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'?