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Rene Kinzett

Elected Mayors would end opaque decision-making structures in Local Government

February 26th, 2011 by René Kinzett

“THE buck stops here” said the sign on the desk of the 33rd US President Harry Truman.

Isn’t that what we really want from our politicians? Someone who is clearly in charge, someone we can point the finger of blame at (or even shower with praise!) and who doesn’t let officials and underlings take the heat for them when things go wrong?

Compare this ideal of a transparent decision-maker with the realities of local government in most of the United Kingdom. Where decision-makers are shielded from public scrutiny.

How many people know who the leader of their local Council is? Or indeed the name of the person who would most likely take over the reigns of power locally should their be a shift in the political control of the Council?

The system of electing our councillors means that the person who becomes the leader of the council is going to be someone we’ve probably never heard of and know very little about.

Many residents don’t even know which party runs their local council. In my area, many people I’ve spoken to still thinking that Labour are in control at Swansea’s Civic Centre, despite them having lost out to the Liberal Democrat-Independent Alliance in the elections of 2004 and 2008.

This anonymity is not lost on our politicians.

The Liberal Democrat- Independent Alliance councillors who run Swansea Council still print leaflets blaming the council for doing something wrong, or questioning service cuts that affect their own districts. I’ve seen similar from other parties in other areas.

If nobody knows who is responsible for decision- making, then the decision-makers can feel safe, hidden away from the full glare of public scrutiny behind a shield of public confusion and ignorance.

But cities like Swansea has an alternative.

The law allows any local authority to opt for an elected mayor model of local decision-making.

To trigger a referendum on giving the people of a town, city or borough their say as to whether we should have an elected Mayor, either the councillors must vote for it (would turkeys vote for Christmas?) or, in Wales at least, 10% of the electorate have to sign a petition between May and November of this year (in England a town would only need 5% of its population to sign the petition).

I am very pleased that the Localism Bill will give the people of some of the major cities of England the opportunity to vote as to whether they want an elected mayor. I know that the Shadow Minister for Local Government in Wales, the Conservative Assembly Member Jonathan Morgan, has promised to include a similar commitment in the Welsh Conservatives Manifesto for this year’s National Assembly elections.

This new model of local government would give the people of Swansea and other towns and cities the chance to have as their local political leader a person who is directly accountable to each and every elector.

The directly elected mayor would be a powerful voice for a city across the UK and the wider world.

A directly elected mayor would be the focal point for the regeneration of towns and cities and for the improvements in efficiencies and modernisation of local public services.

They would be a visible and accountable decision- maker, unable to hide behind bureaucrats or anonymous councillors.

The directly elected mayor would be the person that potential new employers could do business with and government would have to negotiate with.

The directly elected mayor would have the authority and influence that only comes from a direct mandate from the people.

Towns and cities like Swansea would join modern forward-thinking cities of the world in having its own leader with a mandate to serve in our interests, not the narrow interests of the group of councillors who he or she was selected by.

Let us unite on this issue, which is bigger than party politics, and bring about some real and lasting change in the way we do business in local government.

Yes for Wales – Welsh Conservatives support new powers for the National Assembly

February 24th, 2011 by René Kinzett

This post first appeared on Platform 10

With all the controversy surrounding the AV referendum in May, the other referendum next week has all but been ignored by the Metropolitan-based media. Whilst the Parliamentary Ping-Pong of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was interesting to watch, the referendum on further powers for the National Assembly for Wales has been progressing at a more steady rate of knots.

The constitutional settlement with regard to Wales and its place in the United Kingdom has always been different to Scotland and Northern Ireland. History plays its part in this and whilst I wouldn’t overplay the direct effects of the struggles between the Welsh, the Normans and the Tudors, the fact that Wales hasn’t been an independent nation for many hundreds of years cannot be ignored. In Scotland a distinct educational system, a different legal jurisdiction, an “organised” alternative to the Church of England and a recognised separate Royal Household all helped to ferment over centuries a strong civil society in which debates for a new relationship with the United Kingdom could take place in a mature and highly functioning polity. Northern Ireland, with the demands of the peace process, had a different driver to create a new devolved settlement for the Province.

Wales, on the other hand, has lacked both the benefits of a distinct political identity from England as in the case of Scotland and the political impetus of Northern Ireland finding a sustainable model of devolved administration. The 1997 referendum was held on the basis of proposals for a relatively weak Assembly with the powers to vary legislation pertaining to Wales on a prescribed list of devolved areas. Essentially the Assembly as proposed in 1997 and embodied in the Government of Wales Act 1998 was able to pass secondary legislation, control the devolved budget and had about the same powers as a Secretary of State. The referendum was passed by the smallest of margins (50.3% to 49.7%) and the new system lasted until the Government of Wales Act 2006.

The current arrangements, as specified in Part 3 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, allow for the Assembly to pass primary legislation, known as “Assembly Measures”, but only if it has received the necessary legislative powers with the agreement of Parliament, through the passing of an LCO, within the 20 fields in Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act. In a nutshell, the LCO process is outlined below:

  • Internal discussion on the terms of a draft Order with the Wales Office and Whitehall
  • Draft LCO published
  • Pre-legislative scrutiny by committee at the Assembly
  • Pre-legislative scrutiny at Westminster, usually by the Welsh Affairs Committee in the Houses of Commons and the Constitution Committee in the Lords. Each committee prepares a report and can propose amendments to the draft LCO, as can the Secretary of State if s/he wishes
  • The Welsh Government considers the various responses, and prepares a formal LCO
  • The proposed LCO is considered by the National Assembly
  • If approved by the Assembly, it is then considered at Westminster. It may be considered again by the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, and will also be scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
  • Both Houses of Parliament approve the LCO, or not. If approved, it then receives Royal approval

In terms of the referendum, if there is a majority vote in favour of further powers, the Assembly will be able to pass legislation, in the form of “Assembly Acts”, under all areas outlined in 20 subjects in the 2006 Act without the need to follow the LCO procedure. Should there be a majority vote against further powers, the status quo will continue.

Recent opinion polls have indicated a majority for enhanced powers. The Referendum is also likely to be fought on a low turnout. According to the most recent opinion poll in, late January, 46% would vote ‘Yes’, 25%, ‘No’ with 21% ‘Don’t Know’ and 8% not voting. The Welsh Assembly Government has launched a roadshow-style information campaign to encourage people to vote.

In lining up with Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats in backing a Yes vote, the Welsh Conservatives have undergone a massive policy shift since the 1997 referendum which established the National Assembly for Wales. Back then, there were no major Conservative figures backing a Yes vote and the current Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly, Nick Bourne AM, was one of the chief spokespeople in the No camp. As Nick is now not slow in pointing out, lots has changed in that 13 and a bit years, notably the Welsh Conservatives.

The Welsh Conservatives were quick to rid themselves of the anti-devolution badge just as soon as they were able to ditch Rod Richards as their Assembly Leader barely a few months after the first Assembly Election in 1999. In that time, Nick Bourne has led the Party in the Assembly and has carefully crafted a progressive message of pragmatic Toryism with a good dollop of support for practical devolution. For Nick, for the majority of Welsh Conservative Assembly Members and indeed for many like me in the County Halls and Constituency Associations up and down Wales, the issue is not really one of “extra powers” for the National Assembly, it is a question of creating a devolution settlement for Wales that is fair, easy to understand and enables politicians in Wales to deliver real change for the people in Wales. The current system with its overly complex procedures leads to gridlock and conflict between Cardiff Bay, Whitehall and Parliament.

We need a new constitutional settlement for Wales. In supporting the Yes vote, the Assembly Group Leader and his colleagues, as well as the majority of Welsh Conservative Councillors and activists, are working hard to position our Party to be able deliver a progressive Conservative agenda in Wales after the Assembly Elections in May.

Conservative coffers boosted in “sale of opportunities” to kids of the super rich

February 13th, 2011 by René Kinzett

Good grief, you couldn’t make it up, could you?

Only two months ago the Government launched its Equalities Strategy, aimed at building a society where no one is held back because of who they are, or where they come from and outlining steps to widen access to the Civil Service by lower-income groups through targeted internships.

Then the fund-raisers at Tory HQ pull the rug from under all the rhetoric by selling exclusive opportunities with top City banks, PR companies and top-title fashion magazines at the “Black & White” party for the super-rich.

I do not know why the sons and daughters of attendees at what was once called the “Winter Ball” need to spend around £3,000 per placement when their own contacts and networks pretty much guarantee the offspring a “vac scheme” in most top companies in any case.

Obviously all parties try to get cash out of the pockets of the super-rich. Tony Blair used to send out Lord Levy to lighten the wallets of City bankers in exchange for promises of “light touch regulation” (you know, the regime that Ed Balls used to be so pleased about) and who can forget Bernie Ecclestone making a huge payment to the Labour Party at the same time that the Blair Government was debating tobacco advertising in sport with an exemption for Formula One racing? Or indeed those holier-than-thou chaps at 4 Cowley Street having to explain their funding deal with a convicted criminal?

I am certainly not getting squeamish about the murky world of political fund-raising and to be frank I’ve turned a blind eye to most of what goes on in that sphere – like not wanting to see laws and sausages being made, I often find it more palatable not to know about how parties make their money.

However, the auctioning of “things that money can’t buy” at the Black & White Ball is a worrying affair. I don’t mind whether a City banker wants to part with £25,000 for a round of golf with the England cricket captain or dinner for 6 at £6,000 at Stringfellow’s (they would have to pay me to partake in that!), but the selling off of “golden opportunities” is something that frankly sticks in my craw. So many organisations that examine social opportunity and indeed Government Departments themselves identify the lack of social networks of the parents in lower-income groups as part of the problem of widening access to top employers and professions. The sale of exclusive opportunities to the already-connected is yet another barrier to social opportunity for those already facing it tough to gain entry to top professions.

How much better would it have been for the Party to combine the need to raise cash from the wealthy with the aims and objectives of the Government’s Equalities Strategy? Take the cash from the bankers on the basis that the placements will be reserved for kids from poorer backgrounds? Wishful thinking? Ok, I’ll dream on.

Conservatives need to debate AV, not stifle ideas

February 13th, 2011 by René Kinzett

The news that the Conservative Party has excluded the official “Conservatives for AV” organisation from being able to hold a fringe meeting at the Party’s Spring Conference in Cardiff next month has come as something of a surprise.

For years the Party has been happy to take money from exhibitors and organisers of fringe meetings pushing ideas and policies at odds with the Party’s manifesto. Conference attendees will be urged to attend pro-EU meetings, anti-EU lunches, fringes organised by airport operators and breakfasts hosted by wind farm developers.

So, what is different about the debate to reform our electoral system? Why is the Party so keen to not only press its corporate message of “no to AV” but now appears to want to curtail any internal debate on the matter, too? Could it be that the No to AV campaign is losing ground and failing to inspire with its dull messages of negativity and half-truths? I trust that the No Campaign have had no bearing on the decision by the Party to deny the Conservatives for AV their meeting space at the Conference, but questions need to be asked of our Party Chairman as to the reasons for this departure from the usual commitment to open debate at Conference Fringes. I have written to Baroness Warsi and Andrew Feldman outlining my concerns:

Dear Baroness Warsi and Mr Feldman

After having read John Strafford’s article on Conservative Home, I am writing to you to urge you to reconsider the decision to not allow a “Conservatives for AV” Fringe Meeting to take place at the Spring Forum/Welsh Conference next month. I note from the BBC article that the Party is quoted as saying that it is “surprised” by the comments attributed to Mr Strafford as not such request for a meeting had been received. I am not sure how this has occurred as I saw a copy of the form, duly filled in and signed, prior to its dispatch last month.

I believe that there are many Conservatives who would wish to openly debate the issues concerning AV, its pros and cons. Conservatives do not take easily to being told what they ought to think, let alone what they should or should not learn more about. I cannot see why it is in the Party’s interests to close down debate within the Party on AV. I fully accept that the Party has a corporate policy of being against the change to AV, but the Prime Minister promised that all members of the Party had a free vote on the matter.

As Vice-Chair of the Tory Reform Group Cymru and as someone who would have been attending the Welsh Conservatives Party Conference in any case (and indeed would have applied to the Welsh Party to hold a similar pro-AV Meeting) I have copied into this email the Director of the Welsh Conservatives, Matt Lane.

Best wishes

René

Cllr R H Kinzett

There have been some interesting examples of the No Campaign becoming worried about the prospects of the May referendum resulting in a yes vote. The language of some of the No to AV campaigners on Twitter leaves many, especially those in the undecided category, distinctly turned-off. There was also the inaccurate listing of Michael Gove as a “No Campaign” supporter.

Then there is the question of the misrepresentation of polling data. The only recent polling to put the No Campaign ahead was conducted by YouGov for the Sun, with bespoke wording informing the respondent that the proposal to change the electoral system was a “Conservative/LibDem coalition” plan. All the polls which use the actual wording on the ballot paper resulted in a win for the Yes Campaign.

The No Campaign may not be able to put up any good reasons to stop people from voting for reform, but they really ought not to be aided by the stifling of debate or the gross manipulation of polling data.

Lowering Expectations

January 15th, 2011 by René Kinzett

The news that the Government is seriously considering shaking up the higher education admissions system by changing to a post-result application procedure has got to be very welcome news to people like me who have long wanted to see this brought about.

The Government is consulting on whether to change the A Levels timetable so as to allow those applying to higher education to do so AFTER they receive their final A Level results. The current system sees students relying on their “predicted” grades to help them to chose the type of institution they apply to and even what course they choose to study. A post-result application system will allow students to make choices based on what they actually get in their final exams and coursework assessments.

This may seem like a dull mechanistic change to many, but apart from the obvious benefit of giving students a more powerful position as consumers, shopping around for a university course with their grades already banked, there is also the issue of social mobility to consider. Groups such as the Sutton Trust have long argued that students from poorer backgrounds, studying in schools or sixth form/FE colleges with little expertise in university entrance requirements, tend to have their predicted grades deflated some way below what they often actually receive. Compare this to independent schools where A Level predicted grades are more accurate; where whole lessons are put aside for university application processes; and tutors expert in getting kids into the best institutions can use a student’s predicted grades to match them to the best possible options in terms of courses and colleges.

I remember when I was doing my A Levels, I had a pretty standard set of predicted grades, plenty good enough for most universities offering the courses I was interested in, but not so good as to make any application to a Russell Group university look realistic. I thus opted to make applications to institutions where my predicted grades would secure me a place on the course I wanted to study. I also made a wild card application to one Russell Group institution, more out of protest at what I saw as a predicted grade score lower than I thought I would get. However, once the provisional offers came rolling in I got cold feet and opted for a “safe” choice of an offer at the grades I was predicted and an insurance choice;  I rejected the offer from the “better” institution on the basis that the grades wanted were somewhat above my predicted results and I felt that it would be a wasted option on my application form. As it was, my results were good enough to have secured a place at the Russell Group institution and whilst I telephoned the Admissions Tutor in the department concerned to plead my case, it was of no use due to the course being over capacity.

Whilst I don’t regret having studied at the university I got into, I do wonder how many other people were in my situation. This issue has been around for a long while and I remember working on it back in 1999/2000 when I was employed by the old Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) now Universities UK, where I was looking at issues relating to widening participation in higher education. I also recall certain groups of higher education staff being against the changes, presumably because it would mean more work for them to do in the summer term after students get their A Level results.

A lot of what this Government is looking at in terms of widening participation and encouraging students from lower-income backgrounds to go to the best universities in the country is very much longer-term work, involving almost a cultural shift in how we view universities and the education system generally. However, by doing this one small thing, by changing the A Levels exams timetable and bringing in a post-result application system for higher education, the Government could achieve quite a lot without a huge amount of effort or turmoil.

The Conservative Case for AV

January 10th, 2011 by René Kinzett

I am continuing my crusade for progressive and reformist Conservatism and today have published on the Cameroonian Platform 10 my latest thoughts in favour of the Alternative Vote and republish here, along with some retorts to the “good things about First-Past-The-Post” arguments.

When Gordon Brown found his long-lost reformist zeal just before the General Election, his proposals were hopelessly top-down and driven only by political expediency – a way of showing a bit of ankle to the Liberal Democrats in the hope of a post-election bunk-up. The Coalition Agreement and the Alternative Vote Referendum now offer us the chance for real change and such an opportunity will not re-present itself for decades to come.

That is not to say that “any reform is better than no reform” and I do want to engage in a sensible and informed debate about the problems associated with AV. But those who argue against reform must do more than attack AV (often using examples of some hybrid system used in obscure US local/judicial elections with no relevance to the UK proposals); they must tell us why FPTP is a system worthy of keeping.

There are those who argue that the Conservatives would have done worse under the AV system in 2010, but new polling from Lord Ashcroft has shown that the Party could actually do much better in marginal seats. Regardless of partisan advantage, I still see it as undemocratic that our 47 per cent seat share in the House of Commons is rather larger than our 36.1 per cent of the share of the popular vote.

AV is currently used to elect the Chairs of Select Committees in the House of Commons and for the Leadership of the Conservative Party. Interestingly if the Party Leadership elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005 had been fought under FPTP, the outcomes would have been Clarke, Portillo and Davis respectively. The AV nature of the contest meant that the eventual winners of those races (Hague, Duncan-Smith and Cameron) represented a broader cross-party view than those who came ahead in the first round of voting. If we can see the benefits of AV for selecting Commons Committee Chairs and for our own internal Party elections, why can’t we comprehend the advantage for the wider electorate when they come to vote for their MPs?

AV would also end “wasted” votes. Candidates campaigning against Labour incumbents from a third-place position have to endure countless bits of paper going through doors from the Liberal Democrats telling electors that a Tory vote would be a “wasted vote”. The instant run-off nature of AV allows electors to make a more sophisticated choice, expressing their support for the Party they support the most, then going on to make subsequent preferences which will only count if their first choice is “off the menu”, as it were. It is the ultimate “consumer is king” form of voting.

AV really does put the voter in a more prominent position in terms of exerting influence on incumbent MPs than the current FPTP. It encourages MPs and candidates to reach out into new parts of the electorate in order to earn second and subsequent preferences. In seats where MPs feel vulnerable to subsequent preferences, perhaps it would be incumbent upon them to build a dialogue with the supporters of their smaller opponents? The MP would simply no longer be able to ignore the 60 per cent or so of people who did not vote for them and every party really will have to work all year round!

The politics of the outcome of the 2010 General Election meant that David Cameron had to go against the instincts of many Conservatives and offer an historic referendum to give the British people the opportunity of gaining an electoral system with many more benefits than the current FPTP system. The chance for change is now upon us and we must seize moment and vote for reform.

Some counter arguments/points from me in reply to a list of the “good” things about FPTP:

  • It gives a chance for popular independent candidates to be elected.

FPTP rarely gives the chance for an independent candidate to be elected, we need only three fingers to count how many times that has happened in recent electoral history (Wyre Forest, Tatton and Blaenau Gwent) and the issues leading to these results in two out of three were about political corruption or internal party struggles. Nothing to say that a popular independent candidate wouldn’t be elected under AV, esp if they had broad appeal, came second and could capture subsequent preferences (under AV I would predict that Dr Richard Taylor may have had more chance of holding onto Wyre Forest for example).

  • Third parties are able and do get elected, as do minor or nationalist parties

Again, why would elections under AV be any different? With no “wasted” votes, every person could cast their 1st pref for the party they really wanted to support. It could lead to some big surprises in levels of support for all parties, esp in areas where a party has been cast by opponents as a “can’t win here” party.

  • It stops extremist parties from being elected to the Commons

AV would only allow eg BNP in if the BNP already had STRONG support and came close 2nd in a any seat AND that the subsequent preferences of supporters of parties who came behind the BNP actually WENT to the BNP. Name a place where this scenario is likely!

  • Provides strong, stable government

FPTP hardly lived up to this promise last May, did it?

  • It preserves the principle of ‘one man one vote’

So does AV and it gives more choice.

  • Allows for a decisive vote for a single candidate

And if a candidate is elected every election with barely 40% of the vote, how decisive is the endorsement of that candidate to be the MP?

  • On the whole allows for single party government

But FPTP had produced small majorities/hung parliament since WW2 in 2010, 1979, 1974, 1970 (Heath had to bunk up with UUP to get 31 seat maj), 1964, 1951 (National Liberals and UUP giving Tories 17 seat maj) and 1950, leading to either new elections or “back room deals” or uneasy alliances WITHIN Governments with small single party majorities.

  • Very simple to understand and lowest per invalid vote system in the world

Is AV too complicated for the average voter who has to make more complex preferential choices in terms of being a consumer every day of the week?

  • Allows for quick counting and easy change of government

This does not take into account the possibility of using electronic voting/counting methods. Also how “quick” an election is to count is secondary imo to how fair the system is, how much choice is gives and how accurately the result mirrors the general will.

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Let’s finish what Winston started….

January 2nd, 2011 by René Kinzett

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill

All this talk about the merger between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is not new. Very much old hat. Old top hat, indeed, if you take into account that the last chap who publicly advocated such a thing was none other that Winston Churchill.

When Winston “re-ratted” back to the Conservative Party in 1925, after a twenty year sabbatical with the Liberals, he sought to add some context to his political journey by claiming that what he really wanted to see was a two party system: a Socialist Party opposed by a Conservative Party with a strong Liberal wing. As a man who had worked tirelessly and shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of David Lloyd George and Herbert Asquith on welfare reforms, improvements to industrial conditions and generally to make the lot of the working man a good deal more bearable, Churchill’s motivation in wanting to encapsulate the best of Liberal radical and progressive thought with the constitutionalist and fiscal strength of the Conservative Party is plain to see.

When Churchill became Prime Minister for the second time in 1951, he undertook to persuade, unsuccessfully, the then Leader of the Liberal Party Clement Davies, leading his Parliamentary Party of 6 MPs, to join forces in formal coalition with the Conservative Government. Twenty three years later, Edward Heath’s Conservative Government rather needed the Liberal Party and its popular Leader Jeremy Thorpe to shore up his minority government but again the hopes of a Tory-Liberal deal were dashed.

Now with the first minority Conservative Government in 30 years, Cameron has pinned his hopes of leading a sustainable administration on a successful working relationship with the Liberals. Only Cameron wants to go further than Heath and his strategy harks back to a Churchillian desire to realign the right. Blair’s dream of the realignment of the centre-left, egged on by Claret-fuelled sessions with Roy Jenkins, was really nothing more than window dressing and couldn’t really progress through the realities of a partisan Labour movement totally hostile to working with the Liberals (or with anyone else for that matter).

But Cameron has a real chance to bring his ideas of Liberal Conservatism to fruition and to succeed where even Churchill tried and failed.

Labouring a point on student fees

December 22nd, 2010 by René Kinzett

Am getting very fed up with the level and intensity of misinformation in relation to the new student finance regime. Even whilst listening to BBC Radio 4 flagship personal finance programme, Money Box Live, whilst driving through Swansea today, I was left spluttering in indignation and nearly sliding across the iced-up roads even more erratically than usual.

The programme was hearing from legions of grandparents looking to “put a little aside for little Billy’s university fees”. Everyone wanted to create a nest egg so that this evil government’s plan to charge our kids £9,000 per year didn’t leave our little ones with a huge debt burden. ARGHHHH!!!! The schmaltz of Christmas normally pains me, but this syrupy nonsense was made worse by the otherwise financially literate journalists who host Money Box/Money Box Live actually chiming in with sympathetic noises and various non sequiturs. The deliberate confusion of the electorate by the NUS/Labour misinformation campaign has now gone on too long and has affected almost every part of the media.

I have to say that I do think that the Government (and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Party machines) lost the initiative during the fees debate in terms of influencing public opinion, but the latest initiatives to fight back in combating myths and lies do seem to be very well presented. The facts about fees site really does blow a huge hole through the anti-government alliance of students, misguided Labour MPs (do they and/or their Leader support a graduate tax, the status quo, the Browne Report recommendations or something in between?) and frightened Liberal Democrats.

It is now incumbent on the respectable portals of information, the places where people go for the records on public affairs, to put the records straight. Whenever lazy journalists mix up general student debt (built up through general living costs via overdrafts, loans and credit cards) with the new fees repayment system, the Government and Coalition Parties MUST combat effectively and always seek to put the record straight. Even the simple table below gives more accurate information than I’ve seen or heard from most media outlets during this debate.

The new system of student fees, paid back through an income-contingent system, will see a fairer and more equitable treatment of graduates and will also introduce proper support for part-time students and extra help for students from the poorest families. Instead of knee-jerk reactionary claptrap (whether expressed by students from well-off families rioting on the streets of Whitehall, NUS officers looking for careers in the Labour Party, 40 year-old “student” Marxist throw-backs taunting said careerists, or even from BBC financial journalists), we all need to engage in a level-headed and rational debate based on the facts.

On expenses

December 11th, 2010 by René Kinzett

The hoo-ha over MPs expenses continues apace with some politicians believing the General Election was a year zero event and now they can go back to their usual practice of putting those much needed scatter cushions in the third home and Fido’s tinned slop back on the expense account. MPs are also openly at war with the new body (IPSA) that was set up to supposedly restore public confidence in the expenses regime at Westminster.

However, this is also the time of year when local authorities have to publish the expense claims and allowances paid to Councillors. In my own Authority, the City & County of Swansea, I have been much amused by how much in “travel” expenses my fellow Members can claim for travelling to and from meetings in Civic Centre. I wasn’t aware that Swansea was such a huge sprawling place that Members could rack upwards of a grand in mileage each year. Maybe I’m taking too much of a direct route to my office and the Council Chamber…indeed some of those claiming the most do have a rambling nature when speaking in meetings, so perhaps they also have a rather indirect way of travelling from A to B as well?

Although some Swansea Councillors may have trouble finding the most direct route for getting to meetings, that’s as nothing compared to the Liberal Democrat Member on North Devon District Council who asks the taxpayer to fund his travel costs between Swansea and Barnstaple. Councillor Wilsher has left his wife to move in with his Swansea-based girlfriend, but claims the travel to and fro. One wonders if the LibDems will give the roving Councillor a free transfer to Swansea Council in the 2012 elections seeing as he spends more time in our City than he does at home in Devon.

I am grateful to the local rag for giving me the accolade as one of the lowest paid Councillors on the Authority, including a whopping ZERO claim for travelling.

Tweety Hall

December 10th, 2010 by René Kinzett

My predilection for tweeting in the Council Chamber during meetings of Swansea Council has been well reported, with some old guard Councillors finding the practice alien and uncomfortable, whilst others (i.e. about two others out of a Council of 72) have embraced the principles of social networking adding to the democratic process.

At least now the local press has seen fit to examine the issue in more detail in today’s “Agenda” piece. The Evening Post picked up on the idea of a wider article about social networking and democratic participation in Swansea after I used twitter to invite suggestions for what questions I should be posing to the Leader and Cabinet Members of my Authority during Councillor Question Time.

I hope that by using social networking in ways which complement the traditional democratic process, we can reach out and promote greater participation with a wider section of the community.

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