Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Just how far removed from this have we become?

Britain used to take pride in the fact that our police officers were servants of the public. These days they have begun to look and behave increasingly like a paramilitary force, with flak jackets and headcams.

It's not just the look of our Police that has changed beyond recognition. Bit by bit the role and purpose of our police has been changing, too.

Every time an atrocity happens the pressure is on to find out who was to 'blame' (apart , that is from the guilty party themselves ); so that for instance the Police took nearly as much criticism for the Soham murders as the murderer himself.

Instead of tackling the root cause - liberal sentencing regimes that mean violent offenders who would once have gone to jail for ever are walking the streets- we have blamed the Police.

This has led to a much greater use of intelligence and observation; and a massive increase in the level and detail of information held by Police and other authorities and the increasing tendency to use 'profiling' techniques to identify people with the potential to commit offences such as sex crimes and violence, as well as terrorism.

So bit by bit we have moved from a situation where the Police have a duty to serve, assume we are innocent unless proven guilty, and act as a deterrent to crime by their presence on the street and more and more to a situation where the Police are only there when a problem has already occurred, have a duty to prevent crime using all available means, and will frequently assume we are guilty unless we can prove otherwise.

A whole range of crimes are now covered by legislation that has shifted the onus of proof from prosecutor to defendant - from money laundering to drink-driving the assumption has become that if you become a suspect, you are guilty unless you can prove your innocence.

And now the Home Secretary wants to derogate from Human Rights legislation and re-introduce stop-and-search laws that would be seen as unacceptable in several totalitarian countries including Iran and China.

For those of us just old enough to remember our police as a reassuring, friendly presence this is an unacceptable development. I want to live in a free country where I can walk the streets without fear of being mugged - but not in fear of being harassed by Police demanding to know my business either.

The courtroom is the place where justice should be done; not the streets.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Do what I say, Not as I do.

It really beggars belief that our very own Lib Dem MP is in the papers again trying to blame the Conservative and Labour parties for the Freedom of Information act excemption for MP's.

For those who don't know a Bill has been passed last Friday which could exempt MP's from the requirements of the Freedom of Information act.

The bill was passed on a free vote, which means MP's had no instructions either way from their party whips and could vote as they pleased. No amount of spinning by the Liberal Democrats alters the fact that MP's made the regrettable decision to excuse themselves from public scrutiny all by themselves.

A number of MP's on all sides of the House voted agains this bill while some MP's - including both the South Devon Liberal Democrats who have made such a fuss about this in public - didn't vote last Friday so the bill survived.

Fortunately David Cameron has promised that Conservative Peers will oppose this measure in the Lords and as a result it will probably not become law.

In the meantime this yet one more example of Liberal Democrats jumping on a bandwagon about an issue in public but when it comes to the crunch - when they really could have had a say - doing nothing about it in private.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The 2007 AGM season is over.

Like Christmas the 'AGM season' seems to arrive sooner and last longer every year.

As PPC I have to try and attend an extraordinary number of Annual General Meetings - there are half a dozen local ward Associations, seven Conservative Clubs, a couple of non political associations I am involved with and finally, our Conservative Association AGM that occurred last night, and I try and get to as many as possible.

These AGM's always seem to remind one of a glorious past; our great civic forbears set up these pillars of due process in Victorian times to protect donors and ensure 'fair play'. I cannot help but marvel at the determination of some people to ensure every letter of due process is followed. From 'apologies for absence' right the way though to 'any other business' each and every AGM follows the same format under the hawkish eye of sternly critical committee members.

I do wonder about the need for this when in some cases the bodies concerned can consist of little more than the committee members themselves (not St Marychurch ward committee pictured, they are a successful group doing well.) This leads to the charade of having to 'elect' officers when in nearly every case there aren't any new volunteers and the same people are perenially re-elected without the need for a vote, in a process that is unnervingly reminiscent of a kind of 1950's Communist era.

Last night we racked through the official stuff in a few minutes and then spent half an hour discussing politics - much more fun.

All credit then to Chairman John Cowie for making the evening enjoyable, and relevant, and above all for thinking about his members first.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Bad day to try and bury bad news

  • £5,000,000,000 goes 'missing' on Tax Credits shambles
  • Housing market in turmoil over HIP fiasco
  • Judges refuse to back Government over Ministry of Justice plans
  • UK Government will miss it's child poverty targets says Bernardo's
These are just four of the leading press stories in todays newspapers. The New Labour fiasco rolls on and on with one embarrassing cock-up after another.

If Gordon Brown does nothing else he needs to get a grip on the way this country is being run and do so quickly, but the problem is that many of the biggest cock-ups are in fact down to him.

Three out of four of todays stories are directly or indirectly related to Gordon Brown and his insistant meddling in departments across the piece.

Having read two biographies of Gordon Brown (including the excellent one by Tom Bower) I remain convinced that a Gordon Brown government will be WORSE than a Tony Blair one.

If Britain was a public company either it's board would have been sacked by now or it would have been taken over by someone else.

But I suppose we are undergoing a 'break-up' bid with Alex Salmond in Scotland aren't we?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

There is much fuss in the media about wether the Grammar School issue is our equivalent to Tony Blair ditching the Labour constitutinal clause 4 commitment to nationalisation thereby proving that New Labour had broken with it's socialist past.

The idea that Cameron wants a ‘clause 4′ moment over anything is to completely misunderstand the nature of the Cameron project; and David Cameron personally.

He really, really, does not want to have a fight with parts of the Conservative party.

His style is genuinely non-confrontational - he really does want a return to consensual politics -people working together for the best- and he is completely truthful when he says ‘if the Labour party comes up with a policy we agree with we will back it’.

So entrenched have some political activists become that they see politics as a war, but the public don’t; they just want to see our country run properly.

Everybody knows that on some issues party politics - the adversarial system- has become pointless and in some cases damaging, education is one such area.

There are only 160 or so grammar schools left against over 3,000 secondary schools. The Conservatives haven't introduced new Grammar Schools in 18 years in Government and nobody has seriously imagined that we had any plans to roll out Grammar Schools across the UK.

I believe that everyone has talent somewhere. The job of a good education system is to find that talent and make the best of it. That could and should include artistic ability, sporting ability, mechanical aptitude, and any other number of abilities that thousands of children have but which is not valued or honed by the old system , and isn't happening under the comprehensive system either.

The public schools do a better job on this. Bryanston is recognised and known as a very artistic public school, for instance, against Harrow which is very academic. The idea behind both Blairs education vision and ours is to try and replicate some of that diversity in the state sector. City academies are encouraged to specialise and accordingly they can select up to 10% of their pupils by ability from outside their ‘normal’ catchment who have notable talent in their speciality.

In additon, proper subject streaming by ability and restoring effective and worthwile discipline will do far more to help most children than any amount of posturing over the return of an old system rejected by all parties and the vast majority of parents and teachers 40 years ago.

And the idea that this is a party political ploy by us is totally wrong and shows just how insulated some Labour activists have become.

This is not a political game it’s real life. It’s about our childrens education.

Monday, May 21, 2007

How much do people care about who is the ceremonial Chairman anymore?

The local newspaper letters page has been inundated recently with indignant letters from prominent Lib Dems past and present complaining about the Conservatives decision to abandon protocol and pick their own colleague Mrs McPhail for Council Chair over last years deputy (and by rotation the person who would previously have become this years Chairman) Lib Dem Cllr Stringer.

I may be guilty of being a bit biased here, and I do feel a bit sorry for Mr Stringers wife (who we are told had stocked up with new attire for her civic year at the top table) but I think that once again, the Lib Dems are in danger of being seen to make much ado about nothing.

The fact is most people in the bay want good quality local services at a reasonable cost. they want a Council who will work hard to return some much needed prosperity and industry to the bay and they want councillors who are going to concentrate on the things that matter to ordinary citizens like keeping the place clean, safe and making sure their taxes are affordable.

As to who wears the Georgian red robe.... I don't think most people, including me, give a $%^&**!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Comrade Brown is elevated to lead the party and the country unopposed!

Yes citizens on this historic day our glorious leader is elevated to lead the Party and our great country and without the need for an inconvenient and possibly unreliable election by the people.

Who needs democracy when one has such a popular and commanding leader prepared to take control?

Citizens should be grateful and any who are not will soon be hearing from the Authorities....

(With grateful thanks to eng.davno.ru/posters/collections/stalin/ for providing the original poster)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Are we admitting defeat in Iraq?

The disgraceful news that the Army high command have decided that Iraq is too dangerous for Prince Harry is surely the best indication yet that we are losing the wholly ill named 'war on terror' .

It comes as a bit of a shock to discover that the once proud and mighty British army have been reduced to such a low state. The fact that they cannot be sure of protecting one soldier in the region is all the proof we need that this 'war' is going nowhere fast.

Because to put it bluntly, the purpose of terrorism is to alter behaviour through the use of fear rather than the use of force. Persian warriors have honed the use of terror to compensate for their lack of actual firepower for centuries.

The very fact that the fear of what might happen to Prince Harry has meant that he is being pulled off the deployment means that the terrorists have -in this case- won.

This is a major setback and in my view will be a huge boost to the insurgents; make Al-Qaeda stronger and more powerful in the region; and damage the morale of our servicng soldiers even more.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

'Tin Hat' at the ready over Grammar Schools announcement.

I am preparing myself for serious flak over David Willets contentious announcment this afternoon that a Conservative Government would not permit the opening of any new grammar schools.

This is a very difficult issue for me, as I am the product of a Grammar school and one of my daughters is currently benefitting from a Grammar School education.

In a survey I conducted in 2004 over 80% of local residents say that the want to retain our Grammar Schools. So I am expecting howls of protest from many quarters over this proposal to back the City Academies initiative and dump our previous long-held promise of re-introducing the 11 plus.

I agree that turning the clock back to the old days of grammar schools is , frankly, a no-no. The well documented problems of selecting pupils on a fairly narrow band of ability aged 11 is a historical debate we lost long ago and I see no point in trying to turn back after such a long time.

What David Willets says is this:

"We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids. This is a widespread belief but we just have to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it."

"For those children from modest backgrounds who do get to grammar schools the benefits are enormous. And we will not get rid of those grammar schools that remain. But the trouble is that the chances of a child from a poor background getting to a grammar school in those parts of the country where they do survive are shockingly low.

"A Conservative agenda for education will not be about just helping a minority of pupils escape a bad education. We want better schools for all, based on fair admission and fair funding. That is why we are outlining a series of specific measures for driving up standards and expanding the Academies programme begun by Tony Blair."

Directly funded schools is an idea I have always liked, whether they are called 'grant maintained' as they were under John Major or 'City Academies' as they are under Tony Blair.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The stresses and strains of early selections take their toll...

My Colleague Mark Bigley, the PPC for Southport, has stood down this week, he says for personal and family reasons.

Mark was, along with myself and about 22 others, a member of the small group of parliamentary candidates 'fast-tracked' immediately after the 2005 election in a programme designed to maintain the momentum built up in our seats.

He is the second 'fast track' PPC to resign recently; my good friend Paul Offer packed it in at the end of last year after complaining about dark deeds by some members of his association; but also I suspect because he had concerns about the diverting impact of being a PPC on his career.

The fact is being a candidate and nursing a seat is a huge commitment not just for oneself but also for the family. It is a massive financial commitment, I estimate that the cost to me personally of fighting the 2005 election measured in loss of earnings leading up to the election and then restoring my momentum afterwards, relocation, donations and supporting costs to be well over £150,000. And it is a constant demand on ones time and energy, David Camerons recent two visits to the bay involved me taking three days off work, the election a fourth, all in one month. How lucky I am to have a forgiving boss!

And contrary to popular public imagination we don't get paid a brass razoo for doing the job of PPC.

So I am not surprised that for some the burden is too great, especially as the election looks more and more likely to be 2010 at the earliest.

My best wishes to Mark and his family, he has done a great job there and the party owes him a debt of gratitude.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Is He Already Past his sell-by date?

Now that the painfully elongated departure of Tony Blair has finally begun our minds are turning to his successor Gordon Brown.

Labour are absolutely desperate to prove that they can be 're-born' under new leadership and they are now pinning their entire hopes on this man.

How on earth are they going to achieve this when the man they seem destined to choose to replace Tony Blair has been his partner for the entire New Labour project?

Perhaps they hope that an entirely new 'Brownite' cabinet and some urgent new proposals might convince people that there is some kind of policy renewal going on but somehow I don't think that will work.

Unfortunately for all of us, Tony Blairs true legacy is a reduction in trust in politicians. People nowadays believe what their leaders say less than at any time in history. Unfortunately GB's track record in the 'up front and honest' stakes is even lower than Mr Blair as evidenced by the shockingly sly announcements about abolishing the 10p rate in the last Budget.

So after June 27th I think it will be Gordon Brown. More of the same, without the charm.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Other Victories

I couldn't resist the temptation to have a sneek peek at my old Associations results in Windsor and Maidenhead.

Along with our result here and the turnaround in Bournemouth Windsor and Maidenhead has been the third major upset for the Lib Dems this week.

When I first became involved in politics in 1997 I couldn't understand how we had a seat with a 12,000 commons majority yet regularily lost at local elections to the Lib Dems.

The reason was very similar to the failures here in the 1990's - poor communication by local Conservative councillors and local council candidates.

We weren't losing on the basis that the populace preferred Lib dem ideology, the general election result in Windsor proved that (even here in Torbay there has been no sustained rise in the Lib dem vote since the 1980's , but more on that another day) it was usually because the Lib dems regularily posted good, easy-to-read leaflets through thousands of doors and canvassed; and canvassed.

Then at election time managed to encourage their sometimes lukewarm support to actually vote.

When only 1/3rd of voters turn out, getting your 'side' to do so is the key. Put simply, the LD's were much better at this than we were.

While they tirelessly churned out simple messages, often repeated, tinged with hysterical noises about things that 'might' happen (the school that might close, the hospital that needs 'saving') we would make do with a once in a blue moon leaflet that looked more like a page from the Times (circa 1950) than a political leaflet and usually contained an earnest but boring account of the manfesto about rubbish collections.

I used to use the analogy of us Tories being a old-time boxer squaring up under the Queensberry rules but facing a hoodie brandishing a baseball bat.

Having the best policies is just not enough. Modern politics needs modern campaigning techniques as well.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Web Log Updated!

I have spent a while fully updating my weblog this weekend to bring it up to date and also to try and draw together my website and weblog into one location.

This is an ongoing process and there are bits and elements that don't yet quite match up but I will get this fixed over the coming week.

Please give me your feedback; for instance if you discover a broken link or would like a link added to your site please either leave a comment or contact me using the link on the right.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Another Media Moment...

Well the photoshoot and the TV news are all done and dusted.
David Cameron has kept his promise to come back and congratulate my hard working councillor colleagues who successfully overturned the Lib Dem majority on Torbay Council.
The story behind the headlines is more amusing though, the visit was, er, slightly last minute and as a result not quite as smoothly planned as his previous arrival two weeks ago.
Initially he was planned to fly to the Palace Hotel; but at the last minute the landing was changed to Torbay Boys Grammar school, we get there to find the gates locked and an instant change was decided.... "back to the Palace".
Then with seconds to spare the caretaker arrived and opened the gates and our cars raced onto the playing fields; only to find the pilot hovering a mile away preparing to land - in the wrong place!
So we were to be found on Friday afternoon -with ten minutes to go before his live broadcast was supposed to have started- negotiating over the mobile phone with the helicopter pilot as to just where we were. My chairman and I were madly waving our arms like shipwreck survivors until at last we were spotted by the pilot and Mr Cameron safely landed.
Then it was a mad dash across town to hit the news deadline, a live interview and a couple of recorded sessions; then back in the cars and back to the Grammar school to find ... no helicopter.
The pilot had gone for fuel and decided that taking off there when full of passangers was too dangerous, so another dash across town - back to the Palace Hotel. We said our grateful goodbyes and left them in the cosseting embrace of the palace hotel staff; awaiting the 'copters return.
By now it was getting on for 8.00pm and Mr Cameron had been up all night and then been racing across the country all day. His staff were fretting although he was amazingly laid back and relaxed about the whole thing.
I went home for tea with my kids and as we heard the helicopter pass overhead I settled down to relate the story to guests we had staying for the weekend.
My phone rang - "Marcus, there is a problem at the Palace; David and co are still there - there is a problem with the helicopter, can you get back there and help?"
Apparently in fading light the pilot decided he was unhappy about the Palace lawn and wanted a better spot to take off from!
There was talk of trains from Exeter, would I ferry them there? Or Exeter AIRPORT perhaps, there was just time for helicopter and passengers to meet there....
In the event Paul Uphill of the Palace Hotel provided the solution and suggested a suitable alternative landing spot that the Pilot was happy with and eventually Cameron and co got away at about 8.30pm.
If David Cameron regretted his impulse promise to come back to Torbay he showed no sign of it.
Meanwhile I'd just like to apologise to Mrs Cameron for the late arrival of her husband home from work on Friday.
I expect the news that we won nearly double the number of council seats we were expecting nationwide was enough to compensate, though!

Friday, May 04, 2007

The end of the beginning?

This is a picture of the election of Kevin Carroll at a by election in 2004 which was a pivotal point in Torbay politics.

His victory -in a formerly safe Lib Dem ward- marked the first point at which the Conservatives in Torbay began a concerted and planned political fight back based on a proper alternative vision for Torbay rather than relying on the occasional 'get lucky' wins here and there.

The campaign that culminated in last nights resounding victory in Torbay was based on a determination to 'stop the rot' that has infected not just the fabric of Torbay itself but also the politics of the place.

The councillors on our side who won stood because they want to take Torbay back in the direction we know it needs to go in order be prosperous again; so the campaign was about the future of the bay; not the future of bay politicians. Others may have tried to personalise the campaign but we have stuck firmly to the issues and politics - and especially our vision for the future.

Fortunately the electorate appear to have noticed the lack of any alternative vision from the other parties, save a lot of campaigning about what they didn't want ('No' to a casino, 'No' to a hot air balloon, 'No' to any solution of Oldway, etc, etc). Simply campaigning with no purpose other than hanging on to power is seen through by the electorate.

Some outstanding talent has at last been sent to the Town Hall, people with track records of running successful businesses and organisations and there will be a much needed improvement in the quality of decisions and the level of scrutiny.

So last night is 'the end of the beginning' of the project to turn Torbay round.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Just how big an issue is the Casino going to be?

Having seen the last of the Lib Dems leaflets it is clear that the party are 'betting the farm' politically on the Casino issue.

Nearly every leafelt carries references to the fact that the Casino bid and suggests that somehow this is an unpopular issue being foisted upon and unwilling populace.

One of the most difficult calls in politics sometimes is separating issues that some people feel very strongly about (and accordingly make a lot of noise about) from issues that most people worry over.

In my opinion survey less that 2% of respondants considered the Casino to be Torbays most important issue (regardless of being pro-or anti) and I wonder what hard working famailes worrying about their Council tax or the environment will make of the Lib Dems campaign.

I think that because a couple of very influential Lib Dems are personally dead set against the Casino has this skewed their campaign?

Tonight we will find out.