Tag Archives: Politics

We did socialism and capitalism, and we're still in a mess. But there is hope

…a developed nation that organises itself to suit the sort of population it thinks it would like to have, rather than the one it does, is inevitably going to run into problems.

via .

An interesting article here from Deborah Orr (@DeborahJaneOrr) from yesterday looking at what our most recent governments have been trying to achieve with their policies.

The quote above from part way down really succinctly sums up the problem. When we started transforming our country we had large numbers of workers trained for manufacturing jobs, for mining jobs, not for jobs working in financial services, retail, advertising. We were told they would be offered retraining, higher education and so on but the reality is that there are people who aren’t remotely academic and who always will be. We’ve shipped the kind of jobs they can do off to cheaper places overseas, missing the bigger picture that anything companies save by doing that we pay out elsewhere in welfare for the people left here who don’t fit into our vision of a highly educated workforce.

Dealing with Church Politics

In a meeting on Monday, I used the term ‘Church Politics’ which was greeted with some surprise by one member of the committee who said that there wasn’t any politics in our Church… Didn’t take him long to concede that there was though…

The problem we have at the moment is what should have been purely and administrative issue, which thanks to a lost e-mail has spiralled into a much larger pastoral problem – probably the perfect example of why ‘Church Politics’ are so complicated.

Our situation relates to on of the church groups – like any other they exist under the umbrella of the PCC, so when ‘they’ wanted to buy equipment, it was actually the PCC who bought it and legally own it.

Back in 2006, they made a rejected bid for lottery funding for a community project they wanted to undertake, so went to the local council for advice. The expert there, who has a one hundred percent success rate at getting funding apparently, said that the problem was that they were too closely associated with the Church, as a result they effectively recreated their group as a separate legal entity. The problem came from the fact that they informed the PCC via an e-mail, which it seems was never received.

Roll on to just before Christmas, and all the PCC get an invitation to a launch event celebrating the group having received funding – since the group separated they had not had to consult the PCC about the application. However since the PCC hadn’t discussed their new group at all, most people still thought it was part of the PCC. The fact that they are a legally separate group is a bit of an issue because all the equipment bought by the group prior to the split is legally the property of the PCC, and anything bought afterwards is theirs. Since the PCC has to account for all it’s assets we unfortunately can’t just give away the equipment used by the group.

As a result there have been accusations flying around all over the place, and yesterday I ended up in a meeting with three of the group, the rector, and the advisor from Wokingham Borough trying to pick a way through the mess. On both sides we’ve got rather hurt and angry people, all of whom seem to be managing to repeatedly misunderstand each other. Hopefully we made a good deal of progress, but we still have to get everything sorted out.

So any lessons to learn? I think the biggest is that if you’re on a PCC, make sure that you know what your groups are doing. Our PCC, like most I expect, doesn’t hear anything much from any of their groups most of the time – there will maybe be the occasional request for money, but with this group, nobody really spotted what was happening. The issue here was that the notification to the PCC of the change consisted of verbal conversations with some members, none of whom actually seemed to take on board what was happening, and a single e-mail that got lost. The members of the group admitted that they didn’t really understand the wider implications of what they were doing when they wrote their constitution, and the expert from Wokingham Borough didn’t seem to understand the restrictions that a Church of England Church operated under either. The other lesson to learn is not to rely on e-mail – much like any other communication medium, messages can get lost.

Distraction Politics

So there you are as a government, taking a significant amount of heat for wasting a large amount of money on something before following the advice other parties were giving in the first place, what do you do? Why not distract the general populace by re-launching a debate on immigration!

The hot new idea this time is for people to do citizenship tests to ‘prove their worth’ – this follows on from the last hot idea less than a year ago to have a points system, and of course a citizenship test has been in place anyway since 2005.

Of course the irony is that a large number of British Citizens (and probably MP’s) probably wouldn’t be able to pass the existing test anyway. For example, try this question:

Why did the Protestant Huguenots come from France to the UK in the 16th and 17th centuries?

Most will probably get this one wrong too:

Where does most of the money for local government come from?

a) The National Lottery
b) Council Tax
c) Central Government Funds
d) A local income tax

The correct answer being c.

Of course, the announcement kicks off the usual rash of misinformed public outcry, so the various forums are already full of the usual rubbish about immigrants coming in to claim benefits and so on. For the record, immigrants pay taxes but cannot claim any sort of benefit – when Beth came in one of the things I had to sign as her sponsor was a document saying that I would financially support her as there was no recourse to public funds. In terms of the existing charges (part of the proposal is that they should be more) the current charge to naturalise as a British Citizen is £655.

Of course what it won’t address is the groups that people seem to have most problems with, which is the Eastern European migrants, who being EU citizens don’t come under the normal immigration system. Incidentally, the inaccurate rubbish about them being a drain on resources extends to them also, as they also aren’t entitled to any benefits or social housing either – hence why most end up living in massively overcrowded conditions in the lowest quality private housing.

The idea that this latest announcement is just another round of rabble rousing spin becomes even more clear when you look at some of the more detailed documents that the government are producing – an interesting read is “The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Immigrationâ€? which the Home Office produced in October. Section 2 outlines the effect on public finances paragraph 2.2.6 stating that in the long run it is likely that the net fiscal contribution of an immigrant will be greater than that of a non-immigrant.

It is also interesting reading section 5 which talks about why companies are employing migrant workers rather than British born workers – it seems that the opinions of those running businesses is rather different from the general view in the media. In the low-skilled and low paid jobs, paragraph 5.2.2 states that the

“…overwhelming majority of employers across sectors and regions started to recruit migrant workers because they could not get applications from domestic workers…â€?

Paragraph 5.2.4 is perhaps even more damning about British workers:

“Native workers sometimes proved unreliable in certain sectors… Some employers had tried recruiting applicants via a Jobcentre, but found that they sometimes turned up for interviews purely to get a form signed to enable them to receive Jobseekers’ Allowance.â€?

In paragraph 5.2.5:

“Polish workers were generally valued in London, where they were seen as highly-motivated skilled workers who could fill a skills gap.�

Paragraph 5.2.6 said that one employer in the Finance and Accountancy sector was headhunting internationally due to the very small pool of qualified applicants in the UK. Section 5.2 continues highlighting other business surveys that show the same thing – the migrants that are apparently a drain on our resources are being actively sort by British business to plug gaps where British workers are either unwilling or unable to do the jobs.

All of this outcry again harks back to the point that Ekklesia made last month – it’s a lot easier to blame a group or groups of the population for societies ills rather than addressing the real issues. So youth get blamed for crime, lone parents get blamed for the breakdown in family values, migrants get accused of scrounging benefits. It all makes big headlines, but it never really achieves anything, as in most cases it’s not really addressing the real issues – it’s just distraction politics again.

Best Laid Plans

I always remember growing up some of the more stressful moments my parents had dealing with Church stuff, especially when it came to the joys of doing anything to the fabric of the Church – indeed even now we have conversations about the problems with our respective buildings and dealing with the Church politics around them.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before we are in the process of planning a project to undertake major work to conserve the fabric of our crumbling building. The planned start date has been put back on a couple of occasions, and is scheduled to start at the beginning of January 2008 – all we needed was the official permission from the relevant authorities. We’d put in the paperwork and got a few apparently straightforward questions back, and everything seemed on target – however as with all the best laid plans, reading my e-mails tonight it seems the questions are rather more involved than first thought… I can feel a long PCC coming on next week… 🙁

Housing Argument Kicks Off Again

You may remember last autumn that I had a letter published in the Wokingham Times complaining about the pretty tedious arguments that our Conservative local councillor in particular had been having with the opposition Liberal Democrats through the pages of the newspaper. As an aside, in terms of results, it quietened down for a bit, although there were still occasional letters. I had a personal letter from our local Liberal Democrat candidate, but not a peep out of our Conservative local councillor Gary Cowan, until of course election time came around this year and he turned up on the doorstep asking for our votes.

Anyway, recently the argument over housing numbers has flared up again. Initially it was started by a letter from Gary Cowan saying that the Conservatives didn’t support housing development, and blaming the Liberal Democrats, saying that they were backing development. This of course was swiftly followed by a response from the Liberal Democrats, then another from Cowan and so on. The Wokingham Liberal Democrats have produced a press release describing the trigger for this latest round of arguments – in the interest of fairness I’ve taken a look on the local Conservative site but there is nothing about this particular part of the issue. My spin on it is that neither party actually wants large scale development, the differences are actually over how to deal with the issue of the numbers being allocated to our area by central government. As far as I am concerned, both parties could be accused of – to some extent – misrepresenting the policies of the other.

The exchange has now degenerated into an argument over numbers of houses, with both sides claiming that they are against large scale housing development, and blaming the other for the numbers that are allocated, and also having decidedly tedious arguments over the exact figures. Bear in mind that although there is a difference in numbers, both parties would sign up for significant levels of housing development. In truth since the whole house building issue is being driven from central government (take a look at this section by the Campaign to Protect Rural England) it is a slightly irrelevant and pointless discussion as to my mind whoever was in charge, the building plans would be forced through. A local council really has little real power to stop something like this, it really comes down to a question of how you deal with it. Indeed, behind the posturing, elsewhere in the local paper last week it was reported that the Conservative administration had published a list of possible sites for housing – bear in mind that this is really a compilation of sites that have been suggested rather than a definite plan. Having said that, with some definite places and numbers, it has the potential to rattle a number a local communities.

The list perhaps gives a clue as to why Gary Cowan in particular is so keen to distract blame onto the Liberal Democrats, when you take a look at the list. His bio on the local Conservative site highlights that he is executive member for planning, however a look at the locations mentioned reveals quite what a large amount of the new housing allocation will fall on his area. Arborfield Garrison has, since rumours of it’s closure started has always been seen as a likely spot. Already two areas of former land have become the Penrose Park and Poppyfields developments, and the closure of the base will result in up to 2000 new houses being built. However in addition to that, there is another significant development of hundreds of houses listed as ‘Barker Close’, where Gary actually lives – a look at the map shows that the space for building there is all green-field development. The real driver from development is coming from the Labour government, but in this area it is a straight two horse race between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, so it is quite easy to speculate that a well organised campaign by the Liberal Democrats highlighting the inability of the sitting Conservative administration to stop the developments, could pay dividends – Cowan as the named person responsible for development being a prizes scalp. Repeatedly blaming the policies of the Liberal Democrats during the short period that they held minority control of the council, would seems to be the best tactic to try and hold on to power. Interestingly, many years ago another Conservative administration in my local council at the time lost a similar battle with the Liberal Democrats – who still control the local council today – over the routing of the M25, so the stakes can be high.

Anyway, taking a look at the rest of the list, other local sites on the list include the Hogwood Lane Industrial Estate which is brown field. Confusingly a significant development, again of several hundred houses at Church Farm, Finchampstead, currently an area of just over 100 acres of farm land between the housing in North Finchampstead, and the area around the church. However clarification of this in this weeks paper states that this is actually the field bought by a UK landbank to sell to individual developers – not suprisingly this has caused just as much concern as it was believed that the land was protected. Indeed the bulk of the list hits various places around this part of the district. Of course to see the argument for development around here, you only need look at where the bulk of new developments are occurring currently – although Finchampstead received a lot of housing the seventies and eighties, the latest round has been hitting other parts of the district.

But what are the other options? According to the Liberal Democrat press release they are arguing for a single large development, similar in concept to the Elvetham Heath development near Fleet. This is not a new idea, previously there have been large scale developments proposed at Grazely, Spencers Wood and Shinfield – read this English Heritage report for a mention of those – however despite the objections, large scale development has subsequently occurred in both Shinfield and Spencers Wood. The argument for that is that by designating one large development, the developers will be required to provide road upgrades, and sites for new schools and shops – smaller developments could well be built with nothing like that. However designating a single large site, could result in the whole scheme being rejected by an organised campaign – take the Dever Society campaign against the plans for a new town at Micheldever. Having said that, firstly it is difficult to see where there would be space for such a new town around here, and secondly with the Liberal Democrats in an increasingly weak position locally, the list of numerous small scale developments seems likely.

Ultimately, since the building is being driven from national government, and Wokingham sits at the heart of one of the areas with most demand, there seems little that can be done to stop the new building. However I’m sure we’ll still be having arguments in the local paper over who is to blame for a long time to come – which is a pity, as in reality discussion should be on where the new houses are going to be built, and which bits of green field are going to be bulldozed.