Monday, December 31, 2007

Are you watching, Simon Cowell?

Emily performs a classic; Happy New Year Everybody!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Predictions for 2008

Given my normal phenominal performance in predicting political events, I thought I'd do my Mystic Meg impression and make a stab at what might happen next year. Some of them more likely than others...

1. One cabinet minister will resign, citing Ministerial Responsibility, because of a massive foul-up in their department.
2. Nick Clegg will tell his party to be honest in campaigning and orders them to stop producing dodgy bar-charts. Over 150 party members are expelled for failure to comply with their leader.
3. The media will admit that just because David Cameron had a good education and a priviledged upbringing, it means he can appreciate popular culture and use public transport. Labour pledge not to use the word "toff" during their election campaign.
4. Voters in Norwich elect another hung council but the LibDems become the fourth party and the Greens become the official opposition.
5. At least one MP in each main party will call upon their leader to resign / shape up but all three will still be in place at the end of the year.
6. Education will become a political battleground and we can talk about grade inflation, inclusion, SEN and discipline without being accused of belittling students, teachers etc etc. The LibDems will get an education policy, the Tories will broaden out their policy and the goverment will admit not everything is working and will do something to bloody well sort it out.
7. Children-in-Need / Red Nose Day won't have a record breaking year and will raise less money than previously because absolutely nobody believes they can keep on getting more despite wheeling out the same old tat every year.
8. The Government will fund councils properly and stop heaping their central stealth taxes upon local people. In return councils promise to stop spending money on silly projects and cut waste.
9. The most talented person will win all reality TV events, following a new private members bill that is laid down following public outrage this year's X-Factor result.
10. LibDem Voice will actually post something that is controversial and interesting.

Your views?

Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

Just a quick note to say I hope everyone has had a great Christmas and look forward to a fantastic 2008!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blogging Council Question Time - December

For once the Questions certainly outshone the debates in terms of topics, answers and good old fashioned political point scoring.

Attack of the Day
An uncharacteristically boisterous attack from Cllr John Wyatt (Con, Bowthorpe) who asked the Executive if they would lobby the UEA to accommodate more students on campus in order to save the Norwich housing stock. Cllr Bert Bremner, Executive Member for Communities, replied it gave the normally docile Tory a bit of an electric shock. Cllr Wyatt responded saying that the answer was "typically evasive and devoid of any real action". It certainly didn't answer Cllr Wyatt's question but could Cllr Bremner - who has incurred the wrath of UEA students several times - really be failing to provide leadership on this? Apparently so. So shocked was he that Cllr Bremner refused to answer the question. Oh dear - not a festive start.

Fluff of the Day
Cllr Wright (LibDem, Eaton) with a quite bizarre question about data protection. It was clearly meant for some press release or another and was meant to be topical but it failed miserably on all counts. Some ideas are just too clever I suppose.

Insult of the Day
"Comparing yourselfs to the woeful performance of the last LibDem administration is like saying Terry Venebals was a good England manager but only compared to Steve McClaren." Cllr Little (Con, Bowthorpe)

Angry Man of the Day
LibDem Jeremy Hooke (Thorpe Hamlet) launched into Executive Member Cllr Alan Waters about council tax collection rates with the gusto of a man possessed with political indignation. But when he got the reply he wanted, the wind was well and truly out of his sails.

Exchange of the Day
For a second month running this goes to Cllr Lubbock (LibDem, Eaton) who is moving away from her reputation for shooting herself in the foot. She asked if Cllr Morrey (Labour) would back the campaign to reduce the speed limit on Newmarket Road. When Cllr Morrey said no, Cllr Lubbock produced with wonderful timing and brilliant tone, a quote from Charles Clarke backing the plans. "Well, he's the MP and I'm on the council ... er, I have nothing to do with Charles Clarke," spluttered poor old Cllr Morrey. A second direct hit for Cllr Lubbock.

Question of the Day
The billing of LibDem Deputy Leader Brian Watkins (Eaton) versus Labour's Bert Bremner (University) didn't quite live up to the billing, but it was a well crafted question. Cllr Bremner has been involved with the campaign to save the Blackdale fields for some time. His Labour government has given permission to sell off the fields, so Cllr Watkins asked if the government had let down local people. There was no right answer to this question for Cllr Bremner. So he started a long rant about the campaign not being dead. Very very boring and most people had forgotten the political hole he was in by the end of it. Cllr Watkins had the chance to pour on pressure but his supplementary was a bit flat and let Cllr Bremner off the hook. A great question but, to be honest, a pisspoor answer.

Answer of the Day
In a bunch of Green questions that fell flat, the best of them was from Cllr Little (Town Close) who asked what carbon reduction has so far been achieved. To what poor old Cllr Brian Morrey splutter and wince and then admit he had no idea was priceless. Apparently we were making progress, but, er, um, nobody has any idea how much. If at all. Really. Ah. Yes. Cllr Morrey had a bad night all round really. Full marks to Cllr Read (Green, Wensum) who was quick enough during his question to say, "I wanted an answer to the last question actually but I suppose the answer to this one will do."

Don't mistake activity for achievement

The desperation of opposition has sunk into the LibDems, having issued two press releases in two months attacking the Greens and Conservatives for not putting forward motions at council. The reason I call this desperate is because it fundamentally mistakes activity for achievement.

In the last year or so the Conservatives have put forward motions on congestion charging, travellers, climate change and unitary.

The Greens have put forward motions on frois gras and sustainable developments.

The LibDems have put forward motions on plastic bags, high speed rail links to London and now energy saving at City Hall.

I'm not saying that any are more important than the others (except maybe the Frois Gras one) but it is right that parties should only put forward motions that are meaningful, workable and will make an impact. Some of the absolutely tat we have to debate from the LibDems fails on all three counts. In the end, it seems to me that the Labour administration has taken to ingoring LibDems motions because they are not costed and that is because the LibDems seem unwilling to take part in proper budget negotiations.

Anyway, this is a typical politico issue that virtually nobody outside of City Hall and party meetings will care about.

And who am I to, for example, mention that the only party to use 100% of their chances to cross question the Executive are the Conservatives, with LibDem members frequently failing to scrutinise Labour?

Or that the LibDem Leader used his time on scrutiny to complain about the page numbering in a report and left it to the Conservative Leader to attack the tone and content?

Of course, I wouldn't mention such things ...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A very modern resignation

Social networking may have gone a step too far as one friend points out that Labour's latest resignation in the City has come on the Facebook site. Dan Roper, who I think may even have stood as a candidate before, has quit and left an open message giving his reasons why. At least Labour have found an up-to-date way of people of shunning them.

LibDem member quits when he finds out what the party stands for

Today's postbag was good. Along with a mixture of Christmas cards from party figures I have never heard of came a letter from a gentleman in Norwich who told us about his decision to resign from the Liberal Democrats.

He said he had been a member of the party since the beginning but had concluded that as a group they are now totally pointless (his words, not mine). So what had caused this resignation? A Huhne voter fed up? A disgruntled party activist?

No, for the first time in many years he looked up the LibDem policies on various issues. On top of a long list of policy errors, he says it was their decision to support Congestion Charging in Norwich that was the final straw and you could almost feel the passion of the ripped up membership card in the way he wrote.

This gentleman isn't crossing the floor to Labour or defecting to the Tories. He wants to step back from politics and says he'll look again next May to see who deserves his vote. Good on him. I always like to hear of open minded voters, and maybe one day he'll vote LibDem again.

On a similar note, of fluid politics, whilst out canvassing around Newmarket Road recently I met a couple who told me they were switching from LibDem to Green. Apparently a LibDem had tried to convince them this would mean letting a Tory in via the backdoor. They didn't care at all, because they weren't worried about electing a Conservative. That sort of change is all down to Cameron ; such an attitude would never have existed under Howard or, say, IDS.

There's a lot of churn on the doorsteps of Norwich at the moment. The next election is wide open.

Nick Clegg's First Shuffle

Having started well, Nick Clegg today walked straight into his first political brick wall with his post-election reshuffle. Not the people in the shuffle, obviously, but his first quote about it.

"I'm hugely excited to announce my new shadow cabinet. I think this team is the strongest political team in British politics today," he said.

Oh dear. And this man wants to be taken seriously. It's bad enough they use the term "shadow cabinet" which according to the Parliamentary Library is a term reserved only for the main opposition party. But to claim the LibDems have the strongest team in British politics is so far from the mark it makes you wonder if Nick Clegg is the man who writes all those bar-chart stories for Focus leaflets.

Let's compare and contrast.

Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is having a tough time of it at the moment - but in Huhne versus David Davis, its got to be Basher all the way.

Now think about pigmy Foreign Secretary Milliband against Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague. I think both of them dwarf poor little Ed Davey.

Now what about Business? John Hutton and Alan Duncan - both polished performers with a good background. Clearly, no, we'd all prefer to see Sarah Teather in the job.

The environment? Hilary Benn, Peter Ainsworth or ... Steve Webb?

Housing: Absolutely anybody would be better than Lembit!

In fact, I cannot find a single portfolio where the LibDem spokesman would be better than both their Labour or Tory equivalent.

There are clearly some good people on the LibDem frontbench - Browne, Cable, Featherstone, Lamb to name a few. But these are not the political giants in this country.

Add to that the news that the LibDem Frontbench team is now nearly half their total parliamentary party and you understand why their top team is becoming more and more like an "everybody wins a prize" machine.
That was Nick Clegg's answer when asked if he believes in God. I think he was quite right to be honest and this may be the chance we need to broaden politican debate when it comes to religion.

I believe in God. My wife and children are all Catholic and I too attend Mass. I am not christened but do count myself as some kind of christian. However I believe that we best express our christian faith not through the symbols we wear or the church services we attend, but how we behave and act towards others. I like to think I am christian in outlook and attitude if not strictly so on paper.

David Cameron, when asked the same question, gave the brilliant answer "yes, but I don't have a direct hotline." There was once a time when any serious British politican, let alone the man who could be the next Prime Minister, would have to have a serious attitude towards religion. Now I think we can finally start to talk about this properly. After all, it isn't long before Blair converts to catholicism.

I want politicans to show respect, honesty, tolerance, decency, selflessness and - yes - love. If I can get all those things from a non-believer then that is as good as such qualities from a regular church-goer.

I am (as you might expect from a man who teaches at a catholic school) a great supporter of religion. But the qualities of a leader I expect aren't always synonymous with being a christian.

So well done to Nick Clegg - a thought provoking start!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

LibDems vote for a calamity ... just!

The 511 vote margin of victory for Nick Clegg in today's LibDem Leadership vote will no doubt occupy vast reams of blog pages, so I will just stick to a few key points.

Firstly, just over 40,000 people voted - down on those that turned out to elect Sir Ming and a worrying sign for the membership of the LibDems generally.

Secondly the slim margin of victory may cause a headache for Clegg everytime he has a party showdown. He actually got, if you include spoilt ballot papers and those with the inevitable Cable write-ins, less than 50% of the vote. No prize to the first LibDem to throw that back at him when me makes an unpopular decision.

Thirdly, the LibDems will now have a leader for whom the word "calamity" will forever be linked. Again, no prizes for the first use of that at PMQs, Question Time etc. It's a tag he won't be able to shift.

Lastly is the problem with what to do with Huhne. Chris must be gutted ; but the frontbench reshuffle would be easier if it were Huhne shuffling Nick (remaining as Home Affairs Spokesman is a no-brianer) but less easy to know what Nick should do with Chris. Sticking at Environment plays down his important and the fact he was a handful of votes away from being party leader, but can he have somebody who personally dislikes him so much in one of the key jobs? Vince is guaranteed Deputy Leadership and the Treasury. What can Nick do that doesn't look bad?

I always said - to some derision - that the Tories would fear Huhne more and I stick by that. This is the wrong decision for the LibDems and, as so, Cameron must be laughing tonight. Huhne was capable of leading them forward in terms of media and intellectually. Lightweight Clegg - Calamity Man - hasn't had a good leadership contest.

So well done, Mr Clegg. We all look forward, with interest, to what you do now.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Last Word on X-Factor (until next year)

I just wanted to join the chorus of disapproval building up over ITV's total stupidity in trying to sell the X-Factor final as the "battle of the nations". Given the result, it is clear the British people didn't treat it as such - luckily.

If they had done, Same Difference would have walked away with it. As they didn't you can only assume that people voted for who they wanted to win irrespective of where they live (or, as one blogger points out, the Scots voted en masse for Leon but the English voted for the most talented).

I've seen a reasons given for the weaker Leon beating Rhydian last night. Some say it was the Kyle factor (both the performance and that fact that Kylie was the most popular of the 3 duets), some say is was because Rhydian's supporters didn't feel the need to vote because he was so far ahead and some say it was because the Brits love an underdog.

However, I'm most convinced by this one. Everybody knows what a talent Rhydian is, but maybe not as a recording artist. He's already said was wants a Lloyd Webber part. So Rhydian is set for the future, win or lose the X Factor. Leon, however, isn't. The X Factor is the only thing that stands between him and going back to his shoplife in Glasgow. So the person who could benefit most won. The question is, five years down the line, where will both these two remarkable young men be? I'm sure Rhydian will be big in his chosen field, Leon I'm much less sure of.

It's not the design that's the problem - it's the content

Whenever companies, corporations or political parties are in trouble they change something about their image - Pepsi did it, the BBC did it, Blair's New Labour did it and, yes, Cameron's Conservatives did it. However, for it to work. the design change is only the first stage of brand de-contamination and is more often that not followed by substantive change in the organisation.

LibDem Voice - the piss-poor equivalent of ConservativeHome.Com - has recently changed its look. I happen to think the new site is as bad as the old one, but never mind. It's new. It looks slightly slicker and more professional, I grant you, but when you read it, you'll soon notice that it's the same old content. Attacks on the Conservatives, a laugh at Labour and some good old solid grovelling to the leadership for their own side.

CH.Com is well respected because its written by Conservatives for Conservatives. It tackles issues head-on. It's honest about itself and the party. It takes a critical friend stance and does so well. It only mentions the other side when major stories break and never goes scrabbling around for an unknown backbench councillor to accidently make a spelling mistake on a leaflet. It has now replaced newspapers for many of us because it covers all the major stories so well and even breaks the news. It is quite rightly the leader in its field. It is, in fact, everything LDV isn't.

So I do hope that the image change for LDV will now herald the substantive change it requires. Will the new site feature more real news? Will it be informative and honest about the LibDems? Or will it continue to be the party's online attack dog? Don't hold your breath, but if it really wants to change and be more successful it ought to look more than just skin deep.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Leon wins the X-Factor

"You see, this is what happens when you're not allowed to rig votes," - Mrs Little

"Quite," - Mr Little

Not for the first time we started the evening on opposing sides (Mrs Little for Ryhdian, Mr Little for Same Difference) and ended up united against a common enemy.

I'm going to have to stop watching the X-Factor - it's destroying whatever sanity I have left after being at school and on Norwich City Council.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Full Council Agenda - December

Next Tuesday, 7.30pm at City Hall
1. Lord Mayor's Announcements
2. Declarations of Interest
3. Questions from the Public
4. Petitions
5. Minutes
6. Questions to the Executive
7. Review of Licensing Policy
8. Motion - Energy Efficiency in Council Buildings, Proposed by Cllr Cooke, LibDem Leader

Should be short ... and maybe just a little bit brutal!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Health & Safety Gone Mad!

My favourite story of the week that went shamefully unnoticed in all newspapers, except that organ-of-truth Eastern Evening News, was the Health & Safety exectuive's attack on yet another bastion of childhood.

The Panto being shown on the pier at Great Yarmouth has apparently been told it cannot partake in the tradition of throwing sweets into the audience in case a child gets hurts by being struck on the head by one. Oh dear. Hence from now on, they will pass the sweets from the front row back, in a calm and orderly manner.

Why don't they throw jellies instead? Or do they still hurt when tossed at some velocity?

Anyway, the point is that we have lost completely the sense of "acceptable risk". Children may fall off swings. They may be hit in the eye by a conker. They may be struck on the head by a flying sweet at panto.

As a parent I've learnt to accept that and so should the Health & Safety Executive. Haven't they got better things to do?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Newsnight: 86% say the LibDems are incompetent, but at least only 15% say they are sleazy

Is this the reason why you should never include the LibDems in major polls about leading the country? I'm pretty sure these figures are down to low name recongition but they did make me laugh.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

LibDem Leader to stand down

The news that Hereward Cooke, the LibDem Leader in Norwich, is to stand down next year and move to North Norfolk, is a blow to debate in the chamber if nothing else. Yet the response to this news was different from inside and outside of his group.

Whilst Tory and Labour Councillor seemed genuinely sorry to hear that the council will lose one its better orators (if politically misguided), LibDem wags were less kind. One said (within my earshot) that it was "better to retire than be beaten" - a reference to the fact that Labour have won his Lakenham Ward for the previous two years and Hereward would have the fight of his life to win again. The swing that saw Keith Driver and Mary Cannell win would see Hereward lose the ultra-marginal seat.

However, now the attention will move to the leadership contest. As it was explained to me, the LibDems couldn't go into an election with a Leader who wasn't even standing in that contest. So if Hereward wanted to give his successor a chance to get established, he's have to stand down around Christmas or early in the new year. When he won the leadership last year, a few councillors referred to Cllr Cooke as the Ming Campbell of Norwich ... a safe pair of hands to guide the ship. Whilst Campbell fell by the layside, Hereward continues. But for how much longer? And who'll be in the frame to take over?

Anyway Hereward, you have long been the butt of the political jousting on this blog and in the council chamber, but you are a committed and hard working councillor with Norwich at heart. A real treasure in the council, and I'll certainly miss our political battles. Good luck for the future!

Questions & Answers

Summary of the questions asked at this month's council meeting.

Cllr Rosalind Wright (LibDem, Eaton) asked if charity shops were being charged for waste disposal. We all thought she was on to something there, but the answer from Labour frontbencher Cllr Brian Morrey was a simple no (spread over 4 paragraphs).

Bowthorpe's Councillor John Wyatt (Con) asked, if the council wanted to build houses on the site of old garages how they would work out which garages would be used. Council Leader Steve Morphew replied that the location, usage and condition were all factors. Cllr Morphew then made an unwarranted attack on Cllr Wyatt, suggesting he could have got this information by asking. Cllr Wyatt then embarrassed the council leader by revealing he had asked ... but hadn't been answered!

Cllr Morphew's bad mood spread over into his repsonse to Cllr Collishaw (Con, Catton Grove) when she asked how he felt about the £3 per passenger development tax at Norwich Airport. Cllr Morphew attacked the charge, saying it may indeed deter passengers, but also then turned on Cllr Collishaw for the use of the word "tax" when it should have been "charge". Shouldn't the Leader of the Council have more things to worry about?

Cllr Little (Con, Bowthorpe) asked if the Council would introduce freephone and freepost so that people didn't pay to contacted their own council. Moneyman Cllr Alan Waters tutted like a builder and said that this all costs money. Cllr Little asked, in principle, if he supported it if money was not a problem. Cllr Waters, in a moment of honesty, replied no.

Cllr Cooke (LibDem, Lakenham) asked when the future use of City Hall report would be made public - this is a frequent question and the LibDems have made some political headway in persuing this issue. Cllr Waters said that unitary would change all demands and the report would have to wait.

Cllr Lubbock (LibDem, Eaton) was the only member to score a direct hit during the questioning session - asking how much the doomed Unthank Road changes cost the public. Cllr Morrey confirmed it was 10% either way of £140,000. Cllr Lubbock's supplementary was an example of what can be achieved with this kind of questioning, blasting the total waste of money on the whole scheme. Cllr Morrey, who usually uses Cllr Lubbock as a political punchbag, was left looking rather foolish.

Cllr Stephen Little (Green, Town Close) asked about energy saving in housing developments and was satisfied with an answer that went above the heads of most present.

Cllr Claire Stephenson (Green, Nelson) asked how councillors could keep track of motions passed at council. Cllr Morphew replied that, short of the weekly bulletin, they couldn't. He also pointed out that the council didn't have the resources to support every motion passed at council. Cllr Stephenson then came back, asking the Leader to define the word "regular", missing the open goal of asking what the point of passing motions was if council was going to ignore them.

Cllr Bob Gledhill (Green, Nelson) asked if we could recycle aluminium. Cllr Morrey said no. Cllr Gledhill asked if we could in the future. Cllr Morrey said no. No is currently Cllr Morrey's favourite answer to questions.

Cllr Rupert Read (Green, Wensum) asked if the council kept lists of cycle thefts. Cllr Bremner, Labour Execuitve Member, replied that they didn't because the police did and to ask for those details would break the DPA. Cllr Read then started on a rambling reply which the Deputy Lord Mayor attempted to cut short. "Ask a question," she barked at Cllr Read ... "I would if you let me," replied the irrate member. Anyway, we were all so engrossed by the challenge to the authority of the Deputy Lord Mayor that we totally missed the point and answer to the question.

Next came an interesting clash of the left. Cllr Holmes (Green, Wensum) asked if the Norfolk Pension Scheme invested in any companies with a poor ethical record. Cllr Waters, a Labour member and certainly no New Labour stooge, replied that they weren't really sure, but that in general the performance of the pension scheme outweighed the need for ethics. Cllr Holmes barked a rather hysterical response about how people who lived with abuse may feel about his asnwer. Cllr Waters was in a tight spot - you either protect people in poor conditions abroad or protect the pensions of people in Norfolk. I'm sure this isn't the last we'll hear of this issue.

We flew through the next set of question with little or nothing to report - Cllr Dylan (Green, Mancroft) on democratic involvement in the council's tenant housing stock, Cllr Bearman (Green, Town Close) asked if the council were working towards "matrix" standard, Cllr Llewellyn (Green, Mancroft) asked what the council was doing to support the Families Support Unit and Cllr Jago (Green, Mancroft) asked about involvement of residents association.

Even ever-present Cllr Ramsay (Green, Nelson) was happy with the answer to his question about how inclusive the Boundary Commission report would be.

It was a shame that so many questions - overwhelmingly from the Greens - failed to ignite or hit the spot this month.

More LibDem Poll Gloom: ICM confirms party on the slide (again)

After all of the excitement that the corpse of the Liberal Democrats may yet be twitching, an ICM poll confirms today that their ratings have slipped by another 2%. The poll puts Cameron up, again, 11% ahead of Labour and heading for an overall parliamentary majority. You might have thought that a leadership election, which puts the party in the spotlight, may result in a poll improvement ... but it seems that the backbiting of the Clegg-Huhne battle (which looks, according to YouGov to be too close to call) has damaged the party yet further.

Knife Edge Council Vote on Congestion Charging

At the full council meeting last week, the Council voted for a LibDem motion to accept the Congestion Charge, albeit with various conditions attached. It was one of the closest votes in the chamber, which could have swung either way as members came and went from the floor. In the end, I forced it to a recorded vote so that local people could check how their councillor voted. I have added the wards to make it easier for people to see who their councillors are.

In the words of Cllr Lubbock, who moved the motion: "Why are people so opposed to the Congestion Charge - they need to be made to see the benefits." Her colleague, LibDem Brian Watkins added: "Roadmap for the introduction of the Congestion Charge sometime in the future."

For the Congestion Charge:
Cllrs Bearman (Green, Town Close), Cooke (LibDem, Lakenham), Divers (LibDem, Thorpe Hamlet), Dylan (Green, Mancroft), Gledhill (Green, Nelson), Hartley (LibDem, Town Close), Holmes (Green, Wensum), Jago (Green, Mancroft), S Little (Green, Town Close), Llewelyn (Green, Wensum), Lubbock (LibDem, Eaton), Ramsay (Green, Nelson), Read (Green, Wensum), Stephenson (Green, Nelson), Surridge (LibDem, Thorpe Hamlet), Watkins (LibDem, Eaton), Wright (LibDem, Eaton).

Against the Congestion Charge:
Cllrs Banham (Lab, Sewell), Blakeway (Lab, Mile Cross), Bradford (Lab, Crome), Brociek-Coulton (Lab, Sewell), Bremner (Lab, Uni), Cannell (Lab, Lakenham), Collishaw (Con, Catton Grove), Driver (Lab, Lakenham), Ferris (Lab, Bowthorpe), Lay (Lab, Crome), A Little (Con, Bowthorpe), Morphew (Lab, Mile Cross), Morrey (Lab, Catton Grove), Sands (Lab, Sewell), Waters (Lab, Crome), Wyatt (Con, Bowthorpe)

This is a serious issue - voters of Norwich, take note.