Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rescue Pack!

Emily's new toy is a singing daglo orange plastic bag which belts out a samba tune. I do hope the batteries run out, but no signs of that yet.

Yesterday morning a big campaign group went out around the University to do some survey canvassing, and the views of people can be summed up in two words - transport and economy.

There was a lot of anger locally about the speeding traffic down some of the main roads (and the council response to this) but also the state of the roads and pavements. There are some atrocious cracks and holes that need urgent attention. However the grass verges are destroyed and the areas where 2 buses are forced to pass leave holes like a canoe run in the road where one bus has to mount the verge to get pass the other. Sadly, again, little seems to be done to solve these issues and residents feel that they are "on their own" - once again. They seemed genuinely pleased to be able to explain their issues to the Conservatives and there is a feeling that they have been let down.

However the overwhelming majority of people were very worried about their financial situation in the coming months and years. I met businessmen who were having to lay off staff, builders without work because of the slowdown of the housing market and a family who are being forced to cut down on buying food to make ends meet. And the blame for this was all laid squarely at the feet of the Prime Minister (interestingly not the Chancellor - most people think this all has its legacy in Brown's days at the treasury).

Overall a lot of people were very disengaged with the whole political process. They felt very much the choice was between the Conservatives and Labour; we didn't find a single open LibDem voter in a ward they used to hold with a sizeable majority. People are moving away from Clarke and Labour but haven't yet found their way to the Conservatives in this part of Norwich. It's our job to give them a reason to do so.

Today I am speaking at a public meeting at the Greenstock Festival at Heigham Park; I do hope that despite the weather you make it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thinking Again

Every now and again, no matter how strongly you feel about something in politics, you have a moment where you think again.

I have been an Obama fan for a long, long time and have always felt that he has the charisma and - dare I say it - moral compass that America needs. Clearly its easy for a Brit to sit back and have such thoughts about a country I won't have to live in, but I put aside worries regarding some policy stances and put the man ahead of his party. I don't much like the Democrats - and particularly hate the Clintons (both in office and running for nomination) - but I felt that he represented something good in the party and would be the change that the US needs. I'm sure that's how a lot of people think about Cameron. I was caught up in Obama-mania; I don't dislike McCain, but Obama is on the ballot. And then, he chose Joe Biden as his running mate.

We know why he was chosen; a foreign affairs expert with plenty of experience and a sop to the Democrat core vote. However, I am puzzled why the Obama team built up such expectation given the sfae nature of this candidate.

I can also forget the fact that Biden said he wouldn't be considered for VP, and I can also push to the back of my mind the attacks he made on Obama and the faint praise he has given for McCain. I can also blank out the plagurism of a Kinnock speech! And then, of course, he voted for the war...

But in the same way that I have supported Obama on a "kind of feeling"; I have that same feeling against Biden. He isn't the change candidate. He's the long serving Senator for Delaware and represents exactly the kind of politican that has put America in the position it is now. He's the pseduo-Clinton candidate, the obvious, mainstream, steady-as-she-goes candidate. He doesn't excite me, he isn't passionate about the future and doesn't suggest change.

Biden has put me off the Dmeocratic ticket; and McCain is making the running in the campaign. For the first time, I think Obama could just lose this.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pragmatic, useful ... and bound to be stolen by the government

Clegg's rather badly thought out energy policy yesterday has already been trumped by the rather more practical and down to earth plans launched today by Shadow Chancellor George Osbourne on introducing energy discount cards. The Tory plans will help around 4,000,000 people with energy bills and largely those on the bottom of the income scale. The Citizens Advise Bureau thinks its brilliant and it'll be run through the Post Office, helping to keep branches open. And after all, why should people who don't pay by DD or have a bank account have to then pay more for their energy?

Spot the difference; Clegg spouts some "finger in the wind" policy on energy in which they admit to having not done all the research and the numbers don't add up. Cameron's Conservatives launch a plan which is practical, pragmatic, helps people and tackles one of the major issues facing families.

So what now? Well, I wouldn't mind betting this idea now forms part of the government's autumn economic fightback...

It must be tough in the Clegg household

Here he goes again ... Nick Clegg was apparently the name with the presentational skills to save the LibDems. And today he uses an interview in The Independent to convince people he feels their pain in the credit crunch. And how does he do this? Well, by claiming his mortgage repayments have soared (on his second £1.3m home in ultra-fashionable Putney) and by saying he's had to stop shopping at Ocado (the on-line version of Waitrose) and go to Sainsburys instead. Gosh it must be tough for him on just his MPs salery (oh, and his wife's full time job as a lawyer). Come off it!

This isn't feleing the pain of the credit crunch, this is a very wealthy man who's been slightly inconvenienced by it all. So, why say anything at all?

I'm pretty sure no political leader is that impacted - they're not losing their homes, or turning off the heating or not buying food for their family. But so desperate is Clegg for any publicity that he's willing to say anything. This may have been a good idea in the eyes of the LibDem spin doctors but I imagine a lot of people who have really felt the crunch will be very angry that their plight is the equivalent to having to shop at Sainsburys rather than Waitrose.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My 1,000th Post

According to the level little thing of the Blogger Dashboard this is my 1,000th blog post; quite an achievement really when you consider how many blogs, and how many really good blogs, lay dormant.

I started this blog back in 2004 - and in the years since then I have has 2 children, been selected as a PPC twice, fought a general election, lost out for a council seat by 14 votes, seen my year group achieve outstanding exam results, been elected to Norwich City Council as the first Conservative from Norwich South for a generation, moved house & made some fantastic friends along the way.

My first post on ths blog read:
This is the first posting on my new weblog (or Blog!) The aim is to keep you up to date with what I've been up to in my campaign in Bowthorpe, the world of education and my views on political issues, both Norwich related and national. Do feel free to post your own comments at any time!

Hardly taxing aspirations but the fact that 4 years on I am still doing it does make me feel good; and hopefully my work has been appreciated. And a big thank you to everyone who has commented on stories. One blog post on the failures of educational inclusion still gets the odd comment now despite being years old; its that kind of thing that keeps us "blogging minnows" going!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Campaigning in Norwich

Here is a quick round up of some of the stories that you may have missed since the summer holidays began, 4 weeks ago:

Backing a local football club to get a permenant home ground - here

Warning against bus fare increases and urging First not to scrap the 26/27 link to the West of the City - here - and speaking up for UEA students on this issue here

Supporting Evening News plans for a directly election Mayor for Norwich - here

Working with families to combat anti-social behaviour - here

Tackling crime in the suburbs - here

Opposing Labour's Post Office closures and urging a review of Castle Mall PO - here

Warning that "restorative justice" could be to massage crime figures down - here

Backing NHS staff in their campaign against Polyclinics - here

Supporting residents in their fight against a new eco-building in a Victorian building area - here

Conservative harden position against unitary

When City Hall originally bid for unitary status, a lot of Conservatives out there in the yonder didn't take the threat seriously - generally because it was, and still is, simply ridiculous that the areas worst performing council should apply more more powers. A lot of such Tories thus stuck their heads in the sand and hoped that the treasury / boundary commission / government would do their jobs for them and kill the unitary bird stone dead. I have to say that I believe the stalled start for the anti-unitary campaigners is one of the reasons why this has got as far as it has. Anyway ...

Today I read in the local press that David Cameron has declared that if unitary has not passed before a general election then the party will scrap it altogether. (Read here, and note that the comments are attributed to Shadow Local Government Minister Bob Neill rather than Cameron himself, but hey-ho). This is significant because it is the first time that the party has come out specifically against the plans in this way. At heart I'm sure a lot of Tories are pro-unitary, but most of us don't want to pay £100m for the priviledge.

This move by Cameron / Neill will worry Labour - they know their only chance of stopping the "One County" bid is via flame-haired Communities Secretary Hazel Blears blocking it, but many Tories now know the only chance to block unitary full stop is by winning that general election.

I hope that all these anti-unitary Tory Councillors sitting on their big fat majorities remember this and get campaigning in key Norfolk marginals to ensure we win those seats then - wouldn't it be ironic if they won by a country mile in their own seats only for us not to win the key seats and for Labour's bonkers plans to progress.

So given all this, the continued spending of taxpayers cash makes my blood boil. Too much has been wasted by all sides on this now; Labour will be praying for this to move quickly, the Tories will try and block and then pray for that election. All this time, we all know who the biggest losers are.

Council tax payers.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Who has most to worry about from the 09 County elections?

A prolific reader of my blog, Comrade, left a short but interesting comment on my last post. He, once a Labour councillor left to join the LibDems, urged us to "bring on" the county elections. It made me think about who had most to gain, or lose, from that poll.

First thing to note is that it is not likely to be on the same day as a General Election and thus a much lower turnout may hit some majorities that were previously very high. And also being on the same day as the Euro elections may bring the right-wing vote out in much greater force. However, the statistics show some worries for all the parties.

In terms of marginal seats (those with a majority of less than 5%), the Tories hold 8 (out of 46), Labour have 5 (out of 22) and the LibDems have 6 (out of 14) - hence nearly half of the LibDem county group are vulnerable on quite small swings. Melton Constable has a LibDem majority of 0.02% (yes, a single vote) and the Tories in North Norfolk will be gunning for electoral revenge there. Kings Lynn South is held by the LibDems by 0.3% and East Depwade by 0.4% - both in areas with big swings back to the Tories in recent years. Clavering had a LibDem majority of 3% but the Tories won that back in a by-election last year so it may be difficult to hold. I would imagine at this stage that all four seats would be very difficult for them to hold. The LibDems also have a 0.6% majority in Aylsham (but a much better majority at the recent by-election) and a 2% lead in Cromer and both would be vulnerable to a Cameron surge. If the Tories do very well on polling day then Reepham (LibDem maj 7%) could also be at risk. Other LibDem seats should fare better - despite a fairly low 9% majority in Fakenham, the party are odds on to hold it. Their 22% majority in Eaton will look more vulnerable given the strides made by the Tories at City level, and a similar 22% majority in Thorpe Hamlet - their second safest seat - is under threat from the rampant Norwich Green Party who took the identical ward by 501 votes at City level.

Labour's urban outposts in Norfolk will face the test of a resurgant Tory Party next year as well. Great Yarmouth will see some pretty close fights - the semi-rural Lothingland Division has a Labour majority of just 0.5% for example. Thetford East (Labour maj 0.7%), Dereham South (Labour maj 3%), Caister (Labour maj 5%) and Gaywood North & Central (Labour maj 3%) would all become Tory seats based upon district results, let alone the opinion polls. And the news becomes worse for Labour - their 6% majority in Sprowston and 8% lead in Gaywood South (Kings Lynn) would currently both be wiped out. Breydon in Great Yarmouth had a Labour lead of 15% in 2005 and will certainly be top of the Great Yarmouth Tories hitlist, especially if Brandon Lewis is to be their next MP. It may even get worse than that, because a lot of very, very safe Labour seats in Norwich will also come into play on a low turnout. A 25% lead in Bowthorpe and a 22% lead in Catton Grove may also disappear if recent City elections are repeated and gains could be made by the Tories. Labour also hold seats in Lakenham, Mancroft and Wensum where the LibDems and Greens have since made City gains. Labour's county group could easily be reduced from 22 to 15 on a small swing back to the Tories and down to 10 if things go badly in Norwich.

The Greens, of course, start from a low base and should gain seats from Labour this time around. Town Close, despite the by-election win, won't be a guaranteed hold but Nelson should be pretty safe territory for them.

The Tories have most at risk, having most seats and an overall majority on the council - it would take just the loss of 4 seats for our overall majority to go. The LibDems will be looking no doubt at Long Stratton (Con maj 2%) and Diss (Con maj 4%) but given the massive Tory strides in South Norfolk, neither look vulnerable at the moment. They may rather fancy their chances in North Norfolk wheer the Tories currently lead by 4% in both Wells and Mundesley. On the outside, the LibDems may also choose to mount a strong challenge in Hellesdon (Con maj 8%) and Hoveton (Con maj 7%) but at the moment both look beyond their reach. Labour really have very few opportunities to make gains from the Tories - even a 0.7% Tory majority in the Broadland seat of Woodside looks a bit far fetched. Gorleston (Con maj 3%), Acle (Con maj 10%) and Old Catton (Con maj 7%) may all get Labour going but I don't think they stand a chance in those wards either.

So who are the likely winners and losers from this? The Tories look pretty secure and have plenty of chances to gains seats from both Labour and the LibDems. Few Tory Councillors will even be challenged by Labour, although a coupel of seats may have strong LibDem campaigns. I suspect we'll talking about the size of the Tory majority rather than if there will be one! The Labour Party pretty much face meltdown and their urban bases look set to fall; facing a Tory onslaught in GY, KL and Norwich (plus the Greens in Norwich too) they could be squeezed from all sides and could fall to third. The party with the biggest risk is the LibDems; on a good day they could hold seats and make a few gains, but they haven't had many good days recently. With the Greens stealing their clothes in Norwich and the rampant Tories in the county they could as easily be fighting the Greens for third place on county and they could fighting Labour for second. At the moment, I wouldn't want to be a LibDem strategist - over-stretch could cost them seats.

So that's it as I see it at the moment; things could change (and do) in politics) but I have tried to be honest. I'll let you guess the seats, but currently I think we'll see 54 Conservatives, 14 LibDems, 11 Labour and 5 Greens - an overall majority of 24 for the Tories.

The Tories have this election to win, Labour have it to lose ... but its the LibDems who should most fear the ballot box at the moment!

Dale's Tour

Before we went on holiday I did an interview for Telegraph TV, interview by Iain Dale - you can see the result below. A lot of the interview dwelled on my age, my profession and the rise of the Conservatives in Norwich. Being in my 20s and teaching at a state school have never really occurred to me as marking me out from other candidates, but this has made me think again. CCHQ are doing a lot to diversify according to sex and ethnic origin; but why aren't we doing more to bring in, for example, candidates with an experience of working in the public services such as teachers, doctors, nurses or ambulance drivers? Cameron says he wants a party that looks like modern Britain; so do I, but do we only judge ourselves by our sex, sexuality or colour of our skin? Diversity is - well - a bit more diverse than that.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Labour source: "Vindictive" Lakenham campaign run by UKIP

Although I am fairly sure that both Keith Driver and Mary Cannell are pretty zen about the latest batch of "Spotlight" leaflets doing the rounds in Lakenham slamming the performace of the Labour council and government (see my post below), it seems that Labour high command are less satisfied with them and it seems an all-out witch-hunt is now underway to find the culprits. As the leaflets are anonymous and carry no imprint, they may struggle.

But I am now told by a very senior Labour source that they now strongly believe it to be the work of UKIP; or at least individuals within UKIP anyway with or without party permission. Let's be clear; I'm not aware they've done anything illegal but Labour are clearly spooked by this method of campaigning.

The answer may lie in a conversation I was having with a fellow (non-Tory) Councillor this week. If the county elections go ahead as planned next year, then Lakenham will be one of a number of crucial seats for Labour in Norwich. If the county elections follow the pattern of city elections, the Labour group at county could be heading for wipeout and third place on the council. Don't forget Labour currently hold the county divisions of Wensum (now solidly Green at City level), Mancroft (ditto), Bowthorpe (all 3 City seats are now Tory held) and Catton Grove (where the Conservatives hold 2 of the 3 City seats). So, what's special about Lakenham? Firstly it is the seat of their County Leader Sue Whittaker but secondly it was won by the LibDems last May with a half decent majority. Whittaker may look rather nervously at all this - UKIP may be no electoral threat, but their anti-Labour campaigning could tilt the electoral wind against her. So for the health of the Labour Party in Norfolk, the "vindictive" leaflet is keeping some at Labour HQ awake at night.

UPDATE: Of course! A friend reminds me ... whenever Labout elect a leader at county hall there is the usual debate about which urban area the leader comes from - Norwich, KL or Yarmouth. Norwich Labour are very determined that they should provide, as the county capital, the leadership and the City were thrilled when Whittaker got the job from Kings Lynn North & Central Councillor Irene MacDonald a while back. If Whittaker loses her seat, Norwich Labour are concerned that the top job would revert to a non-Norwich Labour Councillor within just a few years of them having obtained it. The obvious successor to Sue Whittaker is Bowthorpe's Gail Harris ... but given the drubbing Brenda Ferris got in Bowthorpe in '08 you wouldn't bet on Harris holding on either. So Norwich Labour are fighting for Whittaker to hold on for more than just party pride - they are doing it for city pride too. Mind you, the Labour Group at County post-2009 may not be worth leading!

Cameron shoots Brown's last fox

There must be seething Ministers and the sound of smashed Nokia's across Downing Street tonight with the news that Tory Leader David Cameron will be visiting war-torn Georgia. Mean a lot to the average voter? Perhaps not, but it will mean a lot in Brown's Bunker ...

The massive advantage that the ruling party has is, well, being in power. A Prime Minister should strut his stuff on the international stage wherever and whenever possible and not, for example, hide in the dark to sign important international treaties. A Prime Minister should judge the national mood and do just enough of this to look statemanlike without ignoring the "home front". Actually, I mean a good Prime Minister should do that. It is something that the Leader of the Opposition just can't do. He can do photo calls outside of Tesco, he can deliver a speech to the CBI and he can appear on the Today programme. Hence whenever a Leader of the Opposition gets a sniff of international back slapping he takes it and whafts it around all over the place (the Cameron and Obama stuff was plastered all over the party branding for ages). But if a Leader of the Opposition is snubbed (Michael Howard was famously not allowed in the White House) then you know you are in trouble. The World Stage is the only place Brown can go where he knows Cameron can't follow ... not so much the last, as the best, fox he has.

The Cameron trip is a brilliant move because it kills that fox dead, it raises the Cameron profile both home and abroad as inevitably our next Prime Minister and makes Cameron look af if he was born for this stuff. The pictures of Cameron abroad (for example, with troops etc) always look refreshed and civilised - Brown always looks uptight.

But this is more than just Cameron's usual PR savy stuff; he's been allowed to get away with it and that's what'll be the biggets regret at No.10. Cameron has been clear and direct on Georgia - the Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary (who are, no doubt, in constant contact !!!) have dithered and been slow in their response. Apart from being morally right, it is also politically right to be fast out of the traps on this issue. Would Blair or Thatcher have held back - would even John Major have done so? No, but this goverment looked like the rabbit in the headlights on Georgia. So a power vacuum is created and Cameron has filled it now. Whatever Labour do - even if, say, Milliband goes go out there - they'll be walking in Cameron's footsteps.

This is great for the Tory Leader and another disaster for the government team. And when they look at it all, and are honest with themselves, they'll know they are to blame.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Clegg shows leadership over tax review

Having been on my holidays, one of the joys of returning home is sifting through all of the political news that you missed whilst in depeest darkest Devon. I understand that the LibDems are now mooting (but not confirming) abandoning Local Income Tax and instead backing a reformed land tax instead. So, let's check on how all these LibDem sacred cows are doing ...

The party of "1p extra tax for education" is now the party of low taxation.
The party of "tough liberalism" now believes you shouldn't lock anti-social youths up.
The party of students is now considering dumping its opposition to fees.
The party of scrapping the council tax now thinks it may be OK after all, if you tweak it a bit.

Only really the Iraq cow is still there, although fewer and fewer people notice that cow despite the occassional "moo". And what do I make of all this? Step forward my new hero ... Nick Clegg.

Now you'll be aware (and nobody believed me at the time) that I thought Chris Huhne was a much more dangerous LibDem leader for Cameron to deal with and that Clegg was a lightweight who would snap in the political wind. Although popular opinion may think that to be true (there is no love for Clegg on the doorsteps of Norwich), I think Clegg is (to quote Cameron) building a house with solid foundations.

Gone are the populist LibDem ideas, where the party would run a whole election with only 3 policies (Iraq, council tax and tuition fees). Gone is the idea that the LibDems are too nice, or too gutless, to have a real policy debate. Clegg is taking on his party and good on him.

Whereas the LibDems used to debate goldfish in bags or porn for 16 year olds, they now seem to be addressing some of the "hard choices" (copyright, T Blair) facing Britain.

Nick Clegg has taken a long hard look at their policies and their election result - LibDem PPC in Guildford, Ms Doughty, has long said that the LIT cost her seat in 2005 because it hammered young professionals and working families too hard. She was right, and credit to Clegg for seeing beyond the populism of "axe the tax" to think about an alternative. Louise and I were hundreds of pounds a year worse off under the LibDem LIT at a stage in our lives when we can least afford it, with 2 young kids. How many more people in our position realised this and didn't vote LibDem as a result?

Even though many of these cows are not yet dead, just wounded, it is clear that Clegg may yet have the political courage to take on his party - even the SDP dwellers. I don't yet know if he is Blair circa 1994 or Cameron circa 2006, but Clegg has shown in the last week he may yet surprise us all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Labour's Neglect: Lakenham

Residents in Lakenham have been reading a new leaflet organised by an anonymous group which goes by the name of "Spotlight" who have attacked the record of Labour in the area.

The leaflet says that "claims of action by the Laour Community Action Team - reality is a bit different. With the defeat of Bob Sanderson in the May elections the penny should have dropped. But no. The action team keeps spinning."

It attacks Labour, saying they have denied local people welfare rights and labelled local people as "spongers".

It says: "Cuts in services have become drastuc. Repairs to council properties must be paid for by the tenants. Roads are only swept every 16 weeks. Weeds are growing out of the roadside. Families are left homeless and some are sleeping on the floor of friends. Rents and council tax are up. The list goes on and on."

It concludes by saying that "Spotlight will be looking at the LibDems in Lakeham soon."

Now, I don't like anonymous leaflets - we as politicans put our heads above the parapit and accept criticism and all other should do the same.

And I like both Keith Driver and Mary Cannell but often feel that their efforts are thwarted by "the system"; but I have never doubted their committment to their community.

But the issues raised the leaflet are valid and it is clear that the poorest areas are most hit by Labour. Many of the weakest in society can now ill-afford Labour either nationally or locally. If you live on a council estate with anti-social behaviour and crime problems, where the housing stock is getting worse and taxes carry on rising then Labour are no help at all - in fact, they are usually the problem. No wonder more and more people are choosing the vote Conservative, many for the first time ever. Because we are putting a crackdown on crime and quality of life at the top of the agenda. Just take a look at Bowthorpe - Labour rejected after 40 years and why? Because despite the promises people were taken for granted and things got no better.

I hope Labour and the LibDems repond to this, but the best response they can have is to tackle the issue it raises.