy.
Well, that's how I played it.

So, I'm out.

Somewhere along the way while I was attempting to look after the residents of Surrey, my division and wards, I forgot about some residents who were even closer to me. For the forseeable future I'm going to be working specifically & exclusively for them.
And it's about bloody time.

Cue the 'Gratuitous Baby-kissing Shot, Part 2':


Sunday 28th April.

I shan't be voting on Thursday.

Not a fit of pique regards my recent discussions, nor even the long anticipated 'Mercutio moment'. I am in fact to be the 'Master of Ceremonies' at my brother-in-law's wedding and in an odd twist have to be the other side of Kent on Wednesday evening, returning after the event on Friday, long after the polls have closed.

I don't necessarily consider this to be a problem for the residents of the new Division of 'West End, Lightwater & Bisley': without stronger opposition campaigning, its fairly accurate to predict that Adrian Page will be the new guy in these parts come Friday afternoon, with or without my vote.
Similarly, Mike Goodman is most likely to emerge the victor over in the new division of 'Bagshot, Windlesham & Chobham' despite the ridiculous efforts of some of his competitors.

But for the first time in 20 years, I won't thus be voting Tory.

And that realisation,
which seems to simulate the way in which one emancipates oneself from an ex,
is very, very interesting indeed.


Monday, 22 April 2013

Going Fishing

Monday 22nd April

Now that the smoke is clearing, I thought it might be interesting for some of you to have further insights on a number of subjects I've experienced over the years.

The first one of interest is one of the most recent and concerns the 'Crimestoppers' Rewards scheme. My personal feeling about the entire experience can be found elsewhere on this blog, but as one who has been the subject of one of these anonymous phone calls within the last year, I suspect that you might be particularly interested to know the details.

This is exactly how it works.

For those of you without a browser that enables this link to be opened easily, the scheme works as follows:
Upon seeing a suspected offence being committed, a person calls Crimestoppers. They are given a PIN number. They then call back 24-48 hours later to see whether charges have been brought. If charges have been pressed, the caller is asked which bank they would care to pick up the reward from. Anonymously, the caller goes to said bank, repeats the PIN number and is subsequently handed cash.

The person who made the call in my case received £770 for their trouble.

The disqualification period & rehabilitation education was enough for me to have learned an extremely valuable lesson throughout this experience. But for those of you still not convinced by my experience, be warned.

It turns out that the person responsible for my call makes a second living out of making them.


Friday, 19 April 2013

The Gamble

Friday 19th April

Coming to adulthood in 1991, the things I recall about Margaret Thatcher during the 1980's were when the school milk stopped, the Miner's Strike & the Falkland's Conflict. I also remember the power cuts that forced me to eat dinner by candlelight on some nights stopping; and something about a 'Big Bang' in the City.

I recall in the 1980's when my father readied himself for a relocation to the USA pending a 1987 Labour election victory. He remembered all too well the trials of the 1970's and was determined not to experience that again. In the event, the Conservative Party won - again - and the MacLeod family remained in the UK.
Similarly, I remember watching a budget where he noted that Nigel Lawson was the only chancellor he could recall who had actually given him money. I think he was referring to the top-rate tax reduction.

So, it was a fairly 'Maggie Thatch' house at our place, right up towards the end when we watched the leadership contest with baited breath in 1990. I considered Margaret Thatcher to be both a formidable politician & good for the country at the time. Nothing has since diminished that opinion and I was thus sorry to hear of her recent demise.

Of course, such a political heavyweight would always have her detractors. With an eleven year run, there were bound to have been good & bad aspects to her governments As a 'political scientist' one can determine pretty easily what they were. But what has been incredible recently though was the manner in which some have celebrated her passing and how long they've held on to their hate. Rather than the inclusive figure that three general election victories might have suggested, the recent weeks have shown just how divisive the legend of Margaret Thatcher has become.

Which brings me to our current Prime Minister. Hot on the heels of the 'Gay Marriage' debate which has all but split the Tory party here in the shires, the Prime Minister appears to have stapled the fortunes of the current Party onto the memory of Maggie ahead of the forthcoming County Council Elections, seemingly in the hope of riding that wave of sympathy to victory on May 3rd.
I suspect that a lot of UKIP supporters are Maggie fans, so without any 'lurching' the Prime Minster thus unites the Party towards the right without any Westminster fall-out, ensuring party loyalty at the polls and similarly reducing the haemmorhaging of membership. Genius. Almost.
Such is the divisiveness of the 'Maggie Legacy', it strikes me as quite a gamble. While the former mining communities are unlikely to ever save the Prime Minister's bacon, lots of 'Mondeo-Men' - those floating voters who ensured those three Tory election victories in the '80's - are unlikely to be fooled in the short term. While the memory remains, the reality for a lot of people is altogether less rosy.

What's important to voters now is not the lasting memory of a former heroine.
It's the economy, stupid.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Thursday 11th April

It's over.

Following the Driver Rehabilitation Course and the more recent DVLA Driver Medical, I'm delighted to say that the DVLA returned the licence today, formally ending the nine month disqualification. The medical is another part of the application process that few not involved with the Road Traffic Acts know about and is taken to determine whether post-conviction licence applicants are:

- alcoholics,
- have an alcohol dependence,
- have misused alcohol in the past year.

Failure on any of these tests results in an immediate further disqualification of 6-12 months.

Well, I'm delighted to say that I have indeed passed this medical.
I'm even more delighted that in addition to not being an alcoholic, not having an alcohol dependence or it seems, ever having misused alcohol, that my liver is in very good shape and free from any affliction, alcoholic or otherwise. The licence has been unconditionally returned and life can now carry on.

However that isn't the point of this post. The glee doesn't change the history. I have it in mind to become involved with a charity that can help with some of the issues I've experienced in order to see if I can put something back. I'll also continue to lobby to see if driver education can be extended earlier in the careers of new drivers as discussed elsewhere on this blog.
Having lived it, it is to my mind very important; and the work carries on.

No, the purpose of this post is to say thank you.
There are a number of you that have helped 'The MacLeod Team' through this challenging time and while I won't name individuals (some of you are Surrey Heath Conservative Association members after all and I'd hate to prejudice your careers by way of association...) there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we would have been sunk without you.

Thank you.
You have no idea how much you mean to us.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Location, Location, Location

Sunday 17th March

About six years ago, when the property market was still in full swing, I looked at buying a development site in Camberley High St.
The unusual thing about this site was that it was actually an office block at the time, located above the bed shop opposite the old Allders building. Seemingly, the owner had decided that the office yields were no longer an attractive investment and had decided - at a great deal of expense and time - to change the consent of the building from offices to residential.

Sadly - or perhaps fortunately for us - we were outbid on the deal. But the successful developer continued with the project and latterly completed the sale of his last remaining unit.
At the time I considered the idea to be a superb commercial prospect for the business and also for the town centre. At no cost to them, the Borough would have a shiny new (converted) building on the High St, thirty more 'windfall' units to place into their housing numbers and sixty or so new council taxpayers on the doorstep. Merchants would benefit also, in both the daytime and evening economies. What wasn't there to like? And so, I cast around for other such potential developments at the same time as looking at the planning file for clues about how I might go about it.

That's where my designs became somewhat stillborn.
Because the fight that the building owner had on his hands in order to change the consent was ridiculous. And all the while these long drawn out negotiations, discussions and even applications were taking place, supported no doubt by a team of professionals on an hourly rate, the owner had also not derived any income from the empty office. Who else I wondered, as I looked at the acres of empty office space across the county, would have the purse to cope with that.
(Believe it or not, this continued delaying and red-tape represents much of the current planning system in the UK, a situation the CBI continues to deride, and for good reason)

So I'm delighted to see this latest Eric Pickles property rumour come to light. Effectively, the Communities Secretary has outlined plans for such schemes to be able to take place under the auspices of 'permitted development'.

The location of a lot of this empty property is exactly where these areas require regeneration and vibrancy. Bagshot, which shows few signs of letting is current stock of 100,000 sq ft of available office space, could be transformed under such plans. Camberley similarly so. Naturally, the Borough would have to declare NOT elect to opt-out of such a scheme. And property owners would have to consider the merits of scrapping long-held, but poorly performing office investments.

Its a big idea. Its a great idea.
I wonder who'll blink first.

Thanks to the Camberley Society et al for their recent Twitter discussion about this subject, which reminded me to blog it!

Bye-Bye Elections

Saturday 16th March

There were another pair of by-elections this past week near to our part of the world, namely Chobham Parish and the Runnymede BC ward of Foxhills.

The full details of both are covered fully and in depth elsewhere, so I won't attempt to duplicate. However, as I've alluded to several times on this blog, local political support continues to shift.

'The People's Republic of Chobham' have long had an independent spirit. In recent years issues with the Town Council at Surrey Heath about local matters have caused dissent in an area one would historically defined as Tory, with the result that the borough council elections have long returned Independent candidates. Similarly, the parish council also has a split of Conservative & Independent councillors, a situation not repeated anywhere else within the Borough*. As such, the eventual winner of the Chobham contest was always likely to be the Independent candidate, particularly one with such a markedly good local profile and proven track record as Ms Wheeler. Foxhills on the other hand has been long considered a safe Conservative seat, as much of the western end of Runnymede remains; seemingly so safe though that even the successful UKIP candidate expressed surprise at the result at the count.

I don't believe that either of these results can simply be put down to 'mid-term blues'. I'm more of the opinion that the big switch off from mainstream parties is speeding up; I suspect that the disaffection is borne of an appetite for something fresher; and I know that strong local candidates, with the interests of local residents clearly and truly at their hearts are the ones who will run local government into the future.

Goodbye paper candidates. Your days are numbered.

*Bisley does of course have an Independent Parish Council, but that arrangement is exactly that; an agreement to keep the PC free of party politicians.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Crimson Tide

Friday 1st March

I woke up to a slightly different country on Friday morning.
Having dozed off in the middle of Andrew Neil's 'This Week' programme on Thursday evening, I missed the news as it unfolded and had to be satisfied with the BBC & Sky News loops as I tucked into my muesli and prepared the MacLeod Brothers for school.

While UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, came second in the Eastleigh by-election, the casual observer might have been forgiven for thinking that in fact Nigel Farage & UKIP had won, such was the coverage on the news feeds. It was a similar story on Twitter, and I watched my tweet-feed yesterday with various degrees of amusement as the various key players of all political colours stepped up to provide their respective reasons for the result.

Naturally, as a current Tory Party Member (I think I am - I'll have to check my subscription), there was a shade of disappointment at the Liberal Democrat win, although I did chuckle to myself as the Tory Party Deputy Chair claimed it was a 'success for the Coalition Government' after one of the most bitter fought election campaigns I can recall between the two coalition partners.

Various commentators published their opinions on the result, the best pair coming from the recently unmasked 'Fleet Street Fox', and another, from a rather wistful former agent, via Tim Montgomerie at ConservativeHome, both well worth a read.

To spare the repetition, I consider both of the above points of view to be on target. I've sensed a change of voter opinion a couple of times recently, specifically starting with the MP's Expenses Scandal. And stripping away the mid-term blues scenario, the main conclusions I've drawn from this episode are that something bad is happening to the Tory machine; and that UKIP have stealthily and very recently become a force to be reckoned with.

To my mind, it is coalition government itself which has seriously battered the reputation of the Tory Party. A large number of members & activists feel let down by their Parliamentary colleagues, whom, having been supported during the long years of opposition in many cases, are now hamstrung with a social democratic partner and a socially democratic 'metropolitan' cabinet. That's not all bad in policy terms in my opinion, but it doesn't half upset 'em in the shires. Such disillusionment goes some way to explain the legions of departing Tory members and the rise in support of the other right of centre political party in the UK, UKIP. And if a party can't keep its existing members, how on earth can it properly campaign successfully, with all the planning, execution and manpower involved, let alone be expected to recruit, enthuse & create a new replacement membership base.

And UKIP. The interesting change on yesterday's media was how without exception, all pundits and all channels were treating UKIP as a serious party. This was a marked change from previous electoral results and indeed, from the previous week's reporting on the very same election, where UKIP were largely dismissed as contenders, with comments ranging from 'a joke' through to 'a protest' as the week went by. And as mentioned above, the story wasn't a LibDem win or even a Tory loss: it was a UKIP second-place that made the ticker-tapes. It remains to be seen how UKIP develop over the next twelve months, but it is clear that the party has somewhat transformed itself over the previous twelve in terms of membership, organisation and most importantly electability, if not yet completely in terms of policy.

Interesting certainly.
But what does it mean?

I imagine that we'll see some further right wing policy leaks & announcements, but I don't believe we'll see a right wing lurch from the cabinet. Any moves in that direction will gift support to Labour, particularly if David Milliband is back in the frame. It would also have every likelihood of destabilizing the existing coalition, again to the benefit of the Labour party. Similarly, I don't yet see any fusion between the the Tory Party & UKIP (even though the membership demographic is very, very similar) for the same reason. The UKIP membership would probably require some far more right-leaning politics, which the prime minister simply cannot provide, even if he wished to.

Where this will end is anybody's guess, but I'm reminded of my old school prefect, James Purnell, opining about the 'Third Way', back in 2010. Perhaps UKIP will ultimately attract the majority of the right away from the Tories, leaving a collection of Tories, Liberals and Socilaist social democratic players to form a new party of the true centre. Perhaps the next coalition might have UKIP MP's as a part of it. Or perhaps it will all end in tears in 2015 for UKIP once its determined that the country wishes to stay in Europe after all.

One thing is for certain though. Its a slightly different political country today.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Better Late...

Friday 15th February

Regular readers of this blog will have noted that road safety measures have dominated posts here over the last five years. Primarily the focus has been upon the desperate situation at Red Road, mitigation of which will continue way beyond my tenure as County Councillor. The other main area of local road safety concern over the years has been the Lightwater Bypass, where, since my election in 2009 there have also been several very bad accidents. Regrettably even truly tragic fatalities in some cases.

As mentioned before, the local highways budget is desperately - and almost scandalously - low and we county councillors are faced with difficult decisions as to where to place these funds each year. These decisions are almost always preceded by vehement debates about which division has the greatest need before being voted upon. Coupled with the exhorbitant costs of some of these schemes, this is why in some years some divisions don't get any provision for road safety schemes whatsoever.

However, as described here I'm delighted to be able to confirm Adrian Page's announcement in respect of the safety barriers that are to be erected along the Lightwater Bypass in the spring. It is fantastic news for the local residents and for the ever increasing number of motorists descending upon the area in the near future. Similarly, this area will soon become Adrian's area of responsibility and he could not wish for a better start to his tenure as county councillor than to have this important and long awaited safety measure in place.

And in spite of Cllr Mrs Viv Chapman's omission of my own efforts to push this scheme up the priority list (I can only think that her absent-mindedness once again in this regard is down to her exhaustive efforts in keeping the Borough recycling bins in order) I'm extremely proud to be able to say that this has happened on my watch.

Lightwater is at last getting the measures it dearly needs.