On… being married

Ok, so I’ve been through another slack period as a blogger. Something about living life rather than writing about it, or more likely too lazy to put a few words through a keyboard.

One of the more significant things I did over the past six months was to get married. We’d been planning it for a while, getting the money together to go out to New Orleans to do it as an elopement. We asked a friend each to come with us, and stayed in a really cool house off Esplanade for a week. Hen/Stag was a night out around Bourbon Street, which would be totally crazy at peak times but in late May was just busy.

The wedding itself was cool – nice and relaxed at the French Quarter Wedding Chapel. It was only when having lunch afterwards that we let people know what we’d done – sending pics out. Luckily my folks were pretty cool about it (I think they’d have loved to do something similar when they got married). The next day, a Saturday, saw me and my mate Darren go off to drink and watch two footie games – the Champions League final in an Irish bar, and then to watch New Orleans Jesters play a fourth tier match against Knoxville Force – while Jas and Sonya went shopping. How quickly we became a stereotype!

We did have a party a couple of months later for family and friends, so people did get to see Jas in her dress (and me in a suit). Our first dance was Jump Around by House of Pain and we ended up with Fairytale of New York.

Over three months on, it’s still a bit weird to be married. We’ve been together for about 12 years, and lived together for all of that apart from two year-long periods when we had to long-distance it. So it’s not like we don’t know each other. The weird thing is that it doesn’t feel that different to be married. Remembering to say ‘wife’ instead of ‘girlfriend’ is getting easier, though.

A million quid?

So the latest plans for pedestrianising the centre of Rugby are out – as reported by the Rugby Advertiser.

For a cost of £1million, we would get…

  • The bit of Church Street and North Street between Regent Street and Chestnut Field will become a bus & taxi only lane during the daytime
  • A slightly larger ‘civic space’ around the Clock Tower

And that’s it. The picture that has been released and shown in the Advertiser site only shows the change in a little part at the top, with the most prominent part being the already pedestrianised area to the south of the Clock Tower (shown empty but will presumably still be used for the Market).

It is not a pedestrianisation if buses and taxis still go along the road.

It is about 150 yards long, meaning the cost is over £6,500 per yard, which is more that the bypass cost even after the delays and overspend.

It will shift traffic into Park Road, Regent Place and Albert Street, and affect roads all around the town centre which are already congested at peak times.

It will make it harder to get to the car parking around the town.

There are ways that the town centre could be made more attractive, and to link the ‘Independent Quarter’ to the north of Church Street with the rest of the town centre for pedestrians. What about these?

  • Pedestrianise between Regent Street and Albert Street, creating a square in front of St. Andrews Church.
  • A proper set of bus stops or (radical!) a bus ‘station’ in the town would help.
  • Perhaps not easing through more out-of-town development with the Debenhams at Elliots Field which will suck custom away from the ‘Independent Quarter’ boutique-y shops

Saturday entertainment

Which is the most embarrassing celeb-heavy ‘game-show’ put on by the BBC on a Saturday night?

It’s a tough one. “That Puppet Game Show” is like the Muppets with all of the jokes and interesting characters removed (using extreme force) and replaced with the most pointless games imaginable – Punching out lights on a jumpsuit? Grabbing hot-dogs in musical order? Then there was the excruciating banter.

But “I Love My Country” is serious competition. A house band led by Jamelia, who are more painful than Glen Ponder and ‘Chalet’ ever were. Equally pointless games – Hangman with additional pork-pie-on-a-map, for criminy’s sake! And that wheel thing at the end. It’s enough to provoke treason if this is how you are supposed to ‘love’ your country.

I know that ITV have put out some absolute shockers (Red or Black being the most expensive waste of everyone’s time to date), and generally the trend nowadays is to make Saturday nights on TV so atrocious and so celeb-laden, but what are the people commissioning this dross thinking?

I can’t believe I’m actually reminiscing with fondness about Total Wipeout.

To those who may have noticed this post after a huge long gap, well, sorry, I’ve been a bit busy. Since I last posted I got married and changed employer while supervising the selection process for Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in Rugby for 2015, and also started getting a little more serious about my hobbies of running and gaming. Sorry to break my silence with a moan, but it’s the most annoying thing today – more than the breaking of two garden forks or the discovery of a leak from the bath overflow.

Seen leaving our local Tesco…

… A rather red-faced local politician who had been brought in to apply pressure on management not to discipline his nephew for theft. Said nephew had apparently assured his uncle that there was no case to answer, and on that basis the politician had started making a forthright defence… Until the inevitable playing of the CCTV footage showing the scallywag lifting edible goods from the shelves and into his gob.

Uncle ??? has not been seen in the branch since, apparently.

2013 local elections

Nationally, the big story was the surge in UKIP support. Of course, they gained about 140 councillors, while Labour gained 291 (undoing the losses from 2009). And I have seen claims – and no evidence to disprove them – that UKIP didn’t take any Labour seats. In the South Shields by-election, the ‘shock’ was UKIP coming second, but it was a distant second to the Labour victor.

The big losers were the Tories, who are either calmly putting it down to mid-term protest votes or panickedly urging the government to tack rightwards and bash Europe and immigrants. The Lib Dems had a bad time, but more so in the areas they don’t do that well in, and where UKIP were not so active. The Greens made gains around the country.

But as these are Shire county elections in the main (with a couple of Mayoral elections – two gains for Labour there), they are not necessarily going to reflect the national picture, so even trends compared to 2009 may be distorted compared to other local elections years. Still, putting the projected national vote share from the Beeb (Lab 29%, Con 25%, UKIP 23%, LDs 14%) into UNS seat predictors for a General Election gives Labour a slim majority – a feature of First Past the Post that will perhaps have Tories ruing their opposition to AV two years ago.

But, Rugby. Well, Warwickshire before that. The Tories lost control to a hung council, seeing seats in the north of the county fall. Labour gained 12 seats from the 2009 result to be not far behind, but far enough that it would be difficult to try and run the council in coalition. The Lib Dems lost a few to go down to 9 seats, and could hold the balance of power, but I hear that neither of the main parties wants to treat with them. The Greens gained two (one from the leader of the Tories up in Nuneaton, one from Labour in Leamington), and there were two new independents to add to the one already there.

UKIP didn’t put many candidates up, although they did get about 20% or so of the vote when they did – but that wasn’t enough to win a seat, just get some second places. I was surprised that they didn’t have candidates across all of the areas affected by HS2, given their stance on it and how they’d been claiming last week it would make a difference in Warwickshire. Are they not well organised around here, or perhaps better at vetting candidates than other UKIP branches?

The pattern seems to show that Nuneaton and North Warwickshire parliamentary seats are very likely to go back to Labour in 2015. Leamington & Warwick and Rugby seem a little more tenacious.

In Rugby, UKIP were somewhat of a factor, perhaps – and they may be wishing they had stood elsewhere or had more candidates. Labour gained three seats in the town, partly perhaps due to Tory defectors to UKIP, but also it has to be said due to a fairly consistent swing across the town of 9-10% from Tory to Labour. I would say that the main difference UKIP made was to increase the size of Labour majorities there.

I know Labour were hopeful of winning Admirals back, having lost it in 2009, but it is an area that has changed a lot since last being won by a Labour candidate – Cawston Grange having been developed greatly in that period). Had UKIP stood and got the 20-25% they did elsewhere, however, it could easily have been another Labour gain.

In places where Labour has in recent times been in third place – such as the two-seat divisions of Hillmorton & Eastlands and Caldecott, they are right in the mix. The Lib Dems comfortably won in Hillmorton & Eastlands, but one of the Labour candidates was third ahead of the Tories (and while the other Labour candidate was sixth, the combined Labour vote was higher than the Tory vote). Caldecott saw the Tories hold, but with a cut majority and with Labour and Lib Dem candidates so close they alternated places. Caldecott may be another seat where a UKIP candidacy might have had a major impact.

Outside the Town, the Tories saw their majorities hit, but even in Fosse where UKIP took a chunk these are pretty solid seats for blue. The exceptions, as for last year’s Borough elections, were ex-Tory Howard Roberts winning as an Independent in Dunchurch (causing some mean-spirited comments from some jilted Tories) and Labour taking a seat from the Tories in Bulkington – Dunchurch is in Rugby Borough but not the Parliamentary seat, Bulkington is in Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough but is in the Rugby Parliamentary seat.

In my own race, the by-election for Bilton in the Borough Council, I came third, behind a safely re-elected Tory and a strong showing from UKIP. I did manage to come above the strong local Lib Dem candidate Bill Lewis, which was my main aim. It would have been nice to come second and reduce the Tory majority, but it was not to be.

So what does it tell us? Well, if Labour are to retake the Rugby seat in the General Election, it seems there is more to do. However the swing was large (and larger than the national average), which is better than the 2011 and 2012 Borough elections. The Lib Dems appear to be spent as a force outside the Eastern corner and Overslade/Caldecott, and so their 2010 support appears to be moving away. The Greens and TUSC are still putting up candidates but at the end of the day not really making many inroads – Green share of the vote fell where they stood in Rugby (even if they are doing rather better in other parts of the County). So it seems that the problem of a ‘split left vote’ is less acute for Labour than before. The Tories have been until now successful at holding their vote, but this time did see it slip, especially when the ‘split right vote’ problem emerged in the form of UKIP.

If UKIP in and around Rugby start to build up to the level of activity they have in other areas, they could well be a major headache for the Tories – next year sees Borough elections for the least secure seats won in 2012 and the European elections. But it’s still very uncertain whether that would carry through to a General Election. For Labour, it does have to be about getting a good candidate (and there should be one in place soon) and trying to win on our own terms.

The last four years

I dug out my old bills. The place we were renting from 2009 was Band D, so I have been able to find the correct figures for all of the years covering the Council Tax freeze. What I can see is that there has been a small variation each year

RBC base amount (charged to all households across the Borough)

2009/10: £128.772010/11: £128.59   -£0.18
2011/12: £128.94  +£0.35
2012/13: £128.94   no change
2013/14: £127.67  -£1.27

Net change after 4 years: -£1.10

Town Area precept (charged to households not in a Parish Council area)

2009/10: £64.72
2010/11: £64.58  -£0.14
2011/12: £63.42  -£1.16
2012/13: £63.14  -£0.28
2013/14: £66.27  +£3.13

Net change after 4 years: +£1.55

Total Council Tax for RBC in Town Area:

2009/10: £193.49
2010/11: £193.17  -£0.32
2011/12: £192.36  -£0.81
2012/13: £192.08  -£0.28
2013/14: £193.94  +£1.86

Net change after 4 years: +£0.45

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@RugbyBC replies…

Today I chased up the Rugby Borough Council twitter feed guy (as I write some of my tweets are to the right, but I suspect they won’t be there for long), and got a series of replies:

Now, there are two things here. The tweeter for RBC is apologising for answering my question (see previous post) incorrectly. I asked specifically if the Town precept would go up, they said it wouldn’t, but it has. That looks like being a simple error, and I accept the apology and understand how it happened.

However, I still believe that the RBC press release, which I also quoted before, was incorrect in that it put the average increase down to Parish Council precepts. Clearly the increase is down to the Town Area charge.

That it appeared in all three budgets is interesting. To explain, this means it featured in the Budget that was passed, based on the Conservative administration’s proposals, and also on the amended budgets put forward by the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat groups. I suspect that it because what usually happens is that a draft budget is worked up by the council officers along with the Cabinet, and this is what leads to the Conservative group proposal. The opposition can move amendments to it, or create a whole budget from scratch. They usually do the former, picking up particular items to add or remove (or change/delay).

What this tells me is that it’s not necessarily a political decision how to set the Town Area Precept, but that it’s more likely to be part of the more detailed work done by the officers. Obviously it is still passed by the full council as part of the budget, but it seems to be regarded as not being a headline and more of a low level detail.

What concerns me is that this means there is less oversight and accountability about how it is set than there is for a Parish precept. Maybe in previous years it went the other way – the RBC base amount going up, the Town Area precept going down – but that still doesn’t make it right.

I checked last year’s bill. The RBC portion remained the same, and the Town Area precept went down by 0.4% (28p for a Band D). I didn’t notice that because it was so small, and there was a larger increase due to the Police Authority at the same time.

The point is, that the precept for ‘exclusive’ services in the town is determined by Rugby Borough Council, and forms a significant part of the Council Tax that is earmarked for RBC. I will see what I can find out concerning the history of the precept (and the base amount), and how it compares to a ‘four year freeze’

Addendum 19 March – the original text had the reduction for the previous year as ‘about 2p’, which was meant to be ‘about 25p’. The exact figure has now been put in – 28p for a Band D)

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