Monday, December 19, 2005

Poll Latest -
Tories ahead by 9%

The most recent MORI poll published in the Observer this weekend puts the Conservatives ahead by 9%.

The result puts my party on 40% with Labour at 31% and the Lib Dems down a bit on 21%.

The really good news is not this poll (which I think looks on the hight side) but that MORI is the last of the big polling organisations to publish a poll that now shows the Conservatives in the lead.

Although we have had small poll leads on past occasions the last time all the main polling firms gave us a consistant lead over Labour like this was in 1989.

Nobody is getting too excited, because even if these numbers were sustained for the four years until the next election they would still not translate into an overall Conservative majority, which might be one reason that David Cameron is appealing to Liberal Democrats for support.

Believe it or not in order to wrestle control of the House of Commons the Conservatives would need about 44% of the vote with Labour on less than 31% and the Lib Dems below 20%. Exact figures are hard because much depends on tactical voting and the effective campaigns in target seats like Torbay.

But the polling numbers support the anecdotal evidence all around us which is that sentiment is moving our way and that momentum for change is growing.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Will he, won't he?

If Kennedy goes will this be good news or bad news for local Lib Dems in Torbay?

A week is a long time in politics, it hardly seems possible that just a few weeks ago my party was leaderless and drifting while the Lib Dems confidently predicted replacing the Conservatives as the major opposition party.

One way ot another Kennedy looks like damaged goods having been apparently described by Ming Campbell -his own deputy- as 'holed below the waterline' it must only be a question of when he goes, not if he goes.

Could this be a lifeline for Bay Lib Dems? Famously Kennedy refused to take sides over the whole question of the councillors allowances leaving some in his local party stranded and causing a very great deal of bad feeling and concern amongst local Liberals.

Could a new leader represent a 'clean start' for the Bays Lib Dems and give them an opportunity to dump many of the councillors they now so revile?

On the other hand is there a danger that a leaderhip contest could cause a damaging split between those traditional Liberals who are to the right of the party who want to continue to challenge the Tories head-on, and the mainstream Lib Dems who are desperate to take up the vacant space to the left of Tony Blair and try to pick up support from disillusioned socialist and old-Labour supporters in seats like Torbay; but more importantly in dozens of Labour held seats where the Lib dems are now the main challengers?

It will be a make or break decision for the Lib Dems which those of us in the Conservative party will be watching very closely.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

That was the week that was.

Another week -another By Election victory.

Political weeks just don't come much better than this one. This picture is me congratulating Kevin Carroll on his by election win just a year or so ago. His was the first of a string of wins that have seen the balance of power shift in Torbay forever, topped by our big result on Thursday. But what a week for the Party!

Monday - Torbay Conservatives hold an executive council meeting (the executive is the main decision making body of the local association) and agree virtually unanimously to ask the Party Chairman in London to allow them to re-adopt me on a fast-track basis. Considering how much I have been rocking the local Troy boat lately this is both encouraging for me, proof that the local party wants to change, and worrying for our political opponents.

Tuesday - Cameron wins an overwhelming vote from members beating even my forecast of two-to-one and then goes on to remind us why we voted for him by an astonishingly upbeat launch speech.

Wednesday - Question time comes and goes and Cameron proves he can rise to the challenge yet again, both by performing well ('I've only being doing this job 5 minutes Prime Minister, and already you're asking me the questions....')

Thursday - Churston By election sees over 70% of local voters choosing our man over the Lib Dem opponent - a stunning turnaround on 2003 when we narrowly won one of the seats by two votes.

Friday - A shadow cabinet line-up that includes the great, the good and the plain popular and, better still, no arguments - everyone seems happy.

Saturday - A YOUGOV poll this weekend shows a 1% lead for the Conservatives over Labour and a catastrophic 5% drop in Lib Dem support down from 23% at the election to just 18% now.

Before anyone else says it we are clearly in a honeymoon period, I won't be truly satisfied that we have turned the corner for a few months yet, by about June.

Rumours continue to circulate that the Lib Dems have had it with Charles Kennedy, so by then we may be in the middle of a Lib Dem leadership battle.

Will theirs help them as much as ours has helped us?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tory New Beginnings?

This is the start of a watershed week for the Conservatives locally and nationally.

Tonight the local association are having an executive meeting to decide amongst other things whether or not to re-appoint me as the PPC.

The selection process is organised at association level, locally autononmy is still sacrosanct in the Tory party, fortunately.

As reported slightly sensationally by the Herald Express last Monday I have been invited to apply for a couple of other seats coming up for selection which would be interesting to me if the local Association were to decide they would prefer to try someone else to contest Torbay on their behalf.

There is no doubt that my style of operation (and indeed my style of dress) is not to the taste of some members of the local party who I think would prefer a candidate more in the mould of Conservative MP's of old, whereas there are others who like the fact that I am anything but an 'old style' Tory.

It is for the local association members to decide what they want, and who they believe will give them the best chance in four or five years time.

Not unreasonably I have asked the local association to make an early decision so far as I am concerned and to my delight they have responded and will make a judgement tonight.

And then tomorrow we will find out (at last) who is to be our new leader. I am convinced that Cameron has it and by a convincing majority (I expect nearly 2-1 in Camerons favour).

And then on Thursday we have a pivotal local by election in Torbay to select a replacement for Nick Bye in Churston.

This is going to be interesting because there is a large UKIP contingent in that area -UKIP are not contesting the ward and we will be interested to see if their vote comes out, and if it does, whether it comes out for our man.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

These are interesting times to be a Conservative. I have been active in politics only since 1997 so it's been one long battle against unpopularity, dispair and open hostility towards the Party whose ideals and basic principles I share.

It has also been a period when many of those principles have been unfashionable - 'political correctness' and 'nanny state' decision making designed to protect every citizen from any misfortune no matter how irresponsibly they behave or however much that misfortune has been self inflicted has been the popular order of the day.

Common accusations against the Conservative governments iof the 1980's and 1990's was that we were 'intolerant' - especially of anyone 'different' and that we were illiberal on law and order issues - all too often the accusation was not fair and contradicted by the facts. Conservatives introduced much socially liberalising legislation. Mrs Thatcher was typically Tory in her views about what Government should do to influence social and family behaviour- as little as is possible. Her view was always that the Government should try and stay out of peoples private lives and she was often surprisingly liberal minded on issues such as abortion, sexuality and marriage.

But interestingly it is the Labour Government who have turned out to be authoritarian and intolerant, imposing draconian measures against minority groups like smokers and the country sports fraternity and restricting our freedom by introducing ever more sweeping police powers , identity cards, thousands of new police cameras and suchlike.

At last the popular political tide seems to be shifting. Blairs defeat and our leadership contest are apparently unconnected events and yet one has a growing sense that they are linked - linked in some deeper way that reflects a shifting national psyche.

We have had false dawns before, but this time it is less to do with us, and a lot more to do with a deepening dislike of the direction Blair is heading.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I wonder what our Lib Dem MP makes of his colleagues latest outrage?

Is he going to be as impotent and indecisive over this latest crisis as he was over the allowances, the toilet closures, the rate capping and the mayoral campaign?

I refer of course to the disgraceful decision of the Bay Liberal Democrats to shun the opportunity to create a cross-party consensus group to run Torbay, by backing out of the cabinet.

For years we Conservatives have had to listen to the Liberal Democrat MP lecturing us on the need for ‘consensus’ politics - telling us how high-minded his party are and how they don’t indulge in the ‘yah-boo’ of Party politics.

Yet here we are again faced with the truth, which is that Liberal Democrat politicians are the worst offenders of the lot - they look after themselves first, their party masters second, and their local community last.

I think local residents and voters have a right to know where our MP stands on this important issue, don't you?.

Does Adrian Sanders agree with his new local party leader that the best thing for his group is to oppose everything that new Mayor tries to do?

Does he think that Cllr Jennings is right to refuse to work with Mr Bye because –in his words – “Nick is a Conservative whether he likes it or not. He was elected under Tory party machinery”?
On the other hand, if Mr Sanders takes the same view that I do -that this is a cheap and shameful act of partisan point-scoring that will set Torbay back years; will he stand up and say so now?

Or does he intend do as he did with Cllr Harris and wait a couple of years until he is leaving town before saying anything remotely critical?

I'm not holding my breath for an answer.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The press, injcluding many national newspapers an item last week concerning the Electoral Reform Society’s claims that the mayoral election system used in Torbay was in their view ‘flawed’.

The ERS are a pressure group pushing for the introduction of Proportional Representation, views which are supported by just one of the major UK national parties, the Liberal Democrats. The ERS didn’t complain when the Lib Dems won in Watford using the same system in 2002 -I wonder why?

The real problem with the mayoral election in Torbay was not the system used but the fact that the public were offered a ridiculous choice of 14 candidates. Having so many candidates vying for control was a very big turn-off for the public.

This election was a spectacular demonstration of the power of individual ambition to derail a common goal if ever there was one. Because there was not even a scintilla of co-operation amongst the independents their impact was dissipated –and therefore totally ineffective.

This characteristic is repeated by independent councillors when in office, I’m afraid. Hung councils and councils run by independent groups statistically have a poor track record, delivering poorer services and higher than average taxes.

The reason party politics has evolved over the last 300 years is to give the public a clear choice of ideas at election time, and thereafter provide co-ordinated political activity which results in clear, focussed delivery.

Political parties are not -as many people claim 'machines' - we don't live in China! Our parties are voluntary associations of free-minded people who share a set of basic values. Sure, we disagree with each other on the details from time to time, but on balance we believe and demonstrate that by acting together we can achieve more than by acting alone.

In Torbay we have demonstrated very well what happens when the Party system breaks down – chaos, confusion and inertia.

What Torbay really needs is not a band of independents (who are all too often simply Party renegades or re-treads from the past) but rather some new blood inside our political Parties – credible and vibrant people prepared to fight their side of the argument to make Torbay a better place and for whom the public will be happy to place their trust and their vote.

With my colleague Nick Bye bringing his open style into local politics and (hopefully) David Cameron bringing a fresh outlook and new leadership to the Conservative party nationally I am sure that, in the Blue corner at least, things are on the move.

New members are very welcome!

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Big TV Debate -Who won?

I think, on balance, that David Davis came out slightly ahead but the real winner last night was the Conservative party itself. The show was both a PR coup for the BBC (who were obviously as pleased as a tail with two dogs to have got the show) and our party who came across as bold, open, intellegent and prepared to debate and discuss topics in a way the Labour have long given up doing.

In spite of all the nay sayers talking down this contest it’s the nearest we have in the UK to a proper US style primary and gives welcome exposure to opposition politicians (and not just the leader) that otherwise passes us by.
I thought the tone was right, not confrontational but with just enough frisson between the rivals to make it watchable tv and not look rehearsed or staged.

Lastly, I would have thought that even the most committed Labour or Lib dem supporter must have watched and thought ‘we must do this at our nest leadership election’ and there can be little doubt that the Party Leaders will do open, one to one, TV debates at the next election.

What we did last night on TV, and indeed the whole of our leadership election is new, exciting and good for democracy and politics.

But by the way, I am still going to vote for David Cameron.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One Big Question.

After the 2005 General Election count –as those of who were present will know- I was treated to a stream of personal abuse from the newly re-elected Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders.

He was bitter because I had dared to criticise him during the campaign for failing to stand up for local residents against the excesses of his council colleagues in increasing their allowances, closing Upton School and raising council tax.

As far back as November 2003 the Herald Express published a letter from me in which I wrote: “As usual Adrian Sanders has ducked out when, for once, he could actually do something.

He is the de-facto leader of the local Liberal Democrats - does he back his councillors extravagance? If not will he use his position to force them to get a grip on matters and bring their reckless spending spree to an end?

For the sake of all of us I call on him to do so without further delay.”

I didn’t ask him as a political gimmick but because he really is about the only person in the Bay with enough authority and influence over the Lib Dems to bang some heads together and make common sense prevail.

But Mr Sanders consistently failed to act. The silence from him during the last two and a half years on local council controversies such as the allowances has been deafening - he never did call on Mr Harris to resign.

And now we read in Saturday’s Herald that Mr Sanders all along considered his council leader should have resigned ‘two years ago’ – around the time, in fact, that I wrote the letter quoted above.

So now I have one big question for our MP.

Why on earth didn’t you say that at the time, Mr Sanders?

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Lib Dem in-fighting continues...

The Lib Dems are always complaining about 'behind closed doors' politics so it's good to see them bring their inernal bickering out into the open for us all to see.

The latest classic is the major bust-up between Adrian Sanders the MP and his (soon to be ex) council leader Chirs Harris splashed all over four pages of the Herald Express this weekend.

Mr Sanders apparently thinks that Mr Harris (and he alone) is to blame for his own poor General Election result and the failure of his friend Nick Pannell in the the mayoral election last week. He says that the only reason the Lib Dems are in such a bad way is because Mr Harris 'bamboozled' his local party colleagues into accepting their big pay rise (nothing about the rate capping, the 11% tax rise, the school closures, the toilet closures, etc, etc.).

In reply the leader of the council accuses the MP of 'achieving nothing' for Torbay in his eight years in Westminster.

This comes on top of the deputy leader last week calling Mr Sanders a has-been.

Well who am I to argue?

Friday, October 21, 2005

A good nights work

So, Nick Bye has deservedly become Torbay's first ever directly elected Mayor.

Despite a fierce campaign by the Lib dems and several ex-Conservative members Nick has promoted the best vision for Torbay and now has effective control over Torbay Council's policies for the next five and a half years.

To those who say 'it's an impossible task' I say, Nick has long enough to do a decent job and I firmly believe he has the political wisdom and the team around him to turn the Authority round.

A low turnout of 24% is disappointing but reflects what many of us who were campaigning new only too well; that fourteen candidates was too many and turned what should have been an important local decision into a bit of a circus.

And to those who say they wanted a non-aligned mayor I say, wait and see -Nick is an independent minded guy who has his own mind and his own priorities.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

So, Is He a Political Has-been?

Following the extraordinary outburst in Wednesdays Herald Express from Lib Dem councillor and deputy leader Cllr Chris Lomas that Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders is a political has-been we are asking the question, are his days at Westminster numbered?

How widespread is Cllr Lomas' view? Very few MP's can last very long without the support of their party in the constituency. Is Mr Lomas alone in thinking that their MP is a political chancer who will say anything to 'grab a few votes'?

Rumours flew in the lead up to the election that the troubles between Mr Sanders' supporters and the main members of the councillors group had boiled over into open warfare about Mr Sanders' position.

His poor showing in the election has frayed tempers further with each side blaming the other, many local Liberals are saying that he has become everything they despised in the previous Conservative MP's: aloof, arrogant and distant while Mr Sander's supporters blame the awful Lib Dem council and local activists for the collapse in support.

Recently there have been stories in the press about Mr Sanders sacking his long-time agent and political mentor Cllr Ruth Pentney while a string of highly bitter arguments betwen the rival camps have spilled over into the public domain.

Will Mr Sanders finally show his mettle and take on the detractors in his own party? Or will he carry on, like he usually does, hoping that his troubles will all fade away. And is there truth in the persistant rumours that he intends to hang up his gloves at the next election or is this wishful thinking of other, envious and perhaps younger political movers in his local Party?

Friday, October 07, 2005

"Professionals or Amateur, who do you want in charge?"

As someone who has stood for election I have some advice to the candidates standing for Mayor.

Running for office is a balance between being attractive enough to win while not making impossible promises.

Reading through the manifestos delivered this week I was struck by the fact that most of the candidates seem blissfully unaware of this.

Half the candidates are promising to reduce car park charges, keep the streets clean and lower taxes, without specifying where they will find the money from. The manifestos are littered with promises of spending on business support, tourism, social housing and maritime events yet not one candidate is saying ‘oh, and by the way, your council tax will have to skyrocket to pay for it all…’

A third of the candidates are offering ‘zero tolerance’ policing - which is not even within the Mayors power.

Just one candidate (Conservative Nick Bye) has raised the education issue – which is easily the most important part of the new Mayors responsibilities accounting for over half the council’s budget.

The reason we are cynical about politicians is we think they promise anything to get elected and then let us down.

Let’s be honest - the Lib Dems aren’t intentionally running Torbay badly. Their problem is that they also made reckless promises in order to get elected (£100 off your council tax, remember?). How they made political hay when our administration was criticised by the Audit Commission, -too late- they found out for themselves that pleasing Mr Prescott’s office involved shutting toilets and closing schools to fund posts like an ‘ethnic diversity officer’.

To find solutions to the Bays problems means developing policies that can survive not just the Councillors, council officers, and the Trade Unions, but also Government auditors, Health and Safety, The EU Commission, John Prescott’s office and all the other New Labour ‘stakeholders’ that apparently have a right to interfere in our local affairs.

It’s going to take a very experienced political operator indeed to make the changes that they promise actually happen.

Most candidates seem to be saying ‘vote for me, I’m not a politician’ which is about as reassuring as discovering that the surgeon about to undertake your heart surgery is an unemployed gas meter man.

If I am flying on a plane, especially during a Typhoon, I want a qualified pilot in the cockpit, - don’t you?

Monday, September 26, 2005

TORY LEADERSHIP 3: Who Am I Backing?

First rule of politics: never publicly back anyone for leaderhip in case they don't win; unless they are offering you something in return.

Since when did I ever obey the political rulebook?

So for anyone who is interested here is my current ranking (i.e. my preferred choices) of the party runners and riders:

1) David Cameron, because I think he is a breath fo fresh air and also precisely because he hasn't been in Parliament for yonks I think he would make afresh choice and a clear break with the past.
2) David Davis, because he has an almost unbroken track record of success in politics, firstly as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in the 97-01 parliament, he was an excellent Party Chairman in 01-03 and since then ahs excelled himself as shadown foreign sec.
3) Liam Fox, because he has a brilliant 'bedside manner' because he was a first class chairman of the party, because he has premier league brainpower, and lastly because he is good on TV.
4) Er, I'm struggling a bit now. Theresa May would be good - she is moderate, articulate, female, intellegent and wily, but I think she would be outclassed by Blair/Brown.
5) Ken Clark, well I'd learn to live with him as leader, I expect. I agree that he would give us an immediate fillip in the polls and would stand up well to Brown, and I back most of his politics except on Europe where I am directly opposed to his kind of 'muddle along for the time-being' view of the EU.
6) Andrew Lansley. Nice bloke, and down to earth. I'd have a spring in my step if he won but I really don't have a clue what he'd be like as a leader.
7) Tim Yeo. See 6.
8) Rifkind. I put him last because he is bettered in almost every way by one or more of the other candidates.

Noticeably I am, in common with nearly every Tory member I know, not basing the decision on their political beliefs as we have been prone to do in the last few leadership elections, because I think the (vast majority) Party has come to a kind of Euro-sceptic, but socially inclusive 'one-nation' consensus on the best way forward. I think the 'drift to the right' during the last fortnight of the general Election campaign that coincided with a drift downwards of three points in our poll ratings was the final proof that it's good, new, centre policies we need if we are to win.

As I have already said, all the leaderhip contenders are saying so, in one form or another, so I am not going to be too fussed whatever the outcome as long as they all stick to their guns.

Friday, September 09, 2005

So who gets to be mayor of Torbay?

After the Conservatives decided last night to elect former mayor and existing councillor Nick Bye as our candidate many people are asking : will we be beaten by one of the grwoing number of independent candidates?

Could Sammy the Seagull steal the show?

Much has been made in the press, mainly through the Herald Express letters page, that voters want a 'non-political' person to win the mayoral contest. But why? Why do they say they want someone with no political experience to become Torbay's No 1 politician?

Would you, for instance want a 'non pilot' to be commanding the 747 you are due to fly on? Would you want to be operated on by someone 'not connected with the medical profession'?

So why doe people apparently seem so keen on a political freshman for Mayor?

The given reason is that the public have becme disillusioned with party politicians, somehow the Tories are to blame 'as well' because we had a three years stunt in 2000-2003 and therefore we are 'equally' culpable. This is unfair and incorrect. When we were in there was a real effort made to at least keep the streets clean, keep the flowerbeds full and keep the Bay's schools open and successful.

Just because the Lib dems have made such a mess of things why should so many letter writers blame 'all politicians' for the state of Torbay? During the 1970's and 1980's the bay was run exclusively by the Conservatives, and there was nowhere near the level of discontent and frustration with the council then. Sure, some poor planning decisions were made but by-and-large the only reason the Tories lost power was nothing to do with local issues, it was all about the poll tax and a very unpopular national Tory party losing out to a very vocal and politically active local Lib Dem party.

The fact is the minute anyone becomes elected to run Torbay they will have to become a politician in very short order. 'No political experience' will quickly equate to 'not a snowball in hells chance of changing anything' when the successful candidate finds themself facing a wall of opposition from the Lib Dems and council officers to any serious changes he or she wants to make.

If we end up with an ineffectual or powerless mayor we will be worse off than ever. The only choice will, in the end, boil down to between having a Conservative mayor who can command at least enough votes in the council to stop the Lib dems opposing what he wants, or a Lib dem mayor who can bulldose anything he wants through the chamber.

And that means the only way to change Torbay for the better on October 20th will be to vote for my colleague Nick Bye.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Leadership Contest - 2.

Sat and watched Newsnight last night with rising frustration. Of course Ken Clarke is picked by most people - he is the most familiar. Follow that line of thought and Ford would still be making the model T.

They ramble on about left wing and right wing contenders taking no account of the fact that modern politics is so much more complex. The old battleground of Left vs Right has long been blurred to obscurity.

But an interesting fact is being missed by all the main politcial commentators.

All of the expected candidates are echoing a step-change in our thinking that has already occurred. They are all campaigning -in one form or another- on the platform which we can call "Compassionate Conservativism".

There has been a quiet revolution amongst Conservatives who now accept that we are not just the Party that celebrates enterprise and economic success but also that we have obligations to the most vulnerable members of society.

Most Tories now accept the fact that a 'good society' is not just about creating wealth; tax cuts and free markets, it's about creating a successful civic community. This means finding answers to many of today's social problems such as youth crime, the breakdown of families, poor educational achievement, inter-cultural and religious tensions and above all the so-called 'dependancy culture' - as Governments have done more and more, individuals have had to do less and less and the result has been a massive loss of personal responsibility.

We believe that many of the solutions to these problems will not be found by ever more Government initiatives and new laws but by empowering the institutions of civil society: family, local community (including local councils, schools etc.), church and charity, which we believe have been progressively eroded by the State.

We want to restore a sense of civic duty and pride create a more 'neighbourly society’ in Britain, so that we can tackle our problems together and not just by leaving it to 'them' ('Them' being the Police, Social Services or indeed, the Government).

Often evolutionary change is only visible in retrospect. I think that the Conservative Party has already changed, we have found a new ethos and a new destiny.

All we need to do is choose the leader who can convey it best.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tory Leadership Trials go on and on; and on, and on.

The third Party leadership contest in four years grinds on and on with less and less sign of any consensus. As happened last time, the time before and the time before that the Left wing of the party is unable to mount a unified challenge - because of ego.

".... if he (Clarke) gets it (the leadership) your party is finished..." says an anonymous commentator on a previous thread.

My own views are well known on this issue. Much as I want us to clearly move to the middle ground, an area to which Mr Clarke amply fills, I don't want Ken Clarke as leader for the Conservative Party.

Why not? Well, for one thing he was on the bridge of the good ship Tory Party, fighting with the other officers and crew for control of the wheel when we so spectacularily ran aground in the early 1990's. Why on earth we would want to reward anyone from that era (and I include the Redwoods, Rifkinds, Willets and any others left over from that dark period) by putting them in charge is beyond me. How would Marks and Spencers shareholders react if the board responsible for their disasterous fall from grace in the late 1990's were still there, still in charge and still arguing about who shoule be CEO?

The country have told us again and again that they don't want this generation of politicians in charge - even Michael Howard himself concedes that his association with the past was one of the biggest reasons why we didn't do better on May 5th.

So that is one good reason to choose someone else.

'But he is so popular' say his supporters, but they mistake 'celebrity' status with popularity. Yes Ken is the 'most famous' Tory on the media circuit and by and large the media love him. But that warm glow will last, oh, five minutes or so if he does win the leadership, and then what?

Then we have yet another 'temporary' leader -only this one without the support of the majority of the members- allowing his shadow cabinet colleagues to carry on blatantly jostling for accession in 2009 or 2010.

We have a leader who will undo almost all of the progress we have made in separating the Europe issue from the left/right arguement.We have been close to proving that Center-Right politics does not have to include being pro-European; but under Ken Clarke it would be.

We have a Parliamentary party who, by choosing someone who will be nearly 70 at the next election, are virtually admitting defeat already (because if we were serious about winning, Kens health and age would be a huge issue in the election- a Prime Minister in his 70's in this day and age?... you've got to be kidding!).

And lastly, we would be admitting that all those under 35 year old voters who have never voted Conservative (who we desperately need ) are written-off as a generation, because I haven't yet met anyone under 40 who can relate to Ken Clarke in any way whatsoever.

Just because he has thrown his large hat in the ring does not mean Ken Clarke will win; in fact I am certain that he wont. But it does mean that the Left will be split and that will allow a right winger success again.

No wonder David Davis has a warm glow about him at the moment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I had the following letter published in the Herald express on Saturday and I have had such a big (and rapid) response I'm publishing it here for comments as well:

"I was shocked by the item in the Herald Express last week the proposed expansion of Torbay to 160,000 citizens planned for us by an unelected guano based in Taunton.

There were three points among the many gems in her report that people in Torbay should be worried about in particular:

1)It was revealed in the article that Torbay is already providing the bulk of the South West's 'affordable housing' stock and we are already building far more 'social housing' units than we need to.

This is a policy that really needs to be challenged - are we building to provide affordable housing for local people as we have been promised? No, (as evidenced by the sad letter you printed a few weeks ago by a Brixham family who have been waiting for help from our authority for 13 years).

Are we providing 'social housing' to accommodate increasing numbers of 'economically inactive citizens' (in other words, benefit claimants) from other parts of the UK? -Yes.

Is that what local residents thought they were getting when the Lib Dems promised to fix the supposed 'problem' of young people moving away from the area (as they always have and, affordable housing or not, they always will)? - No way.

We should look to provide decent housing (and not one-room bedsits as originally proposed in Torre) for those families from the area who are in genuine need of help as a matter of priority; but we should limit the provision of subsidised housing units so that it matches only local needs.

2)Of all the areas in the region it is Torbay that has been singled out for 'high' growth while neighbouring districts are let off with the 'low' growth option - Why us?.
Why should Torbay be singled out to build 500 homes annually when Newton Abbot, with better connections and far more space available is only going to have to provide 200?

It is a completely false premise for the authority to link the word 'regeneration' with squashing hundreds of new homes into what little space the borough has left. Successful towns expand because of a growing economy, you don't create economic regeneration by simply building thousands of low cost homes whether the area has jobs or not.

Far from creating new wealth such over development will only speed Torbay towards unpleasant urbanisation and decay of the environment leading to a yet greater degeneration of the local economy.

3) These 'strategic plans' -once agreed- become binding on all future council planning committees even if control of the council changes hands. One of the reasons the council were so keen to stuff hundreds of tiny flats on the Torre site was because of 'obligations' under the existing 'structure plan' agreed by the Lib Dems a few years ago - forcing today's councillors to make decisions irrespective of current residents needs and wishes.

We must wake up to the dangers represented in this structure plan right now and say 'enough is enough'.

We have done our fair share. No more over-development, no more 'strategic housing plans' made for us by John Prescott and no more exporting other cities social problems to Torbay.

This is our town. It's about time we took a stand and told these unelected 'we know best' officials what they can do with their urban dreamscape."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

It's a shock to discover that Torbay Council owes around £60 million. Add in another £40 million for their pension shortfall and you can see why some of us talk of financial 'black holes' in our councils accounts.

Even if you don't take into consideration the Private Finance Initiative Westlands School (where the council have basically 'leased' a school back from the developer until 2027) the council are up to their ears in debt.

Put that in perspective. Even if you allow for the fact that Torbay Council owns land and buildings worth about £180m their asset to debt ratio is about the same as a bankrupt third-world country.

Torbay Council has been running financial deficits in recent years - spending slightly more than it raises by grants and taxes, - drawing on cash reserves - so it's 'net income' is nil; and it's debt burden is growing.

How are they ever going to repay their debts? - Unlike an indebted business you can't just sell off loads of assets or downsize operations to pay down your debt - aside from the fact that there are legal restraints - remember at least half the councils operations relate to local education- the fact is most of their 'assets' are virtually unsaleable.

In previous times councils, like Governments, relied on inflation to pay their debts for them. But in the new low inflation world we now occupy this trick doesn't work anymore and debts will need to be paid back.

So you can see how tempting it is to look for excuses to 'release' some of your assets periodically and use the cash to try and cut the debt mountain.

Which leads me to the proposed closure of Upton St James school.

The main school buildings belong to the church and this fact was used as 'proof' from the council that this closure was not about selling the buildings but down to a genuine fall in demand.

But it transpires that this is not the whole truth. Half the school is on council property and if the school closes the council will have some very valuable 'spare' land in a prime residential location.

One wonders if the council officers weren't just a tiny bit influenced by that fact.....

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I know it became fashionable amongst some a few years ago to criticise the tourism business for filling the Bay with visitors and holiday makers and providing 'low paid' jobs.

The Bay Authorities have flirted for fifteen years with other forms of industry in a misguided attempt to 'diversify' the local economy to make us less dependant on the hotel and catering trade; meaning that we have missed opportunities to make the best of our main asset, our location for tourism.

We have wasted too much time and money attracting short-term industrial jobs only to watch them exported to India and China; in the meantime we have failed to come up with a meaningful 'corporate plan' for our tourism businesses to work to.

Consider the efforts gone to to protect 6,000 jobs in Longbridge and the work done to try and maintain the Nortel/STC site in Paignton.

Then imagine if there was a single employer in Torbay who employed 20,000 in the Bay, imagine how much time and care the authorities would have spent ensuring that the company had everything it needed, new roads? - No problem; regional grants? - consider it done; a government minister to fuss around whenever things look a bit shaky? No worries.

Yet tourism and leisure easily accounts for that number of employees in our borough, it dominates our economy - it's the main reason Torbay exists at all! - Yet our council scrimps on support, cuts spending on advertising, annoys our 'customers' with stupid and unfair parking restrictions, rips them off with excessive car parking charges, withdraws much needed facilities like public toilets, leaves the place covered in litter and seaweed, and generally treats it's customers as if they were about as welcome as a flock of seagulls.

We have experimented with a diversified economy in the bay for long enough to prove that it is a road to economic oblivion.

Like it or not, Torbay needs tourism and depends on visitors, incomers and tourists for its prosperity.

We should all be proud that so many people want to come to our town.

Torbay council should be making sure that we have a town to be proud of.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

There is a question that has been taxing me a lot lately.

Is Tony Blair really going to stand down 'at the next election' as he promised?

Clearly he has been on a political 'high' since May 5th, even the catastrophic bombing in London has proved him right about the threat to us from extreme religious groups, a danger that some of us were frankly beginning to doubt before the election.

He is clearly enjoying the job and shows no signs of really wanting to stand down - and lets face it he is young enough to carry on for years yet.

And who gains if he goes sooner? Certainly not most of the cabinet, most of whom will lose out badly if Gordon gets the leadership on a silver plate. And not just because as 'Tony's men' they may lose power and status under a Gordon premiership but also because, as I have always pointed out, everyone in politics secretly wants to be Prime Minister.

If Gordon takes over the leadership the ambitions of all the other cabinet members is crushed, Brown is only in his early 50's and cute observers know that the New Labour oligarchy is beginning to wane so time is running out for those senior older dogs who really fancy being 'top dog'.

Blair has continually led his Chancellor on a merry dance over the 'accession' and I predict that the drama is going to enter a new phase very soon.

So here is one prediction. Boosted by his own 'falklands factor' (the war on Terror) and with the economy on the slide Tony Blair will sideways move his chancellor in his first big cabinet reshuffle possibly next spring.

He will risk the fall-out in the clear knowledge that his cabinet colleagues, the majority of the parliamentary party and, for once, the majority of public opinion will be on his side. Although I suspect that Gordon might prefer the damage of a sideways move in preference to being in charge at the Treasury as the economy falls apart.

In my view Tony Blair is the sole reason Labour won power and held on to power - in spite of our (somewhat tasteless) attempts to discredit him in the election campaign the public voted to keep him in No10 and they will carry on doing so until we Conservatives come up with an alternative Prime Minister.
"The letters page in the Herald has once again become polluted with countless letters from Lib Dem councillors whingeing about the result of the elected mayor vote, either complaining about the outcome or complaining about the turnout.

Everyone accepts that the whole question of an elected mayor would not have arisen if this council was run by them in a half-decent fashion.

Most observers agree that if -instead of simply trying to shoot the messenger- they had listened to the public outcry summed up by the Herald Express so well, they might have avoided the current situation where they are being -in effect- sacked mid-term.

I have accused this gang many times before of shouting down their opponents, of discrediting people instead of addressing the points they raise, of making dishonest promises to win power, and of using sometimes downright dirty campaign tactics.

This kind of awful, arrogant and disdainful politics unfortunately damages all of us in politics - regardless of party, so although I am glad to see the Lib Dems exposed I am sorry for the ongoing implications for local party politics.

The idea that somehow party politics is a bad idea is mistaken, hung councils or councils with independents in control don't have a particularly strong track record. On the other hand the councils that have the strongest track record are overwhelmingly those with a clear majority party in charge, - a clear Conservative majority.

I accept that Torbay Conservatives made some mistakes in the days of our local power in the 1970's and 1980's. But -unlike this lot- the people that served for us then had only one aim, to make Torbay a better place to live and work in - and by and large they succeeded.

Torbay's heyday was when it had Conservatives in charge.

Up and down the country today Conservative councils are run more efficiently offering better services and lower taxes than their Lib dem, Labour or even their independently run counterparts.

Conservatives have consistently taken the view that the question of whether Torbay has a mayor or not was a constitutional decision, not a party political one. We believe that whatever system you have for local Government is secondary to whom you have running it. .

The Torbay Conservative party will offer Torbay residents a real alternative in October - our candidate will brandish a thoroughly considered and detailed programme designed to get the town back on it's feet.

We will show between now and October that the best way forward for Torbay is to elect a Conservative mayor."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Being a passionate Conservative can be deeply frustrating at times. We knew that after the election there would be a) another bout of navel gazing and b) another leadership contest but the fact is that the debate is both disjointed and mostly being conducted about the wrong things, by the wrong people. The entire future of the Conservative party is being discussed and it seems decided by 198 entirely unrepresentative people; our MP's (of whom only 17 are female, for a start).

They live in the bubble of politics in Westminster and yet seem to be intent on deciding not just our future leader (and in this 'presidential' political age, when the leader of the party is who the vast majority of people actually 'vote for' at an election instead of their local candidate this decision is probably the one that will make the difference between winning and losing the next election) but also deciding the 'future direction' of the party and it's policies.

The question is, are they likely to make the right decision?

How many MP's do what most people do every day? How many of them sit and watch Eastenders, The Simpsons or Big Brother? How many of them wash their cars on a Sunday or take their kids to footie on a Saturday?

How many of them really, regularily go to the pub with their mates on a Friday night or go to a Virgin Vie party with their girlfriends?

The answer of course is probably none. And we are no different to any of the other parties in this regard.

How can we possibly ever connect with the wider public if we don't let the wider public 'in' on our decision making?

In America big decisions (like who the Presidential hopefuls are) are made by a series of 'primary' elections where ordinary members of the public who are merely registered as the supporters of one or other party (they don't have to join, just pledge to vote Republican or whatever) hear the party's hopefuls speak and then vote.

Whoever wins the primary's for each party nomination becomes that partys candidate, which gives Americans a real choice of two 'road tested' candidates at every election.

One way of adapting this system would be for the three main parties in Torbay to agree to adopt a similar system for selecting a candidate to fight the mayoral campaign.

I doubt it will happen, but democracy would be better served if it did.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The very unsettling news that the London bombs last week were placed by British born muslims is deeply worrying.

I was in London (on the tube) when the bombs went off and here again this morning it is disturbing to notice that while the roads from West London were full of cars containing Asian men, there was not a single asian male on the tube today - when, normally, a good 20% of passengers from this part of London are of Asian extraction.

Who can blame them? Would you want to be a young asian bloke with a rucksack on the London tube network at the moment? - with hundreds of pairs of suspicious eyes staring at you the whole time?

The mood in the City of London has subtly changed - and not for the better.

I feel desperately sorry for the mess that a few wild fanatics have caused and deeply depressed at the long-term implications for the much-vaunted multi-cultural Britain we are supposed to be.

Is this what the terrorists want? I fear that it is.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Politics never sleeps. In spite of having had an overdose of political activity in the lead-up to the general election - to the extent that I thought it might forever cure my consuming passion for it- I have found myself becoming drawn in to the debate about a directly elected mayor for Torbay.

Partly because the public seem to be taking the opportunity to pass judgement on the Lib Dems and partly because it's a postal vote I am fairly confidant that the yes vote will prevail and we will have an election for a mayor this Autumn.

I have been asked about my own intentions in this direction, but I am clear that I won't be putting my name forward for two good reasons, 1) I have always criticised career politicians who stand for one thing after another just so that they can get a 'paid' job in politics and don't intend to become one and 2) I think there are at least two and possibly three or four existing Conservatives who have more experience of Torbay local politics any of whom would make a better candidate than I.

The important thing is for the Conservatives to pick a winning candidate who can offer a programme that galvanises the local economy; and then get it past the wall of Lib Dems who would still (just) control 2/3rds of the council chamber - enough to block the Mayors programme.

Monday, July 04, 2005

I am pleased to see that Adrian Sanders is at last taking an interest in the vital issue of the bleak future potentially facing parents and children at Upton School, and I welcome his involvement - better late than never, as I always say.

However, like your correspondent Brenda Heath I was more than a little annoyed to see his immediate reaction to this very real crisis is a blatant attempt to blame the Government for a debacle that is entirely the fault of his own Lib Dem colleagues on the council.

The idea that this closure is somehow the result of a conspiricy of under-funding is totally false, the figures given in his piece in last Friday's paper were, I am afraid, misleading in the extreme.

The facts are simple, had the Lib Dem administration not wasted several millions of their budget (and our money) on the needless appointment of several bureaucrats and officers in 2004, inflating their own pay and luxuries like expense accounts for the leader of the council there would be ample funds available to keep this school open.

His astonishing idea to ask the church for extra money would mean -in effect- that charitable donations were being used to subsidise Cllr Harris' mismanagment of the council budget.

Mr Sanders finds himself in another political situation that calls for clear leadership and tough action. Last time it was over the allowances issue and he let us down - this time there must be no backsliding. Kind words and sympathetic noises directed at the parents is just not enough.

I call on him, please, to set aside party political considerations just once, and to use his position at the head of the local Lib Dem party to force the ruling group to re-think their decision.
Only he has the authority to call his troops to order. It can and must be done

Monday, May 23, 2005

There has been a flurry of comments on the previous thread which has prompted me to make one last post before I go on holiday.

The big question I keep being asked is 'are you going to stay on?'

Now the question might relate to where I live, the subject of some unpleasant debate during the election campaign (constant references to me be being 'the Candidate from Windsor' were designed to give the impression that we lived here in some temporary capacity, or that we didn't live here at all...). Of course we have no intention of going anywhere else. We chose to move to Torbay like thousands of others because of the quality of life here, and the many wonderful people we have met and become friends with have only confirmed what a wise choice it was.

But the question may also relate to whether I intend to fight the seat again.

The suspicion amongst the political community has been that I would get a 'result' -but not win- in Torbay and toddle off to find a safe seat somewhere else - speculation that completely failed to take account of a very important fact, I am not a career politician.

I didn't even think about being a candidate until just after the 2001 election when the idea was put to me by the Windsor agent Jackie Porter. I have a perfectly successful (business) occupation which I enjoy very much. Politics has been my non-work interest - to a degree, my hobby- and remains so.

So the answer is ... it's not up to me. The Party is likely to introduce new rules regarding candidate selections and in any case the local party need to decide who they want to go with next time after some cool analysis and reflection on the May 5th outcome.

It has been a real honour and a fantastic experience to fight this seat. Local Lib Dems (and maybe one or two Conservatives, too) won't welcome the news - but I will remain (very) active in the Torbay Conservative party, one way or another.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Never a dull moment in politics, things come up even when you are supposed to have finished work and be enjoying some holiday.

The Conservative group on the council took a long brewing decision to change leader on Monday - Jean Turbnbull has worked hard as leader but she must be in her seventies and was fairly frequently on the wrong side of the majority opinion in the group - something all political leaders learn can eventually cost them their position.

Unexpectedly she has decamped with three others into a splinter 'conservative' group and the Association has some tough decisions to make, since the rules dictate that behaviour that 'brings the Conservative party into disrepute' can mean removal of membership - and most of the members I have spoken to believe that her actions should result in firm disciplinary action.

Our reaction to this challenge will be an interesting test of the local Party's resolve.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The chief executive of the council and the head of childrens (and education) services have both apparently resigned - announced the day after the election.

I have been a constant critic of both of them. Indeed the dismal Torbay Council has been at the centre of my election campaign - is there any connection between their decision to go and the election result?

Undeniably the decision not to make this public before the election was a political one -so whether our campaign had any bearing on the resignations or not they obviously considered that a public announcement before polling day would have been good for our campaign.

What are the chances now of a repreive for Upton school?