New government not that cosy…

Now, I am not one of those who blames the Lib Dems for their coalition deal with the Tories to form a government. I’ve never really been that convinced that the Lib Dems are really part of ‘The Left’ to start with. Some of them are lovely soft greenie-socialdemocratic types. And others, like much of their new front bench are primarily economic liberals who hate trade unions and would love to bring the ‘market’ into public services.

For the most part, the coalition proposals launched last week are as expected – a mix of Tory and Lib Dem manifesto ideas, with some compromises made on both sides, combined with the natural tendency to blame their predecessors.

But one item took me by surprise. It wasn’t in either manifesto, but it’s there on page 24 (second item) in the ‘Justice’ section:

  • We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.

Woah.

This is almost unbelievable, and a massive backward step. For one moment consider how hard it is to even get victims to come forward, then how difficult it is to build a case including intent and establishing non-consent, and then remember that we still have a bit of an attitude that certain people have (and judges are not immune unfortunately) that some victims ‘bring it on themselves’. But one thing that is clear when it comes to serial rapists – if they are named, more victims are likely to come forward.

There are a few questions that arise immediately – Why rape alone? Does it include paedophilic rape, but exclude other paedophilic crimes? Why not murder, that’s pretty heinous?

I know where it comes from, it’s the meme that there are loads of women out there who are making malicious complaints. It happens of course (just as for any criminal allegations, there’s a possibility of false witness), but it’s not exactly that common, and with the ridiculoulsy low conviction rates for rape (6% of reported rapes end up in a convistion for it, rising to 14% if you consider a conviction for other crimes as a result) would appear to be unlikely to work.

Where it does happen, clearly someone who makes a knowingly false allegation of a serious crime should themselves be prosecuted heavily, especially if they perjure themselves in court. But going to the extent of ensuring anonymity for defendants is way too far – and it will make it less likely that other victims will come forward. It also seems to be sending the message that the government thinks rape victims are more likely to be liars.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll be mentioning this to any Lib Dem voter I meet.

So what now?

The election is over, and so is my recovery period. My blisters have stopped throbbing and I’ve caught up on the lost sleep. And now we have… um… no real certainty.

First off, my result:

  • NEWSOME Paul Michael Samuel – The Conservative Party Candidate – 861 (25%)
  • RICHARDS Owen Keir – The Labour Party Candidate – 706 (21%)
  • ROODHOUSE Jerry – Liberal Democrat – 1,818 (54%) ELECTED

It’s not a huge surprise. At the last borough election in 2008, the results were:

  • Malcolm Bassan (Con)…368 (21%)
  • *SUE PEACH (LibDem)…1,168 (67%)
  • Kathleen Yu (Lab)…214 (12%)

Turnout was nearly doubled, but Labour’s vote trebled, the greatest proportional increase. Of course, even then I was still about 150 votes behind the Tory and 1000 voted behind the winning Lib Dem, just as my predecessor was. I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me for their support, and especially to those who helped in the campaign.

Elsewhere in the Borough, the only east to change hands was Dunchurch and Knightlow. The Lib Dems were defending after the death of Ron Ravenhall, but the Tories won. As a result, the Tories now have a majority of 9 and Labour are the second-largest party.

I was very disappointed to see the swing across Rugby in the General Election. Andy King was, by all accounts, a great MP and he and the local party put a lot of effort in. I met spoke to quite a few people who said they were voting for him personally. I hope that he’s not too upset with the outcome.

But the main question is what is the actual outcome. Labour lost, of course. But not by as much as many thought, and we did far better than the opinion polls of only a few months ago would have suggested. The Conservatives failed to win. They should have been able to capitalise on the economy, on Brown’s unpopularity, and on the niceness of their leader, but they couldn’t. They came close, but clearly do not have a mandate to govern, at least not alone. The Lib Dems somehow managed to lose seats while gaining votes. One thing of note that some high-profile MPs lost – Lembit Opik and Dr Evan Harris among them.

Labour can possibly form a coalition with the Lib Dems, but would need more suppport. Even with the allied Northern Ireland parties (the SDLP with Labour and the Alliance with the Lib Dems), there would only be a total of 317 seats, several short of a majority. It would be unstable and would rely on more support from small parties such as the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, DUP or Greens. So it makes sense for the Liberals to see what they can get from the Tories first.

Of course, that means a fair bit of compromise. The Lib Dems have a strong case to press for electoral reform – they had 23% of the vote and less than 9% of the seats. The Tories will not want to be seen to concede too much as they feel they should have won outright.

A coalition can damage at least one of the parties in it. On that basis, it may well be best for Labour to wait and see if a Lib/Con alliance can be formed and if so, accept the Opposition role. If it cannot, then that’s the time to make a strong offer to the Liberals. Say, a referendum on PR and other reforms. If such a referendum were to take place and pass, an election would have to be held as soon as practical afterwards anyway.

Knights who say NI

On the national campaign, this NI thing is a bizarre one. It’s not that big a shift, but it does contribute to the long term need to narrow the budget deficit.  As NI is supposed to cover unemployment benefit, state pensions and the NHS, it makes sense for a marginal increase given that all of them have increased over time and are resistant to cuts. The Tory argument (as exemplified by Duncan Crow, who thinks that personal abuse and ignorance combined make a reasonable political argument) ignores a key element, one which the government find hard to express and is not easily demonstrated over a sound-bite driven media, but is important nevertheless:

The Tory plan is to make deeper cuts in 2010 in order to pay for not increasing NI from 2011. Those cuts in spending would inevitably mean the loss of public sector jobs. This would mean less money going into the economy via their wages (even public employees need to use the private sector to buy food and other goods) and would increase pressure on unemployment. It would also mean less money going to private companies who supply the public sector. The next six-nine months are pretty important for the UK economy in terms of the recovery. Germany could slip into recession again, and so could other countries which have cut early. By April 2011 we should be through that crucial period when the recovery needs to be nurtured and the private sector is able to grow naturally, and can better absorb a marginal tax increase. It also seems to me that a mixture of measures designed to increase revenue as well as control spending are more likely to be effective than to simply try and control spending.

No-one denies that the current budget deficit is unsustainable. Most of it is caused by the recession, of course, and so the end of that will see it come down quickly – it’s already lower than expected by £11bn. However, the question that is crucial is how fast and how early we take action to further reduce it. If we don’t act at all, or act too late, then there will be more long term debt to pay off, which isn’t great. If we act too fast or too drastically, the effects on the wider economy can damage it’s capacity to recover. The problem with pretending that the public sector is separate from the ‘real’ economy is that it isn’t – they are inextricably linked. Public debt is a private asset (ie: governments borrow by selling bonds that investors buy); money that is paid to employees, public or private, goes into the cash economy as it is spent; Things that the public sector doesn’t do can have an effect on the private sector, or can draw activity into an already hard-pressed voluntary sector.

What’s more this false dichotomy doesn’t chime with the same Tory propaganda that equates the public debt issue with the national economy – it’s perfectly possible to have a large public debt and a strong economy or a low debt and a weak economy, but they seem to bang on as if they are the same thing.

My belief is that a reluctance to be seen to increase taxes is the main reason that the deficit started to grow in the years before the recession. No-one complained when new schools were being built, when NHS waiting lists came down from many months to a matter of weeks, when OAPs were given a guaranteed minimum income. But at the same time, no-one wanted to pay for those things, it seems. The tax burden has not really changed much since 1997 (indeed, it hasn’t changed much since the late 1980s), but we still have the basic problem with democracy – people will vote for more spending or lower taxes, and choose between them, but they are reluctant to vote explicitly for spending cuts or higher taxes. I’d prefer that the government had been bolder in the second term and established the principle of ‘you want it? you pay for it’. Mind you, at least we did better than the US government which slashed taxes are probably the worst time possible (as the economy was peaking and they were trying to fight two wars). In the first term, there was a budget surplus, and the long term debt was being drawn down. Keynesian principles should have been kept up, and an open means of tax increase (the 50% band, full NI on higher incomes?). Mind you, the whole of the second term was an opportunity lost – especially after 9/11.

But still, a bunch of business leaders don’t like NI going up? Not a huge surprise. Perhaps we could see what their profits are doing at the moment – M&S for example are seeing profits rise as many of us struggle, and CEO Sir Stuart Rose is very well remunerated and his successor will come in with an even higher package this summer. I’m not sure that these same businessmen would like to see VAT go up by 2.5% instead (which is what the Lib Dems allege the Tories will do if they win power).

When is local not local?

In my home town, they recently had a by-election. The ward in question, Northgate, had been Labour for a long time, until in the mid-eighties the Lib Dems, through a particularly active and dedicated couple, took one and then the other seat. The two of them held on for all this time, but the husband stood down in the summer due to a personal matter.

Both Labour and the Tories had been vying for contention over the years, and by-elections for local councils tend to be low turnout affairs, so the seat was always know to be up for grabs.

The Tories had been putting leaflets out, but apparently hadn’t wanted an early poll – I’ve heard a rumour that they wanted to wait until the clocks went back so that evenings were less in inviting for canvassing. Labour not having the Ashcroft and Horsham financial backing had people on the ground to campaign instead.

The only things I saw about the campaign were on a couple of blogs. Duncan Crow, a local Tory councillor had two posts, pointing at errors in the other main parties’ leaflet. Andrew Skudder, a Labour ex-councillor, mentioned the feeling in the campaign and then the Tory reaction to it.

In the second of Skuds’ posts, he mentioned one of the things in the Tory leaflets that may have counted against them. They claimed that their candidate was “the only local candidate”. Fine, but as it is, none of the candidates were from Northgate. The Tory’s address was given in Three Bridges, which is near Northgate, but with Crawley’s easily demarcated neighbourhoods, it would be obvious that he was from a different area.

It strikes me as odd, that when one Tory is picking at minor errors in other party’s leaflets (in both cases probably down to slips in copy editing), their own leaflets contain a stonking falsehood that any voter can see is such when they come to read the ballot paper.

The result?

THOMAS, Geraint (Labour) 527
SMITH, Ryan (Conservative) 446
WISE, Darren (Liberal Democrat) 230
KHAN, Arshad (Justice) 13

Bottler Cameron

You know how the Tories keep calling Brown a ‘bottler’ for not calling an election when he didn’t need to? Well now Dave Cameron has showed how much of a coward he is:

Cameron rejects televised debates

You see, Cameron is all in favour of one debate, held on Sky News, which he can bone up for and come out looking great. He’s not in favour of a series of debates held across the terrestrial broadcasters as well as Sky, to include the Cabinet/Shadow Cabinet/Lib Dem leadership team members for particular policy areas such as Foreign Affairs or (and this is the one that probably scares Dave the most) the Exchequer.

I can see why one debate is much easier to prepare for than a series of them. I mean, it allows for a bit more accountability, and gives voters more opportunity to see how the politicians perform. I can also see why Dave only wants a leader debate, because it’s all about ‘Dave’, and it may be that he doesn’t want Osborne making the Tories look like morons on what should be their strongest policy area*

But if the Tories really do think that they are the best party to run the country, they should have able to see through a proper series of debates – especially if, as they claim, it was their idea to hold the things.

Cowards.

* Of course, it’s my contention that while everyone thinks that the Tories are better at running the economy and the Treasury, they don’t actually understand capitalist economics and they can’t tell the difference between a government’s budget and that of the wider economy.

Bad day to go back to work

Mondays are bad enough for most people. I’m not too keen on them, myself. For MPs, today must have been a day full of dread. After a long recess in the summer, and the seaside shindigs of Conference season, they came back to the new session of Parliament. To add to the Monday feeling, most of them will have had a letter from Sir Thomas Legg regarding expenses that they’ve been claiming over the past five years.

Some will have been given a clean bill of health. Some will be asked to provide more information on particular claims or pay back the money relating to them. We don’t yet know which MPs have has which, or how all of the latter group will be responding – there have been hints that some MPs will resent the retrospective application of limits that were not in place when the claims were made.

So far, we know that Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has been asked to pay back £910 because he claimed over £1000 in some years for gardening. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister and leader of Labour, has been asked to pay back £12,45.10, mostly because he claimed more that £2000 a year for cleaning, but includes £302.50 for gardening in the same way as Clegg, and £1396 for a bill that was mistakenly paid  twice.

I have to say that I was surprised at the amounts that Brown is being asked to pay back. On the one hand, there were no stated limits for cleaning or gardening claims, but on the other hand, the £1000 and £2000 being retroactively used are not unreasonable. Certainly this is politically very bad for the government, and for the PM personally.

However, the Tories should not be quick to condemn. Firstly, because Cameron is in the category of having questions to answer, and secondly because until we have a picture of how all MPs have acted, they can’t be sure that there are no prominent Conservatives with major problems. Some of the ‘questions’ may lead to more than just a request to repay.

This is going to rumble on for some time yet.

Spare us the cutter

The major parties are competing in earnest to see who can cut most from public spending. The Lib Dems have performed a massive volte-face and where a few years ago they positioned themselves as to the left of New Labour on some things, they now have a leadership who promise ‘savage cuts’. The Tories are trying very hard to conceal their glee at the prospect of being able to slash budgets, particularly where their favourite bugbears are concerned – benefits, social care, etc. Labour are also talking about savings that can be made.

Now, of course, there is always a good case for trimming fat in public services. Large organisations tend to ossify over time, leading to waste. Poor management (the British disease, and which afflicts the private sector too) needs to be challenged. Providers should be kept on their toes.

However, the media and a lot of politicians seem to assume that cuts (and drastic ones at that) are necessary. The right wing are selling the line that the country is ‘bankrupt’, or almost there, and that the sooner the knife is wielded, the better.

I disagree. What’s more quite a few others, who are more expert in economics than I am, disagree. Duncan Weldon, for example, points out in a recent post on George Osborne’s speech that demanding lower spending across the board appeared to make the 1930s depression far worse and last far longer.

The figure most often used is that we are facing a budget deficit of £175bn. Sure, that’s a lot of money for the government to be spending over its income. But this deficit is made up of four factors:

1) Because there’s a recession, tax intake is lower.

2) Because there’s a recession, spending on things like benefits is higher

3) In order to stabilise the economy, and with the hope of stimulating growth, the government has spent billions on on-off measures and cut some taxes temporarily.

4) There is an underlying deficit

(1) – (3) will all end soon. With a return to growth, tax revenues will increase. As that growth beds in, the stimulus spending can be reined back. When that growth starts to create new jobs, spending pressures will decrease.

What’s more, a large part of the extra spending was to buy bits of failing banks. The shares were priced very low when bought (because bank stocks were understandably pretty undesirable in late 2008, especially those of banks liable to go under), but of course a recovery – and particularly even a moderate one for banking – will see the value of those shares rise. Not only will loans be repaid, but the Government could end up making a pretty good profit.

Additionally, the problem with cutting public spending while the private sector has not fully recovered is that the two ‘sides’ are not unrelated. Public spending largely means people in jobs, who end up with some money to spend. They will use that money to buy stuff, from the private sector largely. Cut job, or freeze wages, and discretionary spending goes down. Not a problem if the private sector is healthy and has solid growth. Potentially disastrous if the private sector is at the bottom of a recessionary curve and any growth is weak.

Keynes is still relevant today. You borrow to spend in a recession, to limit and mitigate the effects. You don’t start trying to pay that back until you are in growth. The fact that during the last period of growth we did not draw down much of the debt (although it was about the same as a proportion of GDP in 2007 as it was in 1997) does not alter the principle – growth is the best way to curb public debt, but cuts in spending can negatively affect growth.

Rugby BC Full Council 21 July 2009

Naff all on the telly this evening, so off to the Town Hall to see what they’re up to…

I had a little chat with the other person in the public gallery, who wasn’t happy that there were bits of the meeting that would be dealt with in private (the decisions relating to the Ken Marriott Leisure Centre – whether to extend the management contract with DC Leisure, and a business case for repair/refurbishment/rebuild). She was firm that all debates should be held in public. Of course the results will be made public if the council decide to do anything, and there are reasons why contractual information is not released until a firm decision is made.

The first bit of business was a presentation to Cllr Ron Ravenhall. It wasn’t immediately clear what it was, but I think he was being made a Freeman of the Borough. It was not explained why (length of service? a particular contribution?), and when he gave his speech it was all about how nice the actual vellum scroll was. Bizarre.

I’m not really much for these things, and I get that from my dad. When he was a councillor he voted against introducing such things for Crawley Borough, and when I was on, I didn’t support ‘long service awards’. Basically, we should all be ‘Freemen and Freewomen of the Borough’, and councillors should do the job for reasons other than a plaudit or an automatic gong just for hanging around for x years.

There was a written question, from Cllr O’Rourke (Labour), asking for information about how many contracts there were with Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and how often they were measured.

The response was that there were lots of them, and so it would take a lot of effort to answer the question. But yeah, basically there are lots and they are reviewed based on the contract and before any extension or renewal.

This is not actually very encouraging. I’m sure that the council does have a lot of contracts with suppliers and partners, in which there are targets set and which the Council. But even if there are too many to describe verbally, surely somehow the Council should know what they are? Shouldn’t they? And if not, rather than whine about how it would be a lot of effort, they should at least have a plan to gather the information over time?

Nahhh. I mean, it’s only taxpayers’ money.

We also had the Leader’s annual Speech to the Council, on ‘Vision 2026’. Much of it was about the aspirations for a nicer town (and surrounding area) and a more responsive council. There were several areas covered as priorities:

  • Access to the Council: last year they had planned to have a ‘One Stop Shop’ set up in new premises. However, as it was to be funded by selling property (the ‘Lawn’ and the ‘Retreat’ ?), the slump has made the land unsaleable., so it couldn’t happen. There has been work to improve contact in the Town Hall, but the main concern has been problems with answering the phones.
  • Housing: As mentioned before, the Housing Service is undergoing a programme of improvement. A whole host of new policies and strategies have been set up. It’s too early to say whether they will work, although the latest inspection from the Audit Commission said that the prospects for improvement were good.I was pleasantly surprised to see that 100 units of Affordable Social Housing had been built in the past year (exceeding a target of 82).
  • In Leisure, there was mention of the Art Centre & Museum getting awards, new projects for Play equipment funded from the National Lottery, and the Viaduct cycleway project
  • The Environment: The new recycling collection scheme started in April, and appears to be a success (I have no complaints about it, either). There is a target to enforce 150 ‘environmental crimes’ over the next year – mainly I suppose fly-tipping, which seems to be an issue in the rural areas of the Borough
  • Value For Money: A moan about the government grants (which council doesn’t), and also of course the problem of £3 million stuck in an Icelandic Bank (euphemistically described as ‘a loss of investment income’ presents a challenge to this. A 2.4% rise in Council Tax was achieved partly through making redundancies, but we a promised that services will not suffer.

Cllr Ravenhall was the first to respond. He said the idea of an overreaching speech about all of the council’s activities was a good idea and should happen every year (it happened last year, but apparently maybe he didn’t notice it). He also described it as ‘spin-less’. Hmm. I’m not sure that Cllr Ravenhall was listening to this year’s speech properly either….

His Lib Dem Colleague, Cllr Sandison, raised questions about how to diversify the economy away from just ‘sheds for logistics’. He also warned that development could be fueled by builder’s greed rather than local needs, and that the market town ‘feel’ could be threatened if Rugby ends up with too many national retail chains in the town centre.

Labour councillors Ish Mistry and Jim Shera both wanted to see more detail, with targets and for next year’s speech to include more about what had been achieved against target. Cllr Shera also mentioned disappearing allotments, the problems of road congestion on the air quality, and asked how many people were on the Housing Register.

There wasn’t much more debate after that, as most items went through on the nod, and of course the two of us in the public gallery had to leave before the items on the Leisure Centre came up.

Rugby BC Full Council – 29 June 2009

I have dealt with the Cattle Market issue in a separate post, as it is long enough as it is. Quick summary – the application was passed, with all Conservatives in support as far as I can tell.

While I’d been to meetings of the Cabinet before, I’d never been in the public gallery. As the Cabinet is smaller, the public are usually allowed in to the back of the chamber. Not for this one.

Only about half a dozen members of the public turned up – a few of whom appeared to have connections to the council or local politics. I’ve seen meetings at Crawley where hundreds have turned up, and with the press coverage had expected at least 20 people to be there.

And it’s a good job too – the gallery would fit at most 50 people. It’s quite high up, and does not give a good view. Of the two rows of seats, the one in front will let you see up to 30 councillors without craning over the edge – and even then, you have to lean right over to look at the top of the heads of some of them. The view from the back row must be even worse.

At Crawley, there was a speaker system, with each councillor having a microphone, controlled by the mayor. Here, there’s none of that modern stuff. However, the acoustics were quite good. The lady next to me had forgotten her hearing aid, but seemed to be able to pick up most of what was said. I would even go as far as to say that it was much better (although the system at Crawley also meant that a member who spoke for too long could be cut off, rather than having to be interrupted).

Because of the vantage point (or lack of it) it was hard to see exactly which councillor was talking if they were at the back. Even if you could see them, it wasn’t always easy to see their nameplate (so if I get names wrong, that is why). On the other hand, the nameplates were at least colour coded so those I could see also told me which party they were in.

The mayor, Kam Kaur, did pretty well. It was her first full meeting after being elected, and it’s a daunting task – especially when there’s a contentious issue at hand.

Other than the Cattle Market application, the main debate held was on the changes to the Core Strategy – mainly around planning issues.

Like most towns (indeed most places in the UK), Rugby has a target to build a number of new homes in the next 15-20 years. Like most places, there is local opposition (especially when specific bits of land are mentioned).

Cllr Ron Ravenhall (Lib Dem) gave an odd speech suggesting that falling birthrates and the swine flu epidemic would mean that demand for housing would fall. There are two problems with Cllr Ravenhall’s facts. Firstly, he quoted a birth rate of 1.66 (which I assume he meant to mean the fertility rate, not births per 1000  people which would be about 12 for the UK). This is not the latest figure I have seen – it’s about 1.8 according to wikipedia, not far off replacement levels. Besides, there are other impacts on population and housing demand that he has forgotten – death rates falling and life expectancy rising would mean that overall population will grow – and the type of family unit has changed in that far more people are single than used to be (and this includes ageing widows/widowers).

There was also talk about how housing demand had fallen due to the recession. This is also poppycock. The real issue is that house prices were overinflated, to the point that people could not afford them, and then when the bubble burst in 2007, people found they couldn’t even afford the places they were buying. Still, house prices are on average about twice what they were 10 years ago, yet average/median incomes have not kept pace. So we find that where a house might have cost 3-4x a normal salary to buy, it now still costs 6-8 times a normal salary, even after a major market correction. Clearly demand is still high. If it isn’t, I suggest that this would mean that we have zero homelessness and few people on the register for council/social housing. I bet anyone a shiny pound coin that this is not the case.

Cattle Market Application Approved

Not knowing the history behind it all, and not having a particular view beforehand (I can see that the site is ripe for development, but I didn’t know what was planned and it’s obvious that there are traffic and parking problems nearby), it was a revelation to see what was really going on with this application.

The Tories were angry that the Planning Committee had referred this to the Full Council at all, accusing them of being mischievous and politically motivated. It went over their heads when it was pointed out that at least two Conservative councillors on the committee must have supported referral. The Tories – in particular the cabinet members – pressed their view that it was a partisan action to the point that Cllr David Wright had to be made to withdraw his remark towards Labour member Maggie O’Rourke “Is she worried about her seat?”, which was a particularly low blow.

The other points made by the majority group were that there was the risk that the developer might walk away, and so the site remain undeveloped. There are two flaws with this line – firstly that the developer would most likely appeal, and that if not or alongside would nogotiate change; secondly that it’s highly unlikely that the development would start in a hurry anyway, given the current economic circumstances.

A few Labour councillors spoke against the application – Cllr O’Rourke outlined a series of reasons, presumably summing up the views of a range of her group’s members (and was rudely interrupted by Tory braying), and Cllr Whinstance said he would grudgingly vote in favour because the original outline permission had been granted, even though he opposed it.

The Lib Dems who spoke appeared to be critical, but most ended up voting in favour. In the end, they said that it was not about mischief, but about making a major decision carefully and allowing people (councillors and members of the public) a say. When councillor Noreen New of the Lib Dems was speaking, she was twice interrupted by Tories  again braying and laughing.

The main objections / criticisms were: parking problems nearby, traffic congestion (particularly along Murray Road/Mill Road), too big a retail space (a new Tesco, not far from two existing convenience stores on Murray Road), not enought green space, no GP surgery as ‘promised’ a few years ago, and too modern a look considering that most properties on Murray Road and Craven Road are Victorian or Edwardian.

In the end, the vote was 35 in favour (27 Tories, which I think is all of them, so whoever voted to defer at Planning switched their vote, but according to the Tories there was ‘no whip’; 6 Lib Dems; 2 Labour). As there was not much point, the remaining councillors – mainly Labour, declined to vote against.

Now that I’ve seen more detail of the plans, I have to say I’m generally in favour of the development (and not too worried about a hotel and Tesco), but I can definitely see why there are worries at a local level.

It seemed to me that the Tories were prepared to railroad this through, a development that the Council had itself an interest in along with a single developer, and they used a few scare tactics to do so, including playing the traveller card “if the site is left empty and people occupy it, we’ll know who to blame”, the partisan card (which backfired as far as I can see, as it was only the Tories who appeared to have a solid position and they kept mentioning the politics rather than the planning aspects), and the spurious idea that it should not have come to Full Council at all (yes, it’s unusual, but actually, it does happen from time to time and it is perfectly valid for large scale and contentious developments).

The new plans are not quite the same as those in the outline permission that was granted in November 2008 (the one that was shown to the public at that time). I can’t say wether the differences were material enough to justify a refusal, but they certainly needed to be debated.

Whether or not the debate was up to the standard required, I don’t know. Certainly I spotted a couple of dodgy statements from those determined to see the application succeed. I think I’ll need to keep an eye on these Tories. They seem just a little bit smug and prone to patronising their opponents (and the public too).