richard pierce

richard pierce

28 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 15 and 16

I've been too busy with real life to blog about this wonderful election campaign for a few days, which may or may not be a good thing. Only you can judge that.

Sunday was a historic day (and I refuse to write "an historic" because it's weird) for me. Ever since I started playing cricket again in England, my dream has been to take the field in the same team as one of my children, and on Sunday that wish/dream finally came true. I was fortunate enough to be asked to play for Stradbroke Cricket Club against Old Newton Cricket Club with my 14-year-old daughter. Despite her nerves (and mine), she had a fine game, and clean bowled two grown men (and confided to me afterwards that she'd felt so nervous before she came on to bowl that she though she was going to be sick). I was so proud of her. And dead chuffed that I managed to get a few runs later on in the game when she was watching from the score box. And even more chuffed when she managed a little wave to me from that score box after putting on her pads and waiting to bat at number 11 (the need for her to bat never came, much to her relief).

Well, you may ask, what has playing cricket with one of your kids got to do with campaigning to be elected onto Stradbroke Parish Council? Quite a lot, actually. It's just one manifestation of the pride I have in my children, in the way in which they shape my life, not I theirs. And my view of my role on the parish council is to ensure even more children shape not just my life, but the life of this village. The make-up of the current council is very much one of old men (some exceptions spring to mind), and I would be very surprised if the average age of the Parish Council was much below 60. How likely does this make it that the parish council actually listens and takes into account the views of young people? And by young people, I mean really young people, not people in their twenties, but the real shapers of the future, the 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18-year-olds.

My family is very fortunate to have four very politically aware and frighteningly aspirational children. Unfortunately, this can be something of a rarity in a rural setting, where aspiration can often be frowned upon, where children are told they should know their place and where they're too often told by institution after institution that they'll work, live and die in the place where they were born. And that's no good, no good at all.

That's why I want to reiterate my point from earlier in this campaign, that the parish council should actively co-opt 16-18-year-olds onto the council, with the right to vote on decisions that matter. Nationally, youngsters should be allowed to vote in national and local elections from the age of 16, in my view. That change must come, and that change will reinvigorate not just young people's interest in politics, it will reinvigorate politics and government, especially if it's linked with full proporational representation to replace the corrupt and ridiculous first-past-the-post electoral system this country has in place at the moment. We need this change to stop this country being mired forever in the mess that is right-wing politics and endless populism and personality-driven, media-determined electoral outcomes.

Vote for change.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

26 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 13 and 14

If I start with Day 14 first, I bumped into a couple in the pub this evening after playing cricket (unsuccessfully) for Stradbroke, and had a long conversation with them about the parish council elections. The most concerning thing I heard from them was (again) that they weren't aware that there was a parish council election, and that they didn't know how to vote for the parish council, so I hope the Stradbroke Monthly drops through their letterbox as soon as possible to enlighten them.

What I found really interesting was their view of the parish council - and these are two people who have lived in the village for an age. I quote. "The parish council are all just farmers and landowners in it for themselves, and they try to make as much money as possible for themselves by approving the selling of their land to build houses on. We don't want more houses here, because Stradbroke will stop being a village. We don't want them on the parish council any more because they're just in it for themselves." I am incapable of transcribing the Suffolk accent, but I think the message is fairly clear.

And that's another reason I'm standing for the parish council, and strongly supporting the candidacies of Caroline Barnes, George Chaplin, Oliver Coles, Lynda Ellison-Rose, Brian Goffee, James Hargrave, Maureen John, Velda Lummis, and Ellie Wharton. These are all people who want the parish council to change from what it is at the moment, people who care deeply about Stradbroke and its people. They are good and honest men and women. Please support them. Oh, and me.

Reverting to Day13, I am overjoyed to say that I have finally managed to winkle out at least one hater, although I am very disappointed that it's taken two weeks of campaigning to do so. The hater, of course, was anonymous. If it was only one hater, of course, because there were two comments on my blog, although they were so similar (and one of them was deleted for some obscure reason) that I am sure it's the same person.

Now, of course it could be one of my legion of ex-girlfriends who left the comments, but I doubt it somehow. I'm not sure they'd be bothered to track me down to the wilds of Suffolk, and I'm convinced there aren't any outstanding paternity suits against me. So it can really only be someone with a vested interest in the parish council elections. I, of course, have no clue as to who this could be.

Those comments in full:

More self-righteous crap from someone who hasn't got a clue.


yet more sanctimonious BS from someone who has no idea what he talking about.

Even better. The grammar especially has me fearing for my intellect.

A couple of definitions:

self-righteous - having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior. I have to say that I know I am morally superior to those people who are out-Casual-Vacancying The Casual Vacancy  in this village and have been doing so for well over a year. I also am absolutely certain that my post yesterday was absolutely factual about the disclosures on my day job (although, in the cricket dressing room today, the rumours and accusations resurfaced that I am actually a paid hitman, and those rumours I cannot and will not comment on).

sanctimonious - making a show of being morally superior to other people. I refer the gentleman (or lady) who wrote those comments to the above comment on the definition above. And, actually, as far as my morals are concerned, please look at my less than light-hearted comment about my ex-girlfriends and paternity suits. And if being honest and open is interpreted as being sanctimonious and self-righteous, I have to accept that I am obviously both of those.

I think I'll leave the long-term final judgment on all that to my God. In the short term, however, I'll leave it to the good people of Stradbroke, like the couple I mentioned at the beginning, whom I left in the pub after being thanked for talking with them, and who said they'd vote for me. That'll do me.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

24 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 11 and 12

There's been a lot going on in my life, and it feels like the first four months of this year have been concatenated into one week. I finally finished The Casual Vacancy, and while some folk have been telling me that it stretches the boundaries of credulity, I was left feeling disappointed at how normal it actually was, and part of me felt, too, that it was written in a very patronising tone towards those of lesser means. Maybe I got the wrong impression. However, it did focus my mind on how we should define the position of an unpaid elected representative.

Some schools of thought would define it as volunteering. I'm not so sure about that. I know that volunteers are difficult to find, for local clubs, societies, charities and the like, and that the time they give up to do their volunteering is extremely precious, both to them, and to the organisations they volunteer for, and that their contributions in time can be measured as financial benefits for those organisations. However, I don't believe that those volunteers are publicly accountable, nor are they relied upon to represent the views of those who have elected them (because they haven't been elected, for one).

Entering public service, on the other hand, be that paid or unpaid (as in the case of serving at most levels in local government), immediately makes you publicly accountable. You have a duty to disclose your interests, financial and otherwise, you have a duty to listen to those who elected you, and, to be frank, to those who didn't elect you. You have a responsibility to think about the effects your actions will have on the entire community you serve. I have said this before, and I'll say it again - parish councils are businesses, just like charities are businesses, just like large public or private limited companies are businesses. It doesn't matter if you're counting funds in terms of a few pounds and pence, or in terms of millions of pounds. In public service you have a fiscal and pastoral responsibility, and, possibly even more significantly, a duty of care to the public body you serve on and to the public served by that local government body. And one of the most important facets of this duty of care is the reputation management of the body you serve on.

My day job is to manage a charity which has an annual income of about £3 million, and which has assets of around £57 million (and those numbers are in the public domain, so I'm not disclosing what I shouldn't disclose). I work towards a budget. The charity accounts are published annually, and are available for everyone to see. Even though there is no duty on the charity (or me) to disclose in those accounts precisely what my salary is, I have insisted to the charty's auditors and trustees that the accounts continue to disclose what I earn, because I believe that the charity and I should be, must be, publicly accountable, and that, in an age where the salaries of charity chief executives (and CEOs of commercial organisations) are under increasing scrutiny and criticism, we can demonstrate that our pay structure is not one that deprives the charity of money it could more effectively be paying out in grants.

That is why, if I am elected onto the parish council, I will be asking for the financial processes (and the actual numbers) to be made much more transparent to the general public. In specific, I think the Parish Council should publish, via notice boards, via its (publicly-accountable and governed by specific local government legislation) web site, via the Stradbroke Monthly, and via any other media, the following:
  • monthly management accounts (to the last penny, not a summary), including performance against budget;
  • records of attendance by parish councillors;
  • records of how parish councillors have voted on all parish council votes;
  • a monthly statement on what activities have been undertaken by the council and its employees;
  • a quarterly assessment its own performance.
And that's just for starters. I don't believe the Parish Council is at the moment as publicy accountable as it should be, nor its processes as transparent as they should be, nor its councillors as recognisable in the village as they should be. A separate requirements should be for the parish noticeboards to have photographs of all the councillors on them so that people living in Stradbroke are actually given the chance of recognising their elected representatives when they meet them in the street, or the baker's, or the shop, or the butcher's, or anywhere.

And before anyone says that surely the recording of the parish council meetings now makes the council entirely transparent and publicly accountable - it doesn't. It gives some of the public a chance to listen to what's been said at meetings. It doesn't make public and open all those things I have itemised in the list above.

Elected representatives have no right to live in the shadows - nor should they.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

22 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 10

I'm still manfully fighting my way through The Casual Vacancy. I'm about three quarters of the way through now, and it's suddenly dawned on me that it's not really about parish council politics but about parenting, and joyless parenting at that. If it had really been about parish council politics, I think many people would have struggled to believe the level of venom and outlandishness which sometimes invades local politics.

Talking of parenting, I have had many conversations over the past few years with my young friends here in the village about what rural living is actually about. On the one hand, many youngsters grow quickly out of wanting to live in what is the middle of nowhere, and move away as soon as they can (university, work in a large city, etc etc). The point I always make here is that, as parents, it's our duty to provide our young children with somewhere safe to live, and to provide for them, as they grow older, a sanctuary, somewhere for them to come back to when they need respite from whatever their life has decided to throw at them.

And it's exactly for those reasons that I've been campaigning against the Grove Farm development (or at least the proposed size of it), why I opposed the proposed siting of the Co-op, and why I campaigned to save Stradbroke Library, and wholeheartedly supported the siting of the Post Office in the library. To keep Stradbroke a safe place, to make it somewhere that young families can settle without having to worry about traffic, or overpopulation, or the exploitation of the countryside by developers; to give them a chance to put down roots, to empower them to be able to choose what direction their lives will take, to build sanctuary. You may say that's utopian, that this note is nothing but pretty words without much policy behind it, but you'd be wrong. All policies need to be guided by vision, all actions need to be led by emotion and by caring.

And here are some policies to support that vision:

  • introduction of 20 mph speed limit in Stradbroke;
  • introduction of 30 mph speed limit to 2 miles out of Stradbroke in all directions;
  • cycling/walking paths along all main roads out of the village to the nearest villages;
  • pedestrian crossing at the junction of Queen Street and Church Street;
  • restrictions on size of housing developments;
  • co-option of 16-18-year-olds onto parish council;
  • Community Centre to be operated by the parish council not by a separate entity;
  • free swimming for 16-18-year-old Stradbroke residents.
Those are practical policies, not utopian pipe dreams. And it's time land-owners put their hands in their pockets rather than pocketing as much profit as possible from the labours of those who actually matter in the village.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

20 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 8 and 9

Some days are duller than others. I got up on Saturday morning full of good intentions, meaning to get some roofing felt for one of my sheds that the recent winds have shredded the roof of. For one reason or another (old age and disorganisation being the two main ones) I didn't get into Diss until after noon, by which time the shops I could have bought felt from had closed. As the rest of the family were on gymnastics/shopping expeditions, I drove up to Pulham Market, but no luck there either. So that was half a day wasted. I drove back into the village with a sense that it's not battle axes being sharpened we need to worry about, but invisible darts being dipped in poison ink.

On that note, I'm struggling my way through J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy in a desperate attempt to achieve some insight into how the politics of parish councils and parish council elections might work. I am finding it very difficult going, with no redemption at all to the misery and skulduggery. The only remotely sympathetic character so far is Barry, and he dies on the third page, so I'm not giving much away there. Is this really what people are like, sly and scurrilous and hateful and wicked, right down into their bones, with not even the slightest instance of humour to temper them and their actions? Is this really what the appetite for power does to people, be that power by sitting around a table in the public eye, or power exerted from behind the scenes in an attempt to manipulate outcomes? Surely not.

The rest of the day I spent in the bosom of my lovely family, even allowing myself to watch Britain's Got Talent, that most awful TV programme of all, and sorting out my wood store for the delivery of 3 cubic metres of wood on Sunday, which duly arrived at about nine o'clock. No lie-in for the wicked on the day of rest. Make of that what you will when you read through the ballot paper on 7th May and decide where to put your mark.

So the wood was delivered by a lovely young man from Bungay way whom I had a really good conversation with. We were talking about me being a published author and he said what a shame it was that he wouldn't be able to read any of my books because he's severely dyslexic, which led us on to talking about schooling and the lack of aspiration in villages. I'm glad he makes a decent living from tree surgery and selling firewood to people like me, because he works hard, has real aspirations, and deserves to be successful.

Anyway, two thirds of the way through shifting and stacking this 3 cubic metres of wood, I get a phone call asking me to play cricket for Stradbroke Cricket Club's Academy side as someone has dropped out at the last minute through injury. I rush through the rest of the stacking, enjoy a fulsome Sunday roast (delicious, with red cabbage, which makes any meal a feast), and turn up at the ground just in time to field for a mammoth 30 minutes. After tea (just a little Bakewell tart for me, thanks), I fluke my way to 34 runs, on the way to which I pass the landmark of 2,000 runs for the club. Don't ask me what my average is, because it's pathetic. I'm just a bloke who loves and plays cricket, not a cricketer.

We lose, unfortunately, but the seven Under-14s playing for us really impress me, and make me hope that our Youth section is regaining the strength it had five years ago. The thing is, as we discuss over a leisurely pint after the game, a spineless ECB selling away the rights to international cricket to Sky for blood money doesn't help, because hardly anyone in the 10-16-year age range gets to see any cricket anymore. It needs to be on free-to-air television, simple as. I should add that to my manifesto for the General Election, really - all international sport to be on free-to-air.

At the game I got a lot of questions from local parents about the Grove Farm development, telling me how unhappy they are that the Parish Council approved the panning application, albeit 6-5, belying reports in the press that it's a 50:50 split as to who in the village is for or against the development. I tell them all that they can still object to the development on the Mid-Suffolk planning pages until 21st April. However, life being so busy for all these people, what with supporting their children at cricket matches (and in other sports), and working ridiculous hours in these times of austerity to scratch a living, I doubt any of them will really find the time to do so. Which makes it even more important that a parish council represents the views of the inhabitants of a village like Stradbroke rather than representing merely the views of those who sit on the council. This is where local government goes wrong too often - self-interest rather than altruism.

Think on that.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

18 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 7

All appears quiet in the village, battle-axes being sharpened in secret, no doubt. Friday dawns grey and glum here in the the place even district politicians seem to think is in the middle of nowhere, surprised as they were when we were fighting to save the library at how far they had to travel and how winding the roads and lanes are that lead to the crossroads that are the centre of Stradbroke. It has a right to be in the middle of nowhere, the church firmly planted at the top of what is possibly one of only a very few inclines in Suffolk, and the skies huge above and around.

The morning I spent in a primary school in Bury St. Edmunds, observing a workshop being given by a national children's charity, a workshop on recognising the first signs of physical, domestic and sexual abuse, part of a nation-wide programme aimed at preventing the sexual abuse of children, workshops being given, typically, to Years 5 and 6. One of the biggest surprises was how open some of the children were with revealing what went on behind the closed doors of their family homes. Some theatres of fear are almost impossible to contemplate in their awfulness, and those of us lucky enough to have complete lives should be grateful for that, and strive not to break others' lives even more, but to mend them.

The sun of Bury St. Edmunds faded behind me when I made my way eastwards again, and by the time I'd emerged from the gridlock that was early-afternoon Diss, it had completely disappeared, replaced by that horrible damp cold that insinuates itself into every breath, every step, every movement. I was glad to be able to hide behind my desk again and deal with other aspects of my day job at one remove. But, alas, the respite didn't last for long because that one remove, the internet, once again, slowed to the incredible crawl that BT appears to reserve for rural communities it deems to be in the middle of nowhere and which, by dint of being perceived to be in the middle of nowhere, have no right to fibre-optic communications, in fact have no communications rights at all, unless those rights accrue by coincidence or accident.

That's one thing the Parish Council should be putting its full weight behind, forcing the government and BT to speed up delivery of fibre-optics into Stradbroke, rather than supporting half-baked ideas of exploding the population of Stradbroke into the unmanageable and condemning the broadband contention rate to sink into a Hades-like abyss from which it has little or no chance of ever being resurrected. It's important to point out that it's not just middle-aged codgers like me who want (and need) fast broadband. The village needs it to keep hold of its young people, to make it easier for those young people to stay here, to persuade their employers to let them work from home. It would also encourage more businesses to actually settle in the countryside rather than finding themselves drawn to the nearest large conurbation which the government and BT sees as deserving of a fit-for-purpose communications infrastructure.

And that's why we need more young people involved in the parish council, and more people to come to parish council meetings, to put pressure on the council to actually do something practical rather than tinkering with this and that, or discussing dog droppings, or playing war games. In the interests of positive campaigning, I'll not make that list any longer.

The internet is not a plaything for the middle classes. It is not a mechanism purely intended for social media or playing games. It is a vital part of everyday life, business life, and for a village like Stradbroke to have insufficient bandwidth is not an insignificant little issue. It has everything to do with keeping the village alive, making it thrive, making it attractive to young people, building it back up from the ground.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

17 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 5 and 6

I'm a day behind with this narrative, so I'm merging two days into one, which is what life really seems to be like at the moment anyway. They say time goes more quickly the older you get, and this seems to be the case with me, too, despite my goal of living until I'm 125, hence the smoking and drinking and running and fencing and cricket and whatever else seems to keep me alive. Oh yes, standing for election to the august Stradbroke Parish Council.

We often struggle to put our lives in context because we get so caught up with our everyday ailments and struggles, financial, mental or otherwise. I often think that people most obsessed with themselves and too comfortable in their lives (and, to be honest, bored with them) are those who fail to find this context at all, which is why they focus on something outside themselves that they decide to destroy so they can claim to have power not just over their own shabby lives but over the lives of others, too. Which only goes to reinforce to me how important it is to look at the bigger picture for a context, and to campaign positively, not just in parish council elections, but in life in general.

My context, these last two days, has been to visit charities that my employer supports. Yesterday evening I went to an annual presentation by a charity which supports people in the UK with facial and bodily disfigurements. There are one and a half million people who suffer these disfigurements, and the NHS currently gives them precious little support because of a lack of funding (note my manifesto pledges on NHS spending in my last blog post), and because, for one reason or another, the system regards disfigurement as something purely cosmetic rather than life-limiting. 'It's only worth doing something if it saves lives,' seems to be the mantra nowadays in health sector management, and, to be truthful, in the glory hunter sections of the Third Sector, too.

The interesting thing is that the real issue is how 'normal' people react to disfigurement, not how those suffering the disfigurements perceive themselves. That's because constant staring and bullying breaks down someone's resistance, after a while, and the effects of that actually do become life-threatening (and mental health, again, is something people seem to see as a state of mind rather than an illness, but a discussion of that is for another day). The charity in question, which shall remain nameless because I cannot single out charities in my line of work, does a huge amount of work to raise public awareness of the damage such bullying and staring can do, as well as holding Skin Camouflage clinics to at least allow their service users to improve their self-perception.

Last night, a young woman spoke for four minutes about how, as she came up to having her tenth operation on her disfigurement, as a teenage girl, she had looked in the mirror and asked herself if it was even worth enduring all those operations, all the loneliness, all the bullying, name-calling, stereotyping, her studies once again interrupted as she came up to her A levels, and her recalling of her desperation visibly moved all those listening. It was then, at her darkest moment, that she saw a poster advertising the charity I'm talking about, and decided it was time she sought help, help provided by the unselfish grants and donations made to this charity, and by the unselfish time given to the charity by its volunteers.

And this is the context I'm talking about. We, as supposedly normal people, need to see the bigger picture, make sure the attitude we show on a personal level, on a local political level, is one that is supportive of those less fortunate than us, is one which empowers other people, and isn't a land-grab for power that we preceive is ours. That woman, by the way, is now a writer on a very successful BBC One show, lives in London, and has a very happy life.

Of course, you say, what has this to do with being on the campaign trail? Everything, I say, because I hope it demonstrates to you that I'm a candidate who cares about the community he lives in, who will give a voice to those who live in this village and who find that their voice is not being heard or being heard and ignored, a man who will stop and listen, and who will do his best to make sure that local needs and wishes are fulfilled. And that's positive campaigning.


Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

15 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 4

Oh, there's nothing like the hurly-burly of a local election campaign, is there? It's more high-octane than a general election campaign. I'm lying, of course, although I think you'd be surprised by some of the goings-on behind the scenes.

I did, yesterday, which was indeed Day 4, spend most of my time very tiredly doing my day job after only 3 hours' sleep thanks to the poor performance of Abellio Greater Anglia. I was also running various ideas about new novels around my head. If I had time to write a book a month, the next 12 months would probably already be taken.

After taking a Special Delivery letter to the Post Office (and it is brilliant to have a Post Office in the village again, and in our wonderful library), I bumped into an old friend of mine whom I've known since I moved into the village in 2006, and for whom I have a huge amount of affection and time. But only now, 9 years later, have we both discovered that we have the same political inclinations on a national level, which may explain why we've been so simpatico since Day 1.

Talking of national politics, I thought I'd share my basic aims if I were leading a political party in this General Election. Make of them what you will.

Education to become a cross-party department led by a paid professional not by a Minister of State.
Education funding protected and to rise 0.25%/y above inflation.
Move away from the idea that everyone should go to university (drop-out rate in first year is over 50% currently).
Abolish free schools.
Abolish public schools.
Abolish tuition fees.

Health & Care
Health to become a cross-party department led by a paid professional not by a Minister of State.
Review of mid-management staffing in NHS with the aim of eliminating at least one strata of management.
Additional £2 bil/y funding.
NHS funding protected and to rise 0.25%/y above inflation from 2018.
Integrate health and social care.
Means-tested charge for GP visits - £10 per visit to a maximim £100/year for those earning over £30k/y.

Generate surplus on current budget each year in order to reduce deficit.
Raise minimum wage to £9/hour in 2015, then rises with inflation.
Increase apprenticeships and the efficiency of apprenticeships.
Ban zero-hours contracts.
Cap on bankers’ bonuses and basic salaries.

Legal immigration is a red herring, and all the parties using it for political purposes are guilty of cheap populism.
Employers must pay immigrants the minimum wage.

Simplify the benefits system.
Abolish Bedroom Tax and work capability assessment.
Child Benefit means-testing to apply to household income not individual income.
Support the jobless in finding work rather than making them work to earn benefits.
More effective benefit fraud detection and resolution.

Law & Order
Scrap Police & Crime Commissioners.
Increase spending on neighbourhood policing.
End imprisonment for possessing drugs for personal use.
Overhaul Stop & Search rules.

By 2020 build 200,000 new homes/year.
Guarantee 3-year tenancies for private sector.
Cap rent increases in the private sector.
No right-to-buy.

Foreign & Defence
Abandon Trident nuclear programme.
Ban arms exports.
Maintain overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP.
Stop EU-US free trade deal TTIP.

Maintain triple lock so pensions rise by the highest of inflation, earnings, or 2.5%.
Reform pensions market which currently favours providers rather than customers.
No winter fuel payments for pensioners in 40% and above tax brackets.

No in/out referendum.
Reform Common Agricultural Policy.

Renationalise all public utilities.
Zero-carbon UK by 2060.
No nuclear.
Increased investment in renewable power sources.
Ban fracking.

Increase personal allowance to £12,000/year.
20% tax on £12,001-£33,000/year salaries.
40% tax on £33,001-£100,000/year salaries.
50% tax on £100,001-£200,000/year salaries.
60% tax on £200,001-£250,000/year salaries.
70% tax on £250,001 upwards.
Abolish 10% dividend credit.
No dividend tax for basic rate tax payers is maintained.
Dividend tax for tax payers in 40% and above brackets is the same as personal taxation.

Renationalise the railway system.
Immediately cut all public transport fares by 12%.
Scrap the High Speed 2 rail project.
Haulage firms only for local journeys; railway for long-haul freight transportation.

Polling day to be changed to Sundays.
Full Proportional Representation.
Significant local issues to be resolved by referendums.
There you go. 10 Downing Street, here I come.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

14 April 2015

On Grove Farm and affordable housing

I was very disappointed that Stradbroke Parish Council approved the 54-house Grove Farm development last night, disappointed for a range of reasons, the most weighty of which is that the councillors who voted for the development appear to have gone against the publicly-expressed views of the majority of the populace. What that says about local governance and government (and its national equivalents) is a debate for another day, I guess. But it does suggest that we may be deluding ourselves when we claim to live in a genuine democracy.

When I listened to the recording of the discussion on the Grove Farm development this morning, the thing that struck me most was the intensity and honesty with which Olly Cole and George Chaplin spoke about the need for affordable housing in Stradbroke, the heartfelt desperation that came from their voices because, like in so many things, it's the youth of this country (read village) that's been most betrayed over the last five years, what with housing becoming unaffordable and youth employment at its highest since the days of Thatcher.

The thing that worries me, though, really worries me, is that the future of affordable housing itself is increasingly uncertain and at risk. According to documents published in March, and reinforced by articles in today's press, and the launch of the Tory manifesto, it looks like housing associations may be on their last legs due to the withdrawal of government funding and the resurrection of the ill-advised right-to-buy, increasing the likelihood that many houses given affordable status (be they rented or bought) may end up in the hands of private landlords with no imperative (or motivation) to keep rents low.

Now, the plans for Grove Farm in specific say that 27 of the 54 planned houses will be affordable (social rented housing, the application form states). What came across in the recording of the Parish Council meeting was that no-one actually knows how many of those 27 houses will be sold affordably (at 80% of market value being the definition), and how many of them will actually be rented out (at 80% of market rent being the definition). It will, in the end, apparently, be something that the housing association (in this case Hastoe) has to negotiate with Mid-Suffolk District Council (if the development goes ahead).

But what will happen if Hastoe decides not to take on those 27 houses because it no longer (due to government cuts) has the funds to do so, if it can't get the loans against the security of its current stock of housing and rents in advance to buy those houses? Then what? It's a serious question. Will those affordable houses, which I believe have swayed the minds of many of those on the Council to disregard public opinion, become just another block of houses unaffordable to local youngsters, destined to become second homes for people living elsewhere? Think about it.

By the way, those definitions of affordable appear to me to be far from affordable, even if they are very well insulated and energy-efficient. Market-driven house values have been driven up and up, and if the average cost of a house in Stradbroke is £260,000 (Zoopla search today), 80% of that is £208,000. Is that an affordable price? If average rental cost in Stradbroke is £635 per month (Zoopla search today), 80% of that is £508 per month. Is that indeed also affordable? And if it is affordable, is it worth creating chaos and possible carnage on the main road out of Stradbroke for?

I don't think anyone in the village is opposed to development of the Grove Farm site. But it needs to be one that is commensurate with local needs (a recent survey said Stradbroke needed 12 affordable houses), local infrastructure, and local wishes. There are profits to be made for developers in smaller developments (24 houses on this site would be acceptable to most, I think), notwithstanding my comments above about the state of the affordable housing sector.

My sympathies lie with Olly and George and the people they represent. They are the people we need to try to keep in the village to keep it young, and make it more aspirational and thriving. Unfortunately, I think developing the Grove Farm site as proposed would have exactly the opposite effect.

Mid Suffolk District Council will have the final say on the approval of this development. You have until 21st April to submit your comments (of obection or support) to Mid Suffolk Planning Department. Please do so.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

Campaign Trail - Day 3

Like anyone with two or more jobs, most of my yesterday was spent doing those jobs.

Most of my time was spent doing my day job - evaluating applications to the grantmaking charity I work for and making my recommendations, via a monthly report to my trustees, to be sent to them in the first week of May. This report grows to well over 120 pages each nonth by the time I send it to trustees for discussion. There is no let-up to this day-to-day effort, because that's my main job, and I'm committed to it. Because it does good things.

The context here is that all grantmaking charities are reporting a disproportionate increase in applications as a direct result of these times of austerity, an austerity which is not getting better, contrary to the government's protestations that things are on the up, despite the fact that those hard-working people the Tories always refer to actually being those who are suffering most from cuts, income falling in real terms, healthcare and education faltering and failing.

The rest of my time yesterday, while it was still sunny, was spent answering my writer's correspondence, mentoring a young would-be writer in the West Country, worrying over the fact that I wouldn't be able to attend the Parish Council meeting in the evening as a member of the public because I'd already made a commitment to two of my daughters, a long time ago, to take them to see The Wombats at Brixton Academy (and bought the tickets on the very same day). More of my view on that meeting and the decision taken at it by the Parish Council to support the Grove Farm development in another post.

Time slides by when thus occupied, and it was with some surprise that I heard the front door open at 4 p.m. and the children come home from school. I had been at my desk since just after seven (except with my customary 20 minutes break at breakfast and lunch to indulge myself in reading a book - John Le Carre's The Constant Gardener and Hilary Mantel's A Greater Place of Safety being my reading matter at the moment). And then I went to London, only to be let down once again by the privatised mess that is the railway system, and finally got home after 3 a.m.

Of the village I saw or heard little, just sensing a tension around the streets that had possibly not been there the day before. And a sense of resignation, that politics will be played with all of us, be that at national or at local level, because it's not money that's the root of all evil. The full quote is "The love of money is the root of all evil."

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

13 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 2

After the revels at Stradbroke Cricket Club's annual Race Night fundraiser on Saturday evening, my support of the cricket club took on a rather more practical nature on Sunday morning when a working party of eight of us turned out onto the sunny playing fields to put up some chicken wire fencing to stop cricket balls being lost in the trees and bushes separating the pitch from surrounding fields. My job was to hold the fence posts straight while one of my co-workers hit the post into the ground with a sledge hammer. The sledge hammer only hit my hands twice. Glancing blows, nothing more, so my writing career is safe. My cricket career never was a career, so nothing in danger there anyway.

While we were up on the field, the club's chairman got a text from the club treasurer to let us know that Saturday night's fundraiser had generated over £1,000 for the cricket club, after costs. This is a great result, and goes a long way to meeting the club's annual insurance bill of £1,300. Thanks to all involved, not just by organising, but by turning out on the night. Thanks, especially, go to all the non-cricketers who contributed, once again showing how much at the centre of the community the cricket club is.

Back at home, doing those things normal men do, especially when their wives are away for the weekend, I was taking out the recycling when I bumped into Brian Goffee, a fellow parish councillor candidate, with whom I serve on the board of governors of Stradbroke High School. I had a long conversation with him, his wife, and his overexcitable young dog. What was interesting was that, like all the other candidates I've spoken with so far, Brian's reason for standing is that he wants to see change on the parish council, from what's perceived as standing still, from what's seen as preserving a status quo that goes back decades, change to the parish council being more representative of what the local populace actually thinks and needs, and more responsive to those needs. We're both very happy that an election has been forced rather than anyone who wants to be on the council getting on because there aren't enough candidates to fill all the vacancies. Before this year, there have only been two parish council elections in Stradbroke in the past thirty years. To put this into an even more alarming context: there are over 120 parish councils in Suffolk, and there are only about 10 parish council elections this year. So much for local government democracy. Little surprise then that many parish councils have a reputation even below the reputations of estate agents, bankers, and lawyers.

Over the course of the last two days, I've been asked what my election slogan is. That sounds almost overly grandiose now I read it. But my response has always been, and always will be: Honesty, integrity, accountability. I am not standing because I want to be someone, not because I want to be one of the artificial 21st century gentry some parish councillors nationally perceive themselves to be. I'd always rather be nobody, or only someone on the international writing stage, than a politician. However, I see a desperate need for accountability at local government level, accountability that's just not there at the moment.

Speaking of accountability, Councillor Hargrave made some very important and salient observations in a blog post looking at the prospective financial ramifications of the proposed 54-house Grove Farm development, a development I am already on record as strongly oppposing. It becomes quite clear in Mr Hargrave's post that a small group of councillors assumed it was in their remit to modify the Neighbourhood Plan without reference to the parish council as a whole, and without regard to the wishes of the general public in Stradbroke.

I am NOT opposed to new housing developments in Stradbroke. I am opposed to huge housing developments in Stradbroke (and any other small village). There is room, physically and intellectually, for small developments here, developments of 5-8 houses maximum, which will not put undue pressure on the village's infrastructure nor on its traffic management, developments which would ensure organic growth for the village, not uncontrollable expansion. My personal view is that any planning permission for developments of over 8 houses should be decided by a local referendum, not by planning officers, and that any development of over 5 houses should have 20% affordable housing (whatever affordable housing actually means in these times of continuing - and it is continuing - austerity, and division of the people between haves and have-nots).


Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

11 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 1

Well, I say campaign trail (of which today was the first full day), but I've actually not done much more than I usually do, which is walk around the village and talk to people. Except this time I'm asking people to vote for me, and looking out for what other candidates are doing at the same time (and I welcome the candidacies of many of those who are standing).

One major note of concern, though, is this - most people I have spoken to are unaware of how to vote in the parish council elections. Some think they have to turn up to the next parish council meeting (wrong), and some think they have to have attended parish council meetings to be entitled to vote (also wrong). Here's actually how it works (and I hope that an independent web site will soon publish a guide on how to vote on 7th of May, because some might say I'm not impartial):

  • Make sure you're registered to vote. You have until 20th April to do so, and you can do it at
  • Go to you polling station on 7th May (open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.). Stradbroke's polling station is at the Community Centre in Wilby Road.
  • Once it's established you're entitled to vote (and you don't need your polling card for this to happen), you'll be given three voting slips; one for the General Election, one for the District Council election, and one for the Parish Council election. I make no comment on those first two elections, as I am definitely partial in those.
  • The Parish Council voting slip will have 18 names on it. You must only put a cross against 13 names or your paper will be invalid. You can decide to choose fewer than 13 (and I suggest you vote only for those people you definitely want to be on the Parish Council, not for people you have no opinion on).
  • Put your completed voting slip in the appropriate ballot box, and go home. Or go to the pub. Or got to work. Depending on what time of day it is.
  • It's that simple.

Please do vote, even if you don't vote for me (or for the parties I'm partial for in the General Election and District Council election).

Another issue that's cropped up over today and yesterday is that Monday evenings is a really bad time to have Parish Council meetings. Most people I've spoken with tell me that Mondays are their busiest evenings, what with it being the first working day of the week, and that having the meetings on another day, such as a Wednesday, would make it much more likely that they would be able to attend. Bearing in mind the wish I expressed in yesterday's post that I would love to have at least 50 members of the public at every Parish Council meeting, one of the first things I'll be suggesting, should I be elected, is to change the day of the meetings to Wednesday to maximise everyone's chance of attending.

And finally - I attended a cricket club fundraiser at Stradbroke Community Centre this evening. The cricket club is at the centre of the village community, and does much good work, not just on the field, but off it, too. I was really heartened to see existing Councillors James Hargrave and Velda Lummis at the fundraiser, as well as prospective Councillors Carrie Barnes and Ellie Wharton. I would gladly serve on the same council as those four people, who already give much of their time to the community. It was a surprise to me not to see more current councillors, especially those who have served more than 10 years on the Parish Council, supporting such an important and enjoyable community event. I hope this will change when we have a new Parish Council with fresh faces around the table.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

10 April 2015

Why am I standing for election as a parish councillor?

It may have come as no surprise to anyone that I have decided to stand for election as a parish councillor in Stradbroke on 7th May 2015. On the other hand, it may have come as a surprise to those who think I already give up too much of my spare time to local organisations instead of giving up all that time to writing or being with my family.

So why am I standing?

I believe in the politics of openness. I believe in honesty. I believe in the right of the inhabitants of a village to make their views known, without fear, without intimidation, and for those views to be heeded and acted on. I believe that those who engage actively and proactively in the life of a village have a right to determine how that village moves forwards.

Stradbroke is a fine place. It is almost a rarity - a working agricultural village that has not been overrun by unneeded modern developments. I am determined to represent those who believe that Stradbroke is no place for massive housing developments, that it is no place for corporate and private profit to be put before considerations of tradition, safety, and community.

I believe in due process and transparency. Gone are the days where cabales and whispers in the corridors of power carried the day for vested interests. This applies top down, from national to local government. Everyone, elected or not elected, who engages in public life in any way, has to be publicly accountable. I would love to see 50 people at every parish council meeting so that councillors have to speak and act appropriately, so that every decision made is observed live and as it happens, so that every decision is backed up by an arguable process, so that the mechanisms of local government are exposed and observable at every stage, and not just through minutes, and not just through film and sound recordings.

I want politics to be popular. I want young people to become re-engaged with politics, no matter which party they might or might not vote for. I want young people to be at the heart of life in this village which may well be my final home of all homes.

I want this village to be one of aspiration, a village that sends its young people out into the world well-educated and well-equipped to make their mark on the world. I want them to strive to be the best they can be, I want them to understand that they can be the best if only they try, if only they put in the hard work and inspiration. I want this village to be the sanctuary they can return to after they have spread their wings, to be that warm place in their hearts and memories they can think of when times are hard.

There will be no negative campaigning from me. I will adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life, as should every candidate and every elected representative.








Please vote on 7th May.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

2 April 2015

No to the Grove Farm Development in Stradbroke

Barely two weeks after disappearing from the Mid-Suffolk Planning web site under mysterious circumstances, the planning application for the proposed erection of 54 houses and 2 barn conversions on Grove Farm in Stradbroke has now reappeared. I have just objected to the proposal like this:

I went to the public consultation on this proposed development, and what I saw did not impress me at all. The proposed development is too large for this village in many ways, and will significantly adversely affect the village in very many ways.

The first issue, in my view, is that the village does not currently have the infrastructure to deal with this sudden explosion of housing. The doctor's surgery is already oversubscribed, power failures are not uncommon, broadband infrastructure is not fit for purpose, and the roads especially are not capable of taking any more significant traffic flow.

Traffic is the second issue to address. The proposed Co-op development on Queen Street has already been objected to (and withdrawn, for the time being) because of traffic issues. This proposed development will add significant traffic flow to Queen Street, the busiest road in the village, and the exit of preference for people driving from the village to Diss and other northern settlements. This development would seriously increase the risk of a fatal accident on that road, and I feel that the planned road layout for the development is extremely poorly thought out.

Third, the development is seriously out of character for the village and would, in fact, totally change the character of the village. It does not abide by the commonly agreed view that the village should retain its narrow waist in order to retain views of the countryside. Nor does it abide by the agreed view that the village would benefit most from small, discrete developments which would not be intrusive. This development would definitely be intrusive. The design of the houses, too, is not in keeping with the character of current habitations.

The proposed development is obtrusive and absolutely unsuitable for the village of Stradbroke. It would contribute in no way to the economic and cultural development of the village, and I vigorously oppose it.

I would urge anyone with common sense and a love for our village to object to this development, too. Not only will it put lives in danger (now there's a familiar story as far as recent planning permissions are concerned), but it will also change the character of this fine agricultural village, a place where getting stuck behind a tractor is a pleasure for me, because it reinforces to me that I live in a village that does still work the land, and that is a home to many who work on the fields and in the farms. Do we really want to destroy it? Building for the sake of building rather than building for organic growth is a sure way of doing that.

If you are a Stradbroke resident, you have until 21st April to object to Mid Suffolk District Council who will decide on the application.

You can see the plans on the Mid Suffolk Planning Website.

If you want to object, and I hope you do, there are several ways of doing so:

1. Make a comment online on the Mid Suffolk Planning Website (you'll have to register on the site to comment)
2. Email Mid Suffolk District Council
3. Go to the Parish Council Meeting on Monday 13th April where you are allowed to state your view for 2 minutes maximum before the meeting officially opens.