Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Fairtrade fortnight starts with a glass of wine!

Last night my wife and I joined a large group of people at St Mathews School in Ipswich for a Fairtrade Wine tasting, this was the second year the event had been run and it is masterminded by the Ipswich Fairtrade Steering committee which is led by our own Councilor Carole Jones. Last year they only had 3 full tables for the wine tasting and the quiz but this year the hall was packed and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

The event in Ipswich was helped by the support of the local Co-op who are at the forefront of Fairtrade in this country. You can see that it is success just from the announcement yesterday that all Tate and Lyle sugar is now to be Fairtrade.

thanks to work of Sue and her committee, Ipswich should have been named today as a "Fairtrade Town".

What did surprise me that the local Liberals, believe themselves to be the champion of anything deemed to be 'fair', 'green' or 'eco', but only a Small handful of Liberals were present last night- no Tories that I noticed, but over 20 Labour activists including at least 10 Labour Councilors- and thanks to Carole- we were the last to sample the Fairtrade cheese and biscuits!

More on the Fairtrade fortnight can be found here.

The most inspiring moment of the night was when Vernon, a young South African who work for the farmers of Thandi. In 2003 Thandi became the world's first Fairtrade wine following the certification of its grape growers. His speech on how this year they actually made a profit so they were to sponsor the first girl from Thandi to go to university. After listening to his passionate speech, the Fairtrade stand did a brisk business.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Fantastic facility for fantastic children.

Alasdair With Chris Mole MP and members of staff from both 'Little Acorns' and the 'Cabin Crew'.

I was fortunate enough yesterday to be invited to the "Grand Opening" of the 'Little Acorn' playschool and the 'Cabin Crew' after school club. Both organisations have just moved in to a joint location at Sidegate Primary School in Ipswich.

This was the culmination of over two years hard work mainly undertaken by the staff of both 'Little Acorns' and the 'Cabin Crew' . They received fantastic assistance and guidance through the whole process from Mr Andrew Waterman, the Head Teacher at Sidegate Primary.

I was joined at the opening by our local MP, Chris Mole.

Labour has come under some criticism for some of it's education policy, but here was a fine example of a policy that is working- the one of extended schools and of the school becoming the hub of the community. We now have the 'Cabin Crew' providing a breakfast club and an after school club, whilst the 'Little Acorns' can now provide a playschool for both morning and afternoon sessions.

This project has received the largest grant in the County yet, but it was still not enough so we were fortunate that members of the local community, Sidegate Primary and fund raising by both organisations has helped reached the final total. My Labour colleague, Clr Sue Thomas was able to allocate some of her locality grant to the centre.

One of this Labour Governments objectives should be to have a centre like this at every Primary school in the town. This is a fine example of what 'extended schools' is all about.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Kosovo- Declares itself independent from Serbia.

Well the week’s worst kept secret happened this afternoon as Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia. I have followed this story very closely as I spent the end of 1999 and the start of 200 in Pristina, the capital- as part of the NATO Peace keeping force.
We arrived only a few weeks after the NATO led invasion and it seemed to be a very quick transition from Serb rule to a UN/NATO led state. It seemed that the UN/NATO and the aid agencies had learnt many lessons from earlier conflicts in the Balkans and that a peaceful turnover of power to the Albanian majority could take place.
It has surprised me that it has taken 8 years to get in this position but in the main, i believe an independent Kosovo is the best solution.
But reading through the national and international press, some of the worries that I have are hardly mentioned. Much is made of Serbia and Russia not being happy and that Serbia may man some sort of blockade from the North and East (in reality this will make no great difference to Kosovo- they will just trade with Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria and it will be Serb's who lose out on income). there is also talk of Russia recognising breakaway regions in Georgia and Rumania.
The press also mention that the remaining Serb's will not be happy- that may seem obvious, but in 2000, many of those Serbs who stayed behind- especially in the capital Pristina- were very anti the Serb nationalist Government in Belgrade. Many of those have since left and a majority of those Serbs that are left are very poor or very old, the only real area of Serb influence is in the north in the city of Mitrovica, a city where my former regiment, the Royal Green Jackets were involved policing large Albanian protest at the start of 2000.
My worry is that many of the Albanian leaders will look to increase their own territory- not so much a Greater Albania- as they have little interest in joining Albania but it is the parts of Macedonia that are inhabited by a mainly Albania population and the area where my main worry is the parts of Serbia to the direct east of Kosovo, there is a large Albanian population and right from the start of the withdrawal of the Serb Army in 1999 the Kosovo Liberation army have made raids on that part of Serbia. Many of these attacks seemed to come from the American sector where there seemed very little will of the American commanders to stop the KLA- very unlike the North east where the British put a large amount of

resources into stopping the KLA and keeping the border area under control.
If you look at the map on the BBC News site here, and tick the box above the map to show the percentage of Albanians outside Kosovo and Albania you will see where there may be future trouble spots.
I do believe in independence for Kosovo but NATO must continue to keep a strong presence not only to help protect the Serb minority but also to stop those in the KLA (and possibly CIA!) from using this historic step today as a springboard for future land grabs from Serbia and Macedonia.

Myself in Pristina in 2000.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Ipswich Tories pretend they want consultation.

St Clement's Hospital- soon to be houses?
The Ipswich Tories, with plenty of input from their Lib Dem allies have recently launched their plans for housing in Ipswich over the next 13 years. The Local Development Framework (LDF) outlines a number of options for housing across Ipswich. Their "preferred option" includes building 442 houses on gardens across the town and 43 housing units on the Halifax Road play area- a place where the council has spent thousands on play equipment recently!

One option not in the LDF is to build on the Northern Fringe (Valley Road area). It seems they will build on any brown/green space in the town rather than build in the North. They feel there will be no need to build on the northern fringe till after 2021.

Of course their excuse is to blame the Government for setting a figure of 15,400 dwellings to be built in Ipswich by 2021.

In Rushmere we have a possibility of 16 dwellings on the site of the Colchester Road Fire station and of an even greater concern is the plan to build 97 homes on the site of the old driving test centre on Woodbridge Road, this of course is right next to the current building development on the site of the old Hayhill's allotments.

A number of residents are only finding out about these plans thanks to a leaflet campaign by my fellow Labour colleagues. There does seem that no major effort has been made by the Tories or Lib Dems to get the views of local residents. No plans to arrange any public meetings, this is particularly distressing for those residents who live near some of the sites which are earmarked for large housing developments such as the plan for the St Clement's Hospital site.

The Ipswich Labour Party will keep working to inform as many residents as possible, you have till February 25th to send in your views to Ipswich Borough Council. you can find more details of the LDF here.

The local paper 'The Evening Star' are also running a story highlighting the concern of local residents that there seems to be no real attempt by the Tory/Lib Dems to include the residents of Ipswich in any meaningful consultation on the plans for housing within the Borough. You can read that story here.

Remember you have at present till the 25th February to get your views listened to by the Tory/LibDems. You can contact me through this blog if you want further details on the LDF.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Sheepshanks thinks the Premier League "World Tour" is a good plan!

Mr David Sheepshanks- the Mr "Teflon" chairman of our great Football Club- Ipswich Town, has come out to say that he thinks the Premier League idea of playing a 39th game around the world from New York to Singapore is a brilliant plan.

No surprise there!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Munich 1958- Remembered with honour by the fans. The fans betrayed by the owners..

As fans of Manchester United and Manchester City remembered those who lost their lives tragically in the 1958 accident with honour the greedy owners of the Premier League are about to betray the name of English football with a mad cap idea of playing a 39th game for each team in places like Tokyo.
It seems ironic that today to show what football means to the people of this country one of the first acts of remembrance was for United and City to play with no sponsors names on their shirts, on top of that old style scarves were given to supporters- no modern merchandise. these pictures would have been transmitted all over the world and only further enhancing the good name of English football. whilst at the same time, club owners including the Americans at Old Trafford are selling the soul of the game. Club and FA administrators were worried that a few so called supporters may have ruined the minutes silence, the FA should have been more worried about Richard Scudamore at the Premier League and the 20 club chairman, who in one week have done more damage to the national game than a few fans not remaining silent would have.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

From Belgrade to Super Tuesday- elections that both can effect us.

As a bit of a political and election spotter, I take an interest in news on any election from a Parish Council seat in Suffolk to the big American "Super Tuesday" that takes place this week.

The US election always makes big news over here but probably even more so this year with the democrats likelyto elect either their first woman or first black American candiadte for the Presidential election. It would be nice if actualy some of our broadsheet papers put as much effort into promoting UK elections as they are the race for the White House- the Independent this week giving away a free US election guide and a large glossy map.

Of course the US election is important to us here- they are electing a person who will become the most powerful man in the world and some of his first decisions will effect our own foreign policy. A democrat win will almost certainly see a dramatic change in US policy in Iraq and possibly Afganistan. As an ex soldier , this interests me as I am sure a sudden US pullout from either theatre will mean that Godon Brown would have to follow suit- more so in Iraq.

But it is not just the US election that will effect us, recent German elections have been used by commentators in the UK to look for similarites and pointers towards our own future elections. But it is an election slightly further east than Germany that may cause more headaches for those who direct our foriegn policy. Today we see voting in Serbia in their presedntial elections, and the success of Serb nationalist politicians will see them more closely link themselves to Russia and will have a major effect on possible indepenence for Kosova. It could lead for more troops to be sent to the Balkans. Overstretch is a big concern for the Armed Forces at present and they are only able to pursue successful campaigns in Iraq and Afganistan due to troop reductions in Kosova and Bosnia. A hightening of tensions in the Balkans will need Gordon Beown to make sure that it is our European allies who take the brunt of an increase in troop numbers. Those NATO counties who have failed to send troops to support the mission to bring stability to Afganistan should be lent on to make sure they are at the fore of any troop increase in the Balkans.

So the election results from Belgrade today have as much interest to me as the "Super Tuesday" results will have later in the week.