Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Turbulence ahead for Cameron?

The media narrative has been pretty much all one way since the Conference season ended in October.

That one way as been against Labour and especially against Gordon Brown personally.

Hardly surprising as their has been plenty of ammunition about for the press to use.

However I detect a change is coming. I think the media are bored of this, and are looking to spice up the political pages with a new 'angle'.

A couple of recent stories in the media have the potential to be bad for Conservatives; especially the events concerning Mr Conway, a Conservative MP who has failed to satisfy the standards committee that the money he paid to his youngest son for research work was legitimate who now faces an investigation into the work done for him by his eldest child as well.

Now I am on record as being opposed to the employment by MP's of members of their family by the taxpayer and Mr Conway is therefore not getting much in the way of sympathy from me.

I think that anyone employing their friends and family on the taxpayer is leaving themselves wide open to attack, that is why it is so very rarely permitted in the rest of the civil service and in most publicly listed business’.

If I get elected I wouldn’t employ any of my family in any capacity on public funds, I think it shouldn’t be allowed.

Another Conservative MP has apparently been arrested and questioned over what looks like a serious domestic incident.

I have a view that the press may be looking to use any 'bad news' Conservative stories to shift the narrative back to 'how does Dave cope under pressure?' and that we may have a few weeks of fairly tiresome (for us, but probably a welcome respite for Labour) press coverage ahead.

I suppose it sells papers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

So it's goodbye from me...

I suppose the only surprising thing about Hains resignation is that it took so long for him to make his mind up.

Unlike Brown, who already has a reputation for dithering Peter Hain is not known for delaying difficult decisions.

As Northern Ireland secretary he had no hesitation in releasing terrorists and bombers from prison; as work and pensions minister he has had no hesitation in shutting one quarter of Remploy factories (employing 5,000 disabled people) and as a deputy leader he had no hesitation in accepting £103,000 in unregistered donations including an alleged donation from Isaac Kaye - apparently a supporter of the National Party in apartheid-era South Africa, who is said to have given nearly £15,000.

Mr Hain is one of those rare political animals, a man disliked on all sides of the political divide. Whether it is that he is just a bit too ambitious for his own good I don't know; but there are few parliamentarians standing up to defend him today, from any party.

His legacy is profound, because he secures for Gordon Brown the sleazy 'cash for ...' legacy attached to Tony Blairs Government that a change of leader was supposed to throw off.

And there is the prospect of legal cases and court appearances for senior Labour figures right through the lead up to the next election.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Northern Robbery

The latest news on the Northern Rock farce has left me astonished and angry.

The idea that Mr Branson, or anyone else for that matter, can acquire a 100 billion pound loan book and a substantial high street bank to boot for 650 million of their own money while the taxpayer is risking 60 billion (ten times as much) is about as one sided as it is possible to get.

I am a fan of private enterprise and as a Conservative nothing pleases me more than to see a successful entrepreneur scaling the heights of financial success - but not at the taxpayers expense.

If the Chancellor and his puppet-master are allowed to do this deal it will amount to financial mismanagement on a stellar scale which dwarfs the 'ERM black wednesday' affair when the Bank of England lost a purely notional £3.4bn trying to buy sterling on the foreign exchange markets and tops the disastrous losses made when Gordon Brown ignored treasury advice and dumped our gold reserves at the very bottom of the market.

On current proposals the Government will have outstanding guarantees on this bank for at least five years of at least £60,000,000,000. A guarantee is as much a promise to pay as a bank note; so count those noughts- each and every taxpayer could be stumping up to £4,000 apiece if Northern Rock goes bust.

Even if it doesn't we have a bale out here on a scale that is ten times the size of the state aid given to British Leyland in it's sorry years under Government control from 1974-1988; at l;east BL was the country's last major car manufacturer - Northern Rock is is a relatively minor bank in a fiercely competitive, indeed some would say oversupplied, market that was and is long overdue for a shake out.

How is it fair that other banks are now, in effect, trying to compete with a firm that cannot be allowed to go bust? How will it work if, in an attempt to stay solvent NR start stealing business from other banks and building societies using taxpayers money backed by gilt edged security?

What happens if the credit crunch goes on for a bit, there is a serious property crash and another bank -or two banks even, get into similar trouble. Will they be baled out, too?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Vision or Nightmare- at least there is a future to discuss.

Whether you think that the Mayoral vision for the future of Torbay is your idea of heaven or a blueprint for hell on earth there is one thing that is long overdue and that is any kind of vision at all.

One of the main benefits of the mayoral vision is that at last there is a proper debate under way about the future shape and economy of the Bay; and there is at last a clear dividing line between the local political parties about what the future could be all about.

Unfortunately for all of us, successive Town hall administrations have failed to seriously consider the long term prospects for Torbay in anything other than negative terms. For 20 years the council has been content to presume that their job was simply to manage the decline of tourism with as little drama and hardship as possible.

Now at last things are on the move.

In the Blue corner we believe the prospects for this beautiful area haven't looked this good since the mid 19th century when the railways came. A combination of global warming, increased airport security, fashion and shortage of time will mean that more and more people will choose to take short breaks at home. Add to that the increasing demand from broadband connected workers to move away from the South East and seek a better quality of life (and lower house prices), and the fact that the baby boom generation are approaching retirement and the future looks bright, proviided we make sure the Bay is kept up to scratch. We look forward with confidence to a clean, prosperous and safe Torbay as popular as she ever was.

In the Yellow corner the stance is very different. To them Tourism is an industry that just brings hordes of unwelcome visitors. They can't help but dislike the money it makes for some people. They don't seem to like incomers at all, judging by the recent complaints by the MP about Eastern Europeans.

The tendency so far has been to simply oppose everything; the casino, balloon, industrial park, retail park, Goodrington, any major redevelopments in the towns etc without really so far offering any alternative ideas for economic regeneration.

The language used by them sometimes conjures up an image of a 'rust belt' backwater, not the thriving, prosperous and popular place that Torbay actually is. What vague ideas they do have seem to be built almost entirely on state handouts - either to a benefit dependent underclass, handouts for government agencies to create non-jobs in some pointless quango; or handouts for the council bureaucracy to expand still further.

This is a formula of despair that the public rejected in 2006 at the mayoral election when their candidate was so roundly beaten; then again in 2007 when the lost control of the town hall; but they just seem to be stuck in a time-warp and no amount of losing is going to persuade them to think again.

Most of the poorest in society have ambition; they don't want to be on low incomes and they don't want state handouts; what they want is an opportunity to succeed and do well and a thriving Torbay tourism economy is the best way of getting it.

I cannot understand why the Liberal Democrats seem to be so obstinately against making Torbay more prosperous, but they do. Perhaps they are worried that a thriving and successful town is usually very much a Tory town.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Migrant Row- MP needs to apologise.

There has been a stonking row going on in Torbay over comments the MP made over the mayoral vision for the local economy. How wise was it to bring race and immigration into the debate about the Mayoral Vision?

Lib Dem Mp Adrian Sanders made a long and (for him) unusually opinionated statement expressing his view that more jobs for immigrants was in general a bad thing and that the mayor should not be encouraging it; and he further claimed the mayoral vision would make Torbay a 'jobs agency for Eastern Europeans'.

This led to an orgy of congratulations for him from some voters on the Herald Express website and a flurry of angry letters and protests from other voters who were horrified at his comments which they felt were racist in overtones; even though the MP has gone to some lengths to reassure them that they weren't.

Comments like "Thanks Mr Sanders, something has to be said about the floodgates being open to the migrants";"Call me racist or what there is two many migrants in England. What the bay wants is proper well paid jobs for English residents, English people of this country. Lets start and put the English first not the migrants first the English become third class people in our own country. Mr Sanders is right with is comments" or "We need immigrants like a hole in the head" would suggest that the MP's comments have indeed been a great comfort to people on the far right.

I can't decide if this is either a very sneaky political ploy or a catastrophic mistake on his part. On the one hand it has the potential to shore up his flagging support with people from the BNP and UKIP but on the other hand I think he has possibly isolated himself from many of his own natural supporters on the Liberal wing of the Liberal Democrats.

Indeed a couple of high profile Liberal Democrats have publicly rebuked him for straying into such illiberal territory and my emailbox has this week come alive with pledges for support from people who say his statement is the last straw.

I don't believe Adrian Sanders is a racist. Whatever disagreements we have I cannot imagine Mr Sanders consciously intended his comments to mean what it seems they did mean to the dozens of people who rushed to applaud him on the Herald Express website, so if it wasn't conspiracy it must have been a cock-up.

I don't mind having a debate about controlling immigration, indeed we did have a debate about it at the last election; but there is a need to tread very carefully to ensure that the way this topic is discussed does not serve the purpose of extremists. Adrian has drawn the issue of immigration into the completely unrelated issue of the Mayors Vision for Torbay and I think that was a serious error of judgement

Either way it would be wise for him to apologise for the offence he has caused, especially to those Eastern Europeans who contribute a very great deal to the Torbay economy and whom might reasonably feel slighted by his statement.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

When is 2% really 4.5% ?

Ask the Treasury or the Government what the current rate of inflation is and they will answer that it is about 2%, and falling.

But retail prices - the cost of real goods in the shops - is up by 4.3% since this time last year; a statistic that is rising- it was 3.8% in October.

Factory gate prices, the measure of wholesale costs is up by 4.5% on a year ago; and also has been rising; from 4.2% in the Autumn.

Factory raw material prices have been shooting up by over 10%, and fuel and heating bills have risen by a similar amount. Council tax, rail fares and most insurances have gone up by 5% or more, and petrol is up by nearly 20% on this time last year.

And probably the biggest direct cost for most households - interest charges, have risen massively. The monthly amount paid by most people on their mortgage is up by at least 10% and their credit card rates by much more, after a series of base rite rises and the now infamous credit crunch which has raised the real cost of borrowing to ten year highs.

So how come the 'official' rate is 2%? Simple, the rate is based on comparing a hypothetical shopping basket with a similar basket a year ago; so only the prices of certain products and services are included.

But increasingly the index has been, er, how shall we say, manipulated somewhat. Housing costs are now left out, so the increasing price of homes and the rising cost of the money used to buy them is excluded; and the index is adjusted and weighted by statisticians to exclude the profile of pensioner households and those earning over about £50,000 annually.

In reality inflation is over 4% and everyone -including the foreign exchange markets - know it; which is why current year wage rises top 4% as well.

Remember the advice: if inflation looks like 4.5%, if it feels like 4.5% then it probably is 4.5%; and at 4.5% we are at the highest rates for eighteen years and one of the highest inflation economies in the West.

And the really bad news is that the last time inflation hit these levels, interest rates had to rise into double figures to shore up the pound before the rate slowed.

The only people who still think that the country is enjoying low inflation are resident in No's 10 and 11 Downing street.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Are these going to damage my chances of being elected?

There has been a great deal of debate in the local newspaper about the very real prospect of on street parking meters being introduced throughout the Borough.

I use the term 'debate' advisedly, in fact there have been endless howls of protest from angry council tax payers about the prospect of being charged to park up, especially on Paignton seafront.

The idea has been floated by my Conservative colleague the Mayor Nick Bye as one way of attempting to 'balance the books' over the NCP parking warden contract which is losing the council £500,000 every year.

As it happens I think it is hardly surprising that people are complaining that something that they currently take for granted as being free should in future cost them money, especially in a place as sensitive about attracting a constant stream of visitors as Torbay.

Since we are one of the only local authorities left in Devon that doesn't currently exploit this method of taxing motorists I always assumed it was only a matter of time before we joined in, and so it has turned out.

But the big question is, will the voters seek revenge at election time?

Most of my target seat PPC colleagues are now in areas that have become Tory controlled after our nationwide gains in 2007 and most of them see it as a double-edged sword. On the one hand there is proof of a Conservative revival, with a renewed activist base that goes with it; but on the other hand we are then potentially the victims if the (now Tory) councils have to make unpopular decisions; which of course, they do.

Well, you can't be in power and not make tough decisions. As it happens I am certain that most borough residents won't especially welcome the new charges but can and do accept the requirement for the council to generate enough revenue, especially from visitors, to provide a decent environment for all of us to enjoy. I don't think it will be harmful at the ballot box provided the council do carry on delivering the infrastructure improvements everybody agrees we need.

In any case, I am certain that the 'local pavement politics' angle much relied on by especially Liberal Democrat MP's in recent elections will fade as a factor the next General Election. For the first time since 1997 the prospect of voting for a new Government is at stake; and voters will have much bigger fish to fry, deciding on national issues like who they want as Prime Minister.