Thursday, March 29, 2007

Guido and the Monkey: Do bloggers have their own sense of accountability?

The Dead Tree Press charge against the increasing influence of bloggers is often that we have no rules regarding what we write and no concern for the law. With the exception of those of us that hold, or run for, office, bloggers have very little to fear if they gets things wrong or upset people.

Yet I think the past few weeks have somewhat laid that one to rest - bloggers may not have laws dictating what we can or cannot do, but I now believe there is a level of e-accountability.

Poor Alex Hilton (aka Recess Monkey) got into hot water when he upset everybody on the right of politics by declaring that Thatcher had died, when dear old Maggie was alive all along. He got rightly abused and, as a result, a great many people (myself included) now don't visit his site. You'll notice I won't even link to him ... if your hits fall, credibility sinks and you decend into irrelevance.

Guido's mauling on Newsnight last night was a similar fate for Paul Staines. Guardian hack Sir Michael White gave him a sound thrashing - with a chortling Paxo on stand-by - and his idiotic insistance on anonymity looked foolish. As an avid reader of his site, I do now find my confidence battered. I wonder how many people will stop reading him as a result?

You see, it isn't true to say that bloggers can say what we like and be damned ... there probably won't be court cases and writs issued, but a loss in confidence and credibility hits equally hard.

Guido and the Monkey are down, but certainly not out. But they'll both have to work hard to build up again.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Brilliant or Boring? Will Gordon's last budget be his greatest deception?

The real story of this budget is the tight spending rounds that are on their way for our public services, the below inflation pay increases for public sector workers and the terrible lack of reform for schools and hospitals.

Yet brilliantly, the next few days will be dominated by Brown's greatest tax fiddle - the cutting of the basic rate by 2% to 20p in the pound whilst scrapping the 10% starter rate and raising the NI threshold. All these leads to ... absolutely no change whatsoever.

Of course, the budget is revenue neutral but will anybody notice? Some people will think its a tax cut but the media (and the opposition) aren't stupid and most people will therefore see this as the con it really is. This arguement will go on for days, and days, and days etc etc etc.

And nobody will notice what Labour - Blair and Brown - are doing to our precious public services.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Question every LibDem candidate will now have to answer

The moment that LibDem Leader Sir Ming stood up to do a speech that involved rubbishing Cameron and setting tests for entry into a Brown-led coalition, their party candidates up and down the country must have groaned a collective groan.

And what they feared the most has finally popped into my inbox. The big question.

If the Conservatives and Labour both get, say, 300 seats each at the next election who would you use your vote to sustain in office - David Cameron or Gordon Brown?

That is what one resident of Norwich wanted to know tonight and I am sure it'll be what a lot of people want to know before they vote. I know that several LibDem PPCs read this site, maybe they'd like to be honest and give their answer now?

LibDems? Honest? Don't hold your breath ... but they can't avoid the question for very much longer!

Believe the trend, not the poll

The now infamous poll which puts Cameron's Conservatives up to 43%, with Brown's Labour down on 28% and Sir Ming's LibDems struggling on 18% has attracted much coverage on the news and the blogs.

This poll, if true and applied on a uniform swing, would deliver Mr Cameron every seat in the East of England with the exception of Colchester. That would include two sensational gains in both Norwich seats.

I have warned the party to keep the champagne on ice over these individual polls. A snapshot of opinion is, well, just that - a snapshot. You need to look for a clear trend of movement and a zone of polling before reading anything into it.

However, having said that Cameron is hitting all of the targets I have been setting myself for excitement.

I just wanted a lead to begin with - he gave me that.

I then wanted a sustained lead over Labour - he gave me that.

I then wanted to hit the 37-39% box - he gave me that.

I then wanted to hit 40% - he gave me that.

I then wanted a double digit lead - he gave me that.

I then wanted the same over Brown - he gave me that.

I then wanted to hit the 42-43% over Brown box - he's now given me that.

I don't want to get excited by polls but the movement and the trend are with Cameron (he has, as I'm sure somebody might say, the big mo'). Each time I set Cameron a higher bar for me to get excited he has jumped over it. I am now, therefore, allowing myself a sly smug grin - but nothing more.

Cameron looks increasingly like the election winning real-deal.

So let me set him the final hurdle. Let's see him get to 45% against Brown sustained over a few months and I'll get excited.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Oddities of a Parliamentary Vote

Aside from the headline figures of a key parliamentary vote like today's on the renewal of Trident, some of the most interesting factoids are in the actions of individual MPs themselves.

Blair had a bad night from the Norfolk Labour MPs - Ian Gibson (Norwich North) and Tony Wright (Great Yarmouth) were predictable rebels but they were joined by former Home Secretary Charles Clarke (Norwich South) in opposing the government. It meant all three of the counties MPs went against Blair - and possibly Mr Clarke's first time, ever.

As nearly 100 Labour MPs bloodied the Prime Minister, just 2 Tories stood out against David Cameron - former Deputy Leader Michael Ancram (Devizes) and backbencher Rob Wilson (Reading E) voted with the Labour rebels.

Both Independent MPs - Clare Short (Ladywood) and Dr Richard Taylor (Kiddeminster) - voted against Blair, as did the UUPs Lady Hermon (North Down). Labour rebels included the Chair of their Parliamentary Party Tony Lloyd (Manchester C).

The Labour rebel list looks like a bit of a who's-who of lefties, but a few of the lesser known rebels and not-quite-as-loony MPs include Janet Dean (Burton), Stephen Pound (Eailing N), Rudi Vis (Finchley & Golders Green) and Alan Meale (Mansfield).

As ever, Nick Brown (Newcastle E) threatened to vote against and ended up not going through with it - he now has form on this.

Finally, plenty of Labour leadership candidates opposing their own government tonight - Deputy Leadership hopeful Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) was joined by Leader wannabee's John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington) and Michael Meacher (Oldham W).

Monday, March 12, 2007

I'm sure Nigel will be recycled himself

Minister Nigel Griffiths has, like PPS Jim Devine, resigned over the government's policy on Trident. He should be congratulated for taking that stance and welcomed into the small club of vaguely principled Labour politicans.

However, has the Edinburgh MP made anything like the sacrafice it seems today?

Ministerial resignations don't come along very often these days - with collective responsibility ignored, ministerial responsibility a thing of the past and individual respsonsibility only given a passing nod, it seems at first glance that it is a miracle that anybody quits.

Well, it is. But unlike generations gone past, resigning doesn't kill a career like it used to. Very few politicans of the past 50 years could have resigned and then come back again. Yet Blair recycles Ministers at a planet-savingly fast rate. Not only the big hitters like Blunkett and Mandelson, but the smaller fish too.

Politicans, of all ranks, are on the merry-go-round career ladder because they know that coming back is still an option. Just like former Tory frontbencher Patrick Mercer will have to see out some time on the backbenches, Mr Griffiths and Mr Devine won't wait long before Tony (or Gordon, or David, or John...) brings them back again.

I have no problem with more people quitting because they made a mistake or cannot support government policy and no problem with them coming back afterwards. But we should be aware of those who know they can!

Hence Nigel and Jim can happily quit on a Monday, vote against the government on a Wednesday and be back behind a Ministerial desk by Friday (metaphorically, not literally).

So before we all rush to declare Nigel Griffiths as the "man of the year" we should all stop to ask just how long his new-found principles will keep him outside of New Labour's payroll.

He quit because he knew the door was always left that little bit ajar.

3rd May just keeps getting nearer

If you have local elections by thirds (and a county poll in the fourth) then you may just feel as if elections never stop. I taught this in my A Level politics class today and, for all the expense and hassle of yearly elections, I cannot help by conclude that it keeps our campaigning sharp, focused and does provide good grassroots democracy (even if only a third of people vote!).

This evening I spent my time at various campaign meetings for wards in Norwich, getting paperwork sorted and planning campaign timetables and the like. We have a fantastic line up of candidates this year and I am most impressed with the work that they have planned.

I met with Malcolm Chamberlin, who is set to stand for us in Nelson Ward. He is very much part of the community and is an ex-EEN journalist and presently an environmental campaigner. We talked of trees and the green policies of City Hall for a while. Malcolm even admitted he could have been a Green member, if he wasn't so staunchly conservative in his ways. He'll go down a treat on the doorsteps of the Golden Triangle. His wife, a local therapist, is also very well known. Malcolm speaks honestly at all times and really cares about the local area - he would, having lived in the community for over 27 years. There's a glint in this one's eye, like he knows all about the ward and its people ... he has a brilliant nose for campaigning (in a way that only a non-political campaigner can have) and it will be interesting to see how he does.

It was then on to see Niki George, our 21 year old candidate for Mancroft Ward. Niki knows the City back to front, working for the County Council but based at the Castle. He works to bring in investment into Norwich. He really seems to want to improve life in the City and to learn everything about campaigning to bring it about. Malcolm looks and sounds like a Councillor for his area, whereas Niki is just so enthusiastic and genuine about politics, campaigning and local people that it is quite refreshing. They are both working equally hard on putting together campaigns for their area for this May.

When Cameron says the party is changing, it isn't until you meet people on the ground that you realise how true this is. Malcolm and Niki both joined the party under David Cameron - as did Carrie Chandler in Lakenham and Paul Wells in Wensum - and have really transformed the way in which the local party operates.

The party used to attract very serious centre-right political operators - and, thank goodness, we still do - but the new members and candidates are far more community based and campaign orientated. Everyone is a conservative, but there is far more optimism and hope about who we are, as a City, and what we can achieve.

I trust people will see this and the result on May 3rd will be good!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Another amazing day

Today was all about Emily and we had family up to spend the day with us at Banham Zoo - I still think one of Norfolk's hidden treasures. We got the chance to see the big cats at play, some rather lazy kangaroos and monkeys up close. Olivia, of course, missed the lot by being asleep and Emily missed the seal feeding by walking head first into a tree. Other than that the weather was great, the cafe made a decent cup of tea and everything seems good with the world. In fact, we drifted so far away that you might have even forgotten we had a rotten Labour government... or, maybe not!

Emily's birthday has been a bit of a festival - starting Wednesday and going through until today, but finally the giant "I am 2" banner is down and we can return to some normality. All we have to do now is slowly watch the balloons deflate and drip-feed Emily her new toys day-by-day.

Oh, and destroy that bloody awful signing birthday card my brother sent her.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Labour MP to quit over Trident: Cook would be proud

Robin Cook was a remarkable parliamentarian, a fearful debator and a man of some high principle.

He would, I therefore conclude, be proud of his friend, agent and successor as MP for Livingston Jim Devine for quiting over Labour's slavish devotion to Trident.

Well Done that man. Parliament needs more like you.

One Amazing Day

No, no the Millennium Dome, but canvassing in Norwich.

I have written before about the joys of canvassing in Britain, but the variety and quality of doorstep responses we get always bewilders me. A big team of us went out this morning in Chapel Break to do some survey canvassing and ask people about their views leading up to the election. As well as taking on general views, we were asking about the swtich to "twin bins", council tax and road pricing. People were generally very, very supportive about the twin bin move - although the economic arguement about avoiding landfill tax seemed to be more pressing than the environmental concerns. Some people worried about where and how the new bins would arrive but there was support for the principle of the scheme.

Council tax continues to cause a lot of hot collars and Labour's 4.7% tax hike is going down badly. Before LibDems jusmp up and down over this, we asked people what they wanted to do. The vast majority wanted council tax reformed whilst only a quater (of a sample of 400 houses) wanted it replaced with a local income tax.

Road pricing isn't popular either. The anti-car lobby - and I include Labour, LibDems and the Greens in this - think they have the moral high ground on this. I suggest they talk to one wheelchair bound man I spoke to and hear his story of trying to cope without his car. Over 90% ruled it out completely, even more than were opposed to the congestion charge.

The incinerator once again failed to be mentioned once, and the largest issue was anti-social behaviour and vandalism. Speeding and traffic safety came a close second today.

In the afternoon we went to Catton Grove where Eve got a really warm response. I thought I would share this one with you. A single voter, I know, but worthy of note. A guy who lived off Mousehold Lane who claimed to always vote Labour, though thick and thin, through good times and bad. He is opposed totally to unitary and this is the only election he'll get to express his opinion he is going to vote Conservative. After that, he warns me, it'll be back to Labour. Amazing how some people make their democratic selection.

A great day for canvassing - I'm sure nearly every ward in the City had some activity in it. There isn't such a thing as a safe City seat for any party anymore. This election is shaping up to be evry interesting.

Blog Rules, OK?

I know that most other people have said this at some point or another but I feel that I have to, sadly, make a few requests regarding some of the more bizarre comments left on my blog.

I am happy to publish political discourse, general abuse, anything amusing, rants or anything else polite.

I am not happy to publish comments that are just vile attacks on anybody - and that includes Labour Councillors in general and my Bowthorpe colleagues in particular. I know more than anybody else the failings of this Labour government and also of City Hall. If you have anything against certain Labour Councillors then start your own blog or take it up with the EEN.

Please don't think this is a forum to slag them off. That's my job, and I'll decide how to do it, without anybody else's wild nightmares creeping in.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hay Hill - a victory (of sorts)

Great news recieved today that the Council have created a compromise deal of the installation of a modern art structure on Hay Hill. Apparently most of the stalls will now stay and there is, shock of shocks, enough room for the traders and the art to live side by side.

I still have my doubts about the circumstances in which this was all arranged - Norwich LibDems hold your collective heads in shame - but I wouldn't want that to marr what is a signficiant victory for the traders, albeit not all of them.

The credit has to go directly to the traders and their supporters. A 2,000 signature petition and the cool, calm and directed campaign run by, amongst others, Matt and Sam Cooper has been quite remarkable to watch. No screaming, or shouting, just reasoned logic. And they won - so it can be done.

I have heard first hand about the pressure that these traders have been under. The Council have done the right thing and they should be praised for being willing to look again and take the issue seriously. I hope now that trade can continue as always and that the council can learn something about how to handle these situations.

Not everyone will be pleased and I feel for those who still stand to lose out, but this time last week things looked so much worse.

A victory ... of sorts.

A Wild Weekend

Although I'm still feeling dog rough, the antibiotics have atleast given me a new lease of life - so this weekend I threw off the duvet and endless DVD repeats and started to get back to life as normal.

Saturday there was plenty of activity in the constituency - with teams out in Eaton, Bowthorpe, Catton Grove and Wensum (yes, Wensum). Although I wasn't there we apparently got a great response in a traditional non-Conservative part of the ward. Our candidate there, Paul Wells, was pretty enthused by the response by all accounts. I managed to trudge round for a few hours in Bowthorpe but eventually my cough got the better of me. I spoke to a lot of people in that time and learnt a few things about former Labour Councillor Ron Borrett that I didn't know before! Maybe more on that later... I like canvassing in Bowthorpe at the moment because there seems to be a real feeling that things are, slowly, getting better in the area. A real sense of hope for the future.

Thanks God I was feeling better by Sunday morning because we had a crowd round at ours for Emily's birthday (Mark I) - the first of numourous events this week! A couple of bottles of decent red seemed to do more for me than all the antibiotics in the world ... I'd forgotten how our friends without children still like to party. Still, always good to be the (most) sober one at the end of the night.

I have finished the day, depressingly, but cross referencing various notes for our manifesto for this year's elections. We have the formal meeting for that on Tuesday so should be interesting. We have some pretty radical proposals this year so keep half an eye out!

It's been a long time since I have felt this good at the end of a busy weekend ... and actually looking forward to work again tomorrow. Life, as they say, is good.