Monday, October 27, 2008

Councillors do the funniest things

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

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

Osborne finally does it

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

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

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

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The difference between opposition and "opposition"

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

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

"That" debate in council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back on the Streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Councillors go back to school

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

Forget the message ... look at the messenger

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

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

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Great French Market Debate

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

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

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

I would be very interested in your views.

Bar Chart Insanity (again)

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

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

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

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

Richard & Julie's Day

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2008

Education, Education, Education

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

A blog post too far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Presidential Debate: I give it to McCain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Payback

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 05, 2008

In the small print of the government reshuffle...

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

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

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

The BBC Report is here.

Lord Mayor's Ball

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

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why the Greens oppose the A11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brown set to reshuffle cabinet

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

Bi-partisanship is a brilliant partisan idea

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

He is ready to be Prime Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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