Thursday, July 22, 2010

Standing Again

Well, the decision has been taken and I have decided that I will be seeking re-election as Councillor for Bowthorpe Ward.

You might remember the little issue of being removed from office by the High Court after the quashing of the Unitary verdict, but I have now applied to the Norwich South Conservatives to be the candidate for Bowthorpe at the 9th September by-election. The final decision will be made at a special meeting in late July.

The decision to remove the Councillors came as a huge shock but the time it has given me, because I could no longer do council duties, has given me the space to consider my personal future.

I would be lying if I said I had not been tempted to stand down and take a few years out of politics to catch my breath.

I am very grateful to all of the local people in both Bowthorpe and Earlham who have been urging me to re-stand and their voices have helped me to make my mind up.

I first stood for the City Council because I believe in public service and feel I could make a difference for the people of Bowthorpe and Earlham.

Fundamentally, I believe that residents ought to make the decision if I have been a good local Councillor and if they wish to give me another term in office, rather than it being the decision of an unelected judge.

I still have a lot more I wish to do for the people of Bowthorpe and Earlham, so I have decided to give it a shot at winning their trust to serve on the council.

I am grateful to the support of my family, my council colleagues from all parties and local people in helping me make this decision.

So let's get down to it - campaignin' time again!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Balls to the Treasury?

There has been a call today to whoever the next Labour Leader not to appoint Ed Balls as their Shadow Chancellor. I think that the leadership election has shown that Balls runs an effective attack-dog operation but I do agree that his attitude would not suit the Treasury. I believe that, whoever wins, Yvette Cooper will be the next Shadow Chancellor (Darling will, IMHO leave the frontbench). However her husband would be an effective Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office - it would leave him a free hand to roam around government and be horrible to the coalition; say what you like about Balls, he's a good opposition man.

Should Speaker Bercow have no tongue to speak?

In my weaker moments I still enjoy watching both the debates and question times from parliament. Those who do so regularly will know that the most regular feature of any session in the Commons is the sight of the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, having a go at MPs for questions (and answers) that are "too long". At the beginning this seemed like a great idea for getting through more questions. However, Speaker Bercow seems to mistake a good session with one where the maximum number of MPs speak. "We've heard enough," he snapped at one LibDem MP recently.

Speaker Bercow is on very thin ice. The job of the Speaker is not the "lead" the Commons, let alone dictate to it. He would do well to remember what Speaker Lenthall once said: "I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."

It seems that Speaker Bercow is running the place as he sees fit rather than representing the views of the House - both sides of the chamber. The sight of him determining how long an MP's question should be is wrong, so long as it's one question and doesn't constitute a speech!

In fact, Speaker Bercow does do rather a lot of Speaking really including pontificating on what the public would or would not like to see. What qualifies him for this role?

He is there to run the place smoothly and ensure the rules are kept to - not to control the debate and questions in his tight-fisted way. Maybe he'll loosen up as time goes on, but if I were an MP being cut off from asking a question it would make me wonder what agenda the Speaker really has and if really is the man to preside over the Commons.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Question for the Pollsters

So ... the latest YouGov poll sparked an instant question for me about voting intention work versus approval ratings.

Of the respondents, 43% would vote Tory if there were an election tomorrow, 34% for the leaderless Labour party and just 15% for Clegg's LibDems; the missing 8% must be for the other parties.

However the government approval rating was +8%; 44% to 36%.

Good news for Cameron; I assume pretty much all of Labour's supporters would disapprove of the coalition so that leaves just 2% opposition from the Tories, LibDems and others. This strikes me as quite a low figure.

Bad news though; 44% either represents most of the Tories but a fraction of the LibDems or more worrying a lower portion of the Tory vote and more LibDems. Why isn't this figure higher? The government has 58% of the combined vote with only 44% approval.

I know both CCHQ and Downing St will have noted this.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Labour's Comeback Kids?

Even though she was utterly wrong, the strong performance of former Communities Secretary Hazel Blears on Newsnight tonight actually left me wondering if she is angling for a Shadow Cabinet comeback - which leads to the question of what the Labour frontbench will look like after the new leader is elected.

One thing is for certain - if Diane Abbot doesn't win (!) she won't serve the new leader. But it does ask the question about what you do with the other failed leadership candidates; the Milibands, Andy Burnham or Ed Balls?

Hazel is one of a number of ministers who quit under Brown who could be brought back into action. What about Caroline Flint - is she ready for the Shadow Cabinet?

There is a question about some of the outgoing cabinet and if they would either want to serve or if a new "change" leader would want them - such as Bob Ainsworth (Defence) or Liam Byrne (will he survive that note?), Alistair Darling (would he want to stay on)? What about Jack Straw?

Then there are the young guns who'll be looking for promotion - Douglas Alexander, for example, will expect a leg up from International Development. Yvette Cooper could also expect a big new job.

There are the safe pairs of hands - Hilary Benn, Nick Brown, John Denham, Peter Hain, Alan Johnson, Jim Murphy, Shaun Woodward will all be on the roundabout.

And what about the golden oldies - might they wish for one more pop, either to help balance the Shadow Cabinet & offer experience ... or do they walk away? So, for example, what will Margaret Beckett, former Foreign Secretary, do? David Blunkett, former Home Secretary, may also be tempted?

Ed Balls is a tricky move for any new leader who isn't Ed Balls; but his recent pitbull attitude to the Tories would suit a more free-ranging role.

The other name that it would interesting to see if any leader could get them to serve is Jon Cruddas; it would be a coup if they could and a healing moment for the party.

And then there are the young bucks trying to make their shadow cabinet breakthrough - Rhondda MP Chris Bryant, Tooting's Sadiq Khan, Tottenham's David Lammy, . Former Minister Chris Leslie, who returned to the Commons as Nottingham East MP is also touting himself about the House. Ditto Stephen Twigg, back as one of Liverpool's MPs.

Plus of course you get to keep Deputy Leader Harriet Harman as a bonus; will she try and get Margaret Hodge to come with her? Can Pat McFadden keep his position? What about Stephen Timms? Or Rosie Winterton?

Of course the big thing will be that this Shadow Cabinet will be subject to an election and may look very different depending on who takes the helm!

Unthank Tesco Opens

I agree about the point regarding local democracy, planning rules and the whole shabang. However the way to deal with this issue is using people power; will the good people of the Golden Triangle now vote with their feet and their purses and boycott Tesco's (after all, thousands of them signed petitions against it) and force to store to close within weeks or months?

Or will they pop in for their shopping after all and make the store a success?

I know one Golden Triangle who has already popped in for her pint of milk - and whom told me that it was OK because she was never against the store after all; I wonder how many people will think like her?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Not One But Many

It isn't one bad teacher in a school that we ought to be worried about, but when there are many bad teachers in a school.

A good friend often reminds me, that bad teaching by a teacher means they can go back and improve next year. But a bad year of teaching for a pupil, and they never get that time back.

Gove should be congratulated ...

... not for announcing the wrong list of schools for the BSF cuts, but the way in which he handled it.

Under the old fashioned notion of "Ministerial Responsibility", the Secretary of State takes all of the credit and blame for everything which goes on in their department. It would have been easy for Gove to take the Labour way-out and blame some anonymous Civil Servant for the balls-up and to suspend a junior official or two. After all, he didn't do this - all he did was read the information he had been provided with out, which turned out to be wrong. He could have dodged the whole issue.

But he didn't do that. He took responsibility, came to the House of Commons and owned up. He said sorry.

This government hasn't been great so far in terms of re-establishing the power of the legislature - the elections for committee places has been a good start, but government by press release has appeared to have clung on even after the departure of New Labour.

However this move by Michael Gove has given me faith that at least one senior minister respects parliament and is prepared to adhere to Ministerial Responsibility.

Why are my cuts different to those of the Government?

The ongoing announcement of government cuts, designed to pay back Labour's massive national debt, have been getting the left hot under the collar. Partly this is because of disasterous PR decision to announce the cuts one-by-one and day-by-day which allows the left to harangue each decision. (Which, of course, does give the people of this country a chance to analyse each cut and hold their MPs accountable - take, for example, the differing reaction of teachers to the GTC cut versus the BSF cut - it wouldn't have been right to roll this all up together). But more so, they are concerned because most cuts will hit associated industries and employment.

The Tories often argue that government spending is like household spending, however, and today I have had to prove this correct. Today we've gone through our spending and made some decisions to cut back in certain areas because - I've, for example, cancelled a magazine subscription and also my beloved wine club has bitten the dust. Should I have continued to pay these in order to keep the printers in business or the winemakers in profit? I doubt it, so why should the government be any different?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Former Councillor

Following the decision of the High Court to quash the orders to create a Unitary Council for Norwich, 13 City Councillors who had their terms of office extended have been removed from office but with no date set for the mass of by-elections.

I am amongst those - so too are Claire Stephenson (Green Leader & Chair of Scrutiny), Brian Watkins (LibDem Leader), Sue Sands (Lab Exec Childrens Services), Bert Bremner (Lab Exec Community Safety), Linda Blakeway (Lab Exec Neighbourhood Dev), Brian Morrey (Lab Deputy Leader of the Council & Exec Sustainable Development).

This is a typical mess at the end of a dogs dinner of a process. The Courts have not given the council or the people of Norwich the certainty we need. As the council faces the biggest cuts we have ever made, we shall be doing so with only half of Labour's Executive in place and with all 3 opposition leaders not in place. And all of this with no idea when new elections can be held. It is a disgrace.

I am, of course, not against standing for election (!) but leaving us high and dry with only 2/3rds of a council, a swathe of senior politicans out and no date for the election when we face this economin crisis in unacceptable.

Friday, July 02, 2010

AV if you want to ...

So the news is out (we think) that the referendum on changing the electoral system will be held on 5th May 2011; a little bit surprised that yet again a major issue has been put to the press before parliament.

Anyway, I'm not totally against a referendum but I also think that the voting system will never catch the enthusiasm of people in the way its supporters believe it will.

The Press will now spend a lot of time looking at the views of Tory MPs and the impact it will have on the coalition - for example, if AV loses will Nick and the LibDems pack up their toys and go home? Or, should Labour campaign against AV just to irritate the coalition?

If I were a Tory MP now there would certainly be 2 things that I would look at -

Firstly the date. I am not in favour of combining this with the local elections (and devolved authority elections) because of the potential for confusion and the in-built bias that the will exist in areas that are having elections. The Electoral Commission said it should be held on a totally different day and I agree - this is a major change and people ought to be clear what they are voting for. The worst thing would be for AV to win narrowly and then have voters claiming they were confused which undermines the result.

And secondly is the issue of a threshold; which comes into sharper focus when you consider how low the turnout might be (electoral reform ain't that sexy). Can you really justify this change on 50.01% of a, say, 30% turnout? I'm happy to discuss what the threshold ought to be, but there should be a clear measure of support for people before the change is made.

I hope some MPs take these ideas forward and the House of Commons gets a chance to vote on them - this isn't some LibDem obsession, nor a bargaining chip for the coalition, but the fundamentals of our democracy. This is important and should be taken seriously.