Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Davies defection is a blow to Cameron, but it says more about Labour's newest MP than it does about the Tory Leader

You have to hand it to Labour they always manage to pull it off - and the stream of Tory defectors (9 in 10 years) continues to swell their ranks and boost their PR. However they always manage to do this because of the line of Tory dimwits willing to aid Blair and Labour in their quest to bugger up Britain.

Quentin Davies is the latest MP to do this and the defection will give Brown a much needed boost on the day that he becomes Prime Minister. It is certainly bad news for the Cameron Big Tent and it does raise the issue of how many other MPs are so-discontented with his leadership. But...

I believe this whoe sorry affair says more about the judgement and character of Quentin Davies than it does about the Cameron leadership. Davies is one of the few people in politics that doesn't see how Brown will chew him up and spit him out - being used by a party that he has fought against for 20 years and a politican he referred to as "losing control", "imprudent" whom he hoped "something nasty" would happen to. Now Davies suddenly changes his mind. Do we really want this man on our benches specifically or even as a British member of parliament generally?

And this is before we come to his voting record. Quite frankly I hadn't realised what a throw-back he was before looking into this in detail. He voted against gay rights, against the fox hunting ban, against anti-terrorism law and for the war on Iraq. If that is the person that the Labour Party want on their side then they are welcome to him. How Labour can accept Davies or how Davies can accept Labour is beyond me.

The truth is that this defection isn't about policy, or leadership or even principle. It is about one rather tragic figure who will now find himself isolated on both side of the House of Commons. Judging by the mauling Davies got on Newsnight he has got some rough days ahead of him. I won't shed any tears and look forward to the phrase "Con gain Grantham & Stamford" at the next election ... because he won't have the guts to fight a by-election.

I will leave this post with a true story. I spoke to a fellow Tory Councillor on the phone this afternoon. He said: "I was thinking about defecting to Labour until I heard they'd accepted Quentin Davies. Now I don't think I'll bother - I don't want to be associated with people like him." Well said, Councillor!

UPDATE: It should be pointed out that Mr Davies was a shadow cabinet member under IDS and now feels at home with Mr Brown. Who should be worried more by this - Iain or Gordon?

LibDems down to just 12 % in new poll

On the eve of the Brown premiership, a new YouGov poll puts the Conservatives ahead again, but the sensational result is the LibDem share sinking to just 12%.

I have said time and time again that you cannot tell anything specific from individual polls, only the general trend of the polls over a few months. However if the LibDems continue to struggle in the 12-15 box, as several polls over a few weeks have had them, then questions are going to have to be asked about Campbell's leadership.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cameron's First Question

Brown's First PMQs:
Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP (Con, Witney): "Does the Prime Minister agree with his new Party Chairman and Party Deputy Leader when she says that if she knew then what she knew now, she wouldn't vote voted for the war?"

Or maybe he'll go for Trident, or tax, or any one of the other desperate gaffes she used to win in the first place!

As somebody once said, "I'm enjoying this..!"

Ha Ha Ha Harman

I am absolutely thrilled that the person Blair sacked for incompetence has been ressurected as Labour's new Deputy Leader. Who on earth voted for her? I'm stunned.

Apart from being totally useless and institutionally sexist herself, she is one of the few politicans who causes people to switch off after less than 5 milliseconds. Labour think that because she's a woman and because she represents a London seat (I think she's Del Boy's MP) that she'll connect with key swing voters in those all-important South East marginals. I think differently - she is exactly the kind of hauty left-wing nanny that makes people vote Tory. Her personal majority may rise but I can see a swath of marginals in Kent falling one-by-one.

So as far as I can see, Labour have made the perfect choice! And Brown's first stupid mistake is to put this woman in the public eye as Party Chairman.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Labour MP Ian Gibson's Unitary bid hypocrisy

What do you make of these two quotes from Ian Gibson regarding the Norwich Unitary bid?

“They probably think for some reason I am seen to be on the city's side. I am not. I am listening to my constituents and what they want.” (EDP, 18th June 2007)

“I both welcome and support the bid for a Unitary Norwich.” Dr Ian Gibson MP quoted in the City Council’s Unitary bid (p.76)

There are two explanations for this. Either this is a cynical U-turn by Dr Gibson or the City Council have lied in their Unitary bid.

I would be horrified if the unitary bid sought to misrepresent the views of a local politician. If it did, then the Leader of the Council would have to seriously consider his position after a blunder like that.

However, what I think is more likely is that Dr Gibson has cynically changed his mind when he realized that local people were dead against Labour’s expensive and dangerous local government reorganization.

He rushed to back Labour but didn’t stop to think what the people he represented might think. In Thorpe St Andrew, Sprowston and Hellesdon – as well as large numbers of people in the City – have seen straight through Labour’s power grab.

I, of course, welcome Dr Gibson’s conversion to the anti-unitary cause. But people will conclude this is a cynical and hypocritical vote grab. The Conservatives opposed this from the start – Dr Gibson is bandwagon jumping again.

I note that people can now electronically tag where Dr Gibson is in the UK – it’s a pity we cannot track his ever-changing views.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Eight Days

Labour's Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly and the Norwich Conservatives do agree on one thing - that the City Council's Unitary Bid is financially risky and could do damage to services such as education and social services, which are currently provided by the 4-star rated Norfolk County Council.

Well, we did last March anyway.

Just eight days after Ms Kelly wrote to DPM Prescott warning about the dangers of these City unitary bids, she then put the Norwich bid straight onto the Unitary bid shortlist - despite the misgivings she held just a week previously.

The question this leaves everyone involved is ... why?

Well if you ask me there is something seriously dodgy going on here. Labour Ms Kelly has been heavily lobbied by the Labour City Council and you have to wonder how she dealt with this.

Did Norwich Labour manage to persuade their Labour colleague to put the bid, no matter how weak (it was, remember 16th out of 17 according to the league table) on the shortlist because they knew they would be politically savaged if it fell at the first hurdle?

Kelly, probably annoyed by this political stalking, may well have thrown her hands in the air, stuck the City on the list and done so in the sure and certain knowledge it would fail anyway. Why break Steve's heart at the outset?

Whatever the truth, and we may never know, the fact is that in just eight short days the Secretary of State did a 180-degree turn.

Sunday Express: Now Labour Ministers say that the Norwich Unitary Bid is financially risky and will damage education and social services

I will comment at length later, but before I go out for my Father's Day dinner, I thought I would add the press release which went out today in response to the Sunday Express story regarding Norwich Unitary. A couple of radio stations have done interviews and all the newspapers have been onto me today so I think this may cause a stir tomorrow - and yet more damage to what remains of the fragile credibility of the LibDems and Labour's political white elephant:

Commenting on the Sunday Express story regarding the Norwich Unitary Bid, in which it is claimed that a leaked letetr between Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly and Deputy Prime Minister John prescott reveal the weakness of the case for Norwich Unitary, Conservative Group Leader and Bowthorpe Councillor Antony Little said:"It is good to know that Ministers and Civil Servants see all the same faults with the bid that we do - a costly re-organisation that can only put up tax and make services worse. The fears expressed by the Minister regarding the impact on Education and Social Services are well founded. City Hall is an "inadequate" authoritiy sekeing more powers from one that is 4 star rated, so they are right to be worried."

"Also, as we expressed at the time, there are concerns that it is not financially stable and the Ministers warn against the risk to taxpayers of having a Unitary Norwich."

"The fact is that Norwich should never have made the shortlist. If Norwich now gets through it is clear that it will be Ministerial plotting rather than the strenght of the bid that does it."

"This is a massive blow to Labour and their LibDems allies on the council. Only the Conservatives warned against Unitary and voted against Unitary. The next time a resident can't get bushes cut back, or street signs repaired, or community centres refurbished because of council cutbacks, they ought to remember the vast amount of money wasted on Labour's political Unitary project."

"Norwich should never have put this bid in - we know it, the County Council know it, the civil servants know it, the Minister knows it. Will they have the guts to back up their instincts and reject the Unitary bid or will Labour do a dodgy-deal with their pals in Westminster to get this expensive, dangerous and flawed project through?"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ming Campbell is "completely divorced from reality"

Of all the stupid policies currently hanging around the necks of LibDem candidates and councillors around the country there can be nothing more stupid than today's so-called radical plan to build 1,000,000 new homes over 10 years.

Apparently this will be done by getting council's to buy land from farmers at a knock down price, give it planning permission and then sell it onto developers (at a profit). Can anyone see the problem with this cunning plan? Which farmer is actually going to do it?

The Country Land and Business Association has described Sir Ming's scheme as "completely divorced from reality". President David Fursdon said the system was "open to so much abuse" as councils would be deciding whether to grant permission for schemes that would make them huge sums of money. "And why is it that it's OK for the local authority to do something on the land when it's not for the private landowner?"

So now everyone who lives near farm land better ask their local LibDems if they plan to plonk houses on them. A bad idea from an increasingly desperate leader of an increasingly desperate party.

What are we scrutinising?

I have said before that Scrutiny is one of the most important functions of the council, keeping track of the actions of the all-powerful Executive Committee.

Having attended some scrutiny training tonight, I'm not quite sure.

Apparently there are such restrictions about what we can scrutinise, when we can scrutinise, what we should scrutinise ... it hardly seems worth it. If the Executive makes a stupid decision we can't call it in for scrutiny unless they break the policy guidelines (which they or the government set!) and everything must be justified in terms of achievement. Scrutiny should be there for detailed work but I also think that just stopping to think twice is a good function in itself is important. But, no...

So what can we actually do - are we checks and balances or are we there simply to help further the work of the executive?

We then had one of the longest meetings I have ever known, bickering amongst ourselves over which of several rather sidelined topics we should scrutinise.

I hope whichever we end up picking (decision still not made) good ones and making the best of what the government gives us. One thing is for sure, I have an interest in making bad policy work for the people of Norwich, but I sure won't try and make it work for the Norwich Labour Party!

Jim Cushing - Rest in Peace

Nobody can fail to have been shocked and saddened by the news of Jim Cushings death - stabbed in a quiet residential street in Clover Hill, Bowthorpe. Harris Mews and Yaxley Way are amongst the nicest streets in the area and I have always felt that it has a nice community feel to it. It is certainly one of the places where kids are always playing on the street and people will cross the road to speak to you. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim Cushing's family tonight and also to another resident who was injured in the attack.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Britain's got something...

I am loving ITV's Britain's Got Talent programmes at the moment - it is just pleasing to know that so many people can do so much that is good and talented, and that so many people believe they can do something good and talented. Who can fail to have been moved by the mobile phone salesman turned opera singer? Or laugh at the dog who sings to Crazy Frog? Or fall off the sofa at the magician with two ducks...

This programme is from the stable of Simon Cowell and is brilliant television. A form of reality TV that doesn't involve humiliation, swearing, indecent behaviour or a blatant quest for fame.

The contestants and judges deserve much praise - and also well done to ITV for finally producing something worth watching!

Rats and Sinking Ship spring to mind

Cabinet Office Minister Hilary Armstrong, the former Chief Whip, is the latest senior minister to announce that they are quitting the frontline to return to the relative safety of the backbenches.

Like Home Secretary John Reid, she has said that she wants to quit in order to give Brown some wriggle-room with the post-coronation reshuffle. How much room does Brown need? He'll sack a few - hopefully starting with Hewitt - and that will give him the room he needs, especially given two top jobs (Chancellor and DPM) will already be available.

I think there is a little bit of jumping going on here, maybe before Mr Brown has to start pushing!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Is the Council's Communication Department now directly supporting the campaigning work of Labour Councillors?

Councillor's were surprised yesterday to recieve two copies of the same Norwich City Council press release regarding the environmental standards of new homes in Three Score, Bowthorpe.

The first was the standard press release copy sent to the media, councillors, senior council officers and others.

The second was a carbon copy of the first, with the exception of one thing ... the addition of this line:

Further to the below email, Bowthorpe councillor Brenda Ferris is available for comment on XXXXX XXX XXX. Thanks

This is a bizarre move - normally all the material the council wishes to give is in the press release and no further comment is made. On Norfolk County Council Press Releases the contact details for all 4 party spokesman are given in order to be fair. Normally Norwich give contact details of nobody to be fair.

Yet on this important story regarding Bowthorpe, a decision was made to encourage the press to contact a specific councillor for more comment - and it just happens that this specific councillor is the sole Labour member for the area. The majority Conservative Councillors were ignored. Neither Cllr Wyatt nor I were contacted.

Was it because of Cllr Ferris being Deputy Leader of the Council? Nope. Look at the wording - it's very clear. Not Deputy Leader Councillor Brenda Ferris, but Bowthorpe Councillor Brenda Ferris.

John and I have now had to ask why this was the case and also for assurances that the Communications Department at City Hall were not "leaned on" over this story. We need to know that press officer were not asked to put in the line in order to get publicity for a Labour councillor in a marginal seat up for election next May. We also want to know how many press releases are followed up with Labour Councillor contact details.

This unfortunately looks very suspicious. The extra e-mail, the inclusion of the local member details and the fact it was only Cllr Ferris should make us think again. We need assurances on this - and fast. Our Communications Department must be, and must be seen to be, pushing the message of the authority not of a political party. The impartiality of local government depends on it.

Of course, the irony is that the EDP who followed the story up today took the quotes from the press release from Cllr Morphew and also those from my own press release which I did off my own back and without the aid of a local government bureaucracy.

The Caretaker's Caretaker

One top Norwich LibDem seems to have put his finger on their troubles at the moment. Cllr Cooke was only ever meant to be a caretaker leader until the new talent emerges. Now, I understand, that talent has come forward - with all sides in praise of newly-elected Cllr Wright's first council speech it seems that she is the chosen one.

When I pointed out that she made one good set piece speech and we had yet to see her under fire, thinking on her feet or even proposing a motion that was opposed by any other party, I was told that she would develop and after Cooke goes the LibDems may need another caretaker until she is ready.

So Hereward Cooke was the caretaker's caretaker. It isn't clear who the caretaker is - although Cllr Watkins fits the bill - but it seems that Mr & Mrs Simon Wright may have the whole constituency sown up soon.

It will be interesting to see how those LibDem Councillors, former Councillors and activists who have criticised Mr Wright to me will take the new Cllr Mrs Wright in the future!

With friends like Judith Lubbock...

It seems that Hereward Cooke's fulsome apology for LibDem lies in the local elections isn't quite what it seems.

For now fellow frontbencher Cllr Judith Lubbock appears to have stabbed him in the front - and said she won't apologise for the LibDem fibs.

She said in the EDP:
“The buck stops with me, and I don't apologise. We can back up what's been put in the literature. If he had [told her he would say sorry], I would have said 'hang on a minute what are you apologising for? I do not want to undermine his position. Hereward, bless him, just thinks you can draw a line under these things. I was responsible for those leaflets and I certainly stand by them. We certainly won't be having any review of our literature.”

So, what do we make of that? Two things really. Firstly that the vicious lies that make up most of the LibDem Focus leaflets will continue with Lubbock in charge. And secondly Cooke's leadership is now pretty much untenable. He lost the trust of his backbenchers ages ago and now it seems that he has lost the trust of his frontbench.

Hereward will, of course, hang on until he can say that he went when he wanted to. But the pressure is on and the LibDems won't have real, clear leadership until he has gone.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Quiz Question

Of a LibDem election leaflet, who said:

"I do apologise"

"It was an embarrassment"

"I am ashamed"

"I had no idea what was going out"

"It should not have been put out in our name"

"I've not heard so much rubbish in all my life"

"If there is anything I have left out I apologise for that as well"

The answer?

Norwich LibDem Leader Cllr Hereward Cooke.

At least he's now said what the rest of us knew all along - the LibDem Focus leaflets are fiction at best and downright lies at worse. You can't just trust a word they say - or write.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Scrutiny Committee Tomorrow

4.30 in the Committee Rooms at City Hall the Scrutiny Committee is meeting to discuss the Draft Best Value Performance Plan.

Greens vote LibDem, Tory votes Labour, Labour won't vote for anyone ... a strange night at the council!

Last night's Full Council meeting was probably the most bizarre - and badly attended - I have ever known.

Labour were short of 5 members, Tories 1 down and the LibDems 1 down. Only the Greens fielded a full team - but in a bizarre twist all of the three big groups had 10 members each.

It was John's first council meeting and his reaction was quite telling. He thought that it addressed some of the big issues that face Norwich but also has the ability to drift off into complete obscurity.

And then the really odd stuff started.

Labour's in-house attack dog Cllr Sands took up a whole speech telling us how 10 years of Labour government had made education worse in Norwich.

Executive Members Cllr Alan Waters and Cllr Steve Morphew agreed that their own government had made a balls up of the NHS and planning.

The Green Party voted for LibDem Chief Cllr Hereward Cooke to be Chair of the Audit Committee ... but only after Cllr Cooke grovelled to council and had to admit his party lied and cheated during the election.

Then I voted for Labour Cllr Keith Driver ... only his own side didn't. It was left with a Conservative councillor being the only person to vote for a Labour committee chair.

Then the LibDems and Greens stitched up a bizarre amendment to a motion that stopped us voting against it.

I'll post my thoughts during the week!

Three Score - the Masterplan

Tonight I went to a really useful meeting of the Bowthorpe Community Partnership where the outline plans for the 1200 house Three Score development was debated. There was a lot of good questioning of the planning officers and I have come out quite comfortable with the plan ... remember that this is just the outline plan rather than the details.

I am glad that the roads are wider than in the "old" Three Score development, where there is clear room for parking and also for manoevering cars.

I am glad there ther is a distinction between neighbourhood roads and home zone roads.

I am slightly worried about the lack of play space and the lack of development of the two 0.1acre play space areas.

I am worried that the proposed sheltered housing and small shop plots may get mangled in the development process and may fail to materialise.

I am pleased that the environmental standards are going to be very high.

Comments appreciated - you can view the Masterplan at the Planning Reception, Level 2 at City Hall

Sunday, June 03, 2007

What if Steen is right?

There has been a predictable backlash by a combination of disability rights campaigners, LibDems and the intellectual-left over comments by Tory MP Anthony Steen regarding disabled parking places.

Devon MP Steen was, quite rightly, nicked for parking for 2 days in a disabled space. I am a great believer in the law and it is right that he was fined.

But his so-called defence of his actions was saying that there are too many disabled spaces and not enough for the abled bodies. This looked liked sour grapes and that Mr Steen was trying to get out of trouble. That is sad because it has masked a subject that was discussed recently on Scrutiny Committee at Norwich City Council - are there too many disabled spaces?

From my totally unscientific sample I'd say so - whilst at the same time there being far too few parent spaces (that should be "parent & toddler" spaces - I'm fed up of people with 11 year olds parking next to the door at Sainsbury's whilst Emily and I struggle across the length of the car park).

There was much discussion about St. Giles Car Park where large numbers of disabled spaces stand empty whilst able bodies drivers go round and round looking for gaps. Could the disabled give up a few spaces (not all, but a few) to ease pressure for other people? Or could a few disabled spaces become parents spaces?

In the end, we decided we didn't have enough information to judge but that the council should look into this at some point in the future.

Jumping up and down and shouting at Steen won't make the substantive point go away - we need to ask if there are too many disabled spaces and the disabled lobby won't be taken seriously until they partake in this debate themselves.

Church, Lunch, Beach, Garden

Apologies for the lack of posts - I am rather enjoying the post-election period at the moment and we found ourselves drawn along by the weather today. After going to mass at St. George's this morning, we then headed down to the Recruiting Sergeant for one of the best Sunday lunches we've had in a long time! After this we went to Mundesley for a trip to the beach. It was much colder on the North Norfolk coast than in the City so within hours we were back in the garden and finally enjoying the summer.

It's been a very sociable weekend all-in-all - yesterday, following a strategy meeting with the Town Close Conservatives, we had a get together at Dunstan Hall. Beautiful location and great food - although my pint of beer did manage to nearly blow up the bar when the tap went wrong and backfired! In the evening I stepped out with UEA Conservatives past and present - a social to launch their new blog, which can be found here. It is great to have a large and active Tory group at UEA and even better when they are fired up for the elections!

In fact, wherever have I found the time to facebook this weekend???