Friday, October 30, 2009

Show Us The Money!

Press Release; and a typical Clarke hypocrisy:-

Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Norwich South, Cllr. Antony Little, has asked Gordon Brown to stop dragging his feet over a new law which requires the Government to tell us how much taxpayers’ money is spent in Norwich and in every other part of the country. In Parliament on 28 October, Labour MPs actually voted against a motion calling for more openness on public spending across Norwich.

The new law, called the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, was introduced by a Conservative MP and passed by Parliament with wide cross-community support from local and national organisations. It could help fix Britain’s broken politics – by giving local people the power to decide how their cash is spent in their area, and requiring a regular breakdown of spending by central government departments and quangos in new ‘Local Spending Reports’.

More and more taxpayers’ money is being spent by unelected quangos. A new report published on 26 October by the Taxpayers’ Alliance has revealed that quangos now spend an astonishing £90 billion a year – equivalent to £3,640 a year for every household across Norwich.

But Labour Ministers have been trying to water down the new law. They initially only wanted to publish spending by councils and NHS Primary Care Trusts – facts already in the public domain. Further information will only be “developed over time”.

Norwich South Labour MP Charles Clarke was one of those who voted against this important transparency issue.

Conservatives are calling for greater openness and accountability, and are pledging to:
• Use the Sustainable Communities Act to publish detailed Local Spending Reports including central government and quangos, and devolve more power to local communities.
• Require Norwich City Council to publish online figures for all expenditure on goods and services over £500, as is already being piloted by Windsor and Maidenhead Council.

Councillor Antony Little said: “It’s time for the Government to show us the money – and tell Norwich residents how much of their money is actually spent in our area. Gordon Brown wants to stop local people finding out that they get a raw deal from his Government, and conceal that his unelected quangocrats spend almost £4,000 a year per household in Norwich wth little or no say for local people.

“Local communities deserve a far greater say on how their money is spent. It’s time for change, and only Conservatives will open up the books and give power back to local people.”

Mystery Solved!

Remember this story (click here) about me recieving what was pretty much a letter of abuse about a Tory leaflet which featured the NHS? Well, mystery solved because the original writter has responded with evidence of the leaflet enclosed - trouble is, the offending leaflet wasn't (as I suspected) a rouge Tory effort but the latest LibDem leaflet.

Glad we got that cleared up!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why aren't we talking about allowances?

The City Tory Group have been moving for months to get a debate on Councillors allowances and - in our view - cut them overall whilst rewarding those members who do take on extra workload. Anything which reduces the burden on taxpayers during this time of recession and cuts is vital for helping to restore public trust. I say - we are not in this for the money nor the glory (what glory?!?) so let's show this to the public.

So in the same way that I feel that Labour, the LibDems and Greens have blocked this debate at City Hall, now the Tories are doing the same at County Hall (click here for more) over the issue of allowances for Twin-hatters; those people who serve, and claim allowances, on 2 different councils. In Norwich this includes Labour's Bert Bremner and the Green Stephen Little. There are various Conservatives in the same position in the County too.

I understand the point about recieving the allowances for the work you do - double the work meaning double the allowances. In fact a LibDem Councillor wrote recently to the EDP to make this very point. However I also understand the anger that being a Councillor is the equivalent to a part-time job and that some people are building up massive allowance claims to live on because being a Councillor is their sole income. I understand some people believe that to be wrong and that Councillors need outside experience and aren't rounded people if politics is all they have. I also understand that people know that they are voting for a twin-hatter and do it with that knowledge. I also understand that having synergy between councils through twin-hatters can be a good thing. I understand that some people don't want taxpayers money to be used as an income for aspiring young politicans who just want the time to devote to a political career. It is - as you can tell - very complicated.

But the answer to these questions won't come from closing down debate. Let's talk about them, not as party animals, but as elected representatives looking to do the best for people. Shutting down debate looks shifty and as if we are happy with the status quo because some people do well out of it. And this isn't a party issue - don't believe those who tell you otherwise - because Councillors in all parties on at leats one council has voted not to talk about allowances.

The only way to address this perception and restore public trust is to have the debate; fully, honestly and in the open.

No matter which party you are in, refusing to talk about the issue won't make it go away. It just makes all politicans look that little bit more aloof than we did before.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Liz Truss & Trust?

There are 2 things I know about Liz Truss.

One is that she is the newly selected PPC for South West Norfolk, a safe Tory seat, and thus almost certainly the next MP for the constituency.

The second is that a few years back she had an affair with a then-High Flying Tory MP called Mark Field.

I know this because (a) I remember reading about it in the newspaper and (b) I googled all of the finalists for the seat when they were announced and I read about it (again).

If I knew about it ... why did the selectors and members of the South West Norfolk Conservatives not know about it? Does this really constitute a breach of trust? Was she, a highly bright and articulate young woman, really going into the selection to talk about her rather poor taste in men? Does this change the way they think she could do the job of PPC and MP?

I have the highest regard, and I really mean that, for the South West Norfolk Tories. I hope they manage to answer these questions.

Why I oppose the challenge to the Essex & Silver Rooms

City Conservatives have today joined the growing chorus of opposition to the government's shift to personal budgets which could see valuable local services, such as the Essex and Silver Rooms, closing. I thought I would say, in more detail, why this is.

The decision to close the Essex and Silver Rooms comes as an unfortunate move for Norfolk County Council, forced in part by the Westminster government telling our local government to move to a “personal budget” model which represents a dramatic change from the former block-contracts system. Though the “personal budget” for social care offers people greater freedom, it doesn’t readily allow for day centres because they cannot guarantee the income they previously received, effectively forcing their closure.

No centre can move ahead without knowing it will be funded properly. Under “personal budgets” the centres may survive but if a number of people move their funding away from them, then they will have to shut. If these services close, where will people who depend upon that specific centre then go for care? It seems to me that this shows one of the potential weaknesses of the new system. I am strongly urging Norfolk County Council to recognise the needs for these important centres to stay open, especially given the shortage of day centre places and the waiting list to attend many of them.

So ... what now?
I will be working with my colleagues on Norwich City Council – from all parties – to see what we can do to help the campaign. I know some people believe all is lost, but I feel positive we can change this decision if we all work together. If we can prove that this is a genuine cross-party campaign with the strong backing of local people then we have a chance.

Norfolk County Council have options - for a start opposing what is being forced upon us by the national government. I hope they are in a listening mood.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I could add to the mass written on the blogs about the appearance of the BNP Leader on Question Time tonight, but I don't know what I could add that hasn't been said.

So I will simply direct you to Norfolk Blogger's take on it - which puts it better than I ever could.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Anyone delivering Tory leaflets without telling me?

I recieved a letter today from a constituent saying that she had read our leaflet and wanted to disagree with our policy on the NHS.

Trouble is, we haven't put out a leaflet about the NHS ... which is a bit odd.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Next General Election in 30 Minutes

After a discussion about getting more people interested in the work of the council, we then had a debate which one member of the public who did turn up to watch the council meeting described as a "disgrace". It was interesting and I cannot deny I love the cut and thrust of what we do, especially when the council is being political-with-a-capital-P, but this person said the debate was "messy, generally thoughtless and the kind of thing that puts us [ the voter, I assume ] off." I think that was a bit far - after all the debate gave us a very clear insight into the next election.

The motion was one that highlighted positive statements about Sure Start from national politicans (even the Green Party) and suggested that we ought to back the service and refrain from unfair political attacks - such as those parties who might suggest another party wishes to scrap Sure Start because this worries people unncessarily. I don't think anyone expected what came next ...

Cllr Andrew Wiltshire moved a very good speech about the work that Sure Start did. I have to say that I was left bewildered by the response of Labour's Cllr Sue Sands who reeled off a list of clubs that her Sure Start ran citing this as the reason it ought to continue. Great idea; let's share good practice from around the City. Unfortunately Cllr Sands doesn't seem to appreciate the work of Health Visitors quite so much and doesn't see the next to expand their work or to have a multi-agency approach to what Sure Start does. Cllr Ramsay, Green Leader, gave a good speech in favour of the motion - then LibDem Cllr Lubbock (and quite why she was chosen to respond was beyond me) descided to take the motion apart line by line. She didn't appreciate me correcting her every error - including when she criticised the stated aim of Sure Start (as taken from their website). A bizarre moment of my life that one. Lesson 101 of the Council; Whenever you want to oppose a motion but can't work out a decent reason you always say it is "badly written". I'd say her speech was badly written alright. Council Leader Cllr Steve Morphew wanted to know what the Conservatives would change about Sure Start and it was laid out some specifics about changing the role of the Health Visitors, the link to early years education and the role/direction of local services. Not good enough for Cllr Morphew who demands to know more. He is given more. He doesn't like the response so screams that he wasn't given an answer. He was given an answer, he just didn't like it or agree with it. So Cllr Morphew has the words of David Cameron stricken from the motion; quite why is beyond me but never mind. The motion is still passed - yes, the Conservatives still voted for it - and I assume Labour will continue to frighten some very young and very vulnerable voters with this come election time.

I remember letters written by Steve Morphew to the people of Bowthorpe saying that if they didn't vote Labour they wouldn't get new windows in their council homes. They didn't vote Labour but they still got new windows. Maybe we can't believe everything our Council Leader says?

So why do I say that this is a marker for the next General Election? Labour say everything is fine, keep spending chaps and smile for the cameras; the Conservatives want to change and reform our services so they better serve out communities; the LibDems look bewildered; and the Greens had very little indeed to say about the issue.

So could I convince the member of the public of this? No, but they thought none of us came out well. They were annoyed that what should have been a fairly bland political moment was hijacked by Labour. Get used to it, there's plenty of months before the election and I suspect all issues will be subject to this kind of game playing.

Let the political debate begin (we just might want to warn the public first!)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Peers shouldn't face questions in the Commons

I have been following the debate over the recent moves to have more Peers as Cabinet Ministers and how the elected House of Commons hold them accountable. Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, has suggested that they ought to face MPs in the chamber of the Commons (click here for more.) I would disagree.

Firstly this wouldn't be an issue if the Prime Minister hasn't taken so many Peers to be members of his cabinet. The system works best if the government of the day is drawn from the elected members (except, of course, those positions which have to sit within the Lords, such as its own Leader) because it keeps the lines of accountability and scrutiny very clear.

Constitutionalists and historians will keenly know what this country has been through to protect the integrity of the elected chamber. The privilidge of being an MP earns you certain rights and sitting in the Commons is one of those. The Monarch isn't allowed in the chamber - echoes of 1642 and all that - and has to address the joint session of both Houses from the House of Lords. And now, in disrespect to the history and traditions of the fight for parliamentary democracy in this country we are now to allow unelected Lords to address the chamber.

So, let's review - we don't allow Monarchs to do it, we don't allow foreign Heads of State to do it and we don't allow great statesmen to do it. But now we are allowing Mandelson and Adonis to do it. Doesn't seem right so far, does it?

Isn't the solution an arrangement with Westminster Hall or some other similar venue? Accountability is very important but we ought not to throw the baby out with the bath water here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cameron's new intake

The Conservative intake of 2010 will look very different to all those that went before it, according to an article in tomorrow's Sunday Times (click here). I am profiled - as a Tory candidate who is also a state school teacher and a Union Representative - along with other PPCs who don't fit the Tory mould. The Sunday Times is the latest newspaper or political site to regard Norwich South as a winnable seat for the Conservatives. It's well worth a read.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Great day for the City

Chloe Smith is now - officially - the MP for Norwich North. ConHome has some great shots of the swearing in here. As the weeks have rolled on, some have forgotten what a great victory Norwich North was for the party generally and Chloe personally. A great day for the City!

Influential poll puts Tories ahead in Norwich South

The EDP and Evening News cover the story here, including the factually incorrect and rather grumpy protestations from my opponents. I am not taking any vote for granted at this election and we must prove that we are ready for, and responsible in the use of, power. There is still a lot of work to do, but this backs up what we are being told on the doorsteps that we are performing very strongly in the race to be our next MP.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Oh, yes...

A LibDem friend of mine, a former activist for their party, made a point to me about Cameron's speech.

Mr Cameron didn't mention the LibDems once during the speech.

And in setting the debate at the next election between "big government" and "small government", Cameron has essentially defined it as between Labour and Conservative. No alternative.

"Oh, yes..." I replied.

Ready to Lead

Cameron's speech was probably the best he has given as Party Leader; even beating his noteless triumph of 2007. It was sensible, measured, detailed and gave the best narrative of what our party stands for that I have heard. Cameron's attack on poverty; and the standing ovation it won; says a lot about the party and where we are going. The section about Sam and Ivan was heartfelt and decent - such a passage could have been tricky for a political leader, but Cameron's genuine and personal statement certainly hit home - especially for new fathers such as me. His sections on education, health and crime were pitch-perfect.

Cameron looked like a Prime Minister in waiting - this wasn't the tubthumping speech of past leaders and it wasn't designed to fire up activists. But in a funny way it did just that - by adopting a softer more serious delivery, Mr Cameron has shown us what he wants every Tory candidate, MP and canvassers to do on the doorstep.

This speech hasn't won the next election - I don't think we have done that yet - but it certainly sets out a clear path for us to follow and a great message for the doorstep.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Gaffes come and Gaffes go

I have been amused by the media going bananas over the gaffe in which Tory Home Affairs Spokesman Chris Grayling got the wrong end of the stick over Gen Dannatt. It was on the same day that a certain leading BBC journo called David Cameron the "Prime Minister" and a SKY equivalent said George Osbourne was the "chancellor". These things happen, and everyone gets over them - even Political reporters!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Cameron's Bank Balance = Brown's Health?

I have just finished watching Andrew Marr grill Tory boss David Cameron as the party conference opens in Manchester. Marr was, at times, rude and deliberately provocative. Good, I say, that's just the way it should be and people at the sharp end of politics deserve that sort of scrutiny. However, once again, Marr went off political issues - Cameron had been quizzed about Europe, tax, spending & welfare reform to this point - and out of the blue asked Cameron what his personal wealth was.

When Cameron went to give an overly detailed answer, Marr got impatient and asked for a total figure. The question is - why should people know this? Now, being a teacher and a Councillor I am used to the fact that pretty much the whole of my financial dealings are available to anybody who can use google to search for my pay scales. My financial disclosure at City Hall will confirm anything else that is left. I am personally happy for people to know about all of this - but I don't think the private financial details of politicians are necessarily fair game for the public. Why should David and Samantha Cameron's bank balance be a matter for public scrutiny?

Personally I wonder if this was Marr's attempt to balance out his asking last week if the Prime Minister was on medication? His question prompted a tidal wave of anger and the more general point of what is or is not acceptable to ask politicans (including the Prime Minister).

On the Brown issue I back Marr; if the Prime Minister is doing anything which may affect his ability to do the job then he should be open about it. Do we really think that Cameron's bank balance impacts on his ability to do the job? I am not so sure.

If this was Marr's attempt to balance the books between the parties then it was rather bizarre to say the least.