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It’s party time!

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What is beneath the gloss?

So now that the Diamond Jubilee parties are over and we bask a little longer in the glow, the next party is upon us from tomorrow in the shape of a footballing feast known as the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. Another few weeks of supermarket prodding will have us overfilled with lager, beer, and frozen pizzas, our homes and cars will be draped with the flag of St. George, the “red tops” will exhort the England football team to glories well beyond their reach (they have only ONCE reached the semi final of this tournament), the new flatscreen TVs will be overheating, and when it all ends……….well there are the Olympics and Paralympics to look forward to in London, along with commercially sponsored torch bearers. One only hopes that South Tyneside Council is NOT tempted to mount the giant screen in the park again, I fear the demand will not be there to sit and watch in a South Shields park!

Of course our politicians will probably be a little more sanguine than myself, especially having invested so heavily in the London Olympics, and I confess most of the Olympian sports hold little interest for me even though there will be some football in Newcastle, but for others this will indeed be a veritable feast of summer sports with Wimbledon and Test Match cricket thrown into the mix. David Cameron and News International will be hoping to share the glory of English and British sportsmen and women as the medal count increases the “feel good” factor and the national index of good cheer. Parliament will be enjoying its long summer break with only the Leveson inquiry interrupting the good news, yet quietly gurgling away beneath the veneer of good cheer and “gloss” will be ……………………the economy.

Let’s not forget, that this is the main event!

After two years of a Conservative led coalition government the track record is not that impressive, the deficit continues to grow (albeit at a slower pace), the national debt is still woefully out of control, borrowing is still at record levels and getting higher, public expenditure is higher now than in the last years of Brown’s disastrous administration, so much for the cuts eh? The slight saving grace is that unemployment has not yet broken past levels which might lead to the sort of civil unrest witnessed in Greece. The Eurozone crisis refuses to go away, banks still appear to need recapitalisng (again) and none of the major European players seem willing to take the bull by the horns and dismantle the single currency. All the while the pan European policy appears to be one of further austerity, less public spending, and increasing taxation, as near every nation in the EU other than Germany slumbers along on virtually zero growth.

Growth? Did I mention growth?

Ah yes, who has the secret elixir which will put more money into the hands of consumers or savers? It is they alone who can provide the demand and stimulus that economies need, and any person in South Tyneside who tells you that they couldn’t use a few extra quid a month is madly deluded. Banks rely on savers to swell deposits, greater deposits create more capital, more capital creates greater liquidity which normally leads to easier lending and investment, yet the current economic cycle has brought us interest rates which creep closer to zero and discourage any saving at all. Similarly current personal and indirect taxation levels do nothing at all to inspire consumer confidence and help us to prioritise our spending on essentials such as mortgages and rents, fuel, and keeping our older cars on the road for even longer. It is almost a pan European deflationary cycle. Our own government is caught up in the very same frame of mind as Labour’s outgoing Chancellor Alistair Darling who was equally determined to reduce the deficit whilst raising taxes and sending out hopeful signals on government expenditure. Neither Labour nor the current coalition appears to have had a “plan B” that might have included some major initiatives to promote economic growth and rekindle consumer demand.

So, sadly, whilst we are in the summer party of love mood we have to remind the politicians that “it’s the economy stupid”, and with that in mind I’ve asked some of our prominent politicians in South Tyneside, along with some business people and other bloggers for their ideas on what we need to do to get our local and national economy on the move. Of course your own ideas are very welcome too.

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Dreaming in kitsch

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Obsession with tourism must be troubling me

I woke fairly early this morning after a long and troubling dream in which I had just witnessed the opening in fifteen years time of the newest South Shields entertainment initiative. Iain Malcolm South Tyneside’s (by then) veteran Labour Leader had seen his latest dream come to fruition, somehow he had cobbled together enough European and UK grants in a public/private partnership to have the old telephone exchange in Crossgate, South Shields transformed into a neo-gothic styled restaurant and night club, South Tyneside Council were to get first call on use of the place and a private operator would use it at all other times. The whole of the interior had been stripped out by a force of new apprentices especially employed by the private contractor as part of the scheme, the exterior had been clad in granite and limestone and people were impressed at how much it resembled the architecture of the Town Hall in nearby Westoe Road with its solid oak main doors and traditionally styled stained glass windows. However it was the inside of the place which really caught everyone’s attention, this was South Shields’ tribute to Westminster Hall, a magnificent chamber supported by huge columns and a fake fan vault ceiling, this was to be the most opulent medieval banqueting experience in the north-east! Malcolm had ensured that old craftsman ship had been revived to some extent with carved English oak and carpentry skills taught to young lads, others were passing on the skills of the stonemason, it also housed the most modern computer controlled laser lighting system and state of the art sound system, within fifteen minutes the main hall is transformed into a multi faceted entertainment complex, yes we all agreed this was a tremendous achievement in fifteen years. The levels of kitsch were unbelievable.

Why not, we all thought, tourism had grown as a significant part of the north east economy since the dark days of 2012 when it only accounted for around £200m worth of business, these days we are reaping the rewards of over £500m per year from visitors who come to see amongst other things our enlarged Roman Fort with its added reconstructed walls, the new swimming pool and alongside it the new leisure centre opposite the beach continue to thrive even in wet weather. The multiplex cinema and outlet shopping on the Dragon had proved to be a big hit, and even Jarrow had benefited from huge upgrades and a new visitor centre for St. Paul’s church where the history of Bede is now a major pull. Pulling it all together is the new fleet of privately operated electric mini buses transporting folks from one attraction to the other, plans are also in place by a local taxi company to replace the whole of its fleet of cars with the latest Nissan electrically driven model. They would be necessary as petrol driven vehicles were no longer allowed in the town centre – that had killed off the old car parking debates ten years ago –  and visitors were “encouraged” to use the park and ride facilities near White Mare Pool. Furthermore the expanded Ocean Beach Leisure Park and the illuminated sea front was drawing almost as many visitors as Blackpool, and they all had comfortable beds to sleep in at the new hotels at the Pier Head and Harton Staithes, which in turn had sparked a resurgence of the guest house trade on Lawe Road and Seafield Terrace.

Malcolm was beaming in his old age on the opening night as two hundred local dignitaries dined in the splendour of the new Cloisters On Crossgate, after a five course meal they were entertained by South Shields latest X Factor winner Geordie Robson who had seen his first two albums go “platinum” in the download charts within a month of release, the event was broadcast live on NETV and on South Tyneside Council’s website which was now enjoying the experience of having 10000 visitors for its monthly half hour meeting of the Borough Council where Cabinet decisions are rubber stamped. Yes, we all felt proud, an odd mix of Keynesian economics and private enterprise was driving money into the area, things could only get better (good grief Robson was even crooning that old chestnut on opening night).

Then I woke up!

With a house full of teenage guests, the sight of a blocked WC at 08:00 was no fun at all, and the temperature of that water was a complete shock to the system!

I put the dream on the back burner.

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New South Tyneside mayoral car

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Audi A8

Vorsprung durch Technik

In a week which has been full of further austerity packages both in the UK and Europe, yes folks the coalition government is failing to meet its own financial targets and must do more of what their EU masters demand, it is good to see that South Tyneside Council is about to help out the employment situation of the Germanic peoples by investing in a new car for the borough’s mayor. The old Volvo, on a “55 plate” with less than a reported 20000 miles on the clock has been sacked,  rather like “agent Bruce” and replaced in a jiffy by a model already regarded as experienced, with a good track record,  and up for the job. Just a shame that we couldn’t have gone for a luxury Nissan model and support the jobs of hundreds of South Tyneside men and women, it need not have been one of these perhaps one of the models made in Washington might have sufficed – better than exporting jobs abroad again.

Inside sources tell me that the new black Audi A8 is currently being prepared for use at Middlefields in South Shields, receiving the custom livery and coat of arms that a mayoral car must have whilst the poor old Volvo will be sent for auction “somewhere”. By my reckoning someone will be getting a real bargain as the leasing company releases this asset onto the market.

Of course the cars are leased – yes……surely?

Vorsprung durch Technik for Geordies.

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Not the right way

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not the right waySo many things that I said “No” to during the past week.

It didn’t help that “Dave’s” coalition government and the Opposition sort of joined forces to whip their MPs to vote against giving us a new referendum on our relationship with the EU, after all it is a totally different beast to the one which we last had a say about in 1973. The idea that people could register their ePetitions on the No. 10 website and if they had enough support (over 100000 signatures) they would result in a debate in the House of Commons is essentially a good one, especially as there are, from time to time, issues where it seems our MPs might be slightly out of tune with the public. However, a second petition relating to the price of petrol will apparently NOT be debated because of a lack of time in the Parliamentary calendar! Come on Dave, your government is devaluing the importance of these petitions if you cannot find time to debate them.

I profoundly disagreed too with the whole “solution” to the Eurozone crisis, this managed default of the Greek debts is a signal of much worse to come, we have spent the last two years throwing more debt at the Greeks and the Irish with other economies also being drip fed bail out funding, and let’s not forget how much was borrowed by Gordon Brown to increase the liquidity of British Banks either, I fail to see how you can solve anyone’s debts by piling more debt upon them! But we are led by the (European) nose to help create a 1.2 trillion Euro fund to assist member states who cannot manage to spend   around the same amount that they earn in revenue. Surely a result of the Brown/Obama plan to solve the banking crisis, invest spend your way out of trouble! Italy, Spain and Portugal will be next to feel the pressure of the mountain of Eurobond debts, as once again we see economies that are introducing austerity measures rather late in the day to balance their books. If we ran our household budgets in this way we would soon be looking towards a voluntary bankruptcy! Which brings us to the UK, where we too have come to realise, late in the day, that our national debts and budget deficit needed to be urgently addressed, and despite the efforts of the coalition government to bring public spending under control, those debts continue to rise and public spending continues to be a massive burden, George Osborne tells us that we are not contributing much to the European Stabilising mechanism but with deft sleight of hand we are increasing our contributions to the IMF instead, any wonder that we fail to meet spending targets? The hand of Brussels lies heavily upon the decisions made by our politicians and the whole mess has the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel musing over the future peace of Europe, possibly a rather far fetched view in my opinion, but it shapes the ridiculous writing in some of our newspapers this weekend.

Solution, allow the Eurozone to collapse and let member states reintroduce their own floating currencies, allowing a managed default based upon the exchange rate of the remaining Euro at the time of conversion to the new currency. Tell these member states that the European Central Bank will not be bailing them out in future, perhaps then we might see some fresh starts and some  growth slowly emanating from the ashes, this whole sorry affair of the last week has been more about saving the single currency and the European dream of political unity more than it has been about saving the economies of individual member states, and by playing their own small part our coalition government has nailed its flag to the mast as a lukewarm supporter of European integration. I firmly believe that ALL British politicians were wrong, wrong, wrong, not to allow their MPs a free vote during the EU debate, and that sometime in the far future the EU will collapse as a result of its utopian political and economic dreams.

Next disagreement is with Iain Malcolm, the Leader of South Tyneside Council who wrote in the Guardian during the week that councils were taking the flak for the government’s spending cuts. Was this a paid for article Iain? Anyway, pretty good at playing politics, perhaps the first stage in an election strategy for next May blaming the evil wicked Tories and Lib Dems for wreaking misery on us all but good old Labour in South Tyneside has managed to produce a budget which will not increase your council tax for e second year in succession! Can you see it coming? It may have been better and more honest of him to admit that Labour frittered away £ billions when in office, and saddled us with larger debts than we accrued through fighting the Second World War, perhaps he should have done a Liam Byrne and admitted that the cupboard was bear at the end of Gordon Brown’s tenure. He said:

The government’s cuts are brutal and ideological. Our task isn’t just to protect residents from the worst effects – it is to make them fully appreciate whose hand is on the axe.

Brutal? Idealogical? What then would Alistair Darling’s cuts have been described as if Labour had won the last election? There is no doubt that you could hardly have passed a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories public spending pronouncements at the time, £2 bn difference within a national debt amounting to £1.2 tn is minuscule. That is where I find my disagreement with the Leader of the Council, a fair lack of honesty and a total lack of clarity over who put us all in the financial mess that we are in, he was quite happy to accept the cash that Gordon Brown’s government kept producing, quite happy to keep increasing council taxes year after year when even Brown’s largesse was deemed as insufficient. He knows, I know, and we know, that the party had to come to an end.

Because it doesn’t have to be like this. Local government has been a force for good in Britain. We will work to defend our communities by examining new and innovative models of service delivery – through trusts and co-operatives, asset transfers to the voluntary sector, strategic partnerships with the private sector or more joint working between councils.

Ah, now here are the clever little secret caveats, we WILL do it the way the coalition wants, because we DO want to make sure that there will be no increase in council taxes again! Look, yes, I know and understand that it is tough going, with very difficult spending decisions to make, but I also know that we knew this latest tranche of cuts was coming, it was NOT a complete shock,we knew twelve months ago that the “front loading” was only the first phase, this is probably the press release was made by Martin Swales rather than a Labour politician. Please take time to look again at the Gazette article, because therein lies another disagreement, some fool writing in the comments section reckons we somehow managed in the past without a Chief Executive, beats me how this sort of stuff gets into some minds. No council could be administered without a manager at the top, it matters not what he/she is titled, Chief Officer, Chief Executive, Director, or Town Clerk, we have always had a one!

Finally car parking in South Shields, perhaps one of my hobby horses, I wrote at the time of the introduction of the first “pay and display” areas in Beach Road, South Shields that it would not necessarily kill off the town centre, but also warned that it was the thin end of the wedge and that Town Hall bosses would soon extend the pay and display schemes to other areas, and I was right. I published a picture showing Beach Road populated with parked cars using the new meters, more recent evidence suggests they are not quite so popular now, for instance I can never remember seeing Beach Road so empty opposite the Town Hall, yet places such as Derby Street, Claypath Lane, and back Westoe Road are totally choked! There are even decent amounts of spaces in the town centre car parks since the charging scheme was amended, 1p per minute for just one hour is simply not giving the average shopper sufficient time, the 1p per minute charge should extend to the first two hours as a good compromise. If we can go somewhere toward attracting these motorists back to the areas where they want and need to park, then we won’t be creating as many problems for local residents who see their streets choked by other motorists, then we won’t have the thorny and expensive problems of resident permit areas!

“Big society” parking operators? OK I can go along with that, but more and more “pay and display schemes” at the wrong prices and in the wrong places is now something that seems to be creating additional problems in areas where we don’t need them.

OK, end of rant, I now have a pumpkin to carve, if I can manage to get Iain Malcolm’s face on it I’ll post a picture, I seem to remember that George Elsom looked pretty ghoulish a few years ago 🙂
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Wouldhave House, South Shields

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wouldhave house south shieldsWhy all of the big fuss?

I cannot understand why the decision of South Tyneside Council to demolish Wouldhave House in the Market Place, South Shields has caused such verbose reaction amongst some of the regular readers of The Shields Gazette (from whom I link to this picture). It is an eyesore, it belongs in a bygone era when buildings needed to be erected quickly and cheaply after wartime damage, function was of far more importance than style or context, and for many years two sides of our Market Place have looked distinctly “out of place”. It’s architecture resembles post war East Germany and we were left with buildings that one could not in all honestly be proud of, but they served a purpose.

The regeneration of the riverside and the Rekendyke Ward has been something that this council of ours, and this blog, have been talking about for at least four years now, and only recently are we starting to see some solid forms rising on land that has been under-used, I actually believe that many of us will eventually get to like the design of the new BT South Tyneside HQ on Harton Staithes, its overall shape evokes the history of the river and its strong links to shipbuilding and repair, especially being so close to docks that once thrived with activity. Its two triangular shaped frontages resemble two giant hulls and point in the general direction of the two docks , Brigham and Cowans and Middle Dock, which operated nearby. We also have a new supermarket in Coronation Street which sympathetically matches the designs of new shops in Waterloo Square and the BT building (many square panels of glass.)

Houses are in the process of being constructed opposite the site of the old Eureka public house in Frederick Street, and much land has been cleared ready for development along the riverside former site of Middle Docks and the former site of Plessey/Circatex. It is good to see, at last, that some progress is being seen to be made, one constant criticism I have made of South Tyneside Labour Council has been its ability to drag its feet on town development, although I must concede in this case that many parcels of land needed to be bought up to make available for developers and this does take some time.

I wonder how many of the verbose critics in the local paper took the time to involve themselves in the consultations which began in 2007 and offered some views or opinions as to how they wanted the future shape of South Shields to evolve?  I wonder too if the constant shrill calls for free car parking are really the answer that we all seek to regenerating the borough’s economic viability and our ability to attract and retain visitors, I think that we have already proven that our parking charges are modest in comparison with our neighbours and that new pay and display areas are not succeeding in turning visitors away! You won’t find hundreds of free car parks in North Shields or Tynemouth, but the shops are still there!

For a while, as Janis Blower rightly asserts, we will have another wide open vista of the riverside which people will be reluctant to lose, but lose it we must! We must hope to find a developer who can create a modern scheme with a traditional background that should include retail units, cafes and restaurants, pubs, and commercial opportunities above and around. For those of you who have visited Hartlepool Marina, I hope you were impressed by the presentation of shops and hotel on the seaward side, I think it is a smart development with its iron palisade and glass covering, attractive enough for a visitor to take an interest in and filled with a good variety of outlets, I honestly could live with something like that on one (or even two) sides of our Market Place. However, what is vitally important to attract the right developer is that the land is available, serviced, and ready to build upon, there is little sense in leaving the north side of the Market Place as it is, it will not attract interest and postponing demolition will only increase the cost needlessly.

Lets get it down while we can, and be determined not to place a car park on it!

What form of development would readers like to see on the north side of South Shields Market Place?

Do readers believe that free parking is the answer to our many problems?

How best should South Tyneside prepare for an eventual upturn in the local economy?

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Written by curly

August 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm

This will kill the town!

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Beach Road, South Shields 16.45 17 August 2011

Beach Road, South Shields 16:45 17th. August 2011

THE introduction of pay and display parking meters near South Marine Park in South Shields will deter visitors coming to the town, critics have claimed……..

Coun Ahmed Khan, Independent Alliance representative for Beacon and Bents, has claimed parking charges were becoming a “cash cow” for the council and predicted that the cost of the residents’ parking permit would spiral year on year.

He said: “The top and bottom is that there is no such thing as a rationalised parking strategy.

“This is purely about one thing, and one thing only, that’s generating extra revenue for the council.

“Increasingly, motorists are being taxed in all kind of ways and it’s becoming obvious that they are, in effect, cash cows, that the council feels can be milked for every last drop.

“This scheme is just the tip of the iceberg. In the next two or three years we are going to see a plethora of these type of schemes, introduced whether or not residents or businesses want them.”

Nice to see that Cllr. Khan is agreeing with me on at least one thing, however I do disagree that these schemes will kill off the town or deter visitors, I took this picture less than an hour ago, it has been a fairly dreary grey and damp Monday in the middle of August with no great reason to be visiting South Shields. Yet, as this picture clearly demonstrates there are only three spaces left available at the end of the afternoon, people are obviously using these spaces and happily (well, perhaps grudgingly) paying for them, even at this late stage of the afternoon usage of these parking spaces is very much as you would normally find on a Monday. Drivers have not been deterred!

We are still generating visitors to the town centre and generating needed revenue, however as the world stares down the gun barrel of economic disaster caused by the building of debt mountains by ever profligate governments, shouldn’t we be looking at every possible way to stop our spending instead of squeezing more money from the people at the bottom of the pile, we are after all the ones you will increasingly rely upon to provide the Holy Grail of economic growth!

The other bi-product generated by this move is the self publicity for a man named as the defendant in a USA court over a pretty unsavoury business, a man who so far has failed to propose any sensible or useful policies that may help South Tyneside Council out during the current economic crisis, and as far as we are aware has failed to make a single policy proposal that has been accepted and could be said to “have made a difference”.

Own goals do not come cheaply.

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Written by curly

August 8, 2011 at 5:54 pm

A familiar pattern of denial

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The gullible and ill informed South Tynesiders willingly sign a petition.

Despite a plethora of ramblings and ill advised comment against his detractors, and there are many, Cllr. David Potts the independent former Conservative councillor for Cleadon Village and East Boldon makes some cogent and lucid observations on his Twitter account about Mr. John Robertson and the petition that he is to present to South Tyneside  Council objecting to the use of tax payer’s cash to legally investigate the alleged author(s) of the Mr. Monkey blog and other internet titles.

Although sadly not available to read online, in a recent Shields Gazette article the bankrupt Mr. Robertson makes more protestations about the affair and the cost so far to council tax payers, and to back up his claims he has produced a petition with hundreds of names of gullible poorly informed South Tyneside people which the council “will consider in due course”. How many of those people are aware of Mr. Robertson’s open and tangible distaste for anything linked to South Tyneside Council is open to question. As is their level of familiarity with his suspended jail sentence for causing £160000 worth of criminal damage to our assets in the course of his dispute with the council, damage which his insurer will have to cover and which will ensure that law abiding drivers will continue to be hit with high premiums! How much do they know of the legal costs expended on their behalf to seek reparations for the criminal behaviour of Mr. Robertson? One wonders also at the level of quality information that Mr. Robertson provided the petitioners about the type of vile, disgusting, personal, and potentially libellous comments published by the author(s) of the range of blogs still left lying around the internet for all to see. Would a petitioner be pleased to find out, for instance, that a relative of theirs may have been painted to be a predatory paedophile and a danger to children simply for photographing public events in the borough? Just one of the type of dangerous, demeaning, and damaging comments aimed at individuals in South Tyneside

As ever with all of those people interconnected with the South Tyneside Independent Alliance, and Mr. Robertson was NOT one of their candidates in last May’s elections, there is a veritable wall of silence regarding the aforementioned type of comments, – no condemnation, no refutations or rebuttals, simply “no comment”, – it is a familiar pattern. Mr. Robertson is another who can add his name to the roll of those with nothing to say on the vilifications. It gives the impression that they are in total denial, as though all of their supporters never flocked to those places, treating them like a semi-official party website.

Yet still we see Mr. Robertson having the brass neck and sheer gall to produce this petition, and to rub salt into the wounds of those personally damaged by the rogue anonymous bloggers he comments on a Shields Gazette article penning himself as “Mr. Monkey”

19 Mr Monkey Monday, July 4, 2011 at 07:42 PM

Thanks for all the positive and negative comments, as well as the personal consequences of this, the following organisations which we sponsored each year have also suffered & 20 employees—-St Clare’s hospice— 12 Junior football teams–South Tyneside Council summer festival—-South Tyneside Homes star awards—- The Mayor’s Charity—-Bilton Hall Boxing Club—Little Sisters of the Poor—-Mental Health in South Tyneside—-Regards John Robertson

Perhaps he is just deliberately trying to muddy the water with this unusual behaviour.

Regardless of the criminal court case and sentence, and regardless of his own bankruptcy Mr. Robertson reiterates his desire to become a South Tyneside councillor! Has anyone  informed him of the laws regarding legal qualification for candidates?

What gets under my skin most of all about his publicity stunt is that odd display of righteous indignation over the spending of public funds; what qualifies a man who cannot handle his own business finances and runs up debts of about £1.3m to judge and scrutinise spending on our behalf? What makes a man whose business acumen was so poor that it led to 20 people losing their jobs think he has the right characteristics to sit as a councillor in a borough crying out for economic regeneration?

 

At this point I think it right to call upon those remaining few Independent Alliance councillors in South Tyneside (Allen Branley, Jane Branley, Ahmed Khan, Gordon Finch, John Hodgson, and Geraldine White) to collectively and firmly condemn once and for all the author(s) of the offending blogs which have brought this borough into disrepute and tarnished the political debate.


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Written by curly

August 4, 2011 at 6:51 pm