Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Calamity or Saviour ?

So Clegg is the winner for the Lib Dems but will he be the herald of a new resurgence or the caretaker of the remaining decline?

One thing that has been completely absent from the LD leadership contest has been any clue about which way each leader will take their party.

Most agree that the Liberals must decide whether they are going to carry on appealing to the 'anyone but the Tories' voters as they have been doing since the late 1980's or start to develop policies that will attract the growing band of 'anyone but Labour' voters - especially in the Northern counties of England that may hold the key at the next election.

The problem is that two thirds of their Parliamentary seats, including this one, are held by MP's who have depended on tactical voting by Labour supporters (voting 'anyone but the Tories) and to keep those voters on board Clegg needs to sound reassuringly left wing.

The trouble is, that is the complete opposite of what he will need to do if he wants to motivate Tory voters in tight Lib Dem/Labour marginals to support his party instead of a third-placed Conservative candidates.

Given that Cleggs own seat (Sheffield Hallam) is a former Tory stronghold don't bet on a sudden change of direction anytime soon. Expect a Lib Dem 'hunker down' policy designed to hang on to as many of the former Tory seats as possible.

Whether Clegg is the man to do this successfully or not remains an open question.

Have a good Christmas, the site may not be updated again for a few days, now.

Friday, December 14, 2007

What will Gordon be praying for this Christmas?

Todays newspapers are yet more very grim reading for the beleaguered PM.

In one fell swoop is antics in Europe yesterday have completely alienated both sides of the European debate.

Anti-Europe campaigners and newspapers like the SUN are angry because he has gone ahead and signed the new Treaty without the promised referendum; but pro-Europeans are now also livid because of the cowardly manner in which Brown failed to turn up for the official signing ceremony, instead arriving later in the day for a low-key affair on his own. This was as graphic a demonstration of our debilitating half-in and half-out attitude to the EU as one could imagine.

But the bad news doesn't stop there. Questions are today being asked about two very important events this summer that the new Prime Minister has used as 'foundation stones' for his new administrations purported competence; dealing with the floods and the foot and mouth outbreak.

1) The Audit Commission has criticised the Government for it's response to the summer floods, saying said the way the funds were allocated had not been well thought-out. The commission warned the unpredictability of the government's response meant people were likely to be left either exposed by councils that under-insure, or out of pocket by those that insure unnecessarily.

2) The Institute of Animal Health research has concluded that the second foot and mouth outbreak was a a direct consequence of the Government failing to effectively contain the first one.

All through the Autumn the Labour spin machine has been telling us how well Brown had coped with 'issues' like these now we have independent proof that this was simply not true.

And last but by no means least we also have evidence that far from being neatly resolved by a sale to the Virgin Group, the Northern Rock crisis may be getting worse, with stories emerging of the bidders being unable to fund their takeover plans. The crisis may only eventually be sorted out by full nationalisation of the bank with the taxpayer forking out many more tens of billions of pounds and being 'in hock' for decades.

I'd have thought the one thing Gordon Brown will want this Hogmanay is some hope of good news, from somewhere, about something, for 2008.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My fourth Christmas Party weekend awaits.

With still another fortnight to go before Christmas actually arrives I enter this weekend happy in the knowledge that I will eat at least one and probably two turkey dinners.

The Classic Car Club, Torbay Hospitality Association, Paignton Conservatives, Paignton Club, Torbay Conservatives, and IIRC, Kingsbridge Conservatives have so far catered excellently for me this season to which I have to add the MEP's lunch, the Candidates dinner, my firms London Christmas reception; the Honiton office luncheon, the works firm do next weekend, my wifes clients dinner (x2) and then the usual round of dinner with my family and my wife's family all of which will be (probably) turkey and hats all round.

So by Boxing day I will have been offered somewhere in the region of 15 Christmas dinners, easily more than last year - and in fact more than I used to have to eat when I worked in the hotel trade at Christmas!!

And the worst of it is I don't like turkey, or Brussels sprouts, or carrots, or mince pies. So if I come to your organisations Christmas dinner and choose the fish or vegetarian option please don't be offended.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why MP's must say NO again.

28 days might not sound a long time to be incarcerated when it's bandied about in conversation but imagine if you can being held in a cell like this for four weeks without necessarily knowing why you are there.

Imagine being picked up off the streets and stuck in a cell like this one (a remand cell) and then repeatedly interviewed day in and day out by determined police inspectors yet without having been charged with an offence. Are you sure you wouldn't end up admitting to something you didn't actually do, just to get it over with?

That is what has already happened to two innocent people already under our existing anti-terror legislation, and there may be others yet.

Under the latest Home Office proposals this could be extended to nearly two months. Put that in context, a six month prison sentence - such as which would be given for sex offences, violent assault or serious robbery would mean about the same time served 'inside'.

No I'm not a human rights softie but I cannot support a law that would undermine such a basic principle of our justice system.

The evidence everywhere is that this power has not been asked for by anyone other than the Met Police. The CPS say it's not necessary, the last Attorney General said it's not necessary and even the Police cannot point to a single occasion where they have needed the current 28 weeks.

It's more 'war on terror' scaremongering and even Labour MP's should be strong enough to say 'NO' for a second time.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Britains latest 'hazard' - Angel Wings.

The latest fiasco to come from the health and safety madness at the moment hails from our own neck of the woods.

There was national press coverage for the pupils at Sacred Heart , RC Primary in Paignton, who were told that their little angels would not to be allowed to wear wings at the nativity Play this Christmas because of the dangers involved.

It was decided that candles in the church could, under certain circumstances, set the festive costumes on fire, or scratch sensitive little arms and so on balance it was decided to ban them.

Headmistress Linda Mitchell said the school made the decision after a "risk assessment". She said: "It is to do with health and safety. You have to be so careful nowadays."If the children are carrying candles there's a danger if they turn suddenly."

Mrs Mitchell added that in last year's nativity play pupils suffered scratches from the wings. She said: "Last year we had wings made from cardboard and flammable material, some children got scratched. The other teachers agreed it was sensible not to have wings."

Society is capable of periodic 'health and safety' madness.

The law that required people to walk in front of Motor Cars carrying a red flag is a good example, but currently things have got completely out of hand.

Partly this has happened because of council guidelines requiring managers and those in authority to take a few moments to actively think about what might go wrong in certain situations in an effort to be 'pro-active'. It's born from the fear of legal action after something has gone wrong; damages are mitigated if it can be proved that reasonable steps were taken to avoid accidents.

The problem is that this is a bit like going to the doctor and asking him what illnesses you might contract over the next year, almost whatever he said you would come away a complete hypochondriac.

Perhaps the law on damages needs a fresh visit and maybe the no-fault no-fee ambulance chasing lawyers need a bit of regulation, too.

But best of all would be to have more of our public service and local authority managers empowered to make decisions of their own rather than managing 'by the book' all the time.

Managers who felt more trusted by their bosses might just be a bit more inclined to use plain old common sense in these situations.

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:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Migrant Workers - the really big question.

It's no suprise for anyone in Torbay that the actual figures on immigrant labour turn out to be one-and-a-half times as many as the Government had been claiming.

In fact even now the revelation that there are over 1.1 million foreign nationals working here (instead of the 800,000 we were told) will come as no suprise to anyone who employs casual or unskilled labour in the Bay.

Personally I don't see any problem with our long tradition of welcoming overseas residents here if we have the opportunities and they want to work hard and earn well, although I do accept there are cultural issues if too many want to permanently relocate to our country.

But the awkward question that no-one seems to want to ask is this. Why is it that we apparently have plenty of jobs - enough to encourage hoardes of eastern Europeans here - yet we have 1.1 million 'neets' - perfectly healthy young people who are not in education, employment or training?

We have a minimum wage - so immigrants aren't cheaper to employ.

We have employment working laws that apply equally, so immigrants can't be forced to work for longer, or to work any harder.

So why do the immigrants find work where our own young people apparently cannot?

The complaint from employers is 'no British people are applying' especially for service jobs, caring work and unskilled labour.

So you have a morally indefensible situation. We take millions in tax from immigrants coming from poor countries (for whom the loss is a far greater) - so that we can pay a million or so of our own people for hanging around the streets.

Now this may sound a bit shocking - even a bit "harsh" for some of the more easily offended of you- but perhaps one answer to our immigration problem might be to -ahem- 'encourage' a few more British workers to actually work for a living, perhaps by refusing to pay benefits to people when there are vacant jobs available in the neighbourhood that they refuse to take.

Or is that just too simple?

Friday, October 26, 2007

MP's expenses in the news again.

It's been another week when the costs of democracy have been in the spotlight.

Labour and Tories have failed to agree on limits to election spending because Labour want to stop candidates like me campaigning in between elections with caps on spending at a local level; whereas the Conservatives want to see individual party donations capped to prevent more 'cash for honours' type scandals.

Labour are worried about the amount of money being funneled by our party into target seats by Michael Ashcroft.

Michael has started a restructuring of the way in which campaign funds are raised and distributed by the party nationally. This was to deal with the fact that most fundraising tends to be done in Tory heartlands, and the money therefore money piles up in the safest seats.

The main reason the Ashcroft fighting fund exists is to try and neutralise the impact of MP's ability to self-publicise at the taxpayers expense.

MP’s these days have many tens of thousands of taxpayers money to fund professional assistants, a constituency office, IT systems, newsletters, direct mail and so on which they use to promote the 'good work' they have done for their constituents; such as mailing a full colour annual report to every voter, every year.

These allowances are not supposed to be used for party political purposes but very revealingly The Times this morning reports “Marginal MPs prove the biggest spenders in review of expenses”

I believe and have often said that the allowances 'revolution' introduced by Labour in 2001 that opened the door to the kind of one-sided incumbency advantage MP's now enjoy was a disgrace that has encouraged cynicism and apathy amongst voters.

Publishing what they spend is a step in the right direction but the whole system has become in effect an unfair subsidy to sitting MP's - an act that has forced rivals to raise and spend yet more money in order to have a chance of being heard.

MP's should look at what they do with taxpayers money before they start trying to control what we do with cash freely given by donors.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Are we just going to lie down and take it?

Very few things get me really, really riled but the current farce that is the Labour Government position on a referendum over the EU treaty is one.

Make no mistake the treaty is EXACTLY the same for every EU nation and is (depending on who you believe) anywhere between 95% or 100% identical to the EU Constitution rejected by the French and Dutch in 2005. As predicted then, the EU have simply put the same bad wine we rejected in a new bottle and represented it to our table.

The supposed 'red lines' are temporary opt-outs for Britain which many commentators doubt will be able to last.

Imagine joining a golf club where the rules state that every member must wear a tie. You negotiate special terms that you are the only member who doesn't need to wear one. Everybody else is happy to wear theirs and the rule continues to apply for everyone else, including new members. How long would it be before either a) you felt so awkward you ended up wearing one anyway or B) the other members get fed up with your casual appearance and eventually one of them challenges the committee as to why you get special treatment, fed up with complaints the committee rule in the members favour and your opt out is removed.

This is what happened the last time we had serious opt-outs, the social chapter and European human rights legislation opted out of by John Major was British law within five years.

But the thing that makes me angry is not th treaty it's the cynical deception that has come from Labour - Whatever the ins and outs of the treaty itself the position we are in is totally and unequivocally clear; we are being shafted by the Government over their own promise to offer the public a direct say on this binding and everlasting contract.

How can it be that a Government can go to the country and win power on the solemn and binding promise to do something and then coolly dismiss it as 'unnecessary'?

How can we call ourselves a democracy when we are just treated with such distain by our own Government? Whatever your politics, whether you are a pro or anti-European Union believer can we really accept such a deceit, such a cold and calculated lie from our sovereign Government?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Now Colin Charlewood resigns the whip.

According to the Herald Express long serving Lib Dem councillor Colin Charlwood has turned in his party card and joined the ranks of the independent fraternity on Torbay Council 'unexpectedly'.

Coming after the comments on the last thread from a couple of Lib Dems this is very embarrassing for them; and really rather backs up my point about falling morale.

But that is it. I have promised myself I won't make any more comments on the Liberal Democrats difficulties because one can overdo these things.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Is this becoming a bit of a habit?

Two years or so ago the local Lib Dem council group had a spectacular falling out, first deputy leader Andrea Colbourne quit and then leader and Lib Dem wunderkind Chris Harris was ousted in what turned out to be a very acrimonious coup. Later the ill feeling spilled over into accusations and counter accusations between councillors and MP over who was to blame.

At the time I pointed out that in politics there is very firm a link between morale and performance. Parties who are looking forward to losses inevitably become fractious and bad-tempered- as members either fight for their survival or play the blame game.

Sure enough, a year or so later the local Lib Dems were humiliated in the mayoral elections and then went on to be almost obliterated in the local elections in May this year.

Now the national Lib Dems seem to be headed in the same direction, with a series of poor poll results causing a very great deal of bad tempered behavior at Westminster by MP's who annoyed their activist base intensely by their move against the very popular Charles Kennedy.

Now poor Ming has joined the redundancy queue because once again the LD's have fallen out with each other over their flatlining poll results.

Having lived through a long period of this kind of thing in the Conservative party I can say with all honesty that the worst is probably not over the for the Lib Dems, for whoever takes over will have to cope with several factions all riven with resentment and anger, with a Parliamentary party half of whom are concerned about their jobs and futures and a dwindling activist base bewildered and confused by the behaviour of their MP's.

But more challenging still is the need to lead the party in one direction or another. The political firmament has changed and the concept of being 'equidistant' from the other two parties cannot sustain in a world where the middle ground is already so closely fought.

Therein lies the problem. If the LD's go left of Labour they risk losing their seats in the South and South West; if they go right of the Conservatives they will lose their seats and potential gains from Labour in the cities of the North.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Torbay - The Vision.

I first became involved in bay politics in 2002, and I came here from a similar tourism and visitor hot-spot, Windsor.

The most notable difference between Windsor and Torbay was that Windsor had a very clear idea of where it was going as a visitor centre - it's authority knew who was going there and why.

They had developed a clear strategy fro the future that underpinned decisions affecting everything from parking charges to planning that matched the needs of residents with the needs of the towns economic lifeblood -tourists. This made Windsor both a pleasant place to live in and a convenient and easy place to visit; which in turn created a virtuous circle of rising prosperity, increased wealth and more money coming into council coffers so that they could continue to improve public facilities.

Torbay on the other hand was in the middle of an identity crisis. Bucket and spade holidays were coming to an end and the town authorities took the view that Torbays future was one of controlled decline - the only hope was ever larger Government or EU hand-outs; and pumping millions into ill fated attempts to encourage new manufacturing industry.

But the inconvenient truth was that visitor numbers to Devon had been rising for years, neighbouring areas like Exeter and Plymouth were thriving whilst we dithered over what we wanted Torbay to be.

What was needed was a long term vision for what Torbay could be - a business plan for the town not over the usual five years, but a blueprint for the next twenty. Not just mapping out the short term but starting a journey with a clear destination.

Throughout 2002 and 2003 I held a series of 'think tank' lunches with leading business leaders, council officers, journalists and local politicians and historians to discuss what Torbay should be like and could be like for residents and visitors by the year 2020.

Over time a consensus has emerged that Torbay does have a future - a bright future- as a world-class destination both in it's own right but also as the 'dormitory' for South Devon.

One of the problems that emerged quite quickly in those early workshops was a lack of clear, decisive, civic leadership. One of the main drivers for the campaign to adopt the directly elected mayoral system was the need to correct this problem, and it has worked.

Now we have that leadership and I am delighted to see that our mayor Nick Bye has now launched the clear vision for our future that we have been crying out for.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

LD's 11% - and falling.

The Liberal Democrats are facing meltdown at the moment in polling and in surveys across the country.

The latest Populus poll for the Times is out this morning and the shares are, compared with the last survey from the firm last week CON 38%(+2): LAB 40%(+1): LD12%(-3).

This confirms a run of polls that have sent the Lib Dems into freefall. Compared to the near 23% of votes they won at the last General Election they have been averaging around 13% in the last few months.

There is a website specialising in predicting the outcome of the next election from current polling data (go here for more) which is currently suggesting that at these levels of support the Lib Dems would lose all their MP's. This has inevitably led to another bout of soul-searching about their leader Menzies Campbell - with many in the party unfairly suggesting that his age is a problem for what has always tried to be seen as a young party.

I have been saying for some time that the Lib Dems poll problems will not be solved by a new leader. They are the only main party left that has not had a root-and-branch review of exactly what they want to stand for in the 21st century.

A patchwork of cobbled together ‘niche’ policies in most cases left over from the days when Mrs Thatcher was in No 10 is simply not enough to protect their support in a closely fought general election, they need a unique selling point which at the moment they haven’t got.

Simply banging on about breaking the two party ‘consensus’ which is about it from them at the moment really isn’t inspiring anyone - partly because the idea of the two main parties having a consensus about anything at the moment is risible.

The Lib Dems need to be about a lot more and against a lot less if they are to survive.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Election is off.
It's definitely another two years until you will see election night special on your TV.

Gordon Brown has, true to form, baled out of an early election and ruled out next year as well, apparently.

Mixed feelings about this, myself. On the one hand I am now much more confident that Labour are on their last-gasp Parliament - especially given the latest set of polls giving us a lead of 3 or 4%. At a personal level I am a bit flat - you can't help but get a bit psyched up and with the poll ratings and our local canvass returns as they have been I am certain I would have won with a clear majority here in Torbay in November.

On balance this is a watershed day I think. Gordon has just ended his own honeymoon in spectacular style with a crass and transparent attempt to manipulate events to suit his own political ends and it's failed completely.

The press will have a field day this weekend and the next few weeks will make grim reading for Labour strategists but if a week is a long time in politics then two years is an age.

That is probably a blessed relief to Liberal Democrats whose poll rating in tomorrows YouGov survey for the Sunday Times is just 11% - a vote share that -if maintained at an election- would take them back to the days when the entire Liberal Parliamentary group could fit in a taxi.

But the real winner is David Cameron who will at last be seen by our opponents the same way that we in the party have seen him all along -unassailable.

So a word of advice to Labour and Lib Dem party strategists, it's no good forever hoping that internal strife or splits will derail the Tories and praying for an opposition meltdown to save your bacon. From now on you will have to win or lose on your own merits.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Now the parties are over -what is the net result?

As the last of the stage is dismantled and the sound systems and the lights cleared away those of us who obsess about things political are wondering what it all means.

For most of the run up to the election season the Tories were at Labours heels on about 36-39% in the polls; and the Lib dems were languishing at around 15%.

After the hype of the Labour Conference, the drama of the Conservative conference and the relatively civilised-but-forgettable performance from the Lib dems the polls have settled just about exactly where they were before we started!

Don't get me wrong, I loved David Camerons speech and the delegates loved it, too. Lib Dem activists hopes that somehow Daves modernising would be stopped in it's tracks and Labour hopes of him being lynched by Tebbit & Co were always wide of the mark but perhaps they will now believe what we all knew, Cameron -win or lose- is leader for a decade or more at least.

The sad fact is the whole conference season was hijacked by the Election thing. Almost unnoticed Brown has already missed two of the much touted announcement dates (first at the Labour conference, then in the middle of our Conference last Tuesday) and the date has slipped from 25th October, back to the 1st November and now the papers are talking about Nov 8th.

I am sure the public will figure out for themselves that the whole election charade, including tea with Mrs T, the dangerous Iraq stunt, the £8bn elastoplast over Northern Rock and the Health service Review was simply an attempt to gain party advantage by destabilising the Tory Conference.

It's just the kind of puerile, schoolboy, party political game-playing that drives the public wild with rage and indignation, cheapens politics and wastes public money.

In my humble opinion will cost Brown dear, whenever the election finally does arrive.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

How much longer will this be news?

I was stunned to come back from Blackpool last night and on catching up on the weeks local news discover that the 'row' between the Hoteliers and the Council has been in the local newspaper for three out of three editions of the Herald Express.

Is this really such a big story?

The Torbay Hospitality Association consists of about 120 local hotel owners and is representing their interests, encouraging hotel visitors and promoting it's members establishments.

The Torbay development Agency is a council owned public-private partnership set up under the Lib Dems to encourage and promote enterprise and business across the bay, including Tourism which is easily the biggest part of the local economy.

The TDA have to promote more than just our hotels, they have to represent the interests of leisure operators, retailers and other businesses and they answer to our councillors who represent the interests of residents.

It is hardly surprising therefore that the Hoteliers lobby put pressure on the TDA to do more for them and it is a perfectly normal part of the daily cut and thrust of behind the scenes negotiation that goes on all the time.

Even the fact that the THA is led by Gordon Oliver, a Conservative councillor, who is arguing with Nick Bye, a Conservative Mayor, is not really an issue of any note. Many councillors have interests outside the council chamber and sometimes those interests clash with the direction the council want to take.

The idea that everyone must always agree about everything is a relatively recent phenomenon that is -frankly- often very unhelpful. When is a passionate and active debate not a 'war of words'?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Blackpool here we come!

We are all off to Blackpool on Sunday for the start of Conference.

Every recent conference I have been to has been billed as either 'make or break' or 'critical to our survival' and this one is no exception.

But honestly! As someone who has had to stand in front of a TV crew and defend IDS after his toe-curling 'the quiet man is turning up the volume' speech I can say that the one thing I am not concerned about is whether the event goes well -it will.

Cameron may have faults -but speaking in public isn't one of them; I am as confident as I can be that the set piece speeches will be excellent and come across very well. There are no major policy divisions and no contentious fringe meetings. I have discounted the possibility of another stupid 'stunt' by Labour - perhaps another defection for Monday for instance, and so have most of the media.

I am slightly less confident about the behaviour of one or two old Tory rightwingers but their harping protests have become so much of a tradition at Conferences that most people have become deaf to them.

One is always in the hands of the media editors - if they decide it's all about internal bickering then that is what the TV screens and newspapers will say - but I really think the media -especially the broadcast media- have swallowed enough Labour spin to give them a bit of indigestion in the last week or two and the story therefore might just be one of policy and content rather more than endless election speculation.

Of course there is the remote possibility that Brown may yet call an election next week - that might turn out to be a 'stunt' too far for many people in Britain.

We will soon find out.