Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Is the new Lib Dem leadership working?

With swathes of the country facing local elections next week my thoughts have turned to the national prospects for the Lib Dems, who have been pretty invisible since they elected their leader and deputy over a month ago.

The hashed press announcement that Menzies Campbell had sold (and then, apparently, not sold) his 5.3 litre XJS was his only big foray into he public domain and it looked less than sure-footed, as PR stunts go.

In fact their poll ratings have held up remarkably well; and I think they may do quite well on Thursday. You have to admit that the relentless 'it's a two-horse race' type of leaflet campaigning that they do is effective and has been honed into a fine art.

I expect them to build on the trend of the last year, collecting quite a lot of seats from Labour, and losing some seats (and councils) to us.

But in the longer term is their support going to hold up under the new, but actually rather old, leadership?

We shall see.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Torbays council administration has been in the news again for all the wrong reasons.

It seems that in spite of an extensive (and growing) property portfolio across the Bay council officers have been spending £100,000 annually on hiring hotel conference rooms.

The tut- tutting from Elisabeth Raikes about the fact that this issue has been given such a lot of publicity reminded me of her equally disdainful predecessor, Richard Painter.

It's another symptom of the mindset of council officers - that Torbay Council is their fiefdom and the best thing us 'little people' can do is run along and let them get on with spending our money.

The trouble is that they see Torbay Council as a huge corporation responsible for schools, social services and to some extent, the local economy; whereas most local taxpayers see the council as the bin men and road sweepers.

The best way to bridge this gap between residents and their council is to elect councillors with the intellect, determination and ability to hold the officers to account; something Torbay has not had for a long time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sell drugs at school - get paid £1750 by Torbay council!

A couple of weeks ago the newspapers were full of the shocking story that an expelled school pupil was likely to be given £1750 by Torbay council.

This ‘penalty’ payment was to be made because the local education authority were unable to find him another school immediately after he was expelled from Churston Grammar for drug dealing. During the few weeks he was without a school the council didn’t send him a home tutor. The Council will make the payment because the Ombudsman has ruled that they have to.

At the heart of this outrage is the fact that Councils are increasingly not controlled by locally elected councillors, but by a growing army of inspectors and ombudsmen who have the power to force councils to do what the Government (or rather, John Prescott) wants whether local people support them or not.

Around 80% of the money given to councils by the Government is ‘ring fenced’ for uses that the Government has decreed. This can be to an amazing level of detail – so that funds are available, for instance, to build new school buildings but not to repair the existing ones and spend the difference on books, extra teachers or playing fields.

The Government have learned that they can force councils to do their bidding; Labour are bullying local people to pay more in Council Tax and forcing their elected representatives to spend the money they way the Government want and not the way local residents need.

This is a big reason why local politics often ends up in petty and futile squabbling over procedure instead of useful, meaningful argument over local issues – because a lot of the time the local politicians have become powerless.

I hope that our leaders frequent commitments to return power to local communities is backed up by firm policies before the next general election that actually do so.

That is certainly what I will be working hard to achieve.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Back in the saddle.

On Thursday evening I was reselected by my local Conservative Association.

This means that I will be the candidate again at the next election, expected in around three years time, in 2009.

The already lengthy selection process was complicated by David Cameron's laudable desire to increase diversity in our candidates at the next election which meant that our re-selection was frozen mid process last November.

Thankfully the candidates department in London clearly thought that we don't have enough ex fish-mongers in Parliament and chose to support my bid to be reselected.

I am looking forward to taking up the campaign again, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all those of you who have offered voices of support and encouragement.