Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Forward to 2011

Well, nobody can say that 2011 wasn't an exciting rollercoaster of a year. And we are looking forward to even more next year. The election campaign feels like it was either yesterday or years ago now. And six months on from losing my seat, I can hardly remember working on the council. The kids are growing up, far too fast, and I am really enjoying being a full time teacher again.

So, a few predictions for this year:

1. A major national shop will unexpectedly open a branch in Norwich.

2. City will face a nailbiting effort for promotion via the qualifiers and will ultiamtely win through.

3. The AV referendum will be lost, by 8%

4. The economy will show strong signs of growth by December

5. Labour will take double digit poll leads during the year but by the end the Tories will be back within striking distance

6. Labour will pick up seats in 2011 but not in large numbers and only the kind of wards the Tories were shocked to have won in 2007. No breakthrough.

7. Ed Miliband will still no be secure as Labour Leader but all 3 party leaders will show negative poll numbers and Clegg will be in the most serious trouble

8. Most newspapers online will be behind the paywall

9. The invisible primary in the US will cut the number of realistic GOP hopefuls down to 4 - Huckabee, Palin, Romney and a surprise figure that perhaps we hadn't even considered in 2010.

10. "Skype me" will be the new "Facebook me"

Happy New Year Everybody!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Predictions for 2010: How Did I Do?

Making bold predictions for the year ahead is always a risky thing to do; but a good laugh to look back on what you thought might be the case. So here are mine taken from the dying days of 2009 ...

1. Norwich City will be promoted to the Championship, and it will be through one of the automatic places - Spot on; full marks with this one.

2. David Cameron will be Prime Minister with an overall Conservative majority and will do so with a swing and a parliamentary result that defies all predictions and re-ignites the debate over voting reform. His new cabinet will look strikingly like his Shadow Cabinet; Gove, Fox, Lansley, Osbourne, Grayling and Hague will all keep their positions in government. The bigger shake-up will be at the middle and junior ranks. Chloe Smith will become a government minister. Well, a more mixed bag here; what a laugh! Cameron is indeed PM and there is indeed a debate over the voting system but without the use of an overall majority. I felt we'd win by around 20 on 36-37% and this ignite the demand for reform. Now we have a coalition and an AV referendum. The cabinet does look similar and everybody except Grayling have taken their Shadow Portfolio into government. I said Smith would be a Minister - and she's a whip. Overall not bad going.

3. Gordon Brown will not be Leader of the Opposition come next New Years Eve; he will quit in the hours that follow the General Election and in the next few weeks he will also stand down as an MP prompting the first by-election of the new parliament. David Milliband, Alan Johnson and Harriet Harman will be the candidates for the new Leader; Cruddas will be out of parliament and Jack Straw will not win enough support. Harman will win. Brown did quit, though days rather than hours after the polls but this is because of the bizarre coalition negotiations! I was wrong that he'd quit as an MP but he has been widely slammed for lack of attention to that job. I'm still not convinced he'll be there come the eve of the 2015 election. The first by-election was caused in Oldham by a pretty ancient ruling from an election court. On the Labour Leadership, like most others I guess, I never saw Red Ed as even a challenger. Straw didn't stand (neither did Harman or Johnson). Not very good there, Little!

4. Nick Clegg will, despite a poor overall result (the LibDems will lose seats), cling on as LibDem Leader pointing to some spectacular gains from Labour as his defining moment. Their gains will not include any in Norfolk or Suffolk. Almost correct; with one minor slip! Clegg did get a poor result and they did lose seats. He is still leader and their most spectacular gains (like Redcar and Burnley) were from Labour. There was, of course, one gain in Norfolk and Suffolk ...

5. The overwhelming majority of newspaper websites will be "pay-to-view" by the end of the year. Again, I was a bit early with this one - the Murdoch empire (which which I am not at war with) are switching other with more to follow. I think this may be proved to be correct come 2011.

6. The Queen will still be monarch with no signs of being otherwise, but Prince Charles will prompt a political controversy with the new government. The Queen is still there, Charles has kept silent on the government and I missed the tiny issue of a royal engagement.

7. Local Government Reorganisation in Norfolk will come to nothing, but nobody will take any political responsibility despite the massive cost involved. Spot on in all respects, but I never predicted it would by the High Court that did the deed, or the by-elections that would follow.

8. Diplomas will stay despite the new government's radical education policy. Correct! Gove has proved to be a radical Education Secretary so far and Diploma's are still with us.

9. Matt Smith will prove a more popular Doctor Who than David Tennant, to the surprise of pretty much everybody. This may depend on who you ask but I think this is correct!

10. The new MP for Norwich South will be ... that chap, oooohhhh, whats-his-name, thingey ... ;-)

I will have think long and hard about my 2011 predictions; but the one that got away is the most interesting. On my planned blog post instead of the one about Doctor Who I had included Steve Morphew to have quit as Labour Leader at City Council ... which would have both been correct and made me look like Mystic Meg!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How has Cable defied political gravity?

I am a loyal Conservative; very loyal, in fact, and I support the work of David Cameron specifically as Prime Minister and the Tory-led coalition generally. They are a much better government than Labour could ever have formed. However, tonight, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have made a big mistake and even loyal Conservatives have to say this.

This morning, the Cable story (I thought) was a light hearted pre-Christmas story about a puffed up LibDem in government; let's remind ourselves that Mr Cable said if he ever quit, or was forced from government, that he had the nuclear option of bringing down the administration. Tough talking (and in my view, wholly wrong, but never mind).

By this evening he has had a chance to prove himself to be correct. If any other Minister, let alone a Tory one, had done what Cable did then they would be out. The PM could have re-shuffled him, he could have quit or even been sacked. But he hasn't been - how? Do they really fear losing Vince Cable that much, or as some have suggested had they just not wanted to give into media pressure? Many are speculating that Cable fought his corner well and clung on because neither Clegg nor Cameron want a lightening-rod for the anti-coalition voices on the government side of the House.

So what now? Well, a lot depends on tomorrow's headlines ... the media will go for this, the commentators are working as a pack tonight, Labour scent blood and at the very best we have a weakened and even lame-duck Business Secretary.

Some Conservatives are lining up behind Vince tonight, but I feel that I have to say how much I believe this decision to be wrong and could potentially yet backfire on the whole government. I am not alone; Twitter is alight too, with loyal Conservatives saying the same thing.

Cable has defied political gravity today, but my feeling is that to save one man, the whole government is damaged.

Monday, December 20, 2010

So, what's the evidence that the Tories are on a go-slow in Old & Sad?

In my last post on this subject I have repeated a now oft-mentioned point that the Tories may not be taking this by-election in Oldham seriously. Seriously? We have a great candidate, lives in the constituency, local links all over the place and came within 2,400 votes of winning 7 months ago. It's a tough time to fight an election, especially given the time of the year and the weather. But ConHome have confirmed that cabinet ministers are ready to take the fight to the seat, the PM has committed to going there, I have been asked to help a few times (even given the distance), direct mail is flying out and the call centers are in operation.

OK, OK, I know that often we are not the fastest movers in by-election terms; I remember turning up in Norwich North in the first week or so to find myself pretty much alone amongst a pile of leaflets and look how that turned out!

But given the circumstances, how much more could we expect or do in this seat? Just where is the evidence that this isn't a go-er for us?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Would AV help solve Cameron's Old & Sad dilema?

Let me start this blog post back to front. I was chatting to a long standing member of the Conservatives here in Norwich South about the political situation and the conversation turned, as I suppose is inevitable, to the AV referendum. I explained that having flirted with AV I was now on the No side of the camp and would vote and campaign against the change. To my surprise, given this Tory member was in his 70s and very big-C conservative in his views, he said that he would in fact be voting Yes. I had to ask, why? Well, it's our best chance of winning in Norwich South he countered. Go on, I said ... His reasoning went like this. The Conservatives here lose a certain amount of support every election because there hasn't been a clear challenger to Labour and the LibDems have always pushed, and pushed, and pushed, the tactical vote message of "only the LibDems can beat Labour here" to the point where a lot of Conservative voters in places like Eaton, Thorpe Hamlet and Town Close do actually choose to support the yellow even though they are blue. If, my colleague said, they could vote Conservative 1 (which would be their actual choice) and then LibDem 2 (their tactical choice) then that would stop them having to vote LibDem X. And he is confident that if people in Norwich South actually voted the way they believed in as opposed to the way that the LibDem leaflets instructed them to, then the Tories would come second and it would in fact be LibDem votes that would be re-distributed in our favour. Image, he said, those Eaton Tory voters could now happily vote Tory 1 LibDem 2 in the knowledge they won't accidentally let Labour in. Hmmm, I said, I will have to think on that one. I mentioned this to a LibDem friend of mine and she agreed; AV could actually damage the LibDems in Norwich who get elected in large part on the tactical vote.

Anyway what does this have to do with the Oldham East by-election. Well the Tory grassroots are apparently up in arms that the Prime Minister seems happy for a LibDem to win, even though the Tory candidate is not far behind in a three-horse race (the results for Oldham East and Norwich South are very similar).

Although CCHQ kicking this into the long grass is unthinkable, I know what Mr Cameron must be imagining. What if Labour sneak back in and get another MP because the Tories win an extra 500 votes and the LibDem miss out by a small margin? For what its worth, given the state of the voluntary party and the reaction on websites like ConHome, I think CCHQ will have to fight hard in order o satisfy the lust of the membership for a good hard electoral battle.

This links back to my first point; CCHQ and the Prime Minister's life would be much easier if this by-election were fought under AV where we could happily throw the kitchen sink at a Con 1 vote (and hopefully win) but be satisfied with Con 1 LibDem 2.

I wonder, in fact, if Oldham East might make some Tories re-think their opposition to AV ... and maybe make some Labour members rethink their support?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Unthinkable

When a friend text to say that the unthinkable had happened I had no idea what he meant. Then I was directed to this.

Absolutely nothing so far has made me miss being at City Hall, but the thought of not being in those Group Leaders Meetings now has made me very depressed indeed. What fun!

For Cllrs. Morphew, Stephenson & Wiltshire I have a deep sense of Schadenfreude.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Government Can't Lose The Fees Vote ... Can They?

As the media scramble from one MPs declaration of voting intention to another, it is worth putting the whole issue the fees voting into the context of the whole House of 650 members. The winning post - assuming no abstentions would be 326, so the whips on both sides will no doubt be working out how to get to that figure.

Presumably the Speaker and his team will not vote; knocking out John Bercow (Buckingham), Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley), Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) and Dawn Primarolo (Bristol) from the vote. In addition, the 5 Sinn Fein MPs will no vote either. In addition there is one vacancy in Oldham East & Saddleworth. Which leaves us dealing with Coalition strength of 362 and a total opposition strength of 278; so the anti-fees MPs would have to solidify all of their own MPs and overcome an 84 vote lead (which is, essentially, switching 43 MPs).

Are the opposition united on this? It is difficult to imagine many or any of them not voting against the government; Labour sense an opportunity here and have even drafted in Gordon Brown (Kirkcaldy) to vote. If any Labour MPs did agree with the policy I suspect they were lept on froma great height a long time ago. It also looks very likely that the DUP, SNP, Plaid and SDLP will all fall into line too. Alliance MP Naomi Long (Belfast N), Green MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavillion) and the three Independents (Lady Hermon, North Down; Dennis McShane, Rotherham & Eric Illsley, Barnsley Central) all look solid too. So short of illness or some other disaster (snow?) it should be a united front from the opposition; 278 in the bag.

Despite his own claims, it looks like David Davis (Haltemprice) will not be a rebellion of one; so far Illford's Lee Scott, New Forest's Julian Lewis and Shipley's Phillip Davies have said they will vote no too. In addition, Bob Blackman (Harrow E) and former teacher Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole) may yet vote no too. Six Tories in total; bringing the vote numbers to 356 to 284.

And then the question is which LibDems will break ranks and vote no and which might abstain (even an abstention impacts the total votes). Today Tim Farron (Wesmoreland & Lonsdale), LibDem President, has come out against. In addition to Tim, we have on record former Leaders Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy. Plus Mike Hancock (Portsmouth), Julian Huppert (Cambridge), John Leech (Manchester), Ian Swales (Redcar), John Pugh (Southport), Bob Russell (Colchester), Mark Williams (Bristol), Simon Wright (Norwich S), Roger Williams (Brecon), Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) & Greg Mulholland (Leeds). Total, so far, of 13. Before abstentions that leaves the vote 343 to 297; a government majority of 46.

So it is going to take one massive earthquake; even if all the non-government LibDem MPs vote against, and even the PPSs, it would still take a mass Tory rebellion to bring this down.

I admire anybody who is willing to take to the streets for what they believe in (as long as it is non-violence), but for all the excitement that student leaders and the media are trying to whip up about the vote I cannot see a way, at this moment, that the government can lose. That may all change but with 24 hours to go, the fees vote looks a lot less exiting than we are lead to believe.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Morphew quits as City Council Leader

I had known for some time that Steve Morphew - who, like him or loath him, has put his heart and soul into Norwich politics for a long time time now - was planning to step down. I like Steve a lot; he's a decent guy, easy to do business with and has the City stamped through his heart. We've clashed, a lot, in the council chamber and he is a great advocate for the Labour cause and for Norwich. Ultimately he is wrong (on nearly everything, naturally) but credit where it is due - he dragged the City back from the financial abyss left the LibDems and has run a hung council with remarkable stability. In the end, Morphew could have quit over a number of issues - the Connaught collapse, the million pound unitary fiasco, Greyhound Opening ... but in a funny way I am glad he has gone in his own way and in his own time. I always praise genuine public service, and Steve Morphew has been one of the City's fine public servants. Like Brian Watkins before him, public life in the City will be poorer when he has gone.

My gripe, if I am allowed one, is that Cllr Morphew will lead Labour into the 2011 City poll and then a new leader will be elected afterwards. This means that when people vote they will not know who will be the next Labour Leader or, potentially, the next City Council Leader. This seems unfair on local people and not very democratic. So I am urging Steve to step down earlier to allow Labour a leader by the time of the poll. I think local people deserve that.

So good luck Steve; enjoy life with the family and actually trying to earn a living. Being City Council Leader is a full time job on a part-time salary and we all appreciate the sacrifices you make in public office (none more so than those of us who have done it). Enjoy the (brief) retirement, and then - who knows ...?

Putting the "fun" into Politics

For a time there, some people might have thought that politics was boring. But the last election, and the government since has made political argument central to our lives again ...

Crash - 20 newly elected Tory and Labour MPs announce they are to vote No on the AV referendum (here)

Bang - Former Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis says he'll oppose the government's tuition fees rise (here)

Wallop - Scottish LibDem MP quits the government, then he doesn't, then Radio 4 admit they've been conned by a Georgie builder (here)

As they would say in China, we live in interesting times. Of these the most significant could be Mr Davis and his opposition to fees. Will we see more Tories follow suit now? And if so, and I am not sure of the parliamentary maths here, does that put pressure on LibDems to vote in favour to ensure the bill passes?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Stupidity of the TopShop Campaigners

I could go on for hours here about why yesterday's TopShop protesters were, but why re-invent the wheel - Dizzy has done so brilliantly here. I just look forward to Ms Toynbee's efforts with other companies, perhaps some closer to home, to get them to pay their tax dues. In particular one campaigner, when interviewed, said that education could be free if companies such as TopShop paid their tax ... hmmm, clearly not a student of maths or economics then.

Over to Dizzy ...
I hear that yesterday, some "campaigners" managed to cause a high street clothes store to close (Topshop) and all because they think the store, or more rightly the guy that runs the store is not paying enough income tax because his wife lives in Monaco (no doubt in a tiny house which cost a fortune*) and quite legally gets a dividend.

It's an odd one to me, because legally speaking it isn't true at all, and more specifically, the targeting of the store completely negates the amount of taxation revenue such stores generate for the Government through things like, corporation tax, income tax for staff, employers NI contributions; employees NI contribution; Council Tax; energy levies; VAT on sales; VAT on energy; VAT on fuel; Fuel duty in distribution etc etc.

The irony of protesting about "missing tax revenue", which results in a major high street store having to close its door and thus not generate tax revenue is delicious though, don't you think?

In a sense, the protests are not really some evidence of a mass radicalisation of people looking for tax fairness, but rather evidence that the young people who demand free education lack the self-awareness to spot the rank hypocrisy of their own actions.

There is a small part of me that wants them to carry on and be even more successful, just so at the end of it all it can be shown that by causing these stores to close they reduced the tax receipts to Government by more than they claim is owed. Now wouldn't that be really fucking funny?

Oh yes, one last though. Have none of them noticed that the Arcadia group stores all trade online as well? You might be able to cause the doors to close by blockading them, but unless you're going to break the law by a Denial of Service Attack on their sites, you're probably not going to stop them trading.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Ed Miliband: Drowning, not Waving

Due to "unforeseen circumstances" I was able to watch PMQs live this week; and what an eye opener it was too. Whilst a lot of the media will focus on Cameron's ad-lib "son of Brown" line; which literally crushed poor Ed Miliband; I thought the line which summed up this performance was "drowning, not waving." When Mr Cameron said this of the Leader of the Opposition, he nicely summed up how I was feeling. Miliband led all 6 of his questions on the economy but my problem wasn't his choice of subject or even the poor delivery - but that I couldn't understand the point he was making. It was a bizarre mixture of accusation about dithering, complacency and Cameron's economic literacy. There was no thread to his questioning, no build up and, ultimately, no point to them. I though when watching; "ah, he's got a killer sixth question", but no such question came. Tory MPs left in buoyant mood, Labour MPs looked crestfallen. Apaprently you can get good odds on the man Private Eye has christened "Milibean" not leading Labour into the 2015 election. Just sayin'.

Could Coalition be the end of Collective Responsibility?

The sight of LibDem squirming over the tuition fees vote has not been a pleasant sight. First Vince Cable, and now Nick Clegg, have been been done over by the media and (to a lesser extent) by Labour MPs over their apparent discomfort over what to do in the lobbies. In particular the sight of Mr Cable not voting for a piece of legislation that he co-wrote and will be piloting through the Commons is bizarre to say the least.

Some LibDems are, of course, being more straight forward and honest. Jon Leech, one of Manchester's LibDem MPs, has announced he will oppose the move as has Cardiff LibDem MP Jenny Willmot. The difference is, I suppose, that Ms Willmot is a PPS and thus technically covered by collective responsibility - the idea that all Minister must back the government in a vote or resign their position. PPSs quitting is nothing new and many will simply be recycled in a few months time, so why is Ms Willmot holding on like this?

Regulars will know that I am not a fan of collective responsibility on the whole. If the legislation is yours (a la Cable) then yes, you must be duty bound to vote for it. But why can't our politics to be grown up enough for somebody to say that they disagree with X policy but still want to remain part of the government because they back the other 99% of the programme? If we know this in advance, why shouldn't MPs do the adult thing? Will be see David Lidington and Cheryl Gillan quit the government over High Speed Rail links that threaten their constituencies? I hope not; they should be free to speak and vote against that part of the government programme but work had to deliver the rest of it.

Controversial, maybe, but might the coalition agreement weaken the doctrine of collective responsibility? I hope so.

UPDATE; a friend points out the CR seems to be a problem for this government only, the previous lot used to regularly, for example, campaign against hospital closures in their areas without quitting the government that imposed them

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Simon Wright needs a new election agent

I mean, would you allow this to be on your website ...

Simon Wright.

Status: None.


Look East: I'm not one to complain ...

I am not the kind of guy who whinges about the media - as they say, like a sailor moaning about the sea - but tonight's headlines on Look East are quite remarkable.

Home Secretary told she's living in cloud cuckoo land over impact of police cuts
The VAT Rise: How will this impact upon our region's industries?

Fair and balanced? Hardly; how about ...

Government brings country back from brink of bankruptcy
Stability returned to region as Labour's massive deficit is finally tackled

I await tomorrow's fair and balanced bulletin with interest ...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Still think nobody should take responsibility for this ...?

Aaron Porter must quit over protest fiasco

A day later and still nobody has taken responsibility for the disastrous events during the NUS March. The waste of public money, police time and attack on the civil liberties of those who worked around Millbank is unacceptable in today's society.

I don't think there is any point in going on who did this; the NUS blame some variant of militants whilst various good sources have now pinpointed students, NUS members and members of the NUS Exec as being involved. The fact is that it happened; but were either side prepared?

The police certainly weren't and I trust that Boris or a Home Office Minister are having very severe words with the Met for their handling. But when this event was being planned, did the NUS have a plan to deal with violence. They certainly should have foreseen this and done something about it. Mr Aaron Porter, Labour's NUS President, is responsible for the movement - the buck stops at the top. Did Mr Porter plan for there to be violence? If not, why not? And if he did why the plans totally unable to cope with the situation.

I am afraid that Mr Porter must also explain the bizarre poor choice of branding for this event - with stuff like this:
no wonder it attracted the thugish element we saw yesterday. You have to take responsibility for your deeds, yes, but so too for your words. I doubt Mr Porter has the honour to accept his part in this. He is putting his short-lived political career above the student fees movement because it would have far more credibility with the public if he put his hands up and apologized. And if Mr Porter will not do this, then his Executive Committee should force him too. And if they won't then the onus is back on ordinary members up and down the country to have their say ...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Chaos at the HMRC?

I have today received my new tax code which, given the ridiculous problem where I was landed with a £2,000 tax bill only to have it written off after a week of complaining, I have great suspicions about.

I would urge everybody to look at this week's Panorma (click here for the iplayer version) which details the apparent chaos within the HMRC. My advice? Check everything, enquire if in doubt and follow everything through.

Apparently, we're all the taxman now.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election: First Dodgy Bar Chart Spotted!

... and I am thrilled to say that the LibDems have given us our first dodgy bar chart of the new "dodgy bar chart season" (i.e. a parliamentary by-election). Even though we haven't even got a date for the Oldham seat vacated by former Labour MP Phil Wollas, this gem has appeared on their website. Notice how the Conservatives don't even get a bar? Wow! They must be so far behind they don't even warrant the extra graphic or ink on the page. Surely those honest souls at the LibDems aren't trying to cover something up are they ...

Phil Woolas Labour 14,186 31.9 -10.7
Elwyn Watkins Liberal Democrat 14,083 31.6 -0.5
Kashif Ali Conservative 11,773 26.4 +8.7

Gosh. Would you believe it - a three way marginal seat where the Tory vote rose considerably and the LibDem vote went down in 2010! I would never have been able to tell that from the bar chart ... thank goodness for Google. I'm sure the LibDems wouldn't want to mislead people either, so no doubt this little error will be cleared up soon ...

Come on LibDems, this election is being held in the interest of clean and fair elections. Maybe your campaign ought to reflect that too?

LibDem PPC defects to Labour (but just make sure you get his age right)

There is a, frankly, hilarious debate going on at LDV at the moment (see here) regarding the news that a 2010 PPC (somebody who failed to become an MP but who was a flag bearer for the party) has quit to join Labour. He did this because of the way he feels about the coalition.

However the LibDems have fought back - taking the Independent newspaper, who carried the story, to task for ... erm, getting his age wrong. Talk about missing the point; this kind of diversionary tactic may work in LibDem Blog World but they'd do better talking about the politics and the motives of the defection rather than the minute details of the newspaper story.

Anyhow, as regular readers will know I am not a big fan of defections; I think anyone who jumps straight from party-to-other-party will find it difficult in their new home and impossible to settle back in their old one. And usually there is some back story to them. Individual defections tend to be meaningless, and as I never tire of saying - you need to look at the pattern and flow of defections. If this was one of a string of PPCs, councillors, activists etc defecting then you have a problem ...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Ridiculous Claims Pt. 133

Most people in politics really dislike LibDem campaigning tactics; and of all of them, the way that they claim to be able to win in every ward, division, council or constituency in the country irrespective of the previous results, is the biggest irritant. Bar charts being flung here and there - if you stats don't prove your point, use a dodgy scale that will or even in some cases use stats from a completely different area!

But now I think the mantle for bonkers claims of electoral success should be handed onto the Green Party. With their massive tally of ... erm ... 1 MP they are now predicting big gains in the Scottish Parliament including winning seats in every region (see here). Most people in the country aren't even bothered by the Greens but here in Norwich we've had years upon years of idiotic claims of them about to make an historic breakthrough (that never happen). Be it the parliamentary seat or the local council, there is no claim too big for them to make.

IDS vs AoC

I read with some concern about the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is "leading" the opposition to new plans to make benefits claimants to do work. I strongly support the right of the clergy to speak out on political issues, but this interventions (more here from the BBC) tells us a number of things.

Firstly that the Labour Leadership are very wary of jumping in with both feet first. I should imagine that Ed Miliband's team are doing some very fast and very serious polling on this. My feeling is that they leap too fast on Housing Benefit and got caught on the wrong side of the debate - backing high-claiming benefit claimants over "hard working families" - and won't do that again. Maybe the lack of Labour opposition may have led the BBC to blow the comments of Dr Williams out of all proportion?

Secondly it is very brave of the Church to take on this sort of issue. I would imagine - though stand ready to apologise if polls suggest otherwise - that this policy will be popular indeed. The vast majority of people, rightly or wrongly, don't want people to be idle on benefit. It is very dangerous for the church to be seen as the organisation backing the right of people to do nothing whilst claiming public money.

Now I am not for a moment saying all benefit claimants are lazy scroungers; for me this plan isn't about making people work for the sake of it but giving people a reason to get up, some pride in their day and getting into a routine for work. These have to be good things. When you are out of work you need all the support you can get; this is one very good way of the government supporting people.

I am worried that by making these remarks, Dr Williams sets himself up against Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith; and that IDS is going to win, hands down.

I doubt Dr Williams wants to increase the disconnect between the church and the people - so please, and I blog as a christian, think very carefully before making these remarks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Simon Wright : Not A Single Voter Switched Over Unitary Decision

I am having some time to catch up with the Local Government Bill going through the House of Commons which ends the defunct Norwich City Unitary plans. Indeed the ending of those plans gave me the time to watch it ... but never mind ... moving on!

During the debate, Norwich MP Simon Wright (whom to his credit along with Great Yarmouth's Brandon Lewis and Broadland's Keith Simpson turned up to the debate) was asked by Labour MP Ben Bradshaw if he thinks he would have won his seat had he admitted to being anti-Unitary before the election.

Simon Wright's great weakness if the widespread perception that he flip-flops. For something before the election (e.g. Unitary) and against afterwards. Or against something before the elections (increased fees, VAT rises, old folks facilities) and for them afterwards. So this was quite a tricky question when you are dealing with a 310 vote wafer thin majority.

No, he said, not a single vote switched as a result of unitary.

Rubbish, I say.

I met plenty of voters who moved to my campaign on the basis I was the only anti-Unitary candidate (including 2 of Mr Wright's near-neighbours who work for Norfolk County Council and had voted LibDem in the past). I didn't keep a count but the issue was raised time and again and I was always honest about where I stood (no point in doing otherwise - my views are easily googleable).

I don't know if 310 people or more switched to the LibDems on the basis of his then-held-views but I can say it was a campaign issue and it did cause people to alter their voting habits.

A Better Way; a Plan or just a Slogan?

One of the great ignored aspect of the CSR (why, I hear you cry---) was the launch of a new online tool by Labour to help them with their policy making.

At Prime Ministers Question Time, Mr Cameron enjoyed a good win which included a line I think we'll hear again and again - that Labour can't criticise unless they have an alternative plan for the economy. So, what is Mr Miliband's plan? Seeing as the last plan was rejected by the British people at the ballot box, he is pleading with the voters for their ideas. The brilliant is a way of crowd sourcing the CSR.

Now, it doesn't help that Labour's example of a better way is the awful bland line of "My better way is to make sure that an ordinary family like mine gets treated fairly." Errr ... what? We need to make cuts, even Labour admit that. The argument is about who, where and when. If the Chancellor rose and came out with this sort of line, he'd have been rightly laughed out of the chamber.

Labour want 20% reductions in spending - so the question is, for every coalition cut they oppose, what else would they cut or what tax would they raise to compensate for this?

The stuff written on the website is a list of things people don't like about the CSR. Now, that's fine - the public don't have to come up with the detailed answers themselves, but for Labour to try and spin this website as an crowd-sources alternative CSR is beyond parody. I only read the submissions from in and around Norwich but it seems a lot of people don't like a lot of the cuts. OK then, Labour, what else is it to be? You wanted to make 20% cuts - let's hear them.

Where are they? What cuts are you going to make? What taxes will you raise?

It is easy to list things you oppose - much harder to have a credible economic policy and plan for government. The website is a campaign tool; a slogan; and let's not pretend it's anything more.

The (Necessary) Dark Arts?

The Whips divide opinion in British politics, usually depending on which side of the fence you sit on. Those on the frontbenches think they are vital to allowing the machinery of government work; they offer a necessary stability to the uncertain world of the legislature and provide the oil required to make the machine work. For some on the backbenches they represent the "old politics", whom wish for there to be no dissent, stifle freedom of speech and clamp down on the honest plain speaking that out politics, so distrusted by the public, needs.

Whatever side you sit on, this article from former Tory MP Paul Goodman on ConservativeHome.Com, with the current government Chief Whip is outstanding and really helps us to understand who the whips are and what they do.

If the electoral system is up for debate, and the number and size of constituencies, why should the fusion of the legislature and the executive not be up for debate too? Because therein lies the real debate over the dark arts of the whips.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It just doesn't look very good ...

The Mirror were, loyal to HMV "Red Ed", on the lookout for stories for the whole of the Tory Conference and used some pretty low, bordering on illegal, tactics to get them. They need not have bothered - this revelation about a Tory Council Leader using a £500-a-night hotel on the taxpayers when he lives just 4 miles away from the ICC in Birmingham (and has a chauffeur anyway) - trumps anything they may have about young Tories falling over, vomiting or having a crush on David Cameron.

Read the article here for all the details, but I would say this. I absolutely agree with Cllr. Whitby that getting through security was often long winded and could delay you anywhere up to a half hour. I agree that if somebody, like a cabinet minister, wanted to see you it meant there and then and could often be into the small hours of the morning. But ... there is absolutely no excuse for this because it just doesn't look very good to the taxpaying public. Spending this amount of money, no matter what the offset costs are, make politicians (of whatever party) look very much out of touch. Whatever the excuses he may have, think of it this way - the political class are about to make some very tough decisions that will leave people out of jobs, financially struggling, cutting benefits and the like - they don't want to see their elected representatives in posh hotels whilst they finalise those decisions.

And anyway, I doubt Uncle Eric would approve ...

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Conference: Then & Now

One of the BBC Reporters I was speaking to during the conference made the observation that everybody ought to go to at least 1 party conference at least once, just to experience it. He's absolutely right; it is an experience like no other and I would urge people, especially those who are not political to give it a go. This was my first conference in ten years; the last time I went we were in the doldrums of opposition and with things unlikely to get any better. Here are my thoughts on what has changed, got better or worse and stayed the same in the 10 years I was missing from conference.

The Conference Facilities: I have to say I was very impressed with Birmingham; an easy drive from Norwich and the ICC/Hyatt were simple to find and get to. The only problem we had was finding our way to the hotel after the police cut off most of the major roads! The ICC itself was an excellent facility and the staff were very friendly and helpful. My one big criticism in the main hall itself; it was very small and meant that we were unable to get into some of the major speeches including George Osborne's. However, if I were a cynic (heaven forbid) I would say that the excellent facilities have therefore diminished the role of the conference hall itself - there is so much else to see and do that the speeches almost got in the way!

The Platform Speeches: I have watched a few back on iplayer and BBC Parliament and you get a very different sense of a speech in the hall itself. I didn't think, for example, Eric Pickles came across half as well on TV as he did in the hall. Michael Gove was, for me, the darling of the conference and the whole session on public services was very well put together. We have a lot of excellent speakers in the cabinet and government. My one problem, though, was the stage managed element of this. We were asked to put forward questions and make submissions but the number of opportunities was very limited and even when I went to do this well in advance, all the slots had been taken. Such a shame that wasn't more an opportunity for the membership to "own" the conference hall itself.

The Fringe: And so that led to the best bit of the conference, the amazing fringe meetings. There were hundreds to choose from, very diverse topics and well put on. I did a full day, every day - from breakfast meetings to lunch time, early evening and then night time fringes. The debate was free-flowing and, actually, very respectful of people's opinions. At one fringe, I spoke to defend the principle of mixed ability teaching after a half dozen others spoke up for setting and streaming in schools. I expected to be savaged, but not.

The Lobbyists / Media: One thing which has changed massively is the number of lobbyists and media present now we are in government. Many of them dominated fringe meetings to spread their cause or deliver a message. I'm OK with this, but not if it drowns out the members having their say. One fringe I went to had lobbyist, after lobbyist, after lobbyist, speaking. A massive industry has been sparked in the last 10 years. One estimate I received is that only a third of people there were actually Tory members / delegates.

The Minister's Mind: One thing I had forgotten is what amazing access you get to Ministers, MPs and even the media themselves. I bumped into most of the senior BBC staff and spoke to them and probably half of the cabinet. You forget how human some of these people are - I ran into Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, Leader of the House Sir George Young, Education Secretary Michael Gove amongst others ... all just looking around the conference or having a drink at the bar. No wonder this kind of event attracts lobbyists!

The Exhibition: Now wasn't that good! The conference exhibition was massive - much bigger than 10 years ago, with various groups having stands and trying to engage the delegates and each other. CCHQ put on a good range of training, I enjoyed Red Ed's Beer & Sandwiches, stands with the latest in technology, Conservative friend groups, printers, shops (ASDA and M&S were there), unions & public sector groups. It was vibrant, noisy, engaging and never dull. When I had a spare half hour, a wander around the exhibition was a great way of bumping into people.

The Parties: Something which hasn't changed is the Tory capacity to drink and eat!! The food was good but got very samey towards the end as most parties / fringe meetings had the same caterers! Best booze award goes to the teaching unions for their wine stocks and to the Conservative Friends of Cyprus for having decent beer! Best food award goes to Barnardos for their Fish 'n' Chip supper! The National Autistic Society had a cocktails party too! The Eastern Region Reception was very well attended and great fun and the Norfolk Tories tried, and failed, to eat the hottest curry known to man.

The Security: 10 years ago you pretty much were able to stroll into conference with a swipe of your library card. Now we've in government the security was amazing; it sometimes took a good 20-30 minutes just to get into the ICC; which as you have the PM and cabinet around must be a good thing! The security staff were all very good natured and even the policemen with guns cracked a smile!

The Splits: In short, I didn't spot any. The Freedom Zone, outside of the conference center, ran a number of very good events where the more radical elements of Tory thinking were explored. Quite right too - good on them. Debate is important, especially as we weren't allowed any in the main conference hall.

The Stamina: I had forgotten that Conference is a stamina event; either that or I could manage it 10 years ago and can't now! Getting up for an 8am fringe, going to bed at 3am and drinking for 15 hours straight can make things difficult (at my age). But it was so good natured and happy. There was, above all, a real sense of enjoyment about the conference.

The Conservative Party seemed more professional and much more organized than I ever remembered. It was a really good event and hopefully I may be able to do it again, maybe within the next 10 years.

I'll finished with another word from a BBC reporter; they do 3 weeks of this, on the road, from the LibDems to Labour to the Tories. The LibDem event was muted, the Labour get-together was stunned and the Conservative conference was just more fun.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Ed's Loose Change

New Labour Leader (oops - he won't like me saying that!) Ed Miliband has today announced his first Shadow Cabinet and I have to say that I share the view of many that a lot of his appointing are, frankly, bizarre.

I know that he has his hands tied by having to have Shadow Cabinet elections rather than just appointing who he likes - although apparently he can also appoint some places too (more on that later) - but his allocation of jobs goes from the boring to the bonkers (copyright, Labour MPs).

A lot has been focused on the role of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor, but to me the most fascinating role is that given to Harriet Harman. Hattie is a Shadow Cabinet certainty given her directly elected role of Deputy Leader. Under Mr Brown, Harman also doubled (or quadrupled) as Commons Leader, Labour Chairmwoman and Minister for Equalities. No doubt she'll be grateful to be down to just the 2 extra jobs ... Deputy Leader and Shadow International Development Secretary. Odd, I think, but maybe explainable. You see, Harriet's standing has rocketed after her stint as Acting Leader. Share prices in HH Ltd. have gone through the roof. The reception and plaudits she won at conference show us that. Like Margaret Beckett in1994, Harman's political reputation has been enhanced no end. In fact to the point where I know a lot of Labour members who wished she had gone for the top job herself. So given her massive popularity and status within the party, why dump her off on the relatively low status cabinet job of Shadow DID? Most people expected at least Shadow Justice (taken by Red Ed's main man Sadiq Khan). I am not saying that International Development isn't important - it is, as shown by the fact it has a ring fenced budget - but that the cabinet role doesn't involve the great partisanship and media role that Harman would thrive on. Ed has showed her into the background, maybe fearful of the power that a resurgent Harman has in the party. I'm afraid this role, to me, makes Ed look weak. He should have exploited Harman rather than demolishing her.

So onto the top jobs. Johnson for Shadow Chancellor is a sound move in one way - he is a loyal, union man and will serve Ed to the end with undying-bunker-mentality. He is also an extremely effective Commons performer (one of Mrs Little's favourite MPs actually) and will give the Chancellor a real run for his money (no pun intended). But Johnson is the compromise candidate; a man who will show the imprint of the last leader to sit on him. Ed can mould Alan in his own image. And so, because he doesn't have the guts to choose between Ed Balls and Mrs Ed Balls, Alan will do for now. Somebody on the Beeb suggested he was a caretaker appointment - I think so too. I saw Johnson doing an interview on Sky and was, frankly, terrible. He avoided all questions about policy, or even opinions, and sidestepped the issued of public sector pensions and strike action. But I guess he won't find his backbone until Ed tells him where it is. And that leaves Balls and Cooper like fish out of water in their new roles. Economists both, and both yearing for the top economic portfolio, Yvette Cooper now has to shadow the Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ed Balls is opposite Home Secretary Theresa May. I would suggest that Mr Hague will sleep more soundly than Mrs May, but neither Labour spokespeople have the experience or knowledge - yet - to lay a glove on the government.

The LibDems in the coalition may too be breathing a sign of relief that they will not have to face Labour's big guns - maybe a sign on the big thaw between the two parties. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will face charming former Treasury Minister Angela Eagle. I am no fan of Mr Alexander but he dwarfs her and won't face much of a Commons challenge. John Denham, for Labour, will be opposite Vince Cable. Mr Denham, who clung on by his fingernails in his Southampton constituency, is a good and clever man but Vince is there to be wound up a treat by Labour and Denham isn't the man who can do this. Chris Huhne now faces Meg Millier - who? - a fairly anonymous former Minister who doesn't seem to have much going for her. Ann McKechin is now Shadow Scottish Secretary and given her deep rooted socialist links, it'll give LibDem Michael Moore plenty of scope for attack. That leaves Sadiq Khan opposite Nick Clegg. What a let down - Jack Straw used sheer gravitas and intellect to regularly crush the hapless Clegg at Commons Questions and I would suggest that the DPM will relieved to have some of the political heat taken off. Mr Khan is a man rewarded for his loyalty and way, way out of his depth. The LibDems in government look like they have survived the worst of Labour's "new generation".

That leaves Andy Burnham - my pick for Labour Leader - at Shadow Education. Although I think Mr Burnham will be a tougher opponent that many Tories think, the fact is that Michael Gove has intellectual rigour on his side and Burnham's button-down-the-hatches view of education (the it's all fine just chuck some money at it approach) won't work. John Healey is a well respected MP but he'll have to put in some work to deal with Andrew Lansley who has had the Health portfolio in and out of government for six years now and is considered a formidable expert on the NHS now.

Labour's election guru Douglas Alexander is Shadow DWP opposite Iain Duncan Smith. Duncan Smith has the edge on thinking and until Labour formulate their own ideas for welfare reform, his policy of oppose-oppose-oppose (I am guessing that's what it'll be) won't be enough.

Caroline Flint, who definitely isn't window dressing, is back at Shadow Communities and I cannot wait to see her come up against Secretary Pickles, public chum number one! It is the one Commons clash that I am really looking forward to!

I think shuffling Hilary Benn off to Shadow Commons Leader is a bit premature as that role involves lots of HoC work rather than letting Mr Benn loose on one of the big spending departments. I am glad Lima Byrne survived, shadowing Francis Maude, as a certain "note" may make regular reappearances in debate!

And then there is Peter Hain (Shadow Wales) and Shaun Woodward (Shadow NI) - the two men who now they didn't get into the Shadow Cabinet by rights. How can they go to work in the morning knowing they shouldn't be there? Mind you, I suppose Ed has to do that too!

All in all I don't sense a thread running through this; rather more like a collection of panic appointments. Very few of them backed Ed in the first place and for a new generation they look rather a lot like Brown's old generation. I am afraid not good enough, yet, and I would expect Ed to be re-shuffling again in about a year.

Friday, October 01, 2010

In Praise of Dan Cox

I am very sad to see that Dan Cox has resigned as Conservative Leader and County Council Leader. He is doing so for the right reasons, working with VSO in India to provide for some of the very poorest. That's taking "Social Action" to a whole new level! Dan has been a keen champion and a good friend for the last few years. He led the party to a massive victory in the 2009 elections and has steered the authority through the turmoil of Labour's failed unitary bid. He has led the council through economic choppy-waters and remained a focused, decent guy. I, and I am sure politics as a whole, will miss Dan Cox - "a good guy".

Busy Life

Apologies for the lack of blogging - I thought that being out of politics would give me more time, but sadly not! I am taking on one or two very exciting projects, more to come later, but they are outside of the Conservatives!

But the no-politics diet is about to come to a crushing end because on Sunday we are off to conference in Birmingham. I am pleased that Norwich will be very well represented at the conference and I am going to some very interesting fringe meetings as well as a number of sessions in the main hall. I am very much looking forward to this - my first conference since 2000; I wonder how things have changed in ten years!

I have my bagged packed, my conference badge on standby and ready to go - I don't think I'll have time to blog but keep an eye on my Twitter to see updates!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ministers Threaten To Quit

Don't for a moment think I am happy about this, but the Channel 4 exclusive about 2 Tory Ministers - Jeremy Wright & David Lidington - threatening to quit if the plans for a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham are not scrapped does have an interest side line for us teachers of politics. The rail line, we are told, would do great damage to their constituencies and they will go if it presses ahead because they'll want to vote against it in the House. This really is collective responsibility working - if you can't support a key government policy you can't be in the government. What a world away from Labour Ministers campaigning against hospital closures that their government forced through, for example.

Ministers have 2 options - abandon their principles / constituents and vote with the government.

Or vote against their own government, which Ministers cannot do. So quit as a Minister to vote against them.

Collective responsibility - Ministerial responsibility - Individual responsibility.

Maybe, just maybe, making a comeback in a government near you ...

Cable is Wrong on Bankers

If I didn't know better, I'd have assumed that the rabble rousing speech by Vince Cable was a leadership bid in the making. He delivered it extremely well and very funny in parts it was too. And the LibDem crowd lapped it up - yellow friends of mine who were there said it was, finally, what they wanted to hear. So, good news - except for the fact that we need to stop this ridiculous banker bashing.

Even LibDem Susan Kramer says this must come to an end. And I say so for two reasons.

Firstly because Labour are using it as a fig leaf for their disastrous tenure. Forget Brown's government, they tell us, it's all down to the bankers. Yes, every problem of the last 13 years - would you believe it! Well, actually, no I don't. What about the role of the government in setting a framework and the role of regulators in enforcing it? What about Brown's reckless spending and borrowing and spending and then borrowing some more? By reinforcing the public image that its all the fault of the bankers we let Brown, Labour and the Milibands off the hook for their role in this.

And secondly because it isn't true. The vast majority of bankers did not cause this and are not "spivs". Somehow it has been acceptable to be publicly vile to a whole profession on the basis of a minority of them. All teachers are bad!! All police officers are bent!! All politicians are corrupt!! Obviously nonsense and yet we allow people to talk about bankers in the same way. Tax them!! String them up!! Castrate them!! Hardly fair or accurate, from a party that preaches fairness. Playing to the crowd? Who'd have believed it from a LibDem?

As somebody tweeted me this evening - after agreeing with this argument - let's focus our anger on the minority that deserve it. Sadly, Cable's speech was aimed at his party and his standing rather than serious debate. I'm surprised that Cable has allowed this to happen.

I notice that not only the "establishment" but also the Director of the Adam Smith Institute (whom Cable credited with his ideas) have rubbished it now.

This post says it rather well too

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chugging Rules In Place

I am extremely pleased that new regulations that I championed as a Councillor have now been put into force (details here) to combat issues that many members of the public feel about chugging (or "face to face fund raising").

There will now be rules as to where fundraisers can be and limits on the number of times and days of the week that the activity can be carried out.

Norwich is, rightly, a vibrant City - but when we were going down Gentleman's Walk on Saturday, with Libby in a buggy, it was like being on a cannon run. It was so busy it was actually uncomfortable and we ended up seeking sanctuary somewhere else. If these new rules help to improve this situation just a little bit they will be worthwhile.

I spent a long time researching this, liaising with the regulation body (the PFRA) and then putting the motion through council so I have a certain amount of pride in this announcement.

Well done to the City Council for having the guts to take on this issue.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why I'm For Andy

The Labour Leadership contest has been an absolute bore-fest for those of us not in the Labour Party; similar, I should imagine, for non-supporters in any leadership election. However I have been interested in the media coverage, debates and focus groups which have provided the electorate (which covers Labour Members and Trade Unionists) with a great deal of information.

Of course, my original choice was the current Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson, whose assured, confident and humorous Commons speeches have shown a man very relaxed with not standing for the leadership. I am glad he didn't stand, but wonder if he even intends to stand for election to the Shadow Cabinet? Anyway, back to the rest ...

Diane Abbott, the "great communicator" has fallen flat in my view. As a dinosaur leftie we all knew she wasn't going to win, but I expected her to blow the contest wide open. I doubt she will even in these late stages. The two Milibands are just b-o-r-i-n-g; David has history involving a banana that may well haunt him for a long time and his admission that he drinks beer by the half-pint is his "baseball cap" moment (copyright, W.Hague). Ed on the otherhand comes across in a kind of nerd-trying-to-be-groovy kind of way. That leaves the two people that have really impressed me the most in this contest.

There is Ed Balls, who scrapped home in his Morley seat at the election, the most loyal commander left in the Brown bunker. He has shown himself to be a bulldog and would be an opportunistic fighter for Labour in opposition; just what they need in many ways. However despite this he doesn't look like the next Prime Minister. He may well have secured himself the Shadow Home Secretary position as a reward for having such a good leadership campaign.

And so to Andy Burnham - the frontline candidate whom we knew least about before this election. He's impressed me as the man who speaks in normal language and with a normal tone of voice. He represents his home constituency and has been loyal through-and-through. He has been leading the debate with ideas (not that I agree with them, of course, but at least he's brave enough to put them forward). He seems at ease, handles pressure well and has stayed above the Mili-spats going on. I am impressed and would be much more concerned if he led Labour than any of the others.

Having said that - to be frank I don't think any of them look like election winners. One Labour activist said to me at the count on Thursday that when Hague fought Clarke and IDS fought Clarke, they prayed for the leader most likely to screw up the Tories. Was I, he asked, doing the same for Labour? No, I replied, whoever wins the Labour crown then Cameron is still sure to win the next election. For us, it's a win-win-win-win-win situation. But if Labour activists were to take any advice from an old Tory lag like me, to make the best fist of the next parliament - it has to be Andy Burnham.

In choosing between FPTP and AV, do I vote for the system that will stop STV?

As a politics teacher I am looking forward to the AV referendum next year (although personally I wouldn't vote to have one; too expensive at this time). I don't yet know which way I will vote, but I am currently leaning towards the "No" side and one thing in particular has been tipping my view.

I am concerned that the people advocating AV are actually those who want full blown PR, which I am definitely against - this article on the Coffee House blog says it all, that all those chosen to push AV actually don't support it but another system.

Why would I vote for a system which may lead, in time, to a system I am totally opposed to?

Friday, September 10, 2010

That's It - The End.

Well, the results from last night were pretty shocking and certainly a poor night for both coalition partners. Judging from the BBC, ITV and Archant reports I was certainly the story of the night. Sadly I lost my seat, by 46 votes, to Labour.

For the last week I had began to become convinced I would lose - and in case you think that is 20-20 hindsight I actually said this to Labour friends as well as my campaign team. Knocking on doors, although there were far fewer Labour voter than Tory ones, they were simply more motivated to vote. The low-turn out, the switch from LibDems to Labour, the campaign on cuts (which never mentioned where Labour would swing the axe, of course) were all factors. But as the sitting member you always look to yourself and your own personal role in the election. I have put my heart and soul into being a good ward councillor but clearly it wasn't enough.

To all those who are my friends in the community, the people who supported me in Bowthorpe and Earlham, to my colleague ward Councillors and to the hundreds who voted for me, I am personally very, very sorry.

Being a councillor has been a fantastic experience and I have got to contribute to the civil life of our City in ways that few ever get. I look back on the last 4 years with pride, but life moves on. I am lucky that I have a job I love and a young family to enjoy. I shall miss helping people in Bowthorpe and working for them (I had resisted being "emotional" until the emails and calls from residents I am helping or have helped started to come through) but I always said that I wanted more in my life than just politics.

I am sticking to that promise - starting today.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Thursday is by-election day - when 13 seats, and perhaps the future direction of the City - are decided. I know this election campaign hasn't exactly set the world on fire but it will make a difference here in the City.

Some parties are trying to convince you this is a referendum on the Coalition Government.

Some parties are trying to say its a county council election instead.

Some parties have some very choice figures to say only they can win here.

I say this - this is a City Council election, about City issues for City voters. Read the manifesto documents of the parties (the Conservatives one is here, for example) then make your decision.

But whatever you do - vote and vote for a positive reason.

I obviously hope that my record as a Councillor in the last 4 years will see me home in Bowthorpe but nothing can be taken for granted and we will fight every minute tomorrow for each and every vote.

Norwich Leaseholders Demand Connaught Inquiry

I don't usually reproduce comments from this blog but this one is well worth it, from Leaseholders Chairman Pauline Walton:

Leaseholders have been expressing concern about the management of this procurement project since it began in March last year.

We believe there Norwich Council has a case to answer for its failure to notice the state of Connaught's accounts in November last year, and adverse reporting by fund manager Tim Steer in mid-December. We believe that the Council was reckless in its appointment of Connaught on 10 February 2010, given the incredibly low bid price (30% lower than anyone else). We wonder whether its "due diligence exercise" really proved that this bid was affordable.

Morrison tried to warn this council immediately it knew it had lost the bid, but the Council pressed on.

Citizens of Norwich deserve better than this.

Now, with Connaught's social housing operation in administration, I presume we can look forward to another interim contract while the council has to go through a major expensive procurement process all over again.

Surely this warrants a public inquiry?

Pauline Walton
Chair, Norwich Leaseholders' Association

Personally I couldn't agree more - this has been a shambles and the point is that I don't know if the argument made by Mrs Walton is correct. An inquiry would sort that out. This all demonstrates the shambles of the way that Labour have run the City Council. There were warned ...

An inquiry is a good long term solution, but a vote to remove this Labour administration tomorrow is a better short term solution.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Connaught goes into Administration

The bad news for the staff and customers of Connaught was heavily trailed this morning and we now know that they have gone into administration (more here). This in, obviously, a very worrying time for both the 10,000 Connaught staff both here in Norwich and around the country and also for the tens of thousands who depend on their services.

There has been much concern expressed at Labour's handling of the Connaught contract, including from both City MPs Chloe Smith and Simon Wright, and also by the Conservative Group on the City Council. Questions were raised about the situation surrounding the Morrison bid, the "teething problems" at the beginning of the service and now the financial perils of the company. All along Labour have told us - don't worry, it'll be fine. There are, apparently, plans in place to ensure services do not suffer. I am not on the Council so I know no more than anybody else but Labour are going to have to make those plans public pretty soon.

This whole situation seems to have been handled very badly indeed. Was this contract ever robust enough? Labour have some big questions to ask - but residents on the doorstep tonight were rightly very concerned and many believed this incident was symptomatic of the way Labour have run City Hall.

No wonder Labour are desperate to turn a City by-election into a County election or General Election - because they are afraid of their own record in office.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Almost There

With polling day now just a few days away, I can report that I am absolutely shattered. Day-in-day-out campaigning - a mix of canvassing, leafleting and meeting residents groups is all coming to an end and on Thursday people will have their say.

I don't know if I'll have blogging time between then and now but this is just really say a big thank you to all those people in Bowthorpe and Earlham who have been so kind when we have called. Your support is greatly appreciated. Thanks also to those who have tramped the streets with me during these four weeks - plus those who have dished out the moral support!

This is an election nobody wanted but the result will shape our City for many years to come.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Local media & Local democracy

Archant goes through good times and bad times when it comes to reporting local democracy and elections. Currently, under the present Editor and team, they are having a good time. Shaun Lowthorpe and Dan Grimmer are like the Statler and Waldorf of the City (there goes my favourable coverage) but are doing an excellent job. At the moment they are previewing 2 wards per day in the lead u to the poll. It's even better to see them coming off the fence and having a punt at who they think is in the game at the moment. So far they think the Conservatives will hold Bowthorpe, LibDems hold Eaton (just) and Labour to hold University. Lakenham is too-close-to-call. It's good to see pieces from all the candidates (except UKIP who failed to provide any copy) with then an opinion-style piece from the paper. When the first article about the elections appeared on page 57 of the EDP I did fear a lack of coverage, but this really is a good service to democracy. Well done, Archant.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What should the GOP strategy for the Senate be?

News of a poll - twittered by Tim Montgomery of ConservativeHome fame - which gave the Republicans a 10 point national lead over the Democrats has got me thinking. The 51-41 result would almost certainly wipe out the Presidents party majority in the House, but how close are they to losing the Senate as well? A bit of number crunching has helped.

This is a bumper year of contests including a couple of Special Elections to fill vacancies left both those who resigned to serve in the Obama administration. However the numbers in the Senate without these contest shows the ease by which the Democrats should hold firm; without a vote being cast there are:

Democrats 41
Republicans 21

These elections are from the class of '04, who saw their elections clash with that of President George W Bush. Hence most of the seats up for election are, in fact, Republican held.

Added to these numbers there are 11 very safe Republican states or candidates up for election - either in their solid Southern heartland (Alabama, Georgia Kansas), the Mid-West (Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Utah) or where the candidate means they will win (Arizona, New Hampshire - plus North Dakota and Ohio). That puts the numbers at democrats 41, Republicans 32.

Let's assume that the Democrats themselves do not make progress - but there are States where the Republicans cannot take victory for granted. In Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina & South Dakota their winning majority was less than 5% of the vote. In Oklahoma & South Carolina it was less than 10%. Assuming these States stay red, then the Senate is Democrat 41, Republican 39. Getting closer.

Now the fun states. Scott Brown, Special election winner from Massachusetts is up for re-election. He overturned the late, great Ted Kennedy's 39% margin to win that seat last year. The smart money is on him holiday on. We also have Louisiana where the Republican margin was greatly inflated by having 2 Democratic candidates on the ballot paper. This time with just one the GOP margin falls to just 8%, although you'd still put the mortgage on them holding on. Senate now Democrat 41, Republican 41.

Onto Pennsylvania - the seat of defector Arlen Spectre who quit the Republicans to join the Democrats. His margin of victory was 11% as a republican. He lost the Democratic primary and his replacement looks unlikely to repeat his success. In fact this State is likely to join the "safe R" column. That leaves us as Republican 42, Democrat 41 - without a single toss-up contest being decided.

We've had the safe Republican berths, so what about the Dems? Well, you'd be surprised if any of the following seats were in play (number refers to D winning margin) - Connecticut (34%) , Delaware (29), Hawaii (55), Illinois (42), Maryland (31), New York (2 seats - 47 and 36), Vermont (46). That's 8 seats, without breaking sweat. Senate now Democrat 49, Republican 42.

So the Democrats need just one of the following swing States for half and two for a majority. Four States and they wouldn't have to rely on the votes of Independent members.

Some States are surely lost - it's hard to see the Dems holding on in Colorado (5%) or even Arkansas (11), Washington (12) or Wisconsin (11). That would be Democrat 49, Republican 46.

What's left? the winning margin in West Virginia was 31%, in Oreagon 32%, Nevada 26% and Indiana 24%. All of those should be in play given the latest polls. And that leaves California - which despite a relatively low 20% margin is so solidly Democratic it couldn't be any other way ... could it?

So the chances of the Reps taking the Senate are very very low but only because of the electoral cycle they face. But the result could be squeaky bum time for the Pres and still leave him hanging by the votes of a few independent members.

UPDATE: Rasmussen, the respected US pollster also has the figures of D49, R46 with 5 toss-ups (I didn't look - honest) but disagrees about which states. West Virgina it thinks is OK for the Dems despite the Reps whittling the poll lead down to just 6%. It also thinks Delaware is heading for a GOP victory. It's toss-up seats are Colorado, Illinois, California, Nevada and Wisconsin. For what its worth if the Reps don't take Colorado they're in trouble - but if the Dems don't take California or Delaware the same is true!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

LibDem Negative Campaigning - New Low

The LibDems are very much predictable in the vicious and negative style of campaigning - the sort which led their former Leader Hereward Cooke, a decent man, to apologise to council for it (background here). Yet amazingly, despite poll after poll saying people don't like negative campaigning it seems to work. I wonder, however, if they can both be negative and mislead at the same time and still get away with it?

The following is taken from the latest "Simon Wright school of negative campaigning" - just a small section but from an A3 leaflet designed to knife Labour and suggest only the LibDems can beat them here (without a word about the Greens who actually do hold the ward).

Take a look ...
You would think from this that the LibDems has valiantly tried to stop the madness of Labour spending £1.5m of taxpayers cash on a "huge vain white-elephant of a project that was doomed to failure" (words taken from my first speech on the issue ...)

Yet, no. LibDem Councillors voted FOR this money to be spent and did so every time of asking.

Every time Labour wanted more cash to throw at this project, the LibDems said YES YES YES.

Check out the roll-call of those who voted for this money to be spent and you will soon find ...

"Councillors LUBBOCK, WATKINS ..."

and most embarrassingly ...

"... WRIGHT."

I wonder if Simon Wright knows his wife voted for this money to be spent? (For the record, the Conservative Group have voted against spending the money on every occasion we could have).

But wait - they have a chance to redeem themselves!! In 2008 and 2009 there were budget proposals on the table to reduce the unitary spend and use the money elsewhere. Surely if they were that concerned that would have voted FOR these measures?

Nope ... all LibDem Councillors, including Ros Wright, voted against Tory plans to scale back on unitary spending.

The the U-turn is sharp, the hypocrisy is breathtaking and no wonder people are losing faith in politics.

The LibDems vote, consistently, for unitary spending and then oppose it after the project fails.

This takes the LibDem negative campaigning to a new low - because it is designed to mislead.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Happy or Sad?

True story ...

A friend meets a LibDem deliverer ...

Friend: Thanks for calling round but it's too late, I've done my postal vote.

LibDem: Lovely, thank you, may I ask if you supported us?

Friend: No, sorry, I voted for Antony Little

LibDem: But Antony Little isn't a candidate here - he stood in the General Election.

Friend: Oh. I have no idea who I voted for then.

UPDATE: for clarification this wasn't in Bowthorpe and the LibDem was right - I wasn't on the ballot paper!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Guest Post: Why Peter is wrong (and right) about Wensum

I suggest that before you read this you scroll through the comments on previous posts to find Peter's views on campaigning in his home ward of Wensum. Before I tell you why he is wrong, firstly we'll dwell on why he is right.

In an ideal world, every party would stand candidates everywhere and each community would have a full flourishing campaign where every vote is fought over and every argument challenged. That would be a real democracy. But sadly life is not like that.

Firstly politics requires people. Doors do not knock on themselves, and leaflets do not fly through your letter box by magic. Even if a party posts you material, as the LibDems did heavily last time, they first have to raise the money to do it. Even the Royal Mail doesn't run on IOUs. Sadly in modern politics the number of people given to do these activities is falling, driven on by a number of factors (like all the parties looking the same and lack of time in working practices). So with limited finances and limited workforces the parties have to be rational about what they do and where. I imagine the Tory and LibDem membership in Wensum is quite low and Labour's is quite inactive. Only the Greens, as supported by Peter's evidence on the ground, have what it takes to get around. In fact, it could be that the Tory / Libdem / Labour candidates are "paper" ones, where they stand only to give a choice on the ballot paper rather than seriously expect to win. That could explain the lack of effort. Whenever somebody complains to me about lack of communication from party X, I always ask them if they have volunteered to be the street leafleter recently. Usually the answer is "no"; QED.

So, in this election would we expect parties to be focusing on Wensum? Well, yes and no ...

I happen to believe that Mr Altman, the Green candidate, is a weak candidate and very open to attack. His record as Mancroft's councillor was poor, as was his decision to walk away after only a year. Hardly the commitment the people of Wensum want. In addition, a lot of people my end of the ward wonder if the Greens just want the council allowances (wages!) rather than to do the job for the right reasons. Llewellyn to Altman is like from the firepan into the fire! If the other candidates had decent local people who really wanted the job out of a sense of public duty, they'd do well. However ...

The fact of the matter is that the Greens hold the ward with a big majority, with Labour in second. The Tories have improved in the last 3-4 years but have only just managed to leapfrog the poor old fourth placed LibDems (although no doubt only they can win here!!).

And do the parties need Wensum for where they are going? The Greens do because they need it in their column for the great council take-over. But I guarantee you neither Tory nor LibDems have in in the front, middle or even back of their minds. And that leaves Labour - with the party struggling to hold onto 6 (yes, six) marginal wards I doubt they have room for a seventh target no matter how tempting.

I am sorry Peter - Wensum is not going to be a great political fight this year; maybe next. You can expect a few leaflets, probably from Greens and Labour, and a knock from maybe the Greens. The rest you'll have to discover from the internet.

I know it's sad and not how elections ought to be, but until one of the other parties need Wensum or the results show they may be able to win it, don't expect that to change.

But have heart - the Tories are making a good show in Thorpe Hamlet, a seat that I know well and where most people thought they were out of the running. My partner has a leaflet and a letter from the party in a clear third place, so maybe there is hope for Wensum yet.

The author is a regular here and lives in Wensum Ward.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Norwich MP lets down democracy

Regular readers of this blog will know I'm an "on the fence" Conservative when it comes to the AV vote. But this really made me laugh.

Generally the only party to be in favour of AV are the LibDems (and even then they believe it to be a poor compromise). Their party has been engaged in a competition to find a great pro-AV poster (more here) and the above is one example of that work.

Pretty shocking eh? One MP won with as little as 29% of the vote ... who could be this betrayer of democracy?

Well, step forward ...

Norwich South
Simon Wright (LibDem) - 29%
Charles Clarke (Labour) - 29&
Antony Little (for it is he, Conservative) - 23%

I am aware that some people believe this result is the prime example of why we need AV, but there is a certain irony in the LibDems using their own MPs electoral records as a reason to change the system!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Guest Post: Is a new Green dawn "unstoppable"?

I suppose this post came out of a brief chat with Antony during the week, in which he re-iterated the point that turnout at these elections was likely to be low and that would damage the Greens chances. I'll go on to why I think the Greens are un-stoppable in a moment, but first the turnout point.

I disagree - the canvassing that I have done does show an increased level of apathy, partly because of the time of year and also because you rarely meet anybody who wants these elections. However I would argue that we all share in the apathy - it doesn't just impact on the young, student, green-voters. I have met middle-aged Tories and working class Labour who just aren't going to vote. And think on this - this will be an election where the most motivated set of supporters win. And I would say that the Greens have amongst the most determined, motivated and political (with a big P) supporters in the City. It's why I think the Tories will edge it in Eaton and why the Greens will do better than you all think across the City. In fact (here I go) I think the Greens will take Thorpe Hamlet and University in Norwich South and also Sewell in Norwich North.

Even so, we come to the wider point of the arithmetic. The Greens are essentially a single seat short of becoming the largest party; they have 9 seats and you need to add in holds in Town Close, Nelson, Wensum and Mancroft. Labour have 9 but I wouldn't bet on any of them being an automatic hold at this point (although clearly Mile Cross will end up in the Labour column come election night). Even if Labour do stage a massive recovery, the Green gain in Thorpe Hamlet will leave the parties 15-14; all it would take is a Tory gain in Catton Grove or Crome to put them as equals at 14-14. Can Morphew hold on then? I wouldn't bet on it. You see the Greens are unstoppable; because the other parties will do our work for us. A Tory gain here or a LibDem gain there (Lakenham?) and they've slipped behind. The Greens can take control without taking a single Labour seat.

For what it's worth, I think the result will be:
Green 16 (gains Thorpe Hamlet, University & Sewell)
Labour 10 (holds Mile Cross)
Tories 8 (holds Bowthorpe, gains Eaton, Catton & Crome)
LibDems 5 (loses Thorpe Hamlet & Eaton but gains Lakenham)

And in those circumstance not even a Condem coalition can stop Claire Stephenson being Leader of the Council.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

LibDem Bar Chart Comeback - but it's still inacurrate - Shock.

Judging from my email inbox there is more hubbub about the LibDems using the whole Norwich South result to prove "it's a two horse race" between them and Labour and no point in voting Conservative or Green - sadly, though, they used this argument in places like Eaton (where the Tories and LibDems are around 200 votes apart with Labour fourth) and Town Close (where the Greens have a 20% lead over the LibDems with Labour in fourth).

After all we hear about "new politics" and "I understand why politicians are not trusted", surely this kind of campaigning is partly to blame? Luckily (for us) confused electors don't believe the party that mis-lead them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Post: What happened to LibDem localism?

One of the issues which really stood out for me amongst the "Statement of Persons Nominated" in how few of the candidates live in the areas they seek to represent. Back in the days, the LibDem campaigning rule-book clearly stated that you stood a much, much better chance of winning with a local candidate and that you should always select a local above anybody else. In fact, when you have done that and the other parties have not simply hammer them the whole way through the parachuting in an unpopular outsider!!

Antony's note: True, and in the Tories we used to say that you were only as local as your LibDem candidate. If the LibDem didn't live in the ward, it didn't matter - but if the Tory didn't then it was a high crime!

So going down the list it is interesting to see who lives where.

In Catton Grove the LibDem lives in Mile Cross. in Crome they live in Nelson. In Bowthorpe the LibDem is from Eaton, but in Eaton he's from Nelson. The Lakenham LibDem is from Mancroft. The Nelson candidate is from Unviersity whilst the Thorpe Hamlet guy is from Sewell. Town Close LibDems have a candidate from Wensum and in Wensum he's from Mancroft

But Bingo - we have genuine locals in Mile Cross (I rate Carl Mayhew and whilst I don't think he'll win this time, I think it will be a good match for May 2011). Mancroft LibDems also have a local - Simon Nobbs.

University have a local candidate (just - he lives on the borderline with Nelson!) as too do Sewell LibDems.

2 locals out of 13? 4 at a push? Come on, what are the Norwich LibDems playing at? Especially given that their target seats - Eaton, Town Close, Thorpe Hamlet and Lakenham are all missing out on locals. Are the LibDems really stuck for candidates like this?

Is it better to live in a set geographical area or to work hard at campaigning? I wonder if people care where the candidates come from anymore? Have the LibDems missed a trick with this?

Antony's Update: I know this guest post focuses on the LibDems so out of fairness I have evaluated the Tory local candidate count. We have 6 candidates who live in their wards and 2 more with existing elected links.

AV referendum to cost £100m

Either that figure is wrong (but as it came from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - I doubt it !!!) or I am voting NO just to spite whoever decided to run such an expensive waste of time just as the rest of country is bracing itself for cuts. Honestly - I know I'm a Conservative but is this really the best that the "new politics" can do?

Pearson quits as UKIP Leader

Recovering from the earthquake news that Lord Pearson has quit as UKIP Leader, I found myself wondering if anybody could name any UKIP Leader other than Nigel Farage? Some bloggers are getting very excited today about a Farage comeback, others claiming huge names like David Campbell-Bannerman (against whom I once debated) will stand. Either way I can't see this contest setting the political (or real) world on fire. Let them get on with it in peace.

Oh, and for your interest the previous leaders were:

1993-1997 Alan Sked (who then quit the party claiming it was on the political fringe)

1997-1999 Michael Holmes (who was forced to quit after claims he was too pro-European - he went on to quit the party in 2000)

1999-2002 Jeffrey Titford (probably the only person to come out of this well)

2002-2006 Roger Knapman (who was found to be employing Polish immigrants and spent much of his leadership being undermined by Robert Kilroy-Silk)

2006-2009 Nigel Farage (who ended up challenging the Speaker and begin humiliated in the 2010 General Election but just survived death after being involved in a plane crash)

Thanks for the cheque, Mr Blair

I have been a little frustrated today by the response to the news that former Prime Minister Tony Blair is to donate all of the money from his autobiography to the Royal British Legion. Even he admits it is to support the amazing work done by those who serve in our armed forces. And so the media ask - an act of amazing generosity or a plea for forgiveness?

In my view those who oppose and opposed the war will never forgive Blair. If this is his way of making up for what he did, it won't work. And why would a man which such political skill as Blair think it would? I know we live in cynical times but ...

So it leaves me to conclude that, just for once, I want to give Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt. That he wishes to do some good with his auto-biog and for it not to be seen as a way of cashing in on his political career. Just think fo what that money could do for the RBL and all of our service people that it works with.

I haven't lost a loved-one in conflict so I cannot imagine how they feel. But would they really want the RBL to go without what could be a £4m+ donation?

I know it's hard but can't we just thank Mr Blair, cash the cheque, and get to work providing for those people who have made sacrifices for our country?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Guest Post: Is there life after UEA?

The biggest interest in this election, for election nerds like us, is not if the Greens can take control or even if a bizarre ConDem pact can seize control of City Hall - but just what will the City election results be without the UEA student voting?

Don't for a moment believe this is limited to just University Ward itself - these days students impact greatly in Bowthorpe, Nelson, Town Close, Wensum and to a lesser extent in Sewell, Thorpe Hamlet and Eaton too. I know that turnout isn't great (where is at local election time) but when the student vote is so Green-Lib leaning, could their absence leave the Tories smiling and Labour frustrated?

You see, UEA automatically registers all first year student on campus - but now they've gone. So the politically motivated learners have to get postal votes or tramp back to their common rooms to vote at a time when the university isn't even open for the new term. Similarly those who have moved off site seem unlikely to have registered yet. Third years who were registered may have buggered off, never to return (let alone to vote). Basically there is a UEA student shaped hole in canvass sheets across the City.

So what of the impact then? Well, it should make Bowthorpe safe for the Tories (a cheer from OGH there?) and also University safe for Labour, where Bert Bremner's opposition tends to come from campus. It will dent the Green majorities in Wensum and Nelson but not so far as the wards could be lost (although the Green candidate in Wensum - who served one year as Mancroft Councillor then quit doesn't inspire confidence). The most interested impact may be in Town Close, where the Greens had 42% to the LibDems 24% and Tory 20% last time. Without the student vote in the Golden Triangle, that may just be closer than it seems.

So, as I said, a game for political nerds that we leave us pouring over the exact stats on 10th September, but for what its worth I don't think the lack of student votes will actually tip any wards whatsoever. It'll make some safer, some less so but I don't see any of the big student area seats changing hands ... yet.

The author is a volunteer who responded to my previous request for articles. He is not a member of any political party (at the moment) but wishes to remain, in the spirit of these posts, anonymous.