Richard Willis's Blog

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Reading is Well Prepared for Severe Weather

Me trying a new mini snow plough

Today for the first time this winter Reading had a fall of snow that settled overnight. Admittedly it was a very light dusting of snow that we woke to this morning but it provided an opportunity to test some of the response of the Council. The gritters were out in the evening on all of the primary routes and many of the secondary routes ensuring that roads were prepared for the worst. This morning when I had to leave for work I made it carefully through the snow covered road out onto one of the primary bus routes which was completely free of snow and ice.

However, the real test will be if Reading has a heavy and sustained snowfall like we had last December. There are many measures that have been put in place since then and I took a report to Cabinet last night detailing them to colleagues, opposition and the media.

We have doubled the Council’s stock of grit for roads and pavements. Last year we had 600 tonnes; this year we have 1,200 tonnes. During last year’s severe winter many Councils ran out of grit and could not get new supplies. By doubling our stock we help to ensure that we will have enough for most eventualities.

We have purchased two hand held snow ploughs to clear footpaths. Last year one of the main complaints of many residents was that footpaths were not touched by the Council across the Borough outside of the town centre. Heroic efforts were made by many Council staff to clear routes across the town centre, with some working very long hours. However, much of this was done by people with shovels. The two new small ploughs will allow staff to clear such routes much more quickly, releasing people to clear pavements elsewhere and then to use the small snow ploughs outside the town centre. Another bonus is that the two small snow ploughs have been sourced from a local firm.

We have reviewed gritting route priorities and will ensure that premier bus routes are cleared as a priority. Last winter the premier bus route close to me was not ploughed for several days after the big snow falls, meaning that most of Caversham Park Village was essentially cut off to all traffic. If premier bus routes are ploughed early then most people will be able to walk to a bus or get their side roads clear enough to access the bus routes.

We have reviewed the location of grit bins and will replace three that were removed (The Horse Close, Emmer Green; Hemdean Ave/Badgers Rise, Caversham; Pottery Road/Dresden Way, Tilehurst) and install two new bins at new locations (Glenrhondda, Bugs Bottom, Caversham; Upper Warren Ave/St Peter’s Ave, Caversham ). We will also relocate one bin from Tern Close to Taff Way in west Reading. The locations were decided based on a series of criteria including proximity to another grit bin or gritting route, steepness of the road and high vehicle usage. I have said that if we can identify more funding I will be looking to provide more grit bins across the borough.

We will publicise new legal advice which states that residents and businesses will not be prosecuted if they clear in front of their properties and someone slips over. This was a major concern last year and led some people to leave their frontage uncleared for fear of legal action. The only exception would be if someone was found to be deliberately causing a danger or grossly negligent (ie by pouring water on the ground which then immediately freezes to form a dangerous ice sheet).

In addition to all the above I have met with the Council’s Emergency Planning Officer with senior Transport Officers present, to run through our preparedness plans. Of course it is still possible that we could be caught out by an unexpected snow fall of an unusual scale but I think that even if that happens our response will be better than last winter.

November 30, 2010 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

New ComRes Poll – Labour Open Up 4% Lead

There is a new ComRes poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Independent which shows Labour opening up a lead of 4% over the Conservatives:

              Conservative             36% (down 1%)

                                        Labour                      40% (up 2%)

                                        Lib Dem                    12% (down 1%) 

In other findings some 31 per cent of respondents say they “couldn’t care less” about the Royal Wedding and a further 28 per cent describe themselves as “largely indifferent.”  The same proportion (28 per cent) are “fairly excited” but only 11 per cent are “very excited.”  While 50 per cent of women are fairly or very excited, only 29 per cent of men are.

Some 57 per cent believe the Royal Family needs to modernise more quickly, while 36 per cent do not.

The poll found that one in three people (32 per cent) thinks Britain would not be any worse off as a republic, although 57 per cent disagree with this statement.

Three out of four people (76 per cent) are proud that the UK is a monarchy, while 19 per cent are not. A similar proportion (74 per cent) believe the monarchy has more positive aspects than negative, while 20 per cent disagree.

ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1,006 GB adults between November 26-29, 2010.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Leader’s Rating Turns Negative

There is a new YouGov poll reported in today’s Sunday Times showing the Conservatives and Labour level pegging and the Lib Dems down to just 9%:

                Conservative 40% (down 2%)
                Labour 40% (no change)
                                                 Lib Dem 9% (down 1%)
The Government’s approval rating is minus 14, with 50% disapproving of the goverment for the first time.
David Cameron’s net rating drops to +2, still the best of the three main party leaders but the lowest he has had as Prime Minister. Nick Clegg’s approval rating is down to -22, down from -13 a week ago and by far his worst score as leader. Ed Miliband’s approval rating has also dropped into negative territory for the first time, down to -9 (28% approve, 37% disapprove). Political Betting has a good summary here.

Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 23 November.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 2 Comments

Government Announces Massive Investment for Rail Infrastructure

Philip Hammond MP

Today Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond made a major announcement which will bring significant benefits to users of Reading Station, both locally and those passing through. After the recent announcement of £500m funding being protected to allow the expansion of capacity at the station, this is further good news.

Over the next four years, the government will provide £14 billion of funding to Network Rail to support capital maintenance and infrastructure investment; and £750 million for high speed rail. They also confirmed that they will fund the Crossrail project, the Tube upgrade programme, light rail projects in Birmingham, Tyneside, Nottingham and Sheffield; and provide additional funding to franchisees for extra rolling stock.

The Government further confirmed that they will fund and deliver the Thameslink programme in its entirety, virtually doubling the number of north-south trains running through central London at peak times but the original programme for the rebuilding of London Bridge was always ambitious, with substantial risks around delivery, and operation of existing services, during construction. To reduce these risks, they have re-profiled the delivery of the programme to achieve completion in 2018. This will enable Network Rail to make further efficiencies to their design and delivery programme.

As part of the Thameslink programme, a new fleet of trains will be procured with up to 1,200 new carriages. This is in addition to around 600 new carriages which will be provided for the Crossrail project. The new Thameslink and Crossrail rolling stock will enable the redeployment of hundreds of serviceable electric carriages currently used on Thameslink services. These carriages belong to rolling-stock leasing companies, but it is expected that they will be available at competitive leasing prices for re-use elsewhere, thus justifying further electrification of the network.

As a first step, Network Rail will electrify the commuter services on the Great Western Main Line from London to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury, through Reading, over the next six years. Electric trains will speed up journeys, improve reliability and reduce the impact on the environment. Network Rail will also electrify the lines between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool – an investment of up to £300 million. Work is expected to begin next year and to be finished in 2016.

The redeployment of electric rolling stock to these routes will, in turn, free up hundreds of diesel units which will be available to Train Operators to lease as they become available in the period after 2015.

The Secretary of State also today confirmed that an additional 650 carriages will have been delivered to the network between 6 May 2010 and March 2014 in addition to the Thameslink and Crossrail carriages already mentioned.

The Secretary of State ruled out the option of requiring passengers to interchange from electric to diesel trains, recognising the value to passengers of preserving through-journeys. He also ruled out the option of a wholesale refurbishment of the existing diesel “Intercity 125” fleet, some of which date back to the 1970s.

The remaining options are, a lower cost Agility Trains proposal, which envisages a mixed fleet: some all-electric trains, and some electric trains which are also equipped with under-floor diesel engines. And, a fleet of new all-electric trains which could be coupled to new diesel locomotives where the overhead electric power lines end. Both these options would allow the preservation of through-journeys between London and parts of the rail network which are not electrified. Both of them would deliver faster journey times. For example, the government expects to see a time saving of at least 15 minutes for the journey between Cardiff and London, bringing it below 2 hours.

To address outstanding issues on choice of train type and further electrification on the Great Western Main Line, additional work will be required within the Department, with Agility Trains, and with the Welsh Assembly Government on the business case for electrification into Wales. The Secretary of State expects to announce a final decision on IEP, and on further Great Western electrification, in the New Year.

This is fantastic news for Reading and the only remaining piece of news we await is the final decision on the funding allocation to allow Reading Borough Council to complete the concourses and interchanges to the north and the south of the new station. A decision is expected in the next week or so.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | Local, National | 6 Comments

Bankrupt Labour Bankrolled by Unions

The figures published today by the Electoral Commission for the donations received by political parties between July and September demonstrate the continued reliance of the Labour Party on the Trades Unions for survival.

If private and corporate donations (cash and non-cash) to the parties are considered, Labour comes in third place behind UKIP and the Conservatives:

Conservative – £3,695,947
UKIP – £454,234
Labour – £413,774
Lib Dems – £350,645
The Co-Op Party – £289,998
BNP – £65,000
SNP – £39,029
Green – £12,030

In addition to the above however, Labour received the following donations from the big Trades Unions:

Unite – £818,366
Unison – £396,515
USDAW – £299,654
CWU – £246,544

Adding these Trades Union donations brings Labour’s total of donations received to £2,317,723.

The Electoral Commission also have published details of parties’ indebtedness and it sharply illustrates the desperate financial situation of the Labour Party:

Labour – £9,862,172
Conservative – £2,831,949
Jury Team – £519,046
Lib Dems – £488,344
SNP – £484,503

Thus four out of every five pounds received in donations by Labour came from one of the big Trades Unions. No other political party is recorded as having received donations from unions.

The size of Labour’s debt burden will also be a cause for concern. Not only will the party have to pay sizeable amounts in interest but debts will mature and have to be repaid over the next few years. It would seem that under Gordon Brown’s leadership the finances of the Labour Party were left in a similar position to that of the nation. Getting out of the hole will be very difficult for the party. They have many fewer MPs than before May and their Councillor base has been decimated over the last few years. The flow of donations from elected members into constituency parties will therefore be curtailed.

The Trades Unions must therefore be rubbing their hands with glee. They now have the leader they wanted and they know that they have the Labour Party over a barrel. Their contributions are even more vital to the party’s continued existence and its ability to fight election campaigns.

We know in Reading that Labour were short of funds in the last General Election from the article written by a campaign insider. I also have it from a reliable source that the loss of the additional allowances from Labour’s Lead Councillor roles is being keenly felt in some quarters.

I know what it is like trying to keep a local party functioning effectively and campaigning on a shoe-string as that is the situation that Reading Conservatives faced after 1997. It takes a long time to rebuild the support base and finances and achieve electoral success.

I suspect that Labour face a good number of years in the financial and electoral wilderness, while all the time their Trades Union paymasters demand policy favours in return for continued financial support!

November 24, 2010 Posted by | National | 5 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Tories Keep 2% Lead

There is a new YouGov poll reported in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing the Conservatives maintaining a lead of 2% over Labour:

                Conservative 42% (up 2%)
                Labour 40% (up 2%)
                                                 Lib Dem 10% (down 1%)

The Government’s approval rating has improved slightly to minus 7%.

Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 20 November.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

BREAKING NEWS – North Korea Attacks South

News is coming in that North Korea has fired a series of artillery shells at a populated South Korean island. Reports say that South Korea has scrambled jets to investigate.

The Korean peninsula is one of the most heavily militarised area in the world with a cold war style frontier between the rich, capitalist, democratic south and the poor, socialist north.

North Korea is a notoriously paranoid Socialist regime and we can but hope that this is a limited, albeit serious, incident.

UPDATE: A number of South Korean soldiers have been injured and the South has returned fire.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | International | 1 Comment

New ICM Poll – Labour Move Ahead

There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian showing Labour moving into a lead of 2% over the Conservaives:

            Conservative              36% (down 3%)

                                                  Labour                       38% (up 2%) 

                                                  Lib Dem                      14% (down 2%)

The coalition may take some comfort from the fact that smaller parties have benefited more than Labour from declining Tory and Lib Dem support. Support for “others” is up three points to 12%, including 3% for Scottish and Welsh nationalists, 3% for Ukip and 2% for the Greens.

A plurality of voters think that the government’s policies are taking Britain in the right direction. Overall 46% agree while 37% disagree. However fewer than half the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 – 42% ≠ now approve of the direction of government policies.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

Reading Labour Party Council Selections

Word reaches me that the Reading Labour Party has been undertaking its selection of candidates for next year’s local elections:

Abbey – Sitting Councillor Mohammed Ayub has been reselected.

Battle – sitting Councillor Chris Maskell has been reselected to stand once again.

Caversham – Esther Walters

Church – Paul Woodward (49) has been selected. Educated at Charters School and Reading University, he is replacing former Councillor Malcolm Powers who stood in the last local elections.

Katesgrove – Matt Rodda has been selected to stand against sitting Lib Dem Gareth Epps. Rodda has stood a couple of times in Caversham and each time seen the Conservatives increased their majority. He also stood for Parliament in East Surrey in 2010 and before that was a journalist on the Independent.

Kentwood – Daya Pal Singh

Minster – Sitting Councillor Paul Gittings has been reselected.

Norcot – SItting Councillor Graeme Hoskin has been reselected.

Park – Richard McKenzie has been selected to stand once again in the ward he lost last year. He is famous for having coming fifth in the Henley by-election behind the Greens and BNP, with one of the worst scores Labour has ever achieved in a Parliamentary election.

Peppard – Dave Absolom

Redlands – Jan Gavin has been selected to attempt to regain this ward for Labour from sitting Lib Dem Councillor and Deputy Leader of the Council Kirsten Bayes.

Southcote – Sitting Councillor Pete Ruhemann has been reselected.

Thames – Duncan Bruce has been selected to stand against sitting Councillor Jeanette Skeats.

Tilehurst – Former Councillor and Mayor Rose Williams will stand.

Whitley – Kelly Edwards has been selected to replace sitting Councillor Jim Hanley. Kelly stood in Redlands ward in May 2010 and lost to the Lib Dems. In 2005 she stood for Parliament in Hertsmere and was then passed over for selection for the Reading West candidature, losing out to Naz Sarkar. She will be hoping to improve on her electoral record in what has been until recently a safe Labour ward.

I would be interested to receive any further updates or information that anyone may have about Labour candidate selections.

While writing about selections I will add my voice to those who have commented on the smear tactics being perpetrated by some Labour Councillors and candidates. There seems to have been a concerted campaign to fabricate a story that Lib Dems and Conservatives either will not stand candidates against each other or will campaign for the other party’s candidate in some wards. This is complete tosh. Both parties are pledged to stand in every ward and actively promote their own candidates and policies. However, it would be surprising and disappointing if two parties that are in coalition descended into the kind of personal attacks and smears against each other that we have so often seen from Labour. I will post further articles in the future about Lib Dem and Conservative candidate selections.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | Local | 10 Comments

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

On Friday night I went to see the new Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows“. I am not sure what I was expecting. I have seen all of the previous films and naturally the actors are all that bit older but I was wondering where the plot could go that it hasn’t been before.

I was not disappointed. This film is much darker and quite a bit scarier than the previous films in the series. Hogwarts doesn’t feature at all, with the three main characters spending most of their time on the run from the evil Lord Voldemort and his minions who are pursuing them. There were several moments that made me jump and some quite scary scenes which made me wonder whether the 12A certificate was appropriate. I don’t think all 12 year olds would be comfortable sitting through this Potter episode.

The essence of the plot is that Voldemort has achieved resurrection and is hellbent on killing Harry. Evil powers have taken over the Ministry of Magic and Snape is Headmaster of Hogwarts. Harry’s many friends rally round to protect him from the dark lord’s power and some suffer as a result. I was delighted to see Dobby make a new appearance as well as another older house elf. 

Dumbledore is dead and buried and his will is read to Harry, Hermione and Ron, with some important gifts being left to them, the purposes of which they only discover later.

This is the seventh and final Potter story from J K Rowling and it is being released in two parts of which this is the first. Directed by David Yates it features Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Julie Walters and Helena Bonham Carter, as well as the three stars we have become used to, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.

I thoroughly enjoyed this instalment and look forward to the second and final part next year.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | General Musings | 2 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Tories Take the Lead Again

There is a new YouGov poll reported in tomorrow’s Sunday Times showing the Conservatives taking a lead of 2% over Labour after a few days when Labour was ahead or level pegging:

                Conservative 40% (up 3%)
                Labour 38% (down 4%)
                                                 Lib Dem 11% (up 1%)

The Government’s approval rating has imporved slightly to minus 8% (39% approve and 47% disapprove).

Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 16 November.

November 20, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New ComRes Poll – Tories Close Gap With Labour to Just 1%

There is a new ComRes poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Independent on Sunday which shows the Conservatives narrowing Labour’s lead to just a single point:

              Conservative             37% (up 2%)

                                        Labour                      38% (up 1%)

                                        Lib Dem                    13% (down 3%) 

Changes shown are compared to the last ComRes poll for the Independent. However, Anthony Wells makes a good point that ComRes have two different polling methods (telephone and online) and maybe the changes shown should be compared to their last online poll.

November 20, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New List of Working Peers is Announced

This morning the new list of working Peers has been announced. This list is heavily weighted towards Conservative appointments to address the imbalance in the Lords following the years of Labour government.

There are some appointments which may prove controversial and some names that had been expected which are not included.

Here is the full list:


1. Tariq Ahmad – businessman and former Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party

2. Sir Robert Balchin DL – Pro-Chancellor of Brunel University

3. Elizabeth Berridge – Director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship

4. Sir Michael Bishop CBE – career in civil aviation, Chairman of The Michael Bishop Foundation a charitable foundation

5. Alistair Cooke OBE – career in education, authorship and politics

6. Sir Patrick Cormack – former Conservative MP

7. Michael Dobbs – author, presenter and adviser to Margaret Thatcher and John Major

8. Robert Edmiston – businessman and charity campaigner

9. Andrew Feldman – businessman and Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party

10. Julian Fellowes DL – actor, novelist, film director and screenwriter

11. Stanley Fink – Chief Executive of International Standard Asset Management and Chairman of Earth Capital LLP. Treasurer of the Conservative Party

12. Howard Flight – career in finance; former Conservative MP, held various positions in Conservative Shadow Cabinet, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party 2004 -2005

13. David Gold – senior litigation partner at Herbert Smith LLP and Parliamentary candidate

14. Michael Grade CBE – past Chief Executive of Channel 4 Television and former Executive Chairman of ITV plc

15. Rachael Heyhoe-Flint OBE DL – past captain of England women’s cricket team, currently public relations and sports marketing consultant

16. Anne Jenkin – charitable and political work for the Conservative Party

17. Sir Michael Lord – former Conservative MP and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons

18. Rt Hon David Maclean – former Conservative MP; held a number of Ministerial posts; Opposition Chief Whip 2001 – 2005

19. George Magan – career in finance; former Conservative Party Treasurer and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Foundation

20. Sir Bernard Ribeiro CBE FRCS – retired Consultant General Surgeon; member of the Health Policy Research Advisory Board of the American College of Surgeons

21. Fiona Shackleton LVO – lawyer specialising in family law

22. Richard Spring – former Conservative MP

23. Tina Stowell MBE – former Head of BBC corporate Affairs; past Deputy Chief of Staff to William Hague as Leader of HM Opposition

24. Nicholas True CBE – past Deputy Head of the PM’s Policy Unit; former Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords; Leader of Richmond Borough Council

25. Patience Wheatcroft – Editor-in-Chief of the Wall Street Journal Europe

26. Gordon Wasserman – internationally recognised expert on management of police forces

Ulster Unionist (taking the Conservative Whip)

1. Sir Reg Empey OBE – Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party 2005 – 2010

Liberal Democrats

1. Dr Sarah (Sal) Brinton – Executive Director of the Association of Universities in the East of England

2. Dee Doocey OBE – Chair of the London Assembly

3. Qurban Hussain – Deputy Group Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Luton Borough Council

4. Judith Jolly – Chair of Executive Committee of Liberal Democrats in Devon and Cornwall

5. Susan Kramer – former Liberal Democrat MP

6. Raj Loomba – businessman and campaigner for widows’ rights

7. Jonathan Marks – commercial and family law QC with specialist interest in human rights and constitutional reform

8. Monroe Palmer OBE – Liberal Democrat Councillor and Chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel

9. Jenny Randerson – Liberal Democrat Member of the National Assembly for Wales for Cardiff Central, former Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government

10. John Sharkey – Chairman of the Liberal Democrat 2010 General Election campaign

11. Nicol Stephen – Former Deputy First Minister of Scotland (2005 – 2007) and leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (2005 – 2008)

12. Ben Stoneham – Liberal Democrat HQ Operations Director

13. Mike Storey CBE – Primary School Head teacher, former Leader of Liverpool City Council, Liberal Democrat Councillor and former Lord Mayor of Liverpool;

14. Paul Strasburger – businessman and philanthropist

15. Claire Tyler – Chief Executive of Relate

Labour Party

1. Dame Joan Bakewell DBE – writer and broadcaster

2. Ray Collins – General Secretary of the Labour Party

3. Maurice Glasman – Senior Lecturer in political theory at London Metropolitan University and for his work with London Citizens

4. Jonathan Kestenbaum – businessman and Chief Executive of National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

5. Oona King – Head of Diversity at Channel 4 Television and former Labour MP; currently journalist and presenter

6. Ruth Lister – Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Loughbrough University

7. Eluned Morgan – former Labour MEP representing Mid and West Wales; currently Honorary Distinguished Professor at Cardiff University and for her work on low carbon energy

8. Sir Gulam Noon MBE – Chairman and Founder of Noon Products and of the Noon Foundation

9. Stewart Wood – former Downing Street and HMT special adviser, lecturer at University of Oxford; previously Fellow of Magdalen College and co-founder of Nexus

10. Bryony Worthington – career focusing on promoting environmental and social change

Plaid Cymru

1. Rt Hon Dafydd Wigley – former Leader of Plaid Cymru; Honorary President of Plaid Cymru

UPDATE: Sir Richard Dannatt has also been announced as a Cross-Bench Peer.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | National | 1 Comment

New Ipsos MORI Poll – Labour Take 3% Lead

There is a new Ipsos MORI poll published by Reuters showing the Conservatives and Labour swapping places after last month’s poll showed the Conservatives 3% ahead:

            Conservative              36% (down 3%)

                                                        Labour                       39% (up 3%)

                                                        Lib Dem                      14% (no change)

Despite concern about the effects of specific cuts, the government is continuing to convince the public that it has the best approach for dealing with the economy. A majority of the public still agrees with the government that there is a read need to cut spending on public services to pay off the national debt (56%).

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,005 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 12-14 Nov 2010. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

November 17, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Move 5% Ahead

There is a new YouGov poll reported in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour moving into a 5% lead over the Conservatives:

                Conservative 37% (down 2%)

                Labour 42% (up 1%)

                                              Lib Dem 10% (no change)

The Government’s approval rating remains at minus 10% (38% approve and 48% disapprove).

These are hardly surprising findings given the recent Comprehensive Spending Review and I have remarked before about how resilient Conservative support has been in most polls. I wonder if those who are so quick to dismiss YouGov polls will now change their tune!
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 13 November.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment