Thursday, November 29, 2007


Is part of Gordons problem that his team are just a bit too naive?

The folk in the photograph on the left are six of Gordon Browns inner circle of advisers - his top team of Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Dougie Alexander, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and of course the recently resigned Peter Watt; they share one striking similarity, youth.

I have highlighted before the seemingly inexorable rise in the number of 'career politicians' - that is very bright young men and women who leave the education system with top grades and go straight into the political system with no experience of real life in between.

No amount of intellect or education can replace a bit of life's experience and good old-fashioned common sense; and sadly it seems that many of the people running our country and especially the Labour party might be clever but they aren't proving terribly savvy.

Surely anyone with the slightest bit of real-life experience would know that just because 'systems are in place' to prevent something going awry doesn't mean that nothing can go wrong; especially where human beings are concerned.

It can be the case with very clever, very young people that they slip over the edge from confidence to arrogance; they can come to believe that they need take no lessons or advice from anyone else. And so it was that warnings about looming crisis like Northern Rock were ignored.

So this Government constantly finds itself under siege for errors and mistakes stretching from their own donor crisis to 25 million missing bank account details that it keeps insisting shouldn't happen; but have.

Worse still, arrogant Government ministers believe that the solution to each mistake they have made is yet more laws; so the ID card is their answer to the loss of data, and state funding is their answer to Labour donors breaking the law.

Mr Brown rushed to dismiss many of the older and wiser heads in Government for reasons more connected with his own insecurity than anything else and now finds himself surrounded by a coterie of teenage 'yes' men and women who apparently couldn't run a whelk stall, much less the country.

He should wake up to the fact that the last thing this country needs is another raft of badly drafted, hurriedly passed laws and rules that on current form, his own party will be the first to break.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Best line of the day award.

No doubt about it, the last line of Question Time today was an absolute gem and a great and easy 'win' for Vince Cable.

At the end of a very heated and tense Question Time Mr Cable pointed out how Gordon Brown had turned from “Stalin to Mr Bean” in a matter of weeks, "bringing chaos where there had been order"; to uproarious laughter from MP's on all sides.

Nobody has ever doubted Mr Cable's intellect or ability, now we know he has a wicked wit, too.

What a missed opportunity, not having him as their leader.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Veteran reporter shock admission

The Man In The White Suit says 'sleaze is worse under Labour'.

On Newsnight tonight a clearly careworn and weary Martin Bell appeared and denounced Labour for sleaze saying to a clearly astonished Jeremy Paxman that political scandal had got worse since they took over.

This, you will recall, is the retired war correspondent so incensed by the behaviour of Tatton MP Neil Hamilton that he stood against him as a candidate in the 1997 general election and was successfully elected for two Parliaments on a 'no corruption in public life' ticket.

His view -expressed tonight- is that far from cleaning up politics as promised things have got far worse under Labour. He points out that however shameful the Fayed/Hamilton affair was it was a lowly backbench MP on the make, not institutionalised corruption - which is what this currently unfolding fund raising scandal appears to be, coming after a string of other scandals from the New Labour team.

He said that the whole story 'stank', because of Mr Abrahams being a property developer and with all the potential conflicts of interest that could exist between elected politicians and developers. He also asked why six months ofter the resignation of the former standards in public life commitee chairman, no replacement had been recruited.

And it is becoming crystal clear that, once again, ministers and Labour MP's have been 'economical with the truth' over who did know about the scheme whereby Mr Abrahams was able to circumvent the law banning anonymity by giving his donations via third parties.

Brown admits his leadership bid campaign team rejected a donation and the Benn deputy leadership bid team also initially turned Mr Abrahams nominee money away after warnings from Baroness Jay about the donor.

Harriet Harman received her donation three weeks after the election for deputy leader was over, what I want to know is, what happened to the money because she surely didn't use it in an election campaign that was already over. Was it also given over to the Labour Party?

Last thing tonight Mr Abrahams appeared to suggest on television that Brown’s own chief fundraiser knew what a significant donor Abrahams has been for a number of years - having written to him recently to thank him for his efforts.

What was that chorus in 1997... "things can only get better"

Another bad day for Brown.

The revelations about more rule bending over another New Labour donation is yet more proof that this Government is nearing it's end.

Here we have the ruling party once again caught red handed breaking it's own laws. Labour introduced the requirement to name donors publicly to spike the guns of the Tory party whom they believed would be able to raise less money as a result; in fact it is Labour who have been hamstrung because who wants to be seen giving money to such a shockingly bad administration?

So instead they have by their own admission concocted a plan that has turned out to be probably illegal and certainly morally indefensible. Just like the loans affair there has been a concerted and carefully designed strategy to circumvent the law.

On it's own this would be a shocking revelation but on the back of a string of previous financial and donor scandals ranging from Bernie Ecclestone through the Hinduja brothers this is enough to hole the Government below the waterline.

I don't think there is anything Gordon Brown will be able to say or do now to recover his premiership, the good ship 'New Labour' is taking on water at a faster rate than the pumps can bale it out and slowly, but certainly she is going down.

Sorry about overdoing the tortured sailing metaphors but I just couldn't resist.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What are the Lib Dems going to do about this?

Torbay used to be referred to as 'Torybay' - for as long as anyone could remember it had been a Conservative stronghold. But by the late 1980's, with the poll tax bringing splits locally, and falling Tory popularity nationally the newly-formed Liberal Democrats began to make inroads. By 1990 they had wrestled control of the council from the Tories and by 1997 they won the ultimate prize, the parliamentary seat.

But since their win in the 2003 local elections the direction of travel has been all one way. The Lib Dems lost a long list of by elections in 2004 and 2005, at the General Election their MP scraped in with 5,000 fewer votes, they lost the mayoral referendum, lost the mayoral vote and then comprehensively lost control of the council in May this year.

But having got so used to winning they aren't coping at all well with losing; in fact they don't seem to know what to do at all.

Simply opposing every plan that the Tory mayor comes up with is destined to go nowhere, it was that strategy that more than any other convinced the voters that they had had enough of 'the councillors who like to say no" last May.

And relying on personality politics, either by promoting the personality of their own candidate(s) or denigrating the character of their opponents is also the wrong strategy to employ at a time when the public are asking What? and How? rather than Who? or Why?

People always ask me if I am confident of winning the seat next time. I am, and this is why.

I detect no signs of any changes to the local Lib Dems; their strategy, their policies and above all their people remain the same; stuck in an anti-Thatcher, anti-poll tax 'time warp'.

Putting up the same people arguing the same case that the public have already said 'no' to is a formula for the same result.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fit For Duty?

Is our Army "underprepared and ill-equipped" as Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig of Radley said yesterday in the House of Lords?

Rumours and stories of equipment shortages have dogged the Ministry of Defence since the start of the Afghan campaign and throughout the recent Middle East crisis the newspapers have been full of lurid details of soldiers begging other Allies for everything from toilet paper to bullets.

The so-called 'peace dividend' from the end of the cold war was that a major military set-piece conflict in the foreseeable future became unthinkable. So in the early 1990's a general downscaling of the Military was begun that was intended to reshape the Armed Services into a smaller, but far better equipped and far more agile defence force ready to engage anywhere in the world at relatively short notice.

The net result is that our entire Army would now comfortably be outnumbered by the crowd at a Cup Final. The trade off to downsizing was supposed to be that our troops would become the best equipped, best paid and best trained fighting force outside of Israel; and of course that is where the bargain has been broken.

In the Blair era the budget for military spending has shrunk to it's lowest share of GDP for the last 300 years and instead of being a shining example of a technologally advanced and well prepared fighting force our boys have instead had to resort to buying their own boots.

Speaking to the BBC this week Admiral Lord Boyce has publicly said the military is chronically underfunded: "The money that defence was given for its budget is not sufficient to meet the level of activities that the armed forces are currently engaged in. If you start back, say 10 years ago, from the strategic defence review that itself was underfunded...since then the gap has not been closed."

So it would seem that the Generals do have legitimate grounds for complaint.

But what is far more damaging to Government/Military relations is the suspicion amongst senior soldiers that the leaders of our country don't care for or understand the military. Admiral Boyce said the prime minister had treated the armed services with "contempt" and "disinterest" and criticised a decision to give Des Browne the jobs of both defence secretary and Scottish secretary; while Lord Gilbert has described Mr Brown as 'showing a great insensitivity not only to the morale of the troops but to their families as well' by neglecting to thank the troops in the Queens speech this year.

Earlier this month General Dannatt, current services head, also said the military covenant - the guarantee of a duty of care between the government and the armed forces - is "clearly out of kilter".

This is one of a series of warnings by military chiefs about the demands we are making on our soldiers.

Is it just that our political leaders don't understand the problems? Is it more incompetence perhaps? Or could it be something much, much worse.

Given that Gordon Brown is easily the most political of our leaders since Wilson could it be that he is suspicious of the one 'public service' that is generally considered to be the least sympathetic to the Labour cause?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

And another thing...

Isn't it just a bit worrying that apparently 'junior staff' can burn a couple of CD's containing the details of 15,000,000 children and 10,000,000 bank account details of their parents - apparently at will?

Telling us that proper procedures weren't followed is irrelevant, good security is about creating systems that cannot fail - if procedures aren't followed properly the system should not operate.

Even in my humble recruitment business we have basic safeguards that would stop anyone downloading our database onto a CD rom; it just can't be done.

Here we apparently have the National Audit Office asking for -and being sent- a copy of the entire UK parent population which was without so much as a blink stuck on a couple of CD's in the post.

We are being told by the Government that ID cards are the answer to identity theft problems yet here we have the perfect proof that they could in fact provide the potential for the opposite, on an unimaginable scale.

The ID cards proposal was already deeply flawed, this weeks developments must surely be the final nail in the coffin.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

As if Gordon Brown didn't have enough on his plate....

This Government is rapidly attracting a reputation for ineptness, todays announcement that the Chairman of HM Revenue & Customs has resigned after admitting losing the bank account details of 15 million taxpayers 'in the post' is yet another scandal they can ill afford.

There is the mushrooming scandal of Northern Rock, the revelations about incorrect counting of immigrants, the tax credits fiasco and the discovery that 5,000 illegal immigrants were cleared to work in security; the confusion over the 28 day detention plans and the growing fiasco of our troops having to borrow bullets from American soldiers because the MOD has run out of cash.

The first responsibility of any ruling party is to defend it's citizens against threats; the second is to provide stable and sustainable economic management and the third is to provide competent administration of the machinery of Government.

Labour is plainly failing on all three counts.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lib Dem leadership update - Whoops! I spoke too soon.

It's all gone a bit pear shaped for the Lib Dems.

Following a very bad-tempered exchange between the two leadership contenders on Sunday we learn this morning that Clegg is contemplating a formal complaint to the BBC about the Politics Show.

The BBC reports "Senior Liberal Democrat officials are to consider a complaint by leadership contender Nick Clegg over a document describing him as a "calamity". That paper was issued from the camp of leadership rival Chris Huhne".

In the space of a few hours the contest which I had described as being 'civilised' and 'respectful' just a few days ago has dissolved into the worst kind of personality politics that the Lib Dems specialise in, yet berate everyone else for.

Instead of having a proper constructive debate about the direction they want to take their Party and the country in; they have resorted to a bitter round of slagging each other off.

Given our experiences in Torbay over the last twenty or so years I suppose we shouldn't be that surprised.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Has his 'British Jobs For British Workers ploy backfired?

Gordon Browns team are this weekend firefighting a growing backlash against his cheesy 'British Jobs' conference speech in the face of a concerted onslaught by the media.

The BBC, Observer and Murdoch papers seem to have belatedly woken up to the realisation that this wholly odious promise was in fact what we in politics call a 'dog whistle' - saying something that has a special resonance with one sector of the electorate, in this case traditional Labour voters in areas where the BNP have been winning support.

Keith Vaz, a former Labour minister for Europe who is now chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said in Parliament: "I worry about that [Gordon Brown's] statement. "It lacks credible arguments, and some have suggested that it appears to amount to little more than employment apartheid. "It assumes that foreign workers are somehow stealing jobs from United Kingdom workers, an idea for which there is absolutely no evidence."

All the evidence is that the reason so many immigrant workers come here is because British people aren't applying for the jobs that exist.

And as a quick scout round the bars, clubs, shops and Hotels of Torbay will demonstrate in this area at least the immigrants are more than willing to take up the jobs left vacant by 'British Workers' many of whom appear happy to not work at all.

Immigrants aren't getting jobs here because they are better trained or qualified (talk to any of the 10,000 junior Doctors, and 3,000 newly trained midwives looking for jobs right now) but because they are prepared to do work that many of us Brits don't want to.

So promising to spend even more taxpayers money on training 7.5m 'British' workers is another red herring designed to get Brown out of trouble.

As I have said before, if we are really keen to get more British people off benefits and into work the right answer isn't to incite resentment against those who do want to get on and better themselves, it is to do more to encourage some of our many feckless, aimless youngsters to have some self-respect and personal ambition of their own.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Breakthrough cure found for Chronic Insomnia

Is it just me?
Or is this Lib Dem leadership contest dull, dull, dull?

OK I admit, I am an incurable political anorak and when most people are watching something interesting like The Bill I am to be found glued to Newsnight.

So the most trivial and inconsequential political story is avidly consumed by yours truly and the news scoured for the political stories of the hour. But I have to say that the contest to succeed Menzies Campbell (who was he?) has simply failed to whet my appetite, and judging by the paucity of media coverage, I am not alone in being bored to tears.

I applaud them for at least having a proper contest. It has (so far) been conducted in a similar spirit to the Cameron/Davis contest in 2005 and the public love to see that politicians can disagree in an adult fashion, based on differing intellectual argument, while retaining a mutual respect for each other.

But the snag is that there has been hardly any debate amongst the two- there seems no argument about policy, they agree an almost everything - and both seem intent on a steady as she goes, no change approach and the whole thing comes down to who can 'out Cameron' Cameron when the focus really needs to be on Brown and ousting Labour from office.

The Lib Dems need a better reason to exist than to simply carry on being the 'anyone but the Tories' option and neither candidate has so far demonstrated what that reason might be.

There is a great quote from someone on about this. "No one is interested in the lib dems anymore. People want to see, and are interested in, the main event. Its like being at a festival. People stand around, listening to the support acts in the spirit of a festival, but really only waiting for the main act to come on stage."

Nobody owes anyone a vote in this day and age.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More help from the front bench

Another two high profile shadow ministers here this month

It's so interesting to see how our party behind the scenes has also changed under David Cameron.

For one thing the party has it's confidence back in a big way. No longer are we allowing others to set the agenda, we are talking about the topics we want to and setting out our ideas without fear of having them twisted into a mockery by our opponents spin machinery. For another, shadow cabinet members have stepped outside the Westminster village that they were so fond of from 1997 onwards and taken to the road in a big way.

That is why a number of high profile Tories have trod the path down to the bay this year, including Mr C himself, on two occasions.

This week welcomed the charming and intelligent Andrew Mitchell to look at the new Paignton Library proposals and last week saw the very famous and highly influential Michael Gove here to check out our education plans.

Partly this change has come because of a conscious effort by the leadership to leave the famous 'bubble' of Parliament and make sure that more time is spent meeting the electorate, partly it reflects the new-found confidence of the shadow cabinet themselves, partly it is because Nick Bye is the only directly elected Conservative mayor but mostly it reflects the growing conviction that Torbay is a win at the next election; everyone wants to do their bit to help, and be seen to be helping.

It's very interesting to compare and contrast the interest in the Bay from senior Conservatives to the number of senior Lib Dems who have been down in the last year or two.

Exactly no one, I think.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Welcome to the cast of 'FagEnders'.

After another absolutely amazing day out canvassing I am more and more convinced that Gordon Brown will join to the select group of gentlemen above - the fag-end Prime Ministers.

The politics of the late 20th century was punctuated by some leaders who, after a long life of politics finally made the top-spot only to turn out to be a massive disappointment. In all cases their careers had bumped along unnoticed until they became PM where they failed to capture the imagination of the public and proved short-lived washouts.

In most cases they immediately succeeded charismatic, successful leaders - Churchill, Eden; MacMillan; Douglas-Home; Wilson - Callaghan and now Blair -Brown.

It's the strength of feeling on the doorstep that convinces me; sneering contempt from disgusted voters was an emotion reserved for some of our (quite recent) past leaders and I have knocked on many a door these last few years and taken 'advice' from angry Tories about our choices for leader.

Although this dramatically improved in 2005 with Cameron we were still finding some doubters in streets where we should be able to weigh Tory votes rather than count them.

But since the summer that atmosphere on the canvass trail has been completely and utterly transformed. In one road this morning I canvassed every home and in every single house I was pledged unequivocal support; that has not happened to me in ten years of political activity.

Sure, all the usual caveats apply, 'two years is a long time in politics', 'never trust the candidates canvass returns', 'people say anything when there isn't an election' etc, all true.

But I don't remember ever having had a run of canvassing days such as we have had this autumn, and neither does anyone else who came with me.

It's nothing local, nothing personal and nothing to do with me; it's about not having the new Government that voters thought they might get when Gordon took over in June (and didn't) and then were led to expect they might have in November (and didn't).

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

When you gotta go...

Todays news that Met chief Sir Ian Blair has refused to resign in the face of a vote of 'no confidence' by his own local Authority has a ring of familiarity to those of us who live in Devon.

Our own former Chief Maria Wallace went through a similar charade shortly before she departed for early retirement last year.

In the case of Sir Ian, there has been much more controversy than our Mrs Wallace with him rarely being out of the newspapers for saying or doing something shocking.

In 2005 Blair was involved in the police being "politicised" when he and other senior police officers lobbied MPs to support Government proposals to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days.

In 2006 He was in hot water over the Soham murders after accusing the media of being institutionally racist, he later had to apologise to the girls parents.

In March 2006 it was revealed that he had secretly taped several telephone conversations, most notably with the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

In May 06 -when 78 police officers were involved in an operation to confiscate placards displayed by lone protester Brian Haw. Blair told his Police Authority that the operation had cost £7,000 when it had in fact cost £27,000

After the bungled anti-terrorist raid in Forest Gate, in June 2006 he was called on to resign; on top of the awful Stockwell shooting.

In my view Ian Blair made a tactical error by defending the legal action brought on health and safety grounds, made worse by the defence attempt to smear the deceased victim even further than they already had at the time .

There is a time in life for humility and I think his 'robust' defence of that action has damaged the standing of the Met - and that is why I feel he should resign.

It's a great pity that -like quite a few cabinet ministers recently, these senior figures seem so reluctant to take responsibility when things go awry in the organisations which they are so very well paid to lead.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Nationalised Bank?
I am neither a saver or borrower from Northern Rock but now I discover I have lent them £1000, (and if you are a taxpayer, you have too) whether you wanted to or not.

This is because in their indecent haste to bury this particular bit of bad news ahead of the expected General Election the Government instructed the Bank of England to offer the Northern Rock an overdraft, which has now topped an almost unimaginable £30,000,000,000; or roughly £1,000 for each UK taxpayer.

The problems at the bank are simple, profound and known to be disastrous. They borrowed 'short' (i.e. by taking out short-term loan notes from other banks) and lent 'long' (lending for 25 year mortgages) and it all went wrong when the bank loans dried up, and got worse when savers found out and demanded their savings back, too.

There was a systemic failure by the body set up by Labour to protect consumers from financial mismanagement and fraud. The Financial Services Authority found it didn't have the powers to prevent the slowly unfolding disaster from occurring, and neither did the Bank of England who had lost their policing role to the FSA when it was formed in 1998.

The bank, having become insolvent ('unable to meet it's commitments as and when they fall due') should have appointed receivers to sort out the mess, as happened with BCCI in 1991 and Barings in 1995; and thousands of 'ordinary' businesses every year. Savers would have eventually got most of their money back under existing protection schemes and given that the bank insists it has enough security (money owed to it) to meet all it's debts, they should have got back everything once all the mortgages had been sold off to other banks.

But there was an election coming, and the last thing the Government wanted was a backdrop of growing financial crisis and millions of angry savers with their cash locked up in a bankrupt bank to add to the millions of existing pensioners with their savings trapped in worthless pension funds.

So the Government said to NR, "hey, - don't worry chaps - even though no sensible bank in the world will touch you with a bargepole but we will lend you a few billion of British taxpayers cash to tide you over - have as much as you like, Oh and by the way we will offer an unlimited guarantee to all your customers for the money that have already invested." anything, in fact, to get those awful pictures of queuing savers off the telly.

But now they are stuck. Northern Rock is still just as insolvent as ever and nobody wants to buy the bank as it is. The Government (and that means you and I ) is locked in with a cash requirement that is growing daily and the only route out looks likely to be via a massive cash sweetener to whoever is prepared to take the whole sorry mess of the Chancellors hands.

Prudence, eh?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Welcome to the real Westphalia

To whoever is behind the much read (and it has to be said, quite funny) spoof website that has caused much anxiety and amusement in equal measure at the Town Hall here is a map of the real Westphalia. Why this particular region of Europe was selected as an alternative Torbay in the parallel universe now occupied by much of the Torbay Liberal Democrat community I will never guess.

According to the text and tone of the website (and particularly the comments) the Lib Dems clearly think the reason they lost power is:

a) A conspiracy by the media (especially the Herald Express)
b) Dirty tricks by the other side (i.e. Conservatives)
c) The electorate being lazy/stupid/ill informed
d) all of the above

It's an arrogant approach destined to failure and guaranteed to alienate the electorate even more. It suggests to me that the Lib Dems have a very long way to go, at least in Torbay, before they are ready to deliver an alternative; and in my view Labour have a real chance of overtaking them here if they don't change tack.

If it's any comfort we have been there, and done that.

For the last fifteen or twenty years Tories were obsessed with the view that our continuing poll losses were 'anyone's fault but our own.' Locally and nationally there was an unwillingness to recognise that the selection of candidates, the policies and the tone of the party were out of step with the public and instead blame the press for our woes; indeed when I first came here we Tories always referred to the newspaper as the 'Herald Depressed'.

It's interesting to see the Lib Dems now doing the same thing.

See what you think: