Friday, October 27, 2006

Has Gordon Got That Sinking Feeling?

Another day, another bad poll for Gordon Brown. In todays Daily Telegraph there is another poll out this morning - the third this week- that suggest Labour support will sink further if Mr Brown takes over at No 10.

Labour are shown at 32, Conservatives on 39 and the Lib Dems on 16% in the headling 'if there was a general election tomorrow who would you vote for?' question but the real interest is in the detail of the other polling questions.

As Mike Smithson on puts it:

"A key question in YouGov was “If you had to choose, which would you prefer to see after the next election, a Conservative Government led by David Cameron or a Labour Government led by Gordon Brown?”. The split was CON 46% - Lab 33% which is by far the biggest margin that such a forced question has seen."

There has been a regular lift in the Conservatives poll share when the theoretical Cameron vs Brown question is put, but in the last few weeks this has gone from a 2 or 3% increase in the Conservative margin to a much harder to ignore level of closer to 7 points, making a 13% lead for the Tories overall.

With all the usual caveats about polling this far out from a general election it is, nonetheless a mystery as to why Labour seem intent on choosing a new leader who would appear to be even more unpopular than the one they so unceremoniously want to dump.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Yet more sweetness and light within Torbay Lib Dems.

The Liberal Democrat group on Torbay Council have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons yet again.

This time the knives are out for Cllr Loretta McHugh for having had the temerity to accept a job in Cabinet looking after the needs of local Children.

As I read Jim Parkers piece in the paper last night reporting bitter recriminations between Cllr Loretta McHugh and her Lib Dem associates I was struck by the fact that what seemed to matter most to the rest of the Liberal Democrats was not the fate of children in Torbay but the impact on their precious party.

The most revealing statement in the story was Chris Lomas who said "Now she can walk straight out of one of our confidential group meetings straight into Nicks office..." which tells you all you need to know about the kind of discussions that go on during Lib Dem 'confidential group meetings' doesn't it?

Whereas most people would imagine that the people they elected to represent them would spend their time worrying about how to make the bay a better place the Lib Dems have lifted the lid on what they really spend their time discussing - how to get rid of Mayor Nick Bye.

Mr Lomas admits as much "How can you sit on Nicks right hand one minute and the next be discussing group ideas to defeat [him]?" he says in a leaked email.

Loretta McHugh has judged that the needs of her constituents come ahead of the needs of her party, she is right and it's about time her colleagues got the message.

With friends like these who needs enemies?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Two sides of the same coin?

The current fuss about muslim women wearing veils reminds me of the recent fuss about young men wearing hoodies.

Personally, I find both forms of apparel quite intimidating; although for different reasons, Hoodies because they can appear threatening and burka's because of what, to me, they represent in terms of female oppression. But just because the majority don't like an item of clothing doesn't mean some people aren't entitled to wear it.

I passionately believe that people can and should be able to choose to wear what they like within the law, but the caveat is that that they then have to accept the consequences of that choice.

I think the Thurrock Shopping Centre were within their rights to refuse entry to lads wearing Hoodies, and Headfield Church of England Junior School, in West Yorkshire is fully entitled to refuse to employ a teacher who wishes to wear the full veil; and a Conservative Club is entitled to refuse me entry if I am wearing jeans against their dress code as happened recently in Torbay.

Spending time as I do in West London it has been very noticeable this year just how many women are now wearing hajabs and veils - what was once a minority adornement amongst British Muslims has rapidly become the vast majority in some communities.

I believe they are choosing to do so as a reaction -as an act of defiance- agains the negative press their religion has been recieving since the July 7th bombings last year.

This is an age-old issue. As many ageing millionaire pop artists will tell you, the best way to boost your support is to be banned by the establishment and vilified by the Daily Mail.

We forget that lesson at our peril.

Monday, October 16, 2006

There is an interesting story in todays Herald Express concerning the ongoing saga of car park provsion in Torbay.

Apparently the Lib Dems have decided to use their majority on the overview and scrutiny board to launch a 'review' of car parking.

This is an interesting development in the frantic rearguard action being mounted by a political party facing meltdown at the next elections due in May 2007.

Having caused uproar with the imposition on local taxpayers of an expensive and inflexible arrangement with NCP over on street parking and the highest car park charges on the South Coast the Lib Dems are now saying "In light of the public concern and the shelf-life of the existing parking strategy, the overview and scrutiny board decided that a wide-ranging review of parking provision within Torbay would be timely."

It would have been timlier still if they had done the review before signing a 5 year agreement with NCP.

I think Torbay residents will see this for exactly what it is - the Lib Dems simply hoping to try and divert some of the public anger and distance themselves from unpopular decisions they took so that the public 'forget' about them before next years election.

I think they are clutching at straws.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The biggest criticism of David Cameron so far is the chorus of voices saying ‘yeah, nice guy, but what where’s the meat, what are the policies?”

This is a fascinating change which has gone largely unnoticed.

For years we have been belting out policy after policy and no-one has been interested; two thirds of the electorate cared not one jot what our policies were - they weren’t going to vote Conservative whatever we said.

The contrast, as an activist, between years of trying to make people take an interest in our policies and today being criticised for not giving them enough detail is truly astonishing.

Now, all of a sudden, it matters what the Conservatives are going to stand for; what our policies are going to be because people desperately want a viable alternative to New Labour.

They may -in the end- still not decide to choose us, that much is self evident from the polls. But what is very different to any other time that I have been involved in politics is that a majority of the public care who we are and what we would do; and are clamouring for more detail (which I am glad we are not going to be rushed into revealing before we are ready).

There is a very important warning there for both Labour and the Lib Dems and fortunately (for us) neither of them show any signs at all that they have seen it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Is Farage going to damage UKIP's appeal?

I don't usually comment on UKIp but the recent election of ex Tory Nigel Farage as leader has interested me because he is clearly intent on taking the party in a sharply right wing political direction.

This is relevant because in my experience - and perhaps uniquely in this neck of the woods - a great deal of UKIP support comes from voters who probably would otherwise not vote Conservative.

In and around Brixham the EU is deeply unpopular because of the problems with fishing issues and the resulting resentment has underpinned the strong UKIP support there; but many of those voters used to vote Labour.

In the Torbay constituency
the backbone of UKIP are ex Tories, we lost many supporters to UKIP (then the Referendum Party) mostly during John Majors time. In my experience on the doorstep these people will never forgive the Conservatives for signing up to Europe in the first place and are a lost cause politically. The evidence of the last election, however, suggests that the increase in UKIP support came from disaffected Lib Dem voters, the vast majority of whom are politically to the left of centre.

Will that support stay for a party that is clearly aiming for the farthest reaches of the right by supporting policies such as flat tax, massive tax cuts (paid for by borrowing money), re-introducing school selection, a massive increase in defence spending and repatriating people?

And just as relevant, by seeming to morph into a very right-wing political party, will UKIP dissipate it's appeal on the one issue that has so far bound activists across the political spectrum together - being anti Europe?

Nigel Farage found himself 'out of love' with a Conservative party that was too middle of the road for him, yet was seen by most people to be too reactionary and right wing even in those days. Is he in danger of finding many of his own supporters don't share his elitist vision of Britain?

Friday, October 06, 2006

I'm still reeling from the discovery that my office building of six years in Windsor has become the centre for 'race rioting', according to Newsnight.

I vacated it when I got selected in Torbay and the landlord then sold it to some Muslim businessmen who already owned the Dairy opposite.

Now I gather their decision to turn it into a muslim learning centre has caused 'riots'. Rubbish, there were frequent riots when we were there, long before the muslims bought the dairy.

The joke is that we used to call the road (Shirley Avenue) Beiruit High Street because barely a morning passed when there wasn't a burned out car, or full crime investigation squad there. The neighbourhood is so rough we had bars on the windows and a full security railing erected - just to protect us during the day when we were there!

The broken window shown on Newsnight last night was my actual office window, and I can tell you that it looked like that (broken) about four times a year.

People imagine Windsor as ganteel, but forget that it is in fact a garrison town with some genuine deprivation. This area (Dedworth) is a large 1950's council estate and there are a very large number of problem families housed there. The street suffered some very unsavoury characters - skinheads and troublemakers -real 'neighbours from hell' stuff - two or three homes used solely for the dismantling and dumping of scrap cars, that kind of thing. About ten years ago a chapter of Hells Angels even moved into a house nearby and eventually there was a horrible murder there; there were drugs busts and constant running battles between rival gangs.

I complained frequently about the lack of police presence in the area and I am not surprised the Asians who owned the dairy have had to make their own security arrangements. The way the BBC have hyped this into a racial incident is disgraceful.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I arrived here on Sunday to gales and lashing rain.

Ominously - given our adoption of an Oak tree for our logo my path to conference was blocked by a large fallen Oak tree across the road. There were press photographers there instantly, waiting for the opportunity to use the photograph as an appropriate metaphor for the week ahead. Given that the history of recent Conservative Conferences has been an orgy of self destructive and bitter infighting, you can't really blame them I suppose.

Luckily ours is a more energetic and youthful oak tree and it seems to be surviving the wild forces beating against it in Bournemouth rather well.

In spite of the sound of press knives sharpening on Sunday the tone and content of the Conference so far has been in a different league to any that I have experienced thus far in my relatively short political life.

There is a hot debate on tax policy which won't be resolved this week, there is much on social action - releasing people to take action themselves rather than waiting for a Government initiative to solve every social problem, and a very great deal about the environment, including the sound of some very tough decisions being prepared for.

Other than much disgruntlement about the missing passes (there are still several hundred delegates locked outside as I write) we are having a great time learning to be 'new'.