Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lansley is right over schooldinner-gate

In politics, one cardinal rule is to never, ever take on celebrities.

But today, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley did just that - suggesting that TV Chef Jamie Oliver's schooldinners campaign had been a failure as people shouldn't be nagged or lectured into eating healthier.

I don't agree about the campaign being a failure; Oliver has put the issue of schooldinners front and centre. There has been a big change in the quality of school dinners even in the time I have been a teacher and largely that is because of extra focus by governors, parents and schools. Without Oliver it is unlikely that focus would ever have come.

However, I think Lansley was absolutely right to say that the days of bossing people into doing something should be behind us. The sight of the lecturing Oliver banging on about what to eat is enough to turn most people's stomach and his preaching style is unlikely to win many fans. Why not go out there and demonstrate the benefits of healthy food Jamie rather than spending your time sounding like Nanny?

Prisons Policy: It's about what you can prove

The debate over the future of our prisons policy, kicked off today by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, has certainly got a lot of political feathers ruffled.

The one thing which interests me is this; the arguement against using prison is the large number of people who (often quickly) re-offend. The arguement for using prisons is that it acts as a deterent to people.

Only one of those you can prove.

To calculate the re-offending rate is very easy indeed.

But to calculate the number of people put off committing crime because of the fear of prison is almost beyond calculation (because you can, by virtue of the crime not happening, ever know this.)

So the pro-rehabilitation lobby have stolen a march on the pro-prison lobby by having a definitive arguement and an easy statistic to throw around.

To my knowledge, as of yet, nobody has suggested a public debate over which kinds of crime, done by which sorts of people, done how many times should lead to certain punishments or prison sentences. Why not?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Loving Hattie

The Coffee House blog has a great piece today about the sheer pluck and good value you always gets from Labour's Deputy Leader & Acting Leader of the Opposition, Harriet Harman. I agree. You can never say that Harman doesn't give it everything, even when she faced an assured and dominant Cameron. The PM battered Harman all over the ring today and even at her lowest point, Harman managed to bounce back to try another swipe. She failed miserably, but some on the party backbenches must admire her courage. Compared to the rather pisspoor efforts from the Labour Leadership candidates, they must be pleased that she'll stay on as Deputy Leader no matetr what happens.

It includes this wonderful passage:

The unthinkable has happened. I’ve started to admire Batty Hattie’s performances at PMQs. Her career may be over, her party may be trashed, her movement may drift leaderless, and her colleagues’ reputation may have been shot to pieces but Hattie always turns up and gives it everything. Nature has not overburdened her with talent. She can’t count. She can hardly speak. She reacts to events about as quickly as a self-timing oven but she has epic quantities of pluck. Every week she pounds out into the surf, like a battleship equipped for the last war but two, and heads for the centre of the fray where she refuses to sink under the heaviest fire.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Reason to Recall?

A puzzler for a Sunday evening; would the Chris Huhne affair, or the David Laws expenses issue, be enough to allow their constituencts to re-call them under the new provisions being laid out by David Cameron and Nick Clegg?

Mr Cameron has said in the past that re-call would be option where MPs have been "guilty of wrongdoing." Would this include, as some people have suggested today about Huhne, misleading your constituents over your private life?

Personally I hope not, and I have concerns that the re-call function would be too easily triggered (10% is required in any given constituency - one party alone could probably manage this in most seats). We need to know, and know soon, what safeguards will be put in place. This is crucial and very difficult question, and I don't have an answer, because those safeguards are needed for 2 reasons - for MPs against mob-rule and for the public against wrongdoing MPs. Can we manage both?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

When should a Minister resign?

Any good AS Politics will tell you that there are 3 types of responsibility that a Minister has to observe - collective, ministerial and individual. With the formation of a coalition government who'd have thought the first two crisis points would be because of individual issues rather than collective ones (and by two LibDems!).

Chris Huhne, however, will politically survive his marital problems. That is because, unless there is more to come out, there is no law breaking, no hypocrisy and no lies to the public involved. I guess he'll also survive because the government couldn't hack losing a second LibDem Secretary of State in a row within six weeks of taking office. A friend mused that it also because there are few LibDems MPs left whom you actually appoint to the cabinet.

So all-in-all he's pretty safe at the moment, but it will be interesting to see if the mud sticks throughout the rest of his Ministerial and political career.

Why the BBC might not be the people to talk to if you are embarrassed and upset...

There's a very interesting story on today's BBC website about a Mum and child who were thrown off a bus because of the 2 year olds behaviour (click here). This is undoubtably every parents nightmare situation, and as somebody who has tried to keep kids silent in restaurants, shops, cafes, Tory rallies and on public transport I know it isn't always easy and you think everyone is tut-tutting at you. You really do feel like the worst parent in the world. So I sympathise with the lady in question.

However what struck me is the quote that she gave to the Beeb: "I felt very embarrassed and upset"

Well, how did this story get into the news in the first place? I am assuming they rang the BBC to shame the bus company. But if you are really embarrassed and upset why would you put this tale of woe into the public domain where people around the world know the situation you are in. Maybe if she was that embarrassed and upset, they should have known that there are somethings that are best not shared.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free Swimming Axed

The Coalition Government has spent today detailing the projects and scheme that are being cut, shelved or adapted to try and plug the enormous debt legacy left by Labour.

I think one thing that may be overlooked amongst all the massive announcements today is this one - click here for the BBC story - to abolish free swimming for over 60s and under 16s, which is a scheme that is in operation in Norwich. According to the research this scheme hasn't been value for money and around 80% of those people who took advantage of the scheme would have paid to gone swimming anyway. I remember welcoming the scheme when Norwich got funding, but this is a very real reminder of the touch choices ahead - thanks to Labour management we just can't afford this anymore. No doubt Labour Councillors and candidate will leap up and down about this, and I agree it is very sad, but I hope they realise the government they wanted to keep in office led directly to this.

Today in class I was talking with pupils about government spending; the question was asked what constituted "essential spending" by the government.

What should we do? If we are having to cut to the bone then we should start with essential spending and work out what extra we can afford - families, businesses and councils do it all the time, called "base budgeting". What do readers believe is "essential spending" in the modern context?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

LibDem concern over PMQs lock-out

I had two different but connected moments today; the first is actually having the time to watch PMQs live (well, streamed over the net) and the other was meeting a local LibDem worthy on the way home from work who also watched the weekly parliamentary contest.

I hadn't realised when watching (we have now had 3 PMQs since the election) but my LibDem friend pointed out how much this event is now back to a Lab-Con battle and how the voice of the LibDems has been phased out. I doubt it will, but if the clashes make the news they will be without the voice of the LibDems; they have no spokesperson waving their flag - Cameron's 30 seconds on the news will meet Harman's (or whoever) 30 seconds with no LibDem. I never thought Clegg was a great PMQs performer as Leader, although Cable showed what could be done with just 2 questions and a few minutes of primetime news. Now this has all gone.

I pointed out to my LibDem friend that their MPs had as much chance of catching the Speakers eye as anybody else. Aside from getting a lecture on the mathematics which suggested this wasn't true (it did make sense afterwards) I was told that LibDem backbenchers would never line up alongside Cameron and Harman on the news.

I left thinking all thise was very true; I note that new LibDem Deputy Simon Hughes has promised to keep the party distintive. I wonder how they can do this without PMQs?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What will the Coalition's first hurdle be?

Since the creation of the coalition government there has been a buzz around; the first buzz was about the coalition agreement itself and what the Conservatives and LibDems would put forward, culminating in the Queens Speech. However the second and newest buzz is now around what the coalitions first hurdle will be.

Labour, large sections of the media, the commentators and the like are all on the look out for the signs of cracks, division and problems ahead.

Could it be the resignation of David Laws? No - that issue, if anything, made the coalition stronger. It was, in some ways, more a human story than a political one.

Could it be the new Deputy LibDem Leader Simon Hughes, a noted leftie and long-time Tory critic? Well, it may be - he's certainly making noises about VAT and the bizarre prospect of LibDem spokespeople outside of government. However so far even he doesn't seem to have the will to shake the government's cage.

So what does that leave? The answer may look more like an A level politics answer.

We always knew that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats could make a legislative agenda between them. There is enough crossover between the manifesto documents to create a programme of lawmaking. There is probably enough areas of compromise to keep this going. By year 3 it may be difficult and that will test the metal of both sides.

However the big problems may arise in the use of the Executive function of govenrment. Much more likely is the fall out from day-to-day management. What happens when a problem arises and a LibDem Minister acts in a way that the Conservatives - or his Conservative Secretary of State - doesn't agree with? Or vica-versa with the Conservatives making decisions that irritate the LibDems? This is much more likely to happen sooner rather than later and will certainly be the test of the govenrment. A European crisis? An immigration problem? A foreign affairs issue?

So, do I think the use of the Executive power could cause the coalition to falter? Maybe, but I rather think not. I trust that the leaderships of both parties have this worked out in advance and a plan for this eventuality is worked through. People say that the strong personal relationship between Clegg and Cameron would stop this from happening. In addition there is a sense from the public that this government deserves a chance.

The thing which I think marks this government out is how grown up it seems to be. I think when the time comes both sides will admit there is an issue and work through it. Be honest, admit there is a disagreement, debate it and stop pretending everyone always agrees (check out the mess Labour are making of disowning the Brown era in their leadership election).

So where is the hurdle? Your guess is as good as mine!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Cuts Arrive

Well, now we know - the City Council's budget is sliced by £355,000, which by my rough back-of-an-envelope calauclations would be the equivalent of a 5% rise in council tax. That's a lot of money indeed but the challenge for councillors is taking that money out without people feeling the pain on the frontline.

The national government is running a consultation exercise asking the public where they would like to see cuts; I wonder if the City Council went to its residents and asked where we could spend less money, what they'd say?

Friday, June 11, 2010


In conversation with a Tory MP friend of mine, I asked how Simon Wright was doing in the Commons. "Kept on a short leash by Norman," was the reply.

Mr Lamb has a poodle? That'll keep the headline writers busy for a while!

Wright's Trident Vote

When we did the hustings at UEA, SImon Wright pushed heavily his opposition to Trident and - though I challenged him on that - he played to the gallery and said he wanted it gone. After the meeting, one student really pushed his anti-Trident stance to me (that's a nice way to say he had a right go at me) and accused me of pretty much everything under the sun. Now an email arrives from said student a month after the poll.

He writes that he voted for Mr Wright based upon that performance, but was concerned to note that when given the chance to vote against Trident, he chose instead to support the Conservative position of keeping it (Labour abstained). This student is furious and although I am glad Simon has seen sense and taken the Tory position on this, there is at least one voter in Norwich who will never vote LibDem again over the issue. The one thing that concerns me about coalition in general is that you have to make compromise in government which looks like betrayal of political principle to people.

Mr Wright is likely to have a similar problem with tuition fees. The Union of UEA Students - whose member openly brag about having been key in removing Clarke and electing Wright - are watching keenly.
I have to say that I doubt if Mr Wright can hold this together for 5 years, promising one thing in Norwich and doing another in Westminster.

Victoria's Canvassing Guide

Victoria McDonald is one of those peopel I know through Twitter rather than real-life and she is a memebr of Norwich Labour, but I have just discovered her very good blog. Since wondering what to do with mine, I've learnt a lot more respect for blogs of all sorts and Victoria writes very well.

However this post - if you have a few minutes - is well worth the time. It is all about the etiquette of canvassing and these rules are equal to people of all parties; plus a few rules for householders. When the election was in full flow I got very frustrated when you'd walk up massive drives only for the resident to ignore you when at the door so, yes, I do give them 2 knocks ... but only to be sure they heard!! I also think you ought to dress according to your area, because people want to talk to canvassers who look like they understand the need of the area. I never wore a pin-stripped suit (though, yes, I own one) when canvassing the estates in Norwich. Other than that I totally agree with the lot ... especially the requests to residents!

Canvassing is a wonderful thing and people expect their politicans to make the effort. We should do so with pleasure and follow Victoria's excellent guide!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The ONLY post about the World Cup

I am interested and I will be watching but I doubt anybody can learn anything from me about the subject.

Except to say this ... I hope to God that Boris has dispatched somebody from the 2012 Olympic Team to South Africa to see how to put on a massive international event on time and on budget. I am sure the South Africans are going to do a brilliant job!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Why Diane Abbott may do better than you think she will...

I have been in the company of a fair few Conservatives today; some association bigwigs and other Tory councillors. All of them believe Diane Abbott is a joke candidate and will fall flat on her face.

Are we right to think this?

I have also spoken to two Labour members today. One is bored rigid by the whole process and seemed not to care who won or lost. However the other - a woman, it must be said - declared that she would vote for Abbott as her first choice, supporting the outsider but knowing she would lose, and then use her second vote for her "serious choice". (A thought ran through my mind if a new AV voting system may also lead to these sort of outcomes). If a number of Labour members, Trade Unionists or the like think the same then maybe Ms Abbott will do better than we think she will?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Anybody else noticed ...

That Harriet Harman has backed Diane Abbott as new Labour Leader!! Her nomination signatures are here.

Actually I assume she wanted to ensure a woman was on the ballot paper, but given David Milliband's pledge to give his signature to any candidate who needed it, it would be an interesting situation for both the Acting Leader and Shadow Foreign Secretary "supporting" Ms Abbott.

Another interesting thought is if MPs can switch their nominations. Currently Ms Abbott has 11 backers, whilst Hayes (where I was born) MP John McDonnell has 16. So would they both lose out or could they swap nominations to ensure at least one of them got on the ballot?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Future of the Log

It's been nearly a month since I blogged and a few weeks since the election and the coaition government taking office. I have been thinking about what to do with this blog and a number of suggestions have been made:

To keep it going until my Councillors term of office is up as a local campaigning tool

To use it as a way of holding Simon Wright to account as an MP

To scrap it and focus more on Twitter / Facebook

To keep it going in a very political fashion (the way it has been)

To keep it more light hearted

I don't know which of these I will go for and would appreciate any feedback; is this worth it, especially with other social media around? Is anyone out there interested in what I have to say - be it about politics, education or anything else for that matter? I have been looking at other PPC / MP blogs and there doesn't seem much going on out there at the moment - wasn't this meant to be the internet election? As always, thoughts welcome - including from anonymous comments!