Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Campaign turns nasty as LibDems are “forced to lie” about Conservatives

The desperate LibDem campaign to avoid electoral wipeout in May has taken a nasty turn following a new story that reveal a senior Councillor is prepared to lie to keep her seat.

LibDem frontbencher Judith Lubbock, who is trying to hold onto her marginal Eaton Ward against the Conservatives, claims on her website that:

A leading story in one Conservative newsletter in Eaton, titled "Alternate Weekly Collections - What A Load of Rubbish?" criticises the new household waste scheme. Despite the fact that Conservative Councillors actually supported and voted in council meetings to introduce the new scheme.

However, on this blog I can exclusively revealed that the exact wording of the newsletter was:

The Big Bin Debate:
Is AWC rubbish?

The way your household rubbish is collected will be changing this autumn as Alternative Weekly Collection (AWC) is introduced across Eaton. This new measure will be trialled in the South and West parts of Norwich, with plans to extend it across the city.

AWC means that recycling is collected one week and residual household waste is collected during the alternate week. Residents have expressed concerns about the impact of fortnightly rubbish collections. There are serious worries about the effect this will have on hygiene, fly tipping and problems with vermin.

Cllr Antony Little, Conservative Group Leader at City Hall, and Niall Baxter, local campaigner, will keep in touch with residents to assess the impact of this scheme.

Niall says: “I’ve spoken to many people in Eaton recently, and I know how worried they are about this. I want to know their reactions to AWC as it gets going.”

Give us your feedback on the attached slip, or use our new residents’ hotline: 0845 634 9709. You can also use our special AWC feedback e-mail address: awc@norwichconservatives.com

We did vote for the scheme but also expressed some concerns regarding its consequences. I made these clear in my speech to council. The LibDems have lied about our headline, lied about the content of the school and seem to be willing to do anything to hold onto power. This newsletter prompted a debate, which is what we wanted, and both the positive and negative feedback went straight to City Hall and I am grateful to officers for their time in answering those questions.

However, the news gets worse for Cllr Lubbock, who went on to say:

Residents were also surprised to read that the Tories are claiming that Lib Dems support congestion charging in Norwich. This is not true! In fact, the Liberal Democrats put down a policy motion to a recent Council meeting stating that congestion charging would not be supported without a number of strict criteria being met, such as improvements to public transport and exemptions for residents.

Sadly Cllr Lubbock undermined her own case in a single paragraph. She has admitted that if criteria are met they will support the Congestion Charge in Norwich! Her speech to council was unashamedly pro-congestion charging as was that of her ward colleague Cllr Brian Watkins. We all noted her quotes, but she doesn’t like having them thrown back at her. Even Councillors from other parties were shocked at her pro-congestion charge stance.

We all expect a bit of rough and tumble at election time, but to issue half truths and bar-faced lies isn’t the way to engage the electorate. We’re all used to the fantasy-world politics of LibDem leaflets but she shouldn’t tar others with her own brush. We are for honest, positive campaigning. It’s a shame they can’t be.

Monday, January 28, 2008

It's like the news actually knows my lesson plan!

I spent two hours this morning telling my 'A' Level politics students about the theoretical powers of backbench MPs. We spoke about the role of the MP as a legislator and then moved onto the wonderful world of the Private Members Bills. I waxed lyrical about how although MPs look as if they can create their own Bills, the fact of the matter is that the government, the whips and the parliamentary business managers have a variety of plots and tricks to ensure nothing ever reaches the statute book without their say-so.

Then, bang on queue, this little gem appears here, in which Tory MP Michael Fallon's Planning Bill goes through the first stage because of a massive government cock up. The government whips planned to force the Bill to fall through an inquorate vote (any vote much engage at least 40 MPs or it fails automatically); that is, by not turning up they could ensure that 40 MPs would be be present and thus Fallon is defeated. However the idiotic government whips badly miscalculated and a hotch-potch of Tories, LibDems and Labour rebels mustered the 45 votes in favour they needed. And as the government MPs were boycotting it ... you guessed it, it went through by 45 votes to 0 (yes, zero). Interesting that the Tories who voted for the bill included Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove and Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers and the LibDem frontbencher Susan Kramer did likewise. A tactical poke in the eye for the government and a victory for House of Commons.

Here is the roll of honour, those who voted for this Bill:
Ainsworth, Baldry, Barker, Boswell, Bottomley, Brake, TomBrazier, Mr. JulianCarmichael, Caton, Cohen, Cormack, Phillip Davies, Dai Davies, Dorries, Dowd, Evans, Fabricant, Fallon, Francois, Gale, Gerrard, Gove, Greenway, Grieve, Hammond, Harper, Herbert, Hollobone, Howarth, Hurd, Key, Kramer, Leigh, McLoughlin, Neill, Price, Randall, Stanley, Steen, Turner, Villiers, Watkinson, Whitehead, Wiggin, Willetts, Heald (teller), Battle (teller)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

May poll strategy U-turn for LibDems

The vast majority of political hacks in and around the City expect the LibDems to get a damn good kicking at the May elections. However, I am reliably informed that the yellow peril have come up with a cunning plan to avoid such a fate ... targeting.

The LibDems were once the Kings of Targeting ... knowing where to put their resources, being able to move on from seats they would win to the marginals and knowing when the pull out. But in recent years they have missed this point and have slogged around Nelson furiously (getting destroyed by the Greens) whilst at the same time losing out in Lakenham but a couple of dozen votes.

So, I'm told, they have decided that some wards are beyond their reach and others are worth the fight. Amazingly they seem to have given up against the Greens whilst believing that the fight is still on with Labour. So, Thorpe Hamlet with a 1 vote LibDem majority is set to be all-but abandoned whilst University Ward, with a 600-odd Labour majority, is to be targetted. Similarly, Town Close and Mancroft are to be thrown to the wall. Then in Lakenham and Mile Cross are to be the scenes of the LibDem final lines of trenches. Interesting stuff; a realisation that the Greens haven't yet hit their peak of popularity or a realisation that Labour can still be beaten in Norwich and that Brown isn't "top cat"?

I also know that this decision - probably driven by the new professional LibDem team who have taken over - hasn't gone down well with the Councillors, and their activist friends, who aren't going to get support.

This strategy could also frustrate Labour; they had planned on the LibDems slinking away in those wards freeing them up to defend other seats and also chase the new Labour fascination - Wensum Ward.

If the LibDems sort their game out, it could yet be a fascinating May election.

County Council listens to Puppet Theatre fans ...

You can read more about the decision of the Conservatives on the County Council to offer an emergency grant to the Puppet Theatre here, but it is worht noting that part of the political reasoning for unitary was that the county council never paid any attention to the City.

It is rather pleasing to see good ol' Morph and co. posing for the cameras with their support, but then failing to actually help, and then see a Tory-run council step in with practical measures to help. I'm sure this example won't make any pro-unitary leaflets from the City but it does rather blow yet another hole in their arguement.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

If they're in, they're Tory

Today was mainly spent as part of a big group of canvassers hitting the streets of Bowthorpe. Although I am sure that blogger-campaigners always say this, but today it's true, it was the most amazing day of canvassing I can remember in a long, long time.

The feeling on the doorstep was very positive - towards both us locally and also towards the national party. People who we canvassed as Labour for the last 3 elections were saying they were thinking of switching. The Conservative vote was very solid indeed. Reviewing the canvass cards tonight, what is clear is if they were in, they were voting Conservative. In fact it became the running joke of the day that if you met somebody it must have been positive.

Nobody goes into local politics to be thanked, but what was also nice was the feedback about the work that John and I put in - people were very pleased with the Three Score cleanup, the ASB tackling and the CCTV in Clover Hill. It's nice to be thanked every now and again! One of our group, who came to help us canvass from a neighbouring authority, said that she wished all of our councillors worked as hard as we did in Bowthorpe because it would help us to hold seats given the feedback from the doorstep.

Very little word about Labour - a couple of people mentioned they were opposed to the 20mph campaign Labour are currently running in Three Score; this is interesting because all politicans assume road safety is a vote winner. Maybe not? People were saying that any 20mph zone would be ignored and it was unenforceable; road calming (of one sort or another) is what is required. We're certainly going to have to knock on a few more doors about this matter I think.

Finally a word about Niki. I've campaigned for a lot of candidates in my time, some of whom I have been impressed with and others less so. In fact, I've delivered leaflets for some people where I know I preferred the opposition! But Niki is really growing into the role and I am more and more impressed with his thinking and his doorstep manner. Local people are certainly warming to him. It helps being a young, enthusiastic candidate I suppose! Niki is rallying a lot of troops to his colours, so good on him.

Overall, good to be back on the stump. Being a Councillor means being in touch with your ward and the people of Bowthorpe have given us a lot to think about today. Democracy in action!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

QT: LibDem Laws squirming on EU Treaty

The LibDem policy on the EU Treaty - that is, to demand a referendum on Britain's future in the EU - which has been through the mill by bloggers this week is totally falling apart on QT.

The question no LibDem will answer is this; what happens if you are pro-EU and anti-Treaty?

Let the people decide!

UPDATE: Letwin winning the battle; audience joining in on the Tory side. Laws struggling without support. Why on earth has Clegg allowed his party, and some of his best spokesmen, get mullered on this subject?

UPDATE 2: Daily Mail woman says that Laws has thrown a Queenie strop: "if you won't give us our treaty, we'll tear the whole thing up!" Good on her! Exactly the point. This isn't about the whole EU Question, its about the Treaty!!! And it's about Labour and the LibDems breaking a promise.

Dithering is the most damaging attack

Poor Gordon Brown must be thinking his Premiership is jinxed; and dear old Mr Blair must be chortling into his Pina Colada tonight. Peter Hain is now set to spend more time with his tan and the pension holders of the nation rejoice. The snare of the media now turns to the impact upon Gordon, now that he's lost his first cabinet minister.

Of all the charges laid against the Prime Minister tonight, I believe the most damaging to Mr Brown is that of dithering. From the cancelled election to Northern Rock and now Peter Hain (he should have been sacked weeks ago).

Dithering is the one thing - the one underlying characteristic - that will lose Brown the sympathy of the British people. We like decisive leaders, we want people to take charge; we voted in Thatcher and Blair with landslide majorities and yet large numbers hated one, or other, or both.

The one thing I have always respected about some people is their ability to make decisions. Be it in school or in politics, nobody wants to hear "I'll sleep on it", "I'll think about it" or "I'll mull that one over." We want something to happen and we want it to happen now. I want a leader, an MP and a PM who make decisions and make things happen.

The more and more we hear of Brown's dithering, the more his total persona is undermined. Is there any way back for a dithering PM?

Monday, January 21, 2008

My Night Tonight

Tonight I did two meetings at City Hall - firstly to feedback on the new Councillors IT system which is better but still has some problems. Then it was the Waste Working Party. Although I'm not at liberty to say, we recieved some very good news about the way in which AWC has been rolled out and also some very tricky questions to solve in the future. It was a thought provoking meeting really. Odldy enough not a single LibDem Councillor bothered to attend; if the boot was on the other foot they'd be shouting about a lack of interest from other parties (I have blogged before about thier glee when Labour, Tories and Greens don't put down motions at Council) so I wonder why they passed up the chance to have their say on important recycling and waste issues.

Then tonight I have been formulating my questions for the Bus Scrutiny Committee and I focused heavily on the length of total bus journies, the cost of the tickets and the social, economic and educational impact of late buses in the morning. I mean, how many hours of education are lost because of bus lateness? How much productivity in industry and business is thrown away?

Tomorrow I will be at a Scrutiny meeting and then onto the Bowthorpe and Costessey SNAP, 7.30pm at Costessey High School if you'd like to make any points there.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Boys and Girls, Young and Old

Iain Dale has a deeply thought provoking piece in yesterday's EDP (sadly not on-line) about the trend in Norfolk Conservative PPCs. Newly selected Chloe Smith (Norwich North) got a splash in the paper mainly focused on being a young candidate - she's a tender 25 years old. But the fact is that the Conservatives are a younger party now (CF has more members than its Labour and LibDem equivalents put together) and Norwich / Norfolk have a strong youth wing of the party. Also the Norfolk Conservatives have strong trackrecord of trusting their younger members with standing for parliament - I was 26 on being selected for Norwich South in '04, whilst we also had 26 year old James Tumbridge (Norwich North) and 28 year old Trevor Ivory (North Norfolk). Chloe isn't remarkable beause of her age, but, as Iain points out, because of her sex. She's only the second female candidate in Norfolk for the Conservatives since Gillian Shepherd was chosen for South West Norfolk in 1983. Well done, Chloe - it doesn't matter if you are a boy, girl, young or old, Norwich North needs a Conservative.

My Dad's in his sixties

We've had a weekend away (aside from an interview with Radio Broadland on the Congestion Charge and with the Evening News about city council finances) to celebrate my Dad's 60th birthday. Needless to say there was a surprise party - photos and a brilliant video of my half-cut father trying to pay tribute to his family but failing miserably to come - and a fantastic night of eating, drinking and dancing. Emily was the star of the show and did a turn in her new spotty party dress; Olivia slept through most of it. This morning we went out, just the immediate family, for a meal at a new local French restaurant and then headed back to Norwich. This evening I have been working on some events and publicity for the new Norwich CF and writing to all those people who signed our petition against the Congestion Charge.

Back to work tomorrow ... reality strikes!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hain won't go, but he should consider this...

If Peter Hain resigns as Work & Pensions Secretary on Monday morning, he'll be back in the cabinet before the next General Election.

The one thing that strikes even politics students is this; as Ministerial resignations (for whatever reason) decrease, the liklihood of a return to frontline politics increases. David Blunkett had two shots in the cabinet, as did Peter Mandelson; despite quitting for much worse a cause than Hain might.

The reason so many people despair of politics and believe that MPs are in it for themselves is the kind of corrputing arrogance that keeps Hain in office. People might have slightly more respect for such men if they were prepared to let go of office rather than be dragged out.

If Hain resigned, he could restore some trust in politics, serve out his pennance on the backbenches and I bet he's be back in Brown's top team by the election (unless, of course, Mr Brown is less forgiving of allies than Mr Blair).

The fact that he won't says a lot about himself and might actually exclude him from holding high office in the first place - in the eyes of some people!

Liberal Youth: Blog first, think later

The brilliant post here, by the brilliant blogger Dizzy is slightly annoying.

I knew about the re-branding of the LDYS into the Liberal Youth some weeks ago and also of the plans by new Leader Nick Clegg to kidnapp the launch for his own spin purposes. This has been frustrating a lot of the leading lights of the LDYS and even Clegg backers arefuming about his decision.

The name - which you have to admit does rather bring to mind the Hitler Youth, even only in title rather than operation - isn't the only problem for the youthful LibDem chief. Apparently he is preparing the hijack the movement as a vehicle for his own brand of Liberalism, leaving a lot of the more social democratic-minded members high and dry. It's certainly causing a fuss at grassroots level.

So, Dizzy beat me to it - how? I didn't blog it because it fell under the "will anyone care" category in my brain. Clearly they do - both the gleefull bloggers having fun with it and the "shock and horror" reaction by the faithful LibDems.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Birmingham Labour Councillor defects to the Conservatives

Former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Solihull has quit to join David Cameron's Conservatives. Click here for the local report. This follows on from the decision of a Manchester LibDem Councillor to resign from his party and join the Conservatives.

When asked what he thought of Labour, Councillor Ryan replied: "It's finished."

Interesting too is that this Solihull Councillor represents an area in urban Birmingham. When the media talk about the Tory position in Cities and the North, what they often forget is that whilst we may not represent many inner city wards, we do represent vast swathes of these cities and the areas around them. A lot more to do, I grant you, but not as bad as we are often told.

Clegg's first outing

Nick Clegg had a very competent first outing at PMQs, although to be fair he could compete with neither Cameron's brilliant performance ("You were the future, once...") or Vince Cable's classic performances ("Stalin to Mr Bean"), although Cable's efforts were done with the freedom of being acting leader with no expectations.

I did think, however, that he made two slight erros - nothing major, but worth noting.

Firstly he spoke from the middle of the front row of LibDem MPs, rather than in the traditional corner seat nearest the dispatch box and Speaker. Although this meant he was surrounded by frontbench colleagues cheering and nodding furiously, it did look rather like he was dodging battle and was avoiding facing down the Tory and Labour heckles. He looked safe in his new seat and well guarded but didn't look like he had the drive to be sitting in any other seat.

Also his choice of subject was a little bizarre. Some people have said that Cameron stole his topic (ID cards) and he was forced to use his emergency questions. I'm not too sure about this. I think he wanted some in-depth and worthy questions to mark a difference between himself and the jokey style of Vince. Is this the LibDems missing the big issue or trying to agenda set themselves?

What I did think was more clever was the use of other LibDem MP to ask supplementary questions on the same topic. Clegg has to survive with fewer shots at the PM than Cameron and usually LibDem MPs ask worthy questions regarding constituency issues. This method means Brown could come under more sustained scrutiny from the LibDems.

So overall a mixed bag. Clegg is new and untested. We'll have to wait and see!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Political Forecaster of 2007: Bronze medal

With being away for the New Year celebrations I totally missed the news, helpfully e-mailed to me by friends, that I came third in the PoliticalBetting.Com Forecaster Competition 2007 beating off some very serious political commentators. I am surprised I did so well as, although my local predictions are normally spot-on, my national ones tend to be less so.

It should be noted that I didn't do fantastically well on all sections of the competition - I said Sir Ming would be ousted but I said he's be replaced by Huhne - but where I seriously made up ground was in predicting the 2007 local election results as I seem to have forecasted the collapse of the LibDems and Labour quite well. Similarly I picked up points for the levels of Tory support in the polls.

Sometimes when you are close to politics you can't see the woods for the trees and your support for your party blinds your decision making. It was noticeable that the staunch LibDems lost most points because they predicted their party would do well when they didn't! It is nice to know that as pro-Conservative as I am, I can still make good political predictions.

New Year, New Defection

It is clearly great news that a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Manchester has resigned days after Nick Clegg becomes leader and defects to the Conservatives. David Cameron's appearance to welcome him into the party shows how seriously we are taking both such northern cities and also poaching of LibDems.

Nick Clegg must have been fuming into his cornflakes this morning. Quite frankly he could have done with a defection at the start of his leadership (he may well still have one tucked away somewhere, but that card should have been played by now) but to lose a Councillor from Manchester like this is very embarrasing to him.

Cameron starts the year well (the NHS speech was very good too) and has laid down a marker that he is not willing to ceed ground to Clegg at all.

Regular readers will know I am generally sceptical about defectors, but this one says a lot about Cameron, Clegg and the political battle ahead.