Saturday, 10 October 2009

Politics without parties

Seeing the national parties at work I can’t help but think that they’re so similar now that you could lump them together and have one fairly good main party with maybe 3 or 4 smaller offshoots. Rather than 3 large and bland copycat parties.

New Labour as Thatcher-lite, Cameron Tories as New Labour-lite and Libdems as a bit of everything.

Cameron’s raised some sensible points recently on curbing civil service salaries – but aren’t councillors meant to do that? – and publishing accounts and payroll for councils and quangos – but doesn’t that happen anyway? – and cutting MP’s by 10% or c.60 seats.

Personally I’d slash MP’s to 400 seats and 200 in the Lords, slash quangos which are simply more civil servants in new guises and limit civil service departments except by Parliamentary Act.

And ban Party whips except on national security issues.

We seem to have failed financial services and failed governance and regulation.

None of the parties seems able to reduce public sector bloat or improve efficiency and as with MP’s expenses at all levels of the service it becomes a costly and cosy club with few penalties for failure and little incentive for reform.

All the more surprising given 99% of the public are not members of political parties and the National Trust has more members than the political parties and civil service put together.

And anywhere from 40% to 70% of the electrate don't vote - the lowest levels ever.

While party funding is either from the State itself which seems designed to perpetuate the status quo and failure of support and half from corporate or trades union donors.

So, all the research shows the problem with politics is the parties themselves. Throw in the myriad of quangos etc and Britain becomes a creaking shambles.

And all on monopoly, often secretive, and borrowed funding. Largely aimed at protecting political and civil service careers.

At County and local levels the main parties have almost no relevance at all – I can’t see what local politicians do except name-call and become pseudo-civil servants defending the civil service.

Having said that the Thanet civil service is quietly distancing itself from its own failings and that of the politicians and producing its vision plan

And on page 17 are various core initiatives that seem fairly good.

The only problem with all of these though is – what’s been done so far? What about the £600M of council tax over the last 10 years? Plus business rates plus national tax and EU funding? We seem to have had a decade or two of no policies at all.

Anyway here’s the outline Thanet plan again (with a 2 or 3 year consultation before sign-off(!) )

􀂃 Develop key industrial and employment sites and support development of the airport.
OK: especially Richboro as a 2nd Pfizer malaria facility and the airport would make a terrific water park to protect water supply

􀂃 Support a creative, cultural and tourism economy.
OK – what’s been happening so far? Every area has a couple of festivals.

􀂃 Diversify the Port of Ramsgate.
OK – to what and why? Not just the ferry?

􀂃 Regenerate Margate (including developing key sites and improving the Old Town).
OK – Turner and Dreamland again?

􀂃 Promote Thanet as a Destination.
OK. As always.

􀂃 Reducing crime and fear of it and develop diversionary activities.
OK – what activities? Ramsgate needs a Lido and Skate Park and Icerink

􀂃 Consult on new “green policies”.

􀂃 Extend and improve walking and cycle routes.
OK – which ones?

􀂃 Promote best environmental practice in building construction.

􀂃 Promote quality standards for town centres and parks/open spaces.
OK – a bit bumf-y as it depends on the policies completed. The public sector seems to spend a lot of time on other public sector marks such as "Quality Coast" that are of little relevance

􀂃 Delivering quality new homes (including affordable homes).
OK – not the silly 4th town centre infill though? Doesn’t brownfield land and derelict land get used first? And why build a 4th town centre when much of Margate has decayed?

􀂃 Deliver a housing renewal programme in Cliftonville West Renewal Area
OK – which ones

􀂃 Address fuel poverty
OK – free electricity from Vattenfall (the world’s biggest windfarm) for all homes in Thanet seems ideal and extra heating/insulation for pensioners.

􀂃 Discourage further in-migration of vulnerable people.
OK – from what to what

􀂃 Discourage loss of domestic gardens/larger homes to smaller units.
OK – from what to what

􀂃 Increase opportunities for exercise and play and promote healthier lifestyles.
OK – which ones

A couple of points are missing: reviving the town centres, the existing “computers for Thanet schoolchildren” programmes, school and University policies, Coastguard/ambulance/Fire policies, water and air pollution, lung cancer and the early death rate, and the 1,750 deaths of unknown estimate but on the whole fairly good but lacking detail.

It would be useful to have an understanding if the plans and costs and likely public sector costs.

Thanet seems to have been towns in search of governance.

It seems foolish to have 750 staff in Thanet and 850 staff in Canterbury and so little happening for the towns.

Nearly 2,000 civil servants and c.£200M just in council tax for half a dozen small towns: collecting the bins, potholes and a few arts events as a minimum.

Ramsgate Town Council is in danger of falling into the same trap as a mini-TDC with now 2 full time staff and a Town Clerk on £35k pro rata and 16 councillors.

And many of the councillors duplicated at TDC. Locally, the volume of seats simply can't be filled due to public apathy and disgust except by husband and wife teams and party duplicates.

The number of seats should be slashed to 11 in each town without duplicates and 30 at County Hall.

Plus the existing 750 staff at TDC. Plus the 40,000 at KCC - the County's largest employer(!).

For £60M council tax each year from the area and £22M spent on TDC payroll it seems a lot for very little.

For any of the political parties or the civil servants.

Failed. Failed. Failed.

Time for Change.

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