Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Camerons Problems - passing cloud or a change in the weather?

The big question I am being asked (mostly by journalists) is 'what about all of Cameron problems, is it all over for him?'.

This is the British media at their most predictable. The polls have switched and immediately the story editors want to dig out good stories on ‘it’s all gone wrong for Cameron’ as we knew and expected that they would.

Well given our party's taste for dumping leaders at the drop of a hat I suppose you can't blame people for imagining that - "Bloefeld style, any failure will not be tolerated" so the lines of reporters queuing up to interview the handful of public critics of Cameron is fair enough, I suppose.

Clearly Stanley Kalms and Lord Saatchi have been hostile to Cameron from the start (from before the start, actually) the difference is that now they are newsworthy.

What Cameron has needed to demonstrate is steel, to reassure supporters that he isn't going to retreat to a reactionary right-wing position when under pressure, as previous leaders did. The public (justifiably, given our decade of in-fighting) need to see that the Conservatives are stable and could be trusted to run the country; this is a test and we (the party) need to pass it.

Once he has faced down his critics and been seen to increase his authority over the party his personal ratings will improve even further; at just the time the Brown will be having his first serious challenges.

Even I am not cynical enough to imagine that Cameron's team dreamed up his 'difficulties' themselves, but I totally believe that this is one cloud that really does have a silver lining.

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Dear Sir

I am writing after your report concerning my letter to Adrian Sanders on his opposition to the plans for a new Casino.

He didn't reply to my letter and in his statement to you ignored the central point I was making: if he doesn't like the casino plan, what is his alternative?

Unfortunately he can't seem to grasp the central point at issue which is the only way to grow our economy is by bringing new investment into the bay. A new Casino and entertainment complex will bring extra visitors - new customers for restaurants, taxi drivers, shops and hotels to profit from and they in turn will spend more on their support services from websites to decorators.

He lists a string of not entirely logical objections to having a second Casino (I don't understand why two Casino's would be a 'disaster' but having one is perfectly OK, for instance); but I am afraid that all his complaints do is highlight his own lack of ideas.

The MP said "I want all-year round, decent-paid and skilled jobs that will lift the economy out of the doldrums" - Great, so do I. But the fact is that in the 17 years since taking control of our council in 1990 the local Liberal Democrats had ample opportunity to come up with all-year-round, well paid, skilled jobs and they failed to come up with a single one, in fact we lost thousands.

Meanwhile Mr Sanders has had every chance at Westminster to influence the Government to offer the "better transport links, investment and improved infrastructure" that he says are the answer, but he has sadly failed to bring us any of these in his decade there either.

He has never promoted a vision for the bay of his own, never explained what he is actually trying to do as our MP, other than complain about everyone else.
He apparently prefers to be simply the chief soothsayer of doom and gloom; I say that local residents and particularily local jobseekers deserve better.
Yours sincerely,

Marcus Wood."

Friday, July 20, 2007

This is the text of a letter I have sent to MP Adrian Sanders yesterday following his umpteenth outburst against Nick Bye's regeneration proposals:

Dear Adrian

I am writing to you to make a public plea to you over Torbays Casino proposals following a series of outspoken criticisms you have made this year.

Now that you have made your personal objections clear can I ask you to now fall into line behind other bay leaders and lend your full support to Torbay Councils regeneration proposals for the good of everyone else?

It is vital that we show a united front to win the backing of Government and the confidence of business leaders - they need to see that all of those in authority in Torbay support the mayor in his efforts to bring new prosperity and a future of hope to Torbay.

I fully recognise that you have a problem with some of the proposals being put forward but I would be very surprised if Solomon himself could devise a plan that would please everyone in Torbay, the important thing is to see the bigger picture and move forward.

As our Member of Parliament I believe you have a duty to help promote the Bay and making public comments like "Torbay will be more Monty Python than Monte Carlo." was unhelpful. Previous outbursts have also been un-necessarily negative and have been damaging to Torbay's tourism businesses.

You have had ample democratic opportunity to oppose the Casino legislation in Parliament. You have lost that argument both at national level and locally, where the public overwhelmingly supported the Conservatives last May, and you must now accept the will of the people and now get on with backing the local regeneration plans which will include a new Casino.

You seem in a great hurry to broadcast to the world what you don’t want. That might be acceptable if you had an alternative. Sadly, after ten years in Parliament you have failed to come up with or achieve anything tangible for the people of the Bay.

Many people are coming to the conclusion that your obstinate opposition to these plans may be more to do with the fact that they are a Conservative success story than any other reason. I hope they are wrong, because if they are right it would be the worst kind of party political sour grapes imaginable.

I haven't had a reply yet.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Why divorce is in the news again.

Iain Duncan Smith set a hare running last week when he published his Social Policy Review. One of the most contentious recommendations he made was for the Government to come up with a tax incentive to married couples of about £20 per week.

Well that was the story that hot the headlines anyway.

The point about the marriage proposals is that they are but one small part of a much wider range of ideas which will come forward with one main overriding theme. Tucked away in the body of the report was a veritable feast of new ideas and proposals designed to improve the life chances of those children born into the most deprived areas of Britain.

The battleground at the next election is going to be our “broken society” which is not just family breakdown but a general decline in the quality of life for many people caused by a whole range of issues and social problems which Government intervention alone has failed to fix.

The country is crying out for some fresh thinking on most of our social problems: drugs, alcohol, crime, child sex abuse, antisocial behaviour, dysfunctional familes, educational under performance, old age care and provision, exclusion from schools, cultural and religious inclusion - you name it, it is getting worse.

The 'big idea' of Camerons team is not based around family values -important though they are- it is about creating a new sense of social responsibility.

Previous generations of Britons solved a much more serious range of social and health problems via self help, charity and voluntary groups who sprung up with a specific purpose and focus - Dr Bernardos, The Salvation Army, the RSPCC, Shelter and the Samaritans all have been far more effective in their chosen fields of service than a Government department or task force could ever have been.

If Britain is to fix it's broken society it will do so because thousands of people up and down the country want to play their part in helping to make the country a happier, safer place; and not because they sit back, pay a bit more in taxes and hope the Government can sort it out for them.

Like the revolution in the 1980's when we recognised that Politicians were the last people who should be running businesses I hope Britain will finally recognise that the Government isn't always the most compassionate source of help and support to those in need.

And sure, if having a stable and secure two parent home family is the best way to improve a childs life chances (and it is) then I see no problem in Government trying to encourage this for as many kids as possible.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Binge Drinking -
A new, or very old social problem?

The Conservative Social Justice Policy Group has launched it's report and one of it's more controversial recommendations is to rapidly and drastically increase alcohol duty as a way of reducing binge drinking.

he policy group, led by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, is due to publish its report, entitled Breakthrough Britain, Tomorrow (Tuesday).

Its idea on higher alcohol taxes would add about 7p to the cost of a pint, and raise an extra £400m a year to help fund treatment of alcohol abuse.

Justification for this is the fact that since the mid 1980's the 'affordability' of alcohol has risen pretty much in line with consumption, in other words as booze has become more affordable relative to income, people drink more of it; so presumably the opposite will also be true.

This was identified as a problem in the 1700's when cheap, strong gin became the scourge of London, with alcoholism rife; this lead directly to the introduction of alcohol duties which did indeed eventually bring the alcoholism epidemic to an end (although a number of other factors appear to have converged to discourage consumption of gin as well as action by Government, including stricter acceptable standards of social behaviour, the introduction (at the top of the social scale) of tea drinking, and an increase in religion that criticised coarseness and excess.

So increasing taxes will probably work, but not without a widespread change in public opinion about drunkenness which seems far less likely.

I also wonder what part the increasing strength of our alcoholic drinks has here, a few years ago draught beers were in the 3-3.5% range; today they are generally 5 - 5.5%.

That's one third more alcohol per pint.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

His worries increase

After what is widely being dubbed as a very poor performance by Gordon Brown at Prime Ministers Questions yesterday it is clear that it is Gordon himself who is very much 'on the rack' at the moment.

The press coverage last night and today has been scathing, suggesting that Mr Browns honeymoon with the media could turn out to be the shortest in political history.

Why does a bad performance in PMQ's matter?

QT is THE only forum in this country where the party leaders go head to head, while being good at PMQ’s won’t win elections the implications of a bad performance stretch a very long way:

- Morale of the MP’s who are there impacts immediately on the authority of the leader.
- Interpretation by the media filters down to the public view
- Passion and support of activists and workers down the line.

Ming, IDS, Kinnock and dare I say it John Major are all good examples of leaders whose weaknesses at PMQ’s set the tone of their entire leadership.

I thought he cut a rather sad figure yesterday - a man at sea with the ribald and confrontational nature of PMQ’s whose ‘first night nerves’ were mercilessly exposed.

Like it or loath it politics in Westminster is Gladiatorial, basic and brutal - and Brown was wounded yesterday.

The point is he needs to turn this round quickly; having been built up as such a heavyweight he needs to prove it. So what really matters is how things go next week. I can imagine fevered discourse in the Brown Corner as to ‘how to play it’ next week.

A second embarrassment would be very serious; possibly catastrophic for the Brown leadership.

One disadvantage of having been in the House for 25 years is that Browns personality is just so well known, we all know that he does not react well to pressure which will have risen by next Wenesday so Camerons team carry the advantage.

Worse, even Ming has nothing to fear next week; having done well himself yesterday -so the bear pit is two on one.

As it happens I am sure that Brown is canny enough and experienced enough to turn things round, but it is going to be an interesting week!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Who is worrying the most?

The current polling situation remains fascinating for politico's like me (and boring to most members of the public!), but given the current crop of polls published since Gordon Brown took over I wondered which of the three leaders is sleeping best at night at the moment?

GORDON BROWN has at least got the luxury of a notable 'bounce' in his party's ratings since he became leader last week. Recent polls have given his party over 35% of the vote which is an improvement of around 4% on the recent numbers Labour have been getting; but in an election this wouldn't give them anything like a majority without the support of another party in Parliament. This is in marked contrast to the poll ratings for John Major when he took over from Mrs Thatcher in 1990- he was rewarded with a sharp increase of more than 10% which lasted long enough to secure a narrow victory in 1992. A shaky start in Westminster and some less than convincing press coverage must also be a concern to any Prime Minister even before they have had to make a single unpopular decision, and Gordon has had both this week.

DAVID CAMERON has had his first serious wobble since taking over the leadership; his personal poll rating and the numbers for the Conservatives have sagged markedly since the succession of Brown to No 10. Although activists (including me) and MP's have been saying this was expected it is nonethless disappointing and could become a source of concern if maintained, even more so if there are any more carefully choreographed defections as rumoured.

The most important thing for team Cameron is to hold their nerve. Labour (and perhaps Lib dems) must be hoping that the modernisation project becomes derailed and the Conservatives lapse back to the clutches of the reactionary right wingers; some in the party will undoubtably see this as their chance to do exactly that.

On the other hand if Cameron can come through unscathed he will have shown that he can successfully whether a storm and that the modernisation of the party is unstoppable and permanent.

MENZIES CAMPBELL - The bookies say that the first leader to be replaced will be Mr Campbell- but given that he is 65 already this hardly rates as a big surprise.

Ming has the triple whammy of seeing his personal poll rating, his party poll rating and his internal party support dropping like a stone.

Partly this is down to his bookish style which seems oddly out of tune with modern Britain and partly it is because of his halting and uncertain leadership of the party - news of stalled talks with Brwon over power sharing was badly recieved in many quarters of his group -but mostly it is because a revitalised Labour vote is costing the Lib dems support - this is not Mings fault and may yet blow over if the Brown gloss should prove as short-lived as we think.

Having said that several Lib Dems that I know are privately hoping a bad summer will persuade Ming to step down of his own accord -especially once it is clear there is no early election.

My bet is that Gordon has the biggest headache every morning, having finally achieved his lifetime ambition how can he avoid being 'Jim Callaghan Mk 11' ?

Monday, July 02, 2007

The real 'war on terror' was 20 years ago.

I have got so fed up with the hysterical reporting of the so-called 'bomb attacks' this weekend'.

Have our leaders forgotten what a bomb attack is?

Do New Labour not know the difference between a handful of desperate hate-filled religious obsessives and a full-blown terrorist campaign?

The one was a ruthlessly conducted military style campaign conducted by a well organised network of paramilitary cells led by calculating ruthless killers well armed with high explosives, Armalite rifles and supported by millions of dollars worth of support from around the globe.

No-one was safe - as recently as 1997 bombs were regularily destroying large parts of our major cities.

Prime ministers and cabinet ministers were frequently attacked, with all three Tory Prime Ministers - Ted Heath (his study bombed in 1974) Margaret Thatcher (Brighton Bomb 1984) and John Major (Downing St Mortar attack in 1991) suffering very near misses.

The other - the current 'threat' consists of a handful of terrified fanatics armed with little more than petrol and caravan gas canisters, without even the basic common sense to avoid parking their 'bomb' in a tow-way zone.

I know the July 7th bombings were awful and further attempted attacks seem certain but we must keep the reality in perspective, these 'terrorists' are nothing of the kind, they are fanatics attempting to create tragedies but they have much more in common with the Waco seige, The Ohm sect (poisoning the Tokyo underground), Odaeyang, the Order of the Solar Temple sect and countless other suicidal religious sects that have come to light over the years.

They are not even terribly good, of eleven attacks that we know about since 2005, only one has succeeded and this latest effort must be marked down as 'almost a farce' it was so amateur.

This country has faced down a proper co-ordinated terrorist campaign; and we did so without widespread removal of our basic civil liberties.

Surely this Labour Government hasn't created a sense of 'threat' and panic simply to increase their powers over us?