Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday spot: Comeback of the month

As August comes to an end the following exchange on "Political Betting" made me laugh: it began with a poster defending "Roger" who is one of the few remaining defenders of the Labour government (though no longer Gordon Brown) on the site. After Roger had got the Turkish Riviera mixed up with the Caribbean while attacking David Cameron's holiday arrangements, C. Gifford posted this as post 194:

But you do have to admit that the disaster that is this Labour Government is getting incredibly boring. It just goes on and on and gets worse and worse.

So all credit to Roger for breaking the monotony with his demonstration just how incredible Cameron is as well.


by C. Gifford August 31st, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Prompting this reply as post 199


194.

“this Labour Government is getting incredibly boring.”

Perhaps there is some milage in the idea that a ‘Labour’ government acting for a decade like Tories, implementing Tory policiies, is completely bamboozling for parliament, the Press and the people. Maybe we should actually have ‘proper’ Tories running the same Tory agenda for a while so that when we are dug deeper into the same hole for a few more years the true identity of the malevolent forces dragging us under would at least be plain?


by wage slave August 31st, 2008 at 1:00 pm

And finally

199 - The identities of malevolent forces dragging us under, aren’t exactly a secret. I believe their leader resides in No 10, Downing Street.

by Ed P August 31st, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Oborne on the Economy

Peter Oborne has written a very powerful article in today's Daily Mail, which coincides with the admission by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, that Britain is facing possibly the worse economic slowdown for 60 years.

His article,

Recession and the disturbing lesson of history from a Prime Minister in denial

is a powerful summary of the collapse of Gordon Brown's claims to have ensured "no more boom and bust" and his current inability to recognise that failure and properly address the problems of how to dealing with the economic situation.

Because the one solitary thing at which Brown remains brilliantly successful is destroying his internal enemies and potential rivals within the Labour party, I still have doubts about whether they will be able to find a way to remove him. There is no doubt whatsoever that if Brown had been a Conservative Prime Minister the party would have removed him by now - voluntarily if possible, by voting him out as they removed IDS if necessary. The Labour party is more tolerant than the Conservatives of failing leaders.

But can it really be in Britain's interest for the government to stagger on like this until 2010 ?

Peter Oborne's main point is that Gordon Brown was one of the few Chancellors who

genuinely believed that they had reinvented the art of economic management.

In particular, Brown was utterly certain that he had produced a miraculous formula which had brought to an end the economic cycle.

He must have declared hundreds if not thousands of times that, thanks to his policies, there would be 'no more boom and bust'.



Of course we now know that he had ensured nothing of the sort. Oborne rightly poitns out that we are discovering to our cost that the economic cycle remains as potent, unpredictable and potentially as destructive as ever.

Oborne argues that what makes matters worse is Gordon Brown's inability to come to terms not just with the fact that his legacy as Chancellor is a mess but also - just as hurtful - that he got the British economy completely wrong and

"finds himself in the dire position of a man who every day sees his life's work being destroyed before his eyes."

Rather than admit this, the Prime Minister has gone into a state of denial. For months he has been insisting that the British economy is in a fairly decent state and, what is more, in a far better position than other major economies to confront the international economic downturn.

You can read the full article
here.

Chancellor admits economy at 60 year low

In an amazing interview in The Guardian, Chancellor Alistair Darling has admitted that the British economy is facing "arguably the worst" economic downturn in 60 years.

The following are some extracts from the Guardian article about the interview

"Britain is facing "arguably the worst" economic downturn in 60 years which will be "more profound and long-lasting" than people had expected, Alistair Darling, the chancellor, has told the Guardian today.

In the government's gravest assessment of the economy, which follows a warning from a Bank of England policymaker that 2 million people could be unemployed by Christmas, Darling admits he had no idea how serious the credit crunch would become.

"The chancellor ... admits that Brown and the cabinet are partly to blame for Labour's woes because they have "patently" failed to explain the party's central mission to the country, leaving voters "pissed off".

In a candid interview Darling warns that the economic times faced by Britain and the rest of the world "are arguably the worst they've been in 60 years".

To deepen the sense of gloom, he adds: "And I think it's going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought."


You can read the full article
here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Leave the Lockerbie familes alone

The son and suggested putative successor to Colonal Gaddafi has apparently suggested that his country only accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in order to obtain an end for sanctions.

To what extent the person convicted of the bombing was acting on behalf of his government, and at what level the attack was ordered, may never be known, but there is no doubt that somebody was responsible for blasting a 747 out of the sky, that this was the worst terrorist atrocity in Britain in modern history, and that over a hundred innocent people on the plane and in the village below lost their lives.

Whatever comments Gaddafi Junior wants to make in terms of the arguments between nations, those whose family members were murdered by the bomb which exploded over Lockerbie have suffered enough and should be left out of it. His attack on the relatives of those killed, some of whom he said were "greedy" was offensive and despicable.

Some of the relatives concerned have given their compensation money to charities supported by the victims themselves. And I'm quite certain that if the familes could be given the choice between receiving compensation money or having their family members back they'd choose the latter.

If Colonel Gaddafi wants to retain the better relations with Britain which he has been working towards, he would be well advised to disown his son's comments about the families and tell him to apologise.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

100,000 operations cancelled

New information uncovered under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that over 100,000 NHS operations were cancelled last year for non-clinical reasons.

More than 10,000 operations were cancelled because of bed shortages, nearly 4,000 because of equipment failure and over 11,000 because of staffing shortages.

The Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said it was "unacceptable" that these figures were so high. He explained that this is due to the Labour government's over-complex targets regime, and not down to overworked NHS staff:

"NHS staff are doing the best they can, but how can they plan patients' care properly when they are continually hampered by Labour's top-down targets?"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Benefit change may hurt 100,000 pensioners

Any pensioner who is applying for pension credit, housing benefit, or council tax benefit would be well advised to get their application in before 6th October, whan a change comes into effect which may affect up to 100,000 of Britain's poorest pensioners and could cost them hundreds of pounds each in a benefits' shake-up.

The government says that it is changing the rules to simplify the claiming of benefits for the most vulnerable in society and giving them extra support.

But one of the changes is that from October 6th, those applying for pension credit, housing benefit or council tax benefit will only be able to have their claims backdated for three months instead of the 12 months that is currently the case.

It is estimated that around 100,000 pensioners could be affected by the change, with some potentially losing out as much as £2000.

The change will not affect existing customers and new customers can still claim 12 months' backdating if they apply before October 6.

Pension credit was introduced in 2003 and is meant to ensure that pensioners should not be living below the breadline, guaranteeing an income of £124 a week for single people and £189 for couples.

Almost half of all pensioners are entitled to claim some form of benefit yet last year more than £2.5bn of available credit went unclaimed.

Last night, the Department for Work and Pensions stressed that 70% of people who claimed backdated benefits did so for three months or less. Yet official figures show that around 110,000 pensioners claim arrears for more than three months while 70,000 make backdated claims for the whole year. The average backdated claim in 2006/07 was £700, but some could claim as much as £2000.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Final thoughts on the Olympic Games

One last word on the most successful Olympics for Britain in a century.

After a good day for Britain my young son said "Daddy, wasn't it lucky that we won those four gold medals"

As I told him, luck had very little to do with it. Those who won medals did so from years of hard work on the part of the athletes and their trainers, and a determination to win.

Lessons there for the next games in London, and indeed generally. As Jack Niclaus once told a friend who described a successful put as "lucky"

"And you know what? The harder I practice, the luckier I get."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tories unveil plans to cut household energy bills by £100

George Osborne and Alan Duncan have announced plans to reform the Post Office Card Account (POCA) and potentially reduce the energy bills of up to four million people by £100.

Under our proposals, families without bank accounts will be able to use their POCA to pay utility bills using the equivalent of a direct debit. This will enable them to benefit from the lower energy and water tariffs offered to customers paying by direct debit.

This measure, which has support from leading utility companies, will generate significant savings for energy companies through lower collection costs, which can be passed onto consumers in the form of lower bills.

George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, stressed reforming the POCA would tackle the unfair situation whereby the poorest households end up paying more for their energy and water bills.

And Alan Duncan, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, described the measure as "a significant weapon for attacking the growing pain of fuel poverty."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Equitable Life

I have had a number of letters from people in Copeland who lost money with the failure of Equitable life.

I am of course replying individually, but in the meantime anyone with an interest in the subject might like to note the following official statement in response to the publication of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s Report into the regulation of Equitable Life by Shadow Chancellor George Osborne:

“We Conservatives forced the government to allow the Parliamentary Ombudsman to investigate the regulation of Equitable Life and we welcome her report.

“The Ombudsman rightly highlights regulatory failings, including those between 1998 and 2001, when Gordon Brown and the Treasury had responsibility for this area. He cannot escape the blame for what happened on his watch.

“We’re glad that the report accepts the principle that there should be payments to those who lost out. The job now is to assess how much those payments should be and to whom they should be paid.

“We have to be straight with policyholders. As the Ombudsman makes clear, policyholders cannot expect to receive payments for the full losses suffered and any payment scheme must be consistent with sound public finances.

“It is up to the government now to admit its responsibility, issue the apology that the Ombudsman demands and create the payment scheme. If it doesn’t, we will.”

How to start every day with a positive outlook

I am grateful to Iain Dale a few days ago for "A Little Silliness to Brighten Your Morning"

http://www.iaindale.blogspot.com/



HOW TO START EACH DAY WITH A POSITIVE OUTLOOK


1. Open a new file in your computer.
2. Name it ‘Gordon Brown’.
3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.
4. Empty the Recycle Bin.
5. Your PC will ask if you really want to permanently delete ‘Gordon Brown’
6. Firmly Click ‘Yes’.
7. Feel better.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ipsos-MORI shows Tories leading Labour by 2 to 1:

A new opinion poll shows the Conservatives on double the voting intention share of the Labour party, with a 24% lead.

The results for August with comparisons on a month ago are: CON 48% (+1): LAB 24% (-3): LD 17% (+2).

According to the BBC this lead is believed to be the biggest lead recorded for any party by the polling group concerned, Ipsos-MORI, since their records begin in 1977.

It is also the second biggest Conservative lead recorded by any reputable pollster in that 30 year period. The only higher result in that time was a 26% Conservative lead in a YouGov poll shortly after this year's May elections.

The new survey is from Ipsos-MORI - the pollster which set up a major review of its methodology following the London Mayoral result. This took a couple of months and now involves only doing voting intention polls by phone, continuing to report headline figures taking only those certain to vote, and applying special measures to counteract the effect of public sector workers being over-sampled.

There are still nearly two years to the next election, and a lot can happen in that time. Even opinion polls as good as these do not guarantee a Conservative overall majority: we cannot afford any complacency, and we have to continue to work to stay in touch with the public and build the right policies for Britain in the 21st century.

However, if the result at the next election is anything remotely like the current polls, a Conservative majority in parliament is quite possible, and it could easily include seats like Copeland.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Government bins local democracy on rubbish

Unelected bin quangos signal more bin cuts, bin fines and bin taxes

If you think that council handling of refuse collection is sometimes bad now, as with the Corkhill prosecution by Copeland council, wait until you see how bad it gets when the Labour government abolishes the right of voters to change the refuse collection policy by voting in a new council


The small print of Government documents slipped out on Friday afternoon reveals that Labour Ministers are to move ahead with plans to end councils’ control over rubbish collections. New unelected regional quangos, called Joint Waste Authorities, are to be handed powers over household rubbish collections, the issuing of bin fines and levying unfair new bin taxes.



· New regional bin quangos: Under Government proposals, new unelected Joint Waste Authorities which will take control of rubbish collections from elected local councils. The regional quangos will have powers to impose new bin taxes, bin fines and fortnightly collections. The quangos will be staffed a new tier of regional officers, spin doctors and bin inspectors, all at taxpayers’ expense.

· Local democracy binned: In its consultation on the statutory guidance on the Joint Waste Authorities in March, the Government proposed that the bin quangos would only be able to impose bin taxes or fortnightly collections by a unanimous vote. Yet in the Government response slipped out on Friday afternoon during the summer recess, the Government have backtracked and dropped this requirement. This will mean that the bin quangos can impose such taxes or bin taxes on a locality, irrespective of the views of the elected local council.

· Direct taxation without direct representation: Ministers have admitted that the new bin charges are officially a tax. For the first time, a dangerous constitutional precedent will be set of an unelected body having the operational powers to impose and vary taxes. It is understood that such changes are being imposed by Ministers due to the lack of enthusiasm by local authorities to levy the unfair new bin taxes. So far no council has bid to participate in the bin tax pilots.

· Electorate can’t kick the rascals out: Ministers have confirmed in answers to new Parliamentary Questions that councils will not be able to leave a Joint Waste Authority – not even if the council changes control and the public votes for a change in rubbish collections at a local election. This removes the ability for the electorate to use the ballot box to change the policy of a council.



As the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, Eric Pickles, said:

“There is a growing public backlash against Gordon Brown’s regime of bin cuts, over-zealous bin fines and expensive new bin taxes. Yet Labour’s answer is to bin local democracy and prevent the public from having any say. I fear this will fuel public disillusionment with politics.

“This sets a dangerous constitutional precedent by having unelected, unaccountable regional quangos impose direct taxation without direct representation. Household bills will rise to bankroll a new tier of bin inspectors, regional bureaucrats and bin spin, but the public will have no say.

“Under Labour, we are witnessing the slow death of local democracy. True to form, Gordon Brown wants to force through more unfair cuts to local services and yet more stealth taxes on family homes, on top of soaring levels of council tax."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Government faces two ways at once on Georgia

Nick Brown, the government's Deputy Chief Whip wrote an article attacking David Cameron in the Guardian just after Cameron's visit to Georgia.

There was a rather serious problem with the article - well, two actually. Apart from it being puerile rubbish, one of Brown's attacks on David Cameron also applies to comments made by the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband!

To be precise, Brown said that he does not support NATO membership for Georgia and does not know anyone who does - which is rather surprising as David Milliband, apparently speaking for the government, appeared to support NATO membership for Georgia yesterday.

There are two possible explanations for this. Either Nick Brown, who as Deputy Chief Whip is actually responsible for making other MPs support government policy, is so incompetent that he doesn't know what it is himself, or else, as some cynics have suggested, Nick Brown who is close to Gordon Brown, was not just attacking David Cameron but actually intended to undermine David Milliband as a potential challenger to Gordon.

Neither of these explanations make the government look good, and William Hague as shadow foreign secretary has written to the Prime Minister asking whether it is Milliband or (Nick) Brown who speaks for the government.

The full letter from Hague to the PM reads as follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

I am sure you will agree that in responding to the crisis in Georgia it is imperative that Britain should speak with a united and clear voice.

It is therefore extraordinary that Nick Brown, your Deputy Chief Whip, has written for the Guardian today that he does not favour NATO membership for Georgia, and he “doesn’t know anyone who does”.

This flatly contradicts the view of the British Government, which has been clearly expressed by the Foreign Secretary, most recently at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels yesterday, when he said:

“I think in respect of Georgia it's very significant that in May NATO committed not just to Georgia but also to the Ukraine that they would join other formerly, so-called, captive states of the former Warsaw Pact in NATO. And what we're going to agree today is a special mechanism that will bind NATO and Georgia together, a NATO and Georgia commission that will take forward that commitment to Georgian membership”.

This position has been fully supported by the Conservative Party, as David Cameron made clear during his visit to Tbilisi, and in the Sunday Times where he wrote: “We must make clear that Georgia’s aspiration to be a member of NATO remains alive and well. The Alliance should offer Georgia a clear pathway to membership”. During his visit to Tbilisi on Saturday, David Cameron made clear that he strongly supported the position set out by you and David Miliband.

It is essential, not least on the day that he is in Tbilisi where he has underlined Britain’s commitment to Georgia’s membership of NATO, that the Foreign Secretary is clearly speaking on behalf of the British Government.

This is a time for rapid and decisive leadership. This damaging confusion in the midst of an international crisis – with one Minister saying one thing, and another saying completely the opposite – must be immediately cleared up.

Will you therefore make clear straight away that your Deputy Chief Whip was not speaking on behalf of the British Government and that you, like the Opposition, firmly support Georgia’s pathway to NATO membership?

And will you also take action to ensure that there is proper discipline within the Government on important foreign policy issues and that Foreign Office Ministers can speak on foreign policy without being contradicted by other senior members of the Government?

Yours ever

The Rt Hon William Hague MP
Shadow Foreign Secretary

More thoughts on the Olympic Games

I was rather amused by the line in one of the papers

"Where can I find an Australian? I have an urgent need to talk about sport!"

Actually I do know where to find a pub in West Cumbria where there is an Aussie who serves behind the bar, but he won't do, because the day after England had lost a Test cricket Match to Australia he made some very sportsmanlike comment to me such as that both teams had played incredibly well and it was a shame one of them had to lose.

National stereotypes are never always right. (Though the saying applies, all generalisations are dangerous including this one.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thoughts on the Olympic Games

Like everyone else I have been immensely impressed by the excellent results obtained by British athletes at the Olympic Games.

The credit for this belongs first to the athletes who have worked so hard for it and second for the trainers and coaches who have helped them develop the mental attitude, skills and endurance which won the medals.

A huge part of this is a will to win which would benefit us in many other fields of life and not just sport. One group of British competitors were visibly gutted only to end up with only a Silver medal, and I think this demonstrates that much of the success was due to a mental attitude in which being a good loser is not seen as enough.

I was very annoyed to learn that Labour cabinet minister, Andy Burnham has been claiming on SkyNews that some of the credit is down to the Labour government.

Now I don't think that any politician should be trying to claim the credit for the hard won-successes of our athletes. And certainly not anyone associated with the present abysmal shambles of a government. So more money has been spent on sport. Yes, and where did it come from? No, not Gordon Brown, either as Chancellor or PM. The money came from the British Public via the National Lottery. Who was the Prime Minister who set up that lottery? It was John Major.

However, I suspect that John Major, being far more astute than Burnham, will not be stupid enough to try to claim credit for the toil and sweat put in by British medal winners.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tempting fate ...

A couple of weeks ago, commenting on the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, I wrote this about the current state of Russia ...

Putin's Russia is very far from being a shining example of democracy, but it is an infinitely preferable place to live compared with Stalin's Russia. And similarly, which Putin's Russia is not the most comfortable neighbour, or an ideal one to depend on for raw materials, it is a much easier country to share a planet with than the Soviet Union was.

Oh dear. I still broadly stand by those statements. However, the actions of Russia over the last few days have certainly emphasised the concerns and reduced the force with which one can hold to the view that Russia is an easier country to share a planet with.

Stalin was from Georgia himself, and his "divide and rule" policies of mixing up people from different ethnic groups, also followed by his successors as Soviet leaders, are the main cause of the problems in Ossetia. Which is not the fault of either the Georgian people who live in South Ossetia today, or that of their neighbours of Russian extraction.

Under Stalin or Brezhnev, the Soviet Union's response to a border problem in an area outside the reach of the West of another powerful neighbour such as China probably would not have been limited to bombing large parts of a smaller neighbour who they had a dispute with, grabbing two provinces for a while, and then applying a scorched earth policy while pulling out. They'd probably have made an all-out attack and re-annexed the whole country. In the short term that would have terrified everyone else, but in the long term it would just have exacerbated the internal tensions which eventually pulled the Soviet Union apart. And the fact that the Soviet Union would probably have behaved even worse does not justify Russia's actions.

Neither does the fact that the West has also made mistakes, as over Iraq - two wrongs don't make a right.

Georgia's government is not blameless in this matter but there is no doubt that insofar as Russia had just cause for concern, their conduct has been a massive over-reaction. To make an obvious comparison, Georgia's government had not used WMD on its own people or its neighbours, murdered many hundreds of thousands of people, launched any unprovoked invasions of neighbouring countries, or ignored UN security council resolutions.

If Russia does not start making genuine attempts to work for a just peace with Georgia they should be expelled from the G8.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Another day, another 20% lead ....

Yet another opinion poll, this time by YouGov in today's Sunday times, shows David Cameron’s Tories with a 20-point lead over Labour.

Conservative support is shown at 45%, marginally down from the peak of 47% earlier in the summer, while Labour’s support is at 25%, where it has been stuck every month since May. The Liberal Democrats are up from 16% to 18%.

The most striking thing about this is the way it produces so little response, suggesting that 20% leads for the Conservatives over Labour are now regarded as normal. What a change from the first ten years of the present government's term. Journalists looking for something encouraging to say form Labour's perspective now have to come up with something as desperate as this line from the Sunday Times article

"Labour’s ratings and those of the prime minister himself are getting no better, but at least they have stopped getting worse."

If that's the best gloss they can put on a 20% poll deficit ...

David Cameron’s ratings are also still well ahead of Brown’s. A net 32% of voters think he is doing a good job as opposition leader, while a net 55% say Brown is doing badly as prime minister.

The next election may still be nearly two years away and a lot can happen in that time. Only a fool, which David Cameron is not, would regard the election as being in the bag. But the Conservatives have everything to play for while Labour are getting increasingly desperate - and it shows.

Copeland Council finances: committee feedback

I asked a question on Friday at the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee of Copeland Council (usually referred to as OSC Management) about the issues which surfaced last week in respect of the budget and were reported in the Whitehaven News.

Specifically, how did two large and regular items of expenditure get missed out of the budget, and who is checking that it can't happen again.

The council's chief executive said that two different departments had been emailed a draft budget for their areas and both had missed the fact that a large and regular item in their area was missing. As he said, the fact that this was not picked up should have been an early indicator to us that the council has a problem with accounts and budgets.

There seems to be a culture in Copeland, which I have sometimes encountered in other parts of the public sector and even the private sector, that everyone relies on someone else to check things. This is not good enough and needs to be challenged.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Return of History

Robert Kagan has an interesting post called "History's Back" on the Weekly Standard Review website.

Shortly after the Berlin wall came down, we witnessed in quick succession the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the consequent and end of a large number of communist dictatorships while at the same time a number of authoritarian dictatorships and racist oligarchies were also goving way to emerging democracies.

Francis Fukuyama famously suggested that democracy had won and the kind of history which tells of revolutions and wars was coming to and end: as he put it, "At the end of history, there are no serious ideological competitors left to liberal democracy."

For a brief period there appeared to be good grounds for this optimistic view: sadly it is clear that democracy is a long way from being sufficiently established in countries like Russia to make it reasonable to hope that wars and great power conflict are a think of the past - and that's even without the potential problems caused by religious conflict.

Kagan asks whether the Russian invasion of Georgia - and although the Georgians are not by any means perfect that is clearly what happened - will "finally end the dreamy complacency that took hold of the world's democracies after the close of the Cold War."

It's an interesting article which you can read at
http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/426usidf.asp?pg=2

I don't share all Kagan's neocon views, but there is little reasonable doubt that he is right in at least two of the things he says, e.g.

1) history is back, and

2) "The future is not determined. It is up for grabs." ...

"Of course there is strength in the liberal democratic idea and in the free market. But progress toward these ideals has never been inevitable. It is contingent on events and the actions of nations and peoples: battles won or lost, social movements successful or crushed, economic practices implemented or discarded."

The Sun Asks, "Where's Gord?"

The Sun has this lead article today about David Cameron's visit to Georgia.


When David Cameron arrives in Georgia today he will be the first major British politician to visit the small, democratic country being systematically trashed by the mighty Russian bear.

Some will accuse him of being an opportunist. After all, what can he do to help solve the conflict? How many battalions does he command?


But at least the Tory leader is taking a strong stand against increasing Russian belligerence.


And this was made all the more urgent by last night’s chilling warning from a senior Russian general that Poland — a member of Nato — has become a nuclear target since daring to allow America to build an anti-missile system on its land.


This escalation in tension only makes the question more urgent: Where on earth are Gordon Brown and his Foreign Secretary David Miliband?


It was only AFTER the Tory leader had been on the airwaves on Monday that Mr Brown issued a brief statement.


And again on Tuesday the Prime Minister recorded a brief TV clip AFTER David Cameron had already spoken out at a televised press conference. That was almost FIVE DAYS after the conflict had begun.


The Government has been made to look weak. Not because of anything David Cameron has done, but because of what Downing Street HASN’T done.


Deal

It is reasonable to ask where our Prime Minister is . . .


As French President Nicolas Sarkozy flits between Moscow and the Georgian capital Tbilisi, hammering out a peace deal.


As German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the two warring countries.


As American Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice races between European capitals and the region trying to rein in the out-of-control Russians.


As President Bush orders humanitarian supplies into beleaguered Georgia and makes daily statements from the White House Rose Garden.


We cannot imagine Tony Blair taking such a low key role if the old Cold War had threatened to rise from the grave during his watch.


He would have been the FIRST to rally our allies, the FIRST to order in aid, the FIRST to speak out against Russian aggression.


Gordon Brown has a reputation for dithering. He has added to it this week. And by doing so he has made David Cameron look like a credible leader.


It is time Mr Brown shook his reputed “clunking fist” in Russia’s face as it threatens the world’s peaceful and prosperous future.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Labour have frozen the housing market

David Cameron has attacked Labour for their "completely reckless" decision to brief the press about a possible Stamp Duty holiday.

He stressed that by allowing speculation to build about a Stamp Duty suspension, the Labour government have effectively "frozen" the housing market, as some potential buyers and sellers are waiting to see whether this will happen and time their sale or purchase to take advantage of it if it does.

"When it comes to the crisis in our housing market they seem intent on making things worse rather than better," he said.

David accused Labour of being more interested in "press handling and headlines" than the best interests of the country, and urged the Government to adopt Conservative plans to abolish Stamp Duty for 9 out of 10 first-time buyers.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lib/Dems wrote anti-North of England report

There has been much justified condemnation of the daft "Policy Exchange" report "Cities Unlimited" which appeared to suggest that regenerating the north of England is a waste of time and that Northerners should move to the south instead.

It was wrongly suggested by Labour politicians and their friends in the media that the authors of this report were close to David Cameron. In fact he rejected it in the most emphatic terms on Wednesday as reported here in an earlier post.

Indeed, of any of the three main party leaders have to distance themselves from the report it is Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, who is currently on holiday in Spain.

For it turns out that both of the report's co-authors are or have close links with the Liberal Democrats.

Oliver Marc Hartwich - Policy Exchange's chief economist - lists on his official biography that he used to work for Lib Dem peer, Lord Oakeshott.

And his co-author, Tim Leunig, remains an adviser to the Liberal Democrats, a regular contributor to the Lib Dem Voice blog and even appears campaigning on the website of Ed Davey, his local Lib Dem MP.

This was pointed out by the Daily Telegraph, who also report a "red-faced Lib Dem spokesman" as saying that the views in the report "do not reflect those of the Liberal Democrats."

More problems with Copeland's finances

After the problems with Copeland Council's accounting system resulting in delays to publication of accounts for both 2006/7 and 2008/9, and considerable extrenal costs to straighten the books out, it has now been reported to the Executive that two large bills amounting to £192,000 have somehow been “missed" from of Copeland Council’s budget.


Alhough the council had previously agreed to a 2008/09 contribution of £130,000 to North Country Leisure, the organisation which now runs its leisure facilities under a trust arrangement, there had been no provision made for this amount in the council’s plans for capital expenditure.

Similarly, a sum of £62,000, due to West Cumbria Development Fund, as the council’s regular annual contribution to this body which gives donations to the local community, had not been budgeted for.

The money has been paid out to the two organisations and figures have had to be juggled in the wake of this realisation.


The council's chief executive of the council, Liam Murphy, was reported in the Whitehaven News as having said at this week's Executive meeting, “These are not small amounts. It is like saying we didn’t give some of our houses to Copeland Homes or something. It is basic stuff."

To cover the sums, the Executive meeting agreed to apply an £130,000 underspend on another scheme to the NCL bill and to take the WCDF’s £62,000 from capital receipts.

Labour council leader Elaine Woodburn was quoted as saying "It doesn’t help."

That's putting it very mildly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cameron in Cumbria

David Cameron was in Cumbria today as part of a tour of marginal seats in the North West. He was in the Carlisle area this morning, Kendal this afternoon and then in Barrow he had first a brief meeting with Conservative PPCs and councillors and then a public meeting during which residents of Barrow were able to ask him questions on any subject whatsoever.

In his answer to the first question at the public meeting in Barrow DC dismissed the ludicrous Policy Exchange report (see previous post.)

I raised with David Cameron some of the issues around health in Cumbria including the future of our local hospitals and the impact of the government's proposals to stop GP surgeries from being able to include a pharmaceutical dispensary if there is another one within a mile.

David Cameron confirmed that the Conservatives

1) Support District General Hospitals as the basis for Acute Healthcare

2) Oppose the forced imposition of "polyclinics" which may cut family GP services

3) Support the retention of dispensing in GP surgeries

If these policies were in place it would remove the current threat to Bootle and other surgeries.

Other answers included

* Government procurement should give small business a fair chance

* Local government should be able to make the decisions which suit local need with less interference from the centre and from bodies like the regional assemblies, which should be scrapped.

* The link between pensions and earnings should be reinstated as part of a strategy to move more pensoners out of means-testing

Policy Exchange go barmy

It's a good thing that think tanks and policy groups are allowed to think "outside the box" or to "think the unthinkable" provided it is understood that sometimes their recommendations can, should, and will be rejected.

Such a case was the Policy Exchange report which suggested that it is impossible to regenerate Northern cities and that any ambitious residents of the North should be encouraged to move South.

Speaking as an ambitious former resident of the South of England who moved north with my family four years ago, and have enormously enjoyed my time here, I think this report is utter nonsense.

About the one thing which it gets right is the author's statement that a lot of people might think his report is barmy. If the rest of the report had been as accurate as that comment it might have been worth the paper it was written on.

Speaking in Barrow this evening, David Cameron dismissed the report in the most categorical terms and made clear that it does not represent Conservative policy.

He described it as "complete and utter and unadulterated rubbish."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

David Cameron condemns Russian attack on Georgia

David Cameron has spoken out against Russia's aggression towards Georgia, describing it as "completely unacceptable under international law".

He condemned the use of "massive and disproportionate force" against a sovereign nation, and warned that Russia was sending a message to other former soviet countries, such as the Ukraine.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Feedback from special neighbourhood forum in Bootle

I attended a special meeting of the Seascale Whicham Neighbourhood forum in Bootle Station village hall this evening.

The subject of the meeting was the government's proposals on pharmacies and the possible impact on the Seascale surgery and their Bootle branch.

The meeting was attended by just over 100 local residents, not counting the councillors, doctors, PCT representative, and other guest speakers.

Doctor Barry Walker, senior partner of the local GP practice, explained that the government is proposing to ban practices from dispensing where there is another pharmacy within a mile. As there is one over the road in Seascale, this would affect them. The pharmacy at Seascale surgery raises a very significant proportion of the income of the practice, and the loss of that income would, in Dr Walker's opinion, probably make it impossible for them to continue to operate the Bootle branch surgery.

Also present at the meeting were representatives of the PCT, county and district councils. All the other speakers expressed support for Dr Walker's position and broadly agreed that the government it proposing to impose on the whole country a policy which is right for Urban areas but very wrong for rural areas like Cumbria.

As the PCT representative said, "Cumbria's different, we are not in the middle of Manchester."

I asked about the potential cumulative impact on the rural GP service of the pharmacy policy, proposals for "super-surgeries" or "polyclinics" and Alan Johnson's stated intention to abolish the minimum practice guarantee scheme which keeps many small surgeries open. Dr Walker said that he was very concerned about the potential impact of these schemes.

One very interesting point came out of a question from a local resident, who asked why we needed money from the pharmacy to provide GP services. The PCT representative confirmed that the scheme to pay for GP services does not fully take account of the extra costs of servicing sparsely populated rural areas.

The government will be launching a public consultation on the subject, possibly later this month (e.g. the peak holiday season ! Typical !)

The strong feeling at the meeting, with which I entirely agree, is that everyone should send in the strongest possible response to that consultation objecting to these proposals.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday spot

I don't know whether the Rector of Whitehaven had seen that the News of the World has an opinion poll this morning with yet another 20 percentage point lead for David Cameron, but it made his "non-political" joke about the Olympics at the end of this morning's service at St Jame's all the more appropriate.

"This week is of course the Olympics and we should of course pray for all those who are taking part. I should say that this is a non-political comment - I understand that Gordon Brown is not just visiting as prime minister but participating: he's for the high jump!"

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rosehill Rats and Lollipops perform for Mayor's Charities

I took my family to Beckermet this afternoon to hear two singing groups associated with the Rosehill Theatre - the "RatPack" (boys) and "Lollipops" (girls) perform at a "teatime swing time" in aid of the Mayor of Copeland's charities.

The event was also supported by the Mayor of Millom and visiting mayors from several neighbouring boroughs. Despite the dreadful weather (which meant that proceedings had to be moved inside of the White Mare instead of taking place in a Marquee as originally planned) it was a very successful and enjoyable event.

The Ratpack and Lollipops will be performing again for the Mayor's charities as his Charity Ball on 10th October at Whitehaven Civic Hall and on the strength of this afternoon I can recommend that event.

While I'm giving out plugs for the Mayor of Copeland's charity events I should also mention that the Whitehaven Male Voice choir will be performing in Gosforth on 6th September.

Details of both events can be obtained from the Mayor's office at Copeland Council.

War in South Ossetia

It is extremely difficult to disentangle the rights and wrongs of the fighting between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia. If - and it is a huge if - the news reports that I have seen are accurate, it would suggest that neither country has exactly covered itself in glory.

The Georgian government appears to have escalated an internal conflict and has been accused of breaking a cease-fire by doing so, but Russia has used this action as a pretext to invade another country.

Assuming we're not going to start world war three over this, the West has very limited capacity to intervene but it certainly appears that we should use whatever diplomatic leverage we have to urge both sides to seek a non-violent solution.

Since one of the participants is a permanent member of the UN security council they can veto any UN resolution on the issue, which means that the UN can be used for diplomatic options only.

I've seen the concern expressed in some places that if Russia "gets away" with this they will feel able to treat their neighbours as they please, including against those neighbouring countries which are members of NATO.

I don't agree with thas. The NATO treaty requires all members of the Alliance to come to the assistance of a member country which is attacked, but we don't have such a treaty obligation to Georgia. It would be extremely foolish for the Russian government to assume that NATO would not respond much more firmly to a direct attack on a NATO member than to a confused conflict between countries to whom we have no such treaty obligation. And whatever you may think of Vladimir Putin, he is not stupid.

Nevertheless, the situation in Ossetia represents a grave risk of all-out war between Russia and Georgia, which would be an extremely bad thing for almost everyone concerned.

Friday, August 08, 2008

£3bn of taxpayers' money injected into Northern Rock

Philip Hammond, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has attacked Labour's handling of the Northern Rock crisis after it emerged that £3bn of taxpayers' money will be used to keep the bank afloat.

He stressed that it was Mr. Brown's regulatory regime that failed to prevent the run on the bank in the first place, and blamed his "subsequent dithering" for preventing "a successful rescue."

He described the £3bn injection of taxpayers' funds as "the predictable consequence" of nationalising a mortgage bank at the height of the housing boom.

And he accused Brown and Darling of not being straight with people after part of the loan to Northern Rock was written off despite assurances that it would be repaid in full.

I agree. About the only thing the government got right in respect of Northern Rock was their initial extreme reluctance to nationalise it. However great the problems with other approaches - and they were serious - it's a pity they did not stick to their guns. All governments, and especially this one, have enough problems doing their own job properly. Trying to run a bank as well is a recipe for throwing away taxpayers money, and amounts to unfair competition for other banks.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Smith Institute Collapses

The Smith Institute, nicknamed the "Sith institute" by bloggers in allusion to the bad guys from the "Star Wars" Universe, has been a think tank which is extremely close to Gordon Brown.

Last month the Charity Commission published a report which was extremely critical of the Smith Institute and whether it was operating in ways which were appropriate for a registered charity.

Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale report today that Lord Haskel, chairman of the Smith Institute, has resigned, as has Director Wilf Stevenson, and that it the organisation has left its offices at the New Statesman.


Chris Grayling has just issued a press statement:

“There have been a number of serious allegations made about the relationship between Gordon Brown and the Smith Institute. The fact that two of its most senior figures have resigned in the wake of the Charity Commission report suggests something was seriously amiss. There’s already been a complaint to the Electoral Commission about the Prime Minister’s links with the Institute. That complaint now needs to be fairly investigated.”

Economic Insanity

Anyone who has the most basic understanding of Economics knows that if the government taxes something more heavily, this will nearly always send the price of that commodity upwards.

So clearly those MPs who are complaining about the high price of energy and proposing a "Windfall tax" on energy companies in response do not have even the most basic understanding of economics.

We are going to need huge investment in energy over the next few years just to keep the lights from going out, and that's irrespective of your position on global warming, carbon, nuclear power etc. The recent collapse of the proposed deal with a French energy company shows how challenging it will be to secure the necessary investment - turning round and putting windfall taxes on people in an emotional spasm just makes matters harder.

There are a very small number of circumstances, as when Howe and Lawson did it a few decades ago, when you can get away with a windfall tax. The people whose profits you are raiding have to be left with enough after the tax that it is not in their interests to take their ball away, their investment programmes must be complete or at a stage such that they can still be funded from the reduced profits after the tax, and conditions of demand and supply in the industry have to be such that the tax does not give them the opportunity to simply put prices up further.

The Lawson-Howe windfall tax, imposed on companies which had already built their oil wells, which would have been profitable at the much lower oil prices expected when they were built, and where those companies did not have the market power to affect the world price of oil, met all those criteria.

All the ideas which have recently been floated for "Windfall taxes" on energy fail one or more of these three tests. Most of them would either curtail the investment which Britain needs or put up the energy bills paid by British consumers even further.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Lib/Dems walk out at County Hall

Both the Labour administration at Copeland Borough Council and the joint administration at Cumbria County Council have had problems with their accounts.

I and my Conservative colleagues at Copeland are continuing to press for the necessary action to sort out the situation on that council: meanwhile a similar concern on the part of our Conservative colleagues at the county council has resulted in the end of the alliance with the Lib/Dems, who have resigned from the county cabinet.

The county's accounts had a problem last year, and my colleagues made clear that this would need to be sorted out. This year, a larger discrepancy was found.

Tim Stoddard, Leader of the Council, took the view that this is unacceptable and that the clearest possible lead must be given from the top about the need to rectify the problem, which is most effectively done if there is a change in Portfolio holder.

Unfortunately the previous portfolio holder for finance and budgets, Joan Stocker, who is also Lib/Dem leader at county hall, was not prepared to agree to shift to an alternative set of responsibilities. It did not prove possible to reach agreement on this between the Conservative and Lib/Dem groups, and the Lib/Dems have now resigned from the county cabinet.

Whether it is the European Union, Cumbria County Council, or Copeland council, a problem with the accounts is a serious matter: if it affects one year it's bad, if it affects two or more years it is unacceptable. I regret that this has become a party political matter and appears likely to bring to an end an administration which had made significant progress in addressing some of the problems which Cumbria faces, but I cannot disagree with Tim Stoddard: the problem could not be ignored.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Headline of the Summer

You always get some odd or amusing headlines during the "silly season" but this one from the Telegraph rather summed up the hapless lack of dexterity of the few people who are willing to put their heads above the parapet and support the Prime Minister:

"John Prescott defends Gordon Brown by comparing him with Titanic's captain

An attempt by John Prescott to rally support for the beleaguered Prime Minister seemed to have backfired after he compared him to the captain of the Titanic."

Monday, August 04, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn RIP

One of the bravest men of the 20th century has died at the age of about 90.

Soviet dictator Stalin, who once famously asked "How many divisions has the pope?" thought that he could use force to crush ideas. Solzhenitsyn, who had the courage to write books such as "One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch" and "The Gulag Archipelago" which revealed the truth about Soviet policies of repression, eventually proved Stalin wrong. His reward from the Soveit state was accusations of treason, the loss of his citizenship, and exile: but he was also awarded, and deserved, the Nobel prize for literature.

Putin's Russia is very far from being a shining example of democracy, but it is an infinitely preferable place to live compared with Stalin's Russia. And similarly, which Putin's Russia is not the most comfortable neighbour, or an ideal one to depend on for raw materials, it is a much easier country to share a planet with than the Soviet Union was.

A huge part of the credit for that should go to the bravery of men like Solzhenitsyn.

Rest in Peace.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad

If you want evidence that the Labour government is completely and utterly out of touch, you need look no further than the fact that they are trying to make councils up and down the country bring the same kind of prosecution and fine which Copeland Council sought on Gareth Corkhill.

According to today's Sunday Times, advice from government to councils is that they should prosecute anyone who leaves their bin open, puts it out a few hours early or leaves it in the wrong place, and that the scale of fines proposed is higher than the likely value of the fixed penalty notices which the police sometimes use for shoplifting or drunk & disorderly conduct.

As a Copeland councillor (who was not consulted on the prosecution and would not have agreed to it if I had been) I received angry messages both from within Copeland and the rest of the country when the council prosecuted a bus driver with four children for putting slightly too much rubbish in his bin which was four inches short of closing properly.

Now I'm not saying that nobody should ever be prosecuted for over-filling litter bins, but there should be such a thing as a sense of proportion. Imposing heavier fines for leaving a bin four inches open than for thieves or those who make other people's life hell through disorderly conduct is bound to bring authority into disrepute.

And it ought to be the most obvious common sense that you don't start making public examples of people for over-filling bins until you have first put effective measures in place to catch, punish and deter people who indulge in littering and fly-tipping.

But clearly the Labour government has no more common sense than Copeland Council's Labour administration has.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

I hope it won't be for many years but ...

Margaret Thatcher should have a state funeral when she dies.

Labour has been vacillating about this, first suggesting it and then denying that they have done so when some of their hardline supporters started whining about the idea.

There is no reason to think Mrs T will die any time soon, and I hope she lives for many more years, but although she was and remains to some extent a divisive figure, she was the first woman Prime Minister of this country.

Anyone who is neither a male chauvinist bigot or a left-wing bigot of the stripe to be unable to put their own views aside and look at the wider picture should be able to recognise what an achievement that was. It was an important and positive thing for the development of real democracy and true equality of opportunity in Britain, and it killed the idea that there is any high office which women are not competent to hold.

Paradoxically, it is precisely because Margaret Thatcher was not a stereotypical feminist, and thought of herself as a political leader rather than as a woman politician, that she was able to win election to number ten. She was elected by people who agreed with the things she stood for, some of whom voted for her in spite of the fact that she is a woman. The fact that in this sense she was a normal politician, not one who was a woman politician first, which made her unprecedented acheivement of being the first woman elected to be Prime Minister possible.

In the process she ensured that in the future, women in politics, while they may still face prejudice, no longer have to deal with people for whom the idea of a woman MP or Prime Minister is unthinkable.

Many orthodox feminists do not admire Baroness Thatcher - it is no co-incidence tha it was Harriet Harman who has been talking down the idea of a state funeral for her - but Maggie did far more to make it possible for women to aspire to senior positions than anyone since the suffragettes.

Whether you admire or loathe the things Margaret Thatcher did as Prime Minister, her place in history as the first woman elected to run this country is incontrovertible and should be celebrated. While I hope not to see it anytime soon, that is why I agree with those who say that she should have a state funeral.

Friday, August 01, 2008

University title for hospital trusts

The NHS Trust which manages the acute hospitals in Whitehaven and Carlisle has been awarded a new title which includes the word University in recognition of the training work in these two hospitals. More details in article on my hospitals campaign blog - see link at right.

Leah Higgins R.I.P.

Leah Higgins, a long-serving stalwart of Bransty Conservatives, has died after an illness.

Leah had worked hard for the community in Whitehaven, and had been a candidate for Copeland Borough Council on several occasions, most recently in Mirehouse in 2007.

Condolences to her family, especially her husband George.

The funeral will be at Kells on Monday morning.

Rest in Peace.