Wednesday, 23 July 2014

At the SLF conference at the weekend we had a speaker from D66 Lousewies van der Laan. I noticed that she had written an appreciation of one of the high profile victims of the Ukraine plane disaster Pim de Kuijer a D66 activist

Passing the Netherlands Embassy yesterday there were floral tributes at the gate

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

John Pugh's Town Centre First Camapign

MPs , activists and councillors were out in the town centre on Saturday leafletting and discussing with shoppers what local as MP John Pugh launched his "Town Centre First" Campaign. 

In a personal message to shoppers John Pugh warns of the serious threat to Lord St and the town centre if the council does not  tackle the issue of empty shops  and get a grip of the situation. Further decline he argues could impact massively on everyone in Southport.

"Charity shops, money shops and nail bars won't bring visitors to Southport. We need to attract quality retail and independent stores ".

The MP is opposed to Sainsbury developing a 10,000 square metre hypermarket out at Meols Cop which he argues will reduce footfall in the town centre and create more gaps in Lord St.  

"Anyone who thinks such a development won't hurt Lord St  is just not understanding commercial reality. People come to Southport because of Lord St not because we have the best supermarkets." 

The MP is calling on Sefton to develop a retail Masterplan for the town centre and for the public to back him . "We can't ," he says "continue to drift and end up looking like Morecombe

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The names of the 96 who died at Hillsborough were the text for Michael Nyman's 11th Symphony


My good friend Tony Robertson has already posted on the World Premier of Michael Nyman's 11th Symphony-The Hillsborough Memorial. He has also done the spade work and found the links about events leading up to its composition

I was fortunate to be there yesterday-it was a Father's Day present. I can report that the piece was enthusiastically received by the packed audience.Such was the length and passion of the standing ovation you might have felt that the listeners had added a fifth movement.

There was real concentrated attention when Liverpool born mezzo soprano Kathryn Rudge, sang the names of the 96 who died in Sheffield in 1989. It had the same mesmeric effect as John Taverner's composition  The Beautiful Names, which is based on the 99 names of Allah from the Koran.

Friday, 4 July 2014

5,821 school pupils form a world record breaking human poppy on Southport beach

As the strains of Elgar's Nimrod drifted across a rain soaked beach 5,821 local school children stood in perfect silence to remember 'the fallen' from World War 1.  This afternoon they had broken the world record for forming a 'human poppy'
The world record breaking human poppy

All morning the pupils had been assembled on the beach taking part various WW1 activities; singing the old songs, marching up and down following the Duke of Lancaster's regiment and doing a military style work out
When we assembled at 11.00am it wasn't raining, it was blustery and to the south there were threatening rain clouds. There was a good turn out of families, friends, ex servicemen-including Chelsea Pensioners, and the usual posse of councillors and civic dignities
Birkdale born A J P Taylor grew up in a house overlooking this beach. His well known theories on the progress of WW1 include the observation that once events had been set in train there was no stopping them. It felt a bit like that this morning. We ended up forming the poppy in the driving rain. I am sure the children will remember the event. It was memorable.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Freddy Flintoff at Southport for Lancs 2nd's game

Lancs 2nd XI were in action at S&BCC Trafalgar Rd defeating Warwickshire after some adventurous batting lower down the order.
The small crowd were delighted to see Freddy Flintoff at the game and stayed behind to see him go through his practice routine.

The disgraceful state of the Council maintained bit of Rotton Row

It beggars belief that once again prior to the Southport Flower Show I am writing to the Chief Exec of Sefton Council about the disgraceful state of Rotton Row.

On one side is the brilliant volunteer maintained herbaceous border. It is one of the best bits of Southport. It is full of colour and variety. I venture to suggest that it rivals similar borders anywhere in Britain. And, though size isn't the most important thing, it's sheer length is impressive. It is the longest such border outside of London.

Contrast this with the other side of Rotton Row. It is a disgrace. As with last year the seed heads have been allowed to form on the weeds and will soon be blowing over the glorious herbaceous border and into the gardens of Beach Priory Gardens. The Council needs to get its act together and maintain this bank. Thousands of people will be coming to the Flower Show and this just advertising the fact that Sefton Council doesn't seem to care

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

the 'consensus' on Northern devolution is selling the North short.............

I am mightily unimpressed by the consensus on Northern devolution that is emerging in London. We will face new challenges post the Scottish referendum whether it results in 'Independence' or Devo Max. None of the 'lite' proposals emanating from  the SE-whether from Heseltine, Osborne, Clegg or the Labour Party -adequately take account of the new challenges we face. Let us compare and contrast the proposals.

The Scottish Challenge

  • The Scottish Parliament already has significant powers and now even the Tories are proposing to give them more. Win or loose the referendum the Hollywood Parliament is going to have tax raising powers which may include: 
  • control over income tax, bands and rates,
  • powers over inheritance tax and capital gains tax,
  • existing powers over Stamp Duty,
  • land fill levy,
  • the aggregates levy and air passenger duty
  • corporation tax
  • New powers to borrow to balance the economic cycle and take long term decisions on investment
In addition to that package those of us advocating a federal solution for Britain would wish to see a further diffusion of power to local government and communities. Ming Campbell's Commission recommended;
  • Financial freedoms for local authorities
  • Removal of powers for Ministers to over rule local authorities
  • Power over council tax and business rates to rest with Local Authorities
  • General powers of competence
  • Requiring Councils to raise roughly half their money
The Commission added

'The Commission goes further in recommending new rights for local communities to take over services in their areas and to require the co-operation of councils, national government and quangos to do so. The recommendations also offer the opportunity to local communities to establish new burgh councils or other mechanisms if they want to put in place clear local control of services.
The final recommendation entrenches local government as envisaged by the original (Scottish) constitutional convention. 

Besides this what is the North being offered?

Well Mark Tavernier's chorus from the Liberator Song book may be the appropriate response. The North is paying a heavy price for John Prescott's incompetence when he brought in the pathetic proposals for  Devo Minimums that were rejected by the North East .

What is on offer now is not a lot better. It is based on the current fad for Balkanising the North into warring City States with few real powers. It is the perfect Whitehall solution to decentralisation of power within England-hand over as little as possible, 'nothing you would notice', but behave as if the proposals are truly radical.

Jim Hancock reflected that:....'by contrast the North of England is bought off by City Deals, Combined Authorities, Elected Mayors, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Regional Growth Funds.'. He continues

'Let’s remember that this demand for Scottish independence has been driven since the 1970s by economic grievances, largely centred on North Sea oil. In that it differs from independence movements in Quebec and Catalonia where political and cultural factors are more to the fore.

Then there is the dramatic effect independence would have on British politics. 59 Scottish Labour MPs would be out of Westminster. The party that relies on London, the north and Scotland to form a government would be very lucky ever to see power at Westminster again. The Tories, with their strength in southern England, would be bound to reflect those interests at the expense of the North.

We need to hope for a no vote, but prepare to welcome the headquarters of Scottish based multi nationals relocating in the North after independence rather than London and demand a Council of the North to give northern business and people real strategic and economic power here'

If we are serious about federalism then we need a Council of the North to administer the sort of strategic economic powers that Scotland will achieve post referendum. The present architecture for devolution is simply inadequate.

One key flaw in the proposals that is felt very keenly in vast tracts of the North is simply stated-we do not all live and work in Cities. The systematic way in which the City centric policies are destroying the economic prosperity of market towns, rural areas and even large boroughs within the region should be unacceptable to us

Part of the Federal proposals drawn up by Ming's Commission that I have quoted above is about decentralisation within Regions. Take Southport as an example. The concentration on Liverpool is undermining our economy. There has just been a major report on Rail Strategy for the City region. It ignores Southport. Our great need is to re-open our transport connections to the North and the East-our traditional hinterland. Our economy which is founded on tourism and retail  requires people to be able to get here easily. Since the wretched county of Merseyside has been created we have seen very little investment in those essential links. Everything has been poured into the narrow corridor to the South. Our retail offer is competing with Liverpool One which has had bucket loads of investment and will shortly get enhanced rail links. We regularly have business rates reduced because of the impact of Liverpool One. Our Conference trade is equally impacted. If it is difficult to get here why bother coming? And now our residents are meant to be pleased to see their council tax being spent to further scupper our economy. In significant part the decisions made in the 1970's made this inevitable

The North needs to plan across the whole region. We need real power decentraliseded. And just as Highlanders are seeking devolution in Scotland so those of us outside of the big cities require that our economic needs are catered for.We need the powers of this new constitutional settlement enshrined in a written constitution so that the are truly diffused not merely devolved for a season. From London The North may just be the cities -it is much more than that.

Jim Hancock, who I quoted above, has I think got it right when he writes that even if there is a Lab/Con consensus on the 'lite' form of devolution the civil service will scupper it.

 It is secretive and bitterly opposed to any policy that would take power and influence away from Whitehall. It is the Civil Service. They used to wear bowler hats, now they are less identifiable. Their appearance might change but they’re basic attitude to the North will never change.
They know little about our area. They regard the North as a place populated with people with begging bowls, trying to get money which they haven’t the expertise to spend. They sometimes acknowledge people like Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese, but generally believe northern politicians are Town Hall minnows who can’t be trusted with the cash. ( I would add that Mind you Mark Dowd and his like during the long spell in charge of Merseytravel did there best to conform to that negative stereotype IBB ) At a recent conference I heard one former senior Treasury official bragging that as far as civil servants are concerned there never has been a regional policy.
This situation has prevailed for many decades even when there were civil servants in regional government offices. Some tried to make a difference, most couldn’t wait for a posting back to London.
Tony Blair invaded Iraq but he never had the guts to demand his civil servants implement John Prescott’s vision for well resourced development agencies democratically controlled by assemblies. We elect the politicians and they should tell the civil servants, with the threat of dismissal, to get on with what the elected government propose.
So let’s see what happens after the election. Both parties want to devolve money and power to the North. I forecast the civil service will first of all go slow, then the Treasury will reduce the money available, then the powers will be trimmed.

It is this context that John Pugh, speaking at his adoption meeting in Southport last week, called for a 'Peoples' Convention of the North' rather like the Scottish Convention that ushered in the Holyrood Parliament. We need to get on with the task of creating a Federal constitution which doesn't treat England as a unitary state. If Scotland had been offered a City Deal for Edinburgh and Glasgow instead of a Parliament I can get their response.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Britain's worst lifeboat disaster -in Southport

Britain's worst ever lifeboat disaster happened in sight of the Birkdale sand dunes,  twenty-seven lifeboat men from Southport and St Anne's lost their lives in the disaster and their bodies were laid out in what is now the Fisherman's Rest pub, then it was the coach house for the Palace Hotel.

Recently we reported on a performance of 'Cork Jackets and Drills' which tells the story of the 1886 disaster when when a barque named Mexico went aground.

I bring it up again now because I popped into The Atkinson which has some excellent material relating to the disaster as well as producing a card of this picture of the Mexico by Emil Krause Their collection also includes a picture by him of the Southport Lifeboat the Eliza Fernley (after which probably Fernley Rd in Birkdale was named)

It was good to see how in recent days The Atkinson has begun to stock more Southport related things and I understand more is on the way. It is now certainly well worth a visit

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

D66 at SLF conference

Without great fanfares I note a D66 speaker has been added to the agenda at the Social Liberal Forum conference. Lousewies van der Laan has been both at Dutch MP and an MEP. There is a video of her speaking in Denmark about sustainability that can been viewed here Way back in the mid 1970's Radical Youth for Europe, which I then chaired, organised a fringe meeting with D66 . The speakers included Richard Wainwright and Laurens Jan Brinkhorst later to become undersecretary of state of foreign affairs and a minister of agriculture. Furthermore he was the leader of the D66-group in the Second Chamber of the Dutch parliament. He was also a minister of economic affairs in a later governemt. Journalists gave him the nickname Brilly the kid. At that time D66 did not belong to Liberal International. A couple of years later we organised a seminar with D66 over induustrial policy. Viv Bingham delivered a keynote speach on employee ownership and industrial democracy.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

history repeating itself?

Way back when we were in a pact with Labour there was a lot of grumbling and even a special Assembly where members vented their frustration. The big issue was that members, by and large, had a different expectation of the Pact to the Leadership. For David Steel it was a vehicle to prove 'partnership in government' worked. The fact of its continued existence was sufficient. Activists wanted results- policy gains: Constitutional reform, employee ownership/profit sharing, repeal of the special powers taken by government in the wake of the IRA campaign, green measure etc. We got precious few. Richard Wainwrights initiative on employee ownership was the most significant.

We are in the same bind today. Clegg wants a coalition to show we are a party of government not protest. Activists see coalition as a means to an end not an end in itself. They want policy gains: Constitutional reform, green measures, employee ownership (and other radical measures of redistribution) stronger civil liberties, green measures, quality public services etc