John's Jottings for April 2007

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

The Half-Empty Glass

There's an old saying that an optimist sees his glass as half-full, but a pessimist sees it as half-empty. In Medway's Council Chamber and committee meeting rooms, where the Conservatives tend to be on one side of the room and the opposition members sit on the other side, one can easily draw a mental line between them.

On our side, our attitude clearly shows that our virtual glasses are more full than empty, and this goes for our ideas and our delivery of those ideas and policies. Since May 2000, when the Conservatives took over the administration of Medway Council, things have been happening.

During the years before, vast amounts of money were being spent from council reserves (about three-quarters of the approx £210 million between 1991 and 2000) but nothing was coming from it, and nothing looked likely ever to happen. Meanwhile, much of the five Medway Towns was allowed to crumble and decay, which is what I saw when I first moved here, and was one of the reasons that I came to the Davis Estate rather than near one of the town centres.

Now, when we have been delivering a very wide range of projects, both large and small, including taking a strong lead in the Thames Gateway regeneration region, do the opposition members cheer with us? No: they whinge and try to find (or, more often, manufacture) things to complain about and try to run down. I have recently likened the three opposition group leaders to Albert Steptoe, Victor Meldrew and Marvin the Paranoid Android—and with good reason!

Of course it's an imperfact world, and obviously we all realise that there are all sorts of issues and difficulties in a number of areas. The difference is that we prefer to deal with them without letting them drag everything backwards again, whereas opposition members seem to relish anything they can latch onto that will allow them to be negative. Indeed, they dwell on those matters and frequently blow them up out of all proportion, while almost completely ignoring the vastly greater positive side of the story.

The only "exception" to this is when Labour members "welcome" an initiative because in their eyes it shows the "generosity" of the Government in providing funding. Of course, as is now much better known, it is successful bidding for funding, based on excellent business cases and an impressive track record for delivering projects, that has secured this money. Interestingly, Government Ministers agree with our view of the whole system, in complete opposition to the view of Medway's Labour councillors...

I think the final straw came at a Regeneration Scrutiny meeting just a couple of weeks ago, looking at the future of Gillingham town centre. We had before us a 92-page so-called framework document containing a wealth of valuable information and some very good ideas for how Gillingham can become the place it promises to be a few years from now, yet one of the LibDem members almost whimpered that "Gillingham is dying". Well, that was really helpful, I don't think! I, by contrast, offered several useful, positive and helpful comments—with a gentle caution in one respect—and I was only a substitute on that committee!

Oh, the LibDems' "plans" for Gillingham still include chewing gum boards along the High Street, I notice. That probably says it all!

What I do think, when all the chips are down, is that the only way we can ever make progress is by having a positive and optimistic vision, allied to a determination to deliver that vision.

Elected members who are not of that view have no place on the new Medway Council that will be formed after the May local elections. Anyone living in Medway who really wants a better future here will need to vote for candidates with such a desire themselves. As matters stand, in most if not all cases that means Conservative candidates only.

I wish it were not so; but we truly have the only half-full glasses on Medway Council.

Next time: Three Little Crosses