Monday, November 26, 2007

Cameron's Conservatives take a 13% lead

Con 40%, Labour 27%, LibDems 18%.

Very good.

Defectors are as welcome as always!

The news that a LibDem MEP for the North-West of England, and also a Labour Suffolk County Councillor, have both today defected to David Cameron's Conservatives should be very welcome for the party. It gives Cameron a real roll, as the government decend into choas and the polls shift in the Tory favour it demonstrates that Cam has the big mo'.

However, regular readers will note my general dislike of defectors. I just don't think you can trust people who one day are slagging off a certain party and campaigning to oust them from politics and are happily handing over their membership cheque the next. Sometimes they look desperate (like former Tory MP Quentin Davies) and sometimes they look careerist (such as the now Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward, who was once Tory MP for Witney). The first defection I can really remember was Emma Nicholson, a Devon MP who quit the Tories for the LibDems. I went on to read her auto-biography and was totally unconvinced. She's certainly gone further under the LibDems (now a Baroness) than she would have under the Tories (she may just have risen back to rank of Branch Treasurer by now).

So whilst I say welcome to these two gentleman, I think both have a lot to prove ... a lot of leaflets that need delivering and a lot of doors need knocking on. But, for now, let's just enjoy the moment!

Labour's General Secretary Resigns

This started as one of those stories that was very very simple. A rich but slightly controversial businessman wants to give shedloads of cash to Labour and uses friends and employees to do so without being named personally. Labour's General Secretary - the most important paid official in the party - knew of this very dodgy and illegal practice. He resigned. Simple? Well, no...

Now it is claimed that these friends-of-Ambrahams have also donated to the funds of cabinet ministers including Deputy Leader of the Party, Harriet Harman, who is also married to the Labour Patry Treasurer. Now it also seems the the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, may also have benefitted. Yet nobody within either camp bothered to check who these donors were because, if they did, they would discover that such people were unlikely to be able to donate such four figure sums.

And to make it worse, poor Justice Secretary Jack Straw (who is becoming Gordon Brown's lightening-rod-in-Chief) went on Channel 4 to say that no cabinet minister knew of this.

Oh dear...

Full Council - Tuesday Night

Agenda for tomorrow's meeting:

(Normal Gumpf, followed by...0
4. Questions from the Public
5. Petitions
6. Minutes
7. Questions to the Executive
8. Boundary Review
9. Appointment of an Honourary Recorder
10. Motion on Congestion Charging, proposed by Cllr Lubbock (LibDem, Eaton) in which she lists the many criteria that, after which, we should back the CC.
11. Motion on Growing Obesity Crisis, proposed by Cllr Watkins (LibDem, Eaton) one of the most consistent advocates of sport on the council arguing that 2009 should be a year of sport in the City.
12. Motion on HMOs, proposed by Cllr Bremner (Lab, University) about introducing new planning laws for HMOs (or student houses to you and me).


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Very brave, Mr Beazily

I have just watched the BBC Politics Show during which our local MEP Christopher Beazily ruled out a vote on the EU Constitution saying that the issue hadn't been explained and that we should trust parliamentary procedure.

Nothing about Gordon Brown's promise at the 2005 election which he subsequently broke. Nothing about the convention that major constitutional changes must be ratified by a referendum.

Blair could have forced through devolution in 1997 but he chose to put it to the vote because it was a constitutional issue, despite having a massive parliamentary majority. Ditto in Northern Ireland, London and even the North East of England. Yet Europe is a no-no.

Mr Beazily is, in case you've never heard of him, a Conservative MEP who will face re-selection in the next few months. Airing such views, so alien to Conservative Party members, so close to his re-selection? In the words of Sir Humphrey ... "very brave" ...

The non-issue?

Yesterday morning I was out in Eaton with local candidate Niall Baxter to help knock on doors. Interestingly the unitary issue was way down the list of concerns - it was beaten by the state of the roads, council tax levels, AWC, the fate of the ex-England manager and the driving test not being tough enough.

In fact the only person who mentioned it without prompting was a LibDem voter is massively opposed to the plans - and, yes, she will be switching to the Tories next year.

Not a single person in favour of Unitary, just one person against. Why isn't this more of an issue? Or is it just us and the EDP that care?

Lessons to be learnt from Alysham

The Conservatives did not have a great result in the Alysham by-election on Thursday. Parents Evening at school prevented me from getting there but it is clear that we ought to look long and hard at why this has happened.

There will be those who seek to claim that this puts the new Broadland constituency candidate Keith Simpson under pressure (and, in part, it should do) but we ought to remember that in "normal circumstances" the results across Norfolk were good for the party only last May.

The Liberal Democrats were all-but wiped out in South Norfolk, they lost another seat in Norwich and went down (again) in Broadland. Meanwhile, the Conservatives had total domination in Breckland and also in West Norfolk. We also picked up seats in North Norfolk and made another gain in Norwich.

This result - whilst poor - isn't a disaster because the LibDems won't be able to treat every seat like Alysham next time around.

You only need to look at Clavering - a by-election gain for the Tories from the LibDems last May, held on the same day at the main local elections. Without the ruthless focus (no pun intended) from the LibDem by-election machine it was easily won by the Conservatives.

All we need to do it to create a by-election force as good as the LibDem one. I think we could do it and all it would take is a little political will...

We're 1 in 25,000,000

Louise recieved a letter yesterday confirming that our details were amongst the 25million lost by the govenrment last week.

This is staggering incompetence, although we have become used to such things from this government. When we signed up to receive Child Benefit we were assured of the safety of the data we were providing.

Getting a letter from HMRC that tried to reassure us has done the opposite. I have no faith that the discs are still on government property and am still having to monitor our bank account very closely.

Gordon Brown has heaped pressure after pressure on HMRC, making them perform more tasks on a smaller budget. The Chancellor has proved he is no “safe pair of hands” either. There are a lot of questions that need answering.

Families, like mine, from across Norwich will not forget this blunder for a long time to come.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The woman from the petrol station speaks...

When I went to fill up my car yesterday, I bemoaned the increase in petrol prices to the lovely lady behind the counter. Her reply:

"I can't worry about petrol prices, I'm too busy worrying about people stealing from my bank account."

Well put.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Norwich Unitary Status given a parliamentary savaging ... a debate worth watching

For those who believe that parliament is all about the punch 'n' judy of PMQs, please watch this film about the debates in Wesminster Hall. 90 minutes through the film you get to see an excellent section on the unitary debate in Norfolk.

Led by Mid Norfolk's Tory MP Keith Simpson, it engages Charles Clarke (Norwich S), Norman Lamb (N Norfolk), Henry Bellingham (NW Norfolk), Richard Bacon (S Norfolk) and also the Minister, John Healy, and Shadow Minister, Alastair Burt.

Overall unitary is given a good thrashing by the LibDems and Tories, but the real winner here is the quality of parliamentary debate.

Click HERE.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Polls put parties in their box

The latest batch of opinion polls helps us to confirm what is happening in British politics. As we all know a single poll is often unreliable, but a series of them which demonstrates a trend is worthy of note. It is clear now that the Conservatives are in the 40-43 box, Labour 33-38 and the LibDems ... well, all over the place. There has been a lot of noise being made about the grey-vote swinging behind Cameron. I personally believe the most important findings of the recent YouGov poll is that the Conservative have a 1% lead over Labour amongst young voters too. Why isn't more being made of that? Aren't we always being told that young people aren't Tory?

LibDems and Leadership contests

Last time they did it, personal scandle rocked the candidates and the result seemed like a messy compromise (which, as it turned out, it was).

This time the candidates are slogging it out in a most bizarre fashion - the Politics Show "calamity Clegg" issue looked like two men from different parties at each other's throats rather than two colleagues competing in an internal election. I think the contempt with which Huhne holds Clegg in is distorting his political judgement. It is getting nasty and may well cost the LibDems vote ... and as I always argue, when the LibDems suffer then all politics suffers too.

An interesting contest for us Tories to observe (Labour, of course, didn't get a leadership vote this year) given the excellent contest we had in 2005.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cameron's Agenda domination (Part 146)

I know this is cynical and I should investigate these isuses more in depth, but whatever you think about the Tory Leader's utterances over the past few days it shows, once again, how he is able to totally dominate the political agenda.

With the Queen's Speech all-but forgotten, Cameron has captured big headlines over rape convinction rates and today about votes on large hikes in council tax. As Mike Smithson, of, always says "when Cameron is in the headlines, the Tory poll rating goes up." This is an excellent strategy - Cameron is tackling some big, and interesting, issues. He is getting the coverage without resorting to the normal Tory-issues. Meanwhile, his frontbench team keep Labour Ministers pinned to the wall, giving Cameron the time and space to set out the positive agenda.

Maybe more later, but you have to recognise this is good politics!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Aylsham in the rain

Norwich Conservatives went mob handed to help our colleagues fighting a tough by-election in Aylsham for the county council seat. This is an odd contest, with two of the district councillors going head to head ... the LibDem candidate who topped the poll last May and the Conservative Ian Graham who also won election in the 3 seat ward. It was ultra close in 2005 - just 29 votes saw the Liberal Democrats gain the seat.

We were canvassing the Norfolk Homes area of the town and the result was very encouraging. Conservative supporters were very "out and proud" (as I had found in North Norfolk the week previously) and were happy to shout about the party's prospects. We spoke to probably half a dozen opposition supporters (I gather Labour just isn't an option round this way). However there were a big group - maybe a third - who claimed just not to have made up their minds. Now either this is the classic LibDem answer to a Tory canvasser ... and I must admit that some were so obviously Liberal that I put "L" on the canvass card despite their protests that they were undecided ... or this election has totally failed to catch the imagation of local people.

I have never understood the point of fibbing on the doorstep. However, if the reaction that up to a third of people are really undecided it says a lot about the weakness of the party attachment in the naughties.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Scrutiny gets angry

I have been thoroughly disappointed with being on Scrutiny Committee for over a year now. It seems totally unable to hold the Executive to account and it feels as if people are deliberately frustrating the work of what should be an important check and balance. We are told we are there to support the Executive - I think we are there to support the poor, long suffering council tax payer of Norwich.

So it was to my delight that today the powers-that-be got a really rough time as Councillors - of all parties - laid into the complacent attitudes at the council. Lakenham were particularly well represented. Keith Driver, who is becoming an increasingly independent minded Labour member, kept coming back to the issue of value-for-money and never got the answers he wanted over the number of firms who tender for council contracts. He also made a good point about the workload of restaurant inspectors when it was revealed that 81% of inspections would be squeezed into the last 6 months of the year. His fellow ward member, Hereward Cooke, was equally irrate. Saying that the officer comments justifying various council failures were "gobbledegook", Hereward make a passionate plea for councillors to keep control of the management of the council. He also tore into the council about community engagement and asked that residents didn't have things "done to them, but with them". Green member Tom Dylan, who represents Mancroft Ward, did brilliantly on several counts including challenging the council to allow councillors to set policy rather than just having briefing notes bought to us and being asked to comment. Other councillors, myself included, enjoyed this moment as one to lay a marker in the sand about who does, and who should, control overall council policy. LibDem Brian Watkins raised the issue of the tourist strategy (again) and to good effect. Labour's David Bradford and Green Leader Adrian Ramsay did similarly good interventions on other topics too.

This meeting probably achieved very little but it did certainly lay down a marker about the work of the Scrutiny committee. This was an excellent examples of opposition and backbench councillors making a stand about just some of the flaws in the system. I hope this heralds the start of a new sort of approach from Scrutiny. It was democracy and accountability at its best ... just a pity not a single members of the public turned up to see it.

Labour sell off Blackdale School fields

The absolute cheek of Roy Blower and Bert Bremner in protesting at the government's decision to sell off the Blackdale School fields for development is shocking.

Roy and Bert are, of course, Labour Councillors attacking the decision of the Labour government ... but they won't tell you that.

But I'm sure that other parties may wish to inform residents of the truth behind this sell off.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Impressed with Chris Huhne

I have just finished watching LibDem Leadership candidate Chris Huhne debating with former Tory Chairman Francis Maude and Culture Secretary James Purnell (insert photoshop joke here) and suddenly feel a bit sick. I had convinced myself that Clegg would walk away with this vote, but having watching Huhne it might be a good job for us Tories if he did.

Huhne was confident, clear and intelligent. He had the environment brief mastered clearly, he was able to destroy Brown in as few words as possible (good for soundbites and came across well on TV) and - most importantly for me - expressed a clear and coherant (and popular) line on education. I was impressed with Huhne, so its probably a good job he won't be the next LibDem leader.

Sleeping dogs etc etc

According to Culture Secretary James Purnell (was it him, or a photoshop on screen ... hard to tell!) two Tory MPs fell asleep during Cameron's speech today, including one who fell forward into his knees. LibDem MP Chris Huhne then retorted that the Speaker fell asleep during Brown's speech! A lovely moment from Newsnight!

Brown's Vision

I was going to post a long post analysing the vision as laid out by Prime Minister Brown in today's Queen's Speech. But as so much of it was trailed in advance or simply stolen from other parties, I really don't think I can make that much of it.

It was dull - just, dull. This seemed like the Queen's speech of a ten year government rather, as Brown would have wanted, the Queen's speech of a new Prime Minister. It didn't excite me at all - I'm definitely not let down because I had no expectations of this Prime Minister at all.

The only point of note was the bad tempered exchanges between the two main party leaders. Cameron did extremely well and clearly won but in a scrappy debate that won't enhance politics at all. It seems the Browns and Camerons won't be going round for Sunday dinner then ...

The last thing to note is the BNP jibe that Cameron used over Brown's fluffed "British jobs for British workers" line. I don't think we ought to be suggesting that mainstream parties are accepting the BNP line but this line should scare the Labour Party and Brown in particular because their rhetoric on immigration is looking scarily like something from the far right.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Another Norwich Road

Saturday morning I was pleased to be able to head up to North Norfolk to help my old friend Trevor Ivory in his campaign to oust the LibDems. We went to Ludham and, in some kind of joke I assume, was given the Norwich Road to canvass. It was remarkable - house after house of Conservative voter. Yet this is a LibDem held district ward. Trevor has transformed the way in which the constituency party campaignins and works and it seems to be really paying off. They are pioneering some of the newest techniques and they seem to be working. From my day out in the sun, I have to say that if we give our Conservative voters the drive and enthusiasm to get into the polling station then this consistency may well yet be very close indeed.

Weekend with a Bang

Sorry - I had to use a terrible Firework pun sometime! Yesterday we hosted our first firework party at home, so much time was spent digging holes and making tubes from which to fire rockets. Sausages were burnt (I mean, cooked), beer was drunk and enough high explosive to ensure a breakout at Norwich prison was detonated. Following the complete failure of the afternoon test run - during which Norwich almost had two by-elections - I was slightly concerned but it did go without a hitch, execpt the one rocket that went up and fell straight down to earth exploding in the garden. Just like my childhood - and Emily had a great time!

Today we have been on a bit of a mission - Emily has been hurling herself out of the cot recently and so this morning I made her bed up and we have bene searching for a Thomas the Tank Engine duvet cover. When we found it, Emily declared that she wanted a Monster duvet cover instead! When she should have been looking at the Disney Princess range, my daughter had Spiderman in her grip walking up and down saying she wanted a monster on her bed!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Questions to Council

A bumper crop of 22 questions this month. The joy!

LibDem Leader Hereward Cooke (Lakenham) kicked off by asking if the council would use the powers in the Clean Neighbourhoods Act to set up a partnership agreement to help clean off grafitti faster. Although we all wanted Executive Member Julie Brociek-Coulton to say "no, actually, we'd rather like to keep the city looking a right state thank you" in answer to such an obvious and patronising question, she actually said that this was already on the agenda.

Tory Group Leader Antony Little (Bowthorpe) then asked how much the government's concessionary bus fare scheme had cost the City Council, a theme picked up by the EDP the following day. Brian Morrey, Executive Member, gave a reply that was deliberately complicated and threw figures around hoping nobody could put them together. Morrey was then pressed to give a yes or no answer to the simple question if the government has underfunded the council for this scheme. Far from the lack of knowledge, which he claimed to the EDP, Morrey told the council he wouldn't give the answer because he's "get into trouble". I am still awaiting the answer.

Backbencher John Wyatt (C, Bowthorpe) is developing a habit of asking rather detailed and annoying questions in council. He requested information regaring the funding and location of the City's new council houses. Although Council Leader Steve Morphew gave an explanation of the funding formula he admitted they didn't know where the homes would be built. Cllr Wyatt then asked if he would confirm that no green spaces or gardens would be lost. Cllr Morphew clearly struggled with this - one council house in poor condition may be knocked down to make way for new flats, he said, and thus gardens may be lost that way. Overall, the council still has no clue where the houses will go.

The Livestock Market is going to stay where it is, according to Labour's Alan Waters in reply to a question from Eve Collishaw (C, Catton Grove), although Cllr Collishaw hit back by asking why council officers were making it hard for the market to open. Although Cllr Waters denied this, we were left with the feeling that this issue may yet return.

Music loving Jeremy Hooke (LibDem, Thorpe Hamlet) asked if the council has considered bring the BBC Proms in the Park to Norwich. Deputy Leader of the Council Brenda Ferris replied that plans were in the pipeline and both Cllrs looked very happy with their days work.

Long suffering Carl Mayhew (LibDem, Mile Cross) has been ill for two meetings in a row but came to ask what the council were doing to ensure that youth groups applied for funding for sport and community development. He was then provided with such a long list that you wonder why the question had to be aked in the first place.

LibDem Joyce Divers (Thorpe Hamlet) wanted to know if the council will bear the cost of redecorating if their tenants property is damaged by works. Cllr Westmacott said it wasn't the case.

Post Office's were the subject of a rare question from Jill Surridge (LibDem, Thorpe Hamlet) who faces the battle of her life to hold her seat from the Greens in a few months time. Labour's response was that Scrutiny Committee should cross question the Post Office about their plans. Not a good performance and not good enough to hold her seat.

Pigeon control was the subject of Cllr Diane Lowe's question. The LibDem member for Mancroft wanted to know if the process was humane. The council admitted they had no policy on pigeon control. Then came one of the classic moments in the chamber - Cllr Lowe asked why the system pioneered by the last LibDem Council was been dumped. After conferring with her Leader, Cllr Brociek-Coulton said that the scheme was too expensive and was typical of the LibDems. Hangbags at dawn!

LibDem war-horse Judith Lubbock (Eaton) always seems to open herself to attack. She asked why there wasn't more progress towars the 20mph blanket speed limit for suburban roads. This allowed Labour's Brian Morrey to go for the jugular and remind Cllr Lubbock that she was on the committee that made this decision and it wasn't entirely in the hands of the City Council. Although Cllr Lubbock comes up with good questions she normally ends up looking foolish by then end - its quite a talent, really.

Labour backbencher David Bradford (Crome) asked the first of two rather obvious questions to his own side about the new choice-based lettings system. It gave Cllr Westmacott the chance to go on about how great it was and how well it would work. Is this really a good use of council time? Labour would argue it helps get information into the public domain - have they heard of a press release?

Then up came Brenda Ferris (Lab, Bowthorpe). She asked about safety on the Prince of Wales Road and it was not lost on the opposition parties has stupid it looked for the Deputy Leader of the Council to be asking this of her own administration! Anyway, of course things had got a lot safer and her second question asked a Labour Councillor to congratulate the Labour Council on their law and order record. Of course, he did!

The ongoing spat between Labour Leader Cllr Morphew and LibDem Tourism Spokesman Brian Watkins (Eaton) continues with some rather good scrutiny of the 5 year tourism plan. Cllr Morphew said that everything would be ready for the New Year. Cllr Watkins made a good fist of attacking Labour's drift and indecision on the issue. This issue will run and run.

Cllr Rupert Read (Green, Wensum) asked how the council would reduce their massive taxi bill and encourage mor environmentally friendly transport. Cllr Waters said that a lot of encouragement was made for people to walk and cycle. Cllr Read suggested that more encouragement be applied because it clearly wasn't working. This was put in such a humourous way I didn't hear the answer because I was laughing. Sorry.

Wi-Fi was bought up again by the Green Group and asked for it to be shelved whilst health fears are dealt with. Labour's Cllr Morrey gave the same answer as he had given before, except adding that CCTV depends on Wi-Fi and thus the Greens must be arguing against CCTV. The questioner, Cllr Adrian Holmes (Green, Wensum), was confused as he didn't ask about CCTV.

Cllr Llewellyn (Green, Wensum) wanted to ask if the council didn't use any companies involved in the current Burmese problems. The council replied that it didn't.

Cllr Jago had been informed that if you want to take a lot of garden waste to Swanton Road then you need to phone ahead in advance. Cllr Brociek-Coulton was confused as when she went nobody stopped her - although perhaps they didn't dare! Cllr Jago, who represents Mancroft for the Greens, wanted assurances and got them.

Cllr Ramsay, the Green Leader and Member for Nelson Ward, asked why potholes in some roads weren't filled in. He was given a technical explanation.

Cllr Bearman (Green, Town Close) asked why puddles were forming on Unthank Road where the recent road works took place. The Council thanked her for the information and said they would look into it. The issue, that is, not the puddle.

The Scrutiny Chairwoman Claire Stephenson (Green, Nelson) was furious that a SNAP meeting that included part of her ward wasn't advertised to the ward members, including herself. This was, apparently, an oversight and wouldn't be repeated.

The other-Cllr Little (Green, Town Close) asked why residents found it was taking so long to recieve a new green recycling box. Again, another council cock up and the backlog was being cleared.

Finally, Cllr Bob Gledhill (Green, Nelson) asked about tree planting in his ward although I fear nobody was up to hearing the answer.

And that was that for another month!

Another former LibDems enters Adrian's big tent ...

The one thing that Adrian Ramsay, co-ordinator of the Greens at City Hall, has been remarkably good at is encouraging defections from other parties ... well, Labour and the LibDems anyway. Although no sitting member has crossed the floor, all of these defectors are big players in their now-former parties. If you want to find political activists, I suppose the best way is to find other activists and get them to join your side!

Today I learnt thay Paul McAlenan, LibDem Councillor 1999-2004, has quit the LibDems to back Ramsay as our potential Green consistuency MP. So what? Well, McAlenan was part of the "Nelson mafia" a group of young LibDem activists that were active in the late 90s just as I got into politics. Heavily armed with Focus leaflets and some vicious Bar Charts they decimated Labour and crushed the Tories, winning first Nelson Ward and then St. Stephens which seemed to fall with relative ease. McAlenen and friends represented the young, confident edge which surrounded the LibDems before they dramatically siezed control from Labour. McAlenan, along with Billy Boulton and Sarah Mitchell, were the modern and successful face of the party.

Then along came Ramsay and the Greens swept the board in the ward and Nelson elected its fourth party in twenty years. So to have picked up the endorsement of McAlenan is good work for Ramsay - he's a tribal LibDem and to secure his backing shows us either the lure of the Greens or the complete shambles which the Norwich LibDems have become, losing council seats, former councillors and activists. If I were Ramsay, I'd want McAlenan casting his expert eye over his election material. If I were Simon Wright, I'd be extremely worried about this. It looks more and more like he'll only have the North Norfolk LibDems to prop up his piss-poor campaign.

So, where are they now? We hear nothing of Sarah Mitchell now (expect Ramsay to be working his charm) and Billy Boulton famously attempted a come-back to the Council by taking over the LibDem Town Close seat from Derek Wood, which he went on to lose to the Greens on a massive swing. Nelson LibDems is now run by David Fairbairn who has led the party in the ward from calamity to distaster with the Greens now on 62% of the vote.