Month: December 2008

Beckham Drive or Oasis Avenue?

CelebrityMy first question about the New Local Government Network’s report on ‘naming things after famous people’ (I am sure there is a better title for it, but that’s the best I could come up with) is why did they bother?  I don’t disagree with some of their findings, but my question is does it really matter so much that anyone should spend time writing a report on it?  The biggest give away that a report should probably never have been written is when it includes a suggestion that we should have a “X-Factor style competition”.  It used to be “a Big Brother style competition” but fashions change.  And that is why I have a concern about the idea of competitions to name things.

Of course we should honour people who have achieved things.  I think it’s a great idea, but they need to be enduring and using X-Factor style competitions you either end up with people whose fame and achievement is fleeting or you end up with people try to rig the poll in favour of someone obscure just because they can (such as when people try and change the outcome of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year).

What I am not sure you need is competitions.  Naming streets after prominent figures is far more popular in the rest of Europe than it is here, but it isn’t as if it isn’t done her at all.  Eastleigh Borough Council is one authority that is very good at street naming.  Whilst people mocked Benny Hill Close and some people didn’t like the street name, he is the one local celebrity who will probably have an enduring appeal, and whether you like him or not he was significant in the world of comedy at the time.  But equally important is the way that the council names streets after things to do with their history.  Many of these may only be relevant to people who know the specific history of that area, (I lived at Bampton Court, which was named after the copse that was previously on the site of my flat) but some of them such as Spitfire Way and Pirelli Way are fairly clear.  What is also good is that some parts of the borough they actually put on the street name plate the origin of the name, and thereby making it clear who Richard St. Barbe Baker is in the street name Barbe Baker Avenue in the village of West End.

However it is also usually very clear when there is a public clamour to name a street after somebody important.  That’s something we have seen in Sheffield recently.  When Derek Dooley died (admittedly not that well known outside of Sheffield, but a major figure in Sheffield football) straight away people started saying that something should be named after him, and only a few weeks later it was decided to name part of the new inner relief road Derek Dooley Way.  A fitting tribute, popular with people in Sheffield and most of all decided following discussions with his family.

Finally though, lets remember that we don’t need to name a road or building after someone for local people to feel they have been honoured.  What I like is Sheffield City Council’s ‘Sheffield Legends‘ plaques.  Whilst it has been mocked a little for seeming like an attempt to emulate Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, it is actually a really nice way of commemorating people from Sheffield who have achieved something and who are popular with the people of the city.  They don’t have to have been born in the city, they either need to have grown up here or been based in the city when they achieved.  This means you have a huge range of people such as Joe Cocker, Sebastian Coe, Michael Palin and Gordon Banks (who are well known beyond the city), but also less well known people such as Joe Scarborough and Derek Dooley who are popular in the city.  A few more plaques are added each year.  Under the New Local Government Network’s report we should by now already have honoured the Arctic Monkeys, and I am sure they will be one day, but it seems only right to wait and see if their fame is enduring.

If this report means fewer roads given names that just sound pretty without any good reason for the name, then it will have achieved something.  But I don’t think this report is needed to tell people what they know already.  Lets make sure we commemorate people who achieve something, but lets also commemorate other things that are important, and when we do, let’s do it in a way and at a time that is appropriate rather than just having some reality TV style vote.

Useless fact of the day

Question: Which country’s monarch is the first ruling sovereign of another country in the line of succesion to the British throne?

Answer: Norway

Perhaps I should have known that but it wasn’t the country I would have guessed at.  King Harald V of Norway is 62nd in the line of succession, way ahead of many other monarchs (next is King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden at 190), as well as being far higher than most former monarchs and heads of other royal houses regardless of whether they still have a royal family or not.   Although it seems a lot of that is due to people being excluded for being Catholic or married to a Catholic.

The Duke of Edinburgh is also way down the line at 484th despite being a member of the Greek royal family.

Women in politics

Jo Swinson MP has contributed to an article on politics.co.uk about why there aren’t more women in politics.  What I found particularly interesting though is that it doesn’t go over the same ground about whether or not there should be positive discrimination to ensure parliament is representative, (perhaps not that much of a surprise given that Jo has always been against positive discrimination), but instead considers many of the cultural aspects instead.  That is cultural in terms of both how family life is in this country and the culture of parliament itself.  Indeed, both Jo and Ann Cryer agree that this impacts on very family-orientated men as well, as shown by Nick Clegg bemoaning the lack of a creche in parliament.

What it doesn’t mention though, and I suppose it is inevitable as a Liberal Democrat that I would bring this up, is the voting system.  Introducing a proportional voting system, particularly if it is a form of open list, does tend to increase the number of women elected although whether this is down to the electoral system or whether it is because it changes the culture of parliament to become less adversarial is perhaps less clear.  What is important in this article is that it shows there is much more to be done if we want to elect more female MPs than just changing the way we select candidates.

Finally, while I am on this subject, I just want to mention as an aside what I think is one of the most powerful political images I have seen in the press this year.  The picture is of Carme Chacon the visibly pregnant Spanish defence minister inspecting the troops.  What is significant to me though is that she appears so normal.  She isn’t doing as British politicians tend to do and that is try and fit in to the mould of what people think a politician should look like – something that both male and female politicians often do.  Instead she is part of a trend which seems to be prevalent across much of the rest of Europe, where politicians look professional but at the same time a lot more down to earth.  Perhaps that is something that makes politicians connect better with the public.

Lib Dems scrape home with 79% of the vote!

The last thing you need in December is a parish council by-election, but these things have to be won, so I’m pretty pleased to report the result and give some background.

Bradfield Parish Council, Stannington Ward

Katie Condliffe (Lib Dem)  762  79.2%
Matt Dixon (Con)    200  20.8%

Lib Dem hold.  Turnout 21.8%

The Liberal Democrats have all 13 parish councillors in Bradfield, which falls within the boundaries of Sheffield City Council.  At the last elections in 2007 they were all returned unopposed and so this is the first time voters have had a chance to physically vote for a parish councillor for at least six years.

The main significance of this result though is that the ward is one of the areas that will be transferred into Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency due to boundary changes at the next General Election.  Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems delivered leaflets, but the Lib Dems left nothing to chance and ran a classic Lib Dem campaign with Focus leaflets, blue-ink letters, voter ID, good mornings and a knock-up.

Although it was a low turnout we feel this was a pretty good turnout for a parish by-election on an incredibly cold and frosty day in December.

Thank you to everyone who helped me in the campaign with delivering leaflets, writing envelopes, phoning and door-knocking voters and all the other things that I’ve forgotten.  Now I’ve got this out of the way I can start thinking about Christmas.

The demands of being a postman

According to today’s press, Royal Mail uses something called “Pegasus Europe Geo-route” to assess the optimum post load that postal workers can deliver in a given period of time.  This is in the news because of the allegation that Royal Mail want their delivery staff to walk at 4mph rather than a much more achievable 2.1 mph.

Whilst I don’t know how reliable the story about the speed of walking is, one thing I really would question is that any computer program can work out how much a postal worker can deliver in a set period of time.

I spent two summers working as a postman whilst I was at university, and the time taken to deliver different rounds varied hugely depending on a range of factors that surely no computer can assess fully:

  • The number of houses is the biggest difference of course, but the majority of walks included more or less the same number of houses and so that is less of a differentiator.
  • The topography of the delivery walk.  There was one walk that was known as the “walk from hell” as it started on the flat but then went all the way down the side of one steep road, going up and down some steep roads off each side and then after a detour along a flatish road at the bottom, involved a trek all the way back up the hill again.  It should be obvious that delivering in hilly areas is going to take longer than areas that are flat, but I wonder if that is taken in to account.
  • The length of the paths to the door.  By this I don’t just mean long drives, which of course add to the time, but some places have a lot of steps up to doors and there is the peculiarly Sheffield tradition of putting letterboxes of terraced houses around the back which again adds to the distance walked.
  • The layout of the houses.  Terraced houses are simple (if you exclude the Sheffield quirk of letter boxes at the back) but many houses are not laid out in nice neat rows and there are some where the houses are all over the place which makes it longer to deliver, especially if you are new to the walk.
  • Gates or no gates.  Some estates don’t have any garden gates or even walls and fences at all, some have them on every house which again adds to the time spent delivering.
  • The type of post.  The type of post people get varies from area to area.  Some places get a lot more advertising to deliver.  Some places tend to have a lot of business people who often get bulky heavy post such as magazines.  This means you have to carry a lot more post around when you might have the same number of houses as someone else.
  • The distance from the nearest pouch box.  Most delivery walks involve collecting at least one more bag of post from a box part way along your walk.  The fewer of these pouch boxes there are then the more post you have to carry and the slower you walk.  One walk I did often involved me carrying two full bags of post over each shoulder as well as a bundle in my hand.  This again meant that you walked more slowly when you started off.

I remember one former Royal Mail manager telling me “being a postman is easy.  You just go round from house to house with a small bag over your shoulder”.  Clearly she had never done the job as delivering post is far from easy physically.  Apart from the increasing demands on postal workers, you have to go out in all weather with loads that vary hugely in size with unrealistic expectations.  I also remember seeing how postal workers gradually got more and more tired and slower the longer they did the job, as getting up early in the morning six days a week (although I think it might have now changed to five days) in all weathers gradually takes its toll.

Neil Trafford’s Memorial Celebration

Somewhat belatedly I just wanted to do a quick post about last Friday’s Memorial Celebration for Neil Trafford at Manchester Town Hall.

The most important thing for me was just bringing together so many people who knew Neil in so many different ways.  As well as being a huge gathering of the clans of Liberal Democrats from all over Britain from all levels in the party, showing just how many people he reached during his life.

The memorial touched just the right note, much to the credit of those who organised it who will have been going through a difficult time whilst they were doing it.  The memorial was made up of a number of short speeches by people who knew Neil saying what he meant to them, interspersed with music that he liked and a couple of other readings.

I must admit I did wonder how I was going to get through it when they started off with a recording of Neil’s sister Hannah singing Leona Lewis’ version of ‘Run’ whilst showing lots of different photos of Neil on a big screen.  It was all very emotional and Hannah is an amazing singer. The memorial continued as a mixture of sadness and amusing stories.  I found the speeches by his friends David and Emily as well as the reflections by Simon Hughes particularly moving.

What it also did was teach me things about Neil that I never knew when he was alive and I wish I had as some we have in common.  If there is a lesson from this – keep in touch with the people you like and make sure you get to really know them as you never know when it will be too late.

Neil Fawcett has details of his funeral and Russell has now posted a video on YouTube allowing those who couldn’t make it to watch on the internet.  The first part is below:

Finally, a thank you to everyone who has said such nice things about my previous postings about Neil.  It’s the most open and personal I’ve been on here and I had real second thoughts about writing it, but it has been a real help to myself and it seems to others as well.

Neil is the first person of my own age to die and so it has hit me quite hard, but for all the many reasons that people gave at the memorial he will clearly never be forgotten.

My previous posts on Neil are here and here.