Monday, April 30, 2012

Liverpool Labour on the campaign stump

A pretty good team out in Liverpool tonight, campaigning for a Labour victory for Mayor and in the local elections, 2012.

You will remember no doubt that last year, Warren Bradley, then the leader of the LibDems suggested that Labour were "snooing" the streets of Wavertree with all sorts of outside help. This photo shows that we can "snoo" anywhere, anytime, and we don't need outside help! Liverpool Labour - a force to be reckoned with (and this is only some of the people we had out tonight, there were members knocking on doors all over the city). Thank God for the good weather this evening that kept the papers dry.

I am so proud of everyone who has worked so hard and put in so many hours, with such good humour.

Thanks everyone!

PS None of us have the slightest idea what "snooing" actually is, or what it means, but since Warren's outburst it has become synonymous, in Labour parlance, with large groups of activists taking the campaign to the public on the doorstep.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Big day for Deane Road Jewish Cemetery, Kensington this week

From this to what?  Wait and see! Not long now...
This is a terrific "before" photo, believe me!
On Thursday the Deane Road Cemetery Committee, an arm of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation, Princes Road Synagogue, will be handed the keys to a beautifully restored cemetery.

I may cry, we may all cry!

I promise there will be photos and we are already hard at work on our programme of pilot open days and pilot school visits, prior to the official opening in September during National Heritage Month. I will let you know as soon as there is news of when you can come yourself to marvel.

This wonderful resting place of some of the Victorians who truly made Liverpool great will be a jewel in the city's Heritage Crown. And to think it is in Kensington, somewhere which has not enjoyed the best of reputations in the last 30 or so years, is a dream come true for me. I know that Kensington, and its neighbour, Fairfield, are great places, with lots to offer, but it wont just be me saying that soon, it will be an army of eager enthusiasts.

People will travel from around the world, not just from the UK, England or the city itself, to learn more about these very influential Victorians who helped make our city great.

If you ask a politician why they got involved, the vast majority of them will all tell you the very same thing, "to make a difference", but it is not always easy to identify in a positive and obvious way, where you made that difference, I look forward to having something I can point to and say "I helped achieve this".

I have already begun initial work on my next big Heritage project, which will be for Fairfield, and will put that area firmly on the heritage trail too, but I will just have to leave you in suspense for now, because I cannot begin that project until this one is properly resolved - expect more news in the autumn!

Monday, April 23, 2012

60th anniversary party for Kensington All Saints Brownies

Liam, Wendy and I were delighted to take part in the 60th birthday party this evening for the Kensington All Saints Brownies. They were officially inaugurated as St Phillip's  Brownies on April 23rd 1952 and share a diamond jubilee with the Queen who they would love to meet when she visits Liverpool next month (more of that later, ssshhh, it is still top secret, but you know that if Wendy (being the czar for all things relating to Culture and Tourism in Liverpool) can  help to make that dream come true, she will...)

We joined in all the games and party fun, with Liam in particular enjoying the skipping and tin can stilts (so fast he was a total blur!) while Wendy was a wizz on estimating how long a minute is, without looking at a clock. I was the victor in the competition to pick up as many jelly beans with a pair of chopsticks as possible in 60 seconds (30, have a go yourself, let me know how you did!) A sign of a Chinese food lover, methinks. We did let the Brownies win most of the competitions though, honest!

It was really lovely to see that along with all the Brownies and Rainbows (tiny pre-Brownies that we didn't have in my day, when I was a Sixer in the Sprites for St Andrews, Tamworth, Staffordshire) and some visiting Guides, lots of former Brown, Tawny and Snowy Owls from that 60 year history turned up too.

Congratulations and well done to the current leaders, and all former leaders, and all the existing and previous Brownies. I did speak to one lady, aged 31, who has two girls in the Brownies today, and reminisced with me that she was a Brownie in the same pack 21 years ago.60 years of terrific service and great fun for girls from Kensington and Fairfield, never to be under-estimated.

I was particularly interested to hear that the Brownies had been set a challenge to perform a good deed every day for the last 60 days and record them, and that so many had brought in their returns showing they had succeeded. Bravo!

We had a whale of a time and we look forward to welcoming Brown Owl at future Kensington Youth Forum meetings to make sure that we are all working together to provide the best facilities and opportunities for all the children and young people in the ward.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Irrelevant? Or bureaucratic abuse?

A row rages as to whether Ged Fitzgerald, Liverpool's Returning Officer should have been able to dictate to Mayoral candidates as to the content of their "leaflets".

When I say leaflets, really it is a small brochure, published by the Council, paid for with tax payers money, and distributed by the council, allotting two pages to each candidate to talk about what kind of a Mayor they would be if elected. In General and European elections, candidates are given a free delivery of one leaflet (although they have to pay for the design and print themselves), courtesy of the state, and I think I am right in saying the content is checked by someone attached to the Post Office on behalf of the state, before they are sent.  This is presumably an equivalency.

This brochure is not the same thing as the leaflets you pay for yourself and post through letterboxes yourself. The Returning Office has no power over those really. If you get something wrong you will either be sued by an opponent or visited by the police.

Ged asked Tony Mulhearn and Steve Radford to make small changes to their leaflets as he said the content fell foul of electoral commission rules through being "irrelevant".

This has been primarily contentious because one of those "irrelevant" elements was a salvo against Liverpool Direct, the council's joint venture with British Telecom. There are those who have suggested that a conflict of interest might exist with the Returning Officer in this matter. Another involved the NHS, which apparently is nothing to do with Local Government. I am not sure what the Adult Social Care and Health Select Committee would make of that, or the Drug and Alcohol Team, the plans for Public Health in the Localism Bill, etc....

There are those arguing vehemently, that the Returning Officer should have just published what people gave him, and if the content was irrelevant, poor or annoying, then the voters would have been able to vote accordingly!

That sounds fine, until you realise that there was a potential for the BNP or the NF to write stuff about immigration, or homophobia etc, which would have offended everyone in the city, at the tax payers expense. And the row then would have been immense! How dare the council pay for this disgraceful propoganda, people would have said.

However, in either case, left or right, generally I am not in favour of censorship, I think the public are much more sensible than people give them credit for and will vote accordingly. So, far be it from me to upset the Returning Officer, being an Agent and all, but I think he should have printed whatever he was given.

Finally, as an aside, I do think that people should restrain themselves from criticising The Chief Executive, as this is not his role in this affair. We have to have a Returning Officer and traditionally he is the Chief Executive, but that doesn't mean that the job is done with a CEO hat on.

Edit: Having now got a copy of the brochure in my hand, I see that the BNP candidate has included a quote from a so called Reverend, saying "we need to protect our national identity from the threat of Islam".
Now if anything was deserving of censorship, that was. If anything was "irrelevant" (and what a curious word the Electoral Commission have used there), then this was. I am curious that this was allowed to stay while the suggesting that Government had plans to infest the NHS with private companies, was not.

So there are two controversial issues here, one is about the Electoral Commission allowing for Returning Officers to censor material and the other is around the skill of those Returning Officers to manage that censorship.

I remain convinced that all material should have been published and that the Electoral Commission was wrong to invite ROs to interfere. We have the same problem with council motions and debates too. Some motions are not accepted as they are not relevant to local government, while others are allowed, which plainly are national or european matters. And of course we are not allowed to use the name "ConDem" of this Government whilst in the Town Hall, the only phrase, so far as I know that is banned.

Free speech, it is the only way. Let the people decide which voice they listen to.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Titanic - romantic tragedy and last bastion of true class division

I have been fascinated by RMS Titanic all my life

Indeed in my sitting room I have a reproduction of an old promotional poster advertising tickets for the maiden voyage, a gift from my step-father, alongside a small painting of the White Star Line building on the Strand - the streaky bacon building which my good friend Caci  bought me for my birthday last year.

As an avowed lover of Art Nouveau (and Art Deco which was to follow), I know that I would have been in raptures over the interior of this beautiful ship, should I have been able to take a stroll around the magnificent rooms inside.

And who doesn't love the idea of Atlantic crossings. Very rich people taking the sea air and crossing to their New York homes in the most palatial and lavish accommodation. Middle class people, loving the chance to observe their betters, aping their dress and dreaming of dining with the captain. And the steerage passengers in third class, clutching each other in anticipation of a new life and wealth in a new country where everyone could be equal, depending only upon their propensity for hard and profitable work.

The idea of the Titanic is irresistible, a truly huge ship, the largest man made moveable structure in the whole world, on the day of its launch in April 1912. Titanic because it was named after Titan, enormous, colossal and immense.

And so they set sail, on 10th April, from Southampton, heading to Cherbourg in France and then on to Cobh, Cork, Ireland to pick up the final set of 123 passengers before the cross-ocean trip to New York, USA. They left Cobh at 2pm on the 11th April on the trip of a lifetime, sadly that was the literal truth.

The sun set on the 14th, people went about their business on board, the first class passengers dined with the captain, before going off to bed. The second class passengers ate in some of the ship's many restaurants, and the third class passengers in steerage counted their blessings and danced together in their community hall below decks, thinking of their friends and family left behind, but looking forward to the possibilities that the new world would bring to them.

It is a matter of very familiar record that at 11.40pm, the "safest steamer in the world" hit an iceberg and then sank below the waves a few hours later.

We all know that at least 1500 people died on the ship (some estimates put that figure at 1600) and that 710 were saved.

What is not always clear is just how the class system came into play as the ship went down. Class generally determined where on the ship passengers should sleep, how much they paid, what they ate and how important they were deemed to be, not just to the efforts that the crew might expend upon them during the crossing, but in the end, as we shall see, to those with the power of life and death.

Because of cost-saving, the ship was equipped with only about half the number of required lifeboats, a capacity of 1300 for 2200 passengers, and even when launched and put to sea, there were approximately 500 empty seats that could have been taken - so the huge death loss was inevitable. This was the first and most obvious failing in any rescue attempts.

Add to this the fact that the water was freezing (hence the ice-bergs) so those who jumped or found themselves on the surface of the sea during or after the sinking, lived for only a few minutes at a time, dying almost instantly of heart attacks and hypothermia. This meant that unless you had a seat in a lifeboat, you had almost no chance of survival. Only 13 of those in the water were helped into life-boats. It is a bitter irony that the half-empty lifeboats that had rowed away from the ship and sat on the water watching it sink, were extremely reluctant to come back and fill up those empty 500 places because they feared that the survivors in the water would swamp the boats. Had they acted more quickly, they could have saved more, without the swamping fears they were so worried about.

Given the limited number of seats available in the life-boats, the senior members of the crew decided that they needed to give those places to women and children.  So a look through a list of those who were lost and those who were saved, clearly shows that women and their children were in a much stronger position than their menfolk.

97% of women in first class were saved, but 67% of their menfolk perished.

But the evacuation into the lifeboats was not quite as "women and children" friendly as this headline might suggest. 54% of third class women perished, along with 66% of their children.

And the upper class men did considerably  better than their counterparts elsewhere on the ship, 33% of first class  men were saved but only 8% of second class male passengers and 16% of the third class male passengers. 

The lifeboats were stored on the upper decks of course, in an area of the ship ordinarily out of bounds for steerage passengers and it is also a matter of record that gates that would allow passage throughout the ship, between decks, remained locked for the journey to keep the classes apart. Some of these gates were opened, but many were not, as crews were focussed on waking and alerting the first class passengers while the steerage passengers slept on, unaware.  

Consequently, when the decision was made to launch the lifeboats, the first class passengers were in a good position to take advantage of them. All the evidence shows that senior crew members encouraged the saving of not just women and children, but first class passengers first. 

Of particular note amongst those who perished were the Italian waiters led by Mr Gatti,  none of whom survived. These 50 crew members were hand picked from the finest restaurants in the country, to serve on this most impressive ship in its prestigious restaurants.

And then we must pay homage to the 549 crew members from Southampton who perished. This brought devastation and loss to hundreds of families in the city who depended on them for family income and who were brought low into poverty as a result of their loss. It is hard to imagine a loss of this scale, we lost 96 fans in Hillsborough, not all of them from the city of Liverpool, imagine 6 times that number, all from one place, bread-winners all.

It has been alleged that even in death the class system held sway. When it came to retrieving the dead from the sea in subsequent days, there was insufficient embalming fluid and kit for all of the dead bodies, so when the supplies were overwhelmed, it has been reported that a decision was taken to embalm the first class but bury the third class at sea or bring them to shore untreated. There are those who dispute this, but it has been generally reported that the first class passengers were embalmed, second class were sewn into shrouds and third class passengers were simply gathered together.

What the Titanic owners, crew and passengers could not have known was that this prejudicial class system was only a tiny few years away from being blown apart. The First World War saw the end, for most, of the Upstairs, Downstairs system of service, servants, cow-towing, fore-lock tugging and deference. This may be an over-simplication of the effects of the war, and undoubtedly it merits an essay of its own, but it is true to say that after fighting and perishing in huge numbers, at the hands of ineffective and poorly organised staff officers with hopeless campaign plans, the natural order of the working classes taking blind instruction from their betters would never be accepted again.

The most reported outcome of the sinking of the Titanic was that, in future, laws would dictate that all ships that set sail should include a number of lifeboats equal to the maximum number of passengers. But it is also true to say that never again would a system be accepted where your chance of rescue would be dependent upon the colour of your money or your title.

It was an honour to attend the civic memorial service to the lost passengers (and their families and friends) in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on Sunday night, the 100th anniversary of the sinking. The most famous ship in the world may have been built in Belfast and launched in Southampton, but it was Liverpool that she carried on her stern.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Louise's new web film for Local Marketing Liverpool

I am very excited to announce the publication of my new promotional marketing web film, for my business, Local Marketing Liverpool.

It will be on my business website, Local Marketing Liverpool,  in the next few days once my web designers have had time to incorporate it.

I will be advising all my clients that a good quality web film is a great asset to any business who want to get ahead of the crowd. I am looking forward to your comments.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Liverpool Mayoral Elections 2012 - Runners and Riders

You will find the final list of Liverpool Mayoral Candidates here for the 2012 elections

And as I suspected, they are all male

There is going to be an interesting battle between the National Front and the British National Party between who is the most unacceptable, unattractive, unrepresentative and failed candidate of the election. And of course Putting England First and UKIP wont want to be left out, fighting for the right wing fascist vote, between the four of them they will be lucky to scrape a deposit. But of course it does not work on a cumulative basis so hopefully all four will be out of pocket, although I suspect UKIP will come second in several ward level contests behind Labour (because they are good at disguising their true purpose and aim for the populist vote).

At the other end of the spectrum there is Tony Mulhearn standing as a Trade Unionist which is a bit odd really as most of the other candidates will be enthusiastic TU members themselves.

And John Coyne is having a punt for the Greens, interesting that they chose him and not Sarah who would have been popular, a woman, their leader, and not associated historically with the LibDems. I am sure they had their reasons and he will fight a clean fight.

And there is a couple of independents it will be interesting to hear from.

For me the only name that stands out on the list as worth voting for is Joe Anderson, but then you would expect me to say that.

PS There are two sitting councillors standing who dont really deserve the oxygen of publicity, or if they do, then they would both concede that they don't deserve it from me personally, so I shant be referring to either of them.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Liverpool Local Elections 2012 - Runners and Riders

Please see here a list of all candidates standing for election to Liverpool City Council on May 3rd 2012

There are 30 Labour, Conservative and Green Party candidates.

Of particular interest is the failure of the main opposition party, the Liberal Democrats, to field (once again) a full slate. In 5 wards of a possible 30, or 16.66% of the total,  the party that was running the city as recently as 2010 will fail to offer a candidate for voters to support.

There are two BNP candidates, this year in Belle Vale and Wavertree (home to the controversial Cricketers Arms function rooms)

The English Democrats which are virtually indistinguishable from the BNP and include former BNP candidates are standing in five wards.

There are two Independents, one of which is Warren Bradley, convicted last month of electoral offences with a £1000 fine

There are 25 Liberal Party candidates, which one should not mix up with the Liberal Democrats, a very different animal altogether (although no more successful).

And there are various other candidates, very likely to be also-rans, for your consideration.

Your comments are welcome, but I know where my money is.

Finding the right estate agent in Liverpool

Well it has been a journey, and I feel I ought to share it with you for future potentials vendors. (Yup, that is me, now officially a vendor!)

I have always had very strong views about what makes a good estate agent. Let me begin with what does not make a good estate agent - and which helped guide me with my choice.

A good estate agent is not the one who agrees to market your property at the greatest possible asking price. They are simply flying a kite and it will be you who has to wait around for about three months with few viewers and no offers, until the agent suggests you reduce the price to something more market friendly. If you actually want to sell your home then you should start with the right asking price, not end with it.

A good estate agent is also not the one who is only open during traditional working hours, when all your potential buyers are at work too. Is that clear enough? A good estate agent is one who is open when the buyers are looking, which is evenings and weekends. A very good estate agent is open 7 days a week, and in my experience that is rare.

A good estate agent is not the one who does not have an answering machine to take messages when they are closed. People ask to view properties on a whim. They are bedazzled with a fine array of choices, particularly if they use sites like Rightmove and they will attempt to engage with your agents then and there. If they are looking on a Saturday tea-time and your agent is closed until Monday morning with no answering machine, then your potential buyer will line up appointments to view someone else's lovely home instead and forget about yours.

A good estate agent is not the one either who having been sent an email request to view your property, leaves it four days before replying to the potential buyer. Oh yes, believe it or not, as a potential buyer as well as a seller, I have been very disappointed by the response rates of some Allerton Road estate agents to get back to me to arrange viewings, even three working days after my enquiry.

A good estate agent should not expect you to carry out all the viewings unless you particularly want them to, but should be geared up to undertake accompanied viewings if you are not available to do them yourself - maybe you are away from home, working long hours or on holiday for instance.

And a good estate agent should be competitive, they should not ask the highest price for selling your property, nor mislead you by suggesting that they can sell for a cost they know they will not be able to honour.

So, now that we are clear about what we need and want in a good estate agent, how did the various offices manage on my check list?

I started with a good firm, based on Allerton Road, a nationwide chain. They responded very quickly to my request for a valuation and the man who came to assess the property was a good representative for the firm and recommended one final improvement to the "dressing and setting" which I agreed with and subsequently organised. He also negotiated his best selling price with me, which was less than the advertised price. We agreed that if I went ahead with them it would be 1.25%  (It is always worth haggling, that is rule number 1). They also do accompanied viewings if required.  Unforunately this firm is not open 7 days a week but they did well on all the other counts.

The next firm who came to call were a local Liverpool family based firm with one shop on East Prescot Road. The man who came to assess the property was a little bit prefunctory and failed to say anything pleasant or encouraging about my house - and I do think a little bit of flattery goes a long way. They are only open 6 days a week, see no benefit on being open on a Sunday and were dismissive of my views about the need for an answering machine - they don't have one. Their selling fee was only 1% and the representative was keen to add a property in my area to their portfolio. Their website was also out of date. They don't do accompanied viewings either. So for all that they were cheap and a local family firm which would be an attractive option for me, I didn't feel I would get the best service from them.

The third firm were an internet based firm from Manchester with no shop front at all. I thought I should try the full range of options so included them in my research. They were charging 1.95% which was nearly twice as much as most of the other estate agents and they also wanted me to put the property on the market for 10K less than I believe it could achieve. However, they are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week which if you have a ready to sell property at a realistic if not actually under-selling price, and if you are in a hurry, this would be a bonus. They also advertise on 150 websites, rather than the usual half a dozen of  the office based companies.

The fourth firm were another big estate agents on Allerton Road, and one that is currently offering 0% fees. Definitely one to see. However, they did not respond to my request for a valuation for 4 days and neither did they follow up my request to view certain of the properties they had on sale. I had to push for both. They are only open 6 days a week and again they do not have an answering machine. The woman who came to do the valuation was a great ambassador for their firm and I really liked her, but the customer service on offer was very poor. They also admitted to me that the 0% fees offer had a shelf life of only 3 months, and if you didnt sell your house in that time, all bets were off. Not impressed of Wavertree, I pressed on.

Thoroughly dissatisfied and fed-up, I approached the fifth firm. Sutton Kersh of Allerton Road. They sent Beverley Sutton to value my property and negotiate with me. And glory be, this firm is open 7 days a week, and they have an answering machine and they do accompanied viewings if necessary. They responded quickly to my requests to view other properties and generally offered the level of customer service you would hope for. Beverley was positive about my  home and took photographs, with my involvement and support, which showed off the property to its best advantage. We also had a good conversation about a reasonable selling price, taking into account that they had a property already up for sale on my road. They were clearly in the running, and then we came to selling fees. I told her what I had been offered, accurately and for each other firm, and she tapped a few figures into her calculator and came up with a selling price which is most likely to be less than 1%, it being a fixed fee.

So, I have gone with Sutton Kersh, the cheapest, the best customer service and the most market-oriented.

Have I made the right choice? It is probably too early to tell, but what I can say is that having signed the papers on Monday, I have already seen two viewers and  another is due tomorrow, the board is now up, the property is on rightmove, they also offer a 3D floor plan which I have not seen elsewhere and I am generally very impressed. Also Tim Beaumont recommended them to me.

So fingers crossed I am with the best

And what a shame that so many other agents fall short of what we need.

Details of my lovely home can be found here