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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How much of a Gamble is an early election?

There is still an enormous amount in the media every day at the moment about the possibility of an early election.

As a Tory candidate in a front-line LD marginal the one thing I would love to be doing next month is fighting an election - a rejuvenated Labour party and the Lib Dems down on 13% in the polls works for me in Torbay, although I accept that it's not the ideal scenario for the Conservative Party (or the country) at large.

We have all our election material written and ready to go, we have our election plan agreed, audited by Central Office and we have the money ready in my election fund.

The possibility that I could end up being an MP by Christmas instead of simply being a PPC for another 2 or more years is a deliciously tempting prospect for me.

But the gamble for Brown is one I am still very clear he won't take. The 'upside' is a five year term with a majority that -because of boundary changes and difficulties with the SNP is Scotland- would go down even with a significantly improved vote share from the 2005 36% that Labour got.

The likeliest outcome is a reduced or non-existent majority and the prospect of a John Major/Jim Callaghan style death by a dozen by-elections and the downside is the possibility of losing - as happened to Wilson when he called a snap election in 1970; which would write Brown into the history books as Britains biggest loser.

Of course Gordon Brown hasn’t decided, and he won’t decide - he’ll put it off, and delay, and wait and see for a day or two, and then just mull it over for another weekend - then see what the Sundays say, and so on until it will be too late.

What the activists in Labour are trying to do is bounce him into a place where he has to make a decision because they know what we all know, things can only get worse. they think that Gordons best chance - indeed his only chance, is to go to the country just as soon as he can.

Well, here in Torbay, we are ready for him.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Shadow Cabinet 'like buses'

You know the saying, you wait for ages for a bus and then three come along at once.

Well that has been the case in Torbay regarding front bench visits; we have been graced by the presence of two senior front benchers this week, Chris Grayling (Work and Pensions) and Francis Maude (pictured left, with me and the head teachers and pupils from Paignton Community College) who is Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office; and then next week we have the spokesman for tourism, licensing and gambling here - Tobias Ellwood.

Front bench visits are a very important part of life as a PPC. At the basic level they are a rare opportunity for us to make the news - and the oxygen of publicity is a rare and valuable commodity and we need as much as we can get - but on a deeper level they are a chance for us to tell the shadow cabinet what is happening on the front line.

So in the quiet moments in the car, or having a coffee we can discuss the impact they are/are not having on swing voters in target seats like Torbay. This is a vital part of making sure the party remains closely in touch with all kinds of voters from all over the country.

I am pleased that the party is making such strenuous efforts to make sure we are regularily visited and I am certain that this demonstration of our commitment at the highest level will be remembered by voters.

And it's a good excuse for a day off work, too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is an amnesty the right answer for illegal immigrants?

The Liberal Democrats have decided on an interesting solution to the problem of illegal immigration - offering them an amnesty if they manage to stay here for ten years or more.

On one level this is a decent gesture that would solve some of the distressing cases highlighted fairly regularly in the press where a settled family are torn apart after x years living peacefully in some village somewhere when aunt Mavis turns out to be an illegal immigrant.

So I agree that greater flexibility is neccessary to deal with difficult residential applications from long-term illegal settlers - perhaps by giving family courts a decision making role; but a blanket amnesty is not the answer at all.

The experience of other countries that have tried this technique like Spain is that the level of illegal immigration attempts goes up sharply. Those intent on resettling decide that their already good chance of getting in, added to the certainty of being given citizenship if they can hang on ten years makes the destination irresistible.

Britain is already to an embarrassing degree the first choice for thousands of migrants who cross several other EU countries to get here. In my view this proposal, although made for the most humane and decent reasons, would make the problem far worse in the short term - lead to an immediate immigration crisis, and potentially invite thousands more illegal immigrants than we get already.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Polls still close - Labour lead down to 3%

There have been two more polls out this weekend, one in the Sunday Times showed Labours poll lead halving in a month to 5% (39/34/15) and another, for the Independent today puts Labour on 37% Conservatives 34% and the Lib Dems on 15%.

Nobody is celebrating these figures, they are not good enough for my party to win an election, not good enough for Labour to hold power and not good enough for the Lib dems to avoid a bloodbath of their MP's whoever wins the next election.

I am surprised that the Conservative figure is holding as well as it is, given that the electorate must surely be somewhat puzzled by the string of policy groups announcing what might seem to be conflicting ideas on a baffling array of topics from global warming to family breakdown.

The purpose and timing of these policy groups reporting was, I know, carefully choreographed to fit with the conference season.

What I am expecting over the next three or four weeks is that by the end of the conference season the fog will lift and the public will have a clear view of what we stand for and where our priorities will lie in Government. Our Conference will act as the launchpad for the Conservatives vision for Britain; which will knit together the best bits of each group in a sensible, 'joined-up' approach to solving some of our country's most intractable and pressing problems.

People will at last be able to compare and contrast a new Conservative party full of optimism and hope with a confused and demoralised Lib Dem party and a tired and distracted Labour party.

I doubt very much whether there will be any ambiguity whatsoever about which way the polls are pointing after the conference stalls have been packed away and the last satellite news van has departed down the M6.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

So this is prudence is it?

I expect much comment in the Sunday press about the almost unprecedented run on the Northern Rock by their customers.

The 1929 crash was caused in part by a complete collapse of confidence by the public in their financial institutions and the regulatory authorities ability to protect them. Todays troubling pictures of anxious investors queueing up to get their cash out of their bank because they fear it going bust is, in my view, a damning indictment of both the FSA and the Bank of England.

In fact any banker will tell you that the base ingredient for a stable economy is trust, trust in the value of money and trust in the banks that store it for you; this is one reason why we like our banks to be big, boring and institutional - it's reassuring.

One of the often repeated side effects of this spin-obsessed Government is a lack of trust. People just don't believe Government ministers or even the Prime Minister to tell them the truth anymore. All Government institutions are damaged by association, threatening the entire workings of Government itself. Statistics, like the number of immigrants or the rate of inflation aren't trusted.; Policemen aren't believed like the used to be in court, government officials find their evidence scoffed at so we have a resurgence in mumps and rubella because people stopped having the MMR vaccine and so on.

When Gordon says 'the economy is fine' we don't believe him. When Chancellor Darling says 'Norther Rock is fine, your money is safe', evidently investors don't believe him, either.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Guess what, once again the the Liberal Democrats are demonstrating hypocrisy of the highest order, this time over the European Constitution; a law that would give a great deal more power to the EU, and reduce our right to make our own laws and foreign policy.
Pro-European Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell has now formally sided with Gordon Brown in refusing to allow the British public a say on the Constitution. “My judgment is a referendum is not necessary on this document,” he says in an interview ahead of next week’s Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

With the backing of the Lib Dems Gordon is now certain of enough votes to ensure that this treaty will get through Parliament without the British public having a say, in spite of having made a clear manifesto pledge that we would be given a vote.

These are the ve
ry same Liberal Democrats who make a living complaining endlessly about a lack of democracy and who demand referendums of everything from road pricing to the Monarchy.
Our local MP has himself made desperate attempts to force our directly elected mayor hold a referendum of the vital question of, er, whether Torbay has one casino or two; yet it would appear he will calmly vote to deny you or I a say in one of the most fundamental changes to our constitution since the Act of Union in 1707.

I eagerly await a logical excuse from any Lib Dem as to how they can reconcile these two opposing ideals of what is 'democratic'.. .

Monday, September 10, 2007

The 'Sub Prime' lending crisis is getting serious.

Except in the financial pages there has been little reporting of a problem that one senior banker described over the weekend as "the most serious in over 20 years" that has been unfolding over the summer. Simply put, banks that lend to mortgage borrowers with bad credit risk have been bundling their bad loans along with good loans and selling them to other banks in investment bonds that could turn out to be no good; but the risk is hidden.

Suspicion has gone round the banking community and now banks have stopped lending money to each other because of worries about the possibility that a bank somewhere might go bust; and because they won't lend money to each other (or are pricing in higher costs to do so) the actual costs of wholesale money are rising. And what that means is that the Bank of England have lost control over interest rates - the inter-bank lending rate is already 1% higher than the Base Rate.

So there could be a severe credit crunch this winter, with many banks simply not being able to get hold of enough money to lend out. That means credit won't be extended; credit card debts may not be renewed or have limits cut, Mortgages could become much harder to get, and 'top up' loans may not be there for those in difficulty. If the shortage continues eventually banks start clawing back money they have already lent by bankrupting businesses and repossessing homes. This is exactly the kind of credit crunch that happened in 1973 and again in 1985.

Gordon Brown has relied on the fact that there was easy money for consumers to get their hands on to keep a 'feelgood factor' going; and to underpin property prices.

When those on the bottom find that even not paying your mortgage is no problem (easy, just re-mortgage the arrears) it gives everyone -even those higher up the scale- huge confidence to over borrow because it has become almost impossible to lose your home.

The net effect is usually inflation, leading to a currency problem leading to a recession, leading to a rebalancing of the supply of money. This time rising inflation has been masked by a flood of cheap imported goods, immigration keeping workers wages low and Gordon changing the measure; all of which are ‘one-off’ jokers that have been played out; unless Gordon has another one carefully hidden which none of us have thought of the hangover from this ten year binge could be very big indeed.

Nobody believes that in a free market you can eliminate ‘boom and bust’ -it is human nature (greed and fear). So there must come a bust eventually; and the longer and bigger the boom- the deeper and bigger the bust.

I am exceptionally gloomy about the prospects for our economy next year, all the signs are there that we may be in for a very rough ride indeed.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wow! National Service for all 16 year olds.

At last a senior political figure has said in public what nearly everyone I know has been saying in private for years:

"Bring back National service"

There is no doubt in my mind that this proposal would do nothing but good. It would be good for youngsters for all the reasons often quoted - their self-esteem, their sense of National pride and also their sense of earning their place in society and being able to demand to be treated with respect by the rest of us. But also in my view they'll learn a lot more in 16 weeks National Service than in 16 weeks of school.

I happen to think it will also 'top and tail' education very well, especially for for the majority of young people who are not going into further education, for these people the last few months of school can feel like a waste of time; and their attention and discipline deteriorates drastically as a result.

Lastly teenagers commitment to this would go a long way to repairing the slightly tarnished image that teenagers have amongst the wider and especially the elder population.

The proposal as it stands would give 16-year-olds the option to do military service or a non-military volunteering service for sixteen weeks, for which they would be paid, with a matching sum also being donated to the charity of their choice.

We have been challenged as to how this would be funded, frankly in my view whatever it costs it would be money very well spent.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Free DNA swab for every Citizen!

The latest bad idea that is doing the rounds at the moment is the proposal to swab every citizen and every visitor to the UK and add everyone to the DNA database.

At the moment all suspects (those arrested) of a recordable (i.e reasonably serious) crime are swabbed and their DNA stored on file; the records remain even if the suspect is never convicted.

There is a question about this I agree, the 2004 act slipped through Parliament and I don't think people realised the fundamental impact on civil liberties of keeping indefinite biometric records of suspects who turn out to be innocent, or are never brought to trial.

But to suggest that the answer to this is to in effect make every citizen a suspect is the ultimate nightmare.

Juries are notoriously convinced by DNA evidence, imagine if you were wrongly identified via a mistaken DNA sample - easy enough with over 100,000,000 samples to choose from. You would have the unenviable task of proving to the jury that you were innocent, the very opposite of our civil right to be innocent until proven guilty.

This utterly shocking idea is made worse because of the 'PC' thinking behind it. This isn't being suggested because it would help cut crime, or stop innocent people being wrongly convicted. No it's being proposed because of the discovery that just 12% of white males are on the database against 40% of black males.

Lord Justice Sedley, an experienced appeal court judge who came up with the proposal, said: "We have a situation where if you happen to have been in the hands of the police then your DNA is on permanent record. If you haven't, it isn't.

"It means where there is ethnic profiling going on disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities get onto the database."

If the Police are arresting too many black men (and the figures suggest they may be) the answer isn't to demand that they arrest everyone; which is what the logic of the Judges argument is.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Monday Update:

I had to laugh this morning when a listener to Radio 4 , referring to Tory MP's Patrick Mercer and John Bercow working on policy for the Government, sent a text saying in terms that if Gordon Brown thinks that Conservative MP's have better ideas for running the country than Labour MP's why shouldn't she simply vote Conservative and get the real thing?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Polling Companies say honeymoon is over...

The much-vaunted 'Brown Bounce' is fading fast according to the organisations who ask the public who they would be voting for if an election were held tomorrow.

For most of his time as leader David Cameron and his party have had a lead in public opinions surveys; but this vanished in June when Tony Blair stood down. This 'boince' in public opinion was widely predicted and is usual as voters give the new Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. John Major secured and immediate 10 point advantage that lasted for months.

The 8 and 10 point leads that Labour were enjoying earlier in the summer look to be falling very quickly - and far faster than I was expecting, (I had said privately that I expected Labour to maintain some kind of poll lead right through to spring 2008).

Two polls out today suggest that the lead has all but evaporated, and follow a poll over the weekend that had halved Labours lead to 5%.

ComRes (formerly Communicate Research) for The Independent puts both Labour and the Conservatives level pegging on 36%. The LibDems are on 15%.

YouGov for GMTV which gives Labour a 3% lead; Labour on 38%, Tories on 35% and the LibDems on 15%.

Of course the news that the papers will probably focus on is the fight between Tory and Labour, but surely the big news in all of the polls this summer has been the very poor showing by the Liberal Democrats - 15% is now looking like an average result for them (as opposed to a freak) and represents a massive drop from the 22% they won in 2005; basically one third of their support has gone AWOL since Ming Campbell took over.

This is some welcome and unexpected good news for me and my supporters.