Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tory fury at undemocratic City Hall

There were furious scenes at tonight’s council meeting in Norwich after Labour and LibDem Councillors voted down plans for a democratic referendum on the controversial unitary issue – and then proceeded to stop Conservative councillors and rebels from their own ranks taking part in the debate.

After just 4 speeches on the motion, Labour Councillor Alan Waters moved a motion to vote on the issue straight away – backed by Labour and the LibDems – which blocked two Conservative Councillors and breakaway Green and LibDems from speaking.

This is clearly a “double attack on democracy” and it was an attempt to suppress anti-unitary feeling in the council chamber and in their own parties. Catton Grove Conservative Councillor Eve Collishaw and Lib Dem Mile Cross Councillor Carl Mayhew both attempted to log that their efforts to speak had been denied in the minutes but were refused by council chiefs.

This is an unbelievable attack on democracy. The people of Bowthorpe, Catton Grove and Mile Cross should all know that their voices were silenced by an oppressive Labour and LibDem majority on the council.

First they say that government, not the people, should decide on the future of our local government, and now they say that anti-unitary councillors shouldn’t be able to speak in the debate.

We know that Labour treat Norwich like their own fiefdom and don’t want Conservatives to raise the issue of the amount of money they are wasting on this issue or the idea that people should vote on the future on the council but we are democratically elected and will continue to speak up for our constituents.

Councillors are, quite rightly, fuming about this tonight. What is the point of being elected if Labour and the LibDems won’t let free speech rule?

LibDem Councillor Carl Mayhew stormed out of the meeting just seconds after being denied the right to speak on the issue. We all know how Carl Mayhew felt on this issue, but we stayed to oppose more wasteful spending by the LibDems in the next motion. The question now remains – do Norwich City Council believe in democracy at all?

This issue won't go away now ... its open season in City Hall.

Monday, September 24, 2007

How can you get it this wrong?

The news has just reported that Brown's predictions of a £4bn deficit would actually turn out to be £6.5bn.

How do you manage to miscount by that much and why would we put the man who did it into Number 10?

Who are these Blue Brownites?

Over at they are asking the same question. Apparently there is not a single poll, even those which show large Labour leads, where more people who voted for Howard in 05 and who will now vote Brown outnumber those who voted Blair and who will now vote Cameron.

I have spent a lot of time on the phone to party members and on to doorsteps in Bowthorpe and Eaton this weekend and I haven't found a single person who is switching.

After all this Thatcherite grandstanding, blue backgrounds and policy rehashing, if Brown cannot point to any new support then his traditional voters may just wonder what they sold out for?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Surveys, membership, events and campaiging

All those who are gloating about Cameron's apparent unpopularity are welcome to look through our postbag at the moment. We are currently running a survey in Earlham and the Bluebell Road area. Whilst Eaton always gives a solid lead, we are now picking up support in Earlham too. When we did this survey last year Labour were ahead by 8-10% in Earlham and the results so far are neck-and-neck - with LibDem support completely non-existant. We are getting people rejoining the party - members who have been lapsed for many years as well as new members from across the City. We're also getting more and more people getting involved - I can't believe we have more deliverers on the Larkman than we need, and also more people coming to canvass sessions. Our events - with some top name speakers - are rapidly becoming sell-outs.

Cameron's "unpopularity" really seems to be paying off here in Norwich. The more "unpopular" he becomes the more members we get, the more donations we recieve, the more deliverers we get and the more events we sell out.

Ming's judgement in question (again)

The leader's speech is a traditional conference set piece which should inspire the troops and win good publicity. The LibDem chief has, I'm told, failed on both counts. The BBC is leading on his claim that he isn't too old to lead the party and says that with age comes experience and judgement.

Sir Ming was wrong to do this - by even including it in the speech he has skewed his own media story. This is probably the one speech that will definitely get coverage and to waste it by fueling the leadership story is a classic example of his lack of judgement.

Added to his tax-the-rich call, his EU referendum u-turn and his closeness to Brown you have to wonder if he has any judgement at all.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sir Ming sets a new low for a political leader

Ming Campbell's call for a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU was clearly designed to be a political masterstroke, so how did it go so wrong?

Sir Ming has previously ruled out a vote on the EU Constitution despite promising one just 2 years earlier. He then suffered ridicule from the press and, more damagingly, his own side via the blogosphere. Then days later, Sir Ming aimed to trumpt his critics by calling for a vote on the whole question of Britain's EU membership. Instead of declaring this a brilliant act of democracy, the collective political wisdom of the nation stumbled backwards, stratched its head and said "what?!?"

The LibDems don't have a problem with Britain's membership of the EU - why call a referendum and then campaign for a "yes" vote? Doesn't this just give fuel to the UKIPers around the place?

But the biggest problem is this. I would probably (though not certainly) vote to saty in the EU but to reject the constitution. So what would I do in the LibDem referendum? If I voted "yes" it would seem as if I were backing the constitution, but if I voted "no" it would say I wanted to pull out of the EU.

This policy is so muddled, and so stupid, that it failed to achieve any of his objectives and just reinforced how shaky his leadership really is. This was badly thought through knee-jerk reaction - the kind we in the Tories were used to seeing under IDS. It looked good for five and a half seconds and then the reality of this latest rushed-policy sinks in.

Campbell, and by extension the LibDems, now have no credibility on this at all. I know some LibDems are tearing up their membership cards, others are openly calling on him to resign. If their parliamentary party could be ruthless with Kennedy, why aren't they showing more guts when it comes to useless old buffer Sir Ming?

United 93

I have just finished watching the film "United 93" which charts the flight of the doomed United aircraft on 11th September 2001. I can honestly say that the final few scenes were amongst the most harrowing I have ever seen. Few films make me feel the way I do now, and I am sure that is what the directors intended. Louise has never wanted to see the film, so I chose to do it with her not about. I knew it would be a tough film to watch even before I started but nothing could prepare me for the immortal words, "let's roll." The passengers and crew on board are real heroes but it was so hard to watch people making phone calls to their loved on. What would I have said to my loved ones in that situation? Would I have fought back? I like to think so, but I like to think I'll never find out. An amazing film, well made, well acted - but don't watch it unless you have a few hours more to reflect.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Treshold, Scrutiny, Unitary & Gordon

A short one tonight I'm afraid, it's been a five period day including my threshold observation (scary), then Scrutiny committee and then Norwich Area committee to thrash through unitary (again). I pity the deluded attitude of my Labour, LibDem and Green colleagues who really think that one day we'll all get together and thrash through a deal on unitary. As the sensible Labour Councillor Sue Whittaker said, "pigs will fly". The fact that we disagree is good for democracy - it means we can have a fight, vote and then get on with the majority. If we all agreed, they'd be no point in elections!

The scenes on TV on my return home were more of a shock - Gordon and Maggie! Is this a cunning plan for Gordon to alienate the last left wing voters into not supporting him? I can't imagine why he thought this was a good idea - it won't win him a single Tory vote to see him with Thatcher but it may just lose a bucket of Labour ones! He should have stayed well clear, because it has taken the heat off Cameron after the publication of a difficult policy document.

Similarly the decision to use Saatchi&Saatchi for their adverts is rather more "gimmick Gordon" than "flash Gordon". This hasn't been a bad day for Gordon, but it could have been better ... by not even getitng out of bed!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


That is, of course, the Lower Hellesdon, Earlham, Larkamand and Marlpit Safer Neighbourhoods Action Panel and its where I've been tonight. It is a collection of key agencies, including housing officers, the police, the council and the NELM development trust for residents to meet with and then a panel of members select the priorities for the area. They can be to do with crime, the environment or even planning and transportation. It was a fantastic event in which local peopel had their say on what was going on - and the powers-that-be having to sit, listen and then take action. I was slightly disappointed in the number of particularly City Council issues that were "still being actioned" but clearly a lot of work had taken place. Local MP Charles Clarke sat in to hear the debate and I hope he heard the message loud and clear - people are sick of the mess and fly tipping on the streets. They don't want rude kids making lives a misery by, for example, throwing things as their houses and hurlign abuse on the streets. They want to feel safe on the streets.

For what its worth I spoke up on the issues of clamping down on illegal mini motor bikes on the streets and pathways and also for a cleanup in West Earlham. I hope someone takes note and we aren't sitting here in 3 months wondering if somebody else might action it.

Apart from Iraq, what are the LibDems for?

The LibDems spoilt their summer of silence with a brief period of media activity when Gordon Brown replied to a letter written by Sir Ming demanding the withdrawl of troops from Iraq. It is, therefore, a surprise that the next LibDem media hit is ... Iraq, again.

Apparently Sir Ming has made a video about the issue and will use their conference to put it centre stage. Why?

Is there a single person who doesn't know the LibDem policy on this? And, more importantly for them, is there a single vote still to be won with this issue?

Why are they not trying to expand their single issue USP and at least trying to make the next election competetive? The Tories learnt the long, hard way what this does to a party. Our experience with Europe tells us something. If you find an issue that your party loves but the country doesn't rate then don't expect to win an election by banging on and on about it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wanted: A Friend for the LibDem Council

Trevor Ivory has a brilliant post on his blog, and news item on his website, regarding the closure of the public toilets in Holt. The results of his survey - in which a third of the town took part - make astonishing reading, particularly the part about the council finding just a single supporter in their handling of the issue. Apparently local LibDem MP Norman Lamb has remained silent on the issue - how very unlike him. Bearing in mind that the survey was returned by more people than normally vote in local elections it certainly has some weight. During the days when local councils are fighting for their existence being this out of touch on a crucial issue like this won't help in the fight against Unitary.

With Holt now sporting the only UKIP Councillor for a long old distance, this move shows the serious fight that we are putting up in areas like this. The Conservatives are campaigning hard and showing themselves to be in touch with local people. I hope Trevor inspires other Conservatives!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Street Leaders Launch

Tonight I attended the launch of the Street Leaders initiative across the HELM area (Lower Hellesdon, Earlham, Larkman, Marlpit) in which local people act to keep an eye on environmental and law issues in their streets. They report litter, fly tipping, ASB etc. It is based on a scheme in Southwark, London, and looks really exciting. I just hope the council can kepe up with the demand that this will create. When people report issue we must, and must be seen to, act on their concerns. The local team there deserve a lot of respect for pushing this forward and I felt it was a very professional launch. I trust this bodes well for a successful scheme in HELM!

A Q&A then followed and there was plenty of robust debate. Most people wanted to know why Southwark cleaned every street at least once a week when Norwich streets are cleaned one every 8 weeks! The answer was, I'm afraid, straight out of the New Labour handbook - if we increased street cleaning we'd have to make cuts in other areas. What nonsense, and for the first time somebody spoke up to say so!

What about cuts in non-frontline services and bureaucracy for a start? And I also think this - isn't street cleaning a statutory service? Shouldn't cuts take place in services that are not compulsory? Why don't we bring the City Council back to a base budget and do what we have to do really well before going further? Or is this too complicated? I'd love to know what other people think!

The choice for London and the choice for the LibDems

The announcement of the LibDem shortlist to be their candidate for Mayor of London has made very little news - even in London - but is a really important one. The LibDems have controversial policeman Brian Paddick standing against two worthy but very little known candidates, both of whom will benefit from the experience even though they will be trounced.

Like the Tories the LibDem announcement is rather a fait accompli. Unlike the dull-but-worthy Susan Kramer and the controversial full time politican Simon Hughes, Paddick adds the star quality of almost-celebrity candidature without being too political. For them he's the best of a very poor bunch.

The next election has, thus, been decided by the parties rather than the people. When Livingstone, Johnson and Paddick battle it out - with apologies to smaller party candidates - the choice for Londoners will have been limited. This is an exciting job with a big budget and loads of responsibility. The Tories have "had a go" at an open primary but wouldn't a full US-style primary be an exciting prospect and where better to start than London? Just a thought.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Three Score Park Meeting

Tonight John, Niki and myself went to a street meeting with the police, wardens and residents to discuss some of the atrocious events at the Three Score Park, on Caddow Road.

Young people throwing bottles at houses, swearing at residents, threatening other children, urinating on the play equipment, grafitti, revving their cars ... the list is endless.

The residents want a fence up between them and the park and also a signt to point out that this is a private road. Only the council won't do that because the road isn't adopted and the developers seem not to care. We are supporting the residents in their fight for this, but I do worry about two things.

Firstly that any changes provide a new target for these nasty thugs - they kick down fences as it is. And secondly if it does work, do we move these people onto the next community to harass? There seems to be no long term strategy here.

The police try their best but by the time they arrive the offenders have scarpered. So what can be done? What we need here is the rights of the law abiding residents being paramount. They shouldn't have to live in a fortress.

Changing the area with fences and chains is a good start but we need to tackle this behaviour at source. The police and wardens should patrol this area day and night to catch these youths and when they do they should be punished and seen to be punished.

We need to fight this as a community - the residents here should be proud of what they've done and now we need to support them.

The Cameron Plan IS good - but it will only work if our young people make it work

The incredibly detailed plans put forward by David Cameron today on a new 21st Century National Service, which contrasted well with the warm words and fluff from Gordon Brown, are very good on a number of levels.

Politically this plays extremely well - my colleagues have been impressed and I can see it being a big vote winner in middle England. It also got Cameron his best headlines in, amongst others, The Sun. However good the political success, I do have one slight query - will it work?

The plan is brilliant and something I would have loved to have done, not that many years ago! It will instill a sense of pride, promote charities, develop skills and hopefully find a decent outlet for some of that energy they seem to have. But like so many things, this is a plan which will appeal to many "shinies" - that is the term for young people who will get involved with everything and do their best.

The trouble is that these shinies are not the ones terrorising council estates, damaging parks, swearing at residents or stealing cars. And as the plan is - so far - voluntary there won't be the system in place to force them.

As good as this is - and it is good - I think that it won't hit the targets we need to hit. This proposal may provide a way out for some of those who "hang-on" to gangs but it won't impact the ringleaders.

Cameron got that answer a few days ago - a partnership between parents (first and foremost), schools and the police must do that.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Head in Hands

All I will say on the matter is this. What good do John Bercow, Patrick Mercer and Michael Ancram think they are doing for the country or the party? Don't they see that they are been used as a stage-managed tool by the Brown government (in the case of Bercow and Mercer) or just giving ammunition to our opponents (Ancram ... who should know better). Activists up and down the country must have their heads in their hands.

Are there times when less is bad, more is good, less is good and more is bad?

This interest post from Norfolk Blogger made me think about a couple of related abuses of statistics.

The LibDems think that a reduction in the number of pupils eating school lunches is bad news and that the school meals service is in crisis. As Nich rightly points out, more pupils taking packed lunches is not a bad thing. It depends whats in the lunch box - I once saw a kid whose Mum packed him 6 Cadbury's Mini-Rolls for lunch but equally most pupils have a healthy and balanced lunch. It is simply not a statistic that you can draw many conclusions about and Nich is right to say that this was embarrassing for the LibDems.

But don't we see this all the time?

Some schools say that a low exclusion rate means good behaviour in their school. Not really, I'd rather have a school that will exclude to keep discipline than one who would rather keep disruptive kids in the classroom to keep their figures down. As a teacher, a low exclusion rate provokes two thoughts - either excellent discipline or a leadership team that won't support staff in maintaining discipline.

The same is true for crime statistics. Some say that low arrest rates are good. But doesn't it depend on how much crime is being reported and detected? Again, I'd rather have a police force with a high conviction rate meaning they were catching criminals rather than one with a low rate meaning they might be missing them or that people weren't reporting crime.

Politicians, on all sides, are too glib with these statistics. Sometimes the obvious reaction isn't the right one. High arrest rates and high exclusion rates can sometimes by good news for residents, parents and pupils.

Does Gibson support a referendum on Unitary?

In trying to explain away the confusion over his stance on the Norwich Unitary bid in the Evening News, Dr Gibson concludes by saying that “I await to see if a referendum is called.”

As it was the Conservatives who first put down a motion to call a public vote on Unitary, opposed by Labour and the LibDems, I welcome his tacit support for a referendum. However, I might have thought that one of our City MPs might be a bit more up to date because the government has specifically ruled out a vote on the issue. In the same way that Gordon Brown refuses the people of the UK a vote on the proposed EU Constitution, his government refuses us a vote on how we should be governed locally.

The refusal of the Labour Government to allow local people a say before their local Council is considered for abolition is a denial of democracy. On the 5th July, the Conservatives in the House of Lords put down an amendment to require a binding referendum before any new Unitary Councils are created. The Government said, “where a democratically elected Council takes a decision it should be validated in the normal way through a local election, the most significant referendum of all. In our representative democracy, it is surely up to a democratically elected Council to make a decision that the electorate can always contradict at the ballot box."

So local people are to be denied a voice again by Dr Gibson’s government, although I am sure that they will take the government’s advice and take the opportunity at any future general election to elect an MP who has consistently opposed Unitary for Norwich.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Telegraph: Sir Ming is the problem

The Daily Telegraph today ponders what bloggers have bene discussing for weeks now - the decline, or at the best invisibility, of the LibDems. The biggest selling UK quality paper decides that their problem isn't policy but the leader of the party, and the Telegraph launch quite a ferocious attack on poor old Sir Ming. Some LibDems have had the guts to say what lots more must be thinking - that he simply cannot stand the pace of a general election and hasn't got what it takes to even be the leader in peace time.

However, whereas a few months ago LibDems I know in Norwich were actively talking about having time to dump him as leader, nearly all of them now believe he will lead them into the next poll and the time for change has passed. This is a sad state of affairs for their party. Are they really willing to throw away everything Kennedy achieved because of this one man? It seems to them, and now me, that a bad result is what they have to go through to get rid of him.

This all reminds me of the dying days of the IDS leadership - only then the Tories had the time to allow Howard to heal the party, whilst the LibDems are having their IDS moment on the potential eve of an election.