Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Miliband's Speech: The one thing it does tell us

I've read the now-famous Miliband artical and have caught up with the news. Unfortunately I am ending up agreeing with Michael Portillo, who was on Newsnight a few moments ago.

I don't know if this is a coded attack on Brown (or Cameron) or if this is a very subtle leadership bid. But I do know that we now have a Foreign Secretary so strong that he can afford to do this, have Brown mis-interpret his comments and still stay in his job.

Whatever the hidden message of this article, the political message is clear: Miliband can be bold because he's now totally unsackable.

The best thing about the net is sharing jokes

Tony Blair's phone rings.

“Can I speak to the prime minister please?”

Blair says he is no longer prime minister and tells him to try another number.

Half an hour later, Tony’s telephone rings once more. “Can I speak to the prime minister please?”

“Look, I’ve told you once I’m not prime minister any longer now p**s off and leave me alone.”

Ten minutes later he calls again. “Is that the prime minister?”

Blair says, “I’ve told you repeatedly that I am NOT prime minister any longer, why are you doing this to me?”

“I just enjoy hearing it,” says the caller.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why Brown won't go (and won't be pushed eirher)

In today's Daily Torygraph, Mayor of London Boris Johnson writes of his 11pm realisation that Brown will hold his job - cheese in the fridge gave it all away. Boris argues that he could go on a diet, rather like Brown could be given the boot. But rather like starting his diet, he reckons that Labour MPs just can't be bothered to start the process. I disagree.

I think that Brown will survive but for a very different reason; no senior level MP will wield the knife. The backbenches may want Brown to go, but they need some heavyweight support to do it. If any cabinet minister does that, then not only will the cash strapped Labour Party have to foot the bill for a contest (which they can't afford) then they might actually become leader themselves. They would then have to go on to lose the next election, no matter who becomes leader, and take the blame for a drubbing. Now Jack Straw may be willing to do this, but no serious contender will. Now that the polls show Labour badly behind under all leaders, they are going to wait and let Brown fall on the grenade instead of them.

I may regret saying this, but the next Labour leadership contest will be held against the backdrop of Cameron's first government.

Clegg finally signals a change in LibDem tactics

Both this morning and late this evening I've been out and about helping our teams deliver a massive new survey across the City. The results are coming back fast; and the one strange aspect is the total lack of LibDem support. I've been arguing for a while that their support in Norwich is just seeping away and our survey proves just that.

Interestingly today Nick Clegg signalled that his party will now focus on the 50 most vulnerable Labour seats; finally taking notice of those both within and outside of his party who have said that to hurl themselves against the Tory brick wall was nonsense. Fighting Tory seats like mad when Cameron is riding high just made no sense; and now Clegg has admitted this.

However, one LibDem I spoke to today said that this strategy didn't go far enough. He pointed out that in some seats where the Tories are third but with a large vote - such as Norwich South - that Cameron's Party could still come through to either come second or even win. Certainly the Sunday Telegraph had Norwich South in the blue column as a result of their polling. My LibDem source says that they ought to target seats where the Tory vote is low and where Labour wouldn't expect a challenge - a sort of Manchester Withington kind of seat, it was suggested.

Either way, Clegg is still polling lower than Campbell and is still struggling to control his fractious party. A change of electoral focus is a good start to turning that around.

We've been SNAPped

Tonight I was chairing the latest Bowthorpe & Costessey SNAP meeting, held at St. Michael's School in Astly Road, Chapel Break, and it was a good chance to hear some of the views about the local area from residents. In the end we created 3 priorities;

Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour in the Peverell Road area of Clover Hill - both in terms of long term strategy but also short term ways to tackle the problems.

Secondly working with South Norfolk Council to ensure a neighbourhood response to issues in Beaumont Road and Crown Road in New Costessey.

And also to look at innovative ways to solve the parking problems in Attesley Way, Chapel Break. This last one is a real tribute to one resident who has raised this issue again and again in such a decent and polite way that it marks her out as a remarkable campaigner.

Next meeting is 18th November, 7.30 at Costessey High School.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Glasgow East: The Result

Creighton (Independent) - 67
Curran (Socialist) - 555
Curran (Labour) - 10,912
Duke (Green) - 232
Howitt (Freedom 4 Choice) - 65
Mason (SNP) - 11,277
McLeish (Solidarity) - 512
Rankin (Conservative) - 1,639
Robertson (LibDem) - 915

SNP Gain from Labour

2005 result; Lab 61, SNP 17, LibDem 12, Con 7, Socialist 4

An excellent night for the SNP, a surprisingly good one for the Conservatives (again), a pisspoor LibDem performance and a disaster for Labour.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Conservative AND Unionist Party

I am very pleased that the Tories and the UUP have been speaking about uniting for two principle reasons. Firstly that this gives Cameron an electoral boost and including the UUP talent in the party will give a clear one-nation sense to people. Secondly that this really does signal the start to normalised politics in Ulster and that has to be a good thing. Apparently 45% of people in NI would or would consider voting Tory if there was a candidate; another clever move then. My only concern is that the UUPs only MP currently is Lady Sylvia Herman, who usually votes with Labour rather than the Tories. Could this deal deliver the UUP to Cameron's Conservatives but ironically no their sole parliamentary representation?

Glasgow East: The bar for success

Having seen and read a lot, I'd set the following bars:

SNP; winning the seat would be a fantastic result and a political earthquake. Coming within 2000 votes would be good, 3000-2000 Labour majority fine. If Labour hold on by more then there may be some sould searching.

Conservatives: They start 4th with only 7% of the vote and should be squeezed in classic by-election style. The Tories should be happy with 6-8% of the vote and more than 10% of even coming third would be an excellent result.

LibDems: Once again there has been lots of LibDem ramping. An utter disaster would be coming 4th, an OK result would be holing their share of the vote and any increase can be spun as good.

Labour: A tough one; a low turnout will cut Labour's majority but they must win here by more than 3,000 or so for them to have a good result. A three figure majority or less will be poor for the party and losing it would be a disaster.

We'll see what happens . . .

First Week of the Holidays

There will probably be some light blogging because the school holidays started last Friday. That evening we went to the Brooke School Carnival and enjoyed some good weather and dancing through the village.

We were lucky enough on Saturday to have Baroness (Gillian) Shephard speaking at a Norwich Conservatives Garden Party; we managed to dodge the rain and had some superb strawberries and scones. There was a large crowd and Gillian made it very clear that Gordon Brown had gone from the "great clunking fist" to a "great girls blouse" in just a year. She was in fiesty form and left the membership in great spirits for the upcoming elections.

On Monday I joined a group of campaigners at the Planning Committee site visit of the new City College Development. It was fascinating to see how the plans would look on the ground (thanks to some yellow paint) and also think about the height and density of the buildings. I still have grave concerns over the suitability of the eco-building given that it is in a conservation area and don't feel it will blend into the community very well. The brillantly organised CRC campaign group will no doubt keep local people informed in a way that others have not.

I then went on to meet some residents regarding the parking situation on Dereham Road and had organised some council officers to meet them. There are so many different factors at play - not least who owns the highway that many of the ideas people have for dealing this situation aren't possible. Most importantly we all agreed on the need to ensure safety and will be working hard to achieve this.

Tuesday night was Full Council night at City Hall, where we debated a Green motion on renewable energy, but the set piece event of the night was the administration's review of the boundary commission's report on unitary. I think that Steve Morphew actually managed to hit the right tone in his words, but LibDem Leader Brian Watkins seemed to go into full Churchill mode urging everybody to unite around the City. It was a bizarre piece of work and in the fullness of time Brian may regret his words.

Yesterday and today were family days; yesterday spent in Bury St Edmunds and today on the North Norfolk coast.

We are currently in the process of delivering a major city wide survey and I have a breakfast meeting to discuss our campaign tomorrow. Apologies if blogging is light in the days and weeks to come...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

LibDems plan £20bn cuts to Health & Education

If the Tories had proposed the document launched by Nick Clegg today, to reduce tax and cut the overall level of government spending, then my blog post title is exactly what Labour and the media would have run with.

In fact, no matter what Hague, IDS or Howard said about taxes, Labour would translate that directly into numbers of nurses sacked or children in a class. But now, I believe that things have changed; firstly people have accepted that we are taxed too much, secondly people know that Labour's throwing money at public services hasn't worked and thirdly people know there is so much waste in public services that you can cut tax, reduce spending and not impact on frontline service delivery.

So well done Nick Clegg - you are saying what people are thinking and I strongly urge the Tories to make clear their committment to cutting tax and reducing waste. Now is the time to do this. But is it too late for Cameron with Clegg moving onto this turf?

No - for two reasons Principally the tax cut, less government gene is in every Tory and people know we are committed to it, whereas the LibDems seem to have discovered this after being thrashed in by-election after by-election. And also, if Cameron said this then his party would cheer him to the rafters; when Nick Clegg does it the left of his party nearly choke on their breakfast cereals. Clegg may have to fight for this every step of the way with his own party.

So Cameron still has time to make this issue his own.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

LibDems giving up on Norwich South?

An interesting slip in this piece on LDVoice today by a former LibDem Agent in Norwich where he laments the rise of the Greens in the City.

He says:
And the Greens are becoming better organised at first-past-the-post politics. They managed 22% and a close third behind Labour and the Tories in Brighton Pavillion at the last election. And at local government level in Norwich, where the Lib Dems ran City Hall as recently as 2006, they are now the official opposition to Labour. All of the Green gains have been deliberately targeted at Lib Dem expense, and all in what should have been a strong Liberal Democrat Parliamentary prospect at the next election.

Notice the tenses there -- it should have been a strong parliamentary prospect but now, persumably, isn't. Recently the EDP said that the Green gains and the strength of the Tory recovery locally made the seat a "4 horse race". One City Councillor even predicts that the LibDems may come 4th.

Interesting times, wondering if the LibDems can hold it together.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Unitary: Still more questions than answers

I am not going to go into automatic gloating mode; I don't think this decision is the end and a lot could change - oddly enough the same warning I gave Labour after the previous unitary announcement, so I'm going to take my own advice.

But on the face of it, thinks look very bad for Morphew and his Green / LibDem allies on this, as the Boundary Commission says its preferred option is a full county unitary (including Lowestoft) that effectivly abolishes Norwich City Council.

City Hall have invested a lot of time and money into this; often in the face of strong opposition from us Tories, the wider public, parish councils and fellow authorities. If it all falls by the wayside - or worse, produces a result that is the opposite to the original unitary theory of an urban focus - then heads will roll at the council and rightly so. Already tonight what is clear is that Councillors from all parties are at each other's throats - again. But whilst the Tory split on the issue has been clear for some time, the vicious manner in which Labour and the LibDems have turned on each other has surprised even me.

The media have also taken a hit; the EDP has been running a pretty consistent anti-unitary line (it sells well in the county) but the Evening News will have to choose its editorial line pretty carefully tomorrow to avoid looking rather outdated and simplistic. It has been running an almost minute-by-minute response today and the EEN should be congratulated for their depth of coverage.

Also the question being asked is if City Hall can stop the leakage of support; Cllr Ramsay pointed out tonight that the Chamber of Commerce have backed away from supporting a greater Norwich and now believes that "bigger is better" and we ought to have a "Norfolk wide lobby". Many groups will back the winning side; City Hall have I think just days to stop this leakage.

We had a Councillor briefing tonight and the feelings amongst my colleagues in other parties was still utter surprise; I think that the searching for a reason "why" will start tomorrow. One source said to me that they don't know how Norwich managed to throw it away from this position; I think that when we re-read the BC report in the light of tomorrow morning, we may once again be left with more questions than answers.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Brown's By-Election

Labour had a candidate but no campaign in Henley.
Labour have a campaign but no candidate in Glasgow East.
Labour have no candidate and no candidate in Haltemprice & Howden.

No wonder Brown doesn't like elections.

(With thanks to the original poster on

They just don't learn, do they?

This post on the ultra-loyal LibDem Voice site clearly indicates why the Liberal Democrats have learnt nothing from their by-election batterings; the results were poor for them because they spinned their chances, ramped them up and then looked utterly foolish when it all went wrong. Now they're at it again in Glasgow; admittedly not claiming they are going to win, but not far off it. But the idiotic thing is the claim about the Tories not bothering - Cameron has visited, as has IDS. We've selected a first class candidate too and I understand from friends that things are in full swing. The voters of Glasgow will see through it, and when the results come in the LibDems will once again have egg on their face.

I ask again: Why can't the LibDems be honest?

Could this become a fantastic new home for the Wendene lads?

The Wendene Wanderers do just that; with no home ground they wander around Norfolk looking to play football. They are made up of lads from some of the toughest areas of Norwich and are supported by a great team of adults - they're not bad at the game, either! I got involved with the club when the council tried to charge them for legal fees (I mean, how could we do that to a group which provides such a service?) and arranged for them to drop it. Now we have a much bigger task - a home ground. The team have been fundraising and have done well to generate some money and now they want a permenant fixture. The area of land above is an overgrown parcel of land between the Dereham Road, Wendene and the Power-League at Bowthorpe. They want a fix aside pitch and maybe even a club house. It would be a great reward for the work that this club does. They are the amazing invisible army of volunteers and this home ground, if they got it, would be their just reward.

If you have any objections to this, please let me know because we want to put a powerful community case to the council for getting some funding for this project.

I am working with the council on play improvements in Chapel Break, North Earlham, Clover Hill and The Runnell in Three Score - we can make a real difference to these kids' lives if this go the go ahead.

I will keep you up-to-date with the campaign.

LibDems looking "very stupid indeed"?

Yesterday's EDP reported that Nick Clegg got himself tied in knots when trying to justify the LibDem claim of a "two horse race" in Norwich South. The EDP put it to Mr Clegg that it was, in fact, a "four horse race" and his arguement against this seemed pretty lame. Apparently people know that there is no point voting Green or Tory, says Mr Clegg.

Well try telling that to the residents of Bowthorpe, Thorpe Hamlet, Mancroft, Eaton, Nelson, Wensum, Town Close, University - all of which elected either a Tory or a Green or had one or other in a close second place.

If the LibDems go down this line, they'll make themselves look "very stupid indeed". Not my words - that of a wise old bird from the party I spoke to yesterday.

But don't expect the LibDems to be honest with anybody anytime soon.

Lord Mayor's Celebration Success

The Lord Mayor's Procession is always a fantastic event, but this year it seemed bigger and more colourful than ever. Standing outside Debenham's watching the floats and dancers go by, it made me think what a vibrant city Norwich is and with so many community groups and businesses wishing to back the City. The girls loved all of the dragon's and I was impressed by the sight of the MD of First Bus, Peter Iddon, leading their collection teams! Good on him, along with other businesses such as Radio Norwich and Asda leading the charge. But the best floats were those from schools or community groups where clearly decorating a full size lorry was a challenge in itself! There is a lot of talent too in the City - from the dancers to the runners, although my favourite was a certain young lady in a purple dress and red hat on a motorised scooter have huge amounts of fun! After that we went to the Civic Reception where everybody seemed to be in party mood; whatever you might say about Jeremy Hooke's tenure as Lord Mayor, he's certainly bought a lot of fun to the role and put a lot of smiles on faces! The massive climax was the fireworks display being launched from the Castle and wonderfully put to music. Norwich doesn't have a great track record on such set-piece events but this was flawless and wonderful to watch.

Today, we all went along to the Sewell Park 100 Years celebration and again the team there put on a great event - from play stuff to a grafitti wall and dancing to ice cream they had it all covered. And over 40 stalls displaying the best of the local community.

It's times like this that we are glad to have raised our kids in Norwich; a fantastic City with such civic pride. Thank you to everyone involved!

Norwich International: Why the development charge isn't working

The MD of Norwich International will no doubt get some positive coverage in the next few days as his controversial charge to leave Norwich has now raised £1m and they can start splashing our cash. The spending projects include improving safety and, most importantly, extra investment into the fire services. This is good stuff, obviously, and we should welcome this sort of investment. However, what is curious is the total rejection of the idea that the development charge is far from developing the airport, it is holding it back.

I say this for 2 key reasons; Airport bosses claim that the charge is, at least, upfront open and honest. They claim that other airports hide their charges on things like parking, trolley hire and the like. This really doesn't stand up to scrutiny. In all those things, the consumer has the choice; airport parking is a vicious market where prices are being driven down - when we parked at Stanstead going to NY in May Half-Term we got an excellent deal by choosing a company outside of the airport. Similarly if I don't like the cost of trolley hire, I choose to pull my own luggage. Simple. However the Norwich development charge doesn't give you that choice; you have to pay it in order to board your flight. Open and honest it may be, but so too is it unavoidable unlike all of the other charges at other airports.

And secondly there is the total lack of understanding of human nature. People hate paying this so-called charge (we call it a tax) upfront because you physically see the money changing hands - on top of the existing airport tax we pay on the ticket cost. Travelling from Norwich is expensive but it's convenient. They should have a cornered market for the airport here in Norfolk, but still the chopping and changing of flight routes and the development charge drive people to Stanstead, Luton and even Heathrow.

Norwich Airport is a fantastic resource and I support it 100%, but whereas it should have cornered market and a great profitable business, it has succeeded in antagonising large sections of its natural market - people in Norwich and Norfolk. I wish that the MD would think again about this.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Now Scots LibDem Leader Quits

Breaking news tonight is the resignation of Nicol Stephen as the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland; the second major party leader to resign North of the Border in just a week.

He has apparently resigned because of the strain it has had on his family; no problem with that after all Alan Milburn did the same.

However, I am rather curious about the timing. After the disasterous result in Henley, this resignation could put more pressure on Clegg and will provide a distraction from Labour's woes. It also means the party will fight the Glasgow by-election, along with Labour, leaderless.

Could he not have hung on a few weeks more, even until the end of July or resign after the summer recess? It is just the worst time to go; so why go now?

An odd decision, but either way I wish Nicol Stephen well and trust our pressurised 24-7 political life hasn't broken another career - can politicans have a work-life balance?

A Funny Way To "Lose" at PMQs

In the past few weeks there have been concerns, touted in the press and on the blogosphere, that Brown was finally getting one over on Cameron at PMQs; but some Tories batted this off saying that this was part of Dave's great plan to be soft on Gordon and help cement his position; after all, Brown is the secret to a Conservative landslide at the next election.

However today was a classic example of where Cameron wasn't interested in the win-lose-draw aspect. He had a fantastic issue - a news story in itself. A handwritten letter from Labour's Chief Whip Geoff Hoon to Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman Keith Vaz saying that he hoped that Mr Vaz would get an appropriate reward for doing a policy U-turn and backing the government in the crucial 42 days vote.

Cameron went rather softly on it; and the media and bloggers picked up on this and said he let Brown off lightly. I don't think so.

Cameron was putting an issue into the public domain - he got the good soundbite out (tell the truth, don't take us for fools etc) and has really been at the forefront of yet more good Tory publicity.

If he has wanted to bash the PMs head in, he could have taken all 6 questions on this issue and massacred him. Cameron chose not to, because he had done his job. Rather like Blair when his sprung the Cranbourne deal on Hague back in the 90s.

So for once, PMQs isn't about winning - it's about a narrative to an excellent media story. The Hoon-Vaz issue will never be sorted (because we'll just never know what that ! meant) but that won't stop this government taking yet another kick in the balls - because if just confirms that view most people had already about this shabby 42 days vote.