Friday, 28 August 2015

TRULY, WISBECH IS A PIECE OF WORK. I am approaching the biblical allowance of threescore and ten. I have lived and worked all over Britain, and in France and Australia too. I don't think I have ever been in a community where political malice and ill-will to all men has been so prevalent. We have just been through an excruciatingly bitter by-election. For the Town Council. Yes, that's it - the Town Council. Last time I looked, Wisbech Town Council were responsible for some of the things that go on in the Market Place, public toilets, and ......well, that's about it, really. Maybe I have forgotten allotments, or some other major issue. I will stand to be corrected if that is the case.

BACK IN MAY Wisbech, like many other areas in the country, held local elections, for Town and District councils. Two Eastern European residents stood for election. Ms Irina Kumalane stood for Staithe Ward and was elected. Mr Aigars Balsevics also stood in a different ward, but was not elected. Shortly after assuming her duties as Town Councillor, Ms Kumalane resigned. Her reasons for resigning are not known, at least officially and publicly. So, a by election was called for Staithe Ward. The three candidates were Mr Balsevics (Con), Mrs Caroline Smith (UKIP), and Mr Reg Mee (Lab).

NOW BEAR IN MIND both Mr Balsevics and Mr Mee had both offered themselves as candidates in the May election. Both had failed. A Conservative party flyer soon condemned the Labour Party as "arrogant", because the electorate had said "NO!" to Mr Mee in May. The electorate had also said "NO!" to Mr Balsevics in May, but that was not mentioned.

THEN CAME another Conservative party flyer extolling the virtues of Mr Balsevics, and making several claims. The first was that Wisbech Town Council has been instrumental in the restoration of the fire-damaged Constantine House. In fact, WTC has absolutely no part to play in the restoration of damaged buildings in the town. That responsibility lies with Fenland District Council. Perhaps the claim meant that the WTC councillors who were also FDC councillors had been fighting tooth and nail to get the building restored? With the exception of Mr and Mrs Bucknor, no WTC councillor had shewn the least interest in the Constantine House saga. In fact, one or two of those people had gone out of their way to mock the efforts of local people who were fed up with the derelict building. Suffice to say, the building is not yet fully restored and, despite an apparent deadline being imposed by FDC, the building remains open to the elements - and flying rats.

NEXT ON THE LIST OF CLAIMS was the boast that Mr Balsevics was a responsible and public-minded landlord - of his three pubs. When someone pointed out that he had earlier lost his late licence at one of the pubs for serving drunks and inciting violence, this was seen as a gross slur on Mr B's probity.

ANOTHER CLAIM was that Mr Balsevics was a member of Wisbech Rainbow Savers - part of the Credit Union movement - and a photo of him at the inception of this group was included in the election flyer. Now, for reasons that no-one seems clear of, it transpires that Mr B is not an active member of Wisbech Rainbow Savers.

THE UKIP  'spoiler' leaflet also featured a graphic of a letter from Mr B where he clearly states that he thinks the by-election is for a seat on Fenland District Council. Was it petty to point this out? Well, it probably was, but that pettiness pales into insignificance against the next item.

THERE HAS BEEN A PHOTOGRAPH doing the rounds on social media. It shows a  Transit-style van, parked with its wheels obstructing the pavement, on double yellow lines, a few metres short of The Angel pub - landlord Mr Aigars Balsevics. The van has Latvian plates. Clearly visible in the back windows are election posters exhorting us to vote for Aigars Balsevics and Brenda Barber. Both Conservative candidates in the May 2015 local elections.

NOW, because the van is not UK registered, no-one can find out who is the owner of the vehicle. Or who drives it. All that can be inferred from the photograph is that the owner is a Conservative supporter who us, in some way, connected to The Angel inn. There was a certain amount of discussion over this photograph on social media, but no-one expected this bizarre response.

SO, a fair number of Wisbech townsfolk were condemned as "scumbags". By a town and district councillor. The crime? Commenting on a photograph on social media, and drawing a conclusion which didn't fit the prevailing orthodoxy.

WELL, THE ACTUAL ELECTION happened, but not before one of the High Priest's acoylites burst onto Facebook announcing that the latest UKIP flyer was "vile" and that it had been reported to the police and the Electoral Commission. At the time of writing, no-one associated with that leaflet has been either arrested or sent to The Tower for sedition.

THE ELECTION ITSELF? Well Mr Balsevics was duly elected, with more votes than his two opponents put together. I have no beef with him, and have never met him, but he sounds a pretty decent sort of bloke, but someone who clearly allows his election literature to be written by someone else. 

AS A DISPIRITING FOOTNOTE to a sorry couple of weeks, the Great High Priest still had another shot in his magazine. Clearly recognising that the Labour party campaign did not meet with his approval, he issued this statement. Bear in mind that the young man who had worked his socks off for the Labour campaign is a mere 17 years old, and has not had time to plumb the grisly depths of Wisbech politics, this was sent in his direction.

UNBELIEVABLE. Beyond parody. Arrogant. So totally and unredeemably unaware that you have to doubt the man's mental state. Hubris, patronising, smug, vain...? Words don't usually fail me - they are my stock in trade - but on this occasion I will shrink into the corner and hope that someone out there can summon up the verbal energy to add words to this...

Sunday, 9 August 2015

WELL, THERE’S A TURN-UP FOR THE BOOK! Or perhaps not. After a long and painful labour, attended by many senior obstetricians and midwives – not to mention more than a few anxious husbands – the Great and the Good of Fenland District Council (Peace Be Unto Them) finally gave birth to a strapping Section 215 notice, which was to be served on the elusive owners of Constantine House. Also known as the Belfast Building. Also known as our very special bombsite on The Nene. My song about this was greeted with disdain by the folk (person) for whom Wisbech is a fiefdom. (If you can’t guess who the negative comments are from, then I will give you a clue. Or then again, I won’t. It should be perfectly obvious)

The fact that this happy event was preceded by a longer gestation period than that of a rhinoceros is of no consequence. The main thing is that the owner had been given his marching orders, and a step-by-step description of how to comply with the Section 215 notice.

After a couple of false starts, due to the fact that the owner “had a cold”, or that his mother “was unwell”, builders, roofers and scaffolders did spring into action. There was much back-slapping and smugness among local politicians, and I, Pickwick, having unwisely entered into a wager with a formidable lady called Rita Thornton, had to stump up the princely sum of £10 – which, happily, was donated to a local charity.

So, all was well that ended well, yes? Actually, no. It seems that the owner, who would give the late and hugely lamented Arthur Daley a run for his money, decided in May 2015 that enough was enough. He stopped paying the aforementioned builders, roofers and scaffolders and, understandably, they walked away.

THEY SAY A WEEK IS A LONG TIME IN POLITICS – but for Fenland District Council a mere week is but a nano-second. A month? Passes by in a moment. Three months? Gone in a flash – hardly gives us time to go to the loo!

We are approaching the middle of August. The scaffolding contractors have finally given up the ghost, and have taken away the scaffolding from the façade of the building. Internally, it is open to the most populous species in these parts, the feral pigeon. Or, to give them their biological name, Flying Rats.

BUT WAIT! The councillor for the ward chides us for being pessimistic. He is delighted at how good the building is looking. So, that’s OK then. Isn’t it?

MP STEVE BARCLAY, who has been very vocal in his criticism of FDC, seems also to have lost hope. He very courteously replied to my email, but wondered why it was directed at him. Ermm, give me a minute on that one. Ah! Got it! It’s because you are my MP, Sir, and because my requests for information from FDC have resulted in replies ranging from computer generated gobbledegook to absolute silence, I thought you might be able to help. Silly me, then.

THERE IS A SILVER LINING WITHIN THIS PARTICULAR CLOUD. I have just finished a long and profitable ‘phone call with Steve. Tierney? Barclay? No, no, NO! None other than Mr Spielberg himself. He has multi-million dollar backing for a blockbuster movie, based on the saga of Constantine House. Casting agents will be in the town next week, so make sure you are looking good. and up for a challenge!