Monday, January 26, 2009

Nick Clegg vs. the Norwich LibDems over who is more arrogant

We're all used to the hypocrisy of the LibDems, but even this takes the biscuit; just as they are claiming to be a joined-up party!

As part of an interview with the BBC (more here) Nick Clegg came out with this line:

Asked who he might support in the event of a hung Parliament, Mr Clegg said it was "arrogant" to second guess voters.

Apparently it is, according to Mr Clegg, arrogant to assume who people will vote for. So how does he square that with the usual utterings of his local parties:

Conservatives out of the race ... its so close here ... our next MP will be LibDem Simon Wright or Labour's man Charles Clarke - no other result is possible

How arrogant does that make the Norwich LibDems? To tell local people that no other result is possible other than the choice the LibDems give them. Aren't they second-guessing the voters in a big way?

Nick Clegg may like to use that line to get out of a hole with regards to which way they would jump in a hung parliament, but when his candidates up and down the country are being as arrogant as to assume they know the way people will vote means either they are in direct conflict. So that leaves us with 2 scenarios:

Either Clegg is ignored by his local parties; or they know what they are doing and are trying to decieve the electorate. I'll let you decide.

Hat-tip to regular contributor EGL Resident for this one!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

John Wyatt 1938-2009; A True English Gentleman

It is with much regret that we announce the sad news of the death of Councillor John Wyatt. Cllr Wyatt, 70, has died after a long illness battling cancer. He died at his home in Trafford Road will his wife of 44 years, Eileen, by his side. Cllr Wyatt was elected to serve Bowthorpe Ward in 2007. John was a former salesman – most notably for Goodyear tyres – and was a keen cricketer. John spent time volunteering for many gardening groups and, until recently, was an allotment holder in Norwich where he grew organic fruit and vegetables.

I am so saddened with the passing of John Wyatt; I have not just lost a colleague, but a neighbour and a dear friend.

John entered politics in the 1960s standing for the Earlham area – a community he had a great affinity for and where he finally won many years later. John was a great community politician and a champion for people against the bureaucracy, the petty administration and the dominant political class. He loved to challenge authority and stand up for ordinary folk against the powers-that-be. Even in his last months he attended to his council work diligently; my only regret is that our community was only represented by John Wyatt for a few short years.

To those of us who knew John as a friend, know what a fantastic gentleman he was. Unfailingly polite, decent, caring and always interested in you and your problems. During his illness he seldom complained even when in great pain; that is a mark of the man he was.

John wasn’t Norwich City Council’s man, nor even the Conservative Party’s man – he was Norfolk’s man. I am deeply proud to have known John, to have worked alongside him and to have considered him a friend.

I am devastated by his loss, our thoughts and prayers are with Eileen and all those who loved John. But I pay tribute to this remarkable man for all those lives he touched. John Wyatt was a true English gentleman and will be missed so much.

UPDATE: One other thing needs to be noted about John; I have never seen such emotion at the death of a local politican. I have been recieveing emails, texts and phone calls all day from local residents, party members, the opposition, council employees and party workers all very shocked and saddened. One word keeps coming up time and time again - gentleman; which I think very aptly sums up John.

John Wyatt was one of the very few, if not the only person, to have faith in me to stand again in 2006. Without John's encouragement and support in that election I think I would have walked away. Just weeks before the poll at which I became a Councillor I had decided not to stand - it was John, in hiw own special way, who used a long car journey we took together to give me the confidence and self-belief to carry on. He was an amazing man who has done more for my family and I than he would ever know - much loved and much missed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cameron's Reshuffle: Round Pegs in Round Holes?

The key to any reshuffle, particularly when in opposition, is trying to get the right shaped pegs to fit the right shaped holes. This task isn't as easy as you might think; you have to work with the pegs that you have and those who are willing to be put into holes. You have to consider the wishes of the pegs and the importance of the holes. Then there are the skills of the pegs - in parliamentary terms, within the party or on the media perhaps. You need a balance of certain shapes to keep the party happy and the relationship between pegs.

So the remarkably smooth reshuffle and the shadow team which is now in place in even more astonishing given those restrictions.

The one casualty of the reshuffle is the very low key Peter Ainsworth; he's a good guy but really lacked the pro-activity which was needed. His Environment brief goes to Nick Herbert; a good choice, a sound Cameronite and will work well with Shadow Energy Secretary Greg Clark. Herbert's old Justice brief goes to Dominic Grieve. Grieve stepped in at very short notice to replace Shadow Home Secretary David Davis when he quit last year; Grieve's forensic intelligence will be put to better use against Jack Straw and I look forward to their clashes.

The Shadow Home Secretary job goes not to David Davis but to Chris Grayling; a great new Tory media star who has real political pitbull tendencies. He will really tear into Labour and Jacqui Smith should feel very vulnerable tonight; he has a great record of chasing Ministers from office. I had never really linked Grayling with the Home Affairs brief; so a very good if unexpected move from Cameron there.

Grayling's old job as Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary goes to Theresa May; this is certainly the most puzzling of today's moves but in many ways a good one. Theresa has for many years been pigeonholed as a female member of the frontbench; she's held such jobs as Shadow Families Minister - I think this may give her the chance to really get her teeth into a meaty job in government and show what she can do. I've always rated May and think she has to show her readyness for government in this position.

May's old berth, as Shadow Leader of the House, goes to Alan Duncan and far from just being pleased he kept a job in the top team, I am pleased he has been given a serious job. Duncan is a good performer and this position will give him plenty of scope in both the House and in the media.

And, of course, the Shadow Business post goes to former Chancellor Ken Clarke. As keener readers will know I am very pro-Clarke and backed him for leader numerous times. He is a bruiser and an effective political player. He reaches to parts of the country that not even Project Cameron can. Even as a Euro-Sceptic myself I am perfectly happy that Clarke can work within the party and deliver a powerful message on the economy. The team that Cameron has now put together in the economic portfolio is, indeed, the best in the country. Just a shame Clarke and Mandelson will never meet across the dispatch box ...

And finally is the job swap between Caroline Spelman and Eric Pickles as Party Chairman and Shadow Communities; I hope people give them both time to settle into what are going to be very tricky jobs. Spelman will have the whole unitary debacle to deal with; but I have great faith given her strong performance in the role a few years back. Pickles is certainly the grassroots favourite and he will have great expectations on his shoulders. He needs to talk to members, pick up on their concerns and act.

In short Cameron has indeed created a strong team - most of which are actually unchanged - and you can see this team moving forward into government. I would argue that we still have to find strong roles for David Davis and IDS; and Cameron must also offer the chance of real progression to the upcoming talent such as Justine Greening. He must also consider the enhanced role Damien Green may soon be playing.

But this must be one of the most dramatic - and important - reshuffles in many years.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Homage to my Twenties

Well, that's it folks ... I'm just hours from my birthday and from being 30. Goodbye to my youth and hello to ticking those boxes that say "30 to 39" on forms. People tell me your thirties are like your twenties but with money; but those people are all old themselves. As I sit here tonight, I wonder what happened to the last 10 years, and then I realised.

Age 20, in 1999, I was in my second year of my History Degree at UEA, living in Southwell Road in Lakenham, single and jobless. Later that year I met a beautiful young lady called Louise Cowan and spending most of this decade with her has been the best thing about it. At the end of the year Louise and I spent time in California together; an amazing holiday wit great memories.

Age 21 (2000) I got my 2(i) degree from UEA and got a place to study a PGCE in Norwich; by now I was living in Grove Avenue, Norwich, and worked at both M&S in Rampant Horse Street and McDonalds on Westlegate. I started work at Aylsham High School in that October.

Age 22 (2001) I worked at CNS, Eaton Road, and completed my PGCE. I left Norwich to work at Douay Martyrs High School in Ickenham - a wonderful school and with colleagues that I am proud to still call friends. The kids were rough, tough, challenging and thoroughly fun, decent and satisfying to work with. At Christmas I proposed to Louise and she ageeed to marry me

Age 23 (2002) I was promoted at school to being Assistant Head of Year 9; a job which gave me a passion for Pastoral Work in education. I spent a lot of this year saving and planning a wedding (OK, Louise did most of the latter). I spent a lot of time commuting between Ickenahm and New Malden.

Age 24 (2003) we married in July in what still remains the most amazing day of my life; everytime I think about it a smile still creeps across my face. We had a stunning honeymoon in Italy (again, all Louise's choice - I wanted Mexico, but she was right). In August we moved house and bought our first home - a one bed bungalow in Three Score, Bowthorpe. Moving in was no problem as we had very little stuff; I remember driving there in just my Fiesta! It was a small place but had a lovely garden and we had brilliant neighbours. It was ours. That September Louise started work at Poringland Primary School and me at Notre Dame High School as Head of Year 10. I'm not sure I was what they were expecting! It was the most hectic year of our lives! Oh, yes, and I started blogging!

Age 25 (2004) and my first major launch into politics. In the February I was selected as Conservative candidate for Norwich South - a deeply lonely experience in an association with active members you could count on one hand (how things have changed). Later in June I failed to be elected for my home ward of Bowthorpe by just 14 votes - a defeated that shaped me in so many ways. Firstly not to allow Labour to make me feel like that again, secondly about the type of campaigning people respond to and thirdly the importance of a track record of success. In the June of that year we discovered some shocking news - we were expecting Emily, just 5 years ahead of schedule! Louise's pregnancy was bad and that summer I spent most of the time with a sick wife and thus our tour of America was cancelled.

Age 26 (2005) saw yet more great changes. First of all where we lived. Mardle Street was just too small for us. We had bought a place on Alexandra Road, Norwich, which feel through on the day of exchange. Thus, with a 7 months pregnant wife we panic-bought a bigger house - a destroyed shell of a property on Trafford Road. With the amazing support of our family we did it up slowly and continue to do so. I have never felt more at home anywhere than I do in Trafford Road. We became very strong friends with our neighbours John and Eileen Wyatt (now Cllr and Mrs Wyatt) who remain the best, if nosiest, neighbours around! There is a great community feel here and I never regretted the move; although as Louise stood crying in the garden on the day we moved in because of what it state it was in I'm sure she did! In March that year our beloved Emily was born - after a very long hard labour. She was beautiful with long dark hair. And such an alert baby! Sleeping wasn't great but without her picture on my desk, working wouldn't be worth doing. In the May I was defeated by Charles Clarke at the election but it made me want to do politics even more. Contrast that with, in August, my year group getting record exam results for the school.

Age 27 (2006) and two more significant events - firstly my successful campaign to be elected in Bowthorpe. Really that campaign was run by 2 people and I owe my entire political career to John Wyatt. I won by 139 votes defeated Labour's former Lord Mayor Ron Borrett. I was then thrown into the world of local government and straight into the party leadership, and only the work of Eve Collishaw in introducing me to the right people and translating the local government speak could I have survived! This evening I helped someone with some casework and I still get the same buzz from helping people that I did back in 06; long may it last. In the September we very suddenly lost my Uncle Johnny who was only in his 40s. He was a larger-than-life character who enjoyed his life from beginning to end and in that respect he remains an inspiration to me. Growing up he was more of an older brother than an Uncle (mainly because the things he did were stupider than the things we did) and, apparently, we looked very much alike. I still miss him now as much as I did then. In April of that year we discovered that, again, Louise was pregnant and that Olivia - our super Libby - was due and sure enough she arrived in December. Looking like Emily but a lot easier to deal with! I remember one cold day in December the four of us falling asleep together on our bed; Libby on me and Emily in Louise's arms.

Age 28 (2007) This was a year for growing - watching Emily and Libby grow into their characters and watching the Conservative Group on the Council grow, as Eve held her seat in Catton Grove and John gained a seat in Bowthorpe from Labour's Chrissie Rumsby. Blair left office and I started teaching my first set of A2 Politics students. For the first time I was elected as the local Tory Chairman in my own right; I had done an Acting Stint in both Uxbridge and in Norwich South, following Trevor Ivory's resignation. We lost my Nan this year, after a long illness - we all went to see her and I got pictures of her holiday Libby with Emily dancing in the foreground of the photo. I am glad we did because I got to say thank you for her part in bringing me up.

Age 29 (2008) And I finally got to tick off one of my wish list - we went to New York on a very long weekend, something I have always wanted to do. Once again we made gains (Niki George defeating Brenda Ferris in Bowthorpe and John Fisher winning Catton Grove from Juie Westmacott) and I was re-selected as Conservative candidate for Norwich South, having another go at Charles Clarke! I stepped down from the Tory Chairmanship and was pleased to do so but still very much remain linked with the association. We finally extended the house, a conservatory was build and finished in November.

And now I spend my last few hours of my Twenties blogging; and what a good use of time its been. Tomorrow is going to be hell on earth but the last ten years have changed and enhanced my life in so many ways. I am a far better person today than was I was the day I turned 20 and I have so much to look forward to in the next 10 years; especially my 2 beautiful little girls, my loving wife and a career that I still enjoy and find challenging in equal amounts. And then there are my friends - the people who use their own insanity to keep me sane. I have a feeling my Thirties won't be as eventful as my Twenties but my God do we plan to have some fun ... so look out Life!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Administration Councillors make the best opposition

In an otherwise docile Scrutiny Committee the highlights came from Labour's Lakenham Councillor Keith Driver, who (wittingly or unwittingly) asked some of the best questions and tackled Executive Member Alan Waters a treat; especially asking if the council ever achieved its budget aims! Someone that remark from an opposition councillor would have looked cheap but from a member of the ruling party it came across being classic.

Reshuffle fever and Reshuffle nonsense

Nick Clegg should stick very closely to a very boring script because everytime he utters in public he makes a prize mistake - either about women, the pension or his shopping habits. So when he came out with this line:

"I am proud to lead the best front-bench team in British politics, a team which has consistently been ahead of the curve on the big debates that matter to the British people."

...he can't of possibly thought he would get away with it. The Cult of Vince aside (a viewpoint I happen to challenge as it happens) the LibDem frontbench is utterly devoid of talent; Ed Davey verus William Hague, for example. The art of fibbing is that the fib should be believable. Spouting this nonsense ... honestly!

As for the other reshuffle story - the continued Tory speculation, I have to agree with Iain Dale when it says that Cameron must either now act or announce he won't reshuffle because the rumours could start to be damaging. For what its worth I am very relaxed about the return of Ken Clarke and if he does the right job he could prove to be a serious thorn in the governments side. Equally though I think Alan Duncan deserves to keep a serious frontbench position. Mind you, Cameron can't possible make a stupider comment than Clegg!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Over at my other place...

All of my political press releases as Conservative PPC for Norwich South can be found at my campaign website (click HERE for more) - in case either you or a CCHQ secret-agent needs to know!

Let's start holding the hacks (and their bosses) to account

With the apparent revelation that Tory Chairman Caroline Spelman is to be cleared by the Parliamentary Watchdog for a misuse of public funds, there might be a case for looking at how such a claim came about - a kind of accountability equivalent of "wasting police time".

The story was broken by Michael Crick, a man for whom you may remember I have very little time or faith in (a low regard for which only one other figure in the media shares, in my opinion). On the night that Crick may have to eat humble pie, he then releases a massive non-story about CCHQ "watching" Tory candidates. The shock might of been that CCHQ wasn't watching candidates and I am sure both Labour and the LibDems do the same. The vehemently anti-Tory Crick is using one non-story to cover up the failure of another.

As I keep saying, politicans of all parties and at all levels are held accountable when they make false allegations or get things wrong. Why are hacks, policemen, school governors and the like not treated the same?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Cameron has another "moment"

I am starting to strongly believe that Cameron's leadership is marked by a number of significant moments - things that define him to the general public and, so far anyway, they are greeted with opinion poll bounces. The Inheritance Tax announcement was one such "moment", as was his 07 conference speech (the one without notes). Today, although events elsewhere mean it won't get as much attention, we may have seen another moment - on tax on savings.

Savers have been affected by the necessary reductions in interest rates whilst pensioners have suffered from a decade of Gordon Brown's tax raids. They are currently being championed by, amongst others, the Daily Telegraphy who should warmly welcome Cameron's pledges.

As well as supporting pensioners and savers during this turbulent time of financial turmoil, the Conservatives will take further economic measures to help the victims of Gordon Brown's recession.

The Conservatives' proposals include improving the flow of credit and saving jobs with a £50 billion National Loan Guarantee Scheme, freezing council tax for two years by cutting wasteful government spending, encouraging companies to hire again through a tax break for new jobs, reducing employment costs for small businesses by cutting National Insurance and helping them with cashflow by delaying VAT bills for six months.

Labour's tax and debt bombshells are taking Britain to the brink of bankruptcy. Their answer to the debt crisis is yet more borrowing. It is clear that the longer Labour is in power, the worse the economic situation will become.

Only the Conservatives can make the long-term decisions to get the public finances back under control with the proposed National Loan Guarantee Scheme and an Office for Budget Responsibility which would ensure that no Labour Government could bankrupt the country again.

It's a good plan and Cameron has announced it well.

We'll see how significant a "moment" it is and largely that will depend on the media coverage.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Happy New Year!

I know its a bit late, but hey ... I got a Wii for Christmas so the chances of me having any time for blogging are now very slim. Or indeed, working, campaigning or talking to my children! Having an amazingly good time with it. I can see the statement now; Conservative candidate steps down to spend more time with his Wii.

I'm sure the novelty will soon wear off...

p.s. Am 30 in exactly one week - so may have to do something reckless whilst I am still in my twenties.