Wednesday 27 May 2015

Labour shape-shifters fail to shape up

It's nigh on 3 weeks since our electoral defeat. This blog has avoided making any direct comment as there were many other sources feeling the need to pontificate ........  like moths to a flame. However, BelperStuff can resist that flame no longer.

This is being written on the day of a Queen's speech that many predict will contain a ratcheting up of austerity that will do nothing of real benefit for the UK economy but will result in increased hardship for millions at the so-called bottom end of society (a very large bottom). It is exactly at a time like this that the Tory government needs to be held to account by a hostile opposition but there are many grass roots Labour supporters who are fearful that our party will not be leading any meaningful challenge. Goodness knows BelperStuff hopes that our shadow front bench will miraculously find something within them that bears some resemblance to a socialist critique but the evidence of the 20 days since the election does little to raise our hopes. Yet again the Labour Party prefers to gaze at its own navel rather than contemplate the issues of inequality and social justice that taint our society. The pronouncements of those standing for leadership of the party are .............. to be frank ................ even farther to the right than the founding principles of the gang of four, the Social Democratic Party that splintered from Labour in the eighties ............. and look what happened to them. For those of us who can remember the chill of those mid eighties years it is not just the memory of Thatcherism tearing the heart out of British industry but the trauma felt within the Labour movement of a party desperately shedding the voices of both left and right. Kinnock struggled to "redefine" the party and it was only after the unexpected defeat of 1992 that we were able to regain our traditional equilibrium with the calmness brought to the movement by John Smith.
John Smith
In the short time between John Smith's election as leader and his untimely death in 1994 the membership realised that it was the socialist message that was important ....... not whether it came from the left, right or centre ............. the party could unite around common ideals.

Unfortunately, this consensus was lost with the gradual and accelerating drift to the right during the Blair years but there were many left leaning supporters who clung on, their hunger for social justice in some measure being fed on reforms championed by Gordon Brown. Many have written about how Blair squandered the moral strength of the party to the point that his successor was handed a poisoned chalice. Miliband suffered too as he was forced to drink from that same cup. The trust in Labour severely damaged, not just with the electorate but within the movement itself. To his credit Ed made the best of the hand that was dealt to him but he took too long to find his voice and was not helped by a weak shadow cabinet, a front bench team that was largely silent about the issues that mattered and were notable by their absence during the election campaign.  (Michael Foot's front line troops were intellectual giants compared with our current crop).

So what now?

Labour shape-shifters fail to shape up

Here we are again with the leader and deputy leader hopefuls leading the charge to the right. We've been there ....... done it ........... burnt the t-shirt. These are the very same people who less than a month ago stood behind a manifesto that spelt out hope for this country. It wasn't perfect but it was a damn sight better than what was on offer from the Tories. Though many of us were and are still vehemently opposed to unnecessary cuts and the mantra of austerity, we enthusiastically worked for a Labour victory because we knew that come the day Ed Miliband was our only hope of tipping the balance back in favour of the majority living in this country.

Talking with local Labour supporters, those who voted for the party, pay their membership dues, represent constituents at parish, town, borough or county levels, there seems to be a consensus that the heart of the Labour movement is to the left of centre. Many of our election promises reflected this and had considerable support in the country, even with those who eventually voted against us. This has to be our strength and something upon which we can build. This belief is evident at the grass roots level and seems to have survived the election defeat.

But .............. oh yes ............ that awful but .............. once again our representatives in Westminster are flailing around looking for a way forward. Their quest is to find out what went wrong and to discover the elusive magic charm that will lead to electoral success. So, during a period of introspection when the leadership solicits the opinion and advice of ordinary members the candidates emerge with fully formed opinions that pre-empt any consensus that emerges from the membership. The disconnect with the grass roots could not be more evident. Every candidate preaches that the party should move toward the centre ground, a centre that a few years ago even left wing Tories would define as being too blue.

The most difficult aspect to all this is that we know what works best in the Labour Party. The movement is successful when it accepts the voices of the left, right and centre. Looking back at previous Labour governments it is obvious that our strength comes from a tolerance of disparate viewpoints coalescing around the common ground of socialist principles. A major part of our credibility is a consistency of belief and this is the very thing that appears to be lacking from our leadership at the moment. They really are like sci-fi shape-shifters, before our incredulous eyes we see them morphing into apologetic late-comers to the orthodoxy of neo-liberalism, standing beside the road to inequality trying to hitch a ride on the EU referendum, xenophobic, privatising bandwagon that they believe will give them electoral success.

There are Labour voices urging a proper debate based upon core beliefs : evidenced by this article in Left Futures and for a reminder of what we stood for in the election this article by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian is very informative.

John Maynard Keynes is famous for saying, "when the facts change I change my mind". Well leadership candidates ........... the facts have not changed.

Monday 25 May 2015

Potato Head uniforms for Belper schools

You might have noticed that BelperStuff has steadfastly avoided any analysis of the election. It's still painful so it was a case of adopting the defense mechanism of the ostrich (head in the sand) or go out and get blathered. BelperStuff chose the latter. It's somehow reassuring that life goes on much as normal amongst the drinking classes, notwithstanding that the overall emotion in Belper hostelries is a dull resignation at the prospect of 5 more Tory years in Westminster and 4 more Tory years in St.John's Chapel. Despite an exhaustive survey of local opinion carried out in a statistically weighted sample of Belper pubs there seems to be no ale or lager drinker who will admit to voting Tory. Obviously, with politics being a subject best avoided  when the alcohol is flowing it is easy for the secret Tory supporter to remain hidden.

There has been one development that your hungover BelperStuff researcher has to report as there seems to be a growing interest in the return of Mr Potato Head. It would appear that the flagship policy of the Belper Tories is starting to grip the collective bar room (and papershop, and in the butchers) imagination .........................
a growing support for the idea of Belper schools adopting a Mr Potato Head style of school uniform.

It seems that the Tories cunning plan to avoid issues that really matter is starting to work as the town is obsessed with the idea of our children being turned out in clothing that proclaims a pride in being part of this Belper Town Council initiative. There are even rumours that the Herbert Strutt and Long Row Primary schools are in a fierce competition as to who gains the right to change their name to be the "Belper King Edward School". We turned to our usual source of school information in Belper for some perspective on this but the website would appear to be offline due to maintenance (perhaps swamped by anxious parents seeking advice on where the Mr Potato Head school uniforms can be purchased).

It was time to get some sort of official perspective on the subject so BelperStuff turned to the town council for a comment and their spokesman was a veritable fount of wisdom.

Belper Town Council spokesman
Apparently the Mr Potato Head idea is a far reaching policy initiative to regenerate the textile and clothing industry in the town. Local factories will be recruiting workers as their order books fill up with the demand for the school uniforms. This work will obviously peak in the summer as shops stock up for the start of the school year in September. The challenge will then be how to employ these new workers once every child is suitably clothed so the search is on for other lines that can be marketed. The town council spokesman commented that current thinking is that the themed clothing idea could be developed to include adult styles which also demonstrate a Belper motif. BelperStuff has been asked to assist in the search for the definitive "Belper Style" so if anyone has a genuine nailer's apron hanging on the back of the shed door or, better yet any example of the traditional Belper vagabond look then the council would like to hear from you. The accompanying illustration of the famous Belper Joe character should prove useful.

When BelperStuff suggested that there would be no need to manufacture such clothing as the next 5 Tory years of cuts and increasing austerity measures would result in a growing number of good Belper folk being so hard pressed that they would be unable to afford any new clothes the Belper Town Council spokesman retorted that this did not matter as the "havenots" were not Tory voters so it did not matter what happened to them.

BelperStuff wishes all it's readers a happy bank holiday Monday. Ah yes, Saint Monday, the traditional day taken off work by local craft workers.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Derwent Street developments - Town Council objections

As promised in the Belper Town Council meeting 19/05/2015 blog post we are returning to the Derbyshire County Council (DCC) plans to build an elderly care/library/cafe/public facilities and square on the Thornton's Chocolate Factory site on Derwent Street. This was briefed to the town council (BTC) by John Owen, the Belper Councillor on the DCC but his report of the scheme gaining planning approval on May 18th was met with complete silence. This response was not a surprise as the BTC had opposed this development and submitted a number of objections to the Amber Valley planning committee : follow this link if you want more details.

Before we take a look at the BTC objections it seems logical to remind ourselves what this plan entails:

Proposal for development of Chocolate factory site ringed by red line
 This is named the "Belper Care Scheme" and comprises:

  1. 24 bed care facility for older people
  2. 50 care apartments (with 24/7 warden)
  3. New library
  4. Cafe and other shop units
  5. Additional space for community use such as health clinics or nurseries
Amazingly I am able to quote the Belper News for this specification as they deemed this news worthy of a front page splash though there is no mention of it on their website. Having made further enquiries directly with DCC I get the impression that items 4 and 5 will be subject to further consideration as to what the mix will be but the building will go ahead as planned. As Councillor Paul Jones, DCC deputy cabinet member for adult social care has stated, "We can now move on to the next stage which includes securing the land for development".

Thornton's Chocolate Factory frontage to be retained

So, if even the Belper News seem enthusiastic why does Belper Town Council object to the scheme?

Belper Town Council Objections 

BelperStuff comments in red.
  1. The impact of the development on the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and the Belper & Milford Article 4 Conservation area.  Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Partnership submission to the planning committee : "The proposal to retain the range of buildings fronting Derwent Street is welcomed as this is the section of the former factory building making the strongest contribution to the significance of the World Heritage Site, that is its Outstanding Universal Value, particularly with the textile link with the Castle Blouse factory; it is also the element with the most architectural and historic merit. This link should take you to the full heritage statement which is even more enthusiastic about the overall objectives of the scheme and its beneficial impact on the town.
  2. The ability of the development to support delivery of proposals within the land between the A6 and the River Derwent Supplementary Planning document. Is this the plan as contained in the original Core Strategy?
  3. The proposed development will be accessed via Derwent Street from its junction onto Bridge Street (A6). This junction is narrow and tightly constrained by listed buildings. As a major road, the A6 in the centre of Belper is congested and any intensification of vehicular use will exacerbate the situation. No traffic assessment has been undertaken to determine the impact this development will have on the A6 junction. Completely wrong as the plan drawing clearly shows access to be via the "Morrison's" roundabout. The DCC submission also clearly states that there will be no vehicular access via Derwent Street and amongst the submitted documents there is a traffic assessment. Did the BTC fail to look at the plan and other submissions?
  4. No assessment has been made of the impact of drainage from this proposed site, given its closeness to the floodplain of the River Derwent. Again, completely wrong as the submitted documentation includes both drainage and flood assessments. Is the BTC really suggesting that the Belper Care Scheme would put a greater strain on sewage and drainage than a factory of the size and nature of Thornton's Chocolates when it was in full production?
BelperStuff is beginning to think that the Belper Town Council objections were drawn up by Mr Potato Head.

The view from the bottom of Derwent Street, in fact leaning on the gate into the meadow.

In a spirit of generosity BelperStuff imagined that, once BTC had had a chance to read through all the documentation submitted to the planning committee they would modify their position as all their fears had been laid to rest but no mention of this scheme was made at the Town Council meeting last Tuesday evening ........... yes that's right ............ the most important development in Belper Town Centre for decades and the Tory town council has nothing to say about it.

Going back to the Belper News ............ it was heartening to read that the Chairman of Transition Belper, David George supported the initiative and went on to say,"This is probably the key site in Belper and that the opportunity should be grasped to design and build an exemplary zero carbon development that Derbyshire, Belper and Amber Valley can be rightly proud of". BelperStuff wholeheartedly agrees.

Friday 22 May 2015

One in ten Belper homes ask Citizens Advice Bureau for help

In an earlier post, prior to the election it was mentioned that Belper Town Council makes an annual grant to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) of £10,000. This large sum of money represents nigh on 60% of the "Community Services" budget (as at 2013/14) but some years constitutes an even greater percentage of the budget when grants to other services are lowered. In an idle moment (and I have to confess that I have far too many of those) I wondered what Belper gets for its £10k so set my googling fingers to work.

This is what I found: link to the CAB interactive map, a very informative website that is a real eye opener. I was amazed to find that in the period 2013/14 the number of enquirers from Belper seeking advice about benefit problems was 937. Now given that the number of households in Belper, according to the Office of National Statistics, is 9,400 my admittedly back of a fag packet calculation averaging out the 937 and 9,400 gives us 1 in 10 households with a benefit problem that warranted a trip to the CAB. It would be safe to assume that there are many others who are suffering similar hardship but for whatever reason have not consulted the CAB.

A careful study of the CAB interactive map will supply you with further gems like the fact (courtesy of yet more back of fag packet scribbles) that 1 in 20 households seek advice about debt, may possibly lead you to question my 1 in 10 headline but whichever way you look at it that there are serious problems in this town that our true blue Tory Town Council only addresses by making a grant to the CAB and not enough direct help to those who are in need. There are people in Belper who go hungry and in winter they shiver in their homes but the council gives them hope ............... yes this must be the job of Mr Potato Head, if they have no potatoes to eat at least they can wave at one made of fibreglass.

Let them eat flowers.

Poverty is hidden in this town, hidden behind a booming King Street, hidden behind a comfortable suburbia full of privet hedges and lawns ............... hidden behind badly insulated walls the poor sit fearful of the next unpayable bill dropping through their letterbox. Am I being too emotive about this? No because there are 937 reasons why this post has to be written. As we have seen in the election the true nature of Tory austerity is not understood by those who are more comfortably off but for the 10% at the bottom of the heap the reality of a Tory government hell bent on cutting taxes and rewarding the rich is very painful.

If you are interested in finding out more about the CAB you can explore their website and for a look at their history I found this Wikipedia article to be a very interesting read.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Belper Town Council meeting - Tuesday 19/05/2015

Painful as it was for our Belper Town Council correspondent to attend this first, post election meeting attend it he did. The town council is now completely Conservative; a sea of blue with the 4 Labour and 1 Ukip  councillors losing their seats. On the night 15 Tories sat around the table with one apology for non-attendance.

First the Parish Council meeting. There is an annual meeting of the Parish which precedes the Town Council meeting and this was duly held. For all practical purposes the parish and the town are one entity but the significance of the parish AGM is that residents have the chance to address the council on anything they choose. Outgoing councillors took up that chance to greet or say farewell but it became more interesting when John Morrissey (well respected ex GP and governor on Amber
John Morrissey
Valley South NHS Foundation Trust) questioned the Belper Town Council response to the CH&I report into the conduct of the town council when they ousted Deborah Biss from the position of Mayor and suspended both her and Councillor Fisher. The independent CH&I report was commissioned by the borough council Standards Committee in response to complaints by Councillors Biss and Fisher and cost the taxpayer £3,306.60 plus VAT, a sum that the borough has asked Belper Town Council to pay but the town council has refused. The town council has also refused to allow the report to be made public. Obviously it is this state of affairs that prompted John Morrissey to speak out at the meeting. What adds intrigue to this is the fact that ex-Councillor Fisher also spoke and urged the council to stop acting illegally and try to conduct future business in a legal manner.

What is contained in the CH&I report and why does the council want it to remain secret?

Now to the Town Council meeting:

Before the meeting starts there is a chance for members of the public to speak on items listed on the agenda or, as was the case at this meeting, for an invited person to speak on a subject of relevance to the council. The invited speaker on this occasion was a representative of the Civic Forum (sorry name of person not recorded) who merely stated that the Neighbourhood Plan committee (group) was progressing and seemed to encompass Transition Belper plus a town councillor hopefully to be assigned to that committee (it was formerly Deborah Biss). BelperStuff hopes that the Neighbourhood Plan initiative will become more democratic as many in the town have no idea what this entails or how their views and perspective will be taken into consideration as the plan is formed (this blog has been contacted by those who have such fears). Belper Neighbourhood Plan application on AVBC website

Obviously not too much can be expected of the first meeting but it is the chance to set out what the objectives are for the coming year. Councillor Nelson, the leader of the Tories therefore leader of Belper Town Council listed 2 main policy objectives:

Mr Potato Head
  1. To improve on the Belper in Bloom project because last year's second place in a floral town competition was not good enough.
  2. Mr Potato Head will return following a world tour (I kid you not).
I was truly astonished that the Tories had no other policy initiatives for the coming year nor indeed any overarching ambition for the 4 years they will be in office until the next town elections in 2019.

To be fair there was mention of the attempt to ring fence £100k for the Tea House in the River Gardens which was voted on at the last, pre-election town council meeting (which was, incidentally, attended by 7 councillors - outnumbered by the public gallery). Despite that vote Councillor Nelson seemed less than certain about this. It was difficult to work out if he was hopeful that the ring-fencing would happen or if the ring-fencing would be in any way useful; his comment was ambiguous. The Tea House project was last costed at £600k and requires Amber Valley Borough Council to find an additional £500k to top up the £100k from the Belper Council. What will the new Tory led AVBC decide?

John Nelson
Councillor Nelson also read out the outgoing Mayor's report but this blog does not have a copy of the report (yet) and will reserve comment until the details contained in the report can be read in conjunction with the annual financial statement for 2014/15 once it is available.

The new Mayor is Dan Booth, the Deputy Mayor Councillor Spendlove.

The meeting was dominated by Councillor Nelson as no other Tory voice was to be heard (if that statement is wrong then, as usual on this blog the chance to respond by sending a comment is open to you). It has been noted that he was concerned about the future of parking in the town but came up with no ideas as to how this was to be addressed other than to comment that the borough council had graciously offered to allow the use of the Field Lane land that had been purchased by AVBC (for £1.6 million) for overflow parking. I wonder how much each additional car parking space costs?

John Owen
The meeting was also addressed by John Owen, the Belper representative on Derbyshire County Council (DCC) who was given a very frosty reception by Councillor Nelson; yes, you've guessed it, John Owen is a Labour Councillor in a Labour controlled County Council. He reported on County matters and listed specific items pertinent to Belper. His report was so detailed that it has been decided to examine it more closely in a separate post. If an antidote was needed to Mr Potato Head then John Owen was surely it.

One item that has to be noted was that the DCC plan to build a new old peoples facility and library on the Thornton's factory site in Derwent Street has just received planning permission. To quote Councillor Owen, "Extensive work has already been carried out to determine whether building a scheme combining extra care housing and specialist residential care, with a library and facilities including rooms for community use, would be viable in the town ........... it is planned that the existing factory frontage will be incorporated into the design". It seems that this scheme will be going ahead and DCC has allocated the capital expenditure. Researching this after the meeting it became evident that Belper Town Council opposed the planning application. Now why would they do that? This also warrants a separate post to explore the proposal and why the town council are opposed to much needed improvements to care for the elderly and library and study facilities that will also breathe life into a derelict area of the town.

Yes, there are quite a few issues to follow up and BelperStuff plans to do just that. For the moment though, the impression left on the mind after Tuesday's meeting is of Belper Town Council with their heads full of flowers and demonstrating their plans for the town with Mr Potato Head.

An after posting comment: I must apologise for failing to mention that the council is now dominated by men .............. 15 men and 1 woman. Oh and that the budget for 2015/16 is £238k.

Monday 18 May 2015

It's official -------- there are no people living in Amber Valley who are in need of a home

It has not taken long for the new/old Amber Valley Borough Council Tory regime to restate their position on housing:

link to BBC website article on housing proposal on Kedleston Road

Councilor Cox is reported as saying that new houses are not needed.

If the Kedleston Road development does not go ahead then there will be renewed pressure on the other possible sites listed in the Core Strategy for Amber Valley. What would be interesting to know is the evidence used to make the assertion that new housing development is not needed. The article contains no information relating to the future of housing requirement in the area. This has been a feature of attacks on the Core Strategy in the past few months, no opponent actually refers to evidence that there is a serious housing shortage. The population is growing, economic activity in the East Midlands is rated amongst the fastest in the country so there is obvious pressure on the housing market. Prices and rents rise in proportion to the availability of houses and homes and the only way to deal with this is to build more homes that match the emerging household profile.

It should be obvious that this housing shortage has greatest impact on those at the lower income end of the scale.

I can sympathise with the argument that houses should not be built on green field sites and if the reported comments stated that then I would not be critical but what is this supposed impact on Kedleston Hall estates? The undoubted need for new dwellings should not be conflated with the debate on where those dwellings should be built.

For the latest news on the Core Strategy click on this sentence

BelperStuff will return to this issue.

Saturday 16 May 2015

BelperStuff Blog is evolving

At the risk of repetition, this blog was created to promote an alternative viewpoint during the run up to the 2015 UK general election, prompted by a serious media bias against the Labour Party. The election came, and disappointingly went leaving all of us to the left of centre shaking our heads in misery and disbelief. True to form the Labour Party is now undergoing a period of navel gazing which so far has proved to be less than edifying.

BelperStuff has had enough of this. A week of introspection is more than adequate; the national party can string out the process until the autumn but look what happened in 2010, the months of soul searching turned into years and we only started to emerge from our self imposed purdah in 2014. Too late. We must not repeat such idiocy.

At branch level we have a fight on our hands with a blue-washed town council and the loss of control in Ripley. The time for analysis is over. We don't need to quantify why we lost because it is obvious that the local electoral performance was heavily influenced by the national mood. We campaigned well and there should be no doubts about that. Could we do better? Of course we could but rather than try to fix what does not need fixing we should build on the achievements of the rejuvenated local Belper Branch. We should move forward.

To this end BelperStuff is undergoing a development phase to make it more reflective of the local scene. Yes there will still be self indulgent posts on national politics but with the creation of separate sections within the blog it will now be possible to host a running commentary of Tory performance at town and borough level. There will be reportage and analysis of council meetings and committees.

Hitherto this blog has been like the inside of Fido's head ............... oh look a ball must chase it ........... oh no what's that smell must sniff it ............ oh no I forgot the ball ............ oh great a tail to bite but I just can't quite reach it so must go round in circles ............. my human is whistling me but I'll ignore them ............... oh look there's that ball again ........... I could do with a biscuit ........ well you get the picture. I have no doubt that this trait will continue on the home page but by creating separate council tabs the more serious stuff can be accessed in a more targeted way.

The addition of a "socialist" tab offers the chance to explore what is at the heart of our movement and hopefully will give us strength for future struggles. More tabs can be created as the blog matures with perhaps reports at county level and to group similar articles under themed tabs, for instance a "Green" tab.

All this will take some time to settle down. No ............. let's be honest ........... it will take a while because the "brains" behind this blog are on a very steep learning curve in blogospherics. There will also need to be additions to the editorial team as the aspirations listed above are far beyond the capabilities of one person.

I think that's enough from me this fine, sunny Saturday morning. Time for an hour in the garden before I head into town to enjoy a lunchtime pint. My mood matches the brightness of the day, full of optimism and hopeful of what we can achieve in opposition.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Yesterday a humble blog ............... now head honcho of DfID

I have decided to take my name off this blog as it is far too parochial for one such as myself. At last my integrity and selflessness have been rewarded with a plum job and the whole world is waiting for my first brilliant scheme aimed at improving the planet, a place where deserving people can be enriched.

Unfortunately, in some peoples minds I am being confused with this chap: link to Guardian article on Grant Schapps appointment to the DfID.

Yes, unfortunately there are some who think that's me but I can assure you this Michael Green, (that's me by the way - the founder of BelperStuff blog) has nothing to do with the Grant Schapps chappy who sometimes went under the name of Michael Green.

However, by an amazing coincidence I too have been promoted to a new job heading a department with the acronym, DfID but in my case these initials stand for the Department for Idiot Detention.
I had to undergo a selection process to get this job but as they said at the interview, I was obviously the ideal candidate for I display that rarest of talents (apparently), the talent of TOTKO. I smiled when they said that and tried to hide the fact that I had no idea what they were talking about. It's only when I made it home and was able to employ my amazing IT skills on the interweb thingy that I discovered that TOTKO is short for "takes one to know one". I'm still not sure what that means and its relevance to my new job but I suppose that I'll figure it out sometime.

Obviously I will be very busy with my new job so I'll be handing over the reins of BelperStuff to a.n.other.  I had intended introducing them today but just at this minute they are outside in the garden burning my editor's chair as the smell of the spilt beer stains was making them feel somewhat lightheaded.


Monday 11 May 2015

BelperStuff might close .............. but!

BelperStuff  was conceived to offer a counter narrative to the lack of a Labour voice in our local newspapers. We have struggled to get letters printed and articles accepted though the Tories seemed to have no trouble. Now though, I am struggling to find a role for this blog in the post election environment. Only 15 hits yesterday and 5 of those must have been me, from my initial post and subsequent online edits. The effort involved is considerable but if there is so little readership then my time would be better spent elsewhere. So, the future of the blog is in doubt.

There is a suite of statistics available to the author of a blog such as:

United Kingdom
United States
New Zealand
For some reason a single views in Singapore and Russia have disappeared from these stats! What seems to be missing is the number who choose to have new blog posts sent to their email inbox so I have no idea how many are reading the blog but not visiting the blog site. (Have you noticed the box requesting the blog to be emailed to you?)
In the two weeks up to the election BelperStuff averaged 100 hits per day which was made possible by those in the know sharing the link through social media (a big thank you to them). Another stat that might be interesting to the more geekier end of the blog's readership logged the type of device used to access the blog:

It goes on to list search engines and the like which may be of interest to some (Google Chrome far exceeded MS Internet Explorer by a factor of 10:1). I am astonished to see that someone must be using a Blackberry Playbook.

All this is waffle. The fact remains that I am struggling to justify the time spent on this blog. Obviously I'm not at my best, in fact I have started to look more like my painting in the attic and that must be something to do with my sadness and feeling of powerlessness following the election defeat. I have resisted posting my take on the reasons why the vote went as it did because there are so many supposed "experts" justifying their paid positions on newspapers and television and you really don't need my voice to be added to theirs. It never ceases to amaze me how a journalist can be full of an idea before the election then overnight come out with views that are so radically different. Do they suffer from "what I wrote last week amnesia"? It's words like this from Owen Jones in the Guardian that offend me. That young man must learn to be more consistent. I have read one article that impressed me though, and that was from a Green Party member: link to Molly Scot Cato in the New Statesman (no I do not intend to become a Green as I've been a Labour green for years).

It's not that I don't have ideas. I know what I want to write as, sadly, there are far to many targets of injustice, poverty and inequality that it's sometimes difficult to determine what comes first. Nor do I lack inventiveness as I enjoy coming up with offbeat ways of looking at things by setting myself what sometimes feels like an impossible task to link disparate thoughts and to blend such skeins of thought into a successful post. It's easy to ride a punctured bicycle whilst eating a custard tart but try doing that underwater with your mother-in-law sitting on the crossbar.

Whilst I have been writing this post a comment has been sent to me by a BelperStuff reader alerting me to this webpage : link to Loughborough University Media Centre election coverage analysis which is very illuminating. Their methodology looks sound as they have tabulated all political references on TV and printed news and weighted it either negative or positive towards the respective political parties. Surprise, surprise .......... Tories massively positive with all other parties, especially Labour suffering from an overwhelming slew of comments against them. Click on the link and scan down the page (thereby gaining a trust in their methodology) until you reach this:

There is an article in the New Statesman, link to 10 delusions article which warns against giving an analysis like this too much credence but the author, one Ian Leslie should hang his head in shame. This stuff matters.

Thank you kind reader for sending me the Loughborough link. Perhaps I should carry on with the blog after all.


Sunday 10 May 2015


My father was a printer. Demobbed out of the RAF at the end of WW2 he needed a job, a career. He found that job with a printing company, initially driving their delivery lorry but then gaining an apprenticeship, earning his papers in the early 1950's. The main benefit for my sister and me (aside from a loving family environment with a roof over our heads and dinner on the table) was a steady supply of proof copy books. Each week a new book, sometimes two. This was where my inner bookworm was born. Over the years I have literally (joke) read thousands of books, absorbed millions of words and been influenced by ideas from the witty and witless alike.

Literature takes on many roles in my life, from a relaxing way to spend the odd idle moment to a passion as I devour every scrap of work by a new to me author; some stories and characters stick in the mind whilst others, no sooner read are forgotten. Then there are times when reading becomes a solace, a balm for the mind when it is sorely bruised by the pain of personal loss or, as I have experienced these past couple of days, an emptiness of spirit as what I hold most dear has been rejected and ridiculed by the champions of inequality and privilege. I just had to get away from this misery so, employing the logic so eloquently stated by the Moody Blues over 40 years ago, "thinking is the best way to travel", (link to In Search of the Lost Chord) I switched off the computer and, beer in hand, tried to think of happy times. I thought of my childhood and it was not very long before I was trying to list the books that my father brought home, loosely stitched together, bereft of covers and most times with the pages still awaiting their final guillotine before the page edges all lined up. The list grew and grew until one particular book floated before my mind's eye ................ Ivanhoe.

I knew immediately why I latched onto this classic because I can still feel the thrill I felt when first reading it, learning of the Saxons struggling against the ever more powerful yoke of the triumphant Normans and the stratification of the differing cultures that made up these islands. The Normans with an iron grip on the south though wary of an independently minded capital, the Saxons retreating to the north but gradually being assailed and dispossessed, to the west the Celts being further marginalised and ringed by the encircling Normans with only the far north defying the brutality of the conquerors. Yes it was obvious why I should dwell on Ivanhoe, not just as it also told of the scapegoating of the foreigner but because it provides a mental map of medieval Britain that is not so very far from the political map we woke up to on Friday. The parallel with Tories, Labour and Scottish Nationalists is uncanny when mapped, the colours of dominance and subjugation so obvious that you could be forgiven for thinking that the 900 years of intervening history were all for nought. Yes that is how I feel, that the rise from serfdom, the gradual accretion of rights for the individual, the freedom of education, the idea that care for even the most humble in this land was a principle that stood at the core of our society ................. all that has been devalued by the triumph of greed and an acceptance, an acceptance made easy by our system of choosing a government that can be manipulated to a point that people vote blindly, the acceptance of inequality. If only we had a constitution that enshrined our rights but this we do not have; instead we are governed by the rule of law and tradition but, as we know only to well, laws can be repealed or new ones created whilst tradition is subject to reinterpretation by the constant drip of misinformation, distorted by "newspeak" as forewarned by George Orwell's 1984.

With these thoughts in mind I fired up my computer to search for a suitable map so that I could better illustrate the regressive nature of the 2015 election and my search engine soon turned up this:

The source of these maps is obviously
As you can see, the Vikings hold the Shetlands and Orkney Islands, the Scots are in full control of both highlands and lowlands, the Saxons hold out in the north as the Normans tighten their grip but there are also remnants of the industrious Saxons across the midlands and of course the tenacity of Welsh culture is still evident.

Looking at these maps I was reminded of some research that I undertook some years ago into the rise of global companies and their ability to avoid accountability as they move their legal seats to corporate havens. It was what Osborne introduced in 2011 that allowed these organisations to retain their HQ's in the UK as the new law gave immunity from taxation to companies that could thread all their earnings from UK enterprises through off-shore satellite companies. It was while researching this that I came across a shadowy organisation called the Expansionist Party. At the time it seemed something of a joke as surely such an overtly evil group would not be so open about their intention.

But this map, lifted from a page on their website that proposes a realignment of the UK looks uncannily like the what is proposed by the Tories, SNP and UKIP; in part already realised by the 2015 election. Some cry conspiracy at the drop of a hat and I am not normally one who reacts to hats hitting the ground but ..........
(If you want to read more about the Expansionist Party then click on this sentence). I couldn't resist lifting this gif off their homepage .......... it tells a chilling tale of US corporate ambition:

The UK seems to be a "short-term" ambition!!!!!!

Look where thinking, the best way to travel gets you.

Friday 8 May 2015

What becomes of the broken hearted?

That is the question this morning, what becomes of the broken hearted?

Link to the wisdom of Jimmy Ruffin

Please forgive me for being somewhat businesslike in the way I write this morning but I have just sat through hour after hour of ever more painful news. Not even regular doses of real ale could provide an adequate level of anesthetic. So, here is my initial response to the title of this post in report format:

  • Well done Nicola. We knew that victory in Mid Derbyshire was a lot to expect but you have increased the Labour vote by 549. In this Tory shire that is a real result.
  • With 9 results still to be declared the national change of votes when compared with 2010 is:

UKIP    + 9.5%
SNP      + 3.1%
Green    + 2.8%
Labour  + 1.4%
Tory      + 0.7%
LibDem - 15.1%
  • Despite the emergent headcount in parliament Labour increased their vote at double the rate achieved by the Tories. This may be cold comfort but the Tory victory is not as comprehensive as they would like to make out.
  • We still have hope that the obvious toxic effect of nationalism will not affect our borough and town council results. There is still hope.
  • So, what does become of the broken hearted ......... they mend that heart and carry on the fight.

More from me later today once the borough results are known ............ but ......... in the meantime, for those of you reading this blog in foreign lands (and the stats that are visible to me show that BelperStuff  is read in 12 countries) here is a link to a video that explains the unique idiotic way we Brits go about choosing a government : Link to The British electoral system video for non-brits.

Thursday 7 May 2015

I just voted Labour - a humbling experience

In fact my wife and I voted early this morning before breakfast ........... a breakfast that was interrupted by a knock on the front door. There stood an elderly lady in a mac looking a bit lost. "I'm so sorry to disturb you but I've forgotten where the polling station is", she said. "No need to worry, I'll show you", says I, realising that she had knocked on our door because of the many posters supporting Labour plastered over our windows. As I walked with her to a place where I could point to the building that housed the polling station she told me about her memory problems and how she had started to forget things, "I've voted here many times before but I just cannot remember where it is". So, at the corner of the road, with the polling station just a few doors down, we parted; a lovely smile and a thank you from her and me feeling good about myself ........

...................... but how humbling, an elderly lady struggling with a failing memory but determined to cast her vote. Still involved, still active and looking with hope towards the future because that is what a vote represents, your hope for the future ............ even though your awareness of the present is slowly dimming. What a wonderful woman.

If there is anyone reading this blog in the UK who has not felt inclined to vote then think of  this dear lady's example.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

What about the Belper Town Council?

I have received a comment about the blog which took me to task, basically, "you call this blog BelperStuff so where is the stuff about Belper?". Fair comment ......... so this post concentrates on local issues and to that end I have been looking at some of the party political leaflets. Before I wade into them I thought it might be useful to have a look at the Belper Town Council performance under the Tories. It just so happens that I have been handed a copy of a basic numbers type of report that was produced by a local consultancy company using information supplied by the council for the years 2006 through to 2014. Apparently annual financial reports prior to 2006 are not available and as yet the 2014/15 report is still awaited. So here goes .... if the graphs seem a bit small then they expand if you click on them:

This should be self explanatory. We can see just how much emphasis was placed on increasing the reserves with an average being banked each year of £26,000 but there was a two year period after 2010 when significantly more was retained, our very own austerity in Belper.

Following this is an analysis of expenditure:

The accompanying notes to this graph make the following comments:

This is a selective graph, stripped of wages, salaries, admin, allotments, maintenance and vehicles to more clearly illustrate discretionary expenditures.

·       Overall expenditure has maintained a steady increase in line with income though has not kept pace with inflation.

·       Some variations in annual costs reflect capital expenditures such as new fences for allotments and a new chain for the Mayor.

·       A notable loser is grants to sports and this carries on a noticeable trend. Looking back at the Labour controlled council in 2001 the total granted to sports (including the Leisure Centre) was £37k. Compare this to 2010/11 through 2011/12, two years when grants to sports were £0 (zero).

·       The issue of Belper Leisure facilities warrants a separate in depth study which takes into account the withdrawal of funding by the then Conservative controlled AVBC following withdrawal of funding by the Conservative led Belper Town Council. 

      Between April 2000 and April 2014 the following number of applications for miscellaneous grants was made:

Not considered

         The overall impression is that money was denied to sports and miscellaneous applications, allied with a gradual decline in wages and salaries (not keeping pace with inflation - my note) to provide increasing budgets to floral displays, community services such as the CAB, tourism (including the museum), the General Reserve and of course Christmas. 

Turning to election leaflets

First UKIP. They are putting up a few candidates but I will concentrate on Dave Fisher as he has been a Belper Town Councillor for the past few years so presumably knows where the bodies are buried. I immediately notice that Fisher points out that the contentious housing plans were actually drawn up by the Tories when they were in control of Amber Valley Borough Council (AVBC). They made no mention of that in the meeting held in Strutts !!!! The rest of the leaflet seems reasonable and on the other side Fisher states that he is "disillusioned by the lies, broken promises, empty gesturing and illegal actions of some of the Tory members of AVBC". Strong words indeed. If I had that said about me in an election leaflet I would be taking court action so I presume Fisher must be very sure of his facts. What don't we know. Is there something we have not been told? Fisher goes on to say that he wants "a Council that represents you the voter and acts within the law at all times". He's really sticking the boot in to the Tories.

I start to lose sympathy for the UKIP candidates when I look at their bumf on national issues. I remember the claim they made that 10,000 houses were being built in the AVBC area to house immigrants when the truth is that, over the past 4 years we have seen an influx of just 200, many of them being Commonwealth citizens with an absolute right to be here. I also am very wary of their position on the EU.

Now Conservative. Their leaflet has a distinct floral feel to it as they place a high emphasis on blooms and gaining awards for blooms. They also make a show of starting up food festivals (now there I was thinking that was an idea originated by Fresh Basil ..... ), High Street Award and putting up Christmas lights. They do mention the housing issue but no mention that the original plan was drawn up by a Tory controlled council (as mentioned by Dave Fisher), "Your Conservative Council opposed this". I wonder what the truth of all this is. They then go on to say that, "Labour will increase your council tax and provide fewer services .........". Evidence needed on that I think. They go on, "The other parties have no track record of success and no plans for the future". We are back in Mandy Rice Davies territory here. How do they know that the other parties will do worse or put up taxes? They just say it, hoping that people will believe it. It really wouldn't be that difficult to improve on the last 12 Tory years in Belper.

What I do have real difficulty with is their statement that they will "Keep improving the services we provide for Belper, Milford and Makeney". Looking at the graph on expenditure it's tourism, flowers and an increase to the CAB that I detect with everything else remaining static or in fact decreasing because of inflation. Their performance on sport is dreadful as these Tory councillors, some of them sitting on both town and borough councils, have ensured that Belper is the only major town without a sports facility funded by AVBC. Why did they stop all funding to Belper? Why did they turn their backs on the modernisation of facilities at the Belper Leisure Centre? This is a question that should be asked of them, why did you deny funding to Belper?

Now Labour. I have taken a few minutes to think about what comments I will make here. On this blog I want my word to be trusted but as a confessed Labour supporter would it be possible for me to maintain that fairness. I think I've demonstrated this already for my fair comments on the UKIP leaflet even though I detest that party. So here goes:

The Town Council candidates leaflet is very positive, clearly stating their pledges and what each candidate believes in. I liked the advice given for new voters on how many votes they can cast (to be honest I learnt something myself). The pledges were about consultation with the public regarding the council reserves, toilets, dog mess, partnership with local businesses, support for local groups and a pledge to work with AVBC, "how best to develop the River Gardens' Tea House." I may have the ear of some of the local Labour people but I don't know what they intend to do on that last one. The candidates have interests in jitties, parents parking issues outside schools, playgrounds, litter, promotion of sports and arts groups, fuel poverty, alternative energy and working with the county council on plans for new old people's care facilities and library in Derwent Street. There is a distinct difference between the aspirations of the Labour candidates and the Tories.

Do I have any criticisms of Labour? I did wonder about Belper's floral splendor so I contacted one of the existing Labour Councillors who told me that the work of the paid council employees would not be changed in this regard and the partnership with local businesses would seek to maintain existing sponsorships of Belper in Bloom. I suspect that I have been somewhat easy on Labour but I did nail my colours to the mast so you can make your own judgement.

The Greens. I would have commented on the Greens but I have seen no leaflets. That is not a criticism.

I wish to thank the individual who supplied the council income and expenditure analysis and for permission to publish extracts on this blog.