Thursday, March 11, 2010

Class War

I've been away for a couple of days, attending the Local Government Association Fire Confernce in Manchester.

To be honest, I rarely go to conferences these days - justifying the time away in a very hectic schedule is difficult, but more pertinently, I'm not convinced that many represent good value for money. In the current economic climate, I certainly couldn't agree to anything resembling a "junket" stay.

I attended the LGA Fire Conference last year as a delegate from the Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority, and learnt more in a few hours than I had done from months worth of agenda and policy papers back home. I was pleased to be asked to go again, and found this conference equally informative.

The burning issue (ahem) which dominated the discussion was the delayed FiReControl scheme, under which local control rooms are being merged into regional centres country-wide. As is often the case in the public and private sectors, however, software problems have dogged the process, leading to delays. Listening to the pompous, garrulous Tories who increasingly dominate local government at all levels these days, however, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a uniquely scandalous state of affairs.

Refreshingly, the civil servant who came to respond to the criticism dealt with it in the only way possible (if he was going to escape without being lynched) - he was brutally honest, whilst challenging some of the Tories more outragous claims. It was a master class in political acumen, prompting the Chair of one Fire Authority, tongue ever-so-slightly-in-cheek, to offer him a position if he ever decided to cross the floor into politics.

One exchange which stuck in my mind, however, took place in the Q&A session following the speech to conference by the Shadow Fire Minister Stewart Jackson, MP. During his (incredibly lightweight) speech, Mr Jackson had taken a gratuitous swipe at Harriet Harman's Equalities Bill. In a passage that would have made a Daily Mail sub-editor swell with pride, Mr Jackson railed against Labour's "class warfare" pledging that middle class areas should not have to suffer to provide additional resources for poorer communities.

An opposing point was made, courteously but directly, by the Chief (not a politician, mind) of a Fire and Rescue Authority. If we know, he said, that someone from the poorest section of society is 14 times more likely to die as a result from fire than a more affluent person, are we not justified in targetting our spending in preventing fire deaths where they are most likely to occur?

The dismissive reply he received - platitudes about education but nothing more- made it very clear that the Shadow Minister's priorities lay with his voter base in Middle England rather than the most vulnerable in society. It was a chilling reminder, just weeks away from a General Election, that the Tories - the self-styled Nasty Party - haven't changed one bit..

4 comments:

james said...

It would seem his priorities don't even lie with Middle England, Nick. The Tories have signalled they would cut welfare assistance given to middle-income families...

Paul Cain said...

The 'self-styled' nasty party?

You have a bloody nerve, Councillor, after what your lot have done.

Do we really have to repeat some of the details?

Do you really think that voters are so damned ignorant as to forget? (No need to answer that: I'm sure you DO think we've all got memories like goldfish. In fact, I think New Labour rather relies on it.)

I admire your brass neck, I really do.

I have a relative who works at a fairly senior level in the Darlington and Durham Fire authority.

You know how he spent a couple of days last week? On a breast feeding awareness course.

He's built like the proverbial brick s***house, is as brave as a lion, utterly despises the bureaucracy and the correctness of the modern fire authority, and is now an acknowledged expert on nipple burn.

Well done Councillor. Really well done.

Anonymous said...

Well Paul, even those who are built like the proverbial brick s***house need to get in touch with their feminine side some times... you see the yanks cring all the time on the TV!

james said...

Let's see, what Labour have done...

A national minimum wage - in the teeth of Tory opposition and claims it would wreck the economy.

Improvements in our public services - investment in schools, the NHS, and police forces. Not wanted by the Opposition...

Oh, yes - and stopping what could have been the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression... Also opposed by the Tories!