Sunday, February 28, 2010

Darling & The Bully

Aside from being away when this story broke I haven't really spoken about the Prime Ministerial bullying row because I am not sure if the truth is really ever going to be known and this could decend into allegation, discrediting blows and coutner-allegations. The PM says he didn't do it, Darling says someone else did it, Mandelson blames the Tories and an aide says he did do it afterall. It's probably too late for my two-pennies about this but I would say two things about what has come out of it.

Firstly I don't believe this is what is moving the polls, if indeed they are being moved. We've spent day-after-day on the doorstep afetr this came out and nobody has mentioned it to me at all; the expenses row still comes up more than the bullying one. My experience on the doorsteps - and yesterday I spent the whole day talking to hundreds of people in Earlham - is that Labour are still seriously in trouble. I haven't felt the poll movement shift here in Norwich at all.

And the second is a theme which has been picked up by today's PB thread - the future of Darling himself. Darling has proved to be unsackable, both last year when Balls wanted his job and now when he has slagged off his boss in public. His words will chime with both the Labour Party and the public. If, after Gordon has gone, the Labour party may well seek an experienced head rather than youth and dynamism. If they do, the conventional wisdom is that Straw is the man, but I think darling may well have staked his claim this week.

Only One Line

And so my dramatic performance in the production of "The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe" is over ... and all I can say it - "it looks so familiar!".

It was really good to see the behind the scenes stuff and a congratulations to the whole cast, production team and backroom boys and girls who put on such a show. Absolutely brilliant!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Back The Evening News "End The Indignity" Campaign

Today the Evening News has launched its "End the Indignity" campaign. The cases of our some of our most vulnerable people being given medical treatment in what amounts to little better than a cupboard has shocked a large number of people. The management of the N&N need to suspend this practice immediately and have a full review determining how this came about. They dignity of these patients is worth more than the bureuacracy of the NHS.

The Evening News is showing why we need a strong, vibrant, independent press who can rally local people behind important cases such as this. They deserve all our support.

You can read more about the campaign here.

Adam Roche MYP

Big congrats to Adam Roche for beating off the hot political competition and becoming the new Member of the Youth Parliament for Norwich South; a great achievement. He will get to do some amazing things - not least speak and debate in the House of Commons - and it will no doubt be a fantastic experience. Well Done, Adam.

Blogger set for council bid?

Rumours are that Nich Starling - he of NorfolkBlogger fame - is set to contest the Taverham North by-election set to be held on 18th March. Nich is a former Councillor from North Norfolk and seemed to enjoy being free of council responsibilities and now, if true, he is set for a rollercoaster of elections with this election leading into the next General Election. Strangely I haven't heard about a Conservative candidate yet, but it seems the Greens are putting up - nothing from Labour.

The result last time (taking top results) was Conservatives 497, Lib Dems 344 & Independent 295.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Discussing community cohesion in Norfolk

Tonight I was pleased to be on a panel discussion the issues of race, community cohesion, immigration and minority rights at a public meeting in Norwich. Also on the panel was a Labour MP, LibDem MP, a Community Activist and a Green Councillor.

What amazed me is the amount of agreement there was on the key issues of diversity in Norfolk and especially the role of the police. We also discussed educational attainment and how to get minority groups involved in politics. There was a great appreciation of the work that David Cameron has done in broadening the appeal of the Conservatives too.

There were some dividing lines - over the issue of targets for ethnic minority recruitment (I was the dissenting voice arguing that targets create tokenism) and also about the wearing of burkhas and hijab in which Charles Clarke was strongly taken to town for his views that some circumstances - like the court and the classroom - were not suitable places for people to hide their faces. There was a great feeling he has misjudged why people wear these; not to hide at all but as a sign of their beliefs.

It was fun and lively, so thanks to the Runnymede Trust for organising it. The audience was heavily political - 3 LibDem City Councillors, the Leader of Broadland Council, a couple of Tory activists, 2 Green City Councillors, some Tory County Councillors amongst the guests. Why not come along and compare the candidates next time - and make the audience "more diverse" between politicians and the public!

Unitary: How do Labour (and the LibDems) expect to get away with this?

Typical Labour Government - they can't even announce a decision without making a ham fist of it. Let me tell you the story of Unitary.

As regular readers will no doubt remember the story goes something like this.

Norwich Labour decide they want Unitary because they thought that those horrible Tories (you know, the ones who run the excellent four-star County Council) ignored Norwich and their out-of-touch cabinet members who know little about the City (you know, the ones who represent faraway places like Cringleford or live in Eaton) shouldn't be allowed to spread practice (you know, the acclaimed service provision) to Norwich (you know, the council with the zero-star Housing Department). So they applied for unitary status.

Unfortunately the then-Labour Secretary of State said that the plans were unaffordable, so they put in 2 bids (against the rules at the time I think) which contained plans for a small unitary based on existing boundaries and an enlarged unitary based upon taking in surrounding villages. Labour Ministers never killed this off...

Then people in South Norfolk and Broadland went bananas at the thought of this and protested against the plans. Still the then-Labour Secretary of State thought it was a bad idea.

Then the County Council launched their own bid for one large Unitary based upon the whole of Norfolk, which upset an awful lot of people including the district councils.

So given the County bid met the 5 criteria set down by the government but the City bid didn't, the then-Labour Secretary of State sent the decision off to the Independent Boundary Commission for a decision. Still Labour Ministers didn't kill this off...

The Independent Boundary Commission worked very hard and fought off various legal challenges and the whole thing dragged on-and-on whilst taxpayers continued to foot the bills.

Then the Independent Boundary Commission stunned everyone by saying only the Norfolk Unitary met all the criteria and that the Norwich bid was risky, unaffordable, poor value for money and the government should avoid it at all costs.

So the decision goes off to the Labour Secretary of State for a decision. Should he go with the County Unitary, scrap the whole thing (despite telling everyone status quo wasn't an option all along) or do something else?

You got it - do something else.

So a written statement was sent out and the Secretary of State avoided questions in the Commons because his decision was to implement the original City Council bid (you know, the one which the Independent Boundary Commission warned against as did two former Labour Secretaries of State).

And now - thanks to the Guardian for the story - it turns out the Civil Servants are so worried about the decision backfiring that they asked the Secretary of State to "order" them to do this and thus clearing them of responsibility.

And how does the Secretary of State justify this? By changing the goal posts and applying some very muddled thinking to this. So still Labour don't kill it ...

If you think I'm being partisan about this, think again - this decision sees me unable to stand for council and will have to give up my seat and does nothing to help the Tory position (an extended boundary unitary would have, for example). The position I have taken has always been in the best interest of the City (and taxpayers) of Norwich

If you think I'm being flippant, you're right, I am. Only because like a lot of people I want this whole thing sorted one way or another. And given the potential hold ups in the Commons and the Lords, and the Conservative pledge to overturn this in office, could the whole game be for nothing? This has dragged on too long and cost too much - for all councils and all council tax payers.

Unitary has been cursed since the day that Labour, and their LibDem / Green poodle allies, popped corks on the steps of City Hall. So where has this announcement leave us? Not much further forward I'd say; still in the air.

UPDATE: LibDems are pretty much at war over this now - Norman Lamb was uncompromising in his attack on the plans in the EDP today and tonight Brian Watkins, City LibDem Leader, told me he still passionately backed the bid. Words from LibDem circles is that of daggers drawn.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Rebel With A Cause

I wonder what Esther Rantzen is up to these days? The celeb-turned-expenses-buster was due to stand as an MP against Margaret Moran in Luton, but since Ms Moran decided to cheat the electorate of their right to boot her out by standing down, a lot of people wonder what the point of Rantzen's candidature is. Maybe she won't end up standing at all, but one thing she has done is make it more likely that MPs from all parties can be effectively challenged even if they have the support of their local parties and in safe seats.

Take this example. The ultra-safe Labour seat of Liverpool Wavertree has selected the 28 year-old best friend of Euan Blair and girlfriend of junior minister Sion Simon to be their candidate - one Luciana Berger. Miss Berger though, as you may know, isn't from the area and seems to know little about it. In fact she even seems to not wish to learn.

But this being Liverpool Wavertree the local population have a dilema; this is rock-solid Labour territory. No other party can touch the majority built up by Jane Kennedy. So step forward Ricky Tomlinson, the TV star and Socialist Party member. Tomlinson is outraged at the outsider trying to be elected in his home seat. Tomlinson seems genuinely furious, enough to quit acting, take a pay cut and be the local candidate that people want. Tomlinson's fame and media pull could make this into another Tatton-style contest. He may not win but he could very well give Miss Berger a fright.

Is this a good thing? Are celebs and their like any better as politicans, can they enliven the political debate or restore faith in democracy? Who knows, but its gonna be fun finding out!

Brown the Father

Just when you thought you knew somebody. I know a lot of people believe it to be a cynical stunt, and others pointing out that he said he would never put his children in the spotlight, but I thought that Prime Minister Gordon Brown's interview today (click here) was a beautiful tribute to his daughter who died just ten days old.

Mr Brown doesn't do emotion very well in public but his words will chime with every parent in the country. His words about Sarah were fitting and there is no doubt about the way that Brown, clearly a proud Dad, felt about Jennifer and the impact she made on his life.

He spoke about how he dwells about what Jennifer would be doing had she still been here - going to school, learning to read or being a teenager - and which of us would not be doing the same, almost on a day-to-day basis?

Both the Prime Minister and David Cameron know the pain of losing a child; an unusual bond for two men in their positions.

His interview has really made me see Gordon Brown in a new light today; a surprising light - Brown the Father.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Political Betting vs. The Independent

I urge you to read this demolishion of the Independent's headline story today by, which goes to prove why it is the leading political website. Excellent article and, of course, spot-on. It's just a good job so few people read the Indy. I used to be a daily reader of the paper but things like this remind me why I quit it last year. I did phone up the Indy to tell them why I was ceasing my subscription and they really didn't care one way or the other - amassing losses clearly mean nothing to them.

Monday, February 01, 2010

New Local News Website

I am pleased to link to a new website that covers the news in Norwich South - - so please take a look.

You'd expect me to say this, but I particularly liked this extract from their article about the battle for the parliamentary seat:

if the by-election is anything to go by, this could be the year for the 30 year old high school teacher

The Only LibDem In Broadland?

I wouldn't want to be savaged for failing to mention the selection of Dan Roper as the new LibDem candidate in the "key seat" of Broadland for the next election, so I thought I'd blog something to make him feel important. As it happens I like Dan, who frequently comments on this blog, and I am sure he will put up a good fight.

However this effort from his website did make me laugh - even for the LibDems this is a bit of spin too far!

"It had been rumoured that the national party would "parachute" a big name into this key seat. However it soon became clear that Mr Roper had such overwhelming support from the local party that he was selected unopposed."

Are they honestly expecting us to believe that hundreds of LibDem hopefuls wanted to be selected for this top target marginal seat and were put off because the entire membership rallied around Dan? Surely there was ONE LibDem, somewhere, who would have made a contest of this?

Ridiculous - they know what we all know which is that the LibDems stand no chance whatsoever here. As good a candidate as I am sure Dan Roper is, the fact is that nobody else wanted to put their time and effort into this one. The lack of LibDem effort speaks volumes about their hopes here.

Come on, Dan, you're a decent guy so lose the spin and fight a positive campaign. This sort of stuff makes us laugh but the public must despair with statement like that; it's almost like you're taking them for fools. Either that, or you are desperate to convince yourself that you stand a chance ... which is it?