Peter Hough

Peter Hough
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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Big beast sighted

There's been a sighting of a big beast near Treffgarne in Pembrokeshire. No, it's not John Prescott sneaking over the Welsh border again looking to throw another punch - but a large puma or panther-like creature sighted by a council 'public protection officer'.

Michael Disney, a former police officer, said he was travelling at 10-15 miles per hour down a single track lane when the big cat crossed just five metres in front of him:

"I immediately stopped my vehicle and stared at this animal. It had a large cat-like head, muscular build and was approximately three feet tall. It was bigger and more muscular than a German shepherd dog. The coat was smooth and looked like it had brown spots on it. I had a clear, unobstructed view of the animal and the visibility was excellent. The animal was in view for five or six seconds."

Apparently a woman at a near-by farm said she had seen a puma-like creature a few weeks earlier. A sheep carcase was also discovered bearing the hall marks of a big cat kill.

Sightings of similar creatures around Britain are well documented. They have been variously labelled as The Beast of Bodmin, the Whitby Lynx, the Harrogate Panther, the Surrey Puma and the Skegness Cougar! Occasionally, plaster casts of paw prints have been taken. In some cases, like that of the Nottingham Lion, armed police have turned out in search. In others the army has scoured the countryside.

I remember about fifteen years ago parking up my caravan on a remote farm near Ettrick in the Borders, and the owner warning me to be careful wandering in the forest, because there had been sightings of a big cat, and mutilated sheep carcases discovered nearby.

While I don't doubt that many of the sightings are genuine, none of these mysterious beasts have ever been caught, and no remains have ever been found.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

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Friday, 28 January 2011

The chickens have come home to roost

Another meeting of Full Council, and another night of depressing cuts to services and jobs. It was almost midnight when we left Southport Town Hall.

Labour leader, Cllr Peter Dowd, said he was going to play to the gallery - and he was true to his word. There was mock indignation from Labour councillors, which one disillusioned trade unionist and Labour member at the last meeting, called a 'pantomime'. Nevertheless it drew applause and cheers from protesters. The lowest point came with a political stunt that brought shame on every Labour member.

Sefton Labour Party are bringing false hope to residents by encouraging them to believe that services can be maintained, that jobs need not be lost. They should take notice of their own former Treasury Minister, Liam Byrne, who left a note for his LibDem Coalition successor which read: 'There's no cash left.'

There were a couple of pale silver linings. Despite media speculation, school crossing patrols will not be affected, and there will now be a thorough review of the 'Sure Start' service before any centres are considered for closure.

LibDem leader Tony Robertson repeated again and again that with £44 million pounds to be saved this financial year - there was no money spare. With a national debt of almost £1.1 TRILLION, we can't bury our heads in the sand or we will end up like Greece and Ireland.

The last government made promises they couldn't keep, and bribed voters with seemingly endless amounts of borrowed cash.

The chickens have come home to roost. And we're all paying the price.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Is it a posh Tory cocktail, or a step in the right direction?

The Coalition is proposing changes to Labour's counter-terrorism laws, under the heading: Terrorism Prevention and Investigatory Measures, or 'T-Pim'. To me this sounds like a posh Tory cocktail.

You can imagine Theresa May ordering drinks at the tennis club (I apologise to members of tennis clubs who aren't posh Tories, or who aren't Tories at all): "Waiter, I'll have a T-Pim with a slice of lemon and a cherry on a stick, please."

On a more serious note, the changes do dilute Labour's draconian measures that saw some innocent individuals kept under house arrest for weeks when there was no evidence against them. Under Labour, terrorism suspects could be held without charge for 28 days. Blair wanted to increase it to ninety. The Coalition think that 14 days is enough while police search for evidence.

Labour introduced control orders to restrict the freedom of suspects who could not be charged because no evidence could be found. These involved relocation to another part of the country, electronic tagging, 16 hour curfews, restrictions of movement and  banning them from using mobile phones and the internet.

Ministers say that the new system will allow more liberties while maintaining the ability of the security services to monitor suspects. They will not be relocated, will still be tagged, but will only be required to stay at home overnight for a maximum of10 hours. They will be allowed restricted use of mobile phones and the internet.

Labour's Yvette Cooper calls this a 'fudge', because we would have liked to have relaxed the rules even further. It's not a fudge, it's a compromise, it's grown up politics where two parties working together don't get all their own way. That's coalition politics. Some people still can't get their head around it. Our involvement in government has marginalised the Tory right wing, and has enabled 65% of LibDem policies to be enacted.

Let's also not forget that Labour spent thirteen years eroding our civil liberties. Now they're in denial: "It wasn't us, Guv!"

We saw tourists accosted by police for taking photographs of buildings in London, our security services complicit in torture, and a man arrested across from Downing Street for reading out the names of the British war-dead in Iraq. We also saw a law to stop people demonstrating peacefully outside the headquarters of multinational companies, if it would harm their businesses (trade unionists take note).

I'm not a softy when it comes to terrorism, but at least let's have a system that get's the right people. Whatever happened to 'innocent until proved guilty' ? Many people have sounded off about things in the pub, and made threats that in reality they would never carry out - but they haven't all then had their homes searched and been arrested without charge, and incarcerated without trial. 

Lord MacDonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions admitted Labour had over-reacted to the terrorist threat. He said the country had sacrificed "traditional ideals" of freedom in the fight against terrorism, and British institutions became a "symbol of hypocrisy".

Admittedly, it's a tight rope, but let's not throw away freedom of speech and other hard fought for civil liberties along with the bath water.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Why should we all pay the price for alcohol abuse?

Last week The Coalition unveiled plans to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks below cost price. This is a response to health campaigners who believe that making alcohol more expensive would stop people from binge drinking, and reduce the crimes and cases of chronic illness associated with it.
As it happens, the Government's proposals are very modest compared to the minimum 50p per unit the campaigners are demanding. But is the argument for hiking up the price of drinks fundamentally flawed?
Since when did the high price of any drug stop addicts from taking it? If they can't afford it, then they turn to crimes like robbery and shop lifting to fund it. If there was a price-hike on alcohol, as the campaigners want, wouldn't drink addicts do the same? Or wouldn't they turn to the black market and cheap home brewing?
Apart from the loss of jobs in the drinks' industry, there is also another important issue at stake here. Why should moderate drinkers be hit in the pocket for the antisocial behaviour of a minority? No wonder Tesco's are in favour of being 'forced' to charge more!

Monday, 24 January 2011

The leader of Sefton Council is no southern softy, but...

I'm not normally one to openly criticise the leader of our group (for obvious reasons), but I had to comment after reading Tony Robertson's piece on his walking activities. He said he couldn't wait for the longer days to arrive, and the end of the snow and ice, so he and his fair-weather pals could plan some walking expeditions.

As Tony knows, I'm a fell walker, and I go out all year round in whatever the weather throws at me. For instance just before Christmas we were up in the hills above Grassington, in the snow and ice, with spectacular views down Wharfedale.

I know Tony's not a southern softy, because he comes from the same part of the East Midlands as me. So come on Tony, you don't have to wait until Spring, get your thermals on, pack a flask of hot coffee, lace up your boots, and get out there!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Crosby life hits the magazine stands

As the Chair of Crosby Area Committee I was interviewed a couple of weeks ago about Crosby for Lancashire Life magazine. The interview was originally scheduled before Christmas - but the snow and ice put paid to that.

Having been interviewed countless times in the past for newspapers, magazines, radio and television in my capacity as a writer, this was a doddle and very enjoyable. Amanda Griffiths must have talked to me for almost an hour and a half. When I learned she was restricted to a 1000 words, and was interviewing other people too,  I knew there was going to be some deft editing! A lot did end up on the cutting room floor, but the article is well balanced and informative, and does the town proud.

For me, this was an opportunity to highlight all that Crosby has to offer. Far too often people tend to dwell on negatives, and we can miss what's under our noses. Crosby isn't a chocolate box village in rural Lancashire, it's a real town with real people, and that comes across in the article.

A wide range of local folk are featured including Crosby Scout and Guides Marina Club and local traders. There isn't much air-brushing either - the plight of Crosby Village is covered, with mention of Sainbury's £50 million regeneration package being thrown out.

The article is in the February edition - out now.

Friday, 21 January 2011

You can't please some people all of the time

We had a lively meeting of the Crosby Area Committee on Wednesday night. The committee, formed of all local councillors, sits in public - and I am the Chair.

There was a lot to debate - transporting sand from Crosby to Hightown to aid sea defences, reinforced with 'rock armour', improvements to the junction at North End Lane and the Formby Bypass, and of course the apparent lack of action when the snowstorm hit Sefton a few weeks ago.

I was pleased that the Chief Executive and two of her officers attended to address the meeting on this matter - and to take questions and rather a lot of flack. It was a pity the cabinet member didn't attend - despite an invitation to do so.

There was one large chap in the audience who was very enthusiastic about everything we discussed, and often complained (rightly so) that he couldn't hear. I allowed him to speak on a number of occasions, but there were others who wanted to contribute - so he probably didn't say as much as he would have liked. As Chair you have to tightly control proceedings otherwise you could be there all night.

The way I work it, I let the public question officers first, then I let members in. I'd done this on the last topic, but the big chap in the audience was still waving his arm about to get my attention. At the end of the meeting I thanked the public for attending and for their contributions. In a very loud voice, this chap said with much feeling:

"And thank you very much for ignoring me at the end!"

You can't please some people all of the time

I must be mad

Someone bumped my car and disappeared. It was only a small dent on the back wing with a few scratches. Naively, I thought I would get a quote to repair the damage, and if it was less than my excess (£250) pay it myself rather than put it through the insurance.

I went to a body repair shop registered by the manufacturer of my vehicle, and the chap came out with his clipboard to assess the damage.

"We'll have to get this dent out and re-spray the back panel."

Okay so far. Then my heart began to sink.

"We'll also have to remove the bumper."

"Why?" I asked.

"Well, it might be in the way."

Then he walked around to the back of the car and his eyes lit up.

"Oh, you've got a towbar fitted! That'll have to come off too - and we might have to disconnect the wiring."

"Why would you have to do that?"

"Well if we're removing the bumper, we'll have to take off the towbar too."

I could hear the cash machine in his office ringing like it was having an uncontrollable fit. My imagination then went into over-drive.

"Then there's the roof."

"What about it."

"We have to remove that as well."


"Because we've got some new cutting equipment we need to try out."

"Then there's the wheels - they'll have to come off, and on again."

"Why's that?"

"Just so we can charge you the labour of course!"

Then he decided to put the frighteners on me.

"You do realise that the slightest knock can damage the electronics in your car? We're the only body repair shop in the entire world that has a super-dooper diagnostic machine that can check out all you circuitry and components - and correct any faults - at an extra charge of course..." 

I wondered if they were planning to siphon off the diesel why they were at it.

The quote to rectify my little dent was for almost £1000. I decided to claim through my insurance instead. But that's another story. No wonder premiums are sky-high, when the motorist is being ripped off like this.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Bumped into the new LibDem Chair of the Tory Club

I was out delivering our Focus newsletter to residents this morning, and bumped into my old mate Jack Colbert on St John's Road. You may know that last week Jack hit the front page of the Champion with the headline: TOP LIB DEM IS TORY CLUB CHIEF.

I remember thinking at the time - Steady on Jack, you're taking this coalition business too far! The truth was even stranger. Apparently Jack plays snooker at the Moor Lane club - although he isn't a member. They needed a new Chair to get them out of their dire financial position, and local Conservatives weren't interested - so they asked Jack, who accepted.

Jack's comment to the press was classic Jack: "I go there for three reasons; because there's cheap ale, good snooker tables and no Conservatives!"

This morning Jack told me that the story has gone nationwide, appearing in the likes of The Sun and the Daily Mail. Jack also told me that since the story was published, the club has attracted a steady stream of new members. Things are looking up then!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

When the lights went out

My friend Geoff (who is always lending me books to read) gave me a cracker in the form of When The Lights Went Out by Andy Becket. If you're interested in social and political history then I can recommend it.

It covers the turbulent seventies - and all the main players are there: Wilson (well past his sell-by-date), Heath, Callaghan (canny old fox), Jack Jones, Vic Feather, Scargill and Thatcher (the milk snatcher). I was growing up then, and it's amazing as it all comes back - the three day week, flying pickets, Grunwick strike, the oil crisis and the dreadful terrorism acts of the IRA.

What comes through is how governments - far from being in control - are often at the mercy of outside forces. The unions, after the 'Social Contract' went sour, finally did it for Labour - a lesson they learnt and did not repeat in the Blair-Brown years. Far from being the 'Iron Lady' Thatcher is shown to have lacked confidence when she became leader, and was not that popular a choice amongst many Tory MPs. At one point they wanted to replace her with Heath for a party political broadcast!

What makes this book a page-turner, is the engaging style, and that Beckett went to the trouble of tracking down many of the characters, interviewing them to get a modern perspective of the times they helped to shape.

When The Lights Went Out  by Andy Becket, Faber & Faber Ltd, 2010 978-0-571-22137-0

Monday, 17 January 2011

No business like snow business

I was very surprised to read that the leader of Sefton Conservatives supported the Labour cabinet member responsible for gritting in his decision not to attend public meetings on the failure to clear away the snow and ice that besieged the borough recently.

The Crosby Herald in an article headed 'Absent grit boss declines meeting' reported that Tory leader Cllr Parry had said:

' ...the attendance at Area Committees of Chief Executive Margaret Carney, and top Council officers Jerry McConkey and Peter Moore was sufficient.'

The newspaper made these comments about the non-attendance of Cllr Fairclough:

'The Labour Councillor is paid £18,000 a year on top of the basic £9,000 to act as the political boss for Technical Services.
He said: “This week’s Technical Services Department meeting was cancelled because the cabinet meeting was cancelled for the following day.
“There is another Technical Services Department meeting planned for later this month. “This arrangement was made in November before the snow had fallen.”
Cllr Fairclough said he would not attend Area Committees until a full report into Sefton’s response to the snow had been completed.'
As Chair of the Crosby Area Committee, which sits in public, I had requested that Cllr Fairclough attend this Wednesday's meeting - but he apparently had some trade union business to attend to. He had previously turned down an invitation to attend the Southport Area Committee.
Cabinet members are the local equivalent of government ministers. When things go wrong nationally, it's usually the minister who goes before the public - not the civil servants.

Playing to the gallery was a big fiddle

Not every trade unionist in the public gallery at Bootle Town Hall recently was impressed by the Labour group's antics in refusing to agree a single cut to the Council's budget - without offering any alternatives.

Sean Thornton told last week's Champion that he was losing his job, but accepts that the country is 'in a deep financial mess' and commented that he was disappointed that 'the Labour Party refused to sit down with the other two political parties... to put forward a budget that would save jobs'.

Alan Carr also writing in the Champion went even further. He said he went to the council meeting to protest over the cuts, but accused Labour leader Peter Dowd of 'playing to the gallery and turning the meeting into a pantomime'. Alan said he 'won't be used by the Labour Party or the union for their political aims'. After being a union member for 30 years and a Labour member for twenty-two - he won't be renewing his memberships, he said.

Another trade unionist who wasn't impressed with Labour's blatent abdication of responsibility, was Liberal Democrat leader Tony Robertson.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Scouse Pacific

I went with friends from Warrington on Saturday to see Scouse Pacific at the Royal Court. This comedy musical has been so successful that the run was extended until 15 January - but judging from the packed theatre - I'm sure it'll be back!

This story of a group of scousers marooned on a pacific island is very funny. But it is scouse-specific, so if you're a soft southerner you probably won't get it. There's a host of well known songs with new lyrics - Bohemian Rhapsody is superbly performed and hilarious.

It's Benidorm and The Royle Family with songs and a lot of use of the 'F' word - which I felt could have been cut-down.

Brilliant entertainment though!