Thursday, 31 May 2012

A little park avenue and a 'stick' bowler

This view never ceases to lift my spirits. I've seen it every few days for the past thirty-two years in all seasons. At this time of the year the pink blossom has gone and what you have is the beginnings of a corridor of green, which at its height will remind me of a Devon country lane. a simple enough pleasure and, yes, it could be any park, but it isn't. It's Lenton Recreation Ground and, for me at least, it makes it kind of special.

This little patch of overgrown grass is not the beginnings of a meadow, but has been left by Dave, our grounds-person, to allow the Daffodils to die back. As I took this pic, I was trying to catch a Blackbird which was leaping about in the long grass, no doubt chasing bugs of some kind. I rather like it. The trouble is that such features in the park get treated as large open litter bins and attract empty cans, bottles, chocolate bar wrappers and crisp packets — not that you would guess this from the pic. I like long grass in parts of the park, but I understand why Dave has to keep it short most of the year.

Finally, I've designed this little bowls symbol / logo to be printed A4 size to advertise West End Bowls and Social Club, who are based in Lenton Recreation Ground.  Obviously, I've pinched the idea from the way road signs are now designed, but otherwise my bowler is all my own work. A kind of stick man really. I got the idea looking a picture I took of one of the Club's members, Frank Campion…

… who, as you can see, has a great pose when bowling a wood and is a great advert for bowls as a healthy way to exercise all your joints and your grip as well. I simply drew my lines over this pic.  I also do the Club's blog / website and will be posting some pics later today of the some the local children who been coming along one evening a week for an hour of so and learning the art of playing bowls, so please go and have a look — you might like to come along yourself — we're always looking for new members!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Sun and fun in the park

I have posted some pics to the West End Bowlers blog today and took a few other pics in the park at the same time:

 Look at the  sky — not a cloud in sight and already far too hot for me to enjoy. I took this pic when I arrive just after 2pm and by the time I left ninety minutes later the park was beginning to heave and the 'Mr Whippy' ice cream van had arrived and was parked by the entrance opposite Holy Trinity Church.

As I was leaving the park I found Hannah and James dunking, but I have never seen a 'dunker' dressed like Hannah before. I tried getting a pic with the 'ball' (is that its correct name?) just leaving her hands, but it was all too quick for me — which, I hope, explains why her arms are raised in the air like this.

James, as you can see, is dressed quite differently to Hannah, but they made a happy couple and it was great to catch them having fun. They'll both in Lenton 'for a few years yet' as James is doing medics and Hannah nursing. I hope they enjoy their stay in Lenton.

Finally, a pic of one of our student neighbours, Rob, hard at work revising. I caught him sitting at the desk in his bedroom, which looks across to our 2nd floor. This is the other side of student life in Lenton I've not even mentioned before — actual studying and doing 'the donkey' work you need to do if you want to get your degree. He has a job to go to this summer after he gets his degree. I wish him well and hope that he takes good memories of Lenton with him. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bluebell heaven courtesy of a no.35

On 9 May, some close friends from Stoke-on-Trent came across to see Susan and me for the day and to take us out for an early birthday lunch of fish and chips plus a trip to Oldmoor Wood near  Strelley, on the edge of Nottingham.

Normally it's a trip we do on a no.35 Nottingham City Transport bus. I am in no doubt that it is the most interesting bus route in the city. The only sad thing is that the service is now operated by single deckers. Only occasionally do you see a double-decker. I have blogged about the woods before, but on this occasion I took none of the pics, Paul, Rosie and Susan should get the credit.

I think the pics speak for themselves and I really was that close to the Tree Creeper in the pic. I turned to look at a tree and there it was. We both froze and somehow Paul came up and got the pic before the bird flew off.  A really, really magic moment and as for the Bluebells, what can I say? I love them — and to think you can see all this less than fifteen minutes walk from getting off a no.35 bus, which begins its wandering journey from outside the city's Central Library on Angel Row, but first heads south-west down the Derby Road to Lenton, where I live, then along the southern edge of Wollaton Park, before turning north and hugging the city's western edge until it reaches Bulwell, where it terminates.

Along the way it passes through Nottingham's inner-city, then some of its better off suburbs before running through large tracts of inter-war council housing and all the way, every now and again, you catch glorious glimpses of historic buildings and little parks, but best of all, it takes you to Oldmoor Wood. Enjoy!

And as you leave the wood, this vision of the English countryside leaps out and the only thing which lets you know that this is not a Tuscany landscape in faraway Italy is the M1 motorway!  At first you hear the traffic all the time, but very quickly the sound fades and you are enveloped in the smell of wood and birdsong.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Nottingham's first mayoral might have been

Well, it's all over. Despite what the Nottingham Post and the elected mayor 'yes' campaign would like us to believe, how the city voted was not unexceptional in any way — we voted to stick with the present Devil we know rather than, lemming like, throw ourselves into the arms of the Coalition. We behaved like every other city taking part in the mayoral referendums with the exception of Bristol, which has been badly governed for years by a series of local coalitions.

For the Post to claim that the 'no' campaign was at a disadvantage because it had to begin from 'a standing start' is disingenuous. They could have called for a mayoral referendum years ago. The sadly deceased former Labour and Conservative city councillor Michael Cowan certainly considered organising a petition because he spoke to me at length on one occasion about what he wanted to do. There is page on the Nottingham City Council website which tells you how many electors you need to trigger a mayoral referendum. The Local Government Act 2000 obliges the Council to make this information available. All you have to do is to get 5% of city voters (10,302 at present) to support you and you can have your mayoral referendum.

I suspect that Michael saw me as an ally because I publicly supported his efforts to create an urban parish council in Wollaton in 2000. Even though he and his Wollaton supporters had all the signatures they needed to go ahead, they (wrongly) I believe bowed to pressure from Nottingham City Council (aka the Nottingham Labour Group) and agreed to a postal vote and were trounced with 82% of voters against a Wollaton Parish Council on a 60% turnout. Residents were subjected to a campaign of disinformation by the Labour Group which taught me that when you go up against them (and I have done so in the past) you have to choose your ground carefully.

I see it as no coincidence that the Nottingham Post reports today that the highest turnout in the Mayoral referendum was in Wollaton West (27%). It will be interesting to see any ward figures which may become available for the 'yes' and 'no' votes by wards.

For a host of reasons I saw Michael's proposal as a non-starter, not least that I believed then (and still do) that we need to empower local communities first so that they have some degree of protection from an elected mayor with strategic priorities. I say this because Lenton, where I live, suffers every day from the consequences of a City Council which puts the interests of big business, Nottingham University and itself before those of the people who live in Lenton, despite the best efforts of its Labour city councillors, who I know and happily work for. They are not the problem and what few victories local residents have had have come with their support.

The media has shown little interest in the matter, including The Guardian, who published a letter from me about these issues on 19 April 2012, which I  wrote in response to an article by their columnist Simon Jenkins accusing city councils like Nottingham of being run by 'mafias' and in support of elected in mayors in English cities. I said:

'We need to address the role of councillors in post-mayoral councils, yet we hear not a word. There is currently an ongoing consultation into 'The role of councillors as leaders of communities and neighbourhoods' by the Parliamentary Communities and Local Government Committee, which has gone unreported by The Guardian, nor has a single columnist mentioned it, yet to me and thousands of others it is how 'doorstep services' are delivered and controlled which matters most. There is an overwhelming case for electing more powerful councillors to represent single member wards able to innovate and control budgets. This is the debate I would like Simon Jenkins and others to take part in, but I can him now… 'boring, yawn yawn'.

And so it is to the media. The Nottingham Post is as guilty of short-termism as any politician. They have shown no interest in this issue nor the work of Nottingham North MP Graham Allen, whose Parliamentary Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is arguing strongly for the relationship between central and local government to be codified.

Michael Cowan's efforts came to nothing and was, perhaps, Nottingham's first mayoral might have been. It's now up to the pro-elected mayor lobby in Nottingham to plan a long game (which might lead to another referendum in, say, 2014), to take the lead in organising a Nottingham 'Democracy Commission' to come up with better governance proposals for the city (and other parts of the conurbation if they are interested) so that when the next referendum takes place (with the support of 5% of city oters) there will be a clear alternative to what is on offer at present.

To win next time the 'yes' campaign will have to win an extra 8% of the votes. Even if the turnout was double Thursday's, this would be fewer than an extra 8,000 votes. Get the balance right and I may well vote 'yes' next time. As I wrote to a Labour city councillor earlier this week: 

Ultimately, Labour's undoing in Nottingham will be its failure to give attention to the seemingly inconseqential issues. Every week I listen to the 'vox pop' of elderly bowlers and local historians. Frustration and a sense of powerlessness feed an unhealthy cynicism of local politics. As for Labour's active opponents I know and talk to, there is a bitterness creeping in that I have not heard before. I tell you this as a friend and lifelong Party member. You could hear it in the audience at the Post's mayoral debate in the Playhouse last night.

I look forward to the aftermath of Thursday's mayoral referendum with interest and in hope.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

An invitation for 12 May 2012

In the last week or so, all this has come together. The leaflets have been printed and distributed. Plus some posters. Small scale compared to some of our historic efforts in the past, but it still promises to be a fun day. Come along if you can…

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Nottingham Post elected Mayor debate and other distractions

I went along last night to the Nottingham Playhouse and listened, along with about 200 other people, to what the 'yes' and 'no' protagonists had to say for themselves. The report is the Post today was fair and, if anything, surprisingly bland. I made my own notes and offer my own take on what was said and what I thought of the four speakers.

To deal with the latter first. I felt the 'yes' speakers performed better than the 'no' speakers and I particularly warmed to Issan Ghazni, Chairman of Nottingham Liberal Democrats. Graham Chapman coped well with periodic outbursts of frustration from 'yes' supporters in the audience who, thanks to a good chairman in the shape of Charles Walker from the Nottingham Post, never got out of hand. Mick Newton from the Nottingham 'Yes' Campaign seemed overwhelmed and hesitant at times. Tony Eggington, the present elected Mayor of Mansfield was on the stage in the absence of a comparable Nottingham politician willing to speak in support of the 'yes' argument (why else bring an outsider into what is, essentially, a city matter?). Eggington has all the bearing of someone used to being the centre of attention and was the first to turn on another member of the panel.

I think it fair to say the arguments were well rehearsed and little new was said, although I did leave thinking the Post had been given their headline from a heated exchange between a businessman in the audience and Chapman. In fact they went with a very tame headline in the Kindle edition and on their website: 'Complex issues in debate behind the simple Yes and No'. All I intend to add is what caught my attention during the debate.

to be continued later... as I now have to go and do dinner.

In the meantime, some pics from the park on this very wet and cold 1st May, which I took at about 5pm when I went to lock up the toilets and park pavilion.

A lone runner blurred by the rain which was lashing my camera in an otherwise deserted Lenton Recreation Ground…

…except for the tail enders in the pavilion who had been working on part of a huge inflatable artwork in the company of other local residents. Kim and Emily, who work for Nottingham based Architects of Air, which was founded in 1981, hold part of the work aloft against the backdrop of a paper template. I just had time to snap this pic as they were packing things away at the end of a busy afternoon. The completed structure, called a 'luminarium', will be in nearby Highfields Park, 2–10 June, as part of an event being organised by the Lakeside Arts Centre.

Now, back to the mayoral debate last night. The main argument of the 'yes' campaign was succinctly summed up by Mick Newton: 'Having  and elected mayor primarily gives the right to choose who leads Nottingham to voters — not a group councillors'.  Issan Ghazni immediately made the point that having an elected mayor would impact on an area greater than just the city; that city councillors would lose their powers and we have no idea as to what powers the new mayor will have.

Sometime was spent arguing over 'no' campaign claims that an elected mayor will cost Nottingham £1million over a number of years and, in fairness to Mick Newton, I thought he did have a point when he said 'The 'no' campaign has sensationalised the cost of a mayor and (had) pulled the £1million cost out of thin air because it made a good headline'. Even if they did, it remains a good argument and anyone watching the regional East Midlands TV news will have heard and seen all the arguments about the cost of their elected mayor and his deputies. Eggington, however, claimed that 'The cost of a mayor in Mansfield in 2012 is actually cheaper than the cost of a council leader and cabinet ten years ago.

When you elect a mayor you get one person who then picks a number of paid helpers. With councillors you get a team who choose a leader and a pool of colleagues to work with that person.

Chapman referred to his professional experience of working with elected mayors who had been less than successful in a string of English towns and cities. He named North Tyneside, Hartlepool, Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent and Torbay. He made the point that Nottingham 'punches above its weight' in terms of attracting inward investment and that this had been achieved under the present system.

Eggington told the audience that 'The role of Chapman in Mansfield has been to disrupt the working of the Council' and added that 'the mayors who failed in Doncaster and Stoke were Labour mayors'. As Chapman pointed out this was not true — one was an English Democrat and the other an Independent.

Issan Ghazni made a telling observation when he said 'We're sleep walking into a crisis… The London mayoral model is very different (it covers all the London Boroughs) and comes with a  assembly to scrutinise the work (and policies) of the mayor'. He added that in Japan such assemblies could dismiss mayors, but if they did this they would trigger not just an election for a new mayor, but a new assembly as well'.

Charles Walker, the debate's chairman, referred to the fact that when the Nottingham Post went out and about on Monday asking people what they thought, the question of Nottingham's boundary came up more than once and asked the panel for their views. Newton was in favour of extending the city's boundaries, as was Ghazni, who added that 'This is why this is the wrong time to be electing a mayor'. Eggington took the view that boundaries should not restrict a mayor from doing his job, whilst Chapman said 'I cannot see the outer areas agreeing (to a Greater Nottingham)… It's not really an issue as we already work well with the County and meeting regularly with Derby and Leicester city councils'.

At about this point an irate 'businessman' (his own description) in the audience stood up and shouted that Chapman had told a meeting of city business leaders recently that when meeting other European city leaders he had described himself as 'a mayor', at which point the 'no' members of the audience howled at Chapman in derision.  Chapman, over the din, admitted that that was what had been said and that he had also explained why. Put simply, most European cities have mayors with similar powers to leading councillors in Nottingham, but they find it difficult to comprehend the way we work.

It was this outburst and exchange which I expected to see turned into a headline by the Nottingham Post, but they chose to ignore it in their press report*.   As it happens I fully understood why Chapman and his colleagues used the analogy with a mayor. During my time as a councillor, albeit a long time ago, I chaired two regional authorities for a good few years and found myself on more than one occasion being whisked through customs, into a waiting Mercedes with police out-riders and given five-star treatment. I have sat in the royal box at La Scala, Milan, and have the audience rise to applaud me and my wife as we entered. I spent an idyllic few days in Norway and Sweden, travelling between the two countries in a private railway carriage fit for a king and all because on every occasion my hosts in these countries thought that I was a 'regional minister'. The failure of Chapman's critic to understand how and why the situation he so deplored came about simply revealed his ignorance and Chapman's pragmatism.

Towards the end there was a discussion about how the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns were being funded. Mick Newton simply blustered a few feeble words about how their campaign was funded by 'private donors', all from Nottingham and he had to respect their privacy — this coming from the person who attacked the City Council for not publishing details of all items of expenditure over £500 was a less than satisfactory response.

Chapman said that the 'no' campaign was being paid for by Labour city councillors, who contribute c10% of their allowances to the Party. If only I had had such a chance when I was on Birmingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council. I would have paid gladly.

Then it all came to an end with each speaker having a final minute to speak. Nothing new was said and the debated ended at 7.15pm. I'm glad I went.

Come Friday we'll know the outcome of it all, but somehow I feel as if this is the beginning of change in Nottingham. The governance of our great city is an issue which needs attention and debate. 

Ultimately, Labour's undoing in Nottingham will be its failure to give attention to the seemingly inconseqential issues. Every week I listen to the 'vox pop' of elderly bowlers and local historians. Frustration and a sense of powerlessness feed an unhealthy cynicism of local politics. As for Labour's active opponents I know and talk to, there is a bitterness creeping in that I have not heard before. I say this as a lifelong Party member. You could hear it in the audience at the Post's mayoral debate in the Playhouse last night.

*FOOTNOTE: The Nottingham Post used the story on 2 May 2012 (the eve of the mayoral referendum) and said 'Mr Chapman's comments prompted laughter in the audience of up to 200 people'. Not my interpretation — I don't think his opponents in the audience thought his remarks funny at all. 

International news today:
Russian police have arrested 17 gay rights activists at a May Day rally in St Petersburg. Members of the group were detained while trying to unfurl rainbow flags at a rally organised by opposition groups, activists said. Police said they were to be charged with failing to co-operate with officers.

National news today: 
Rupert Murdoch is "not a fit person" to exercise stewardship of a major international company, a committee of MPs has concluded, in a report highly critical of the mogul and his son James's role in the News of the World phone-hacking affair.

More than 4,500 pupils were off school again yesterday as members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) went on strike for the third time over the city council's plan for a five-term year.