Straight Talking with Ian Mean

Rolling Stones Set for No 1 and High Heels(men’s) are Back

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 22, 2010

The Rolling Stones are back(were they ever away?) at the very top of the album charts with their revamped version of one of their most famous albums-Exile on Main Street which was first released in 1972.

Being something of an old git, and a great Stones fan, I first started seeing them around 1964 at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. My opinion then, was as it is now, that they were the greatest rock band in the world.

As an 18 years old reporter on the South London Observer., I loved the music scene and would write pieces for the then Record Mirror and Melody Maker. I remember interviewing the Stones and admiring their Cuban heeled boots—hand made from the stage shoe makers, Anello and Davide in Charring Cross Road. The memory of those boots came back when I read today’s Times and saw an article saying that men’s heels were now becoming the height of fashion.

My Cuban heels, just ;like the Stones, cost £12 to make—my weekly wage was then £6.50.Later, as the fashion for them faded, I remember getting a saw and cutting the two inch heels down. I won’t be going in for the new man-heel but I will be listening to a lot more of the Stones. Unbeatable still.

Away for week now.

Our Great Young People

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 15, 2010

We must never give up on our young people. They really are our future and we must all recognize the fact that those good, honest, responsible young people far outnumber the minority of bad apples whose court appearances or anti-social exploits often make the pages of The Citizen.

Wherever possible, I try in The Citizen to use as many stories as possible involving young people—I like that title rather than youngsters—doing good things for their schools and their communities. We generally tag those stories: Responsible Young Citizens.

Last night, my wife Judy and I had the privilege, and I stress the privilege, to meet quite a few of those Responsible Young Citizens at a special awards ceremony The Citizen has promoted and developed at Gloucester City Council’s North Warehouse headquarters. It was quite a humbling occasion.

The background was that just under a year ago when the current, very energetic Mayor Chris Witts was talking to groups of young people, he became aware they were often critical of the bad press they received. I actually didn’t agree with Chris as far as The Citizen was concerned but I swallowed some pride and agreed that yes, often they did not receive the recognition they deserved, particularly in the national press where bad news about teenagers is often dominant.

My wife, Judy then came up with the idea that we should have an award for those young people in Gloucester—The Chris Witts Award for the Gloucester Young Person of the Year. That’s what happened last night at North Warehouse where, backed by the Tesco store at the Cattle Market (many thanks to Glynis Chambers the store’s community champion). Chris presented the first award which will then be carried on by other Mayors.

I go to a lot of these sort of events, particularly at the council headquarters. Some, frankly are rather formal. Last night was different. There were people there, especially families who had never been to a reception like that with all the civic silver laid out and being greeted as they came in by the Mayor and the city’s Sheriff and then signing the visitors’ book as they left.

Why was there such an atmosphere? The young people, of course. They looked so smart and they were so excited. I talked to one little lad who had received a commendation in the awards from Tesco and he said: ”It’s the best day of my life”. He was wearing a smart, cream suit and queuing up at the bar for a fruit cup wit his little girlfriend, who looked lovely.

One proud mum there was Yvonne Sadler, whose children—Shania,10 and Cody, 8 were nominated for looking after her when she became disabled from a fall. As Yvonne left, I said to her: “You must be proud of them”. She said: “I am proud of them every day of my life”. Great young people.

It also got me thinking. Most young people really are good but many of them often stand very little chance in their early life with a lack of parental guidance or support. Yes, bad parenting. Not so with these young people last night.

It was also heartening to see a group of Moslem women and their children at the event. So often at events like these our diverse community in the city is not properly represented. Great to have some lovely music from the young musicians at RibstonHallSchool which set the tone. I hope, that at the next awards, we can see many more schools entering their young students.

We will be featuring the winning young people in a special page in Monday’s Citizen and there will be more pictures in our Weekend section next Saturday.

All these young people last night were winners. Gloucester needs to be proud of them all—like their parents.

Incineration: Will it happen in Gloucestershire?

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 12, 2010

Without a doubt, one of the hot potatoes in the lap of GloucestershireCounty Council is waste. How do we control it, recycle it and perhaps most importantly, how do we get rid of it?

The importance of the debate and what we do about waste in this country has only been increased by a public meeting I chaired last night at the Quedgeley Community Centre under the banner of Zero Waste: A Key Stepping Stone to Sustainability.

It featured a most charismatic speaker in Professor Paul Connett from New York, who had flown in specially at the request of several of our very active, and responsible, waste protest groups—GlosAIN, GlosVAIN, Friends of the Earth Network, and supported by SWARD(independent campaigning environmental groups in Gloucestershire).I hope I haven’t missed any!

Paul is a recognised world expert on waste management issues to the point that he has addressed the United Nations and is in constant demand throughout Europe for his advice. His full presentation will hopefully be on line on thisisgloucestershire later today but be warned—it is a very hefty file but an intriguing presentation to download and study.

At the heart of the matter here in Gloucestershire, of course, is one bigquestion: Will we have an incinerator in the county?

Everyone at Shire Hall is tight lipped and the whole process of awarding the contract for a residual waste facility by GloucestershireCounty Council is complex to say the least. And I do understand why—this is a potential £171million contract for the county over the next 25 years. High risk—they have to get it right but I am afraid we do now need a lot more clarity on what methods of waste disposal we are going to get on the site at Javelin Park, just off junction 12 on the M5, which now appears to be the preferred site from all the four groups bidding for what will be the largest contract ever awarded by the county council.

To remind you, those four waste companies invited to work on detailed proposals for a residual waste facility are:

-Complete Circle-a consortia of John Laing, Keppel Seghers and United Utilities

-Cory Environmental Management Ltd



Final tenders will be in 2010 and the contract will be awarded in Spring 2011—whatever facility we end up with will be built by 2013.

Professor Connett had a private meeting today with our county council waste supremo, Councillor Stan Waddington. We hope that he managed to get over his key point at the meeting last night that incineration would be a disaster for the county.

Can I stress that has not been my personal view up until now. I am on record saying that waste is one of the highest priority issues in this county and we have to face the fact that we must have a disposal system in place pretty damned quickly if we are to avoid huge EU fines on landfill, which could have an impact on our council tax.

So, I haven’t changed my mind on the priority here. But after listening to Paul last night and after chairing a similar meeting he spoke at in Kings Stanley three months ago, I believe that the council really must start giving us some more clarity on what appears to be the most drawn out tender process ever. How can the public really follow, least of all understand it. I try my best in The Citizen but there must be more clarity.

If there is not going to be an incinerator, let’s say so. If there is going to be one, let’s also say so and be more clear. The General Election is over, the council elections are over—politicians cannot use incineration any longer as a political football.

What impressed me last night was Paul Connett’s explanation of a possible RecoveryResourcePark at JavelinPark. It seemed to make a lot of sense and needs to be considered. I hope Stan Waddington takes that on board.

One person who certainly did was our old friend, David Drew, the defeated Stroud MP. Out of a job, he still came to the meeting as did Parmjit Dhanda’s right hand man, David Purchase, also out of a job. Where were the new MPs—in jobs—Neil Carmichael for Stroud and Gloucester’s, Richard Graham. Nowhere to be seen.

Will Mark Win the Race for Gloucestershire County Council’s Leadership?

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 11, 2010

Barry Dare, arguably one of the most powerful men in the county as Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, is hanging up his hat from the top job.

Blunt speaking but fair, Barry aged 73, has kept a steady arm on the Conservative tiller while steering the county council for the last eight years as Conservative Group Leader, five of them as Leader of the council.

A very principled man, who would have been a very good Tory MP, Barry Dare has an authority and charm which made him a good leader.

He won control of the county council for the Tories in 2005 and presided over consistently low levels of council tax in an organisation which now has a £1 billion turnover.

Who will succeed him?

That will be decided on Wednesday by the county’s Conservative group and my money is on Councillor Mark Hawthorne to take over.

I think he has shown some excellent leadership over the last few months, particularly on helping to rescue what looked like a disaster for the language immersion centre at Blackfriars. He pulled that out of the fire.

But he has also ruffled feathers among his Conservative colleagues with his blunt speaking and directness. I can’t see a problem with that personally but it could possibly cost him the top job.

I also understand that there are now three other runners in the race for the leader’s post.

Two seem to be non-starters but Will Windsor- Clive could come up on the rails and pip Mark Hawthorne at the post. What he has going for him is more diplomatic skills than Mark currently has and a lot more experience. Will is pragmatic, a businessman who has overseen the fire and rescue service particularly and done a good job.

In my view, Jackie Hall, the current deputy leader, would have made an ideal successor to Barry but she did not want the job. A great pity because she is an enthusiastic, no nonsense councilor who is a good people person.

What our county council needs now more than ever is strong leadership. The new leader needs to be single-minded in the huge job they face of cutting staff and budgets while at the same time not denuding the county of vital, front line services.

The new leader must be prepared to take along their fellow Conservatives and be visionary. In terms of priorities, they have to deliver a huge change programme which not only includes large staff cuts but deal with a growing, ageing population in the county and the controversial waste issue.

I believe that Mark Hawthorne will be able to deliver on those issues, but it remains to be seen whether his fellow Tories will trust him to do so.

Barry Dare was a born leader and would have made an excellent MP, but his anti-capital punishment views probably put paid to any political ambitions he may have had.

Latterly, he has been in poor health and we all wish him and his wife, Wendy well. This is a big job—just like running a huge company– and it needed a big man to keep firm control—Barry Dare, a Middle England Tory, was that man.

His shoes will be big to fill.

Taking Back our Streets in Gloucestershire

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 11, 2010

A year ago, our headline above a story about anti-social behaviour by yobs in Podsmead, Gloucester was: Taking Back the Streets.

Now, a year on from launching the Oaklands Park Residents’ Association(OPRA) and youth committee, the residents say they have won a significant victory against anti-social behaviour.

To the point where the group say that, working in co-operation with the police, the city council and the county council, crime at one timed plummeted in the area by 75 per cent.

And the number of recorded crimes has gone down too. In April last year, the number was as high as 81 but 50 in the following month—the figure has not gone over 32 a month since last November.

All this has been achieved by residents saying enough is enough ,and working with the local police and council.

Readers may remember our new Chief Constable, Tony Melville, editing The Citizen for a day on April 7 and looking into the abuse of a fish and chip owner, Khizar Hussain in Scott Avenue, Podsmead.

Police installed two CCTV cameras in the area and Scott Avenue was highlighted as a priority for the Podsmead area by the Gloucester South Safer Community Team.

The Citizen will continue to highlight areas where residents make a stand against yobs such as here in Podsmead and support the police in their efforts.

Before the General Election, we said that anti-social behaviour in our view was an important issue. We still say that and will be looking at our new MP for Gloucester, Richard Graham, to support the residents and police to stamp it out.

Are our Newly Elected MPs in Gloucestershire Starting off on the Right Track?

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 10, 2010

Following the election results in the county, The Citizen asked our winning parliamentary candidates in the area of this newspaper’s circulation for their Monday manifestos in 300 words—the priorities for their constituencies from today.

We publish their priorities on page seven today and leave you to decide if they are starting out on the right track.

They must forget the machinations being played out in national government, deals and talk of coalitions. They must get down to work in earnest to fulfill the trust the Gloucestershire voters have placed in them.

It’s about local issues and local people who voted for them.

If we weigh up their submissions to us over the weekend, the most positive and realistic was probably that written by Richard Graham, the new MP for Gloucester.

He rightly highlights regeneration across the whole city-not just the docks that to many of us has just become a glorified housing estate.

And he points to that eyesore of the Railway Triangle as a priority for action. He wants to look at the NHS Hospitals Trust’s much criticised plans to shut beds at GloucestershireRoyalHospital—we agree with that.

On jobs for our young people, Richard Graham wants to review the administration of Gloucester Works which we also agree with—is it really delivering for the huge amount of money being ploughed into it?

In the Forest of Dean, Mark Harper, stresses that reducing our huge economic deficit is essential to get business in the Forest to grow and encourage more to set up. We saw the real enthusiasm of business in the Forest recently at our Forester Business Awards.

Mark with our weekly sister newspaper in The Dean, The Forester, has been campaigning for a better broadband service to help business. He is saying that private investment and if necessary, part of the licence fee, could be used to fund new broadband cabling in rural areas.

Neil Carmichael, victorious for the Tories over Labour’s David Drew in Stroud, has a really hard act to follow and his Monday manifesto is arguably the weakest.

It lacks detail on local issues but perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt. He talks about the importance of the environment to the people of Stroud, which is well known and protecting what he calls “rural characteristics”.

For the Tewkesbury constituency, which takes in parts of Gloucester like Hucclecote and Longlevens, Tory Laurence Robertson puts fighting against what he calls ”inappropriate development in flood risk areas” as high on his early working agenda. We agree with that.

Our newly elected MPs must drive into these local issues from today and try to isolate themselves from the political deals being done in London.

They face a real challenge with the voters of Gloucestershire. They want to see urgent action on local issues from their MPs and total honesty and transparency in their working.

Voters NOT the Parties are the Priorities in the General Election Farce

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 8, 2010

At the end of the shambles of our General Election on Friday, one thing is clear to me.It is that the voters who turned out in record numbers in most places that deserve the priority of our warring parties—not the parties themselves.

After all, the Conservatives did win the election. They got the most seats and they polled two million more votes than the Labour party. But due to our antiquated parliamentary system, they are not in power and as a result, this weekend saw the start of a negotiation of shabby political deals.

And they are shabby deals—the voters have no stake in them. The selfish political parties have that stake and I find the whole episode particularly unedifying.

On the day we were watching our three political leaders doing those deals standing alongside each other at the Cenotaph—trying not to blink to avoid the wrong picture in the Sunday papers—I was thinking of my Dad on the 65th Anniversary of VE Day in London. Then they were celebrating the end of World War 11 but many of our boys were still fighting in the Pacific, of course.

Our politicians need to think of that huge sacrifice as they haggle this weekend for their own selfish reasons. I sometimes worry whether politicians actually do think of the people who vote them in.

And reading the newspapers this morning, I was struck by the fact that in Wootton Bassett yesterday on the border of our county, three more of our young men were repatriated from the war in Afghanistan yesterday. Not much mention of that in the election campaign, was there?

Then I looked at the Sun and their great headline: Squatter Holed Up in No 10—Man,59,refuses to leave house in Downing Street. Very reminiscent, of course, of the other great Sun headline written by the infamous editor Kelvin Mackenzie(his dad was my first editor in South London) before the defeat of Neil Kinnock: Will the last person in Britain pleas turn the lights out(I think that was it).

Gordon Brown, of course, is constitutionally right to stay at No 10 until this mess of his succession is sorted out .But isn’t it really a farce to even contemplate him staying on to run the county with the Lib-Dems when you look at the new political map of Great Britain—a sea of blue.

To our politicians of all colours, my plea this weekend is just to think of the voters. They are the important people of this country—you are simply the custodians of their trust and you need to restore that quickly.

Gloucestershire Goes Blue

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 7, 2010

It was a long night and a very early morning as Gloucestershire turned true blue as Labour lost its two key seats in the county to the Tories.

Perhaps the biggest shock was the exit of Labour’s Parmjit Dhanda after nine years—victim of a national swing towards the Conservative Party and an energetic campaign by first time candidate Richard Graham, who many of us-including myself-initially gave little chance of ousting a very street-wise Labour MP.

Richard Graham proved me wrong, and a lot of us wrong. He got his act together in the last month very well. He listened to those of us who told him that he needed to up his game and did just that.

However, Parmjit will be a hard act to follow. I say that as one of the people he was probably thinking of in his farewell speech at 6am this morning when he described some people in the city as his “detractors”. He did not take criticism easily and was particularly prickly over certain issues like post office closures when I took him to task.

I drove into the count just behind him this morning at 4.45pm.He kept out of the way of the cameras and you got the impression he knew he was up against it at a very tense final counting. But in defeat, Parmjit was gracious to Richard Graham who was not exactly diplomatic when he told him from the platform: ”I want to thank Mr Dhanda for his hard work in Gloucester, and wish him well for his future back in London.”

And in a rather patronising way, he said: ”You are still young, and we will hear much of you in the future”.

It seemed to be news to Parmjit that he was leaving the city for London. He told me: ”I am not going anywhere—the city is my home. I love this city”.

Watch this space, as they say.

Elsewhere, this morning we said goodbye to arguably the county’s best and most respected MP, David Drew of Stroud. As I have said consistently, David has been something of an endangered species—an honest member of parliament, unsallied by any hint of expenses impropriety. A guy who in his own words in defeat this morning said that he had sweated his guts out for the constituency and would continue to do so. A guy who would argue with the whips and defy them if necessary—a man who was his own man, not the Party’s.

David Drew’s successor, Neil Carmichael has been in Stroud for some years but is not in the same street as David. Ironically, David Drew might have survived if he had stood as an independent candidate. He was simply caught up in the Tory tide, which despite his personal values locally, were not enough to save him. One thing is certain—this is a man the county should not lose for his passion alone.

Elsewhere, our resident Tories, Mark Harper in the Forest, Lawrence Robertson in Tewkesbury and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown in the Cotswolds held their seats in the longest night and morning ever seen in a General Election here. We now wait to see if Marc Coote can upset the Lib-Dem applecart in Cheltenham later today where Martin Horwood has done such a good job.

This has been a General Election like no other in the county. The gang of blue men must now deliver.

No Lectures from Us-Just cast your Vote

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 5, 2010

Most of today’s national newspaper front pages seek to convince you how to cast your vote in tomorrow’s General Election.

“Vote Decisively to stop Britain walking into disaster”, says the Daily Mail in a special page 1 comment. No prizes for where they tell you to cast your vote—for the Conservatives, of course.

Then there’s the Daily Mirror, that traditional bastion of the Labour party with a headline attacking the Tories and David Cameron under a headline: “Eton Rifles”. In their Tory sights for cuts according to the Mirror are 40 000 public sector jobs, child tax benefits, 2 400 police officers and 14 200 teachers.

And then, there’s the Sun, the convert to the Tories with a Simon Cowell exclusive on the poll under the headline: “Britain’s Got to Change”.

Mr Cowell says: “I have always hated celebrities lecturing people on politics. So forgive me. But I am passionate about this country. I am equally

passionate about the potential of the people who live here”.

I agree with Mr Cowell on one thing—we should not lecture people on politics. That is why the Citizen will not seek to sway our readers one way or another on how they should vote tomorrow—I will leave to my colleagues on the national press.

I would like to think that people in Gloucestershire who read The Citizen will decide on who to vote for to be their local MP based on the current’s incumbent’s record and the local issues on which the candidates have been campaigning .But I am realistic and realise that in a General Election, personality does tend to take over and in this election the tv debates will undoubtedly influence a large number of voters in the county.

While not seeking to influence how you vote tomorrow, I would simply ask you to do one thing: Go out and vote.

This is the most important election in recent times. The credibility of our political system and the reputation of a large number of our MPs is in tatters through the expenses scandal.

We must forget that and face the reality that this country has to face the facts of tough economic cuts if we are to pull ourselves out of our monumental black hole of debt.

But we will not achieve that if here in Gloucestershire if you waste your vote tomorrow. You owe it to yourselves and the country to cast your vote.

Cadets Are Great Young People

Posted in Uncategorized by ianmean on May 3, 2010

Cadets, whether Air, Sea or Army, are great young people.

In a world where young people are so often demeaned, they give us a hope for the future.

Why do I say this?

Over the weekend, my wife and I attended the 150th anniversary of the Cadet movement in Gloucestershire. I reckon that these young people belong to perhaps the best youth club you can find, and there are something over 2, 200 of them registered with all the Services here in the county.

They were inspiring to watch, and to listen to-their enthusiasm was infectious.

Our own Lord Lieutenant here in Gloucestershire, Sir Henry Elwes, told the cadets that the inclusion of cadet membership on their CV was as valuable as an academic qualification. I totally agree, and that was born out by some of the cadets we talked to—one described how a university interview turned into a talk about being a cadet once they knew she was a member of the movement.

Why are these young people so impressive? Pretty simple, really. They know about politeness and discipline and being a cadet gives them confidence.

As we drove home, my wife said that perhaps the re-introduction of National Service might be a good thing for many of our young people. I agree wholeheartedly.

To many of these young people who are cadets, there is often a clear career path-not necessarily in the Services, but to others who do not possess that confidence and perhaps do not have the support of their parents, there is a really worthwhile career.