This week with Brian 20 to 27 June 2024

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Your Local Area

Including scrabbling around, cold feet, goal difference, place your bets, presidential manners, project fear, three main motivators, happy witnesses, second sight at first hand, not too expensive, a possible landmark, £12,000 tickets, a hefty fine, solstice babies, fulminations, no longer endangered, a noisy letter, hours of daylight, breaking into my car and pump it up.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

The election campaign continues to meander along with nothing much in the way of excitement. The leaders of the two main parties are probably incapable of generating excitement except through mishap, nothing having so far matched Sunak’s undignified D-Day retreat. There have been quite a few stories of candidates’ pasts coming back to haunt them, something that’s probably due in equal part to social-media scrutiny and the surprising timing of the election which left many local parties scrabbling around for candidates who were probably poorly vetted, or not vetted at all. Two things apply to pretty much all politicians: they can’t stop talking (or tweeting) and they’re adapt at pretending to be what whoever they’re talking to (which includes selection panels) wants them to be.

[more below]

• Cold feet

There have also been some cases of cold feet: one candidate in a constituency very near here has recently decided that they don’t enjoy political debate, which seems a fairly serious obstacle. Many others will soon realise that the life is not for them, or their parties will make that decision for them.

Whatever the reason, no candidate can now be removed from the ballot paper or have their details changed. They will thus live on until 4 July like blood stains on a carpet, a reminder for the parties  – and for them – that though one can decide in haste, one might also need to repent at leisure.

Some Conservatives seem to have given up, with many admitting that things could be as hopeless as the polls increasingly suggest. Some even predict that the PM would lose his seat, something that I don’t think has happened in living memory. Bloomburg reports (at least it does on the first few lines, which is all I can get without paying) that the party is pulling resources out of many seats which it now longer regards as winnable to concentrate on shoring up its heartland, whatever that is now.

Several senior Conservatives have also been withdrawing to an unexpected defensive position, that of seemingly accepting a defeat but warning against the consequences of this being too severe – as if worrying about the goal difference or net run rate, the result now being accepted – or of letting Reform UK get any power at all (this last obsession is odd, as in recent weeks Sunak seems to have been doing all he can to make the Conservatives indistinguishable from Reform). This is certainly an unusual way of fighting a campaign, though if the polls are to be believed it’s probably a realistic one.

Moving away from the candidates, one thing that must have seemed like a very good idea at the time was for one of the PM’s protection team to place a bet on the timing of the election. No blame can attach to Sunak – one presumes he wasn’t so daft as to discuss his options with the officer – but you’ve got to question whether someone who was so desperate for a quick buck or an adrenaline rush is in the right job as a security officer. In fact, a candidate (and her husband, who works for the party’s HQ), has been accused of the same thing. Meanwhile, one of the Tory Party’s largest donors in the past, John Caudwell, has announced that he’ll be voting Labour this time, describing Sunak as “an absolute dud.” BoJo, meanwhile, is sulking in his tent.

As for poor old Sunak, he’s been forced to fight a presidential-style campaign, which translates in this case as doing it on his own because all his cabinet colleagues have either stood down, lost heart or are more concerned with fighting for their own seats. For this role he is wholly unsuited in every possible way. The way to conduct a presidential campaign is, as Trump is showing, by spouting divisive conspiracy theories and fighting numerous court cases based on historic charges including tax evasion and sexual malpractice. This is not Sunak’s style: which invites the question “what is?”

• Project fear

“The world is growing more uncertain by the day. We’re still living with the after-effects of a global pandemic. The world is in the midst of two wars, one in Ukraine and one in the Middle East. We’ve been hit by cyber attacks by foreign actors.”

Jeepers-creepers, what’s this? The trailer for a new apocalyptic blockbuster? The blurb for a Robert Ludlum novel? No, it’s from a leaflet disguised as a newspaper called Your Family – a special edition, no less – with an eye-catching red masthead.

It was produced by one of the main parties (perhaps not the one the colour might suggest) but as regards its headline, could as easily have come from the pensmiths of the other. We have a plan: the other lot don’t. If you don’t want to be murdered in your beds by gangs of drug-crazed paedophile Russian cyber-warriors then we can save you. We use “secure” and “future” a lot in our message – so, which ever party we are, cast your vote for us. If not, ultimate darkness awaits us all. You Have Been Warned.

Other human motivations like love, hope and altruism exist but my observation of human history suggests that there are three main motivators for pretty much everything we do – greed, fear and lust. The last of these is inadmissible in an election but the other two are present all the time – we can make you richer and the other lot will kill you is the reductio ad absurdum of most campaigns. The idea that politicians or elections can make the world a better, or less bad, place just doesn’t feature. The more fear there is, the weaker the positive arguments in favour of that party. We’re seeing a lot of fear-mongering at present, more of the same or something new both being presented as disasters.

This is hardly surprising as the the two main parties seem obsessed with being as identical to each other as possible. As mentioned before, Reform is well catered-for by having the Conservatives happy to adopt much on its agenda. The left is a bit of vacuum: with little chance of more than ten percent of the seats, media attention is elsewhere. The electoral system doesn’t help.

• At last

The Post Office Inquiry took a very different turn this week. Most of the previous witnesses would have paid huge sums to have been excused and most conducted themselves accordingly. This week, for the first time since Alan Bates (sorry, Sir Alan Bates) was called, there were two people who really wanted to be there.

These were Ian Henderson and Rod Warmington of Second Sight, the accountants who had been called in by the Post Office in 2012 to investigate problems with the Horizon system but who were sacked in 2015. Their testimony earlier this week was both shocking and, given what we’ve heard before, not that surprising. They laid bare a culture of obfuscation, delay and non-disclosure which, they suggested, amounted to criminal behaviour. Names were named as to whom had been particularly at fault in their view. Trenchant criticisms were made about the accounting practices at the Post Office and about the way that those who had been convicted had been excluded from the mediation scheme which they described as “a sham”.

It was delightful after having listened to some of the other witnesses, including the hapless Jarnail Singh, Angela van den Bogerd and Roderic Williams – who was foolish enough to try to engage in a stammering semantic argument about the meaning of “strategy” with chief counsel Jason Beer – to see two people who not only knew what they were talking about but also seemed to be telling the truth.

Rod Warmington said on entering the building that they had “waited twelve years” for this moment. He and his colleague proceeded to enjoy it, even to the extent of cracking jokes from time to time. Compelling though the Inquiry has in many ways been, humour has been thin on the ground. The inquisitors also seemed to enjoy the rare sensation of questioning people who were not hostile, incompetent or reluctant witnesses.

Both had regrets, however. The relationship between the Post Office and Second Sight – the former having paid for and instructed the latter – created conflicts of interest that seem obvious now and which Warrington and Henderson both now wish had been otherwise. As with so many things, one realises these things too late. None the less, Second Sight’s work provided a major way forward in the investigation as it was able to witness first hand the unedifying sight of the Post Office in action at this crucial time.

It’s worth once again reflecting on how lucky we are here that such an investigation should be happening at at all and that we and numerous others are able freely to comment on it. Better that it should all not have happened: but in some ways better still that, finally, we can see the wheels of justice turning in the right direction. This should neither be under-estimated not taken for granted.

• Too expensive?

Anyone reading one of the letters in a local paper this week will have been told that, even if we did manage to get our power from renewable sources, it’s not worth it because the resulting electricity will be far too expensive.

Other points of view exist, including that suggested in the most recent East Garston Eco Group newsletter. This suggests that many economists say it is now cheaper to save the world than to destroy it.

  • Climate change costs 1.1% of UK GDP and may increase to 3.3% by 2050 according to the London School of Economics.
  • Net zero will cost less than 1% of UK’s GDP according to the Climate Change Committee.
  • Globally, climate change is already costing more than $7 trillion a year in subsidies and damages, which is about 8% of global GDP, according to the World Bank.
  • By 2100, the destabilisation of our planet’s carbon cycle and its effects on climate and nature will result in 83 million early deaths, 2 billion (1 in 5) people displaced and 1 in 10 animals extinct according to the United Nations.

These are all sources to take seriously. Other benefits will include cleaner air, more jobs in green industries and savings for the NHS.

 • And finally…

The BBC reports that the Supreme Court has ruled a local council should have considered the full climate impact of burning oil from new wells, a landmark decision which could put future UK oil and gas projects in question. “Under planning law the assumption has always been that only the impacts from constructing the wells and not the use of the final oil products should be considered.” The case was brought against Surrey County Council by Sarah Finch and could threaten new UK fossil fuels projects.

• If you’re stuck for something to do this evening you could try rocking up to the Hurlingham Club in Fulham where the Conservative Party is hosting its summer gala. The tickets are a snip at a mere £12,000 a table. Looks like the cost of living crisis if over, for some at least.

• A few years ago, few would have known the name of any sub-postmasters, perhaps not even their local one. Now people like Lee Castleton, Seema Misra and Alan Bates have become almost household names. This is not, however, a sufficient reason for an organisation to release all their details on its website, which is what the Post Office recently did. GDPR fines can be quite steep. I wonder if the government will get its hands on whatever the fine proves to be before the poor postmasters themselves have been recompensed?

• Today (20 June) is the summer solstice which means that there will be a lot of daylight: just how much is the subject of our quiz question of the week (see below). Other things that happened on this day included the births of Nicole Kidman, Errol Flynn, John-Marie Le Pen and Chet Atkins, the incarceration of a British garrison in what became known as the Black Hole of Calcutta, the release of the first Jaws film, the decision to move Germany”s capital from Bonn back to Berlin and the foundation of Wikipedia – a mixed day, all in all much like all the others.

• Aside from Captain Haddock in the Tintin books, few people can fulminate as noisily as the leader writers of the Mail and the Express when they sense a moral crusade. Today their rage was directed at the “pathetic eco zealots” and “eco clowns” (Just Stop Oil) who threw some orange powder paint over parts of Stonehenge. “Just lock them up,” the Express thundered. One might argue that it’s at least using Stonehenge for a relevant purpose for the first time since when it served as a rather clunky calendar. I rather suspect that the stones, which have been around for even longer that Keith Richards or Rupert Murdoch, will probably survive the experience. Just Stop Oil’s point is that, the way things are going, the human race may not be so lucky…

Across the area

• The CIL customer journey

Earlier this year, West Berkshire Council announced plans for a review aimed at improving the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) customer journey. As we have been reporting regularly for the last four years, for many the journey has been exceedingly bumpy – cast your mind back to the levels of customer service and communications to be found on British Rail in the 1970s and multiply it by about ten and you’ll get the idea.

“CIL is a legislative charge requiring developers to make payments towards infrastructure needs created by new development,” a statement from West Berkshire Council explains. “While self-builders, residential annexes, and home extensions may be exempt from CIL payments, they must first complete the necessary paperwork for formal exemption. Incorrectly completed paperwork resulted in some householders being liable for CIL charges and subsequent enforcement action.

“We’re pleased to announce that applications are now open for the new CIL Householder Review Scheme and householders who have been affected can now complete the necessary paperwork here. You will also find information on the eligibility criteria and how applications will be assessed on that page.

“If you have any questions or difficulty completing the form, please email: cilreview@westberks.gov.uk for assistance.”

• Election details

The following information was supplied by West Berkshire Council. However, much of this refers to national laws and so is equally applicable wherever you live.

The deadlines for registering to vote and for applying for postal votes have now passed.

This will be the first general election where voters are required to show photo ID. Information on accepted forms of photo ID can be found on the Electoral Commission website where you can also apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate if you don’t have another acceptable document to show.

It will also be the first time residents elect Members of Parliament for the new constituencies of Newbury, and Reading West and Mid Berkshire. We’ll be administering the elections for both constituencies.

Your polling station may have changed since you last voted so please check the venue on your polling card or check it online nearer to polling day.

  • Applications for Voter Authority Certificates must be received by Wednesday 26 June at 5pm.
  • Applications for proxy votes must be received by Wednesday 26 June at 5pm.
  • Polling stations will be open on Thursday 4 July from 7am to 10pm.

Click here for an article in which we talk to Nigel Lynn, West Berkshire Council’s CEO, about the duties, responsibilities and headaches of being a Returning Officer, a job he’w fulfilling for both the Newbury and the Reading West and Mid Berkshire constituencies.

• Residents’ news

Click here for the latest Residents’ Bulletin from West Berkshire Council.

News from your local councils

Most of the councils in the area we cover are single-tier with one municipal authority. The arrangements in Oxfordshire are different, with a County Council which is sub-divided into six district councils, of which the Vale of White Horse is one. In these two-tier authorities, the county and district have different responsibilities. In all cases, parish and town councils provide the first and most immediately accessible tier of local government.

West Berkshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to sign up to all or any of the wide range of  newsletters produced by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to see the latest West Berkshire Council Residents’ Bulletin (generally produced every week).

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Vale of White Horse Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by the Vale Council.

Click here for latest news from the Vale Council.

Click here for the South and Vale Business Support Newsletter archive (newsletters are generally produced each week).

Click here to sign up to any of the newsletters produced by the Vale’s parent authority, Oxfordshire County Council.

Wiltshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.

Click here for the latest news from Wiltshire Council.

Swindon Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Swindon Council.

Click here for the latest news from Swindon Council.

Parish and town councils

• Please see the News from your local council section in the respective weekly news columns (these also contain a wide range of other news stories and information on activities, events and local appeals and campaigns): Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

• Other news

Click here for details of the orchard campaign, launched last year by Veoilia and West Berkshire Council.

• A motion presented in March to give people who’ve been in care greater protection was approved at a meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Executive on 23 May.

• West Berkshire Council has announced that Stagecoach is adding more bus journeys to the route connecting Newbury and Basingstoke. Service 32, formerly known as The Link, will now operate on Sundays/bank holidays for the first time, with extended evening hours Monday to Saturday, and additional peak time options on weekdays.

• West Berkshire Council has been rated as “Good” for its performance in ensuring people have access to adult social care and support following a recent assessment by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Click here for a statement from West Berkshire Council concerning its recent peer review.

• West Berkshire Council is continuing to assist the local community through the Household Support Fund until autumn 2024. The funding “aims to support households who would otherwise struggle to meet essential housing costs to help them with living costs.” Read more here.

• The examination of West Berkshire Council’s local plan is now under way. Click here for more information about this including (in annexe A) the day-by-day timetable. You can also click here to see the recordings of the sessions (these were briefly unavailable earlier this week but I’m now assured that these have returned and will remain).

The animal of the week is the striking Iberian lynx which after a surge in numbers has been downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. I’m glad our cats down’t have ears like that: they’d completely spook me out.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• And here’s my vote for the Song of the Week. Most of Elvis Costello’s songs are pretty brill and most are also clever and intricate, musically and lyrically. Nothing that musically intricate about Pump it Up, however: and none the worse for that.

• And now for the Comedy Moment of the Week. With the election in mind, here’s Stephen Fry explaining what the government means by “decent, civilised behaviour” – Don’t Break into my Car.

• And finally, for the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: The summer solstice takes place on 20 June. How many hours daylight will there be in London on that day? Last week’s question was: What is the only letter in English that is never silent? Step forward the letter V, which always says its name.

For weekly news sections for Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area  please click on the appropriate link

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