Nick Clegg’s Birmingham speech: fair taxes, a fair chance, a fair future and a fair deal #libdemwin

My twenty-ninth conference working for the party was very different to my first.

My heart wasn’t in my mouth.

Like many seasoned conference goers and professional staff I know the routines and the requirements. In any event, the party is generally a more organised and self-disciplined organisation these days. That has dangers of its own of course, with the chance that people might get complacent.

That wasn’t the case in Birmingham. And two very different veterans – one a senior national politician and the other a senior local politician – both said privately, and quite separately, that Nick Clegg’s was the best leader’s speech they had seen in years.

I agree.

Clegg was passionate, a fact not overlooked by writers such as Ann Treneman. He was also angry – angry at the way public expectation has been so trodden down that the public now demand less of our politicians and our country than they are entitled to.

With a relatively short speech by modern political standards, his message was sharp and to the point: ignore the pundits warning you of this outcome or that. If you like what you see, have the confidence to vote for it: vote Lib Dem and get Lib Dem.

At the last election one in four voters voted Lib Dem. If that were raised to one in three, the Lib Dems would be the next Government. Put like that it makes you realise how much the political landscape has shifted since 1951 when over ninety per cent of the population voted either Labour or Tory.

The policy pledges for this election are clear and to the point – and bear repeating so that there is no mistaking the Lib Dem’s commitments:

Fair taxes that puts money back in your pocket

  • The first £10,000 you earn tax-free: a tax cut of £700 for most people
  • 3.6m low earners and pensioners freed from income tax completely
  • Paid for by closing loopholes that unfairly benefit the wealthy and polluters

A fair chance for every child

  • Ensure children get the individual attention they need by cutting class sizes
  • Made possible by investing £2.5bn in schools targeted to help struggling pupils
  • Cut student debts and make a degree affordable for all

A fair future: creating jobs by making Britain greener

  • Break up the banks and get them lending again to protect real businesses
  • Honesty about the tough choices needed to cut the deficit
  • Green growth and jobs that last by investing in infrastructure

A fair deal for you from politicians

  • Put trust back into politics by giving you the right to sack corrupt MPs
  • Restore and protect hard won British civil liberties with a Freedom Bill
  • Overhaul Westminster completely: fair votes, an elected House of Lords, all politicians to pay full British taxes.

As I left Birmingham, looking out of the train window at a landscape that has at different times been at the heart of our industrial economy, I felt a genuine excitement at being a member of a party that was making a firm commitment to helping Britain start building things again – turning Britain into a world-leader in green industries such as hi-tech wind-turbine production. It was a real revelation to think that our economy needn’t be reliant on the service industry of the city, with all its old boy networks and incomprehensible lexicon of hedge funds and futures and trades. It could instead witness a 21st Century reinvention of our manufacturing industry, with vital plant and equipment made in Britain for the benefit of our economy as well as benefiting the wider environmental interests of the international community.

Exciting, too, to hear the clear ambition to help people back into work and break the humiliation and hopelessness of trying to make ends meet on benefits, by proposing a radical and costed overhaul of taxation to lift the income tax threshold to £10,000. Is there a bolder commitment from any other party to put real cash back into the pockets of those who need it most?

If you missed the speech, but are interested in seeing what Nick Clegg said, look at the clip below or take a moment to read the text.

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Chequeing up on the Payments Council

A couple of weeks ago I decided to write to the Payments Council regarding the future of payment options for those such as voluntary organisations and the less well-off. It was not my best-written email, despite its brevity, but it is a correspondence that speaks for itself and so I am publishing it here. Please feel free to offer your comments.

Me

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would be grateful if you could let me know what work you are aware is being done in either the public or private sector on the issue of cheque replacement, especially for 1.) families on lower incomes and 2.) for those who are uncomfortable and resistant to a technology-based solution.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Williams

The Payments Council

Mr Williams

Thank you very much for taking the time to write to the Payments Council to register your concern about the decision to set a target date for the closure of cheque clearing in 2018.  Firstly I must apologise for not responding to you earlier but it is taking me longer than I’d expected to answer all the emails and letters that we have received.  There have been over 450 of them and I want to ensure that I respond to as many points raised as possible so that we understand people’s different issues.

One thing I’d like to stress from the outset is that in the short term this means no change to how we use cheques, as 2018 remains eight years away.  We have made very clear commitments that the Board will only decide to go through with closure in 2018 if, by 2016, suitable alternatives are in place and being successfully used.  Obviously removing cheque books now would not be feasible as so many people rely on them but that is not what was agreed.  Importantly we completely recognise that as things stand there are not enough easily accessible alternatives to cheques for a range of individuals (as well as charities, small businesses and schools).  That’s one of the reasons that the target date is enough of a way off to ensure that the necessary work is done on alternatives, that they are bedded in and that they meet everybody’s needs.

The Payments Council first started looking at the future of cheques two years ago and undertook a public consultation but felt that more information was required before making any decision on this issue in 2008.  All parties that we have consulted recognise that the number of cheques we use is in terminal decline: cheque use has declined 40% in five years and only half of the cheques written in the UK are personal cheques with businesses writing the other half.  In many ways we really had no choice but to completely review the future of cheques taking into account the changing pattern of use by individuals, businesses and retailers.  Without us putting a plan in place for the future, we could see a number of banks moving away from cheques and customers suffering but there being no work to develop an industry alternative.  This way there will be a concerted effort to ensure that alternatives exist.

Since the publicity over the decision, a number of representative groups that we have not discussed this with so far have got in touch to refer their specific issues to us.  These range from the impact that stopping cheques will have on the level of donations amongst the myriad of small clubs and societies that exist, through the impact on those people that group represents to the need to provide dual signature authorisation for existing transactions.  In the latter case, there are online solutions available and we would expect banks to explore other alternatives to those functions that cheques currently offer.  This year we want to concentrate on this area and we will be arranging a series of workshops to explore solutions with the voluntary sector.

One aspect that has proven useful over the last couple of months is that a number of people have got in touch to highlight the key areas where alternatives to cheques will be really required.  You won’t be surprised that these mirror the issues that you mention.  Obviously there are some alternatives already in existence – not all of these, however, suit everybody and there is certainly more work that can be done by the Payments Council to demonstrate what options suit which type of existing cheque use.

A number of people have asked what they would use instead of cheques for small gifts and personal payments and an alternative will need to exist if the proposal to close the cheque clearing is to go ahead.  One option that will be reviewed is whether a paper voucher – that can be electronically processed – would be practicable.

I can see how paying sole tradesmen is a concern but there are alternatives already and with some additional work, these issues can be tackled by banks.  Mobile card machines are easily available although they may not be priced as attractively as they need to be to encourage their use, but they are increasingly used by very small outlets.  One of the problems with cheques for small tradesmen is that they have to pay them in to the bank and wait for them to clear so they can get their money.  In all cases, electronic transfers and card payments are quicker; and we expect to see more use of direct electronic transfers not just between individuals but between small businesses too.  Increasingly people use the Faster Payments service to transfer money between individuals or to pay small service providers – actually that’s how I paid a recent bill from the plumber.

We completely understand the concerns this proposal may cause some who are older themselves or have elderly relatives and I would like to reassure you that we are not trying to force people who feel uncomfortable banking online down that route.

I appreciate that my comments may not assuage your overall concern but I would like to re-assure you that we’re talking about gradual change and helping people understand what options exist rather than suddenly finding in 7-8 years time that cheques aren’t accepted.  The Payments Council was set up to look at what type of payments we need overall as a country for the kind of business (as individuals and businesses) we all do and the payments we make.  It is not a purely banking industry body: to that end, there are four independent Directors sitting on the Board and I’ll ensure that they receive a copy of your correspondence.  Three of the independent Directors chair the User Forums covering consumer, corporate and small business interests and have been discussing the issues on cheque use for some time.

You may have no interest in reading how we came to this decision but we have published a report The Future of Cheques in the UK on our website along with two fact sheets for consumers and small businesses http://www.paymentscouncil.org.uk/media_centre/press_releases_new/-/page/855/.  If you would prefer a paper copy, please let me know and I’d be happy to send on a copy (my telephone number is at the bottom of this email).  As alternatives to cheques for different types of use become clearer, we will be updating the fact sheets and ensuring we communicate as widely as possible about any developments.

I hope you don’t mind me writing such a detailed response but obviously you raise important issues that we need to take into account.

Again thanks for writing and apologies again for my dilatory response.

Kind regards

Sandra Quinn

Director of Communications

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Progressive reformers desert Labour: John Kampfner on why he’s now backing the Lib Dems

The journalist John Kampfner has established a formidable reputation as broadcaster, writer, political campaigner and commentator.

In 2002 he won awards  for Journalist of the Year and Film of the Year from the Foreign Press Association for his documentary on the Middle East, The Dirty War. Under his editorship from  2005 to 2008, The New Statesman reached its highest circulation figures in thirty years. In 2006 The British Society of Magazine Editors gave him their award for Political Editor of the Year. Both the Observer and the Evening Standard listed his book Freedom for Sale as one of their books of the year for 2009.

Yesterday, Kampfner published an article in the Guardian and a pamphlet through CentreForum, “Lost labours”, both of which address Labour’s record of failure and its betrayal of the British people’s trust. He explains his difficult decision to switch his political allegiance away from Labour to Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, arguing that only they can ensure a fairer Britain and urging other reformers on the centre left to acknowledge the Liberal Democrats as the most progressive force in British politics.

If you are uncertain of the case that politicians make for themselves, take a moment to read Kampfner’s coherent and compelling account.

If you are interested in finding out more about John Kampfner, check out his listing on evri where you will find a number of video clips of debates and commentaries on a range of political issues.

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Eva Sajovic: “Be-Longing” blog #sajovic #gypsy #roma #traveller

Readers may be interested to know that Eva Sajovic, the Slovenian photographer I’ve been writing about, has her own blog. Please check it out. Please stop by and take a look.

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David Cameron’s Conservatives: Tories break Pickles dirty tricks pledge [The Fib List No. 4] #toryfail

Last October, Eric Pickles, Chairman of the Conservative Party, made a very bold pledge:

However, the stricture from Eric Pickles doesn’t appear to have been picked up in Solihull. Sophie Shrubsole, Conservative Future Area Chair for Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry, excitedly marshalled her student troops after a request from Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) to encourage students across the country to gather in Warwick and disrupt last  speech by the Prime Minister:

Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard, who broke the story, wonders on his blog if Eric Pickles will be true to his earlier comments.

More specifically, I would imagine that Pickles has at least two courses of action he should consider:

  1. An inquiry to establish which party official at CCHQ was encouraging such dirty tricks and sack them;
  2. Disciplinary action against Shrubsole as a party officer for continuing to organise this planned disruption in clear contravention of his instructions.

The sad fact is though that, despite his pledge, Pickles will do nothing and the Conservative Party will seek to ignore this first clear example of dirty tricks – or explain it away as student hijinx.

There really is nothing quite so grubby and hypocritical as a Conservative Party desperate for power at any cost.

Cameron’s Conservative Party, Con-coctions and Torydiddles: internal party democracy (The Fib List No. 1) #toryfail

Look at the websites of local Conservative parties the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and you will find the following claim:

“the Conservative Party is now the most democratic political party in the UK”

From Chipping Barnet to Epping, from Maidstone to Aberdeen, Tory websites flaunt the party’s democratic credentials.

Democracy is a term derived from the Greek terms dêmos and krátos: people and power. You would therefore reasonably expect that, if you were a member of the most democratic party in the UK, the constitution and mechanisms of the party would enshrine decision-making power with its members.

Interesting then to read the following in the Daily Mail (not usually a paper regarded as hostile to the Conservative Party):

Mr Cameron, frustrated in his attempts to change the male, middle-class image of the Conservative Party, took emergency powers last month which allow him to impose short-lists of ‘suitable’ candidates on reluctant local party activists.

Until then, local associations had been allowed to make their own broad selection of possible candidates and send a short-list to Conservative Central Office for approval.Inevitably, Central Office would add some of their own candidates for the final list, but at least the local party had some say in the matter.

But under the new emergency powers, Central Office can impose its own short-list on any local association, leaving longstanding members with no say whatsoever.

This draconian  measure has incensed local party members up and down the country, triggering a wave of protests and resignations which is in danger of spilling over into a civil war with devastating implications for Mr Cameron.”

This is clearly a very particular and expert understanding of democracy shared by David Cameron, the Conservative Party and Kim Jong-il (the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).

But perhaps that is just candidates and, with a General Election approaching, perhaps we should cut Cameron some slack if he thinks his party doesn’t yet look right and instead decides to act decisively. Of course, you might think it a little hypocritical for an Eton-educated millionaire white male Conservative to be fixing selections because the likely candidate of choice of local associations isn’t representative of modern Britain, and it doesn’t say much about his confidence in these local associations, but perhaps I am being ungenerous.

So what of policy? If the Conservative Party is the most democratic in the United Kingdom (“and possibly the Western World” if you listen to bonkers Maidstone and the Weald) you would expect a robust mechanism of participation where members decide policy.

Er, no.

Have a look at the agenda for the last Conservative conference. When it comes to policy, members are excluded from decision-making. They receive presentations, hear speeches and get to take part in panel-discussions. Things looked up in 2006 when, with polished politico-spin, they announced a “Dragon’s Den-style” session:

“Tory candidates mimic the TV series by pitching their policy ideas to Ms Widdecombe and other ‘dragons’.

There will also be Who Wants To Be A Millionaire style ask-the-audience electronic votes on conference motions.”

Admirer as I am of Mrs Widdecombe, she isn’t the first person who springs to mind when I think of modern Britain. Anyway, the reality wasn’t quite so straightforward. Conservative Home had the real story:

“At the end of the session, conference will vote for the policy they would most like to see included in the Party’s policy review and the winner will be entitled to make a submission to the policy review panel.”

That’s it folks… You get a chance to vote on what you would like to see included (not decide) – and the winner will be entitled to make a submission to the policy review panel!

Whoa! Careful! Ordinary members might end up making a submission to a review! One at least.

Contrast that with the Liberal Democrats.

Candidates are selected by local parties. One member one vote. Simple. Democracy in action. (The Liberal Democrats openly share their full constitution on the web.)

Policy is made by its members. Local parties submit motions. Local parties elect delegates. The delegates vote. Simple. Democracy in action. The full process is laid out on the party’s website.

Cameron is attempting to make the appeal that they are not the same old Tories. The mendacious claims on local Tory websites across Britain will do nothing to give people confidence that his are people who say what they mean.

They don’t.

As a footnote, take a look at the Conservative Party website.

Notice something?

There is no obvious search function. You see exactly what they want you to see and nothing else – no rooting around to find out what you want to know. Be in no doubt – this is a party of centralisers and controllers who place a premium on slick presentation and encourage creative input only so long as it doesn’t rock the Cameron boat. “We know better than you” is a sentiment that Conservatives cannot shake, no matter how hard they try.

Don’t say we weren’t warned.

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Dr David Kelly – Norman Baker’s chilling book #iraq #davidkelly

The Strange Death of David KellyWith the Chilcott Inquiry proving a much more exacting process than many of us imagined it might, curiosity provoked me to buy a copy of The Strange Death of David Kelly by Norman Baker MP. Norman Baker stepped down from the Lib Dem front bench after the 2005 election, despite the offer to continue as Environment spokesman, so that he could spend time investigating the circumstances surrounding the sudden death of the United Nations’ pre-eminent expert on weapons inspections.

My curiosity was also piqued by the news that emerged earlier this year that Lord Hutton had requested a gagging order of 70 years on documents relating to Dr Kelly’s death, including the post-mortem reports and photographs. His inquiry was widely condemned at the time as a white-wash. I remember seeing the size of the report, watching MPs responding to its conclusions as presented by Tony Blair to the House of Commons,  and wondering how on earth they could make any sense of something so vast, with so much evidence, in the sort amount of time available to them to prepare for a government statement. Speaking to the BBC on 26 January 2010 about the gagging order, Norman Baker was typically forthright:

“It’s astonishing and unheard-of for material of this nature to be hidden away for any length of time, let alone 70 years.

Coroners’ inquests are held in public. Lord Hutton’s inquiry was unique in its format and unique in requesting restrictions of this nature.

His statement today undermines the validity of his own inquiry and gives further justification to the case being made by many for a proper inquest to be held into this most public of deaths.”

Writing in the Daily Mail on 25 January 2010, Norman Baker was even more blunt:

“Now we learn that evidence which was not presented at the inquiry has been locked away for 70 years – and this inquiry, remember, was to subject Dr David Kelly’s death to public scrutiny.

How could Lord Hutton have got it so wrong?

The reality is that his inquiry was fixed by Blair and his cohorts to produce the right result. If you put down the tracks, that’s the way the train goes.”

Think back seven years, to the frantic stories over the validity of the “dodgy dossier”, or to the earlier dossier with its claims that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction in just 45 minutes. Think back to the surreal reports that Dr David Kelly had been found dead, just two days after he carefully and professionally gave evidence to the International Affairs Select Committee.

It seems like a lifetime away.

Seven years later, out of the Helleresque maelstrom of torturous logic twists that characterised so much of the political conversation at the time, it is easy to sweep this under the carpet of history and wait for it to quietly disappear. Commentators and analysts help push the subject to the margins, keen to avoid attracting career-hindering labels. A knowing journalistic smile places those who ask difficult questions in the company of loony conspiracists and authors of badly-formatted underground websites, moments before the jingling traffic report is read and the story is forgotten. Despite even Baroness Scotland writing to Sir John Chilcott to request that the inquiry include the death of David Kelly, a quick search of the transcript of evidence given by Tony Blair to the Chilcott Inquiry reveals David Kelly’s name doesn’t occur once.

As Norman Baker reminds us, we like to think that unpleasant things like political murder don’t occur in Britain.

So what of Georgi Markov?

What of Roberto Calvi?

What of Alexander Litvinenko?

If you are not going to buy the book, you can read a summary of the many questions in this article published by Norman Baker in the Daily Mail in October 2007.

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Lord Hanningfield: suspended from Conservative Party; resigns as Leader of Essex County Council; faces criminal charges #essex #conservatives #hanningfield

Paul White, known to most as Lord Hanningfield and leader of Essex County Council, is to face six criminal charges under Section 17 of the Theft Act 1968 (Section 17 is the part of the Act that relates to “false accounting”).

He, along with three Labour MPs (Elliot Morely MP, David Chaytor MP and Jim Devine MP), have been summonsed to appear at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court at 2pm on 11 March 2010. The maximum sentence that could be applied under Section 17 is seven years’ imprisonment.

As these cases have been investigated by the police, the authority responsible for prosecuting is the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Interestingly, although defence lawyers for those charged have raised the issue of Parliamentary privilege, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC is clear in his statement that “the applicability and extent of any Parliamentary privilege claimed should be tested in court”.

Parliamentary privilege is an ancient privilege granted to parliamentarians, however the extent of its protection is both widely misunderstood and fiercely contested. When the Speaker made a statement to the House of Commons on 3 December 2008, regarding the arrest of Damian Green MP and entry into his offices, he reminded Members of Parliament  that, according to Erskine May (Parliament’s authoritative companion guide to procedure), parliamentary privilege has never prevented the operation of the criminal law. He also restated the position of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in its 1999 report that “the precincts of the House are not and should not be ‘a haven from the law’”.

In respect of the specific charges against Paul White (Lord Hanningfield), Keir Starmer QC said:

“The charges allege that between March 2006 and May 2009, Paul White dishonestly submitted claims for expenses to which he knew he was not entitled, including numerous claims for overnight expenses for staying in London when records show that he was driven home and did not stay overnight in London.”

According to the BBC, Lord Hanningfield has resigned his front bench position as Conservative business spokesman and stood down as leader of Essex County Council. David Cameron also requested that Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the Conservative opposition in the Lords, suspend the Conservative whip with immediate effect.

Keir Starmer QC’s closed his statement with the following:

“Can I remind all concerned that the four individuals now stand charged of criminal offences and they each have the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice any of these trials.”

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“The Power of Creativity”: Lib Dems launch arts vision paper #libdems #arts

On December 15 2008 Nick Clegg delivered a speech to the think tank Demos entitled “Why I am a Liberal”. It was both passionate and philosophical, a very personal evocation of liberalism that captures the essence of political empowerment:

“A Liberal believes in the raucous, unpredictable capacity of people to take decisions about their own lives… A Liberal believes a progressive society is distinguished by aspiration, creativity and non-conformity.”

Today, Don Foster MP, the Liberal Democrats Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, launched “The Power of Creativity” – a vision document for the arts that translates Liberal ideals into political commitments, policies and aspirations.

As the document highlights, the first Chairman of the Arts Council was John Maynard Keynes, the noted economist and lifelong member of the Liberal Party. He set out a clear mission for the Arts Council:

“The purpose of the Arts Council of Great Britain is to create an environment, to breed a spirit, to cultivate an opinion, to offer a stimulus to such purpose that the artist and the public can each sustain and live on the other in that union which has occasionally existed in the past at the great ages of a communal civilised life.”

In the current political and economic climate, funding, innovation, local support and creative risk-taking are all in jeopardy.  Our own experience in Basildon, with “The Woodsman”, “Progression” and The Wat Tyler Sculpture Trail are testimony to the low priority that the arts receive in terms of support from local government, particularly where politicans are obsessed with enormous capital projects to cement their political legacy. Foster’s paper seeks to sustain Keyne’s original and Liberal vision for the arts in these more uncertain times.

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Cultural vandals: Basildon’s Tories tear up the national motorboat collection as the Motorboat Museum is closed #toryfail #basildon

In yet another display of cultural vandalism, Basildon’s Tories have torn up the national motorboat collection, following their closure of the nation’s Motorboat Museum so it can be converted into a “green” centre. To give you an idea of the collection’s significance, here is an excerpt from the note on the website about it:

“The Motorboat Museum has been Britain’s leading authority on sporting and leisure motorboats since its creation in 1986.

Many record breakers and rare examples of boats, inboard and outboard motors are housed in the Museum. There is also an extensive collection of historic replica models and memorabilia.

The comprehensive library holds books, magazines and plans dating back to the 1890s. The library is open for use by researchers by appointment only. Enquiries can also be made through the post.”

The museum’s website says the following:

“We’re sorry to announce that the Motorboat Museum is closing down as of 4th December 2009.

Due to large scale refurbishment of the building housing the Motorboat Museum, it is necessary to close the Motorboat Museum and repatriate the collection.”

Back in November, The Echo ran a story on with the headline £1m green centre to open on site of boat museum. In that article, there is a reference to the Council’s postition:

“It would see half of the existing motorboat museum transformed into the new green museum by Spring 2011.

The other half will go out to lease, but could still remain as a venue for powerboat enthusiasts if an interested party comes forward to take over the running from Basildon Council.

Although planning is still in the early stages, it could also house historical artefacts and other items of interest.”

The article concludes:

“The council stressed all options were still open regarding the remainder of the motorboat museum, which is now only visited by about 10 per cent of visitors to the park annually.”

On the 12th November, Cabinet met and agreed to take further funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government under its Parklands Initiative. (I sit on Cabinet but, detained at work, missed the first items on the agenda, including this one. You can see from the voting record at the back of the minutes.) The report to Cabinet states:

“The second phase of funding will develop part of the Motorboat Museum to create a new community facility that provides education on the environment and the reduction of carbon.”

As this was an extensive redevelopment, you would expect it to close to the public for some time – and for the collection to be temporarily relocated.

So to recap…

On 9 November The Echo runs a story saying it could close.

On 12 November Cabinet meets and paves the way for the museum’s closure to permit the works at Wat Tyler.

On 4 December or before, the  Motorboat Museum posts a story on its website saying that as of 4 December the Motorboat Museum is to be closed and its collection repatriated.

Look again at that press comment. It is written in the clever spin-speak you come to expect of politicians and bureaucrats who want you to reach their conclusion: “now only visited by about 10 per cent of visitors to the park annually”. It is the language of minimisation, when you want to make something less significant.

But remember what Councillor Horgan said of “The Woodsman” and Wat Tyler Park? It bears repeating:

“The woodsman is a well loved piece of public art, and we believe that a new home at Wat Tyler Country Park is more suitable and appropriate, where he will be appreciated by the hundreds of thousands of people that visit the park each year.”

Note the figure: hundreds of thousands. Ten percent of hundreds of thousands means that the Motorboat Museum was being visited by tens of thousands of people annually. A rather more impressive figure than we are led to believe by the figure of ten percent. Indeed, the Cabinet report of 12 November is very specific about Wat Tyler’s projected visitors: numbers are projected to increase to 450,000 in two years. That means that the Council are acknowledging that the museum would receive 45,000 visitors a year in the next two years.

I don’t think 45,000 visitors is an insignificant number for a museum that I doubt has been widely promoted in recent years. (If you have time, the Cabinet report is worth a read – it is riddled with contradictions which it has been suggested to me is the product of repeated redrafting and editing.)

The Motorboat Museum is a registered museum with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. As such, upon closure, certain protocols have to be followed to ensure that the collection is properly dispersed (I am not certain, but I presume that this is so that items in the collection can be traced). I have seen correspondence which reassures me that those protocols are being followed. However, the fact remains that the collection as was is no longer intact and a sizeable number of the boats have already been relocated.

Personally, I don’t believe the Council has invested any serious effort in maintaining the integrity of the collection. I have nothing against taking funding from Government for a new green education centre. However, if the Council were bothered enough, they could have sought to preserve this nationally significant collection. I think that when the meeting was held on 12 November, the decision had already been taken privately by administration councillors that they were no longer interested in the Motorboat Museum. They wanted to be rid of it – and the “hassle” of looking after its collection. If I am wrong, and I hope I am, then we will see plans coming forward to preserve and display the remaining boats. After all, all options are still open. Or were.

For once, Basildon was able to lay claim to providing a home to a nationally significant collection (if you Google “”motorboat museum” basildon” you get over 8,000 hits). The Motorboat Museum was a landmark institution – and I don’t recall Basildon Council Tax payers being consulted as to whether Basildon should continue to provide that home.

Irrespective of local people’s views, the fact is Basildon no longer is.

Once again, the Tories have demonstrated their complete contempt for our local and national heritage – and taken us all for suckers.

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