John's Jottings for October 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.

A Man Goes to the Doctor...

So this fellow goes to see his GP. "Doctor," he says, "I've a runny nose and I keep sneezing. What can you give me for it?"

The doc gives him a prescription (illegible, as is traditional!) which he takes to the chemist, pays over his money (thanks to the introduction of prescription charges by a former Labour government) and gets given—wait for it—a box of tissues.

What use is that? he wonders.

Well, the doctor was of course dealing only with the symptoms of the illness, not the cause. If he had been much good he'd have prescribed suitable medicine to try to deal with the cold itself.

Similarly, when tackling local issues, we have to bear in mind what is really causing the problem, and this is often missed through deliberate mis-direction by (nearly always) the local Labour group on Medway Council.

Take the matter of the Stirling Centre review, covered here in this news item. Predictably, Labour members of the Council are trying hard to use this as a stick to beat the Conservative administration of the council, and nowhere was this more evident than at the last meeting of the Community Services Scrutiny Committee on 11th September. At this event, clearly engineered by the Labour Group, their lead member on that committee brought the matter of the Stirling Centre as a so-called "Member's item".

After the carefully-constructed introduction that was supposed to show how "impressed" that member was with the Centre and how "concerned" that member and her group were about the review that was looking at reducing its opening hours, the expected attack on the Portfolio Holder and the whole Conservative Group came. This was largely designed for the benefit of the Press and public who were there, many of the latter being Labour supporters (we recognised several) and Trade Union members (which is virtually the same thing in this case).

That was the real purpose of this whole business, of course, as was noticed by at least some of the (many) members of the public who attended. As one of them said afterward: "That was a real eye-opener. I never knew councillors were like that!"

That fellow and others were undoubtedly responding to the sheer difference in standard of behaviour between the (frankly appalling) antics of the three Labour members and the impeccable conduct of the Conservative and LibDem members. Say what you like about the LibDems, to their credit they generally behave very well at meetings, which is one of the reasons that I for one would prefer to have them as the main opposition group.

The lead Labour member, whose Member's item this was, continually butted in whenever the chairman was speaking, and all three of them heckled me when I was speaking as the ward member.

Well, okay I had expected that, as they usually do that to me, simply because I bring uncomfortable truths (that can so easily be independently verified!) to public attention. They know that, of course, and were well aware that their dwindling support would be further damaged if the truth came out.

So, what was that truth?

Remember the anecdote at the start of this column? Yes: having a go at the council's ruling group (us) also deflected attention from the real cause of the review of all manner of council services—the severe underfunding of the council by central government. That is the real malaise here, despite the fact that we have coped for years with ever-increasing demands and ever-diminishing resources.

This year, the straw that broke this camel's back was the theft of more than £5 million from Medway by the Labour Government, from the current year's budget, through two convenient wheezes. First we have suffered a deliberate reduction in our budget provision of £4·5 million through a convenient device called "floor damping", and to add further insult to this injury we also had just short of a further million taken away as what is termed a "clawback" (a suitably vicious-sounding name for it!) on some pretext.

Now: note that the projected overspend at the time this review was started was £5·5 million—yes, exactly the same as those two additional funding reductions. Coincidence? Possibly; but not all that likely. We have never been in anywhere near this serious a position in any previous year under a Conservative budget.

Therefore one suggestion I had for the scrutiny committee was a lobbying of our MPs to get back Medway's Millions (as I called them). In other words, I wanted to tackle the cause of not only this issue but many others that are brewing because of the funding crisis. The Labour members really didn't like that, and they certainly didn't want the local newspaper to print the "wrong" message...

So, now you know why they behaved the way they did. Not only is it endemic in the Labour group, they are growing increasingly desperate. Oh, and that lead member of theirs that I mentioned is also angling for selection to stand for a parliamentary seat, so this (and many other things going on) is also being subverted toward furthering her own personal ambitions.

How's that for "A real eye-opener"?

Next time: The Flunking Fist