Monday, February 25, 2008

Will the stay-at-home Tories come out for Dave?

Here is an interesting little graphic.

It shows the last six General Election results in Torbay but rather than show the percentages of the votes cast by the people who voted (as is normal) it shows the breakdown of the voting habits of everyone of voting age.

So we show the actual number of votes given for each of the three main parties plus the green line which shows the number of people who didn't vote for anyone.

Throughout the 1980's turnout went up (the green line goes down) and both Labour and the Lib Dems made gains at the Conservatives expense, peaking in 1992 when turnout reached a record high in Torbay, as it did throughout the rest of the UK.

"Lib Dem votes have
remained remarkably consistent"

But look at what has happened since then. While the Lib Dems had a blip upward in 2001 their votes have remained remarkably consistent at around the 20,000 mark since the early 1980's. Labour have bobbed around the 6-7000 mark - the change of seat in 1997 occurred because the Conservative vote plummeted from the 1980's average of around 28,000 to around 17,000 .

The number of people staying at home in 1997, 2001 and 2005 has gone up in almost the exact reverse proportion to Tory losses; an extra 10,000 residents sat on their hands in 2001 and 2005 compared to the average during the 1980s.

This effect, although not as marked, is noticeable in dozens of the Tory lost seats, now mostly the target seats that we need to win back in order to change the Government.

What does this mean? Well it depends who you talk to.

Liberal Democrat types will tell you that the demographics of the bay have changed, more people have moved in who are poor and underprivileged, and they tend to be the groups of voters less likely to vote - or vote Lib Dem or Labour. This, they argue, is their passport to remaining in office as it builds in their electoral margin.

Our polling and survey information tells a different story. It suggests that although the residential turnover of the Bay is as high as ever the demographic profile has remained remarkably stable. Those moving out or passing away are generally being replaced by new residents of almost exactly the same background and type; and lots of them also used to vote Conservative but stopped after 1992.

"there are as many as
11,000 people
in Torbay
who used to vote Conservative..."

Put simply we think there are as many as 11,000 people in Torbay who used to vote Conservative; who haven't vote for us since 1992, but crucially who didn't vote for anyone else. These people were relaxed about seeing a change of Govenment in 1992 and did not see either Hague or Howard as a better potential PM than Tony Blair - they therefore simply abstained in the intervening elections.

These are not the people who vote UKIP and almost none have migrated to the Lib Dems - they are middle class, mostly retired and mostly small 'C' conservative people whose main priority is for a competent, fair-minded Government, preferably a Conservative one.

A lot of these people were exasperated at the end of the Major years and while generally happy with Blair's Government they have become frustrated and alarmed at the decaying competence of the Brown premiership.

I believe the majority of these voters were just about convinced that Camerons Conservatives might offer a decent alternative when the latest bout of expenses scandals hit the press and somewhat knocked their confidence; and that is why our poll lead has eased a tad; but generally we believe that they they are overwhelmingly back on side, to stay.

Hopefully, more good news from our local political scene and another two years of competent and thoughtful opposition will continue to bond these voters, but perhaps the best incentive for them to actually vote for me on polling day will come not from David Cameron, or the Conservatives, or even from me; but in the shape of the Scottish Gentleman living in No 10 Downing Street.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Politics as it should be.
One sad loss in todays cut-and-thrust world of party politics is the art of good natured political debate.

Sadly too much of todays politics is about winning at all costs, about getting power for it's own sake - it has all too often become professionalised and remote, conducted behind closed doors by paid advocates working to a pre-agreed party line.

Last night saw the return of what had been becoming a regular social event in the life of our association -the political supper. It's a simple format, a two course £10 dinner followed by coffee and an open forum to argue the toss amongst ourselves about the issues of the day, local and national. We had got into a pattern of having them every month but the potential election last autumn saw evenings in September and October cancelled and somehow we missed dates in December and January as well; so I am relieved that last night was well attended and we have already organised one for March, I believe with Mayor Nick Bye guest attending.

Last night amongst the subjects we discussed were Rowan Williams' comments, the Mayors vision, MP's allowances, youth crime, the question of choice in schooling, and the rise and rise of the workless household and the merits or otherwise of siting the Factory Row homeless shelter in the town centre.

There is no agenda, no minutes, no notes, no conclusion and no voting; it's just an opportunity for anyone there to air there views and challenge the views of others. We had all kinds of people, from a new graduate recently moved here to an octogenarian born in Paignton.

It was respectful, insightful (there are some long memories in that room!), worthwhile and enjoyable and I am grateful for everyone who attended.

Next month, why not come along?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Former Glory Beckons

I took the kids down to watch the major works going on along the Rock Walk on Saturday, joining several hundred others enjoying the Winter sunshine.

The sheer scale of the works involved is breathtaking and it is immediately obvious when you get there why it was necessary to shut the road for six weeks and why this project is costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. There is no doubt that the finished gardens will be completely stunning after settling down, and once again visitors and residents will be ably to fully enjoy the gardens as they were originally intended.

But as I was watching what is in effect a jumbo pruning exercise going on I couldn't help but ask myself 'how on earth did we allow it to come to this?'.

It seems to me that for a very long time our authorities have simply not been doing regular maintenance on Rock Walk with the result that more than twenty years worth of maintenance is now having to be done in one go. I am a quite a keen gardener, and I learned a long time ago that the best way of maintaining any kind of garden (or building come to that), is to do a little but do it often.

This derogation of regular maintenance over a long period has caused similar problems to other natural and man-made infrastructure, Abbey Sands seafront, the Banjo, in Palace Gardens, Oldway Mansion, the Cliff Railway, Paignton Harbour and Haldon pier; all of which are going to cost far more in repairs than would have been the case if the council had been told to do regular maintenance annually.

Somebody, somewhere, must have decided not to maintain these facilities properly and spend the money on something else. Who made that decision? What happened to the money that we have paid in rates and taxes all these years that clearly hasn't been spent on these important tasks?

Will anyone be held accountable? - sadly, probably not. The Councillors involved have mostly been voted out of office and many of the officers will no doubt claim they were just following orders.

There must at least be a lesson here for the future, Torbay residents must make sure that never again are our natural assets allowed to become so dangerously decrepit.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

This made me laugh!

Travelling a lot as I have this last couple of weeks you see every witty slogan imaginable on the back of a white van. Previous firm favourites of mine have included " If only my wife was this dirty"; "Also available in white"; "White, with a hint of M42" and "And your mother said I was dirty..."

I am fond of pointing out to my more scientific political friends that second guessing public opinion is an art, not a science. Irritatingly for those of my colleagues who are poll junkies I have often proved that tiny anecdotes of public opinion can be accurate as detailed polling as to what is going on.

So I am always interested in the small things - the minor aside overheard in the pub or rant from a taxi driver that many others dismiss, and that is why I thought this piece of graffiti was interesting, as well as funny.

It is a long time indeed since any mainstream political issue has been the butt of jokes like this - in fact I haven't seen this kind of thing on the streets at all since Labour took office eleven years ago.

Ok you say, get a life, it's one sardonic joke on one van spotted in London, so what?

Well when your attempts at improving public services after ten years result in this kind of thing appearing you know you have a serious image problem.

Whatever you think of the decisions he made, on Iraq, over peerages, however much he might have lied to us and deceived us, nobody ever treated Tony Blair as a joke. With Gordon Brown its becoming the reverse- it's becoming impossible to take him and his Government seriously. From Northern Rock through donations, bugging, lost CD's, its been one long bad episode of Fawlty Towers ever since he entered No 10.

As any politician will tell you there is one sound that is deadlier than any other for a prime minister; and that is the sound of the public laughing at him.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Nice work if you can get it.

The rumpus over MP's allowances and especially concerning MP's turning their offices into a family affair has erupted this week after Derek Conway was ousted for having employed his son as a 'researcher' when in fact nobody could find what research he had done.

This newly resurgent interest in the behind the scenes goings-on of MP's offices caused another uncomfortable moment for our very own Adrian Sanders who employs the services of wife Alison and the Lib Dem group leader Cllr Steve Darling doing undisclosed work for an undisclosed amount.

The response to probing enquiries by the local newspaper was initially to agree for the need for transparency but, er, not just now thank-you very much. So apart from what is already in the public domain by law Mr Sanders refuses to say how much he pays his wife or what she does for the money.

His sole defence is that this information is confidential, but I and others say that as he is our MP and his salary, along with nearly all other civil servants salaries are in the public domain, so should the renumeration paid to his wife by you and I. He is quick to comment on the salary paid to the Mayor, and the borough's chief executive, and by hotels to their staff and he can do so because these salaries are published.

For all I know Mrs Sanders could well be paid a pittance for working all the hours under the sun, but he won't say and we cannot make him 'fess up; so I guess us taxpayers who fund this will never actually know. I suppose his refusal to come clean about this tells us all we need to know really because if she was earning peanuts I think he would be falling over himself to say so.

It really would be the ultimate Hypocrisy if, having banged on about Nick Bye not coming up with enough 'well paid' local jobs it transpired that the MP himself had had two or three well paid local jobs that he simply handed out to his mates.

The answer to all this is quite clear, civil servants public company managers and all the other legislators in the western world are banned from nepotism and employing spouses or family is not allowed unless in the most exceptional circumstances and with the closest scrutiny. This is not just to avoid the potential questions of fraud, but it is also because these relationships are usually unfair on other workers; it is just obvious that a spouse is not going to behave or be treated in the same manner as a regular employee by his or her boss and this gives rise to unfairness and resentment.

MP's must decide that their taxpayer funded paid, non-political assistants must be hired on merit and merit alone after a free and open (advertised) recruitment procedure available to all to apply; and family members must be excluded.