Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Big Dave looks a step nearer No 10.

Three different polls have come out in the last 24 hours all showing a very big lead for my mate Dave*.

The three polls came from different organisations, interestingly all using their own techniques (the days when they all just used to ask 1000 people 'who will you vote for' are long gone, now they use the internet, telephone canvassing and a lot of complicated correction formula's to represent a proper cross section of people).

Anyway, MORI said it was Con 42: Lab 26: Lib 19.
ICM then said it was 44, 27, 18
and new kid on the block, Canadian outfit Angus Reid Strategies said it was 40, 23, 20.

A regional analysis by MORI said that in just England the figures are Conservatives 47, Labour 24 and the Lib Dems 21.

At this point in the electoral cycle it is becoming hard to see how the Labour party can pull things back.

Even if they change leader (which they won't) and even if they had a superstar replacement in the wings (they don't) it is an almost unbridgeable gap to claw back enough support to win outright.

Why has Labour support dropped back? Only a week ago the papers were talking about the gap closing, a Labour fightback and the prospect of them winning enough support to deprive the Conservatives of a working majority - even of Labour still being the largest party in a hung parliament.

The reason is simple. The public famously hate the prospect of a hung parliament, as soon as it looks likely or is openly talked about Labours vote share plunges. This is very bad news for them and suggests that whatever they do the public mind is made up.

They want out of this Labour Government.

* Honesty Alert. Dave is not actually my mate. We have shared a beer, but only because he got stuck with me in Torbay for hours the last time he came here when his helicopter couldn't take off.

I am away from tomorrow for a week. If I get time to update the Blog I will - but it will be via my Iphone so expect even more errors than usual!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just wait a moment.

I have decided to publicly support the Scotts Meadow campaign to protect green space in Torbay from being built on as a result of Government dictat for 15,000 new homes. The campaign has ferociously re-ignited following publication of the draft strategy of the Torbay Local Development Framework for consulttation, which earmarks this green space and several others for potential future housebuilding.

Torbay has a massive amount of run-down and dilapidated property which could and should be redeveloped long before we consider building on what little amount of virgin space is left in the borough. Even then, I can see no basis for building over any of the Scotts Meadow land and fully support their campaign to protect this space.

If there is a change of Government next year the decision making ability for this will return to local politicians who will have to decide whether local people actually want 15,000 more homes, 30,000 more cars and maybe 60,000 new neighbours in the next few years. I would guess, given the strength of public opinion about this when I am out canvassing, that if the Conservatives win the next General Election this plan will be dropped pretty quickly.

Nobody doubts that some local families are urgently in need of improved accommodation (which is itself damning evidence of Labour failure) but simply forcing developers to concrete over the last few scraps of green space left in the Bay is not the answer. Even if you agree that the 6,000 people on the waiting list for subsidised social housing all need a new home (which I don't) 15,000 dwellings represents a near 30% increase in the size of Torbay housing stock, either we would have acres of empty 'old' homes or we are talking about a substantial influx of new residents. The figure was in fact hastily arrived at by civil servants reacting to Gordon Browns foolish 2007 promise to build 3,000,000 new homes across the country by 2020 and then passed down through the Regional Development Agency to councils.

Much work has been done by the council and the Mayor to identify existing 'brown field' industrial sites that could be redeveloped for social housing. The council have identified that about half the number of homes having to be planned for could be incorporated into existing urban developments over the period, but they cannot find any alternative sites for the other homes demanded by 2026 other than virgin green space.

Local residents know better than anyone what their community needs, and they know full well that the only person who thinks Torbay 'needs' 15,000 new homes is currently a resident 200 miles away in 10 Downing Street.

The option not on offer, not being discussed and not being planned for is anything less than 15,000 new homes. What kind of democracy is that?

The council must delay any further work on the development programme until both the economic and political situations become much clearer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

MP's should shut up and pay up.

Some senior MP's are publicly challenging conclusions reached by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg, who has been leading a review of all MP's expense claims dating back to 2004. I think the time has come for them to shut up and get their chequebooks out.

It was clear to anyone who knew anything about the expenses regime at Westminster that it was a very lax system, and that some MP's were exploiting it to the full. The MP's created this system themselves an 2001 and have failed to address the behaviour of some of their colleagues, indeed it begins to look as if the majority of MP's have claimed for more than they should have.

I think Adrian Sanders has done the right thing to put his hands up straight away and promise to repay the amount he has over claimed, I hope others will do the same. The public think the very least MP's can do to put this right is get their chequebooks out, although I expect we will wait in vain for an apology from any of them - Mr Sanders included.

Using taxpayers money to fund property speculation and to furnish a luxury lifestyle is totally unacceptable to the public - as is employing family and friends and using taxpayers money for political campaigning.

It is very hard when people think that candidates like me are on the taxpayer gravy train as well. People regularly assume that we are all paid from their taxes. In fact candidates don't get a penny from the Government - we are all volunteers, working for nothing - we fund everything we do ourselves mostly from donations. This is as it should be, I would resist any attempt for Government funding of political parties.

The widespread practice of MP's claiming hundreds a month for food when the canteens and restaurants in Westminster are already heavily subsidised is just the final insult. People I talk to on the doorsteps are dangerously angry about it; they feel completely let down by people they are supposed to be able to trust.

Before becoming the Torbay Parliamentary Candidate in 2002 I was chairman of Windsor Conservatives. I have been an ardent campaigner against the current system of MP's allowances ever since I learned that my then MP Micheal Trend was misusing the system. I led a successful campaign to force the MP to stand down and I have repeatedly and very publicly called for reform. It was clear to me that MP's have been treating the allowances system as an additional source of funding for their own lifestyles or for their political campaigning.

The current parliamentary system for expenses and housing allowances was arrived at following a major review of the system shortly after the Labour Party came back into power in 2001.

In addition to the Legg report into past claims by all MP's standards watchdog Sir Christopher Kelly is due to issue new recommendations for future expenses, pay and allowances before the end of the year. These recommendations will still be subject to vote by MP's although David Cameron has promised that Conservative MP's will adopt the report in it's entirety.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the whole sorry saga, and new safeguards are needed. But today's Parliamentarians are not the one's to do it, at every opportunity they have baulked and evaded proper reform. What we need is an election, which will lead to a new House of Commons dominated by untainted public representatives who must then ensure that this never happens again.

We hold public Enquiries into national disasters to establish the causes and avoid a repeat when buildings collapse or bridges fail, such as the Ronan Point flats collapse illustrated here; and we also hold them when organisations suffer catastrophic failure, such as the Victoria Climbie child abuse case. Part of the reason for holding a public enquiry is to restore public faith and confidence.

Personally I think the right way forward for our Parliamentary system is to hold a full public enquiry into the expenses regime created by MP's - not to hound people, or to apportion blame, but to understand how we ended up in this situation and make sure it never happens again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cleaning Lady
puts PM
in a
right mess

So Gordon "I have a moral compass" Brown has been required to repay £12,400 in expenses for cleaning costs he paid to his brother for a the services of a cleaning woman.

This money was claimed for the cleaning of his London flat, in spite of the fact that as Chancellor he was at all times living in free accommodation at No 11 Downing Street and since 2007 he has had two grace and favour homes to choose from, as well as his main constituency home in Scotland.

Mr Brown bought the third floor apartment in Great Smith Street, near Westminster Abbey, from the administrators of the Robert Maxwell-run TV polling firm AGB Research in December 1992 for the bargain price of £130,000 - a price well below what estate agents at the time thought the property was worth - in circumstances that have always aroused suspicion.

Gordon Browns then closest associate was Geoffrey Robinson MP, who had been a director of the parent company of AGB Research Ltd until 1990.

Many felt at the time that it could not be a coincidence that one of the failed Maxwell companies, chaired by Geoffrey Robinson MP, went bankrupt, and one of its properties, a flat in Westminster, was bought by Gordon Brown MP, also a close friend of Geoffrey Robinson MP, and who was later made Paymaster General in the Treasury.

Today the flat is thought to be worth £700,000.

Gordon Brown assured the media when the expenses row first became public that the arrangement whereby he paid his brother thousands of pounds to sort out the cleaning and maintenance of the flat was within the rules.

But the real embarrassment must surely be that an independent commissioner - appointed by Mr Brown himself - has decided that the arrangement made by our Prime Minister is not acceptable and should not have been going on.

If there was the slightest smidgeon of integrity or honesty left in public life this would be a resigning matter.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Nothing new
about an
environment crisis

I am just old enough to have been on this earth during the first of what have been three main post-war envirmonmental awareness surges.

The Suez crisis of 1956 shut the eponymous canal and created a significant oil shortage - leading to the return of petrol rationing. The public probably for the first time began to appreciate the unsustainable rate at which we were consuming the earths resources, at least in Europe. Consumers reacted by buying smaller, more economical cars - a market dominated by German car manufacturers like Isetta and BMW, and this ultimately led to the design of the British Motor Company Mini and other super economy cars like the Renault 4.

In 1973 the oil crisis led to another step-change in consumer behaviour when war in the Middle East caused a slump in supply and a quadrupling of the oil price by the Arabs.

This created a huge boost to demand for super economical cars and electric vehicles which, although failing to create an all electric future as some had thought, did cause car manufacturers to place fuel economy at the top of the design criteria for new models - where it remains to this day.

And now we have entered the third phase of consumer awareness - this time mostly brought on by the growing concern about the possibility of man-made global warming, allied to a huge increase in the real price of oil.

And as a direct result, consumer habits -including mine- are changing. Yesterday I joined a growing list of others when I part exchanged my comfortable, fast, quiet and very luxurious Mercedes for the worlds most economical and least environmentally harmful volume manufactured car, a Smart Diesel.

I know lots of other people are doing the same thing because the dealer made quite clear that demand for my old large car was close to zero, as was its resale value!

Powered by the worlds smallest and most efficient diesel engine the Smart Car is proof that the internal combustion engine has a role to play in future personal transport. 85mpg and less than 88kg/km means that my energy use and emissions will reduce by over 80% without the need for expensive and heavy batteries, without having to plunder the world for rare metals and without needing to create new power stations to charge up an electric car.

I was pleasantly surprised at how little comfort I was sacrificing actually, the car is beautifully made, well equipped, as quiet and comfortable as a far larger car and although expensive compared to other small cars, cheap when you take it's good resale value into account.

90% of my journeys are made alone, we still have Karens five door Daihatsu for the (increasingly rare) family trips we make and so I felt losing rear seats was a worthwhile trade for increased economy.

I didn't take up the scrappage scheme (my Mercedes will go to a new owner, presumably someone who does a low mileage!) and I did not need a state hand out to persuade me to do this, although the zero car tax is a welcome plus.

There is a waiting list for delivery so I have about a month before my new transport arrives, I will keep you posted as to have it works out in practice.

I am still not convinced about Global Warming, by the way. But I am and always have been convinced that wasting resources is irresponsible - we do have a duty to make what we have go as far as possible.

I should add my kids say it's because I am a skinflint.