Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Yay or nay!

Horses in Oxford St- on the way to the pet shop presumably...
pic Copyright Southampton City Council.

One of the things that never seems to surprise me as a local Councillor is the diverse range of decisions over such a range of issues a unitary authority like Southampton is expected to make. One issue that an outsider (or come to that the overwhelming number of local residents) would not expect the authority to have to deal with given how build up our city is, is the issue of animals (mainly horses) grazing illegally on public land. Yesterday however, that was just the problem the Conservative cabinet was faced with.
As ever, the issues are far from simple; a number of residents have complained, at least one woman has been injured by a horse, there are issues of disease and disposal of waste as well as the welfare of the animals themselves. Some residents allege that they have even been threatened with violence when they have complained. On the other side of the coin, some families have grazed animals informally on sites for years. In the case of the settled travelling community in Sholing (for example), for generations on land they believe to have grazing rights. Other residents support their right to do so and accuse those who want a clampdown of NIMBYISM (and worse).
The Council have now drawn up a policy to remove animals that are reported to have bitten, pushed or kicked members of the public. The idea is to go for a softly, softly approach rather than alienate any particular group, and review the policy in 6 months or so.
I have to say I found someone proporting to be one of Labour's official candidates comments a little amusing; he suggests,
One wonders if his Labour colleagues in Sholing with a little more experience of the issues share his views, not to mention the animal rights lobby...
Even more peculiar is that someone would want to impersonate him!!! Still they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Helen Grant selected to succeed Ann Widdecome

Helen Grant- no chair provided...

Congratulations to Helen Grant who after a long (almost torturous) selection process was selected for the safe Tory seat of Maidstone & the Weald (projected Tory majority of 12000) on Sunday. As her CV demonstrates, Helen is a remarkable individual and will become a worthy successor to the redoubtable Miss Widdecome who I understand is retiring to concentrate on her journalistic (is there such a word?) and broadcasting career. Helen lives just round the corner from what was my parents family house in Purley- although i imagine she will pretty soon be moving to Kent!

Commiserations to my friend Conor Burns who came a remarkably close second from a very strong field indeed. In itself, it was quite some achievement to get in the last 10 candidates as all of them would have made competent and credible MPs. One can’t help feeling what a bloody sport politics is though- the winner takes it all in this game.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Strange Death of Dr David Kelly.

The late Dr David Kelly

Shortlisted for the 'Chanel Four Political Book of the Year' award (in a very thin year indeed for quality British political writings), I have just finished reading 'The Strange Death of David Kelly' which is a fairly exhaustive enquiry into the late scientists death by the Lib-Dem Lewes MP Mr. Norman Baker. Inevitably, given the subject matter, it is not enjoyable reading, (indeed at times it is most uncomfortable) but one certainly gets the impression that Baker has meticulously researched his subject.
The main issues raised by the book can be read at the Daily Mail website (it was the Mail who published an initial article by Baker that led him to receiving much correspondence, spurring him on into his fuller investigation) or the book itself can be bought on-line.
Baker makes no bones that he believes Kelly was murdered, probably, he writes, by a Iraqi group, a claim that to me lacks credibility. He then tentatively alleges that there was some sort of British Establishment cover-up, mainly orchestrated by Thames Valley Police (although presumably in co-operation with many other agencies). This I find profoundly unlikely- for would a lowly police officer or a scene of the crime officer really be able to keep stum about these events or indeed break the law in the first place? Would senior police officers want to collude in a career threatening cover-up with the coroner that would then have to later mislead the Hutton enquiry? In these dishonorable days would not someone have wanted to sell their story to the press? No, for me a the theory of a cover up is not a runner.
I think also that Norman Baker himself discovered the reason for Dr Kelly's tragic suicide. At the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, one committee member read part of a transcript of an interview Kelly had given to a Newsnight journalist. Kelly did not know at that stage that the conversation had been recorded. He denied saying the words and, in doing so, misled a parliamentary committee, a serious offence and one that would have troubled Kelly greatly as he was both a man of great integrity and had been warned by the MoD Director of Personnel.
Baker writes that, “Kelly, having thought the worst was over, suddenly realised that his careful attempt to pick his way through the minefield had blown up in his face.” Baker adds, “This is certainly a plausible explanation for suicide, if that is what it was. Indeed it is the most plausible.”
In his forensic style Baker rips into the subsequent Hutton Inquiry and of course he is right; it was an outrage that it was not a formal statutory enquiry but an 'informal one' which was not required to follow normal court procedures. Witnesses could not be compelled to attend or be cross-examined, they could not subsequently be charged with perjury, inadequacies in the evidence were not followed up and the terms of reference were too narrow while not providing an exhaustive investigation into Dr Kelly's death, focusing more on the actions of the BBC.
Similarly the behaviour of the police, particularly at the outset of the search for Dr Kelly and then at the crime scene was lamentable. Should a policeman really be left alone with a body for half an hour and why did the officer not make extensive notes of the situation? Of course not-but incompetence does not necessary imply a cover-up.
There is one part of Baker's book with which I heartily agree; in May 2003 he was being considered for a knighthood in recognition of all the work he had done to help eliminate the biological weapons from both Russia & Iraq.
That honour should now be awarded posthumously.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Census info in Southampton

In order to keep the debate going from my last post, I have produced a table of various stats collected for the 2001 cencus, split by the parliamentary seats of Southampton Itchen & Test.
Any thoughts or views?