Monday, January 29, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: LibDems pull Teather from Catholic schools event

Last week was a Catholic educators conference at which all of the big players were due to hear from LibDem Education Spokeswoman Sarah Teather as the keynote speaker. I have been told by an ultra-reliable source that Ms Teather was pulled, by LibDem HQ, at the last moment because of fears that her party support for the government over the gay adoption row may cause unpleasant scenes. Instead delegates heard from each other as catholic Headteachers filled in the gap left by the Brent MP. What a shame that both the government and the opposition can seem to have a grown-up debate about this but the LibDems cannot. I mean - Catholic teachers aren't like the W.I., are they?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Will it be the judges, rather than David Davis, who forces out John Reid?

A Labout friend of mine was bemoaning to me last night that the Home Office was becoming the elephants graveyard for politicans, in that all occupants of the hotseat end up resigning over some cock-up or another because the department didn't work properly. She was worried that John Reid, considered to be one of Labour's better performers, could be caught up and lost in the Home Office. Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis has a pretty good record of collecting Ministerial scalps. She thinks Reid can't last in the long-term, I'm not so sure. But something where we both agree is that John Reid's biggest opponents aren't across the dispatch box - they are in the courts.

Busy Weekend

Following on from last Sunday's fun, this weekend turns a little more to politics. Today I am heading over to Great Yarmouth to help support their excellent PPC Brandon Lewis and the Conservative council candidates. Yarmouth Borough Council is an excellent Tory-run authority but suffered a few losses last year (showing that being in power locally can be as off-putting as being in power nationally). They've takens ome tough decisions but Yarmouth is changing - for the better - beyond belief. They deserve our support.

After that I am going to campaign in North Walsham for local PPC Trevor Ivory who has made a flying start in the seat. It is worthy of note that Trevor is taking his campaign straight to heart of LibDem support in the constituency - a lot of people are coming today into an area once described to me as a "no go area for Tories." It would be easy for Trevor and his team to retreat into the any very strong Conservative areas but he isn't doing that - this is one fight he's taking to Lamb.

This evening Louise and I will be spending some real quality time together - Emily is off to Nanny & Granddad's house to eat her way through their biscuit tin - so we will be taking some time off! Sunday morning we are going to church and then I have to spend a few hours preparing for next week's full council meeting. The afternoon is a constituency officers meeting, followed by a Group Meeting and then finally (phew!) in the evening we get to see friends.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Weather

I know that it is stereo-typically British to talk about the weather but there was something glorious about walking out of Blackfriars Hall into the snow.

But what is odd is that the BBC predict fine weather with some sun whilst the Met Office has a sever weather warning. Looking out the window I know who I believe.

My Unitary Speech in Full...

There can be no doubt, my Lord Mayor, that this Unitary Bid is the stuff of political dreams and represents a romantic ideal of which we can all unite around. But the truth is that the current arrangement with Norfolk County Council gives us in the City access to a wide variety of services, from beacon schools to the award winning library services, all at a recognised value-for-money cost. Norwich and Norfolk go together and have worked as a successful partnership for many years. Unitary threatens our relationship with the county and the first class services that we have come to expect. Cllr Morphew will no doubt point out, ad infinitum, that Unitary would be a new council and the failures of previous Labour and LibDem administrations wouldn’t indicate the future for unitary. But we would be taking a massive gamble – that the same good services could be provided for the same cost by the council, new or old. That is a risk that I, my group and the people of the Greater Norwich Area seem unwilling to take.

This bid sets out a number of factors, which it claims are compelling. In my time limit I can cover but a few of these.

The first is of a clear and focused place-shaping role. Norwich is a thriving City with unparallel growth. With housing and business growth side by side the City will keep on expanding, taking its place as the beating heart of the Norfolk economy. However we should remember that this remarkable achievement has been possible without Unitary. The real growth of the last ten years and of the next ten years was in place without changing the structures of local government. We made this happen together – as a team. There is no evidence that growth is threatened by not going Unitary. Furthermore even the key players in this bid admit that two tier working can carry on and get better. The current scenario is not unworkable and is not untenable. It has put Norwich where it is now. We can build on that, not knock it down.

Of course, this document claims that a Unitary Council will give people in the City a clear sense of leadership and purpose. Yet I don’t think on the estates of Mile Cross, the terraces of Nelson or the homes of Lakenham people are sitting around their kitchen tables pondering the greatest question of our time – is Morphw or Murphy (or, for that matter, your good self my Lord Mayor) the Leader of Norwich? Such political abstract barely interrupts breakfast because what people want are good services in the knowledge that they pay value-for-money council tax. It is without doubt that this Unitary Bid will distract from that very goal.

And the claims of bringing decision making closer to communities really do ring hollow. The surest way of bringing this close to communities and to consult properly would have been a referendum. This bid was presented to this council some months ago. I understand the Labour Group’s desire to avoid public consultation as they knew then what we know now – this doesn’t command public support or confidence at all. The LibDems said that the time for a referendum wasn’t just then – well, when is the time Cllr Cooke? Between the government shortlist and final announcement or maybe the shadow elections. When you voted against you knew the times would be tight and knew the vote could not be taken place. I hope a party with the word “democrat” in its title is happy in the knowledge that they have robbed the people of this City the final say in saying how they are governed instead happy to leave the decision to the 39 of us in the room. This is a political project run by the political elite and the manner and execution of this has been wrong.

Finally, the bid makes much of the supposed boost for education that this would bring. Yet the successful Headteachers in our City are not beating a path to the door of City Hall demanding that they be released from the oppressive control of County Hall. In fact County Hall is considered to be a good employer and has done much to support and help the City groups of schools. How would this “new” City Council match the standards of continued professional development opportunities currently made available? Could the council attract the new teachers that we need when in direct competition with Norfolk rather than working with it? The fact is that school leaders are pretty much content with the current scenario and this bid has picked up a fact which has nothing to do with local government organisation and run with it. Not a single pupil will have their learning enhanced the day Unitary comes into force.

The Conservative Group has long warned that this bid would not, by the government’s own original criteria, be in contention. In fact, if this bid goes forward in either form after March it will say a lot for the government failing to stick to its own roadmap and changing its mind to suit its own political bent.

The government says it wants consultation and the City Council claims it is good at this. So good, it gets Trowse and Thorpe St Andrew mixed up. Interestingly though we do seem to be able to find Chester.

The government says it wants broad stakeholder support. In fact you might have trouble finding any support outside of this room today. Norfolk County Council is against it, Broadland is against it, South Norfolk is against it and North Norfolk is against it. And that isn’t a political point. The LibDems on Norfolk County Council voted against this plan yesterday morning, and the ruling LibDems groups on North and South Norfolk Councils have led the charge against. Labour county councillors may have abstained but their senior party members across the county have gone on record to rubbish the plans. Neither does this have the support of the Independent groups on various councils or vast swathes of independent parish and town councils both inside and outside of the non-compliant bid area.

The Councils can’t agree, the parties can’t agree, the people can’t agree. No doubt Cllr Morphew will point to his MORI poll – which goes to prove that you get what you pay for. I don’t have the time here to into the inherent biases of that poll, but if the senior polling officer of MORI cannot refute my criticisms then you know that I am onto something. No poll – this one or the Evening News online poll – adequately sums up the public mood. It all shows the need for that referendum. Even the “Citizen” magazine bought in a three-figure response rate – lower than our party political surveys. We don’t know what the people want because we haven’t properly educated them or asked them.

I do know something that they want – quality services at value-for-money tax levels. This bid will heap millions of pounds onto the shoulders of local people. There is no argument that the tax burden for the people of Broadland and South Norfolk will rise but the transitional costs and the cost of duplication will be massive and impact on the City. Why, when we have a share in the Adult Services of County Council, should be lumber ourselves with our own version here with the same cost structures in place? There is a wide spread belief this is going to cost us dearly.

And with no corresponding impact on services. In fact they are likely to get worse. The job of unpicking, for example, the library service is massive. Customer contact suffers as a result. Coming from a council that is lacking in so many areas you might have though we’d want to focus on getting our existing service provision right before we look at running more.

This bid asks us to turn away from a system that has delivered strong partnership working, three star public services, and sound, strong and efficient public finances.

This bid asks us to turn away from the system that gave us the new bus station, investment in our City schools, the Forum, transport improvements in places like St Stephen’s and Rose Lane, the running of the most park and ride routes in the country and more housing schemes for our elderly.

This bid is costly, disrupted, opposed by our neighbours and barely thought of by our residents. This political project has gone on too long and cost too much. The bottom line is that the benefits are clearly outweighed by the cost of making it. This serves only to damage our relationships and stop the momentum we have built up.

Norwich and Norfolk go together – we work well together – we should keep it that way.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

If any planners want to see the impact of your short-sighted regulations, please visit Bowthorpe

Bowthorpe is three communities within a single community. When it was concieved in the 1970s it was proposed that Clover Hill, Chapel Break and Three Score should be built around a centre with a bigger centre in the middle (current Roys site). And each stage of the development was meant to be an improvement on the last - with each design informing the next and so on. Three Score, phase one, should have been the most satisfactory design for optimum living and Three Score, phase two, should do even more than that. The council is currently debating the eco-rating of the new homes and the use of the green spaces. However, whilst they are keen to learn from Clover Hill and Chapel Break, they don't seem to have realised the biggest design flaw of them all.

In all of this nobody has noticed that the roas still aren't wide enough. Mardle Street wasn't wide enough but they still built Bladewater Road. That wasn't wide enough but they still built Caddow Road. That wasn't wide enough but Horn-Pie Road still appeared. What has changed? Nothing. So I am going to use every chance I can as Councillor to press this point before plans are set in stone for the Phase Two development.

What causes this? Parking. The road is wide enough for two lanes but parking makes it impossible for most larger vehicles to manoever around. Why is that ... because planning regs mean you only have to provide one space per home. Hence families with two cars, or couples who work in opposite directions and need two cars, often have to block their roads without meaning to do so.

What does this mean? Well, for a start a lot of people aren't getting their bins emptied because CityCare can't get the lorries down them or around the cars. And more worryingly the emergency services often cannot get past - and in a life-and-death situation every second counts. They want to be saving lives not inching around a Vauxhall Astra.

Now, Chapel Break and Clover Hill do not suffer like this. And, for that matter, do the older roads (such as The Runnell, Fresher Mews and Tippett Close) in Three Score. So what has changed? Well, out the window go common sense, practicalities and public safety and in comes the desire to pack as many houses into a small a space as possible.

I just hope somebody makes the change before the next 1200 homes go in ... I'll be shouting so they can't say nobody raised the issue.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Constitution must be sorted, say voters

You cannot read anything into one days canvassing in any particular street in any particular ward in any particular consituency. But where I was today smacks very much of "middle England" and, from the doorstep reaction, boy do Labour have to get the constitutional settlement between the nations of the UK sorted. It was by far the biggest issue.

LDV or just ATV?

ConservativeHom.Com is one of the best political websites around at the moment and goes to prove that a party can have open, honest, robust debate in public without people shouting "split" at every moment. It is stalked by uber-Cameroonies, by the barking right but also by a majority of perfectly sane Tory members all talking about internal party issues, selections, debates and the daily news that involves the Conservatives. As such it has developed a wide audience, is righly regarded by the party leadership and draws an audience from across the party political spectrum.

I was therefore quite excited when LibDem Voice (LDV) started up because I thought the same honesty could now spread to the LibDems who, to be fair, have got a lot of internal policy issues and leadership considerations to be had. I thought it would be interesting and hoped they could have the debates that had given us.

A few months on and it is quite, quite disappointing. The LibDems, never ones to (normally) air their dirty washing in public have made a sitemore dedicated to Tory-bashing than to reflection on their own party. The majority of the stories are either anti-tory or congratulatory nonsense from the days news. They are obsessed with positive spin. Maybe it should be called Anti-Tory Voice instead (ATV)?

Now I know the LibDems like a bit of Tory bashing, but why not leave that to the blogs and have one site where honesty can prevail? We are always told what a positive party the LibDems are - but check out the current news story list (as at the time of writing this post):

Conservative defection to UKIP
Conservative apologises for e-mail
Blair's director of government relations arrested
Vince Cable on personal debt (a rather loyal video clip)
Ming on Marr (positive)
Cameron fails to grasp issues
Scottish Tory calls on Leader to go
New LibDem Euro Leader announced
LibDem frontbench rehsuffle
Two More Tory defections

So thats more negative stories against other parties than in favour of your own group.

Keeping the real debate hidden isn't honest, open or fair. And quite frankly, it doesn't make the LibDems look like a mature, grown-up party of government either.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Alas poor Guido ...

It seems that poor old Guido has been the subject of an online asassination by cheeky Tim Ireland. There's plenty of blood on the floor so make sure you have a strong stomach before clicking here. An appropriate end for Mr Fawkes really...

Talking of political marriages...

A little birdie tells me that the lovely Mrs Cllr Simon Wright, LibDem PPC for Norwich South, has suddenly appeared on the Eaton Focus as their new team member.

We'll all miss Cllr Couzens, who despite saying he wants to carry on is now clearly for the chop, because there appears to be a new face in town (for those of you who don't get the reference, when somebody "joins" the Focus Team, it means they are the next candidate).

I don't like to gloat, but I said some months ago that this would happen - backed up by whispers in City Hall from other groups. I just thought it would be Mr Wright that did it, rather than Mrs Wright. Either way - good luck to her, Eaton will be a close race next time.


It's going to be a busytime to be a Labour Councillor, or rather a boozy one perhaps, with the news that two of their number are to marry soon. Hot on the heels of former Lord Mayor Mick Banham, Sewell Councillor, announcing he is to marry I hear news that Bowthorpe's County Councillor Gail Loveday is also to wed. Hurrah! Both marriages are quite political - Cllr Banham's bride is the widow of Harry Watson and the new Mr Cllr Loveday is Phil Harris, Labour's former candidate in North Norfolk.

Congrats to all - new hats all round!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

LibDems take an e-lead on news

Regular readers of this blog (that's John AND Eileen!) will know that two of my most strongly held views are that e-campaigning - the use of e-mail and the internet - will be major determinants of voting intention within ten years and that the LibDems, despite much bragging otherwise, are currently lagging behind both other parties in the use, design and content of their national and local websites.

So it was with some dread that I recently signed up to the e-News service of all three major parties and prepeared my inbox for what was to come.

Cameron has, so far, put e-campaigning at the heart of his strategy to sell himself and the new-look party. Why then is the national website offering such a pisspoor e-News service. They come irregularly, mostly out of date and in lots of seperate e-mails making it difficult to read. I actually got quite annoyed by this and ceased even opening them. Still, that was better than Labour whom have yet to send me anything that isn't about the Labour Supporters Network or an offer to join the party.

So who can fill this apparent national e-News void? Step forward the LibDems.

Their website is crap, full of crap and actually getting crapper ... but their e-News is bang on the money. It comes each day (including Sunday) and offers a digest of their news output including some stuff otherwise hidden away on their website. It all comes with a three line summary and then a link to the full story. It may not look pleasing but it is full of news and in a format that I want to recieve it in.

Projects such as Webcameron are great at pleasing a certain section of the online community but I think all parties such offer equal thought to those who want news and policy, as well as podcasts and downloads. Maybe Dave should sign up the LibDem e-News and see what our party should be doing?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


One good moment from tonight's Unitary meeting came right at the end. During the presentations various images of Norwich flashed up on the screen - City Hall, St Peter Mancroft, the Forum, Gentleman's Walk and the Royal Arcade for example. At one point in his speech Council Leader Steve Morphew admitted that he was "a City boy" and knew little about the problems of rural areas. "Well", said one rural parish chair, "if you wanted to bring us country folk on side you'd have started by showing some good ol' country scenes on your screen instead of all this city stuff."

It seems that when it comes to Unitary - even the powerpoints - we can't please any of the people any of the time!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Parish Councils slaughter Unitary

Tonight I attended a very well attended consultation meeting between the Clerks and Chairs of the parish councils which could be swallowed up by the Norwich Unitary bid. It was well organised and Council Leader Steve Morphew gave a very professional report on the current bid.

However, the assembled masses (who currently reside in Broadland or South Norfolk District) certainly didn't hold back in their vehment criticism of the plans. We were told - on more than one occasion - that not a single member of their council backs these plans. There were worries about the lack of consultation, the shabby state of the polls, the concerns on council tax, the current level of services offered by City Hall and the political direction of unitary. Cllr Morphew and his team of officers did well on some of these points - normally falling back on a catch-all excuse of "ignore the failings of the current Norwich City Council, this will be a NEW council"! Even at one point the meeting was told not to worry because any new council would have lots more conservatives on it and we normally sort most things out. That was nice.

It was a good meeting but I cannot express the strong feelings against this plan - particularly from places like Taverham, Trowse, Drayton, Horsford and Old Catton. These people are happy with the current settup and don't see a reason to change. A lot of the flimsy reasons for unitary were torn to shreds and Steve Morphew did have a bit of a rough time tonight (apparently a similar meeting yesterday went better).

Unitary doesn't need to have unamimous support but it does need to have broad ranging support. The MORI poll won't hide the fact that outside of the City itself, support for Unitary is very, very low. The government will see that and if they go on with the unitary idea still, it will certainly be a political decision being taken where we were promised an economic one.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ruth Kelly? Not a problem.

Poor Ruth Kelly, cabinet minister and former Education Secretary, is under fire from various outraged lefties complaining of her decision to send one of her many children to a private school because they better cope with the Special Needs of that child. Ms Kelly is doing what any parent would do - putting their child first, above her reputaion, her politics and her party. Good on her.

David Cameron is spot on for backing her up today. He said it would only be wrong if Labour were in favour of abolishing private education and that Ruth Kelly made the right call - as a parent. The left of politics leaps up and down like they do on such occassions.

Ruth Kelly has made a choice that I would like every parent to have and she should make it her mission in government to make that so.

I hear Hammersmith & Hillingdon are nice this time of year...

Two new Conservative run authorities have recently announced tax cutting measures in their first budgets, being good for the party locally and for ratepayers but I suspect rather difficult for David Cameron.

The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham was taken by the Tories in the early hours of 5th May last year and they have now said that Council Tax will be cut (yes, that's cut) by 3% from April. In a similar vein, Hillingdon Borough has said that senior citizens will recieve a 2% council tax discount to help them - Hillingdon was won by the Conservatives in a landslide win where both the Labour and LibDem Leaders lost their own seats.

This will all serve to put pressure on the Tory Leader on the issue of tax cuts for the next election. So, what should DC do? Praise them to the hilt. Show this is Conservative councils at their best. But he must be sure to say that national government is different. The national situation is more like Norwich. Let me explain.

The biggest lie in politics is "if you cut tax you have to cut services." Not true at all and only left-wingers believe this in order to justify hike-upon-hike. Now I know that local authorities often face difficult settlements - Norfolk County is a classic example - but there is so much waste in local government.

I am shocked by what I see on the inside of City Hall. We could easily neutralise council tax increases and still, in my humble opinion, spend more on key services by having a cost-saving zeal in the next few years as we did have when the LibDem £2m overspend was announced.

The public quite rightly expect us to be careful with their money. They want a responsive council doing good work for a value-for-money tax.

If Hillingdon and Hammersmith can clear their decks and cut costs (not services) like that AND deliver a tax cut then those local politicans deserve praise. Should Norwich do the same? Not yet ... when the council cuts its costs then more money should go into the woeful recycling system, into environmental services and street cleaning. After they are sorted then we cut tax. Similarly, when the education system, NHS and police service are reformed and working efficiently then we cut tax. Both in Norwich and Nationally I would expect that to be inside a four year Conservative majority term.

Rumour is that the council tax hike will be big again this year. Why are our senior officers not on holiday in west London this year?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Councillor "does" recycling - so why isn't my waste bin empty?

I hate New Year's Resolutions because they tend to be broken within fifteen seconds of being made. So this year I discarded the notion of losing weight, drinking less or giving up chocolate. None of those three were going to happen anyway so I thought I'd set myself a far more crucial challenge - recycling properly.

Up until now I consider myself a "Norwich Recycler", that is, somebody who recycles as much as they can on the kerbside without letting it interupt my everyday life, causing me hassle or driving anywhere.

But from the 1st January I became a "Proper Recycler". I have seperated paper and cardboard, even tearing up things to ensure I recycle what I can and throw away what I must. I sorted through things. I even removed the selotape from wrapping paper. I have created, in just a week, over twice the paper recycling that I did in a fortnight. I have been using my three composters in the garden for food waste. I have been cleaning out glass so I can put that on the kerb, not just the empty winebottles! I am keeping my tetrapaks to one side and when I sorted out my wardrobes, I did so with recycling in mind.

This evening I put my waste bin out. Full. Again.

Absolutely no difference. Now either my bin this week would have been massive if I hadn't of recycled or...

The truth is that I was recycling most of what I could have and my extra efforts haven't paid off in terms of the total percentage of waste produced by two adults and two small children in a semi-detached house in Norwich.

Or, and this is my view, the recycling I can do with some ease is so limited that our county and city must do something more as a matter of urgency to improve the situation.

I have tried, and mostly failed, to use my goodwill to improve the situation. Must the council force me to recycle, or should they provide me with extra opportunities to recycle? The Greens would say the former, we Conservatives no doubt the latter.

I am going to carry on and see what happens in the next few weeks. But all those who are planning for our future recycling needs should take heed of my experience. Good intentions won't improve our woeful recycling rates - we must be more radical than that.

Monday, January 01, 2007

My Predictions for 2007

Wales: Labour will lose their majority in the Welsh assembly with the Tories becoming the second party winning some surprising seats. At this high Nick Bourne will resign and the party will elect a younger, more Cameronesque leader.

Scotland: Labour will face a difficult election but will remain the large party in the parliament. Other parties will attempt to form a coalition but will fail, leading to a fragile Labour / LibDem administration limping on.

Labour Leadership: John Hutton will be the only candidate to take on Gordon Brown for the top job, with the election coming in June or July. Brown will win by a decent margin and Hutton will then refuse to serve in a Brown-led cabinet. Despite a big bounce in the polls, Labour's finances mean that Brown cannot go for a snap poll.

The cabinet: At least seven current ministers will go - (obviously Blair and Prescott) but I think Armstrong, Straw, Smith, Beckett, Hutton, Jowell and Falconer as well. How about this - Brown is elected Leader and Hilary Benn his Deputy. In a move that angers a lot of people (and the Daily Mail), he appoints fellow Scot Alistair Darling as the new Chancellor. John Reid takes a lower profile role as Leader of the House, which allows Alan Johnson to be the new Home Secretary as a reward for not taking on Gordon. Ruth Kelly is shifted over to somethin like International Development as she is given more time to defend her marginal parliamentary seat. David Milliband will be given a promotion to a major spending department like Education. Hewitt will survive as Health Secretary. Dull but loyal Stephen Timms will creep up the ladder again - maybe to Trade Secretary? Des Browne will move on from Defence into a less potent job like Constitutional Affairs. As he failed to be elected Deputy Leader, Peter Hain is appointed the new Foreign Secretary. Hazel Blears is shifted out of the Party Chairmanship and is replaced by Douglas Alexander. Blears is given a difficult role such as Work and Pensions.

Shadow Cabinet: Cameron will flesh out his version of Conservatism and it will reassure both the right of the party and the Daily Telegraph. David Davis will take on a much higher profile role. Cameron will use the summer as a chance to set in stone the team he wants to go into the next election. Hague will take the title of Deputy Leader byt both he and Osbourne will keep their present jobs. May will be downgraded again but will stay in the shadow cabinet. Grayling will be promoted again, as will Villiers. Some of Cameron's key players such as Gove, Vaizey and Herbert will make the shadow cabinet.

Norwich: Labour will hold on at the 2007 poll but only as a result of a split opposition. The Greens will continue to make gains (plural) and Labour will hold their key seats. Conservatives to hold onto Catton Grove and make further gains.

National: Cameron will score very well across the country, partly because of his strength in England and partly because of the introduction of STV in Scotland. Labour have a bad night - another factor in Brown's decision not to call a snap election. The LibDems will score a net reduction in seats.

LibDems: Following a bad May poll, Sir Ming Campbell will retire citing ill-health. A leadership election will follow that will be fought by Clegg, Huhne and Lamb. Huhne will win - only just and the two losers will be his Home and Foreign Affairs spokespeople. Cable will carry on as Deputy Leader and Treasury Spokesman. They will be forced to repay the £2.4m Brown money but it will not bankrupt the party.