Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic time tomorrow; we're just back from Mass at St. John's and went to see Panto at the Theatre Royal on Monday - both events that really make Christmas, but particularly this year for Emily. I really know what they mean when they say Christmas is about children.

Enjoy the Yuletide season!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I've done it!

Since the Chancellor cut the rate of VAT, I have always thought that the "pence" savings were never going to add up to much and although collectivly it was a large tax cut people wouldn't necessarily feel the benefits (unless you bought something huge - which I rarely do). I thought that it wouldn't bring confidence or extra spending into the High Streets or net shops.

So I have been keeping a mental tally of my VAT savings on all of the bills and spending that I have personally done; and I am pleased to announce that I have now saved, thanks to Darling, my first £10 (yes, ten pounds!). Saved mainly through various utility bills and shopping at DIY stores, I was pushed over the edge of the tenner mark by a 7p saving in Tesco's this morning.

Fantastic - now I just need to decide what to do with the money I have saved!

Simple answer for me really, I've just donated £10 to the NSPCC via their fundraising web page. Normally I tend to donate to the BHF or Cancer Research but the NSPCC have been forced to make some pretty deep cuts in Norwich recently and for some kids Christmas isn't the time for joy it should be.

Charity is one of the biggest losers of recessions; and I am pretty sure that donations will be down across the board ironically at a time when we need them the most. I am a great supporter of charitable works because of how it fits in with my political beliefs; to mis-quote Hoover, "one dollar given in charity is worth ten dollars given by the state".

So my VAT cut has gone to charity; maybe the government will be upset with me that it isn't going directly into the tills?

UPDATE: The BBC is reporting that the IMF has said that the VAT cut will not impact consumer spending. There's a shock!

GTC Update: the lights are on but nobody's home...

Following my post below about the GTC, I set about as this mornings task to settle the dispute regarding my lack of membership and thus my illegal teaching in England (well, I wouldn't want to waste any more time marking and lesson planning if I am about to be sacked).

However on calling the GTC I was told by by an autumatic machine that their office hours are Monday to Thursday 8.30am to 6.30pm and Fridays 8.30am to 5pm. Said machine then put the phone down on me with a characteristically rude click.

Hang on, hang on. A few checks here.

It's between Monday and Friday - check.

It's between 8.30am and 6.30pm - check.

It's not a bank holiday - check.

So where are you GTC? I guarantee you the Education Department in Norfolk County Council are working (I phoned to check) as are the Advisory Service in the PDC (ditto checked). So where is our alleged professional body for teachers?

The message didn't even tell me when the GTC would be open for business again; and the letter tells me I must have this sorted by 16th January. I tell you, the stress may well get to me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rupert Read Apology Watch: Still no sign

Various letters to the local paper and this blog have all called upon democratically elected Green Party Cllr Dr Rupert Read to apologise for backing the utterly illegal actions of the "Plane Stupid" group who bought havoc to Stansted recently.

Judging by this post on his blog it isn't coming anytime soon.

It is a disgrace that any man who seeks power via the ballot box should endorse those who seek influence via direct, destructive and undemocratic means.

My experience, from the media and the doorstep, is that most people are very unhappy with his public stance on this. It is a shame that when Ramsay has worked so hard to make the Green Party electable and decent in Norwich and beyond, that Read is undoing all that work along the political fringes. I don't know why Ramsay continues to tolerate him - unless he agrees with him?

Police & Politics

There is a reason why civil servants, including senior police officers, are instructed to stay out of politics. The Met's Bob Quick has just found out why. (More here).

Quick's apology should draw a line under the matter and hopefully the investigation can continue.

However one more thought springs to mind.

I remember a school governor once accusing David Cameron of lying about a boy who turned up drunk to a GCSE exam; when Cameron was proved right, we never found out if the governor apologised for the misguided attack.

If people are going to enter the world of politics they ought to take on the politicans rules; which is that if you are wrong you should, at least, apologise as publicly as you made the original statement and retract. I am glad Quick did this, whilst the governor still hides; Quick may yet still come out of this with his reputation intact or even enhanced.

The GTC - Pointless and Wasteful

Norfolk Blogger may be totally off the mark when it comes to politics, but he continues to hit the right notes when it comes to education; and in fact serving teachers of all parties do seem to be coming together on a bit of a consensus when it comes to edcuation policy - we just need this to filter up to the political parties themselves.

In this particular case, NB puts the spotlight on the GTC (General Teaching Council) which he asks what it has achieved in the last 9 years apart from threatening to rob teachers of their QTS over drunken behaviour and the like. Since when did the state control us like this? Anyway ...

... Although I would agree with every word, it isn't the utter pointless nature of the GTC which irritates me. I could just about handle a government created body which had no point but discharged its duties in an effective and efficient manner. The trouble is that the GTC is neither.

I recieved a letter from it this week.

It told me that I am not registered with the GTC and I must be; OK but here are the facts.

I am a qualified teacher in my 8th year working at my 2nd school. I am in my 6th year at Notre Dame High School.

They are writing to me at my home address; how did they obtain this if I wasn't previously registered.

I have voted in pointless GTC elections in the past.

I have done all this - apparently - without being registered.

I have been teaching in schools - apparently - without being registered.

So there is one of two explanations:
1. I have been registered all this time and the letter is a total waste of my time and my taxpayers money.
2. I have not been registered and have illegally been teaching for many years. All those grades will have to be annulled. Those kids in universities shall have to be withdrawn. I shall have to stop marking this GCSE coursework. Oh well!

The GTC says everything about Labour - a giant, monolithic organisation with no purpose or sense of good about it. It wastes money, creates pointless paperwork and most of all, has no impact on my life, my teaching or most importantly my pupils lives.

I trust that when Mr Gove is looking for savings to be made - the £33 registration fee per qualified teacher comes from the government remember, because tecahers complained about having to pay it ourselves - in the Education Department this is first on the list.

The GTC? Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Greens knew about Greyhound Opening 18 months ago ... but said nothing

Personal statement by Councillor Steve Morphew, Leader of Norwich City Council and Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Brian Watkins, Leader of the LibDems and Councillor Antony Little, Leader of the Conservatives.

Steve Morphew, leader of the council, said: “I have every confidence that the inquiry is dealing with this seriously and thoroughly and will report fully at the earlier possible opportunity. The final report will be made public, along with any lessons that need to be learned.

“I am as concerned as anybody about this as it clearly raises important issues and I also want to be reassured that proper procedures are in place and being followed.

“I would like to make it absolutely clear that I did not know properties were being offered to Green Party councillors. I have reported the matter to the council’s standards committee as this is clearly a serious allegation.”

Brian Watkins, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said: “I am very concerned that it appears a councillor knew what was happening 18 months ago, and that he did not go through the proper procedure, which would have been to report it to the council. There appears to have been a serious lack of judgement from the Green Party and also from their leader.

“I am reassured that the investigation is proceeding as quickly as possible, but there are clearly important issues that need to be addressed. When the inquiry is finished, that will be the time to comment further.”

Antony Little, leader of the Conservative Group, said: “There has been a great deal of public speculation about who knew what. It is clear that some Green Party councillors knew this was going on but did not see fit to report it, as is their statutory duty.

“The Green Party has been calling for a full investigation and now it appears they have information that may be critical to that inquiry.”

“We have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the people of Norwich and it needs to be clear who knew what and why they did not bring it to the council’s attention sooner.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's got Brown, it's got Cameron but no Clegg ... what does this tell us about LibDem literature?

When a lady in Thorpe Hamlet waved a political newspaper at me, all I could see was Gordon Brown's head. Then on turning to the inside there was David Cameron (both deliberately unflattering pictures I should add). On searching through, I discovered that it was a LibDem newspaper yet nowhere could I - or the householder - find a picture of Nick Clegg (who aparently leads their party). The lady was most put out - not because she was a Tory and wanted to attack the LibDems but because she likes Nick Clegg and was outraged they could show their 2 main opponents but not their own leader. Her killer line to me was a good one. Why should we trust a party that won't even advertise their own leader? Any ideas on why they did this would be welcome; it seems to break the political rules of not giving your opponents free advertising?

Not good looking enough for a noticeboard

We are currently delivering 2009 calendars that include key contact phone numbers for local services and also websites. Needless to say it does include a picture of me ... and then this appeared in my inbox.

"I am writing to thank you for the calendar which has just been delivered to my house. It shows great innovative thinking not shown by the local Conservatives in many years. Well designed, well produced and exremely impressive. I am sure a lot of my neighbours will be pleased and it demonstrates how seriously you are taking this area for the next election."

So far, so good ... we are impressive, serious and innovative ... and he goes on ...

"The only trouble is that I cannot possible look at you for the next year and so have sliced your picture off the side of the calendar."

Lovely. I might be the serious choice to replace Charles Clarke but not apprently fabulous enought to adorn a noticeboard for a whole year.

This made me laugh - but Louise laughed longer and louder!

It's freezing cold and raining ... let's go out leafleting!

The planning stage was a nightmare, actually doing the delivery seemed like a sort of bizarre punishment but the end result did make us all feel good - yesterday and today, teams have been out delivering across the City in Thorpe Hamlet, Lakenham, Bowthorpe, Earlham, Eaton, Wensum, Mancroft and Nelson. Amazing level of activity in the constituency at the moment and I really do have to thank all those who are really making politics interesting in Norwich South at the moment. The thing that distinguishes this campaign from the last is the sheer number of people getting involved - without them, politics and the democratic process wouldn't work. I extend this thanks to all those across the political divide who give up cold weekends for political activity.

Today we also found time to go Christmas shopping to Norwich where the crowds seemingly failed to be. In the closing down sales - particularly in The Pier outside Chaplefield - it was pretty busy but the rest of the City was seemingly quite slow. After that it was off to see Santa at Notcutts - but only to fnd he was very busy! Well, it is that time of year ... we've said we'll take the girls to see him when there isn't a 90 minute queue (yes, ninety - our girls are good at standing in line, but not that good!).

I suppose I should mention reality TV too; X-Factor finally after many years got the right result - Alexandra Burke is amazing and talent-wise in a different league from the others. I am slightly disappointed in the choice of debut single but I am sure she'll have an amazing career. So too will JLS but I have this feeling Eoghan will die off into cable TV obscurity. The one thing ITV does very well is X-Factor finals.

Shame the same thing cannot be said for the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing last night - not my cup of tea but Louise and the girls like it. I did however watch the results show and if I had of voted last night (which I didn't) then I would have been mightly annoyed with the decision to put all 3 couples through; the BBC should have thought twice about that.

Anyway, I have a couple more blog posts to publish then I'm off out again in the cold ... all for democracy.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Greens will never say "sorry"; so why should anyone who has ever flown vote for them again?

Predictably, Green Party poster-boy Rupert Read leaps on the bandwagon and backs the borderline-illegal behaviour at Stanstead today.

I feel very very sorry for the passengers whose flights have been cancelled by this irresponsible action. The Green lobby needs to campaign through the democratic process and legitimate, peaceful means rather than this.

For those people hoping to see family at Christmas, travelling on business or going home after studying in the UK, this is not something they can forgive.

This total disregard for travellers and their lives says a lot about the protestors and the contempt in which they hold people. I hope the leaders of this protest - and their supporters - apologise for their frankley quite distrurbing and very disruptive actions, but I very much doubt they will.

And if you have ever flown - think on ... this could have been your flight. How would you have felt? And it could yet be any flight you take in the future.

Any party which supports this doesn't deserve support at the ballot box - because they themselves ignore the ballot box as a means of achieveing their aims.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Are web stats linked to the paper campaign?

The patron saint of blogging, Iain Dale, is often bemoaning politicans who don't take advantage of e-campaigning either to keep in touch with constituents or to get elected in the first place. With a blog (this one), a website, a regular e-newsletter and more to come I'd like to consider myself somewhere in the top half of candidates when it comes to using the net. But one moan of MPs and the like about online campaigning is there is little evidence about the actual impact it has; and a recent statistic I have come across may help to flesh this out a little.

My campaign site - - is run using wordpress which has a much clearer and easier stat counter than most providers. You can see on a graph how many unique visitors you have and it is therefore easier to correlate this against other campaigning activity.

If the site it linked to by another big player - either Dale or ConHome - then you get a spike in visitors. Similarly if it gets a name check in the local press or even sometimes this blog can push visitors over to it.

I don't see e-campaigning and traditional campaigning (posters, leaflets et al) as mutually exclusive and thus we spend a lot of time in Norwich South out delivering and door knocking. The website has featured in the latest leaflet which is currently being delivered.

And with each big delivery session ... yes, you get "the peak" too; so last weekend we delivered thousands of leaflets in Thorpe Hamlet, Lakenham, Town Close, New Costessey, Bowthorpe and Earlham - and yes, the site got its biggest day of traffic. Yesterday we splurged in Eaton - another spike - and today in Town Close - and, yes, a smaller but very clear spike.

Because this happens everytime we do a major leaflet drop and there being no other explanation the web stas have to be linked to the paper campaign; if people like what they read or want to know more they can go online.

So yes I believe the future of politics is online and the visitors on sites like this are increasing all the time. But many candidates will wonder how to develop an audience; and here we come to a chicken and egg situation. You have to run a good paper campaign to establish your online presence - but when you have and people return time after time, then the internet comes into its own.

Statement regarding "Times" report on Norwich City Council Housing Department

Joint statement on behalf of Cllr Steve Morphew, Leader of the Council and Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Brian Watkins, Leader of the LibDem Group and Cllr Antony Little, Leader of the Conservative Group:

"Senior officers are carrying out a rigorous investigation. Leaders of all political groups on the council have been briefed and have passed on the position to councillors in their groups. All councillors already know there is an investigation taking place and so to call for something they know is happening is deliberately misleading. We will not allow the investigation to be compromised."

"We have a responsibility to the council and the people. Making irresponsible comments about an investigation they already know to be thorough and rigorous smacks of councillors playing politics when the city expects and deserves more. If there is an investigation into allegations about the standards of behaviour then councillors should be setting an example by letting that happen rather than making it more difficult."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Great Parliamentary Moment ... and the Queen's Speech

The Queen's Speech is usually one of the highlight's of the parliamentary year - but this year it seemed very slimmed down (and as a small state Tory I have no problem with that) but the relative lack of business does demonstrate a certain lack of focus and direction on the part of the government. However, whatever Brown's last full parliamentary year hailed, it was unlikely to beat the statement by Speaker Martin, which really did give us a marvellous parliamentary occasion.

It wasn't really much to do with what he said - although the revelations about the police not having a warrant may cause problems for the Acting Commissioner - but the tone and manner of the Point-of-Order contributions that followed it. What followed was a general cross party debate, where party advantage wasn't pressed and where the primacy of the Commons was at stake. MPs of all sides showed the dignified and serious response that this situation demands. The contributions from former Tory Leaders Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith, former LibDem Leader Sir Ming Campbell, former Minister Denis McShane, former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg and Tory grandee Sir Patrick Cormack delivered well presented, relevant and forensic insights into the current problem - demonstrating why our parliamentary democracy needs former frontbenchers to stay in the House to use their wisdom and experience in such a way. And when Ashford MP Damian Green spoke it was to deliver a perfectly crafted and devasting attack on the whole affair.

This clearly isn't the end of the matter and it will go on; however I think a competent performance by Speaker Martin may guarantee his job for a while yet. However if this gets worse then he could yet be in trouble.

What made me smile was the govenrment mortgage plan; not in the Queen's Speech but announced today, knocking the Green affair off the top media slot. Deliberate? From Brown? Hasn't he given up spin?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How much more evidence do the LibDems need before they admit ... Huhne would have been better

LibDem Leader Nick Clegg was sold to the political world as a great communicator and a media star but has turned out to be gaffe prone and, at times, very very foolish.

The news today that he was overheard by a Mirror hack having a good old pop at his own frontbench team raises 2 basic questions; why would you have that sort of conversation on any commerical airline in front of people, let alone a journalist? Secondly why both thinking about reshuffling the deckchairs on the LibDem titanic when you only have a handful of MPs to take the jobs? You may hate X, Y and Z but they'll all end up serving on the frontbench beause there is no other talent to replace them.

I'm sure that many people might be asking another question; why on earth didn't we vote for Huhne?

City Council do it again!

So, the City Council has warned hairdressers not to give away mulled wine and has said they face fines and imprisonment if they do - more here. Don't we ever learn? Does nobody at City Hall have an antenae for thie kind of issue?

Once again Norwich City Council is nationally ridiculed (here) and most people will wonder how on earth these things happen.

Is it not beyond the wit of man for some compromise that ensures that festive traditions such as this can carry on without the bureaucracy dragging it down? Threatening letters from the council are totally over the top. Let's sit down with businesses and see what we can do.

I hope that the scroog attitude of City Hall gives way to some festive cheer and things like this are consigned to Christmas Past.

How much thought did the LibDems really put into their childcare policy?

Conservatives very much agree that Britain need to be more family-friendly and that creating stronger family units can help to piece back together our broken society - in fact, its been David Cameron thats put these ideas front and centre in British politics. However these latest plans from the LibDems are pie-in-the-sky politics and Nick Clegg - their apparent media-star - go another mauling at the hands of the BBC over it today.

Business people are up in arms about these proposals and they clearly haven't been thought out. We'd all like more time with our kids but how many families could afford both parents on the basic £117 a week allowance? I'd have loved to have taken more time with both of my children but we couldn't afford to do so. Although something has to be done about paternity leave (its currently only 2 weeks), it isn't maternity length thats the problem but the financial impact of it.

Even Nick Clegg, when challenged about it on the BBC, said he couldn't take 7 months paternity leave - its madness. He knows that he could neither afford it, nor could he be sure that his job was still there in 7 months! How would the electors of Sheffield feel about this? Could you imagine the potential chaos in schools, the NHS, small businesses or the police?

Instead we should be looking towards flexible working and better conditions for parents at work, rather than this dogs dinner of a policy. I really do wonder how much thought they actually put into it or if this was rushed out for a headline at a time when they are ignored?

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Expensive Mistake

If the government is going to borrow up the hilt, and saddly every family in this country with an extraordinary amount of debt, then it ought to be for a very good reason - and it ought to work. For those who believe we should be borrowing our way out of recession this is way beyond their expectations, but we should also be hearing more from those who believe (like me) that we can achieve the same impact but done so by reducing the overall growth in spending. All over the country, families are tightening their belts (one resident saying to me this weekend, he didn't think his belt has any more notches) so why shouldn't the government?

The proposals announced today by the government left me totally underwhelmed; what in all this is going to make families start spending? The 2.5% VAT cut has left me actually angrier than relieved. How many retailers are going to pass this on? How many prices are going to be altered? Most people - worried about the overall economy - are not going to spend on the basis of this cut. It isn't targetted, doesn't apply to a lot of products and isn't enought to make a difference. Tiny adjustments here and there are not the solution.

The most bizarre aspect of the day, that we as one of Labour's favourite "hard working families" benefit little - but we'll certainly be hit by the higher tax to come later. For the first time in History, people will know before an election that Labour will raise their tax.

On the political side, I thought that George Osborne - and David Cameron on the media - did extremely well. He had some good points and looked like he was enjoying himself. Vince looked wobbly, to be honest, and Darling looked like a man against a wall. The laughter in the Commons when he said this problem was made abroad gave away the lie; everyone knows that Downing Street and Brown personally are at the heart of these problems.

Toady media types and celebrity commentators are lining up to call this brave, decisive and smacking of firm leadership. Far from it; this is the dying days of another failed government - they always leave us bankrupt, sky high borrowing and economic problems. Nothing announced today will change that.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tim Montgomery's "Ten Winning Reasons"

Read the full post here but I have pulled out some of the key ones I think will prey on the Prime Minister's mind.

Firstly, boundary changes will reduce the Labour majority by 20 seats before a single voter visits the poll. Plus Brown will know that a number - maybe even a large number - of LibDem seats will go to the Tories; this may not impact on his majority but puts Cameron nearer to his tally of MPs.

Secondly, Tory seats, and especially marginal ones, are better funded and have more activists who are willing to work more hours for them than Labour. I still think Team Cameron ought to be looking at Obama's campaign in this respect - we can better in membership, use of the net and mass fundraising - but we still hold a big lead over Labour in all those respects.

Thirdly, tactical voting against the Tories is waining and so is the arguement that "only the LibDems can win here". People don't fear a Cameron government - and linked with reason four, that the arguement for change is winning across the world - and subsequently even where the Tories are third behind the LibDems and Labour, people are still switching the the Conservatives as a positive choice and are not just voting to beat Labour. Trust me, I know!

And fifthly, the next election will be about more than just the economy - Brown must show he has a vision for our public services, the environment and crime, but he can't because he doesn't.

Polls go up and down, the party mustn't fault in our determination to change our country.

Elect Antony Little

For those of you who haven't found it, we have a new website launched recently called which is going to run between now and the next General Election - which looks set to be a while yet, with a new ICM poll showing the Tory lead at 11%.

It is going to house my speeches and video as and when we have them, profiles of the local team and information about my policies.

I am going to use the website for my press releases whilst this blog will continue for the analysis and more lighthearted look at politics, gossip from City Hall and council stuff. It is the next step for the party locally and looks great; so why not take a look now?

A bad weekend for Norwich Labour

At the same time that a report declares that the only finacially viable Unitary solution is that of the whole county unitary and that the City model has huge financial risks, it has been revealed that there is a £19m hole in the pensions pot. The first of these comes as no surprise to anybody who has been following the unitary saga but the second both surprised and deeply worried me. In the DA report there are dozens of failings in City accounting and we are now at the point where the Labour executive cannot point the finger at past administrations and will have to take responsibility. There is an Audit Committee meeting next Friday; it looks set to be explosive.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reading Rupert (Part II)

Following Cllr Read's hijacking of a UEA Conservatives event for his own self promotion, along comes another example of his LibDem leanings showing through his Green colours.

According to Cllr Read, "Green Councillors in Norwich successfully won backing for a city wide 20mph zone that is to be trialled in three zones of the city from early 2009."

If anybody would like to point out the problem with that statement, I'll be sure to publish it! And here's a clue ... the motion for 20mph zones wasn't proposed by a Green . . .

The 11th Hour

I was very honoured to be able to represent the Norwich Conservatives at the recent Memorial Day Service in the City; firstly at the ceremony at the War Memorial outside City Hall and then at the service in the Cathedral. It was a very moving day; and with fewer and fewer veterans being present, it made me think about how we are losing touch with this incredible generation. The arrangements were spot on and the ceremony hit the right note of thanks and pride. We should never forget their sacrifice.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Read speaks in favour ... from the sidelines

My favourite Green Rupert Read used, apparently, to be a LibDem (no, stop laughing at the back). Sometimes that is hard to believe and other times less so.

Because it seems that Read has been stealing the clothes of others. Read this press release put on his blog and especially the line "Cllr. Read will also be speaking in favour of Fair Trade at a debate this Friday 7th November at the UEA in Norwich."

You might be thinking, at this point, that he is on the panel maybe, or Chairing the debate? Neither - former MP Teddy Taylor and Stephen Roberson were the two speakers. So what was Read's contribution?

It boiled down to a question asked from the floor, which by all accounts got a lot of students either totally confused or very angry (or, maybe, both). Now I know that if you re-read it, you could have concluded this from Read's statement but it isn't clear and from both my reading and that of others, he is intending us to think that he was a major party of the proceedings. Matched by the fact that the Evening News used quotes from Read's blog to advertise the event in the paper. Who's not to think that this is Read at work?

How very LibDem to take the hard work of others and turn it into a vehicle for your own publicity. I think that Read's utterly pompous and egotistical writings might have to come under a little more scrutiny in future.

Publicity desperate politicans often do some silly things. Let's scrutinise him.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Another LibDem policy for the bonfire

I note, with only a smallish wry smile, that the publicity desperate LibDems has a piece in the Evening News (not online) attacking supermarkets such as Tesco and Waitrose who do a 2for1 offer on fireworks, calling them irresponsible and encouraging people to use more fireworks than they need.

Of course, any real liberal understands that it is the people who missue fireworks who are to blame rather than those who sell them. If we restricted sales of things that annoy people or are bad for us, fireworks would be much further down a rather long list. We have managed to put on a modest and very responsible firework display tonight, and did so thanks to a supermarket 2for1 promotion; something that the LibDems don't want me to do. I mention this because freedoms and liberties of people are being eroded in more ways than just 42days and ID cards. The LibDems, ironically, and the Greens lead the charge in doing this.

But there is also the wider point; would the LibDems oppose 2for1 food promotions because they encourage people to buy more than they need? Or just on products, such as chocolate, because they are bad for you? Where does this sort of attitude ever end?

McCain: It wasn't all bad

The result of the Presidential election is surly a triumph for Obama and the world just felt happier today; so many people at work (including children) just smiling at the thought of the win. However, reverting to type for just one blog post, I would like to counter the argument that this was a landslide but would suggest that the Republican have to do some tough thinking in the next year.

The fact that McCain walked out of this election with 46% of the vote – relatively close to Obama – is nothing short of a miracle. That is at the top end of the national polling and still within striking distance of the Democrat. No wonder the first few hours of the results was nail biting given the swing coming Obama’s way. Just consider this – after 8 years of Bush, 8 years of Republican rule, 2 wars, 1 bust economy and god knows how many scandals, 46% of Americans **still** voted for McCain. That is a tribute to McCain himself and also to Sarah Palin, the undisputed winner of the campaign – like her or loath or, she’s now a star and may set up for another run – who helped bring home the Conservative base of the party. This was not a popular vote drubbing for McCain. However it was an ECV vote drubbing – not as bad as it could have been (see Hoover circa 1932 etc).

And looking ahead, the next Republican challenger should be able to take all of the knife edge states back with little trouble. After one term of office the shine will have come off Obama and the realities of government set in. Hence the Republicans should be able to take back, say, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and Iowa with some ease. However this still leaves the next Rep candidate well short of President Obama seeking re-election. Here’s why; if you add up the safe states for each party, the Dems have a much bigger in-built lead, leaving the Republicans having to win more swing states. If you count the whole of New England, the West Coast and the industrial North East as safe Democrat (NH excepted) then the Dems have around 220 ECVs before they start. If you count the West, Mid West and most Southern states in the red column, the Reps only have around 160 ECVs. This electoral inbalance needs to be addressed by the Reps. They could, for example, throw everything into Ohio, Florida etc again or they could find a way to connect with an area that is Democratic base in the same way they Dems did to them. Why, for example, is the GOP not doing more to see why Washington, Oregon and California don’t vote for them? Or Michigan and Wisconsin? If they continue to allow the Dems to build up 220 out of the 270 they need without any real opposition then they will continue to struggle to win elections based upon a small number of swing states.

Either way the Republicans won’t fall apart and there is still life in the old dog yet. The election was bad but leaves room for recovery.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Today's the Day

Well, the one thing we do know is that George W. Bush isn't going to win today's US election. I've personally had a bit of a strange journey in American politics recently. I was in the USA for the campaign that led to Bush's first election in 2000; although in staunchly Democratic California. I supported Bush then and was pleased to see him elected. Throughout his first term in office I became disillusioned a great deal but never took to Kerry so was begrudgingly satisfied when he won re-election (more so when Bob Worcester made himself look like an idiot on national TV by declaring Kerry to be the winner). And now, well, as regular readers will know I have liked and supported Obama from the start. However as the campaign went on and plans were laid out, I became more and more worried about his plans for a "big government" response to the problems of the USA, and by extension the world. I don't fear a McCain government - not in the way I would fear another Bush term - and that is my problem. I wonder if I would be one of those people who thought I wanted to vote Obama but lose my nerve and vote McCain at the last minute?

For what its worth, my prediction tonight is for an Obama landslide - and I mean landslide. It is testament to McCain, and especially his back story, that despite 8 years of Republican government he remains at the mid 40s in the polls. I believe Obama will win, but the vote margin will be closer than the polls but the ECV margin will be wider.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Councillors do the funniest things

One LibDem Councillor quit the party so that his ward colleageu could hold a committee place that would otherwise have been impacted by a shift in the political balance of the council. Read more here. I cannot imagine for a moment how you would justify that to your local electorate, that you are massaging the political system to achieve your own ends but you have to admit it is a really brave thing to do ... as said on the blog, there is no more a noble thing to do than to lay down your political life for your ward colleague.

Meanwhile, two more LibDems have quit for better reasons - joining the Conservatives here. And this defecting LibDem delivers overall control of the council to the Conservatives here.

Osborne finally does it

The second story on the BBC News tonight is the admission of Shadow Chancellor George Osborne that he did make a mistake over the handing of "Yacht-gate". Many of us thought that the line was drawn under what some believed to be a "non-story" and with the BBC under fire for their attitude towards it that nothing more would come of it; and, in fact, with the spotlight turning to Lord Mandelson.

However, Osborne has managed to reignite the story with his words; but what did he actually say? Osborne said he made a mistake; he didn't break the law or do anything wrong but he had let the impression be given that he had. Hence he made a mistake in the presentation - this is a true and sound line to take and one many of us wish he had done last week instead of this.

Osborne did nothing wrong and broke no laws, but if he had accepted earlier that holidaying on the yacht of a person like that (and the Russian billionaire!) would look bad then we could all have gotten on with politics.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The difference between opposition and "opposition"

The Northern City Centre Action Plan came to full council this week for debate and vote - a full 6 years in the making. One of the interesting points that has come across in the media was the Green amendment regarding the road system around Anglia Square. What happened was that both the Conservative and the LibDem groups spoke against the transport part of the proposal but recongised the strenght of the overall plan - and thus voted against the Green amendment and for the whole plan. We have been attacked for doing so. So let me explain.

The hardest thing in politics is where the plan ABC contains A and B that you agree with and C that you don't. How do you vote? Are we willing to sacrifice A and B, and all the time and effort it has taken to get to this point, over the issue of C? Clearly the Greens were but both the LibDems and Tories weren't. So to make our point known, 2 Tory Councillors - Collishaw and Fisher - spoke for the overall plan and against the one aspect. And so we give the plan support but highlighting an issue we disagree with. I think that's a pretty responsible way of doing business. If we ever believe that C's problems outweight the advantages of A and B then we would vote against; but this wasn't one of those times.

"That" debate in council

The last few days have been hectic so I haven't even had time to blog the full council meeting which happened last Tuesday; and with it, "that" debate on Norwich Airport.

I was worried that blogging about it a few days later I might be squeezed out of the post-debate analysis, but seen as the man of the moment hasn't blogged about it himself, I may have gotten away with it. The night started with a group of protestors outside City Hall and soon enough Leader of the Council Steve Morphew was batting away public questions about the subject. Why they had to ask public questions with a debate already lined up was beyond me, but seen as it is the usual Green Party crowd (and, yes, living with a Green Councillor does count as being part of the crowd) then at least they won't be able to ask another question for 6 months. Morphew certainly didn't hold back with his support for the airport and I think facing the green-mob made a strong line easier than otherwise it might have been.

When the debate finally came, I spoke at length about the challenges facing the aviation industry in general and Norwich Airport in particular. I challenged other parties to recognise 2 issues; firstly the economic impact of the airport on the City. Also the liberty issue; would we really want to start preaching to people about where, when and how they take their holidays? Both Labour and LibDem Leaders agreed with my interpretation of the issues and made sound speeches supporting the Airport.

Then the Greens stepped forward ... when I laid down the motion I knew that the Greens wouldn't be happy (they want fewer and fewer flights, leading one day to nil I'm sure) so unlike the A11 motion where their opposition took me by surprise (I thought Ramsay's political radar would have been better) I knew what was coming. Or did I?

After his woeful ranting performance last month, Cllr Read didn't lead off for the Greens. Despite being Transport Spokesman that job was left to Cllr Gledhill - perhaps Ramsay thougth better of letting Read loose on the public again? Well, Gledhill surprised us all by being absolutely attrocious. Now I like Gledhill and think he is passionate about his issues; but my fear he may do a hatchett job was short lived. His speech was dull, badly scripted and hardly structured at all - talking from behind a list of stats rarely works. Monotone and without any real themes; I'm afraid it was a very poor job. But then they started to swop notes and let a new Councillor take over for another 3 minutes of the same. Cllrs Jeraj, Makof and Bearman all did the same (although Janet's story about her holiday did lift the gloom somewhat). And then stepped up dear Cllr Read ... I think more annoyed about the pisspoor efforts of his own party.

However, Morphew has taken away his legs before he had got up - by quoting back at Read something he said a few years back saying it was none of his concern if the airport closed. So Read had to start off by justifying his own position. Ramsay even tried coming in to say he was confused by the motion, before being rebutted by others who said the only confusion was the Green position.

Of course we won the vote but the debate was rather bitty and lacked the spark which some has predicted. The three major parties all stayed their ground and instead of letting the Greens assault our walls, we went out and met them on their ground. The Green response was not good and despite using around half their group to speak their dependence on stats and "evidence" let them down. They didn't have an alternative to sell (they couldn't, for example, say what capacity they thought the airport should have) and didn't speak with the passion which you might imagine. No matetr what other councillors said, they got their heads down and stuck to the script. No bouncing off their opposition, too rigid and too badly prepared.

So a good motion passed by a Council now determined to see the Airport work, but the debate lacked spark.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back on the Streets

Yesterday was a lot like a day during an election campaign; we had glorious sunshine here in Norwich and we Conservatives were out on the streets in numbers. It is the first full day of campaigning in a long time, generally because of the weather, and we just out and about taking the political temperature.

The reaction on the doorstep certainly backed up my assertion in my lats blog post that Brown was still taking a hit for the economic crisis. There was a lot of complaints about the amount of taxpayers money being used for the bail out (a lot of people compaired it to the the lack of money for projects they supported) but they were matched in equal number by those who believe it was the only option. There was little else notable from the national stage; not even any mention of Mandleson! Locally there were concerns about anti-social behaviour and also speeding traffic in the suburbs.

People are always pleased to see political canvassers, especially when we aren't out looking for their votes. There was a very good vibe for the Conservatives and it certainly backed up the feeling that we still have a good lead over Labour.

Was the media narrative over Brown's crisis performance wrong?

For the last 2 weeks covering the major economic turmoil, the media seem to have worked out what the story was. Brown was a superhero; a master of the universe, who would bravely sort out all this mess and lead international opinion. Cameron and Osbourn were to be silent and Cable played the wise sage on the sidelines of this all.

In fact, in order to get noticed the Tory Leader has to tear into the PM - and an effective speech is was too.

However, today's polls blow a hole in this theory. Apparently, although Brown still has a lead over the economy, this doesn't translate into votes and the Tories have (in some polls) actually extended their lead. Meanwhile the LibDems continue their slide showing that whilst some people are fooled by Cable, the overwhelming majority fear a Clegg-led government. In fact the most worrying fact is that only 7% of people believe Clegg-Cable are best to run the economy; that means only roughly half of all LibDem votes trust their own side. As for Brown he can take some comfort in the economic figures but he's still on for a drubbing at the polls. And the later surveys, which take into account Cameron's speech, show a better position for the Conservatives.

So what does all this mean? Well, once again the media and the Westminster Village have gotten the modd of the British people wrong. People may think Brown has part of the solution but clearly feel he is the problem too. They do, of course, have form over this - the media said David Davis was bonkers over 42-days; trouble is that the public backed him.

Will they learn from this? Of course not, because they like to continue to have an inflated view of their own self importance. When the judgement of the people is in, though, they will continue to have their bubble pricked.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Councillors go back to school

On Wednesday night I was visiting the excellent Spinney Youth Centre, based out of Earlham High School, for an event as part of Local Democracy Week. Both myself and my colleague - Cllr Lllewellyn of the Green Party - were very impressed with what we saw and heard. This centre is an inclusion suite by day, but at night the pool cues come out and kids from Costessey to Earlham come to relax. As part of our work on the night the kids had to come up with an idea of what they would do if the council offered them £5000; far from coming up with an idea they came up with dozens! And the tricky bit was narrowing it down - from recycling to road safety and safety in parks, it is clear that these youngsters had strong and passionate views. And they put them across very well and stood up strongly to our questioning! In the end this proved that our young people really do care about their communities and they have a great idea about what they would like to see changed. It was a refreshing change from the normal view of kids. Now we're going to take their ideas back to City Hall to put their views to council bosses. So thank you to the Spinney for inviting us and also to those who helped organise it - but mostly the the youngsters for a great evening.

Forget the message ... look at the messenger

I have tonight been watching Ed Miliband's first big speech as the new Secretary of State for Climate Change and Energy. I would, of course, broadly welcome what was said but the big thing for me was the skillfull delivery of Mr Miliband. He gave an impressive performance and was passionate about his subject - truly on top of his brief, which he has held for a very short time.

If I were a Labour member or MP looking beyond Brown and the next General Election, I just might be looking at young Ed rather than his plotting older brother. Given enough time, he could just do it ...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Great French Market Debate

Almost as regular as clockwork we have another story attacking the City Council for allowing Gentleman's Walk to be turned into a temporary French Market (click here). Such stories appear days after the last market has gone. At the risk of being controversial, I think we often mistake two issues.

This story is about bad planning on the part of City Hall, having the French Market on whilst the city is having a week of promotional events supporting Norfolk foods and produce. Absolutely right; it only takes a man with a calendar to stop this from happening. But these kind of admin errors often end up masking a much bigger debate: should we have the French Market at all?

You see some people would rather it didn't exist; we should be supporting our own market and local produce. We should eat, drink, shop and support local businesses. Then others would say that the French Market is good - adds to multi culturalism, diversity and the culture of the City. And it is, after all, only a few days every year. Those supporters say that local businesses should fight back on those days with their own special events and offers.

I would be very interested in your views.

Bar Chart Insanity (again)

Please do click and see this classic - here - from the LibDems in the Glenrothes by-election. The party has been going down the plughole recently and coming 4th in Glasgow East, behind the Tories, has really stung the party. Although they are not likely to do so badly this time they have a very uninspiring choice of candidate.

So back to the bar chart - "In Fife it's a two horse race for Westminster" it proclaims with the LibDems and Labour jostling for the top. So clearly their candidate Harry Wills must be a good bet to beat Labour.

But, hang on ... just check the last election result. Labour 52%, SNP 24% and then the LibDems on 13%. So a poor third place then - so whats with the bar chart? Oh look, there in the small print - the result of the 2006 Dunfirmlin by-election. So small you have to squint on screen to see it. So they are using a two year old by-election in another constituency to convince people they are ahead in Glenrothes?

Deliberately trying to decieve? Click and see for yourselfy but no wonder more and more people don't believe their bar charts or their party.

Richard & Julie's Day

Whilst my campaign team were hard at it canvassing this weekend, Louise and I were at the wedding of two of my close school friends down in Surrey. With Emily and Olivia at Nannt's house, this was the first "adult" wedding we've been to in a long time! I've known Julie for as long as I can remember and Richard for about 13 years. Julie looked radiant (and the bridesmaids weren't bad either!) and from the fixed grin on her face she enjoyed the day. It was a really good day - the wine made sure the Barn Dance went well and the balloons certainly made for, shall we say, an interesting dinner! Imagine fully grown adults firing balloons at one another - hilarious stuff after a few drinks - and the screetching noise made by a balloon emptying of air will remind me of that day for a long time. We danced long into the night too - and both Louise and I found new friends twirling around the floor!

The amount of thought that went into the day - Julie's, obviously, not Richard's - meant that it was a real blast. Congrats to them both and its off on honeymoon in the Maldives tomorrow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Education, Education, Education

I have spent the day going from educational establishment to educational establishment. This morning I met with Dick Palmer the Principal of Norwich City College for a private meeting to discuss the new proposals for redevelopment of the site at stage one. I am not at liberty to say more but will do so after the plans are launched next week. From there is was off to school for a few hours of paid employment. I was in various campaign meetings for much of the afternoon and then this evening I went to meet UEA students to discuss the coming campaign and introduce myself. There was a good turnout but, oddly I suppose, people seemed more interested in my background than necessarily asking policy based questions. They wanted to know about my family and also about life as a teacher too; plus also about taking on Charles Clarke. I was told by one that they were more interested in what type of person I am than anything else - they wanted to know about my character and judgement. I am grateful to the students who organised it and I hope to make this the first of many visits to the UEA - I am returning for a debate on 31st October.

A blog post too far?

The only Labour Councillor to blog in Norwich is Sue Sands, who is also an Executive Member. Sometimes because of that her blog is rather tame - but not so today. She has a very bold post about the Icelandic Banking collapse which is worth sharing. I've added my comment too.

In truth, the news that Norfolk County Council has lost so much money in the Icelandic Bank crash, couldn't have come at a worst time.

Well, true, but losing money for any authority is pretty bad whenever it happens.

With the whole Unitary question still hanging in the air and NCC using financial stability as one of their cornerstones, it could sound the death nell for them.

Nonsense. In the same way that Gordon Brown blames the world economy for the current crisis there is no way Norfolk County Council can be blamed for this; after all, these accounts were meant to be triple A rated for stability.

Where does that leaves us at City Hall then? Well I suppose it could strengthen our case , but either way we will all pay.

It won't. Norfolk County Council have hit a problem not of their own making and shared with other authorities. Norwich City Council - albeit under the LibDems - made its own problems.

The councils affected are saying that they followed government guidelines, so it's easy to see where the backlash will come- last thing Gordon needs right now.

And that is why the government are desperate to help the councils get their money back.

I suppose the question that many council taxpayers will want to ask is: How come they were allowed to treat our money so flippantly?

In what way have Norfolk County Council acted flippantly? How come a Labour govenrment which abolished boom-and-bust has got us into this situation. Trying to suggest that Norfolk County Council made any errors here is purile. Now, losing £2m is flippant...

If I lose all my money through poor financial decisions, then no-one will bail me out.

Are you, as a senior Labour Councillor, suggesting that the bank bailout is wrong?

The council will have one hell of a time convincing residents that a hike in council tax is necessary and who could blame them for refusing to pay?

I am deeply worried by this comment; do you think that a mistake like this is reason to withdraw payment of council tax? Do you think I shouldn't have paid my council tax when City Hall was plunged into the red? Again: Norfolk County Council didn't cause this and were not playing footloose with the money. However, clearly the Labour position is that when you suspect poor financial management at your council you should refuse to pay tax. An interesting stance.

Not a time for City Hall to feel smug either - gaining unitary with a lot less money won't be easy. Perhaps those people wanting the status quo will get it after all. John Fuller is the only one sleeping tonight.

I understand that some LibDems are now calling for local government reorganisation to be shelved because of the crisis; I also hope that nobody is smug - because using the collapse of the stock market and the loss of millions of pounds of taxpayers money for political gain is very cheap.

Overall, a great blog post - it got me thinking, it got my angry and it got me to reply. Exactly what a blog post should do. Sue should be congratulated for having the guts to write it but I fear it could yet backfire on her career.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Presidential Debate: I give it to McCain

I am currently watching the highlights of the US Presidential Debate which happened last night. I have to say that most of the mainstream media and the US polls have given victory to Barack Obama; even some die-hard Tories had too. I therefore watched with great interested - and as an Obama supporter (but only just) I have been greatly disappointed.

Obama is a great mass platform speaker; he did well in Germany but his style is not fit for the townhall style meeting. McCain was quiet, dignified and connected well with the audience. His hand-shaking with the former Navy officer and claiming that everything he learnt about leadership came from a Petty Officer was well judged. Obama seemed unable to do "quiet" diplomacy and his frequent slips in language allowed McCain to come back at him.

Similarly Obama's call for comebacks on some of the points made him look like he was playing catch-up; a little bit desperate if you ask me. McCain is well suited to this kind of format but I was surprised that Obama didn't change his outlook to suit this.

As predicted McCain did much better on Foreign Affairs and it was pretty much a draw on the economy.

Obama's best moment was in reply to the tricky last question about what he didn't know. His reply was that Michelle, his wife, could give a much longer answer. However the answer then went downhill after that. McCain's response was much better - in a debating sense - in saying that he didn't know what was coming next on the economy and foreign affairs. McCain's last blast about belief in America, his service and their future was very good indeed.

As I say this debate really shocked me because I took a different view from that which I expected to take. On policy Obama didn't set me on fire (but neither did McCain) but badly let me down on style. However the bar was higher for McCain than it was for Obama; they both cleared the bar but McCain had to jump higher to do so.

Community Payback

This evening I have been serving on a Probation Community Payback committee which was a fascinating insight into the way that community justice is now working. It was made up of a selection of community representatives - from parish councillors to JPs - all of whom rank different projects for offenders to work on.

There are a range of community orders which are tailored to punish the offender and to protect the public and to reduce reoffending via programmes and supervision to help and change the offenders life style (this reduces reoffending and therefore protects the public from further crime) and in fact the reoffending rates of people on these schemes is roughly half of those who go into prison (however we should note that their crimes tend to be of a lesser nature).

Help (in this case) can mean, sign posting to agencies that can help with housing, benefits, education, training and employment. Stable housing and employment are key elements to reducing reoffending. Programmes and supervision aim to change an offender’s behaviour, thinking and attitudes. The principle of changing offenders behaviour, thinking and attitudes, is reflected throughout probation.

An offender can receive between 40 and 300 hours and in Norfolk there are roughly 150,000 hours of work done every year through this source. It deprives the offender of time, sets clear boundaries and acceptable behaviour. It establishes a work ethos (offenders arrive at 9am), the work is purposeful and of value to the community. It teaches social and work-based skills. Unpaid Work is a disciplined activity. The Community Payback element of Unpaid Work aims to promote reparation through offenders making amends for their crimes. Last year over 120 thousand hours of labour were worked helping local voluntary, community, charity, faith groups and parish councils maintain areas for public use, where funds are not available and the work would not have taken place.

It was a very professional event and a very interesting debate. In 4 months time we are invited back to see how the projects have progressed. As a self-confessed "restorative justice" sceptic I shall be very interested to see the results.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

In the small print of the government reshuffle...

With all the fuss about the return of the Prince of Darkness (isn't that one of the Harry Potter books? Maybe JK had more influence for her million than we thought) a few stories about life in the middle and junior ranks of the government have been missed - like the sacking of blogging MP Tom Watson. The Glasgow Labour MP has been a junior transport minister and now there will be some inquest into the role of his blog in that decision.

Also worthy of note is thew rewards being handed out for those who took part in the failed September 06 plot to remove Tony Blair. Tom Watson gets a job at the Cabinet Office, Chris Bryant is the new Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Kevan Jones goes to Defence and Sion Simon (probably the most ridiculed Labour MP) is now Skills Minister. Nice to see how Brown rewards his friends.

And talking of which, Quentin Davies is now part of the Defence team. The Grantham MP quit the Tories and joined Labour when Brown became Leader in 2007. It is worth remembering that Davies served in the Shadow Cabinet under IDS and the quit Cameron's team for being too right-wing. His promotion has dismayed Labour MPs and amused Tories.

The BBC Report is here.

Lord Mayor's Ball

Last night saw the Hollywood themed Lord Mayor's Ball and it was a fantastic occassion. From the press photographers on your way in to the movie reel on screen it was all perfectly thought through. We enjoyed the Norwich Pop Orchestra and some Norfolk-celebrity guests. The dinner was packed out and the meal was really good (so was the wine...) Dancing went on into the small hours and it was good to be able to talk to some colleagues from around the City in an informal setting. Business, the Council and voluntary groups were well represented and the money is going to a great cause - the lifeboat service here in the City. A great night so thank you to everyone who helped organise it!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why the Greens oppose the A11

For those of you unable to attend the City Council meeting where the dualling of the A11 was discussed, I thought I would let you know why the Green Party voted against the scheme.

According to Adrian Ramsay's party, it would encourage people to come to Norfolk including tourists and also make it easier for us to go on holiday. This shouldn't be allowed, we were told - we should all be holidaying in Norfolk, whether we want to or not.

The Greens also said it might encourage business to come and employ people in Norwich and Norfolk and trade with our businesses. This shouldn't be allowed, we were told - businesses should be kept small and local, large ones were not welcome.

And the Greens would certainly not want supermarkets bringing their produce into Norwich. This shouldn't be allowed, we were told - as people should eat locally even if they could not afford to do so.

So take note, if you have a job at a medium or large company, or shop at supermarkets or take holidays outside of Norfolk then the Green Party disapprove of you and the choices you make.

The A11 badly needs dualling - for our economy, for our tourist trade and for our safety. For the Greens, political extremism come before all of those things.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brown set to reshuffle cabinet

The BBC is reporting that Gordon Brown will carry out a "limited" reshuffle of the cabinet within the next few days, which he has to do to replace Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly who has quit to spend more time with her 4 young children. Brown will now feel that the current economic situation will stop him making real changes at the top; so, for now, Miliband, Darling, Harman and Smith should feel safe. I also don't think he will feel that any sackings will be appropriate at this staff - so really just deckchairs stuff. I think Liam Bryne will be heading the queue to come into the cabinet. The economic problems may have given Gordon a lifeline, but it has also tied his hands with the reshuffle.

Bi-partisanship is a brilliant partisan idea

A great line from Danny Finklestein on Newsnight tonight to suggest that the Tory plan to back the government is a political ploy. Well, at least the Conservatives have a ploy and are sticking to it. Yesterday LibDem Vince Cable issued a damning press release attacking both the Tories and Labour; but within hours had changed his story and said all parties need to work together. Come on, Cable - you're the great white hope when Clegg gets slaughtered at the next election. Tut, tut. Must do better.

He is ready to be Prime Minister

Between Full Council last night (more of that later!) and a trip to the theatre tonight, I may have been the only person in the nation not to have seen Cameron's speech to conference. However now thanks to the joy of the internet I have and, although this might be obvious, I thought it was far the best of the 3 major party leaders efforts this year. Certain the wall-to-wall media coverage and the newspaper front pages tomorrow suggest it is quite significant.

I thought it was weighty and serious; no flahsy gimmicks and very light on jokes - but unlike Clegg, this was clearly on purpose. His best attack of the speech was his arguement against the "novice" jibe, suggesting this meant that Brown should stay in power forever (actually it was the "people on balconies" line that made this so effective).

Of course, in between ther bi-partisanship and plan for economic change (designed for those outside of the hall), there was plenty of good Tory lines too (designed for those inside the hall). Support for the armed forces, backing the union and sound public finances were all there - but so too was a passionate belief in the NHS, the environment and a criminal justice system that actually helps to reduce crime. This sounded authentically Cameron; despite the apparent re-write at short notice.

On the presentational note, Cameron looked calm and reflective during his speech - the hall was well set out and even the rather tired image of PPC after PPC being wheeled out behind Cameron worked well. Only the blaring popular music at the end upset me; rather too Blair. Can't we have some stirring music at times like this?

Cameron was on good form and looked like a PM-in-waiting. This was a serious speech and he did everything that was asked of him, and more. Good job.

UPDATE: Newsnight's Crick says Brown just pipped Cameron on their speeches. I would give Cameron 9, Brown 7 and Clegg 5 ...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vince Cable: "Barking Mad" ideas

Some of us believe that the legend of Vince Cable is, well, just that - a legend. He had a couple of good PMQs and made a reasonable stand-in leader and now most LibDems and a few commentators brand him as the greatest leader they've never had. Now Clegg, rather than being undermined by his more popular colleague, basks in his so-called glory. He claims that Cable forsaw all of this happening. That is, of course, true - he did - but so did a wide variety of financial leaders and a lot of experts including those in other parties. Cable has a good grasp of his portfolio but his ideas to save the nation are hardly rigerous and totally untested. In fact, you might go so far as to say some of them are "barking mad".

Not my words - the words of Cllr Richard Kemp, Leader of the LibDems in the LGA when describing Cable's policy of forcing £100k Chief Execs and the like to reapply for their jobs and accept pay cuts. He also says this idea is "probably illegal" too. At last; somebody willing to take on some of the loonier ideas coming out of the new serious LibDems.

Cable got the headlines, but clearly Kemp got the headache.

Monday, September 29, 2008

George Osborne: Then and Now

For those who seek to compare two conference performances by the Shadow Chancellor, it will be a very difficult job. The task for George Osborne in 07 and 08 are very, very different and those who say his more recent effort didn't match up to the previous one are missing a key point.

In 2007 Osborne and Cameron were desperate to avoid an election which, subsequently, even Cameron admits the Tories may well have lost. He needed to be bold, eye catching and - above all - economically innovative. The inheritance tax did it for Osborne and made his reputation both within the party and amongst the public.

This year is different; the economic situation has changed. This year I feel he was measured and mature in his speech. He spoke extremely well and managed to clearly set out the national Tory view on the current situation (because, believe me, that needed doing). His stark message to bankers and his fierce attacks on Brown showed that the Tories can have a coherent line on this and he will have broken the Labour lie about the laissez-faire attitude of the opposition.

And for the bold there was the council tax announcement. It will chime with all voters and most people now strongly believe tax freezes can be achieved through cuts in government waste. The Osborne plan rewards councils who are willing to cut their own cloth and councils who fail to achieve this will be punished at the ballot box. Although the delivery wasn't as knock-about as last year, I believe when the dust settles the new Tory focus on waste will be as effective as that on inheritance tax.

So, two years and two very different jobs. Both of which Osborne has nailed. Cameron also faces a different task this year - rather than his passionate walk-a-bout speech I am expecting something more focused, sober and premier-in-waiting from him.

Osborne did it, now the party awaits Cameron.

Diary of a Conference Watcher

I'm not at Conference; I've been at the Constitution Working Party meeting at City Hall. Not that I chose that over going to conference, of course, but being a teacher makes the whole needing-best-part-of-a-week-off thing very difficult. Perhaps if its somewhere convenient next year I could take the 3 days required but until then I find myself glued to BBC Parliament and the texts and calls from friends who are there.

Firstly a note to BBC Parliament: please cut out the delays between the speeches, principally because I cannot stand the upbeat pop music. It must be bad to suffer it in the Conference Hall but us TV viewers must be able to avoid it. However from what I hear Birmingham has been an excellent conference venue and both the exhibition and the fringe have been very exciting indeed.

Spot the difference between previous years - no "big beasts" hanging around ready to criticise. The party is very united and determined to show that we are a real alternative to Labour. We've been showing our priorities and putting some meat on the policy bones - more on those later.

A word about presentation. The conference set is excellent - much more exciting and fresher than either Labour's very traditional set and the rather dour and boring LibDem effort. The video presentations have been well produced and a lot of thought has gone into them. The decision to shift some debates to match the current problems was the right one. However if I make one small critique it would be this: I am disappointed that we haven't seen many chances for the members and activists to get involved. I am, however, quite impressed with the calibre of the PPCs that have spoken - clearly those of us who will be in the next Tory intake will be amongst good company.

A great start to the conference; very professional and a great window through which to see the next Conservative government.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

LibDems humiliated by ICO slapdown of campaign tactics

I blogged a few days ago that the stupidest thing about robo-calls is that they irritate people. The LibDems - like other parties before them - won't have won a single vote this way. Now this has happeneds and the Information Commission has pretty much humiliated Nick Clegg, Lord Rennard and all those LibDems who said this wasn't a problem. After the collapse of their conference bounce, this is ther last thing Clegg needed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lembit's political career hangs in the balance

The decision of Lembit Opik, the rogue LibDem MP, to quit the frontbench to persue a bid for the Party Presidency is a very brave decision, because in doing so he has raised the stakes. If he kept his old job, as LibDem Housing Spokesman, whilst campaigning he may have been able to shake off defeat. Now he's thrown himself into it, if he is beaten by the campaign savvy Baroness Ross Scott, it will leave him rejected and jobless. It will, in fact, be the end of his political career because by then Clegg will have replaced him and I'm sure he won't reshuffle again to make space for him. Lembit had better of judged this right.

UPDATE: Just a thought, I wonder if Clegg will choose this moment to have a wider re-shuffle and to bring back those who quit over the Lisbon fiasco?

Goodbye Nellie

I will be very saddened to lose the elephants from Norwich but very pleased they have raised so much for charity and brightened so many lives. Love them or hate them, the elephants got everyone talking in the City. We did the trail but didn't find them all and still at the end of August we were spotting new ones; including in places outside of the City Center. However I am pleased that some of the elephants have been bought by City firms and people who are going to keep them on display in Norwich. It was a fantastic event so thank you to everyone involved!

Kelly quits the government

The sight of outgoing Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly pleading innocence about her decision to quit the government was, frankly, bizarre. Yet another New Labour stooge suddenly discovers that their family is very important and resigns before the total project implodes. However she spins it, there is no way this wasn't a direct attack on the Prime Minister.

Kelly was apparently outed by a leak from No.10 to the BBC. If I were Brown, I'd be looking to my own personal staff to see who is plotting. But she could have deferred making a statement. She hijacked the news agenda, just hours after Brown had made a reasonable speech and did so to move the story straight back to splits.

Kelly, who represents the marginal seat of Bolton West, has been quite out of step with government for some time. This may be to do with religion - who knows, except her - but she is quite well known for straying from the Brown leadership.

When you add all these things together, you cannot help but conclude that this is a woman who knew what she was doing. Brown's back on the rocks. I hope he enjoyed his few hours of political safety.

Charles Clarke is under no threat from anybody except the electorate

The EDP ought to be worried slightly by this, speculating on the political future of Charles Clarke in Norwich South. This is not the first time the paper has "sources" which it judges are good enough to run a front page splash undermining a local politican which subsequently doesn't stand up to scrutiny and which history will prove to be simply false. Charles Clarke has been re-selected as Labour candidate and will remain as such. Why? Because despite being a fairly useless constituency MP (he ought to spend longer on the streets of Norwich than the dark corridors of Westminster, plotting) he is well liked and respected amongst the local Labour members. He knows what to do, what to say and who to meet. I even know Labour Councillors in Norwich North who will come south to campaign for Clarke. Despite all of his failings, Clarke simply will maintain the faith of his local party.

And good job too. De-selection would let Clarke get away with it - local people should have the last say on his political future. He ought to be accountable for the mess he and his government has got this country into. I want Clarke to stay - and lose - here in Norwich South and feel what people have to say about crime and the economy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Comments on the Brown Speech

Just a few thoughts tonight on the Brown conference speech.

First of all weas the big surprise of the Sarah Brown introduction, which very much bought to mind the Michelle Obama set piece. She looked very confident and spoke well. However I cannot help but wonder what the press would have said if Samantha Cameron had done the same thing - is this only brave and bold because Brown is in such trouble? She's PR savvy, that's for sure, and so savvy she hasn't be criticised for being savvy!

Then there was the "novice" line; was I really the only one who thought he was referring to David Miliband rather than David Cameron (or maybe both) when it was first said.

I thought that the PM was clearer in his attacks on David Cameron but I still don't think they will stick. All the class-and-nonsense stuff is pretty weak and the blaming of the world's problems on the Tories just looks pathetic. Even Blears admits they should stop listing achievements (it only works if people recongise them as achievements) and stop attacking the last Tory government. Brown should listen to her.

But overall this was a decent speech - not dramatic and I didn't pick up a big theme. But it wasn't badly delivered and Brown cheered up his troops - for now. I still don't get what this Labour government is "for" - why are they still in office, what left have they got to do? What is their purpose, other than to govern (badly) for governing sake.

This is a stop-gap speech - a plaster over the wound of Labour's divisions.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Clarke set to lose to the Conservatives says UK's biggest ever marginal seats poll

The UK’s largest ever poll in key marginal seats has confirmed that it is the Conservatives who are on course to defeat Charles Clarke at the next election, despite claims by the Greens and LibDems. The poll, carried out by PoliticsHome Electoral Index, is the biggest poll of its kind and the best indication of the result of the next general election with 34,000 participants in 238 key seats. The work was carried about by well respected pollster YouGov – who have correctly predicted all of the recent elections including Boris Johnson’s victory in London.

The reason that this poll is more accurate is the wording of the question – instead of asking for their party of choice, this poll asked people to think about the constituency of Norwich South and the candidates standing here and which of them the elector would vote for. It gave the result as a Conservative win.

The report says: “Our poll suggests that the LibDems have failed to position themselves as the challengers to Labour in these seats and the drop in Labour support is instead going to the Conservative Party, in some cases [ including Norwich South ] allowing them to win from third place.”

We are running a strong campaign here in Norwich South and we are taking nothing for granted. We have made gains on the local council and people see us as the main challengers to Labour. Only David Cameron’s Conservatives can remove Brown from power – a vote for any other party is a waste. People are very keen to support our new ideas and fresh thinking in education, the environment and the cost of living.

There is still a lot of work to do as the next election could be up to 2 years away but here in Norwich South there is a real opportunity for change. The Liberal Democrats have no chance of forming the next government and have been almost wiped out at City Hall.

Under this Labour government, taxes have gone through the roof, the cost of buying food and filling up your car has rocketed and they have abolished the 10p tax rate hitting many hard working families here in Norwich.

In contrast, I believe in lower taxation, help for people to get into work, a stronger NHS, more police on the streets and better schools.

I will be working hard over the coming weeks, months and years to meet as many local people as I can; listening to your issues and addressing your concerns. I am in politics to make life better for local people.

This poll blows the claims of the Greens and the LibDems apart.

This poll will give our campaign great heart and encourage us to knock on more doors every week until the next election.

Is this a method of political communication that people will actually welcome?

The recent problems for Nick Clegg over his decision to make 250,000 automated phone calls has largely centered on his hypocrisy for attacking others for the same act whilst then doing it himself (they even launched a website against it - calling them nuisance calls). However I think the LibDem strategy planners - and all political chiefs - ought to simply consider if this is a form of communication that people will actually welcome.

As far as I can see, in this media driven interactive 24-7 world, people want their politics at a time that they wish and through a method that they wish. Which is why email, webcasting and websites will become the mode of choice for the next few elections. You can get your politics at three in the morning if you wish but it isn't thrusted down your throat. So what does that mean for leaflets, canvassing and telemarketing?

Canvassing will, I believe, survive this new world of political campaigning. As I have blogged before, canvassing is becoming more and more difficult and sometimes less and less accurate. Even if the canvassers interupts your dinner, or changing the baby, or Eastenders, then most people still appreciate the time and effort of the canvasser.

Leaflets are expensive, time consuming and often not read. But they are pretty non-abtrusive and can be left to be read later (if not recycled by another member of your family in the meantime). They are not targetted and no leaflet can carry a message to every one of the people that recieve them. Direct mail is better, but still not perfect. However its the best we have and, unlike the others, there are still plenty of people to do this for parties.

Telephone canvassing is, in my view, a useful tool if its raining or if you are doing a very rural ward. However personally I do not like it as it is impersonal and you are fighting with every other company doing it. TPS is taking over and people are very quick to put the phone down (you very rarely get the door-slamming equivalent).

But what of automated messaging? I think this is the one form that is universally hated and I'd love to see figures of how many people actually listen. And I object to being distrubed to answer the phone for an automated message and come away with a less positive impression of the company. I hated it when Michael Howard did a massive burst of this in 05 and I hope the party learnt from this. All the negative press aside, I cannot believe for a moment that this activity was worth it from the LibDems. The few people I know who got the call all said they slammed the phone down on hearing it was Nick Clegg.

So please, party bosses, when deciding whether to spend the money that we activists raise on these schemes, please ask if this is the method of communication people would actually choose. If you agree with me, that it is not, put the money into online campaigning, podcasts or absolutely anything else!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Analysis: Clegg's conference speech just wasn't good enough

When LDV rave about it, you know you need to look very carefully at what a LibDem Leader says. Newsnight's Michael Crick says it was an "average effort".

On presentation, Mr Clegg clearly wants people to draw a Cameron parellel with his apparent noteless effort, wandering around the stage. I thought he sounded like a VIth Form debating student. It was then also revealed that Mr Clegg was reading from an enormous autocue being suspended at the back of the hall. Oh dear.

Now on the rhetoric. If I were Clegg, given his record in undermining Campbell and his party's history in dumping leaders, I wouldn't have bothered with the attack on Labour and their leadership problem. Ditto scrap the attempt to empathise with people who cannot afford heating - your idea of cutbacks is shopping at Sainsburys rather than Waitrose. Clegg also says he spoke to a pensioner recently; given the fact he doesn't know the rate of the state pension, why on earth didn't they cut this line? Schoolboy error there.

The attack on Conservative policies was also very very weak. On Newsnight the night before, Clegg said he wouldn't expand on policies for risk of Labour stealing their ideas (note to Clegg: not even they are that desperate). And yet what do you attack Cameron for? Yep, not expanding on policy ideas. For the Tories, Clegg says its all blue skies thinking. A bit like the £20bn LibDem cuts then? We're in favour of tax cuts, says Clegg, but not lowering the tax take. And people can have £20bn minus what we want to spend on services. This is absolute nonsense; a ridiculous policy position and next time a LibDem complains about people turning away from politics, remind them that this is why. Apparently the Tories are a "say everything, do nothing party". Pots. Kettle. Black. Ever read a FOCUS leaflet, Nick? He then blows his credibility apart with he claims the LibDems will be in government. Er, no, check the MORI poll.

Onto LibDem ideas, in which he first pledges to trust the instinct of the British people. Not on Lisbon, obviously. No, Sir-ee, that we should trust the government. On everything else you can trust the people. "Everyone we know from the last 50 years will change in the next 5." What?!?!

Nick's action plan:
1. Stop unjustified repossessions. Doesn't say how. Is he saying everything and doing nothing? Err ... Clegg clings to Cable's popularity instead.
2. Stop City bonuses. Apparently he wants to regulate the City more; are the LibDems saying we ought to regulate their paypackets too??? Isn't this the job of shareholders? Because if I owned shares in a company that did badly and still gave bonuses I'd go bananas.
3. Interest rates to take into account house prices. Haven't you just rewritten the whole government economic policy? Interest Rates are used usually to control inflation. What happens to inflation then? Or did you just not think this bit through?
4. Tax Cuts. Great, we can agree on something. Clegg does his usual line about Tory tax cuts for millionaires. I would benefit from the Tory plans on Inheritance Tax; does that make me a millionaire? Great! Clegg says all teachers should be millionaires. It is a silly claim and makes them look very stupid indeed.

All I can say is thank god I didn't get a call from Clegg tonight .... but even then, I notice they don't want to hear my views, it's an automated call and not a conversation with voters. Given their hypocrisy with complaining about other parties, I hope the OIC throw the book at them!

Overall, Clegg should be happy he got through without falling over or fluffing his lines. It wasn't a great speech and the phonecall debacle will take the shine off the speech. The LibDems still haven't sorted what their attack on the Tory Leader should be but he was more effective against Labour. His views on policy came across as waffly (odd, considering he attacked Cameron for being vague on policy) but he generalised section on liberalism was actually quite good. On tone, I think he tried to go angry but came across as wet. And for a party that is challenging Labour it is odd that the biggest claps came for his anti-Tory lines. He ought to take note.

So a mixed bag really, but for a major party leader at 12% in the polls he should have done better.

LibDems heading for government: The evidence

With thanks to for the graphic.

This is an absolutely amazing poll, in fact astounding.

I can't believe a quarter of people would still vote Labour, for a start.

The depth of the Tory support is now clearly evident. But Cameron won't celebrate - the deals not done until the votes are in.

But tonight the man who should be worried is Nick Clegg - he's taken them back down to the depths of the Campbell leadership. Today Mr Clegg said he knew where the LibDems were heading - government. If this poll is anywhere near correct the only place he's heading is down.

I hav constantly said that politicans must stop saying that which everyone knows to be false, because it damages politics as a whole. Government ministers aren't wandering around saying the economy is fine, because we know it isn't. They say they "understand" and "appreciate" the tough market conditions. Clegg's boasts - like other boasts he makes - are totally unbelievable. This week he has shown himself to be in control of his docile party but totally out of touch with the British people (value of pension and his Sainsbury comments are classics). I suppose he jst ought to be happy with 12% of the vote.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blog Posts Worth Clicking

A couple of good ones;

David argues that the LibDems are not nice, Rupert wants us all to slow down, Dizzy can't work out where Gordon has gone, Guido hasn't heard of David Cairns and Neil wants Zac fired.

I thought Nick Clegg was meant to be "a media star"?

Following yesterday's absolute mauling on Newsnight by Paxo, you might have though Nick Clegg would make sure he had all bases covered. Let's start at the beginning.

Paxo asked, very reasonably, where the £20bn LibDem service cuts would come from. Poor Clegg floundered, err, um, yes, well and then failed to give any concrete answers; so why, carried on Paxo, have you chosen this figure given its not based on anything more than back of the envelope stuff? Clegg looked as if he wanted the ground to swallow him up. The whole interview was about this one issue and Clegg looked battered by the end. On a side issue, I'd actually blame Vince Cable for Clegg being so unprepared. If this was a Tory plan it would have torn to shreds in the same way, but Cable must have this worked out - doesn't he? So all day today the media have taken this to task. But there is something more important to remember.

LibDems cut spending by £20bn (they can't win from the start - because this is either a drop in the ocean or masisve spending cuts, depending on who you believe) and use some of the money to support their political priorities. The rest goes on tax cuts. Hence given their previous spending committments, the tax cuts are left looking very very small indeed. And still Clegg avoids another key question: does he support a reduced state and an overall smaller tax burden or not?

And then came today, Clegg tripped up by a regional media who asked him to give the cost of the basic state pension. As local councillors we would all be expected to know this - but Clegg gives the answer "£30". So Nick Clegg, the man who believes cost cutting in the credit crunch means shopping at Sainsburys rather than Waitrose, thinks our elderly survive on the same amount as sixth formers do on the EMA. Why on earth isn't he totally prepared for these kind of questions - pint of milk, interest rates, gallon of petrol and a pint of beer - they always come up. Nick Clegg shows just how out of step he is with Britain and out of touch with the people of our country.

Nick Clegg is, in my opinion, rather lucky that the government's woes are overshadowing his conference or people may just catch on to what a pisspoor leader he has turned out to be. But worst of all is this: all of these errors were self-inflicted and could have been avoided. Oh, how they must be desperate for Huhne.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

£100 council tax cut under Norfolk Unitary plans

No wonder the public get confused by the Unitary debate - because today's shadow boxing between County and City Halls has left me bewildered. County Hall has released figures, apparently early to snatch media attention, showing how their Unitary County proposals will see bills in the City tumbling by £100 a year (see here for more).

I have read the rather limited detail coming our way and the figures do seem to stack up, assuming all savings are passed onto the tax payers (not a bad assuption to make I suppose). Then the Labour rebuttle came that left me equally confused.

Labour's Executive Member for Unitary, Cllr Alan Waters, says that:

A single county unitary would deliver a reduction in council tax – but it would have to make £5 million worth of cuts in services to achieve that. Under the ‘doughnut’ option, council tax would also be reduced but the new councils would still offer service improvements

Nice and simple - so instead of passing on all the savings, a new doughtnut council would hand some back in tax cuts and invest the rest. OK, still with you. Then Cllr Waters says:

The difference in the net savings which would be produced by the two options is marginal, with the single county unitary producing an estimated £24.6 million, compared to the £21.7 million delivered by the two-unitary solution

So the doughnut will produce fewer savings then? So County will have £2.9m more to play with (either as tax cuts or as service investment).

I know that both sides will cling to whatever boosts their case but this arguement is about the application of unitary. Whatever happens to the savings is a matter for the newly elected councils. Cllr Waters can't say, and neither can County, that investment would be made here or tax cut there - because the people who will make those decisions haven't been elected.

So after all this, where am I? Well, as far as I can see there is only one figure we can rely on - the total cost of providing the council; you save more under the County model than the Doughnut model (both sides admit this). So whatever happens to that money, County is cheaper. I suppose other people will have to decide if County Hall or City Hall have a better record in the delivery of services.

Funnily enough, Cllr Waters also argues that, "It is also important to remember the cheapest option is not always the best". I bet he wouldn't be saying that if the figures were reversed! Cost is just one aspect of this whole issue, of course, and it will be interesting to see how the democratic structures match up.