Tuesday, January 03, 2012
Sunday, January 01, 2012
So, why don't we have an elected Conservative Chairman? If the Golf Club can get round to having an election for their Presidents, doesn't it seem odd that the political party in government has a complete democratic void at its top?
This morning, ConHome ran a story about Baroness Warsi (click here) having a bit of a go about the LibDems and asking them ever so nicely to stop "slagging off" the coalition. Indeed, a while ago I wrote about the potential for the Tory Chairman to have more of a leadership role in a coalition (click here). I urged that whilst the LibDems have a President and a Deputy Leader who both sit outside of government and can articulate the views of the their party members, that luxury is not afforded to the Tories whose Chairman sits in the cabinet.
Now putting aside the absurdity of the Tory Chairman sitting in a coalition cabinet whilst the LibDem equivalent does not, is there not a real chance to tie up these two ends?
More democracy and a chance for the conservative voice to be heard through a "fighting Chairman". If we directly elected our chairmam, he or she could sit outside of the government and be a real media / party figure. If the LibDems can stand on the sidelines and hastle the coalition over some issues, why can't the Tories have somebody who articulates our views like this?
Of course, it'll never happen. It really would be Cameron voting for Christmas. God knows who he'll end up with! (Although with some certainty it wouldn't be Warsi). But that is the problem with democracy - the people (in this case, the membership - the people who stuff envelopes, pay subscriptions and deliver leaflets) will decide and they don't always produce "the right result." However it would give people a reason to re-join the party and make members, many of whom feel disengeged by the party leadership and CCHQ. It would be a painless way of allowing the member to vent some of their frustrations. Who should it be? I don't know - but I am sure others will have ideas.
So if there isn't one already, I want to start the "elect our Chairman" campaign. It may only ever have one member ....
Saturday, December 31, 2011
1. There won't be a General Election, Cameron and Clegg will both be in place but Ed Miliband will either be gone or fatally wounded.
2. Norwich City will stay in the premiership in a mid-table position.
3. The cabinet will lose a number of Secretary of State - Cable, Warsi, Gillan and Huhne will all be gone by next New Years Eve.
4. Online services will lead to a renaissance of hard-copy photographs.
5. The GOP will take control of the Senate but Obama will be back - just - defeating Romney in the Presidential election.
6. The French and German governments will take a hammering at the polls
7. At least 1 country will leave the Euro.
8. The Conservatives will finish the year behind in the opinion polls, but by less than 5%
9. The House of Lords still won't be reformed.
10. Labour will take outright control of the City Council, by virtue of the collapse of the Green vote
11. Norfolk County Council Tories will be bouyed by at least one more defection and/or by-election win
12. The Evening News will be free.
1. A major national shop will unexpectedly open a branch in Norwich.
Right - and wrong. Looking back I couldn't have possible got this oen wrong, but there are a multitude to choose from!
2. City will face a nailbiting effort for promotion via the qualifiers and will ultiamtely win through.
I am very pleased that this was wrong - we got promotion via a slightly more exciting route!
3. The AV referendum will be lost, by 8%
Again, right and wrong. AV was crushed by the British public, but the loss was a massive 2:1 against rather than the 54-46 I predicted!
4. The economy will show strong signs of growth by December
Define "strong". LOL. OK, wrong!
5. Labour will take double digit poll leads during the year but by the end the Tories will be back within striking distance
Again, right and wrong. For most of the year Labour have had substantial leads, including soem in double digits. However, far from being "in striking distance", the Independent newspapers poll-of-polls shows Cameron's Tories back in the lead by 39-38%.
6. Labour will pick up seats in 2011 but not in large numbers and only the kind of wards the Tories were shocked to have won in 2007. No breakthrough.
Again, right and wrong. Labour did well in these elections but at the expense of the LibDems. The Tories ended up being net up seats.
7. Ed Miliband will still not be secure as Labour Leader but all 3 party leaders will show negative poll numbers and Clegg will be in the most serious trouble
Absolutely spot on here I think.
8. Most newspapers online will be behind the paywall
Couldn't be more wrong!
9. The invisible primary in the US will cut the number of realistic GOP hopefuls down to 4 - Huckabee, Palin, Romney and a surprise figure that perhaps we hadn't even considered in 2010.
Ha ha, wrong - Romney's still there but Palin and Huckabee are both out. I guess Cain, Santorum, Perry, Bachmann and Gingrich may count for this last bit!
10. "Skype me" will be the new "Facebook me"
Monday, September 19, 2011
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Today the prize for PMQs blunder goes to Labour Leader Ed Miliband with his bizarre remarks about George Osborne "lashing himself to the mast ... not for the first time perhaps." That purile sexual innuendo might be OK between friends at a party but being shot across the Commons it isn't. Harriet Harman looked shocked, Ed Balls didn't know where to look. I think it was a genuine quip rather than a pre-prepared line. It doesn't make you cool, Ed, or win you any prizes for humour. You are not one of the lads. You are meant to be Leader of the Opposition. Start acting like it.
As for PMQs itself, clearly David Cameron wasn't on top form but luckily his opponent was (as usual) worse. Ed Miliband really must get a grip with his PMQs performances.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Anyway, the usually very sound Cllr Ian Mackie - a good man who will one day make an excellent County Council Leader - uses the chance to sound off about his own party's plans. Unfortunately though, I believe my old friend has it wrong on three counts.
Firstly he says that we have a "high profile" Chair of the Police Authority in Stephen Bett. I am sure he is high profile - in the council chamber. But on the streets of Norwich, or rural Norfolk for that matter, outside in our communities I suspect very very few people know who he is. I am involved in politics and even I had to google him to make sure I got the right name. When the EDP did us all a service by publishing the pictures of the members of the police authority, I could name just 2 of them - my old ward colleague Paul Wells and Green Councillor Phil Hardy - and I suspect I was 2 names ahead of 99% of the county. I urge our elected County Councillors to understand that to them these people may be "high profile" but to the rest of us they are not. The members of that police authority collect handsome allowances for their positions and the county council enjoys, as they would, the status and responsibility that brings to them. Good news for the people of Bowthorpe or Thorpe Hamlet - where Wells and Hardy represent - but how should I hold the police accountable? Difficult to say. And who gave those 2 no doubt superb public servants that role in the first place? Or any of them for that matter? People doing their shopping today in Norwich Market I doubt could tell me, either.
Then Cllr Mackie urges the government to let Norfolk decide who we wish our police to be run. Quite right. But nobody asked us about the current settup either. I didn't get to choose how my police are run, nor did I get to vote for my County Council reps on the Police Authority. So why are there no plans for referenda asking the people of Norfolk which system we wish to use? We could combine it with another poll to keep costs down, perhaps, but I do object to people using as an arguement against change that localism is vital (which it is) without asking local people if they want change.
And lastly there is the wonderful news that Norfolk is the safest county in England - good news that is I am sure in no small part down to the work of people like Cllrs Wells, Hardy and Mackie. But it shouldn't be the case that just because we are a low-crime area that I as a taxpayer - or to be more precise a police precept payer - have no control over how that money is spent or what the policing priorities are. The police do a vital job but they spend public money. Schools and hospitals have boards where the public have their directly elected members, why not the police? Actually, just because something is working doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to hold that something to account.
You may read this and think I am madly in favour of police commissioners. I am not. I am in favour of democracy, accountability and open public services. I believe that like schools, the police authority should be much more open in its work. I don't want to vote for a County Councillor who then votes for another County Councillor to sit on this body. Nobody then feeds back to me, not my County Councillor or even the ones on the body itself.
Come on Norfolk, we can do better. Don't oppose this because you like the cosy relationship between the police authority and the County Council. Why not have accountability? Why not attack government plans using a plan of your own to improve the relationship between the police authority and the people of Norfolk rather than just clinging to the EDP's statist status quo ideals?
As I say, I am not wildly up for elected commissioners but they are, in my view, a darn site better than what we have at the moment. But I am surprised nobody can think of a better solution than both of them, to what is a very real democractic deficit at the heart of our public services.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Not so long ago Labour held 3 seats in Norfolk - Norwich N, Norwich S and Yarmouth - with an outside chance of NW Norfolk in a very good year (e.g. 1997). In that year they also got very close to taking SW Norfolk it should be remembered but never actually achieved it.
And now what? With Great Yarmouth taking in the staunchly Conservative areas around the southern tip of North Norfolk, Tory MP Brandon Lewis will have even more blue-backing rural areas to "overwhelm" the Labour folk of GY. In addition, those changes would make North Norfolk safer for LibDem Norman Lamb - and even more so when the strongly LibDem (at General Elections, anyway) area around Fakenham are put back in the seat. That leaves just Norwich North where Chloe Smith will see her majority soar as she takes safe Tory territories of Drayton and Taverham back into her patch.
Despite changes, the new "Kings Lynn" seat is still well out of reach for Labour and "South Norfolk", "Broadland & Dereham" and "Thetford & Swaffham" equally so.
So for Labour their best case scenario of a Norfolk with 3 winnable seats is shot to pieces - just 1 (Norwich S) remains.
My Labour friend seethed and sweated. He believed that this is all a stitch-up to guarantee coalition seats in the county and deny Labour representation. Labour, I am told, will fight this all the way. He argued that Norfolk will have 8 safe seats and 1 marginal and so politics could become very boring indeed in the future.
We'll see. But this Boundary decision, I sense, is far from over.
Friday, September 09, 2011
The Free School here has always been low key and quiet. It has great support from people in all 3 major parties, has quietly worked on the project behind the scenes and hasn't exploded into the pages of the national papers in spats with unions, celebrities or the local population. In fact, quite the opposite, the Free School has been welcomed by the City. Certainly, being 4 times oversubscribed suggested so.
So today to find the world and their wife camped on the doorstep was quite a surprise. The shocked looking children were more than a little surprised themselves, I am sure (in fact, twice, I was asked if I was the Prime Miniser...)
I am used to the media hunting in packs but what surprised me in the build up to the speech, which has led the bulletins on the news for much of the day, was the number of Number 10 folk and the security services that buzz around the PM. His every move, every footstep, every encounter and every chair he sits on is perfectly worked out and choreorgraphed. The Number 10 handlers are quite brutal with the press - I suppose they have to be - and the press in return seemed to me to be decent and willing to play along. The audience was made up of the press huddle plus figures from the local educational community; actually quite a risk for the PM as the public Q&A afterwards could - but didn't - turn tricky.
I was in charge of a door. Ohhhh, yes. I was instructed that when I saw somebody who resembled the Prime Minister I was to open a door for him and the school principal, Tania Sidney-Roberts. The door only opened one way so without me, a nonplussed looking PM would be left standing looking in at the classroom. What a responsibility! I was even told to open the door well before Cameron reached me, for to open the door outwards when the PM was too close *may* result in me striking, nay assassinating, the British Prime Minister. The instructions were so tight and so precise, I wondered if I was up for this herculean task.
As it happens, my door opening was quite the remarkable success and I feel that everything that followed was as a direct result. In fact, should Mr Cameron go onto success in the 2015 General Election, people may trace it back to this education speech which he gave, unharmed from being smacked in the face by a door.
As the PM spoke to the teachers and saw the school ICT Cloud in operation I whisked off to see the great-and-the-good (local MPs, Headteachers, etc etc) and also Secretary of State Michael Gove. I am, as regular readers will know, a massive - MASSIVE - Gove fan. As a teacher and as a voter, I find him impressive, lucid and intellectually on top of his brief. Being able to tell him parts of the story of the Free School was a very enjoyable conversation.
But hang on, dear blog readers, just as I thought I could settle down in the second row to watch the PM speak, another shock. The Number 10 handlers felt that following my triumph with the door, I was to be promoted to holding a microphone. Luckily, unlike a certain former PM, I had the sense to check it was off before gossiping with colleagues. Anyway, should the mic at the podeum fail, I was the backup plan!! What joy; though luckily no such disaster occurred. Then when the question session started I was to leap to my feet and offer the mic to those asking the posers to the PM. I was, if I may say, like a cat. The first question was asked by my own Headteacher, Brian Conway at Notre Dame, and I think my passing of a mic looked more like a "lunge" and I nearly smacked him on the head with the furry end. Now that would have been embarrassing. Luckily Brian - clearly a semi-pro himself - grabbed the mic and settled me on my feet. If I had of crushed Nick Robinson beneath my 16 stone frame I would never have forgiven myself, although parts of the Westminster Village may have nominated me for a CBE.
It's odd how the easiest of jobs seem incredible tense when the Prime Minister is watching and waiting for you and where the menial nature of the task is outweighed by the cringe factor should you get it wrong. Its not as if I haven't done press conferences, met David Cameron before, or been on the TV live. Just today I had the image in my head of things going wrong and was desperately trying to stop them actually happening.
Anyway, Cameron's delivery was - as always - extremely good. He is very impressive in real life; even the Labourites in the audienc said so. The speech wasn't too long and easy for the audience to engage with. Most importantly his messages of academic rigour, freedom for schools and the like were all spot on. He had new ideas to announce. The speech wasn't too detailed; I'm not sure it was meant to be. It felt more like the start of a debate than anything else. For example if you cut benefits from homes where kids truant, what would you do the parents of truants who aren't on benefits? It is slightly strange to watch a speech from 6 foot away where somebody is usuing the autocues. The new transparent ones look great on TV but up close it always looks as if the speech maker is looking into the middle distance rather than at the audience. With so many nodding heads around me, Mr Cameron might have got great faith for his ideas by looking down at us!
Michael Gove is a very warm person I find - he always remembers who I am ("a great man in so many ways," he flattered me with ... I am sure he says that to everyone he meets) and can instantly recall when you last met and what you spoke about. With Mr Cameron - and this is not a criticism because we have met about 4 times and he probably meets a hundred or more people a day - he is more about listening to your story and what you have to say on issues.
On education I find myself in 99.9% agree with this government; something not all policy areas achieve. The PM and Mr Gove were kind and generous about the Free School and were genuinely impressed with it all. They left with great knowledge that the policy, here in Norwich, was working well.
So as you settle down to watch the PM on TV tonight, think of those small moments, with doors and mics, that make great speeches what they are.
Take a look at this map, helpfully provided by the Tory Party which shows where the co-chairs of the Party have visited recently. Lots of visits in London and the South East (to be expected) but also a lot in the Midlands and the North West. Northern Ireland has been blessed, as have a few locations in Scotland and even in far-flung Cornwall. But anyone else notice the massive gap anywhere? They seem to get to Essex and stop. Nothing in Norfolk, Suffolk or Cambs. In fact it looks like we'd have to travel to Northamptonshire to see the Party Chairman.
I have spoken before about my concerns about the way the Chairmen are running the party. By choosing to stay away from the East of England - an absolute true-blue Conservative heartland awash with members - is a bizarre decision that will hardly make the party faithful feel appreciated.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
The letter complains that "the Coalition Government, on taking office, claimed, and continues to do so, that schools routinely fail children and young people, teaching standards are poor, sacking teachers is too difficult and the teacher's contract lacks flexibility."
In a final flourish, Ms Keates warns that "members have already indicated a willingness to take appropriate national industrial action" and that "that time is now near".
I wonder what the general public makes of the NASUWT and people like Ms Keates? Ms Keates who draws a near £140,000 renumeration package and who ignores her members on twitter and will not return our phone calls.
I have blogged before that I sometimes feel Mr Cameron isn't very parliamentary; his now semi-regular slips aren't "offensive" (as some claim) or "sexist" (calm down, dear) but don't represent a very statesmanlike approach to the House of Commons.
Today, Mr Cameron I feel did overstep the mark and stuck a toe into some very murky waters. Dorries asked the PM a typically straight forward question on LibDem influence over Free Schools, NHS and abortion laws and asked him to tell DPM Nick Clegg who the boss is. That question probably summarised the way a lot of Conservative MPs, activists and members feel. David Cameron - to be fair on him trying to speak over a loud House of Commons - then suggested Ms Dorries was "frustrated". The look on his face suggested he didn't take Dorries, her question or her concern very seriously. Unable to say anymore, he then said he'd give up on it and sat down. Mr Cameron made little to no attempt to answer her question and chose to smirk rather than engage.
Where does this end - does the PM get to choose which questions he answers or doesn't? Even if he isn't very clear or detailed in the answer, he ought to give one. To not do so shows very little respect for an elected MP.
What makes it worse is that David Cameron is bigger than this. He never has any trouble dealing with Labour Leader Ed Miliband so why he feels the need to treat a backbench Tory MP at the lowest rung of the parliamentary ladder so brutally and with such discourtesy is beyond me.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
So when, after the election, David Cameron appointed Sayeeda Warsi to the job I thought the new Prime Minister would have thought long and hard about this appointment. Warsi was clearly, I thought, the woman for the job - so impressive was she, that Mr Cameron had to get her into government via the appointed House of Lords rather than election to the House of Commons. At the time I remember some grumbling, from the old guard, about her getting the job because she is a female Muslim, but I had to dismiss these arguments. As if the Prime Minister, especially one whose task was made more difficult by holding a coalition together, would make an appointment on such spurious grounds.
The recent riots in Britain have, though, given me cause to think again. You see, in ordinary times the Prime Minister would balance his role in government with being the Leader of his Party. The problem Mr Cameron has is the nature of coalition government. I am sure he wants to do and say a lot of things that he just cannot do because somewhere a "senior" LibDem (and I am yet to hea of one of the media who doesn't have that label) would go ballistic. I am sure, call me niave if you wish, that Mr Cameron is much, much tougher on justice policy, human rights, EU integration and foreign policy than he could ever say in public. A coalition government is a classic balancing act in that respect and I am sure many LibDems feel the same about Mr Clegg.
So here is where I would expect the Tory Chairman to step in, and say all the things that our members and supporters want to hear (and, I warrant, a majority of the country). Where was our Chairman going from studio to studio, radio mic to daytime sofa, giving those no-nonsense tough talking interviews? Nowhere; almost invisible. The few media appearances she did make were, frankly, poor. That's why it was Michael Gove who - the PM aside - made all the running and gave the party faithful something to go door-to-door with. What stopped Baroness Warsi? Where was she and what was she doing?
When we have a Tory Leader who cannot be, and say, all that he wishes it is paramount we have a "Fighting Chairman" who goes out there and punches for us.
Now I know what my critics would say - Baroness Warsi is also a member of the government and a member of the cabinet. Her (almost) LibDem equivalents, President Tim Farron MP and Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP, both sit outside of the government.
So I have a suggestion to make.
Use the undoubted talents of Baroness Warsi elsehwere in the government and give us our "Fighting Chairman". Then, remove the holder of the Tory Chairmanship from the cabinet to give them the freedom to speak (or shout) up for us without the constraints of collective responsibility.
Because when the Conservative Leader cannot lead the Conservatives above all else, the Chairman should.
Anyway I have now send Ms Keates around half a dozen tweets asking for a conversation or a chance to communication about her renumeration package - but no reply (yet). What is she, or her spokespeople at NASUWT, so afriad of?
Friday, August 19, 2011
As a sub-paying member I phoned the NASUWT HQ to ask them if anybody would like to justify that sort of wage. I was put on hold for a few minutes, before being told nobody was available to speak to me. I then asked to speak to Ms Keates herself; after all, she ought to know why she is paid so much. I was told that she was away - or busy, they weren't quite sure which - and they would pass on a message.
This was 2 days ago and still nobody has returned my call.
Can I suggest that the Union movement might have slightly more public support and credibility if its leaders weren't such obvious fat-cats themselves? Why shouldn't union leaders take, for example, the average salary of their members - I'm sure that would get support amongst the public and ordinary union members. As I'm overly-generous why not offer them the average plus 25%?
I look forward to Ms Keates calling me back; and in the meantime I may just look into other ways of advancing this cause.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Well, that's the usual refrain of Commons Speaker John Bercow as things get a little loud at Prime Minister's Question Time. I have spoken before (here) about the fact that I like it when PMQs gets lively and think that the pressure, or otherwise, put on MPs in a good thing.
I cannot remember a week when Speaker Bercow hasn't stopped the flow of an arguement, and even on some occassions silence our Prime Minister, to repeat his charge that the public doesn't like the noise and bustle of the questioning. I know that Speaker Bercow was elected on a reforming platform and much that he has done I personally approve of, such as increased use of Urgent Questions, but his attitude and behaviour at PMQs does worry me. And what worries me more is that he uses "the public" as a method backing up his own views.
At the end of my previous post, I asked the question "who are these public that tell Speaker Bercow they want a santised PMQs" and it has played on my mind ever since. So I ended up putting in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking the Speaker exactly how many memebrs of the public have complained about the behaviour of MPs at PMQs.
After all, to change the whole tone of PMQs must suggest massive public fury; members of the public firing off angry letters and emails to vent their fury that MPs should ask reasonable questions in reasonable ways and recieve them in utter silence. They demand, these public, that the Speaker acts as a teacher would, insisting on decorum and threatening any MP, including the Prime Minister and both frontbenches with detention unless they play ball. He should even pick out a few and make jibes at them in order to control the commons.
So my FOI request asked how many pieces of communication (letter, phone call or email) the Speaker had recieved complaining about behaviour at PMQs. Go on, take a guess.
Well the answer may surprise you. The Speakers office only hold communications for sixth months, but in the half year until 22 July there were ...
... ready for it ...
... 36 ...
... yes, thirty six.
36 members of the public have complained about the standard of behaviour at PMQs in six months.
I am amazed that our bossy, overbearing Speaker has the cheek to call forth public opinion on this matter when less than half of one percent of one average constituency in the UK has registered a complaint.
That's fewer people than complain about your average Eastenders storyline and even fewer than most e-petitions, no matter how obscure the topic, gather.
And how many people have written to complain about the Speaker's constant interruption? Well apparently they are working on that figure for me as I blog. I am sure it'll be less than 36 but it shows how few people really, actually care enough about an issue to take up pen, keyboard or telephone and do something about it.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
If you have a spare tenner, a flutter on Mr Gove might not be a bad idea. A few years transforming our education system, Gove would make an excellent Home Secretary and then who knows - the next Leader of the Conservative Party?
Friday, August 05, 2011
He has put information in the public domain that has 2 points to it - most importantly he is opening up the books of local government and shwoing tax payers exactly what they are (or aren't) getting for their money. But this has the added bonus side-effect of humiliating some councils (generally Labour run, but Tory ones too) who aren't doing their job properly.
Imagine this scenario. You are a large Labour-run authority interested not in the best for your local people but in your own re-election locally and in damaging the national coalition as much as possible. Along come those dastardly cuts (you know, the ones that take us way-way-back to 2007 levels) and you see an opportunity. Cut massively, slash services, impact as much as you can. Then blame the government and sit back as the votes roll in for Labour at the next local election and, hopefully, the next General Election. This is exactly what is happening up and down the land.
The trouble is that these councils have other choices before they start making deep cuts in local services. And today Eric Pickles shines the light on the assets those council have and urge them to think about using them before cutting. If I lived in one of those large Labour-run authorities I would be rightly angry that they were cutting, say, rubbish collection whilst owning an airport/football club/cinemas/golf courses (delete as appropriate).
Now I totally accept that many of these assets will actually be investments; we can't sell off the family-silver if, in fact, the family silver is generating income for the council (especially above that which could be obtained via other methods like banks, and a lot safer!). Councils locally, such as Breckland, I understand draw a decent income from their asset-investment and use this money to hold down council tax. Mr Pickles would approve I am sure. But frankly any asset which has been consistently either breaking even or making a loss needs to go.
And there is one last question - should councils own this stuff in the first place? If the asset doesn't produce an income (like a golf course can) and isn't in the community interest (as some football clubs can be), then why own it? And if possible could the poitn of the asset be achieved in some other way?
This is a complex issue which needs to be taken case-by-case. But the brilliance of the Communities Secretary (I am a self-confessed Pickles fan) is that in one sweep he has destroyed the arguement in the public eye about the need for deep and painful cuts at local level in certain places.
In the same way I don't believe Norwich City Council should cut one iota of service before "political assistants" (council employees paid to work for party political councillors) are removed or the salaries of top staff is cut, I wouldn't accept any cut whilst a council asset portfolio hasn't been publicly examined.
Take a look at any message board today - the standard comment is "I can't believe my council have cut X whilst they own a Y!!!". Another round to Mr Pickles, me thinks.
I urge everyone to get online, see what their council owns and start asking questions about it!
Thursday, August 04, 2011
However ... what it does raise is an interesting discussion regarding indirect democracy.
As I often ask my A Level students; if democracy is a good thing, what happens when MPs and the public collide on an issue such as - the death penalty? A few years ago a very bright young student called it "pick 'n mix democracy"; the public get to choose which issues it ought to have primacy over (death penalty, Europe, single currency, immigration to name a few) and which issues it delegates to parliament (everything else you don't find on the letters page of the Daily Mail, he quipped.) But we don't have a "pick 'n' mix democracy", we just have a parliamentary democracy, I said.
Ah, my padawan learner replied, and there-in lies the issue. Under "pick 'n' mix democracy" the pubic get the choose what they decide about, under "parliamentary democracy" the MPs do. I was reminded of this conversation when the AV Referendum was announced - the classic example. We, the people, don't get to decide on the death penalty (which a lot of people care about about) but do get to decide on AV (which very very very few people care about).
(Oh, and I say this as somebody absolutely and totally opposed - to both the death penalty and AV).
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Putitng aside Archer's point about this unelected clique telling our elected parliament what to do and think (I am rather fond of the idea of parliamentary sovereignty and voting at election time to make my voice heard) the idea is doomed because it almost certainly won't get the protagonists what they want.
By dangling 3 big issues - MPs expenses, the banking crisis and phone hacking - in front of the public, all issues where the public take issue with "vested interests" and "big businesses" - they make the idea sound attractive. But consider this. Britain is - wait for it - a conservative (small "c") country. For the vast majority of the last century or so, we have had Conservative, Conservaive-led or Conservative-dominated National governments. There is, as we are now finding out, a big conservative element to the LibDems and also to the Labour Party too. We have had precious few radical socialist, or even just socialist, governments and the only time recently when Labour have "won big" is when they shifted to the right (i.e. to where the people of Britain are). Sorry Guardian readers, however few of you there are left, it is true. Go to a council estate anywhere in the country, where you might expect Labour support to be strongest. Ask them about Europe, or immigration, or taxation levels and see what they say; I distinctly remember one voter last time in the heart of Lakeham lecturing me about the evils of Europe, too many immigrants, tax too high etc etc and - you guessed it - he would still be voting Labour. Even Labour folk have a conservative element to them.
So if you take 1,000 random Britons you wouldn't get the spread I think The Guardian expect. And instead of asking them about MPs expenses, as Archer suggests, you put other issues in front of them, you might not get the answer you expect either.
So I lay this challenge to The Guardian, The People's Jury and its fans. With some polls putting support for a return to the death penalty at over 70%, would you be happy for the first idea for discussion to be the death penalty?
Dontcha just love indrect democracy - when it suits you, eh, Guardian readers? ;-)
Friday, July 22, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
One of the things that has impressed me about this government is the way in which Mr Cameron pledged to make his government the “most family friendly” in Europe. He spoke about general wellbeing being as important as economic wellbeing. I think Nick Clegg doing the school run is a great example to Dads all over the country. And yet in one very important respect I feel the government is failing badly.
I have two children and a third due in November. I work as a High School teacher and earn a decent salary – over the national average but certainly now what you would call “rich”. I understand politicians like to call us a “hard working family” and that Mr Miliband would suggest I am the “squeezed middle.” I want to be there to support my wife after she has our baby, and this support is increasingly important given that the other children need love, support, packed lunches and getting to school! My employers at my school are amazingly good to me when I need to perform parental duties but they are tied by local government paternity leave packages.
That package gives me one week – 5 days – at full pay. It then offers a second week but at a fixed lower rate of standard “SMP”. This lower rate is around £128 per week, which is very much lower than my normal weekly wage. I would, therefore, be taking a massive financial hit in order to be able to spend an extra few days with my new baby and to support my wife. I am being asked to choose between the money and my family. Unfortunately the way that the economy is, I have to choose going back to work to keep the money coming in. So within 7 days of the trauma and exhaustion of giving birth, my wife is being expected to juggle 2 kids, a new born baby and everything that comes with you. Of all all people, the one who must understand this is the Prime Minister.
However it isn’t just the lack of support for new fathers that I have a problem with. There is, in my view, a further more worrying injustice. As the rate of SMP is fixed, the more you earn the bigger the drop you will take to be at home with your family and so the greater the problem is. Don’t get me wrong – I believe rich, poor or anywhere in-between, a new father should be there for their new family member. But for the very rich taking the time off isn’t a financial worry because they are, by virtue, very rich. And for the poor paid the SMP is closer to their actual weekly income. For those people, like me, in the middle we are being priced out of spending time with our families.
It is in many ways the same as my opposition to tuition fees - fees don't affect the rich (because they are rich), don't affect the poor (because they don't pay) but do affect those of us in the middle. As usual.
If you could leave a solution in the comments that would be great - but before you are tempted into telling me I ought to be grateful for being on a teachers wage, I would ask you ... at what salary do you consider people rich?
Monday, July 18, 2011
I have no idea how far the investiagtions will go or what the outcome will be, but I am willing to bet at any odds that the PM will survive. And for 2 very good reasons.
Firstly there is absolutely nobody to replace him - there is, literally, no life after Cameron. Johnson isn't in the Commons, Osborne is not loved by the public and the election of Hunt would be too ironic given the circumstances. Hague? Doubtful. Even my own beloved Gove - along with Lansley - would be controversial given their reforming zeal in parliament has made them enemies. Some suggest David Davis, but he has languished too long on the backbenches to have a realistic powerbase. Theresa May is being "bigged up" by some and true she has made great strides at the home office but her leadership metal has yet to be tested. It therefore leaves Hague, but Hague would always be the caretaker leader and the public, coalition, party and parliament would know it. We've got this coalition because the nation needs stabilty and having a caretaker PM wouldn't deliver that. Until there is "another", Cameron is safe.
But also a second reason. The personal glue that holds this coalition together is Cameron and Clegg. Could any other leader hold this government together in the way that Cameron has? I very much doubt it. A lurch to the right - say under Fox - would destroy the coaltiion quickly and many of the other candidates would see a slower but equally painful death. The fact is that Cameron IS the coalition and without Cameron there is NO coalition. My view is simple - if Cameron falls, we are back into General Election territory within six months and that election would be without the smaller Commons and boundary changes the Tories crave.
As I say, I am not sure where the hackgate situation is going, but Cameron is going nowhere. The party needs him, the coalition needs him and, given the current polling (the Tories took the lead again tonight) the country still needs him.
Friday, July 08, 2011
Iain Dale writes passionately about the financial perils of being a parliamentary candidate and he is right to do so. No matter how correct he is, I fear his warnings will fall on deaf ears as the issue of political recruitment is one where “the powers that be” make all the right noises without actually having any answers to it and, in some cases, making it more difficult for folk to get involved in politics.
David Cameron once said that he wanted a British Parliament that looked more like the people it represented. The public anger towards politicians is about more than just expenses and betrayed promises; I believe strongly that part of the issue is the kind of people that end up becoming MPs. More and more of our “representatives” are young, professional politicians. The MPs of old had the route through Oxbridge and then via Daddy’s firm; the new breed of politicians are the think tankers, the well connected, the party goers and those with the disposable income and location to put themselves at the centre of the action. Go out on the High Street near you and see how many people that pass you who look, sound or act like the average parliamentary candidate.
It isn’t just those without money , Iain. It’s those who live too far from London to attend the right parties. Those who have demanding jobs and cannot take weeks off to camp out at by-elections. Those who have family commitments which mean you can’t dump the kids and dash off to conferences here there and everywhere. Those who aren’t asked to pose for tattler or write for the Spectator. We have a new generation of those “born to be MPs”.
Forget “diversity” as you know it. Where are the MPs who were once firefighters? What about the computer programmers or the restaurant owners? Where are the teachers on the Tory side or the business leaders in the Labour ranks?
Answer me this.
Michael is an ambulance driver. He isn’t well paid and lives, with his wife and 3 kids, in a northern town. He works a full-time, usually 6 days a week, and takes pride in caring for his family and his young children in particular.
Is Michael the kind of guy we want to stand for parliament? If we do, what do you think his chances of getting selected and elected are?
Tom is a graduate from central London who earns a decent wage in a job that gives him flexi time and plenty of holidays. He is single and has no kids. He attends all of the party events and conference. Using this he knows the right people and has the time and effort to put into the leg work. Is Tom the kind of guy we want to stand for parliament? If we do, what do you think are his chances of getting selected and elected are?
If we want a representative parliament we need Michael and Tom in parliament. The trouble is that the system is so stacked against one of those candidates it isn’t just money we ought to be concerned about.
The cash rich have an advantage, yes, but so too do the time rich and the contact rich. And what do the party machines plan to do about this? Don’t hold your breath for anything to change too soon ... but we do need a national debate about how we support a more diverse group of people to stand for parliament and serve as our MPs.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Well I wanted to say that, as a member of the public, I do like a robust and loud PMQs. It puts the PM under pressure and a good job too.
What really devalues PMQs is the shameless whips-handout style questions from both sides of the House and if Speaker Bercow wanted to improve the session he could tackle that first, closely followed by the MPs who read out lng winded questions designed only to get themselves in the local rag.
In a political world where most people view MPs as careerist clones, why would we want to do away with the one bit of the week that gives the Commons character and life?
Who are these "public" that tell Speaker Bercow they want a sanitised PMQs, because I'm not one of them!
Monday, June 27, 2011
Mr Shales is clearly a man who understands the Conservative Party and, most importantly, understands the way our members work. On the day of his death, Mr Shales plan to rejuvenate party membership was splashed in the Sunday Mail. The thing is, when you get beyond the tabloid-esque headlines (although, to be frank, he is correct on many of those too), the Shales Plan is rather good. A blogger, Guido, has obtained the report and done a service by linking to it in full. Anybody with an interest in strengthening the Conservatives would do well to read this.
You see, it is a good, objective & fundamentally sound report. Its conclusions are broadly correct (although James Forsyth, who got the scoop for the Mail, adds a few more helpful suggestions such as being able to actually influence policy formation or candidate selection as a member).
At the last General Election, a year ago, over half of the people who worked on my campaign were not (repeat, NOT) members of the Norwich South Conservative Association. And we are not just talking about the scores of friends, relatives and colleagues who stepped up to help me either. We had tellers on polling day, leafleters, canvassers and poster sites from people who "just wanted to do their bit" and help either me personally or the party as a whole. These people are not politics heavy (to quote Mr Shales) but very much politics light. They do not wish to be memebrs of the Party - heavens forbid. Take one lady from Lakenham who contacted us about three weeks from polling day. She delivered over 250 leaflets to her area every week until the poll, around 1000 in total. She did 4 hours of telling on polling day. She displayed a Tory sign, with pride. Or another, a resident from Town Close whom I had helped during my time on the council. She would deliver the 100 houses in her road (which she did on no less than 6 occassions during the actual camapign) and invited me to one of her groups to meet other like-minded people. Both of these women I have tried to sign up as party members. Both steadfastly refuse. Not beceause they are not Conservatives; both has an interest in seeing me elected as our MP and a Tory government but neither wanted to get involved with an aossictaion they saw as elderly, boring or (as Shales said) always after their money. I don't see those characteristics in NSCA. I love the association and the events we put on and the people who attend them are a good cross section of Norwich. But until we offer the likes of "Lakenham woman" or "Town Close Mum" a good reason to join, they'll never find that out.
Now the crux here is that NSCA will never be able to offer what WOCA can. We don't have access to streams of cabinet ministers or senior MPs. There are few country pads to host PMQ parties in. But we do need to offer them something; an experience or return for their members just beyond securing an ideology. Yes that will include control over candidate selection (at all levels, including for MEPs) and it will include a real imput on policy. But it should also include excellent events, shared over groups of associations, areas or regions, and a quality memebrship magazine for example.
When I think of the other groups of which I am a member - the National Trust, National Childbirth Trust (NCT) or NASUWT for example - I expect more in return for my cash than just knowing I am supporting that group.
We know more about increasing membership here in Norwich than most; in one year we have put on more than 150 new members and last year we increased faster than Mr Cameron's own constituency. We have done it by listening to members and changing the way we work. Beit monthly newsletters (asked for and got) or a distinction between "political" and "social" events (asked for and got) we have responded to what members say. This year the AGM of Norwich South Conservatives was standing room only and we had so many attend the room was actually uncomfortable! We had 15 new members of our Executive Committee sign up to help out with the work of running the show. How many associations, from any party, can boast that?
So come on powers-that-be, take a long hard look at the Shales Plan. He's onto something and the best thing we could do is take him seriously.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Currently the big criticism is that appointments to the House of Lords is down to patronage of the Prime Minister and Party Leaders. That has to be wrong. But under the new system, Baroness Boothroyd warns agains the only winners being 300 of the party favourites as dictated by the political parties. She is right; switching patronage from Leaders to Parties is no improvement at all.
There are things I like about the Lords - its independence of mind, ability to be calmer and more rational than the Commons and the way its members do not fear the whips (something I think Mark Pritchard MP would also appreciate). If the new House of Lords (or Senate) dismantles those things then it may be a reform too far as far as I am concerned.
It isn't that I fear elections - I want more elections - but a revising chamber run by the party machiens and whips won't be much of a revising chamber at all.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Is Shipley MP Davies suggesting that in a job interview between 2 equally qualified candidates where somebody is disabled and somebody not disabled, that the job will go the able bodied employee and so the only way to make disabled people more employable is to give them the chance to offer to work for less?
If so, could less qualified people offer to work for less too? What about carers? Or working mums? After all, they sometimes find it difficult to find employment. What about people in Wakefield and Watford negotiating different rates because of different costs of living?
If they did do this you may as well scrap the minimum wage altogether because you'd end up with people under-cutting each other on wages to get jobs and where the labour of one person in one area is worth less than the same job being done by a different person in a different area.
But I suppose we do this anyway - we hold the minimum wage down for young people to help make them more employable.
So shouldn't we have some consistency on this issue? If we want one, a "national" minimum wage should mean just that. If we want "flexibility" it ought to be for more people than just the young.
At the moment I fear we're muddled on the Minimum Wage.
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Thursday, June 16, 2011
Before I start let me lay out my 2 guiding principles on this - setting targets is centralising, pointless, New Labour nonsense. And providing a better education for our pupils is always a good thing.
Today's EDP let on a frontpage splash that Norfolk Heads are fuming about the standard at which a school is considered to be failing is going to be risen from a 35% A*-C pass rate to a 50% one. In the article, a couple of the Heads move into very political territory accusing Mr Gove of all sorts of things. They are needless to say wrong. As one Head said in the story, even this new tougher target would mean that at a school deemed not failing, half the pupils would leave school without the core skills, things like English and Maths. Are we really saying that we are happy with a system where half of children are not passing the accepted standards? Of course not. Geeting barely a third of kids through their GCSEs is simply not good enough. And there isn't a Head or a teacher I know that thinks it is. If you aspire for the teaching & learning in your school to be better, then you don't just aim for 35.01% pass rate, you aim for every pupil who can pass to pass. I hope that along with this targets comes reform and support for schools who don't reach it. If it does then it isn't a bad thing. A non-teaching friend of mine today said, "so you mean half of kids can effectively fail and at the moment that isn't something we are really worried about? We only panic when 2 out of 3 fail?". When put like that ...
... but on the other hand the thing which is going to make education better isn't the target. New Labour had targets for all sorts of things, most of which were missed. I would suggest to Mr Gove that he ought to up the target still - 60%, 84%, 97% - heck, 100%!! Because that is what we want. All pupils being ready for the world outside of school. Not stuff full on "soft" subjects and a few "equivalents" here and there. Every pupil with good GCSE results; and oddly enough I think that really is the laudable aim of Mr Gove and the government team. But it isn't going to happen.
The public comments on the EDP story tore into the Heads for their lack of ambition. And herein I think is where Mr Gove has got it wrong. Giving a general target for all schools is wrong. There should be challenging targets set for each individual school that looks at CVA, intake, the curriculum they are taught and progress being made. Why should a school that moves from 29% to 34% (thus missing the current target) be considered worse than one that goes from 75% to 74%? CVA is a far better form of measurement than raw scores anyway. We measure all the times in school - we assess like crazy; AfL here, KS2 to KS4 there and yet we cannot find a way of differentiating the targets that we have? And if the school meets those targets, year on year, they should have more freedoms. If they do not, then they get support.
So please Mr Gove. We all want our schools to be better and under you they will be. But give each school a specific, dare I say differentiated, target and judge them against that rather than some faux national standard.
(I used to be a member of the NUT).
No I am not saying it again. I am ashamed of that today because of the increasingly bizarre and hysterical reactions they are having to absolutely everything Michael Gove and the coalition government does. In Gove, plus his Ministerial team which includes Nick Gibb and Sarah Teather, I think we have one of the strongest and most professional education teams in the Commons for many years. Only Morris inspired confidence in me, as a teacher, like Gove does. OK he's not perfect - close, but not perfect - but he is leading the biggest and most overdue revolution in education since the 1960s. So clearly, when we are talking about better teaching and improved standards the NUT needs to absolutely freak out.
Take today's announcement about failing primary schools becoming academies (I may come onto the targets for schools later). Good stuff Mr Gove. I have just watched the Head of City Academy Norwich (CAN) on SkyNews saying how the extra investment, the change in ethos and the control over curriculum has taken the school up from rock bottom. I have taught 2 pupils from CAN who come to Notre Dame for lessons. Both have been incredibly bright, motivated and hard working. They thirst for discipline and challenge. So much they travelled across the City to get it somewhere else. Now they say Academy status has turned the school around and is making a real difference to their education, and to their lives. In the old days, these aspirational kids may have travelled afar to go to "better" schools. Now they are happy, settled & achieveing well in their local school - local academy.
So if Academy Status can turn around the old Earlham High - and Heartsease, and Costessey - why should it not turn around our most challenging Primary Schools. With freedom, and the right leadership, these schools can improve too. A few years back if you stood up and said that Earlham High was in the middle of the league tables you would have been laughed out of the City. Now its a reality.
Of course, our friends - brothers - in the NUT declare this is a dangerous experiment. Yes NUT, so dangerous that hundreds of schools are having their standards raised and so experimental its been around for years from the Blair government onwards. I wonder if there is ANY change in education policy that the NUT wouldn't oppose. Their scaremongoring, desperate attitude is so out of touch with the NUT members on the ground that I know.
When people ask if the Unions have a mandate to strike, I don't ask if they have achieved a certain percent in a ballot. I ask if the Union leadership looks and thinks like its membership. On this, and so many other issues, I dearly hope not.
So come on Primary Heads, where is your aspiration? This is a great challenge. We know you want to improve the education of your pupils so grab academy status with both hands and engage with the change. Look at what it has done for schools around you. No more moaning about government dictats. This is education in our hands as professionals.
If Academy Status has worked for secondary it can work for primary schools too. We need a generation of Heads who are ready for that.
Thursday, June 09, 2011
Yes, you should read that again, because its true.
I am in favour of U-Turns. Or, as I like to put it, I am in favour of government's admitting they don't always know best, don't have all the solutions, will get somethings wrong, will have to listen, will have to adapt and change proposals and won't always push and barge things through because they know best and you don't.
Of course, British politics adhors a U-turn. We like "first past the post" because it - usually - gives us strong and stable government with a majority in parliament to put through the manifesto on which they were elected. So in the real world of politics, once you have your Commons majority and the people (well, 40% of them) love you, then you can implement what you like.
But, when suddenly we are left hung, what then happens? Well I think u-turns are a natural - and almost progressive - side effect of a hung parliament. No longer can the government use the whips to ram stuff through parliament no matter what people say. They have to build a coalition from amongst their own MPs; satisfy the Simon Hughes of this world and also those on the Tory right such as Cash, Jenkins and Redwood. They are much more fragile and therefore people power and the press will have a much bigger say on what the government does.
So when you see the left-wing press (the Mirror in particular) and opposition MPs gloating about the U-turns, I would ask what they would like instead. Would Miliband, Balls, Harman - or Toynbee or Maguire - really prefer the NHS bill in its original form, or the sale of the forests to go ahead? They see the political chance to hit the government without realising they are getting more of what they want - so the U-turn must be a good thing. Aren't these proposals betetr after the u-turn than they were before (well, if you from the left)? More grown-up politics, perhaps?
I like the idea that a government puts forward an idea, gets feedback and then changes its mind (or not) depending on what happens. Dare I say, a "listening government".
So yes, I do like u-turns. And I hope that a future majority Conservative government keep that way of working as it is one of the best features of government.
And p.s. To those who say the government should have it right first time, every time. Name me a government of any political hue, anywhere in the world, at any point in history, that has done this. Cameron isn't perfect and people will respect those who got it wrong, put their hands up, admit it, apologise, move on and learn fromt it.
The Church have a duty to provide moral leadership for its followers. I would expect Dr Williams to have views on issues, maybe as diverse as tackling poverty in Africa to the use of contraception for teenagers. As a Christian, I am interested in what he has to say. But moral leadership is where it ought to stop. And writing a political blast at the whole government, from the safety of his desk via the New Statesman is a cowardly, wrong & dangerous act. Over the top, you are thinking? Well, no.
Firstly whatever happens Dr Williams has to work with this government. I believe he'll have to work with Mr Cameron as Prime Minister for potentially 2 or 3 terms of government. Downing Street, who knew nothing of the attack (and it was an attack) will be rightly weary of the Archbishop after this. And with current debates about the continued representation of the Church of England in the Lords this is perhaps not the right time to be stepping on government toes.
But the more dangerous part was the attack on the democratic legitimacy of the government itself. Now you could argue that we have an elected legislature and not an elected government anyway in this country so all governments are "unelected". Or you could argue that if you add together the votes of the Conservatives and LibDems you finally have a team with over 50% support. The Archbishop himself is not in a position himself to be throwing stones about who is elected and who is not (although if he advocates more democracy that's a good thing and I look forward to a directly-elected Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops giving up their seats in the Lords). The coalition agreement is the best mishmash we have given the parliamentary maths. It is 75% of the LibDem manifesto and 60% of the Tory one. What is the alternative, Dr Williams, are we to assume you want to force another general election perhaps?
And what now for Dr Williams? Well clearly this is a church vs government issue. And I look forward to Dr Williams himself accepting that with the right to speak out comes the right to accountability. All politicians carp - Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband have been in the position of simply opposing everything, but sooner or later you have to come up with your own proposals. Eventually the electorate says "we know what you are against but what are you for?". The same is true of all who seek to have their say. I don't deny, for one minute, the right of extremists such as Ms Lucas or Mr Griffin to have their say. But even the most bonkers of British politicians - yes, even the Communist Party of Great Britain - have their own blueprint for how the country ought to be run. And Dr Williams is no exception. So you are against the government, Archbishop, so what are you for? Don't give me the soft-soap platitudes of freedom, equality, tackling poverty etc - if you want to see these things, how will you achieve them?
Come on Dr Williams, do you think tax is currently too low? How will we get a better health care system? What should we do to stop so much drug dependency? Do you have any ideas to help cut crime?
I defend your right to speak out Sir, but when you do, expect people to ask you questions in return. And if you choose to speak out about politics, expect political questions in return. You have taken a very dangerous path, Dr Williams, and as a supporter of both the church and the government, it worries me about how this will now turn out.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
It is hard to write regular, fresh, interesting & original content for blogs and I salute those who can. Also given work and the family I often couldn't even blog about breaking political or world event anyway and - hey - who wants to read my views after the event?
I have decided to take a "major step down from politics" and because of this it wouldn't necessitate the hours given to do the blog.
Who knows; I don't rule it out in the future but with big challenges at work, a third baby on the way and my priorities pointing very much in other directions I shall leave politics to those who are better suited to it than I am.
To those who have been regular readers and contributors - thank you & keep in touch via twitter (@antonylittle)
Monday, February 07, 2011
I genuinely hope that Labour, who last time there was a controversial mast application in Bowthorpe abstained on the final vote (much to anger of the community), come off the fence and get involved in our campaign this time.