Friday, 23 December 2011

MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY!

Things are getting decidedly un-festive on the blogs lately. Hearing talk of legal advice being sought by someone due to a comment made on 'Ville Views has troubled me considerably. It's hardly an example of peace and goodwill to all men, is it? For that reason, here's a little bit of light relief:



Merry Christmas everybody! And yes, that is my son. His name is Reece, in case you'd forgotten. He's nearly 6 months old now and, as you can see, he seems to be quite enjoying the festive season. I got him a lump of coal for Christmas. I hope he likes it. Still, it could have been worse... it could've been an orange

Anyway, I'll be back blogging in a few days time. Try not to eat too much turkey everyone. Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to offend the vegetarians by that last comment. I'm equally tolerant towards those who eat nut roasts too. Anyway, hope you all have a good one. Peace and love. xxx

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

MARY PORTAS WAVES WHITE FLAG TO TESCO

I see that Mary Portas has been doing some more PR legwork for the government and has waved the white flag of surrender by saying that supermarkets should be forced to build in town centres. I imagine that the residents of Arlington House who are campaigning against plans to build a Tesco superstore on their doorstep will be beside themselves with annoyance.

Mary Portas did have some kind words to say about Margate Old Town, and admittedly there are a handful of constructive suggestions in her report, but the suggestion that High Streets will be reinvigorated by forcing the likes of Tesco to build more stores in town centres and discouraging out-of-town hubs is pure lunacy. Does the report make mention of the fact that a Parliamentary briefing paper from last month called Supermarkets: Competition Enquiries into the Groceries Market acknowledged that “many critics have argued that the supermarkets have exploited their dominant market position in a way that is contrary to the public interest”?

Is it so hard for people to see that giving supermarkets and chain stores the nod to set up stall in our town centres like Mary Portas suggests may end up further crushing local competition and will have a negative impact on small businesses and independent traders? Here was me thinking part of the problem with High Streets was the rise of Clone Town Britain where, as the New Economics Foundation states, “real local shops have been replaced by swathes of identikit chain stores that seem to spread like economic weeds, making high streets up and down the country virtually indistinguishable from one another.” Does Mary Portas not see anything inherently wrong with this? Clearly not.

Then again, maybe it's got something to do with the fact that Mary Portas had a small role to play in the downfall of the British High Street given her track record with chain stores such as Oasis, Clarks and Louis Vuitton in helping with the development of Westfield Shopping Centre. “Not only is Portas promoting the very clone stores she's supposed to be preventing,” said PR blogger Simon Francis, “she's a champion of the shopping centres which are destroying the high streets.” So, Mary Portas has worked on behalf of big shopping centres and chain stores in the past, and now she's calling for us to roll over and let big supermarkets tickle our bellies? Funny thing that.

Something that bugs me is the suggestion that it is only Labour Party supporters who oppose or have antipathy towards the development of a Tesco superstore near Arlington House. Sure, it's a safe bet that the allure of private sector expansionism and the promise of more jobs is tempting enough to make a Conservative Party member drool and give Tesco the thumbs-up. But what is it that makes people think that those on the Right won't oppose such plans made by Tesco? Is it really only those on the Left who sway towards being anti-corporate and willing to challenge supermarket chains?

Let's remember for a moment that the Conservative Party contains many right-wing libertarians. Traditionally, they're the ones who are likely to champion the private sector by calling for a smaller state and demanding more privatisation and less government intervention. The late ex-Trotskyist Christopher Hitchens who died recently of oesophageal cancer once said: “I find libertarians more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation.” So, tell me this, what is it about the power of the state which so repulses these libertarians, but when it comes the power of Tesco, they remain strangely silent?

Is there anyone on the Right who opposes the runaway expansion of corporate monopolies like the big four supermarket chains? After all, since most corporations are only accountable to shareholders, you'd think that if right-wingers value the concept of democracy they'd be willing to challenge the status quo, but alas, there seems to be few who are willing to poke their heads above the parapet. Funnily enough, however, as I was searching, I found this quote:

“All corporatism - even when practised in societies where hard work, enterprise and cooperation are as highly valued as in Korea - encourages inflexibility, discourages individual accountability, and risks magnifying errors by concealing them.”
Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, pg. 121

Yes, that's right – Maggie Thatcher. It seems that old Madge – icon of free market fundamentalists and right-wing libertarians alike – wasn't particularly enamoured with corporatism. Obviously, I have no idea how she feels about the rise of this particular cabal of supermarket chains we call the 'Big Four', but surely her words suggest that being sceptical about corporate power is not wholly the domain of the Left? So why is it only Labour Party supporters who get lumped into the anti-corporate box? Why aren't Conservative Party supporters equally capable of seeing how the disproportionate power of supermarkets unjustly distorts the market in a way which undermines local entrepreneurship? Is that so much to ask?

Monday, 12 December 2011

ANARCHY IN ARLINGTON

Ever heard of local author and cult novelist Terry Finch? Nope, me neither. Apparently, according to this website, Terry Finch wrote a series of pulp paperbacks in the late 1970s called The Reprisalizer, beginning with 'The Fury': “a tough, uncompromising tale of gangland violence and ruthless retribution on the streets of Margate.”

In the books, The Reprisalizer was the pseudonym embraced by its main protagonist Bob Shuter, a man seeking revenge for the electrification of his twin brother's testicles, who sets about “blasting Thanet's underworld apart in a hail of .38 slugs” and becoming “a vigilante whose war of vengeance is brutal." Sounds rather like your average Friday night out in Escape, doesn't it?

Anyway, I stumbled across this fansite dedicated to Terry Finch's work, and noticed that Arlington House features quite prominently on a particular section of the site. When I asked the site's administrator if Arlington House really was the inspiration for some of the artwork, I got an email from Frank Barrow, President of The Terry Finch Appreciation Society, who said the following:

“It is indeed Arlington House in Margate. Terry actually used to live there in the mid '70s and set quite a few of his novelettes in and around the building – the most famous ones, of course, being 'Anarchy in Arlington' and its sequel 'Arlington Apocalypse' – two of Terry's key police siege stories.”

Wow, how excellent is that?! I can't wait until the eBooks are made available! Word has it that a film adaptation of The Reprisalizer is currently in the works by writer and director Matthew Holness, the man behind spoof Channel 4 TV show Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, with shooting expected to begin next yearOne might even speculate that the creation of this fansite is no mere coincidence...

Wait a minute – isn't that the same Matthew Holness who upon winning a Perrier Comedy Award for his portrayal of the fictitious pulp horror novelist Garth Marenghi famously refused to speak out of character? The same Matthew Holness who has previously been known to embrace a literary technique called false document to add a layer of mystery and intrigue around his comic creations, blurring the line between fact and fiction?

Hmm... Garth Marenghi... Terry Finch... Has the penny dropped yet? Well, you never know, if we're lucky, we might actually get to see what Arlington House looks like on the big screen when The Reprisalizer hits our local cinemas in summer 2013. That's if Tesco don't interfere, of course.

In the meantime, of course, as Frank Barrow said to me: “Here's to Finch, Thanet and preserving Brutalist architecture throughout Kent!” And who could argue with that?!

Please make sure you visit The Reprisalizer website... and prepare to be amazed!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

CLIVE HART WILL GO ON

In the words of Celine Dion: Near, far, wherever you are, Clive Hart will go on... to become leader of Thanet District Council. This surprise result in tonight's council meeting comes after the Thanet Labour Group put forward a motion to remove Tory Bob Bayford as Leader of the Council last week following John Worrow's resignation from the Conservative Party. 

The result pretty much rested on which way the four Independent candidates would vote and, as it happened, Labour's Clive Hart got 28 votes (garnering votes from Independents Jack Cohen and ex-Tory John Worrow) and Bob Bayford got 26 (with one vote from Independent Bob Grove), with one absention (from Tom King), so that officially means our council has a new leader. It's a result I certainly wasn't expecting.

It's worth remembering that the timing of Clive Hart's arrival as new Leader of Thanet District Council is quite unprecedented. I believe that Thanet is now one of the only councils in Kent to be controlled – albeit in part (I assume in coalition with the Independents) – by a local Labour Party, breaking from the true blue hegemony we've become accustomed to since last year's local election results. I'll be the first to say that it would've been nicer if Labour had took control in a fashion that wasn't comparable to a coup d'etat (i.e. being decided definitively at the ballot box instead). Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see how much of a difference this makes to local politics.

As you can tell, I was present at the council meeting to witness proceedings. It felt a bit like I was sitting on bloggers row, as I had the chance to watch the decision unfold sitting alongside 'Ville Views blogger James Maskell and Tony Flaig of Big News Margate. I didn't know what Michael Child looks like, but I assume he was there, as I notice he has already posted a blog entry about Clive Hart being declared the new leader. Tony's piped up about it too. I guess I'm just a bit slower on the uptake than they are.

Anyway, I'm sure there will be plenty more to discuss about this momentous decision in due course. Until then, as far as district councils go, it looks like Kent is no longer a true blue county. How does everybody feel about that?

NOTE: The other Labour-controlled council in Kent is, of course, Gravesham Council, which makes Thanet Council the second local authority to go red.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

WHAT SORT OF ARSE IS LOYAL TO TESCO?

I've just finished reading Big Babies Or: Why Can't We Just Grow Up by Michael Bywater, a witty but barbed indictment of 'the infantilisation of Western culture.' He argued on this New Statesman article that the Baby Boomer generation is guilty of being "greedy, trivial, venal, cosseted" and wrote in the Telegraph that we are "patronised, spoon-fed, our responses pre-empted and our autonomy eroded with a fine, rich, heavily funded contempt." The reason I thought I'd mention it is I couldn't help but think of local plans to build a Tesco superstore near Arlington House when I read a passage in the book in which Bywater writes about Tesco 'bespoiling another town' and jesting that:

"Store chains offer 'loyalty' cards, as though a giant corporation run by megalomaniacs is worthy of 'loyalty' (merciful heavens, what sort of arse is loyal to Tesco?)."

Quite right. My 'loyalty' was certainly tested when the Arlington House blog reported that an 'independent' heritage report commissioned by TDC on the upgraded listing of the Scenic Railway was authored by Dr Chris Miele, a partner in the legal firm Montagu Evans, which lists Tesco Stores as one of their main clients. Unsurprisingly, given the 'independent' nature of the report, it concluded that the Scenic Railway would not be affected by building a Tesco superstore. I wonder what helped Dr Chris Miele reach that conclusion? Oh well, never mind, just think how pretty the seafront will look with a giant Tesco staring back at us, eh? 

Anyway, why is it that Tesco deserve our loyalty? Is merely offering us cheap food and the promise of 'more jobs' an honest way to win over hearts and minds, or is it just a confidence trick? If you ask me, the expansion of big corporate behemoths like many UK supermarkets bear much resemblance to the growth of Attila the Hun's Huhnic Empire, invading all walks of life until we are forced to submit to their ubiquity. And let's face it, if the Huns turned up on your doorstep and set up a military outpost in your front garden, would you welcome them? I doubt it. For that reason, I see the "Big Four" supermarkets as being no different to the Empire builders of old. A good bit of Celtish resistance is healthy.

Don't get me wrong, supermarkets do have their place in society, but it sure as hell shouldn't be slap bang on the seafront, in the hope that it's the first thing tourists see the moment they arrive at Margate train station. What sort of postcard for the town is that? And another thing, don't Tesco have enough bloody supermarkets on our doorstep anyway? They already have a big one in the heart of Thanet - at Westwood Cross - not to mention the little Metro in Cliftonville and the small ones in Ramsgate and Broadstairs. Why build more? This isn't a case of business expansionism, it's an incursion, and it'll only make local businesses on the seafront suffer, from Margate's shops all the way along to those in Westbrook and Westgate. And they expect us to be loyal?!

Anyway, I recommend you buy Michael Bywater's book. What could easily have been a one-sided nanny state diatribe makes some very thought-provoking points about how a mixture of needless government policy-making; a PC brigade which often borders on the absurd; obsession with fashion, celebrity and consumerism; a belittling PR industry spin machine which mollycoddles and hoodwinks the public into herd-like conformity; and the condescending nature of mass media advertising have led to an absurd state of affairs in which grown adults take permanent flights from maturity and expect to be treated like Big Babies. I think it's about time we all grew up, don't you?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

DOLE-BY-THE-SEA PART II: THE SEQUEL?

The Guardian have published a nightmarish vision of the future inspired by George Osborne's austerity measures in which Margate gets a brief mention. It predicts:

"The housing benefit reforms of 2012 and 2013 had swept tens of thousands of lower income families out of inner London, to the fringes of the capital and beyond to Margate, Hastings, Milton Keynes and Luton."

Lovely... so Margate will return to being a 'dole-by-the-sea' resort for dumping benefit claimants and low income families, will it? Surely that risks derailing a lot of the great effort being done to regenerate our area and will bring us right back to square one. Even BBC Newsnight recently claimed Thanet will be among the 20 most-affected areas likely to be hit by spending cuts, so this prediction appears to be fitting a pattern of doomsaying. I hope it can be avoided.

Sadly, however, I remember reading a piece on Inside Housing in which David Farmer, Thanet Council's head of housing regeneration, admitted that historically tenants in Cliftonville have been “bussed into Margate by London boroughs as we have landlords who will house them” and that he feared cuts in housing benefit across the south east will only increase their number. “We are aware of it,” he said, “and we are worried.”

Oh well... at least they'll have a nice art gallery to look at...

Monday, 5 December 2011

THANET GAZETTE ON THE VERGE OF A MERGER?

The Isle of Thanet Gazette could very well be sailing into choppy waters, if UK regional journalism news website HoldtheFrontPage is to be believed. In an article published last week, it claims plans may be afoot to merge the Isle of Thanet Gazette and its sister paper, the Thanet Times, with the Canterbury Times, the Faversham Times and the Herne Bay & Whitstable Times.

Could that mean our beloved local newspaper will be subsumed into a cross-regional North East Kent rag? If so, I feel this occurrence could potentially have calamitous consequences for grassroots local news reporting in our area. John Nurden, Editor at Kent Regional News and Media, didn't seem pleased with the news either, tweeting about the merger by saying: "The words fire and frying pan come to mind."

You may remember the blog article I wrote a few months ago in which I stated my opposition to Kent Messenger Group's attempt to buy several Northcliffe Media newspapers, of which the Isle of Thanet Gazette was one. In the end, KM pulled out of the deal in October after it was referred to a full Competition Commission inquiry. As Roy Greenslade has stated: “The companies decided they could not afford, in terms of either money or time, to argue their case through a commission inquiry.”

Greenslade seems to presume that talks of merging the Isle of Thanet Gazette with other regional titles are part of “the gloomy fall-out from Northcliffe Media's blocked attempt to sell seven Kent titles to the KM group.” I can't help but feel that should a merger come to pass it could prove hugely detrimental to local journalism in the long run. After all, since a North East Kent rag would spread news reporting thinly over a large geographical area, how will we be able to call it genuinely local at all?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

FUELLISH BEHAVIOUR

Since a bunch of Iranian protesters have provoked international outrage by storming the UK Embassy in Tehran – ransacking offices and burning the Union flag – wasn't it heartening to see that until very recently our friends at Manston Airport were allowing Iranian passenger planes to refuel in Thanet? What a lovely gesture that was.

According to the Daily Mail, since Manston Airport is privately-owned by Infatril, the deal struck with Iran Air dodged international sanctions which were imposed due to fears that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. In the diplomatic fallout to the Embassy raid, however, there are fresh calls by Foreign Secretary William Hague to impose tougher sanctions against Iran. These calls seem to be heeded now the EU is pursuing a similar tough line against Ahmedinijad and the Iranian regime, so in the midst of this ongoing and rather embarrassing situation, Manston Airport Chief Executive Charles Buchanan stopped allowing Iran Air to make refuelling stops, admitting on BBC News:

"As a commercial enterprise this was a profitable exercise for us but the sensitivities of dealing with Iran have changed."

It's easy to be wise after the event, isn't it? Let's just pray a new deal isn't struck which ends up being similarly at odds with the rest of the international community!