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