Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don't do it, Boris, don't do it

Perception, especially in politics, is as important as reality. The way people feel and what they see really counts.

So the news that Mayor of London Boris Johnson is to carry on writing his Telegraph column worries me. I've said I think he should stand down as MP for Henley ASAP (especially given the disasterous LibDem candidate selection decision) and let another fight the by-election. I don't think he should write newspaper columns regularly either.

It doesn't matter if he has the spare time to do it on a Sunday or otherwise. It's the message it sends.

He wants to say, "I'm a full time Mayor, I am working all day to make the City better for you." This move doesn't say that. Come on, Boris, speaking as someone who has read your column year after year, it's time to hang up the pen and get on with enacting your excellent manifesto.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Norwich Tories Cut Crime!

In my second bizarre incident of the week (I may tell you about the first later on), we managed to get caught up in an attempt to defraud Norwich City Council of a car parking fee.

I have attended the farewell party for the outgoing Lord Mayor, Cllr Roy Blower, and on leaving headed to the St. Giles Car Park to give a lift home to my new ward colleague, Niki George.

As we got out of the barrier, the car behind shot out under with us. I thought this was odd, and looked in the mirror to see him waving at the security guard; but on second glance the security guard was chasing him as he had just got out without paying. I did an emergency stop to block their exit; the security guard finally caught up with them. Now that might have been the end of it ... so we went to pull off again and the car behind shot around St. Giles Street, trying to pull around us. It takes more than that to stop a pair of Tory Councillors, so we pulled across the single lane road to block them. Luckily, the bollard on the other side of the pavement stopped the other escape route.

Finally, having been blocked for a few minutes, they got their number plate taken and it all finished. The easy thing would be to drive off and let it happen; he could have got stroppy with us and the whole incident. It could have been nasty. But we couldn't let people get away with ripping off the people of this City and I am glad we did our small bit to do that.

I still wonder what will happen to that motorist. Does anyone know the penalty?

MEP tells truth shock!

I mentioned the case of Independent MEP for the East of England, Tom Wise, a few days ago when Mr Wise was caught admitting how much he was enjoying milking the EU cash cow for himself. Now Mr Wise, who was first elected under a UKIP banner, has said he is pleased to have been caught because it would show up the problems in the EU.

Well done Mr Wise; a good point, well made. You have been honest in an odd sort of way that others wouldn't have been. Now emerge from politics with at least some dignity by resigning as our MEP.

More from the Norwich Evening News here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's good when you're growing

I can't pack up for the night without saying that tonight I Chaired the first Conservative Group Meeting since the election. Tails are up, the opposition are in our sights and the feeling in the camp is good. We sorted out committees and the new shadow cabinet. We started to discuss political tactics. More to come on that, but we are probably sharing the same good feeling being experienced by a lot of Conservative groups in the country.

The 10p Row Gets Worse

Never before have we witnessed such a mess as a Chancellor trying to get out of a political hole by carrying on digging. Yet today that is what we saw today from Chancellor Darling as he tried to put the 10p tax rate debate aside by putting up the tax allowance on the basic rate. This will cost £2.7 billion but ...

It is a one-off payment, a one-off solution to a problem created by Gordon Brown.

It is being paid for by borrowing! We'll end up paying this back one way or the other.

22 million better off, but only 4.2m of those were impacted in the first place and Darling still misses 1.1 million people!

It may have caused a humiliating backdown from Frank Field but it won't pass the opposition or the media test. The news is pretty damaging and the papers will say so. Darling will always have this U-Turn around his neck and the issue will become attached to Gordon Brown too.

Am I the only one who thought Darling should have started with an apology too? I also thought that both Osbourn and Cable did very well ... but they did both have an open goal, I suppose.

Poor old Darling; the unluckiest Chancellor attached to the unluckiest Prime Minister ever.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What now for Frank Field?

When I got up this morning, I was under the impression that Frank Field, the former Welfare Reform Minister under Tony Blair, was placated and that the crisis over the 10p tax band cut was put to one side. However, when I got home from Climate Change Panel at Norwich City Council tonight, it had all seemed to blow up again. Cabinet Minister Ed Balls (hate figure of our staff room) has told him to shut up and Mr Field says he'll be surprised if Brown is still in his job in 2 years time.

Putting aside the disasterous split in Labour, you have to ask what the future holds for Mr Field. He is either right and has large numbers of the PLP behind him, in which case Brown is dead in the water and he will be heralded a hero. Or ... if he is a "one man band" on this, then he has surely lost the confidence of the party and definitely the whips. He may not care, but can he stay within the PLP? I don't think so; for me, its just a case of when he joins a growing list of MPs in the cold - joining the likes of Clare Short and Bob Waring.

Go now, Boris

There is a lot of speculation that Boris Johnson, newly elected Conservative Mayor of London, will step down immediately as MP for Henley, Oxfordshire, despite a Times claim on polling day that said he would cling onto both jobs.

I think this would be a mistake and that Boris must step down immediately. The public are very suspicious about politicans, and more so when they appear to hang onto jobs for the sake of it. The news that Independent MEP for the Eastern Region Tom Wise has been recorded saying he is surprised how much money he can screw out of the EU should shock, but not surprise us. If you have the time and energy to do both - for example, a county and district councillor - then that is fine (although you'g have to have very nice constituents to manage that and hold down a full time job!) but you cannot possibly represent a constituency as an MP and be Mayor London.

Do it, Boris, resign. Go out on a high, give the people of Henley the chance to vote for new Conservative representation. It'll look good on you, on the party and on politics itself.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's Cruddas vs. X (where X is any moderniser)

Gordon Brown is not going to resign; no matter how low they go in the polls, or how much local or by-elections they lose or how much he destroys the country. He slogged through the Blair years, yearning for this job and he will not go down in History as one of the shortest serving and most useful Prime Minister's ever.

However ... if he were to fall under a (political) bus, what is clear is that it's Jon Cruddas who will carry to flag of real Labour forward. His excellent showing in the Deputy Leadership contest - coming from nowhere to winning on first preferences - plus the dignified way he has handled himself since has put him in poll position. With all of the other Deputy Leadership candidate pretyt much humiliating themselves (including the eventual winner), he still holds a place in the heart of the Labour Party membership and the Trade Union movement if not the PLP.

So, if its Cruddas then who will he be against? I believe that the deal will be done to ensure only one candidate emerges from the Blairite right of the party; they won't want to split the vote and will want to be seen to be united. They may find themselves against a self-styled "unity" candidate like Jack Straw, but the Milliband-Balls-Burnham-Purnell alliance will be at work.

If I were in that alliance, I'd be working out who is going to be doing the challenge in the next 2 years - because they'll need all the traction they can get to beat Straw out of the traps and beat Cruddas to the votes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tories take lead in Norwich South, say pollsters

The Conservatives have taken the lead in the new Norwich South constituency, according to respected political pollster "Electoral Calculus". Reflecting massive Tory poll leads and victories at last week's local elections in the City, the latest poll puts the seat at:
Conservative 30%
Labour 29%
LibDem 25%
Green 15%

I check the site regularly because of the seat-by-seat breakdown of its poll findings and this is the first time and suggests a win for the Tories (albeit with a majority in the hundreds) for the first time. It also shows the lack of impact of the LibDems, who continue to decline across the City.

I take some comfort from this but think things may change between now and polling day; I think the Greens for example will do better but at the further expense of Labour and the LibDems; but it does suggest that our campaigning locally and nationally is working.

Interestingly I was talking to a friend of mine, staunch Labour, today who said that for the first time his vote was up for grabs. He thought Labour had lurched into one too man disasters and that Clarke's time was up. If I vote tomorrow, he said, it would be for you. But, he added carefully, it isn't tomorrow so things might yet change. I can handle that caveat to his support; because it's my job in the next 2 years to give him a positive reason to vote for Cameron and myself.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Armed only with four gallons of water and a vat of suncream, we all headed to the Garden Show at the Norfolk Show Ground this morning. The weather knocked both of the girls out (pretty much) although Emily shot back into life when she saw a giant flower that you plugged into the garden tap and it squirted randomly around the place a high volume stream of water. Unfortunately, after parting with a fiver, we got home and the damn thing exploded at the plug end and the flower ended up drooping with a disappointing dribble coming out of one end. I felt rather more crushed than Emily, who soon moved on to the next fad, but it played on my mind for the rest of the day.

The show was very, very good and was incredibly diverse; more than just plants, equipment and garden furniture, it also included charities and community groups from around the City and I enjoyed the chance to talk to some of the organisers and businesses about how they views the current situation. Many spoke about increasing burden of red tape, from all quarters including national and local government, and the fact that such problems put people off volunteering.

One advantage of having fought the parliamentary seat before and having a high profile in local government is people knowing who you are and coming over to chat. That was helped today but a rather flattering piece about me in the EDP and also a letter in the Evening News which dug down deeper into the election results which showed the strenght of the Tory vote in Norwich.

We then came home to clear up the garden and set up the kids toys; sadly after about 5 minutes my back went and I was forced to watch my poor, long suffering, wife did all the work (!!!) although I never get away with it for long.

This evening, up until this blog post, I have spent writing our "thank you" leaflets and rather splended they look too.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Something Achieved

By 8.30 this morning I was at the Norwich City Council Group Leader's Meeting - I wish I could say more, but the issues involved are largely confidential - but it is a method by which all the players on a hung council can work together constructively and honestly; it usually works. This morning was a long one and we seemed to go round and round a bit followed by deciding on a volley of reports.

By this afternoon I was at a Norfolk Conservatives Meeting; a forum by which senior representatives of the party can get together and work together constructively and honestly; it usually works. This meeting was, too, a long one.

If you spend a long time in politics, sometimes you leave meetings and wonder what you did when you were then and what was actually achieved. No, come on, we've all been in them.

In between these two meetings I did achieve something; a very tricky housing problem that took a great deal of time and a visit to the Customer Service Centre at City Hall. It took a while, but we got a result - a decision that will make a great difference to the life of one family. I thought little of it at the time but as I sit back blogging tonight, and wonder what I did today it was this act that stood out.

I got back home to spend a few hours in the sunshine with the girls ...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A 4 party solution for Norwich?

For those out of the loop the current situation on Norwich City Council is:
Labour 15 (n/c)
Green 13 (+3)
LibDem 6 (-5)
Cons 5 (+2)

Hence nobody has anywhere near a majority and with a coalition not functioning, the Green Party has finally spoken about the elephant in the room - who will now run the council - saying they want an executive "of all the talents" with a 4 party administration. This idea has been shot down in flames - certainly by 2 of the parties involved - amongst a big debate about the future of the council now.

Does Labour have the strenght amongst their 15 strong group to support a talented 8 man Exec plus fill 3 key committee chairmanships? How far will the opposition Councillors fill jobs within the political system? I don't know (for once!) but I do think it's odd that we're almost a week after the poll and we haven't yet really thrashed this through.

Norwich people have voted for a patchwork quilt of political parties in the City, we now have to make it work. How we do that is vitally important and we ought to get down to working out how sooner rather than later.

Back into Action

Whilst the local elections are really the one concerted time you get on the streets meeting and talking to local people, it does have a sense of artificial reality about it.

I have spent the last few days simply doing the case work I have built up from a few weeks on the doorsteps!

Bank Holiday was a fantastic family weekend away, with Lou's brother in London - very relaxing although the toll of limited sleep in the last week did impact on me! It was, though, great to be at the center of the Boris earthquake that took the capital by storm. I found myself watching another election count (the Mayoralty took about 24 hours to do!) and it almost (and I mean, almost) felt as good as winning in Bowthorpe.

By Tuesday night I was back chairing the Bowthorpe & Costessey SNAP Panel; an extremely well attended meeting it was too and the people there certainly made their feelings about the policing situation in the area clear. The Evening News report is here and we came out with 3 priorities - cutting crime in one area of Clover Hill, tackling parking in New Costessey and working on a youth centre for Bowthorpe. I am most determined to make sure that these priorities become realities and expect results; the people who put their trust in the democratic process deserve it.

Also that day the news broke about the apparent fiddling of crime figures by the Norfolk police, who were told in a leaked memo that they should be sure a crime was committed before recording it. They admitted that they were being driven by targets set by the government. So if a car window is smashed, that wouldn't count as a crime because you couldn't assume it was done on purpose without evidence.

No wonder people don't have faith in government crime statistics withthis happening. Labour are saying crime is falling but people know it isrising in key areas. Every crime needs to be reported, every crime needs to be invetsigated and every crime needs to be logged as such. Just because its a neighbour dispute or petty vandalism, doesn't mean it isn't a crime. This is outrageous. The Chief Constable needs to make a statement at once, reassuring people that every crime a policeman comes across and every crime that is reported is logged. We need to know we can trust the crime figures. I did an interview for the lead story on Look East for the BBC which went out at 6.30pm; certainly made an impression given the amount of response to it.

After that I then got to a residents meeting in Bowthorpe to discuss more anti-social behaviour issues.

Wednesday night was then a residents meeting in Town Close; interesingly those there weren't shocked by the LibDem collapse in the polls both locally and across the City. I knew a couple of party supporters there but most I was meeting for the first time. So many said that the LibDems were now out of the race to be our next MP and they knew that Cameron could beat Brown (hence a 26% poll lead) but that Clegg would keep Brown in power. Interesting stuff and a line we need to push harder. The meeting was very successful indeed.

I then went on to a party meeting / celebration drink at The George in Arlington Lane with a dozen or so of the key party activists. We did a lot of planning - more news to come - and there is a real feeling of momentum now. One said to me that he couldn't wait to get back on the streets campaigning given the political backdrop. We are raising money, getting money and winning support faster than ever before.

And tonight? Admin, marking and lesson planning - oh the glamerous life of the PPC!

Clarke's PO U-Turn

Although all support for saving our Post Office's is welcome, you have to be amazed at the cheek of Charles Clarke who calls for a review of Post Office closures whilst at the same time voting in parliament to carry on the closures. Saying one thing to the people of Norwich and doing another in London - just like Ian Gibson. No wonder neither of them showed up to support the "Save Our Post Offices" rally in Norwich recently.

Is it too cynical to wonder if this has anything to do with a 26% Cameron poll lead; a poll that would mean Mr Clarke losing his Norwich South to the Conservatives on a massive swing? I do hope not; I hope this is a genuine coversion so welcome to the campaign, Mr Clarke!

Morph does it again

A friend draws my attention to serial election-denier Steve Morphew.

Last year he said that Bowthorpe was robbed of a Labour Councillor (it elected a hard working Conservative instead) because of some obscure unitary leaflet.

Now apparently he writes in the Evening News that the people of Bowthorpe and Catton Grove must have woken up to wonder what they did by dumping failed Labour (and electing hard working Conservatives instead).

Elections are tough stuff; why can't we just accept the verdict of the electorate without claiming they had got it wrong or didn't know what they were doing?

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Judge who has it spot on

In times when the judiciary are often criticised, it is welcome when such senior figures of Judge Peter Jacobs breaks him silence to speak out against problems with the community sentence programme.

The government have so badly mishandled the criminal justice system that we now have prisons full to bursting; so their clever new plan to deal with this is to extend community services to more and more crimes to keep down the prison population.

Community services was originally designed to deal with minor crimes, especially ones where there could be a “restorative” element to their work – such as, for example, cleaning walls or tidying communal gardens.

Now the government has put us in a situation where people who have been involved in theft, physical assault and burglary are given community sentences - crimes that used to warrant a prison sentence. But, now under Labour, they are downgraded. Of course, some of these do work, but when people refuse to complete their sentence, give the authorities the run-around and end up bouncing in and out of court with judges trying to make them comply with their original ruling it makes a mockery of the system.

It ends us costing more in court time and police paperwork and detracts from catching more criminals. Judge Jacobs should be applauded for making this front page news and now the politicians must do their part in making the system work.

More prison places, a greater police presence on the streets, more preventative work (especially when drugs are involved), a proactive youth service and restorative justice must all play their parts.

But most importantly, people must be safe and know they are safe. They demand the right to know that justice has been done, and has seen to be done. People that flaunt community services undermine the whole system and fundamentally remove faith in the police, the judiciary and the legal system. Only by getting tough on this problem can we restore that faith.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Big Shake Up in Norwich

I will summarise the results below (I'm really too tired to even think at the moment) but some clear themes emerged from the night that I think the media may miss.

Theme 1: Positive campaigning won - Conservatives and Greens stayed positive throughout and both made net gains. Some of the Labour literature was shocking during the campaign and the stories we have heard of LibDem canvassing were next-to-vile.

Theme 2: Labour's been robbed of a frontbench. They've lost Housing Executive Member Julie Westmacott - to be fair, one of the few members with a real grasp of complex Housing issues - and also Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Culture Brenda Ferris. I know Steve Moprhew wants to reshape his top team but I cannot see where the talent is coming from.

Theme 3: The true scale of the LibDem collapse. Yes, they lost Mancroft, Town Close, Mile Cross and Thorpe Hamlet. But the true scale of their loss comes in the study of the results in detail. They came FOURTH in Bowthorpe, Catton Grove and Crome. They lost the seat and plunged to FOURTH in Unviersity, Mancroft and Wensum. They went from first to third in Mile Cross; they also went into third in Nelson. In Sewell Ward they came FIFTH. The Conservatives came second in Mile Cross and Crome and came third and above in all but one seat.

Bowthorpe: Con GAIN from Labour, removing Labour Deputy Brenda Ferris on an 8% swing and with a big majority.
Catton Grove: Con GAIN from Labour, with roughly the same majority as last year
Crome: Lab HOLD but with a much reduced majority
Eaton: LibDem HOLD with a good majority but a much increased Tory vote
Lakenham: LibDem HOLD, a surprise result but caused by a collapse in the Labour vote
Mancroft: Green GAIN from LibDem with a big majority
Mile Cross: Lab GAIN from LibDem, with a sizeable majority
Nelson: Green HOLD, even with losing a thousand votes this was safe Green territory
Sewell: Lab HOLD with a much, much reduced majority over the Greens
Thorpe Hamlet: Green GAIN from LibDem, with the irony of turning a 1 vote LibDem majority into a 501 Green majority
Town Close: Green GAIN from LibDem, easy result with big majority
University: Lab GAIN from LibDem, but with the Greens in a keen second place
Wensum: Green HOLD, easily.