Saturday, 18 May 2013

 Reflections on the day. The Protest In The Park came and went, enthusiastically supported by our brethren from Lincolnshire. I am told there were more policemen, reporters and onlookers than there were protesters. It was peaceful. It was pointless. I'm not sure if there were any official UKIP representatives there, but there were certainly a handful of 'the usual suspects'. Yes, people are entitled to feel irritated, baffled, resentful and uncomfortable at the sheer scale of migration from Eastern Europe into our little East Anglian towns. But it is entirely legal. It is entirely understandable that people from the broken remnants of the Soviet Union would leap at the chance to travel to a country where there is plenty of opportunities for unskilled workers, a universal and largely free health service, and an education system which may be flawed, but still gives opportunities to children prepared to work hard.
Standing in a Wisbech park, un-noticed and un-cared for by the real people in power, and sounding off against 'the migrant hordes' is as big a waste of time as I can think of. It may have given certain people the idea that they are moving things forward, or setting down a marker. Be not fooled. No-one important could care less. The great mistakes were made years ago, when the politicians danced dreamily into a Euro Heaven of their own making. The divisions in the Conservative Party today show just how complex and intractable the problem is.
The Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Portuguese and Hungarians are here. And they are probably here to stay. Even if the Conservatives have a 'Road To Damascus' moment, and give us a referendum on leaving the EU before 2017, it can't be made retrospective. So, what's the best way forward? The only possible answer is one word. Engagement. We Brits need to accept where we are and how it stands. Look for the positives. Make an effort. Be the first to start up a conversation with your foreign neighbour. Make sure you chat to the Lithuanian mum waiting for her kiddie at the school gates. Try some of the foreign shops. Unlike the home-grown variety, they certainly seem to be doing well in out town centre.
But this is not a one-way street. If you have emigrated to this country because it is a better place for you and your family, then you have responsibilities. Not responsibilities imposed by law, because this is Britain. It is not Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or China. Respect our customs. Value our freedoms. Register to vote, and be part of our democratic system. But first, second third and last - make an effort to learn our language. Don't rely on the fact that there are enough of your compatriots in your street, outside your childrens' school, or at work who speak your language. Most people in Wisbech don't speak your language. It is not easy, as an adult, to learn a complex foreign language, but there is help available. There are free classes for you in the town, at times to fit in with your family schedule. This is your biggest challenge - don't duck out of it.
This sounds like a sermon. But there is hope. While the words of division and conflict were wafting over the green acres of Wisbech Park, there was something else going on. Something vibrant, happy, energetic and positive. At the Rosmini Centre, there was an International Children's Festival. There was music, there was laughter. There was a balloon launch, a bouncy castle and Sumo wrestlers. I don't do slogans, but "hope not hate" seems pretty good, really. I can't think of a time when I was more proud to be part of the Wisbech Community.
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Monday, 6 May 2013

Good for her. Dave Patrick expressed his disgust at the whimpering from the defeated with this put-down.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

THE PARTY POLITICAL MAP OF WISBECH has been dramatically redrawn by the results of Thursday's County Council Elections. There has been a clean sweep for UKIP in the Roman Bank and Peckover, Wisbech South, Wisbech North, and Waldersey divisions. The margin of victory in Roman Bank was tiny - just 11 votes - but elsewhere it was substantial.
THERE ARE AT LEAST TWO ELECTORATES IN THE TOWN. Many of the candidates are prolific bloggers and Tweeters and have a Facebook presence. Some have their own websites. Debate on such sites as Wisbech…Oh Dear is intense and can be vitriolic. And yet, and yet. The turnout for this election, on a warm and pleasant May day was pretty poor. On Wisbech..Oh Dear, there was little but disdain for the local Conservatives, but UKIP is regarded with deep suspicion, particularly over its links with far right protest groups. So, did we online gurus get it wrong? Was there a large group of off-liners who had simply had enough?
ROMAN BANK & PECKOVER. This was, for me, the biggest surprise. For all that his Rottweiler approach to discussion and challenge has made me shudder over the last few years, no-one can fault Steve Tierney in his work for his division. He has managed what appear to be complex business interests with tireless appearances at parish meetings and local surgeries, and seems to have always made himself available to people. And yet he is beaten by someone who wrote a virulent and unpleasant letter to the local paper on the vexed subject of immigration.

WISBECH SOUTH. Simon King was another casualty. He was clearly not one of the Wisbech Tory 'ratpack'. He seemed to keep himself to himself, and was unafraid to involve himself with issues which his party colleagues distanced themselves from.On a personal level, he worked very hard to get a school place for the daughter of one of my adult students. The girl has learning difficulties, and had been without a school place for a long time.

WISBECH NORTH. Samantha Hoy was the 'junior' of the Conservative team, both in age and years in post. She won the seat in a by-election in 2010. The online world was lit up by daily reports of skulduggery and dirty tricks. It was rumoured that Dave Patrick (Lib Dem), who had come second in the 2009 election, had stood aside to give Virginia Bucknor (Ind) a clear run. There were constant claims and counter claims between the two ladies that each was doing the other down. In the end, both succumbed to UKIP's Paul Clapp, who had come second in 2009. A footnote should be a word of love and praise for Dean Reeves. He continues to represent Labour in the town, in the teeth of constant knock-backs. If there were any way in which politicians could be appointed rather than elected, he would be a shoo-in. He is a lovely, kind and principled man who deserves better from his adopted town.

CONCLUSIONS? It would take a better political commentator than this one to make sense of it all. That the estimable Gordon Gillick claims that he never knocked on one door, never posted one leaflet and never made one phone call, and is still 'swept to power' perhaps says it all. I have no idea what UKIP did right, but I have a good idea what the Conservatives did wrong. Firstly, and perhaps most forgivably, they failed to distance themselves from their disreputable and discredited political masters at Westminster. The impression was 'Party first, local people second.' Secondly, with exception of Simon King they got it totally and utterly wrong on local issues. Yes, the business of the derelict buildings is principally a District Council matter, but as County Councillors they had influence. And power. And a strong voice. Did they use it? No. The constant mockery of efforts to move things forward on resolving the 'Belfast Building Bombsite', the constant mantra of "This is a lovely town, there are no problems, you are all just too negative," may have been loud, but it was an empty echo. The demise of the preposterous Nick Clarke will hopefully see the end of the 'smoke and mirrors' Wisbech 20/20, which has brought us - correct me if I'm wrong - a few brown signs. Thirdly, the very public cultivation of a triumphant, gleeful Tory clique of town, district and county councillors has sown a bad seed. The seed has grown tall and blossomed into a thriving young tree. My advice - stop slapping each other's backs. Stop leaping to each other's aid on Twitter, like tag-team wrestlers. Stop dancing to the same distorted tune. Think for yourselves, and listen to what ordinary Wisbech people are worried about.
THE CASE OF THE MISSING EDITOR. And finally. Twitter people will have been enlivened over the last months by the constant cut and thrust between John Elworthy (editor of most newspapers in East Anglia) and his targets (mostly Tory councillors, it has to be said) He has taken Sam Hoy to task over her employment record, and Steve Tierney over…well, more things than I have room to mention. But he goes deathly quiet  a week from the election. His Twitter account is suspended. He is alive and well. Fellow hacks have reported his presence at events across the region. Tweeters have suggested he has been got at by none other than the former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. This is unconfirmed rumour. It may be true. It may be a tissue of lies. But when I lamented his passing on Twitter earlier a certain (ex) councillor replied "good riddance". Which was a lovely song by Green Day, if memory serves. Bon Nuit.