Friday, August 31, 2007

BBC Poll UpDate: Constitution & Facebook

The BBC loves its little polls on the side of news stories but does anybody actually look at the results? Having just trawled through the news, I voted on two polls. The first, on the EU Constituion Referendum (I voted for having one), was a massive 79% for to 20% against. The second asked if workers should have access to Facebook during the working day (I voted against this). The result, as of just now, was an even 49-49 split, but with the anti's just ahead by a fraction.

Given the way that Facebook has taken over my life and the amount of time I give to it during the evenings alone I strongly predict that if the TUC get their way and workers can get access to it then the entire British economy would collapse within an hour and a half. If I could read and reply on Facebook in school, I'd never do any work ... during my free periods and probably during class too. For my sanity, if nothing else, don't do it! Vote by clicking here.

As the summer fades...

August is normally political silly season when desperate hacks spend their time trawling through MPs dustbins to try and create a side-bar story for their daily rag. However, with all the chat being about a potential Autumn poll this year the silly season has been quite, quite serious.

The government have been doing the real work, of course, tackling floods, foot and mouth disease, and terror threats. The Conservatives have been doing the real job of opposition - planning for government - and Cameron has been on a roll with the work on housing, GCSE results, crime, tax and now immigration (thanks, in part, to an excellent Newsnight interview). Polls which show Brown's so-called "bounce" being halved in just a few weeks will bear out the fruitful nature of this work. The Conservatives do look frighteningly ready for a general election and the policy launches can easily be pulled into a manifesto.

However the total absence of the LibDems during this time has totally confused both bloggers and the mainstream media. You'd have to be totally misguided to believe that Sir Ming's one decent media foray - pullout of Iraq - was planned, or even a plan to knock Cameron off the telly. This is madness - the story was, if anything, created by Brown's people because they has control of the release of the letter in reply to Sir Ming. If I were a LibDem campaigner I wouldn't be happy with the party yet again banging on about Iraq, it simply makes you look like a single-issue pressure group. Other than that, not a word from our little yellow chums in the LibDems. A cunning plan to avoid silly season? Hardly, with their dire poll ratings (14% reported again today) they need all the coverage they can get.

The EDP has a rather good report on Clarke's efforts to hold onto Norwich South today and I think to some degree his confidence is held in the belief that the opposition is split 3 ways in the constituency. Those LibDems who believe, somehow, that the vast numbers of Green votes will simply come flocking back to them at the first sign of a bar chart or that Tories will vote tactically are barking not so much up the wrong tree as in the wrong forest. All three other parties dislike the Norwich LibDems with a passion. Their PPC is making zero media impact, the council group is dwindling and the campaigning still isn't taking off. They are made mincemeat of in the council chamber and Norwich doesn't feel ready to forgive them for their tenure in office 02-06. I can honestly say that I haven't met a single Tory voter who is ready to vote tactically for them - in fact, most put Labour and the LibDems in the same box. The Tories in Norwich have their USPs in place and will build on those (whoever the candidate is).

The LibDems would have you believe that this is a two-horse race (cue graphic of two horses!) but I am not going to patronise the electorate like they do. I say any one of four parties could win Norwich South. Clarke says he hopes people won't tactically vote. I'd agree, but add that I hope people vote for the party or person they believe in. Politics shouldn't be about choosing the person you hate the least (this is, essentially, the LibDem argument) but about lending your mandate to the candidate whose vision most closely matches your own. My feel from the doorstep is that people agree with this.

If the LibDems campaign heavily on the tactical vote I think that people will reject it. I wonder if all the candidates fighting this election in this constituency would be willing to sign a "positive campaign" pledge and promise to focus on policy and not tactical voting? It sounds like Labour and the Conservatives would ... will the Greens and LibDems? Seats don't get anymore interesting than Norwich South.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Newsnight puts Cameron on a roll

The left-leaning editors of Newsnight must be kicking themselves this morning. His interview last week was meant to see Cameron being giving a damn good kicking by a bevvy of presenters including attack-dog Michael Crick, suavve Mark Urban and brainbox Stephanie Flanders. They chose some tricky subjects and some very complex questions - including some very personal ones about Ms Flander's private life.

Instead of crumbling under pressure, Cameron gave a very strong performance. He was calm, intelligent and very coherent. Even when the presenters wanted to debase some very serious issues I felt that Cameron took everything in his stride. The real plus side was the wonderful coverage he has recieved today, especially regarding his immigration statements.

This extended interview could have been a real blow if Cameron had wobbled - but he didn't. He has come out of it looking like he really does have a handle on politics at the moment. Autumn election looking less likely now, I'd say.

The Garden of England

We're back after a whistlestop visit to friends in Kent and we were lucky to have glorious weather for our time there. I have always loved that area of the country and we were lucky to be able to see the best of the county with the kids. Next couple of days will mean getting ready for school next year and catching up on council work and party stuff. Tonight I am going to a Norfolk Conservative Campaign Meeting and tomorrow at a Norfolk & Suffolk one. I also have the Norwich South Exec next week - for a party that is committed to slashing bureaucracy, I wish we'd start with ourselves!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Channel 4 - Cameron was right on NHS closures

Channel 4, not normally noted as any great supporter of the Conservtaive Party, has run an interesting piece in which they independently assess the threat to hospital up and down the country. Surprisngly they conclude that Cameron is justified to claim that they face closure. When the NHS Trusts denied this (as well they might) both Labour and the LibDems jumped on this to rubbish the whole of the Tory NHyeS campaign. Now Channel 4's factcheck says that even the case of the hospital in Bellingham's North West Norfolk seat is being discussed for closure, despite the local MP claiming otherwise and issuing an apology. So, it concludes, Cameron was right over the threat to the NHS.

I wonder if those who jumped on this issue for their own political ends will issue an apology? Don't hold your breath.

Conservatives ready to fight for Norfolk

I was at the well publicised meeting of senior Norfolk Conservatives yesterday discussing a response to the failed City Council unitary bid. The government has let it be known that they now favour a series of unitary councils across Norfolk and an enlarged Norwich unitary would solve the twin problems of value-for-money and affordability in the original bid. Such obvious politicing makes rational debate very difficult but we have been assured that Ministers haven't made up their minds and that the Treasury is still very worried about the Norwich bid, even when enlarged. Now the Greens have gone against an enlarged unitary and I understand the LibDems are a bit limp too (no change there then!)

The meeting was totally united behind fighting for the status quo which has given us a 4* county council and some superb Conservative controlled districts. I still feel that Norwich should start by putitng its own house in order before trying this power grab.

Not only are there still the financial concerns - with a Unitary you pay more and get less - but now we understand that Labour's own advisor has said that unitary's never pay form themselves. Plus this 3 unitary solution does seem a rather naive plan to undermine the county of Norfolk. We are stronger together than we are apart.

I am from Norwich and I live in Norwich City Council. I am from Norfolk and I live in Norfolk County Council. Each council offers me the services appropriate to its size and functions. Easy. I am not part of some unitary blob that may or may not run from Taverham to Trowse or even Horsford to Long Stratton. How do these random coloured lines on a map compare to our historic counties? No wonder some people are calling this a campaign to Save Norfolk.

The Conservatives are now clear and united on this - unlike Labour and the LibDems. We must harness the people power in Norfolk to stop this plan to split our county.

Given the unitary fight is now between the Labour and LibDems politicos at City Hall versus the people of Norfolk, I know who'd I would put money on.

This bid isn't inevitable or a fait accompli. It's far from that - the people will make sure of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

B&Q: At the forefront of the worst customer service in the country

I am so fuming about this I cannot write any more, but I will return with the full story tomorrow. If you are thinking about spending any money in any B&Q store anywhere in the country, I strongly urge you to stop and think.

In 28 years on this planet and even being a Norwich City Councillor (thus seeing the internal workings of City Hall) I have never been treated so badly by such an incompetent company.

Stay well clear.

Scotland's next Leader of the Opposition

Another election, another coronation, another Scot ...

... but well done to Wendy Alexander for siezing the Labour Leadership in Scotland. She is probably the only person to quit a Ministerial role because of the high workload and lack of support and now return as Leader of her Party. I trust the high workload and lack of support in her new role won't get her down!

Conservatives ARE the Agenda

I had said some time ago that I felt it was complacency on the part of "Team Cameron" that led to the shaky start to the Brown Premiership for the opposition. Whereas the LibDems took the novel approach of saying and doing nothing - which, to be fair, has paid off - the Conservatives got themselves tangled up in all sorts and ended up 10 points behind the polls.

That complacency seems to have been shaken off and nobody can deny that over the last week or so it is Cameron who is once again setting the agenda. Last week's trailed report regarding tax and in particular the hated Inheritance Tax really rung bells with the sort of voters we need to win back. Today's Telegraph lead story about Cameron's pledge to abolish the Human Rights Act is excellent and will no doubt have legs over the next few days at least. Add to that Shadow Schools Minister Michael Gove attacking the dumbing down of GCSEs - on the front page of the Time - and Shadow Home Secretary David Davis laying out a positive approach to immigrtion in the Telegraph, it seems that the Tories are really controlling the agenda and leading the media.

Now I notice that the BBC is also leading on Cameron's plans to cut youth crime, which was also trailed in the press. And whatever you may think of the fallout, the coverage of the NHS Cuts Campaign was very, very good.

Whilst his shadow team focus in on specifics and, in some cases, play to the base, Cameron continues to define the big themes and add flesh to the Tory policy bones.

The Conservatives have come out fighting now and a good job too. They are controlling the agenda and long may this continue. We so desperately need our media management to be better. I hope this starts to reflect in new polls soon.

UPDATE: The LibDem Leader has finally said something - about the floods. A bit late, but never mind.

The "Facebook Faker" is revealed... as a stupid person

Having been at first quite irritated by this, you may have guessed that I now find this whole thing very very amusing. And just in case my day looked like it may have been dull, what pops into my email box but a message from the "Facebook Faker"! Oh yes - it came from the famous e-mail address and this is what it said:

Dear Norwich Conservatives,

I'm sorry about the misunderstanding. I am the person who setup a fake Norman Lamb profile on Facebook.

I did send my party (the Liberal Democrats) an e-mail a while ago pointing out that I am a Liberal Democrat activist who made the Norman Lamb profile and group in response to another group about Norman Lamb on Facebook. I felt that by pretending to be Norman Lamb I could get more support for the group. In terms of messages I would pass them onto Norman himself. I was happy to pass the group and profile onto Norman when he was ready. I just felt Norman was taking too long to join Facebook.The only reason I gave a reference to Norman's opponent was to show that Norman was confident about beating him. I was confident we could show off Norman's group had more support than his rival. Also by people seeing his rival's website they would more likely look at Normans and see how much better it is.

In terms of replying to one person saying that the negative stuff posted was true. The reason I did that was because I felt sure there was evidence out there which could be used against Norman if he denied it. Therefore I felt it better off saying it was true and therefore make Norman appear more straight forward.I did post some stuff on Norman's wikipedia. I was giving him credit for some campaigns, but it got taken off apparently because some activists would have been offended. I wasn't sure why, but chose to ask no more questions.Because I have felt that the accusations against your party could damage my party and after having told my party a while ago that I am a Liberal Democrat activist I have with deep regret had to tell you the Conservatives about this so it does not damage Norman in a General Election. By that I mean our two parties can put this to bed quickly. I have sent a similar message to this back to my party. I hope we can get back to positive campaigning which I think is good for politics in general.

Best wishes

Norman Lamb's loyal activist
P.S. I won't tell you or anyone who I am because otherwise it could damage my party. Because David Cameron wants to get rid of your nasty image I think you would rather know no more about me.

So, there we have it, case closed ... a LibDem after all! Or is it...

... the trouble is that whilst this e-mail absolutely comes from the Facebook Faker, something troubles me about their claims to be a LibDems.

I just can't put my finger on it.

Hang on! What's this? The e-mail display name ... it doesn't come from Norman Lamb, it appears to come from NORMAN LAMN.

Oh dear, a suppoter so loyal and so dedicated that they can't even spell their own man's name.

Which leads me to conclude that this isn't a LibDem or a Conservative ... it is just a very, very stupid person with too much time on their hands. And if you are a stupid person who wants to give a few LibDems and the EDP a thrill every now and again - try getting the spelling right.

Case closed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Stupid, but not serious

The BBC has worked its way into a political lather over an error on a Conservative campaign document that claimed a hospital was under threat when it wasn't. Oh well, some idiot at CCHQ didn't check you might think. Alternatively you may recall that Norman Lamb, darling of the LibDems, did a similar thing when he slammed the hygenic state of the Norfolk & Norwich only to have to apologise a day later - so it happens to the best of us. You may also remember a certain LibDem by-election candidate claiming a hospital was to shut when it wasn't. These thing happen in the heat of battle - they shouldn't but they do. I always think you should say sorry, move on, learn something and get it right next time.

However, the BBC has gone at this like a corporation possessed. The rolling News 24 coverage is way out of proportion to what is going on, especially compared to slightly more interesting and important news items at the moment - like Britain's woeful cancer recovery rates. So, what is going on with the BBC? They should really know better having had to apologise to the Conservatives twice in a week after bias reporting on the Tory tax proposals and having to admit a Labour mole in the Blue Peter camp (no, really, it's true - one of the presenters openly backed Red Ken at a rally). Does this have anything to do with the threat of an autumn election I wonder...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lost Days

Sorry about the lack of posts - no, I wasn't out searching the Norfolk countryside for people who fake facebook pages - I was in fact having an away-weekend withe my darling wife and lovely children in London. And rather nice it was too. However, the reality of a fortnight more off has now sunk back in and the task of getting B&Q to actually install a bathroom begins in ernest.

This evening I attended a Conservative campaigning meeting and there the general consensus was that Brown wouldn't call an early poll but by all accounts we are now geared up for an Autumn election. In fact, some of the more eager among us are now willing it on. I'm not sure - as I've said before, I don't did Brown has the cash or the inclination to do it.

The Net Closes In

I notice from every LibDem blog in the world that the net is closing in on the "Facebook Faker" and a jolly good job too. Trouble is (well, for the LibDems) the only person looking more innocent than they are is Trevor Ivory, on whom all the blame was heaped at the beginning. This is almost certainly now not a LibDem, but I am now pretty much as certain it has nothing to do with Ivory either.

I genuinely hope whoever did it is caught, but I hope those who flung mud in the wrong direction apologise when they are.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Could a LibDem be the "Facebook Faker"?

The controversy over a faked Facebook page in the name of LibDem MP Norman Lamb seems to have the EDP and the blogosphere in a frenzy to discover whodunnit. Several bizarre claims have been made - not least that it was a UKIP plot - but most of the LibDem accusations seem to have been directed towards Tory candidate Trevor Ivory who made a strong denial of being involved or even knowing who did it.

As always in these cases, the LibDems drop big hints without actually pointing the finger (due to, well, no evidence) and the EDP leaves the reader with that no-smoke-without-fire feeling towards Mr Ivory because whoever did do it put a link to Trevor's blog on it.

So, all-in-all, Norman Lamb looks like the innocent hard-working MP and the Tory candidate looks a bit shifty.

And that's what started me thinking. A faked Facebook page attacking Norman Lamb attracts a small readership of Facebook diehards. If they'd left this alone, very few people would ever have cared. But an EDP article suggesting Tory involvment in a smear plot attracts a large readership of floating voters in North Norfolk and from around the county.

Could it be that this albeit rather time-consuming stunt was not designed to besmirch the good name of Norman Lamb MP (as claimed) but to give plenty of sleaze ammunition against the Tory candidate?

After all, who would be stupid enough to leave their own blog details on a site like this which was bound to cause trouble? It just doesn't add up, and with the LibDems being the only winners you have to ask if somebody with a lot of time on their hands and a devious mind could just have dunnit...

LibDems on Crime

A rather curious letter today in the post (when it arrived at nearly midday) ... it was either a copy of a crime survey that was meant to be sent to LibDem PPC Simon Wright or it was the actual copy that was meant for Mr Wright but was posted to me in error.

Either way, I'm pretty sure that Mr Wright would prefer me to have it rather than him. An incredibly irrate Eaton resident went into a multi-page attack on the LibDem insincerity on crime. Now I know very, very little about the LibDem crime policy but if this letter is in any way accurate then they will have a credibility problem come the election.

It is, apparently, not just that they are too liberal on crime (well, what do you expect from the LIB Dems) but that they are currently claiming to be tough on it. Poor Mark Oaten gets a battering as do the local LibDems - lots of stuff about wardens etc. They are accused of hypocrisy of the highest order.

This isn't a green-ink letter but one written by somebody who clearly knows their stuff and has a good point. I think the message here is that crime isn't the easy political score it used to be. I asusme Mr Wright's survey was meant to demonstrate that Labour was soft, the LibDems are tough etc. etc. It didn't come across to this voter that way. The voter wanted detail that demonstrated a rounded approach to cutting crime, rather than just statements such as "more police", "scrap ID cards" etc - as good as those policies are. What, for example, will we (politicans) do about illiteracy in prisons, conditions in cells and the independence of the judiciary? Good questions I think, but apparently the LibDems had no answers. But do the Tories either?

I hope that the Tory Justice Department team and CCHQ take note - we need real answers on crime rather than headline grabbing policies and glib surveys. Will we get them?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tippett Close

The Conservative team are having a walkabout with the area Neighbourhood Housing Officer in and around Tippett Close, Three Score, today to look at what can be done about fly tipping, litter and the state of the pavements. If you are around at 10am then just give us a shout.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hay Hill may give Brenda and Felicity some living space

Publicity hungry councillors who are due for re-election next year quite often don't stop to think about the consequences when a photographer is about. In this month's "Citizen" magazine there is a jolly nice shot of LibDem Cllr Felicity Hartley and Labour's Cllr Brenda Ferris at the unveiling of the Thomas Browne modern art on Hay Hill.

True, their picture has been shoved under the nose of every voter in the city (those who pay attention) but this also now ties both ladies to the fate of the art work. Given all the controversy about both the cost and if the council should put modern art on the site at all, it was a high risk strategy.

The jury is still out on this - most people I speak to don't like the Browne art work but these things do sometimes grow on people. I hope, for their sake, that it does grow on people because their role in this controversial expenditure is bound to be a feature of their re-election.

If people like it then all will be forgiven. But if not, the folly of this wasted money could well sink both of them at the polls and both are clinging on by their finger tips as it is.

People will, quite rightly, ask what the money that the City Council has ploughed into this could have been used for in their communities.

This is one photo op that may just come back to bite them.

Clover Hill Village Green: Labour Council does it again

On the first day of the summer holidays, local people were surprised when a digger turned up on Clover Hill village green. They took down the goal posts, and ripped up the grass. It was then left for days until the council admitted that they hadn’t consulted residents on the crucial issue of installing new play equipment.

When residents complained, the scheme was put on hold and a full consultation was held which showed that local people wanted to keep the green and the football pitches. The council have now done a full u-turn and the play equipment will be installed elsewhere – this time with full consultation.

This episode is a disgrace and local kids have had their play area and football pitches destroyed just as the summer holidays have got going. The council said to local councillors that they had carried out full consultation but they had not. Now they are even saying that planning permission may be required. What a disaster from beginning to end. Why are City Hall so afraid of asking residents what they think about these plans? One local person told me that the only consultation he saw was a poster up in the village hall. It isn’t good enough and now the village green has been ruined for the summer.

Now the community faces a second blow as the works site for City Care to replace local tenants kitchens has been placed on the green space at nearby Waldergrave.

With the news that Waldergrave cannot be used, local people must be asking themselves where they can go to have a kick-about. Have the council decided to cancel summer for some reason?

If we don't get assurances of a better service, this is an issue I will take to the next full meeting of Norwich City Council. This has been an error from beginning to end but we must learn something from this. Consultation must be real and extensive – no more half measures. We can never allow this to happen again.

The statement from the Council to residents, issued by Paul Nicholson said:
Basically the problem at Clover Hill stems from the fact the we should have undertaken a much more in depth consultation with local residentsbefore progressing this project. We had intended to erect a play areathat would help to serve a lot of local children and this seemed like agood location. Our project officer was very keen to respond to requeststo erect something quickly so that the children could have a new playarea in time for the Summer. Unfortunately, this haste meant that people like yourselves were not fully consulted, for this I apologise.When we realised that there would be some opposition to the play area,we immediately asked for the work to be halted until we completed a door to door questionaire to Peverell Road area residents. The replies that we've had show that there are significant concernsabout using the village green to site a permanent play area andtherefore this work will stop until we discuss the matter with localcouncillors and community representatives. In addtion, I believe that planning permission would be needed to continute to build the play area.This is something that we would be unlikely to get in light of the correspondance that we've received. As a result my advice to officersand councillors is that we should look to use our resources on othersites and to leave the village green intact.We'll put back the village green as it was - work in progress to dothis. I'm very sorry for the trouble this has caused everyone and wewill make sure that, in future, we undertake much more fuller consultations in Norwich than we have done previously in order toprevent a similar situation occuring.Once we've finally agreed what to do next I'll ensure that all local residents are kept informed and they are asked for their opinions onfuture play areas that are proposed.

Well Done City Council for putting your hands up on this issue, but we really must do better in future.

Hillingdon CF in good hands

As an ex-member of Hillingdon Conservative Future (though, he adds, still a member of CF!) I was pleased to stumble across this blog from their new Chairman Peter Smallwood. Having read through it I am glad that they are getting out and about to help other areas such as Barnet and Watford - it's what being in the party should be about. I hope he sticks to the blogging because so many people with so much to say lose heart with blogs.

What is acceptable risk for the Council when it comes to giving out Grants?

I have been working with some residents on the case of the Citywide Co-op, which recieved quite a large City Council grant just weeks before ceasing trading and folding up entirely. Although the council say that they had no idea that the Co-op was in bad shape, it does raise the question of how certain the council should be about the viability of such companies and groups before Grants are made. This issue is bought into sharper context when you consider that this is taxpayers money that we are handing out and City Hall is on the brink of handing out £50,000 to community projects in the next few weeks. What is acceptable risk in these cases?

The Community Grants programme provides seed corn funding for community based groups to develop local provision which meets the Council's corporate objectives. It does not provide long term funding, but groups can get up to a maximum of £1000. Before you exclaim that this is short change in the council coffers, ask yourself what can be done in your area for £1,000. Originally the maximum was a whopping £5k, and the rational for this change was to ensure that the maximum number of grants possible could be awarded from the budget available and also to reduce the risk to the Council of such awards to community groups. So when the amount was reduced it was accepted by the council that there was a risk. But is reducing the amount paid out really reducing the risk?

At the time that the Council made a Community Grant award to the Citywide Co-op there was no knowledge that the organisation was at risk of closure, therefore a grant was awarded as the group provided the appropriate information and met the criteria for the grant programme. This begs the questions - how many checks were made? Was the group turned upside before we happily handed out taxpayers money? Or was this an episode in box ticking where somebody had filled in an application form really, really well and thus got the cash? Who is looking after the taxpayer here?

The types of groups that the community grant programme supports are often small with limited reserves, as was the case of the Citywide Co-op. When I challenged the council about the risks involved here, I was told that community run activities do bring a degree of risk because of the limited capacity of volunteers to run a project. So, we are admitting that on occassions we hand out cash to people incapable of using it properly or spending it wisely. Now I'm sure there are dozens of groups who use the cash well, but this success shouldn't hide those schemes which fail and waste money.

The council argued that because of this risk, each application is evaluated by an appropriate officer to provide the Council with as much information as possible, such as track record, financial balances, governance arrangements and whether the proposal is SMART. The evaluation of the Citywide Co-op did not identify any problems and an award was approved. How rigerous was the system and, given hindsight, could we have been expected to spot the mistakes?

This area of council finances looks like a minefield to me and we are lucky that John Wyatt is our man on Small Grants Panel - he'll soon dig out any problems.

But, to conclude, we admit that these grants are risky by their very nature. However the co-op case must ask us if we have become resigned to the risks or if we are still being as rigerous as we can in checking how we spend taxpayers money. I'll be disappointed if it isn't the latter. In the meantime, we have to ask what can learn from the co-op disaster.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Was the Lila Cooper story a decade old political deception?

The Evening News ran an intersting story on Saturday regarding the so-called switch of the Conservative position on Unitary from being pro-home rule in 1993 to anti-unitary now. It included quotes from former Councillor Lila Cooper, then Tory group leader, advocating unitary. I liked the media coverage because, apart from producing another mug shot of myself in the press even when out of the country, it gave us another chance to state that:

"The Conservative County Council gives us a 4-star service, whilst the Labour-LibDem City Council is inadequate"

For those that know and care about this, that line has been the narrative at the heart of the Conservative response to Unitary. This story allowed us to put that point again, without the rebuttle of Morph, Cooke or Ramsay. Thank you, Evening News!

Trouble is, behind the headline, the story isn't quite true. I recieved a phone call this morning completely out-of-the-blue from a very long standing member who attended a Conservative Policy meeting in 1993 at which the Unuaty issue was discussed and voted upon. He claims to have evidence that, in fact, the position of the two-woman Conservative Group at the time was anti-Unitary - although the minutes do not state by what majority it was defeated. Cllr Cooper's group member was absolutely against Unitary and remains against it to this day. So on what authority did Cllr Cooper pen her words for "Citizen" magazine? Because it certainly didn't have the backing of the Norwich Conservatives.

So something is amiss here. I am not sure what the truth is, but it certainly isn't as cut and dried as first presented. We'll never know!

North Norfolk Councillor defects to UKIP

One of the more significant stories buried in the news was that Cllr Mike Baker has quit the Conservative & Indepenent Group on North Norfolk District Council and has joined UKIP instead. Cllr Baker, who owns the local shop in his Holt Ward (!), is always elected as an Independent despite having well known Conservative views. His defection, such as it is, is a blow to local Conservatives but serves as a warning to Conservative associations up and down the county and the country.

For years Conservatives have given Tory-minded Independents a free run in elections, as Cllr Baker was, because they thought it was better to have an elected right-of-centre Independent than to split the vote and elect, say, a LibDem. All probably very true but the fact of the matter is that the majority of these Independent seats are in very strong Conservative areas rather than crucial marginals. If genuine Conservative candidates stood they'd probably win. Sometime a few years back the party made a political decision to give Independents who sat with Conservative groups a choice - join the party and stand as an official Conservative candidate or face an electoral challenge. One of the reason for the decline in the number of Independent Councillors over the past 6 years is the number that have joined the Tories or been beaten by them.

In the case of the member for Holt, the Conservatives didn't challenge him. Why not, as he wasn't and clearly isn't a Conservative?

If we had put up a Conservative and lost, and then he defected we could at least say that his crackpot decision to join UKIP was nothing to do with us. To not challenge him meant Conservatives using their votes to put this man in office. Are we, therefore, somehow responsible for delivering UKIPs newest recruit?

Returning home...

We got back from our family holiday in France late last night - a wonderful time had by all, though particularly by Emily as she had sheep on hand to talk to day and night. The gite was advertised as "real France" and boy that was an apt name - very rural, very France.

By this morning my head was starting to clear from all the travel and driving but my brain was going to explode - with all the e-mails and mail I had. A fortnight back copies of the EDP and EEN to read! All the council gumpf too - it doesn't matter that it's August they still pump it out! So many people to catch up with. I have spent the whole day working and have only just caught up, and that's on admin and paperwork alone. I haven't even started with e-mail, facebook or this blog!

There is an adage in teaching that there is no point taking a day off work because the crap sits on your desk waiting for you to return. I have, only today, realise that elected politics is the same!