Friday, August 31, 2007

Is the poor summer weather going to kill off plans for an Autumn Election?

One of the questions I have been asking myself is what impact the dreadful summer weather might have on Gordon Browns premiership and especially any plans he might have been harbouring for an early election.

Initially of course the heavy rain and flooding showed new PM Mr Brown in a very good light; its the kind of calamity that is ideal for politicans to exploit, lots of distressed homeowners who can be promised 'help' but who in fact are likely to be forgotten by the press as soon as the waters recede (so no embarrassing questions later...)

But the real effect of a bad summer run much deeper. Mainly it's the economy that takes a hit - thousands of attractions, restaurants, pubs and hotels took less than they hoped for, shops are crammed with unsold summerwear, garden equipment and outdoor toys - takings are down, profits are hit and belts are tightened.

Grumpy, depressed or financially stressed voters have a habit of taking out their wrath on the Government- so it would be a brave Prime Minister who would go to the country at that moment.

However, in the slightly longer term, the poor summer might have delivered Mr Brown a bit of a silver lining. One reason interests rates have been rising is the concerns the Bank of England have had about consumer spending - if our wet summer has cooled consumers down a bit then there is less pressure on the Bank to raise rates more, and in fact rates can start to fall earlier, quite soon in fact.

And the likliest time for the first signs of interest rates falling? Spring next year, about the same time as the first effects of last years tax cuts hit wage packets.

So if I was a betting man I think I reckon that if there was going to be an early election next Spring looks far more likely than this Autumn.

But what would I know?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Treaty, Constitution - or Conspiricy?

The Constitution drawn up by ValĂ©ry Giscard d'Estaing for the EU would have made it a legal body under international law which could sign treaties, create a common foreign policy, establish and impose on us a charter of fundamental rights, introduce more "qualified majority voting”- effectively imposing the will of the rest of Europe on every member. But the EU Constitution was dropped when the French wisely said ‘non’ in 2005.

Like a nightmare character from a horror film the Constitution refuses to die. Now it’s back, - this time it’s called a treaty.

In 2005 Labours Manifesto pledge stated: ‘We will put it [the EU Constitution] to the British people in a referendum and campaign whole-heartedly for a ‘Yes’ vote’.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said this morning that the treaty was different in "absolute essence" from the defunct European constitution; and that a referendum was therefore no longer necessary.

But the rest of Europe disagrees with him:

· Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: ‘thankfully they haven’t changed the substance - 90 per cent of it is still there’

· Jean-Luc Dehaene, the former prime minister of Belgium who is now a senior MEP, has said that 95 per cent of the constitution was back .

· The Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, has said 'I believe that 98 per cent of the content ….. is to be found in the future EU Treaty.

· And Diego Lopez Garrido, the Spanish Government’s parliamentary spokesman, said: ‘99 per cent of its content has survived

· The Finnish Europe Minister Astrid Thors said: ‘There’s nothing from the original institutional package that has been changed’

I was too young to take part in the only referendum on Europe we have ever had in 1974. We are long overdue another chance to have our say on the EU project.

In spite of protests from all the opposition parties, the unions and as many as 120 of his own MP’s Mr Brown has high-handedly refused to give the public a say on this vital constitutional matter.

He must be made to change his mind before it is too late.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Has Cameron cocked up on the NHS?

Earlier this week David Cameron promised a 'bare knuckle fight' over the NHS as part of a campaign highlighting plans for 29 district hospitals to downgrade or close either their A&E or their maternity units.

Almost immediately the media were reporting (after frantic briefing by Labour spin doctors) that several hospitals on the list were denying any plans to close and in one case a Conservative MP was said to have apologised to his hospital for being 'wrongly' included on the list; which the media took as proof that the list was indeed incorrect.

In fact the MP for Kings Lynn Henry Bellingham later said he apologised because staff at Queen Elizabeth Hospital had felt "singled out" by being on the list when there were three other maternity units at hospitals in his constituency which were also considered under threat- but this 'minor' detail went largely unreported.

Closer inspection of the denials was also to reveal that many were selective, hospitals discussing or planning to close A&E put statements out denying categorically any plans to close their maternity unit; and vice versa.

So was this a 'cock up' by Camerons people or not?

I am certain we won’t have an election for at least a couple of years yet. Cameron always has been playing a tactical long game and I am very glad that he still is.

The facts are that every hospital on his list (and many more besides) really are undergoing either consultations, or in the later planning stages of changes that will reduce neighbourhood services for residents by closing or amalgamating maternity units, A&E units or both.

There will be a drip-drip of news stories over the next few months and years as each of these trusts tries unsuccessfully to bury the bad news and fails, eventually having to admit their plans. And Cameron will be able to say ‘we told you so’; ‘we warned about this’ ‘we were right all along’,'You can’t believe this Prime Minister any more than the last one’ etc. etc.

Hell hath no fury like a news reporter misled, so if Cameron and Lansley are right, the angry press backlash against Labour could come at a very critical moment, i.e. in the lead-up to an election.

It would have been a far better strategy - especially for ‘new’ New Labour to have said ‘this is all about repositioning services, and yes, several district hospitals will have services shuffled about between them; but when you running anything as big and complex as the NHS difficult decisions have to be made…..?

Whatever happened to the mature and spin-free Government we were promised by Mr Brown just two months ago?

Monday, August 20, 2007


To cut or not to cut?

The big question raise this week by the Conservatives 'Competitive Britain' review commission was not whether to cut taxes, but which taxes to cut; and by how much.

I have made the point before that the public aren't complaining about taxes, in fact I think they would rather pay a bob or two extra and leave worrying about the poor and needy to the Government, deep down; so banging on about tax cuts won't win votes - so why did shadow Chancellor George Osbourne seemingly accept most of the proposals?

In short, because the private sector generates profits, it generates growth whereas the state sector does the opposite. For example, if a new hair salon opens and is popular and profitable it will quickly fund a second salon, expanding to bring a third and so-on; each employing new staff. On the other hand a new Government service -as it expands- simply becomes a bigger cost to the taxpayer.

The more the state takes from successful shops in taxes to pay for their expanding service, the longer it is before our salon (and other shops and businesses like it) have the money to open their new branches.

So reducing taxes is essential for increasing economic growth.

That is why the main thrust of John Redwoods proposals involved cutting corporation taxes; companies allowed to retain more of their profits will invest more and grow faster.

And it is also why Conservatives are right to promise to gently reduce the percentage of the economy spent by the State; 'sharing the proceeds of growth' between reducing taxes and spending on public services.

In the 1970's the situation reached meltdown - so much money was being taken by the then Labour Government that the country's economy went into permanent reverse, tax revenue collapsed and by 1976 the Government could not pay it's bills - it went bankrupt.

We are closer to this scenario than Gordon Brown would have you believe. Don't imagine that the same thing couldn't happen again.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Trouble in Paradise or silly season flash in the pan?

Hours after having got home from my family holiday I was contacted by a reporter at the Herald Express keen to 'get a response' from me on the news that my neighbouring Conservative candidate, Anne-Marie Morris in Teignbridge has apparently come out against the Kingskerswell bypass.

She is absolutely entitled to her view and I congratulate her for her honesty; but the Bypass is an absolute essential plank in South Devons economic plans and simply has to be built.

I know of several ex-local businesses whose specific reason for relocating East (or in one case South -to be nearer the A38) was the poor link road and countless hotel owners lobby me every year about the loss of trade to them from frustrated holidaymakers saying they won't come back.

Yes, there will be disruption and the bypass will do harm to the view from a few scores of houses along the route. But the Bypass has been on the drawing board for 30 years and the overwhelming majority of those who live near the route must have bought their property in the full knowledge of the plans; and presumably paid less as a result.

I have never held back in my views that the so-called Kingskerswell "Alliance" is in fact little more than a handful of very media-savvy activists -all whom live on or very near the proposed route - representing the opinion of no more then a tiny minority yet behaving as if they speak for many more.

The poor showing they have had in local elections is proof of this; let's face it if you can't find even a few hundred local people to vote for you at a parish election your campaign isn't enjoying widespread public support, is it?

I cannot and don't accept that their voices represent widespread public opinion -even in Kingskerswell, let alone in the wider area; indeed there has been an exhaustive public debate for decades and yet the net effect of this has been for support for the bypass to GROW.

So on the one side you have a small but dedicated band of campaigners but on the other you have 86% of Torbay residents who argue that the road is their umbilical cord to the rest of the country; along whose length nearly all of us are forced to grind our way on a regular basis.

I therefore think that while Anne Marie is being very brave (and very principled) in backing their cause I fear she is on the wrong side of this particular argument, both politically and practically.

But I didn't go into politics to agree with everyone all the time, did I?

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Great Escape(s) could damage GB

Only last week I was admitting that I thought Gordon Brown may stay in the lead poll-wise right through into next year.

But the last 48 hours have highlighted an inescapable fact which may bring that time down to a few weeks.

What Gordon Brown has been trying to show is that he is a 'new' Government but already the sins of the past are catching up with him.

Both the escape of Foot and Mouth from a Government lab and the escape of 26 foreign nationals from a secure transit camp have been firmly blamed on years of under-funding.

This follows much analysis of wether the recent floods were worse than they might have otherwise been had there not been cuts in the budget for flood defences.

After ten years holding the purse strings it gets harder and harder for Gordon Brown to avoid becoming suspect-in-chief for Government failings -especially since he so often intervened personally when Chancellor to cut or divert funding away from projects he didn't personally support.

Initial euphoria that Tony Blair has finally gone will quickly be replaced with a deep scorn for the 'new' Prime Minister if the press get their teeth into one or two of these funding scandals, with more trouble certainly to come.

More trouble certainly to come? Do I know something sinister?

No. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was famously asked by a journalist the surest thing to push a Government into trouble and his answer: "Events, dear boy. Events" - is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Could this be the prospect for me when I get back from my holidays?

The papers in the last few days have increasingly been carrying stories of plans, leaked plans and proposals for an early general election; possibly this October.

I have been rung up and asked about this by a journalist earlier this week.

Of course with a healthy ten point lead in the opinion polls this could be the ideal time for an early strike; a bold and daring move to outsmart the other parties and win an unprecedented fourth term majority; that is why earlier in the summer I thought this was a distinct possibility.

But I am not planning on an election any time soon and I have changed my mind for two main reasons.

1) Gordon Brown is a cautious man. He will want to wait a bit longer just to check that the poll lead is holding up.... then another week ... then another... and then the poll lead will start to wither away as his novelty factor wears off faster than an Essex girls fake tan; and then he pretty suddenly won't be wanting to hold an election at all.

2) Labour is nearly £30m in debt, has recently halved it's professional staff and has still to select candidates in hundreds of seats across the country.

But the main reason I am confident there won't be an early poll is simply this: what is the upside for Brown?

Virtually no-one believes that with boundary changes Brown would end up with a bigger majority than now; and no-one thinks that Cameron would lose seats. So why take even the small risk of losing now when even the best-case win scenario is a smaller majority and a stronger opposition?

Gordon Brown is a political games player in a different league to Blair - everything he says and does is aimed primarily at wrong-footing the Conservatives - the budget was a prime example of Brown at his worst.

So all the talk of election plans is just that - talk; designed to put pressure on our side in the hope of derailing Cameron's reform programme.