Moving forward with life

Yesterday, I went to the rally for Catalonia in London.

And I’m not entirely sure why.

I didn’t speak to anyone. I didn’t join in with the singing or the chanting. I only stood quietly in the background, taking several photos (and a couple of videos).

Of course, I enjoy taking photos on any occasion and political protests are very unique events to take photos of.

But now the topic of Catalonia is a difficult one for me.

I began following it closely after meeting my wife. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned once or twice before, she is Catalan, and she introduced me to the strength of the independence movement in Catalonia.

Three years ago, in 2015, we went to the protests in London and Barcelona for the National Day of Catalonia. They were very special days: she and I spent them with patriots from both here and there and I had found a new campaign for democracy to which I could offer my support.

But now, as I think has become apparent to most, my wife and I have separated.

The last two months have passed by very slowly. They’ve been difficult, they’ve been hard, and I’ve asked myself many times what I’ve done with my life – and where I want to go now that my marriage has collapsed.

I suppose that I attended the rally yesterday to prove that I will still defend democracy in Catalonia even though I have lost my biggest motivation for doing so.

Without a doubt, I will always support democracy and the right to decide for everybody, in any country in the world.

No, my motivation for going to London yesterday must be bigger than that.

While I will always support democracy and human rights, that alone is not enough to justify spending money I really don’t have to waste at the moment on going up to London for two hours.

I suppose – no, I’m sure – that I went to London yesterday to prove two things to myself.

Firstly, despite everything that has happened in the last few months, I still have the same passion for politics and the same desire to participate in relation to the causes which interest – and matter – to me the most.

And, secondly, that I am still alive (even though I still can’t help feeling a little dead inside) and so I have to find another way of moving forward with my life.

Yesterday, I abandoned my home and my town and allowed myself time to think while on the train and walking through the streets of London.

Now, I believe, I know where I am with my life. I have thought long and hard about the past (particularly the last four years) and I better understand now how I have become the man I am today.

What’s more, I understand where I want to go with my life.

I need to keep studying and working, without any bad influences, and, if I do so, I know that I will arrive at the place I want to be as soon as possible.

Yesterday, I attended the rally to give my support to the Catalans, to take (a lot of) photos and, above all, to rediscover myself.

Now, I have to move forwards – like everyone else – and find the future and the life that I want – and that I know I am destined to have.

“Tony Staplegun” takes aim at the Rochester West by-election candidates

As any Facebook user will tell you, receiving friend requests from complete strangers is not unusual.

But one friend request from a “Tony Staplegun” caught my attention.

In posts which must bee seen to be believed, the (presumably) anonymous user has taken aim at all of the confirmed candidates in the Rochester West by-election.

“Tony” starts by looking at the independent candidate, former Tory and UKIP councillor Chris Irvine, who, before defecting to UKIP, had been selected as Kelly Tolhurst’s running mate in the ward.

Tony Staplegun

The next candidate to take flak from “Tony” is the Conservative candidate Alan Kew, whose business relationship with the other Rochester West councillor Stuart Tranter is a matter of public record.

Tony Staplegun

“Tony” doesn’t seem to have much to say about the Liberal Democrats’ Martin Rose…

Tony Staplegun

…but does have plenty to say about UKIP’s Rob McCulloch Martin. Incidentally, I wouldn’t advise visiting Rob’s “UKIP Dads” page if you are easily offended.

Tony Staplegun

The Green Party’s Sonia Hyner seems to have come off best from “Tony”‘s posts, even suggesting that she could “do surprisingly well” from a “protest vote”…

Tony Staplegun

…before returning to the criticisms, finally aiming his sight at Labour’s Alex Paterson.

Tony Staplegun

It is not clear who is behind the “Tony Staplegun” Facebook profile, which is published without a profile or cover photograph, but whoever it is appears not to be a fan of Medway’s political class.

That said, it is surprisingly refreshing to see a little bit of humour injected into what seems to be an otherwise stale election campaign.

Kelly Tolhurst resigns from Medway Council

Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst has resigned her seat on Medway Council.

Tolhurst, who has represented Rochester West since 2011 and been an MP since 2015, made the decision after being appointed as an Assistant Government Whip earlier this week. She said:

While I am extremely honoured to have been asked to join the Prime Minister’s team as a Government Whip, I accept that after discussions with colleagues and residents it is clear I am unable to carry on with my role as a local authority councillor without conflict.

Working solely as the Member of Parliament for Rochester and Strood, I now have the opportunity to represent the whole of the constituency at the highest level.

I believe that this decision is without doubt the best thing for both the constituency and the ward of Rochester West.

The wording of this statement begs two questions:

  1. If she believes that she “now [has] the opportunity to represent the whole of the constituency at the highest level”, was she not representing the whole of her constituency before?
  2. If she has decided holding two national jobs means she can no longer effectively represent her ward constituents, will her parliamentary and former council colleague Rehman Chishti, who also received a promotion this week to one of the Vice Chairmen of the Conservative Party, come to the same decision and also resign from the council?

In a brief statement, Neil Davies, Chief Executive of Medway Council, said:

I have today received, and accepted, the resignation of Cllr Kelly Tolhurst as ward member for Rochester West with immediate effect. We have begun arrangements to fill the vacancy.

The arrangements begin by advertising the vacancy in the ward. If two electors within the ward write to the Chief Executive asking for the vacancy to be filled, a by-election will be called.

And let’s face it, with a probable slate of six candidates for the contest, getting two signatures will not take long.

Frustratingly, before today, I was in the process of writing a lengthy blog post to start the year by taking a look at next year’s full local council elections (trust me, in context it made sense!).

The introduction to that post will now need to be re-written:

In short, I had updated my projections model to try to predict the level of support for each party in each ward, not in an effort to predict the outcome, but rather to see where each party was likely to win and where the key battles would be fought.

I will now postpone publication of that post until after the by-election, as it will likely give me more invaluable data to refine the projection model.

Meanwhile, the people of Rochester West are looking at another election, making it the eighth vote they will have had since May 2014:

  1. EU Parliament election, May 2014
  2. Rochester & Strood by-election, November 2014
  3. General election, May 2015
  4. Council election, May 2015
  5. Police & Crime Commissioner election, May 2016
  6. EU referendum, June 2016
  7. General election, June 2017
  8. Council by-election, TBC

And although at least one election every year between 2014 and 2019 may not necessarily excite voters in Rochester West, for political geeks like me it makes the start of this year very interesting indeed.

And, of course, Medway Elects will be there for the ride!

Parliamentary democracy reigns supreme

For many news outlets, the headline news was that Theresa May had lost her first Commons vote as Prime Minister.

Just 12 of her MPs was all it took to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, such are the perils of running a government without a parliamentary majority.

But for me, today was not so much about a weak prime minister losing a crucial vote, but instead about the very essence of parliamentary democracy.

Almost uniquely amongst Leave voters, it seems, I am delighted that Dominic Grieve’s amendment was passed.

After all, I voted for a departure, not a destination. I voted to leave the EU, not on any future relationship we may have with them after 29 March, 2019.

The EU has become so bloated it affects so many areas of our life that the idea we can simply walk away, or grudgingly accept a bad deal, is madness.

I don’t want that deal to be decided upon by a handful of ministers and civil servants alone.

Our parliamentary democracy means we elect members of parliament to speak and vote for us on important issues. Very few issues will be as important over the coming years as the withdrawal agreement.

Our MPs, our democratically elected representatives, must have the opportunity to scrutinise and debate any deal with Brussels before it is finalised. And if it is a bad deal, they must have the power to veto it.

After all, that’s what parliamentary democracy is all about.

And, while I would prefer to be able to have a direct say on the deal in a referendum, tonight we saw MPs guaranteeing the next best thing. 

Parliament has taken back control. Isn’t that what we voted Leave for on 23 June?

An open letter to my Spanish teacher

This is an open letter to my former GCSE and A-level Spanish teacher, indeed the only Spanish teacher I’ve ever had, during the four brief years I spent studying the language, and who, for the sake of this article, I will call Sr. Torro*.

Querida Señor Torro,

In the words of Nick Clegg (as imagined by The Poke – feel free to sing along): I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. There’s no easy way to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Before I get hit with a copyright infringement claim, let me explain.

You were a great teacher. A fantastic teacher. An inspirational teacher. You took someone with almost zero knowledge of the Spanish language and, in two years, turned them into an A* GCSE student. You took an infatuation with a country and its language and turned it into a love. A passion.

And I fucked it up.

I remember with fondness sitting in your classroom in ‘C’ block (C4 if I recall correctly), staring blankly out of the window while you played Juanes (La Camisa Negra) and Julieta Venegas (Limón y Sal), trying in vain to work out the missing words and their meanings.

I remember with fondness the first Spanish idiom you taught me, “todos tenemos nuestro grano de arena”, literally translated as “we all have our grain of sand” but meaning we all have our part to play.

I remember with somewhat less fondness sitting across from you in the music block, stumbling my way through an embarrassing attempt at an oral examination question on the environment.

I remember with less fondness still my mobile phone alarm ringing part-way through a written examination – and the subsequent awkward discussion with the invigilators as to how an alarm can sound even if the phone is switched off!

You were, without a doubt, my favourite teacher, and I just wish I’d paid attention to you more. I’ve always wished I’d paid more attention to you, but never more so than now, when I attempt hopelessly to converse with my new family.

I’d like to meet you one last time to thank you for everything you did and to say sorry for what I didn’t do.

Sorry that I didn’t pay attention as much as I should have. Sorry that I didn’t fulfill the potential I showed when I first stepped foot in your classroom. Sorry that I went from being a promising A*-grade GCSE student to a mediocre C-grade A-level student.

But there’s one thing I will never forgive you for: saying, all those years ago, that Catalan was a regional dialect of Spanish. That made me think learning my wife’s mother tongue would be easier because of my intermediate level of Spanish. It’s not. It’s really not. And in case another of your students grows up to wed a beautiful bride from Barcelona, I’d urge you never to suggest this to your students again.

In seriousness, though, I honestly don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest my life wouldn’t be where it is today without you. The chain of events that led up to my marriage to my Catalan bride two weeks ago started in your classroom at the age of 14, so thank you.

If you ever read this, thank you.

I just wish I’d listened to you more!

Your (most?) frustrating student,

Alan Collins Pérez de Baños
(formerly Alan Collins)

Disclaimer: My Spanish teacher was not actually called “Sr. Torro” (at least not officially). He wasn’t Spanish. He wasn’t even English. He was Welsh, but could speak four languages – a fact about which I will forever be envious.