Sunday, 23 February 2014

Sunday Sounds 78 - The 1,000th Post Edition!

There was really only one thing I could choose for my 1,000 post: I'm Gonna be (500 miles) by The Proclaimers.



Thursday, 20 February 2014

Cross-posted: Some thoughts on Bristol's Budget

My piece for the Bristol Lib Dem website on Tuesday's Budget decision:

Politics can be murky business at times but in Bristol things are remarkably clear following the Budget debate yesterday: your Council Tax will be going up by 1.95% in April.

Something else is clear, too: all the parties had their price in supporting the Mayor's budget. Only one, though, was prepared to defend the ordinary Council Tax payer against an increase in this regressive tax.

Only one party recognised that, while the economy is starting to recover, household budgets remain tight and argued that people should be protected from increased costs, if possible.

Only one party had the vision to find the funding that would have enabled a Council Tax freeze: 50% from Central Government, the rest from council reserves set aside in case of various eventualities but often untouched for years.

Only one party... but the Mayor and Council rejected this approach, and voted through a budget that will see every Council Tax payer pay more.

So what of the other parties? Well, Labour are arguing that the Lib Dems' Freeze The Tax campaign is a cynical ploy. But whilst Labour talk tough and refer to a "cost of living crisis", they have refused to support a practical measure to address this. Now, that is what I call cynical.

They argue that they have managed to obtain a package of reversed cuts unlike any achieved by any opposition party in Bristol Council's history. The reality, though, is that all it took for them to move from a position where "we cannot support the budget" to a position of support was £1.3million of cuts reversed. £1.3million from a budget of £389million.

Ironically, £1.3million is precisely what a Council Tax Freeze would cost. But the source of the funds was different. Had Labour been prepared to negotiate, they could have had their amendment and a Council Tax Freeze. Like I said, cynical.

Meanwhile, the Tories - whose representative on the Mayor's cabinet is Deputy Mayor and has responsibility for Finance matters - were whole-heartedly in favour of the Budget. Indeed, they did not table any amendments to the substantive debate.

Whilst nationally Eric Pickles and other Conservative ministers pushed Councils to freeze the tax, the Bristol Tories chose to support raising them. The self-describing 'Party of Lower Taxes' does not, it appears, believe in them for Bristolians.

The Mayor - in a party of one - is often caricatured as still being a Lib Dem in all but name. After last night, though, I believe that that notion can be put to rest. He was adamant from the start that he would not freeze the tax - and with the help of all parties but his former one, he got his way.

Finally, the Greens - what was their contribution? Well, as with the Tories, they brought forward no amendments. They have variously said that this was because their arguments are national, that without Trident the Council would have more to spend, that a 'Robin Hood Tax' on financial transactions would be a cure-all, that they argued their case in Cabinet and behind the scenes and that 1.95% rise is modest and OK as below inflation... 

Whatever, the over-riding impression is that, at best, they have failed to engage and, at worst, they would have wanted a higher rise such as the 4.95% being levied in Green-controlled Brighton.

So when your Council Tax bill arrives, and you're forking out more each month, remember that there was one party prepared to take a stand for freezing the tax, one party that wasn't bought off, one party that wasn't complicit in raising your taxes and one party that wasn't prepared to stand idly by.

It wasn't a cynical ploy and it really could have been achieved but for the other parties who took positions contrary to their rhetoric, policy or both.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Spot the Difference

These two posters are currently being displayed on adjacent bus stops in Bristol City Centre...


Monday, 30 December 2013

13 from 13... My most read posts of the year.

It's not been a vintage year for me, from a blogging point of view, but none the less, here's a Top Ten Thirteen of pieces written and read this year, based on Google Analytics' reading stats...

At 13 - and from all the way back in January - an Open Letter to Nick Clegg on Secret Courts.

In February the world was shocked at the murder of Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend and the idea that a superstar athlete could be a possible murderer... No one seemed interested in Reeva Steenkamp herself, or her family.

At numbers 11 and 10, another two pieces from January: first my review of the film of Les Misérables and, more seriously, an unusually personal piece in response to Steve Chalke's considered article on the Church's approach to the equal marriage debate.

In August, I was critical of the party leadership's response (or lack thereof) to the detention of David Miranda: it was a classic case of Too Little, Too Late.

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune, my still unfinished series of a song from each of the NOW! albums, scored a hit in January with number 65: Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars.

At 7; with the publication of the agenda for Lib Dem Conference, many were surprised to see a motion calling for default blocking of online porn... this was my response.

Next up, it's another unfinished series - A Journey Through Texas - which commenced in March with this review of their first album, Southside.

Back to politics and in May, Bristol Lib Dems were smarting after a bruising local election campaign - here was my raw response, although I was keen to accentuate the positive.

In August, I was accused by some of naivety over this piece... you can judge for yourself.

And so we reach the Top Three... Ooooh, the excitement!

In July, I took the party slogan and used it a basis for a couple of Twitter hashtags, which I still use occasionally - do feel free to follow course... 

In second place, the great Radio 4/World Service/Open University programme, More or Less, crunched the numbers on Gay Footballers, calculating the chances on there being none. It turned out the odds were very low. (Of course, since then, Robbie Rogers has come out - and is still playing, with a contract at LA Galaxy.)

But top of my list of pieces written this year: my review of Texas' new album, The Conversation.

So there you have it... my year in 13 posts as determined by you, the reader.


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Sunday Sounds 77 - The New Year's Resolutions Edition...

Today's song came up in conversation with my father the other day but it strikes me that the sentiment of this song should be borne in mind whilst setting New Year's Resolutions, if you are so inclined to do...