Friday, October 31, 2008

Polling Council condemns anti-hunting poll

The British Polling council has investigated a poll conducted by anti-hunting organisations and found that they broke the rules designed to ensure that opinion polls are honestly and transparently conducted.

The poll was conducted by IPSOS - MORI for the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

This poll was been the subject of an investigation by the British Polling Council which found that MORI broke the ‘Objects and Rules’ of the Council, which exist to ensure that polling is fair and open.

The partial results were published on 17 February 2008. British Polling Council rules state that full details of published research must be published on the research company’s website within 48 hours of details being released. Details of the poll were in fact only released on the MORI website on 29 February, 12 days after the publication of the press release.

When MORI were contacted by the Countryside Alliance. Only then was it revealed that the poll question included an explicit comparison between ‘fox hunting’, 'badger baiting' and ‘dog fighting’. As Baroness Hale said in her judgment in the Hunting Act case in the House of Lords: “It [hunting] cannot be compared with bear-baiting or cock-fighting.”

No member of the public reading, or viewing, the resulting media coverage could be expected to know that the research involved comparing hunting to indefensible activities like dog fighting.

This is not an isolated incident. MORI have used this question, or a very similar one, on several occasions and the question asked has never been included in the press releases issued by the commissioning organisations.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Last Echo of a Gerrymander

With the news that voters in Stoke-on Trent have decided to scrap the post of elected Mayor, the last echo of one of Labour's more subtle gerrymanders dies away.

When Labour set up the legislation to change how councils work at the start of this decade, they determined to scrap the committee system and encourage as many councils as possible to go for directly elected mayors.

The government laid down rules insisting on the way councils had to consult their electorates about various models for systems with elected mayors chosen by the voters, or systems with a leader chosen by other councillors. And the systems included in that consultation appeared to me then and now to have been chosen to tilt the scales towards elected mayors,

In reality there were three systems which were expected to be taken seriously

1) Mayor and cabinet - the voters elect a mayor who appoints a cabinet

2) "Strong Leader" and cabinet - councillors elect one of their number as leader and he or she appoints a cabinet from among the councillors.

3) "Weak Leader" and cabinet - the full council appoints a leader and cabinet from among their number.


However, for one good reason and one very bad one, the government did not put it to local electorates like that. The good reason is that "weak leader" was a poor and misleading name which would probably have underminded the arguments for this system - a much more democratic one than the so-called "strong leader" model.

The bad reason was that putting to voters one model with an elected mayor and two with leaders would have skewed the votes cast in favour of "leader" models.

So instead for consultation purposes the "strong leader" and "weak leader" models were merged and second model with a mayor was drawn up on the back of an enevelope, so that the options put to voters were

1) Mayor and cabinet - the voters elect a mayor who appoints a cabinet, mostly consisting of councillors

2) Mayor and "council manager" - the voters elect a mayor who appoints a CEO to take most of the decisions.

3) Leader and cabinet - councillors elect a leader who either appoints a cabinet or has one appointed by and from the council.


Hardly anyone took seriously the anti-democratic "Mayor and council manager" model, which moves a lot of decisions from elected councillors to an appointed manager. But there was a single exception.

Including London, twelve authorities now have a "Mayor and Cabinet" model. Every other council which was required to abandon the committee system, or chose to do so, went for one of the "leader and cabinet" models. Except one.

The exception was - you've guessed it - Stoke on Trent. This was the one council which adopted the Mayor and Council Manager model.

Surprise surprise - the local Labour party in Stoke were not happy with the results when this option, which was only put in there to boost the vote for mayoral options, was actually picked.

On first reading of the results, it would appear that local residents didn't like the system either. Voting was 21,231 to 14,592 to replace the post with a council leader and Cabinet, in line with most other authorities.

But it's only fair to add that they were choosing between the options the government gave them. Central government decided to take the "Mayor and Council manager" out of the equation, and so Stoke was forced to go to the polls again and choose between "Mayor and cabinet" and "Leader and cabinet." For the second time, the option of the current status quo was not put to voters.

I personally would never have voted for the "Mayor and Council Manager" option but I don't see why local residents should not have been allowed the option. And I certainly think it shows contempt for local democracy that the government imposed consideration of this option less than ten years ago and then required Stoke on Trent to scrap it this year.

We need a genuinely bottom-up approach to local government and a lot less meddling from the centre. I very much hope that the next Conservative government remembers how infuriating we found all the New Labour control freakery and meddling and allows local councils more autonomy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How not to cross the floor

I cannot imagine that I would ever change political parties. But some people do, and of those some are honorable individuals. Indeed those who have moved from one party to another include both examples of the most distinguished politicians, such as Winston Churchill, and some of the worst.

I had extremely mixed feelings about what happened to Bruce Douglas-Mann in the early eighties. Of all the defecting MPs who joined the SDP he was the only one who fought a by-election - and the Conservatives won it. As a Conservative I cannot be other than pleased when we win an election but I will admit to a twinge of regret that Douglas-Mann lost out because of his courage.

When people change parties, the main thing I look at to assess wehther they are doing so for honorable reasons is how they treat those who used to be their friends and allies. Honorable people who cross the floor usually want to keep the respect of those who voted for and supported them. I can think of one MP who changed parties in the last parliament, shortly before stepping down, and made it clear to his new party that he was not prepared to campaign against the PPC who his old party had selected to succeed him. The candidate concerned had treated the MP with great respect and the retiring MP would have considered it a personal betrayal to repay this by working against him.

In Copeland in recent weeks, I was disappointed when one councillor who had been elected as a Conservative changed sides to Labour. I won't say that his defection had no effect on my opinion of him, but what cost him most of the respect in which I had previously held him was an unpleasant letter to the local papers attacking former colleagues, including one item of gossip going back nine years, another which was totally trivial, and a third attack which was mendacious.

As a contrast, I quote below an extract from the statement made this week to Conservative Home by a former Lib/Dem councillor, Denise Summers of Aylesbury Town Council, explaining why she has joined the Conservative Party. It is entirely positive and there is not one word of criticism of the people she worked with when she was a Liberal either in the sections I quote here or in the rest of her statement on Conservative Home.


“This was a decision which I thought long and hard about, and I don’t make it lightly.

"When David Cameron became leader of the Conservatives he described himself as a Liberal Conservative and that's very much how I see myself. But I needed to be convinced that he could change his party, and now I am. This was highlighted at the recent Conservative Party Conference which persuaded me that he is a leader who has changed his party, and will change this country.

"I see these changes at a local level as well, and am deeply impressed by the work which the newly elected Conservatives Cllrs and Conservative campaigners across the town are carrying out. They are putting into action locally, what David Cameron talks about nationally. Initiatives such as litter picks, street surgeries to chat to people, fundraising to provide bikes for our PCSOs, holding Forums to allow people to talk about what matters to them, and actively and vociferously standing up for residents.


"I joined the Liberal Democrats because I wanted to be involved in the community, I wanted to help out my community. Now, the people who are doing that in Aylesbury - in positive and progressive ways - are the Conservatives. And nationally, the people who are holding the Labour Government to account and offering real plans for change are the Conservatives.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Polly Toynbee on Gordon Brown

A quote from the Guardian columnist who until fairly recently was one of the sub-prime minister's greatest fans on Fleet Street:

"Gordon Brown seems unable to stop saying things so blindingly untrue that you wonder how he gets the words out."

You can read the full article at

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/28/economics-labour-conservatives-keynes

Monday, October 27, 2008

One law for everyone, continued ...

The government has announced that Sharia courts can deal with issues of property, children and family matters under the UK arbitration act 1996, and then submit their rulings to a UK court for ratification.

This is permissable under UK law providing that the proceedings are fully voluntary and that both parties to a dispute are treated equally. There is plenty of precedent for writing into a contract that both sides agree arbitration on a particular basis. Five Sharia courts currently operate mediation systems under the Arbitration Act.

However, it is extremely important that if Sharia courts are ruling on family matters there are safeguards to ensure that the treatment of women if even-handed and that their agreement to take part in these proceedings is both fully voluntary and based on informed consent.

Dr David Green, the Director of the Civitas think tank, told the Telegrapph: "I think there are a number of problems with regards to Sharia law. These Sharia councils are supposed to operate under the Arbitration Act which allows citizens in a free society to settle their disputes on a voluntary basis if they so wish.

"But that legislation assumes that both parts are regarded as being equal. I think the problem is with tribunals like these you can't always be sure that women would be treated equally.

"Under Islam a man can divorce a woman just by saying I divorce you three times. But a woman must go to a Sharia court to seek a divorce. Often the ruling goes in favour of the woman, but I think on the whole these councils are institutions for male domination. As a result I do not believe these rulings and proceedings should be recognised under British law.

"Under the traditions of Sharia law the voice of a women is not equal to that of a man."

Conservative spokesmen Nick Herbert, (shadow Justice minister) and, Paul Goodman, shadow minister for communities and local government, have also expressed concern about this.

Mr Goodman said he did not object to the new rules in principle, on condition that all women were in receipt of proper safeguards. But he criticised the manner in which the Government had quietly introduced the new rules.

"The manner in which the Government has introduced these rules has been completely unsatisfactory," he said. "There was no major announcement about this when it was quietly introduced in 2007. The public have been kept in the dark about what is going on."

"Our understanding is that certain Muslim arbitration tribunals have been licensed to operate in the confines of the Arbitration Act just like the Jewish beth din courts. We have no objection in principle to these organisations operating within the confinements of the Arbitration Act.

"But we would be concerned about Sharia councils operating outside the confines of the Arbitration Act. We have raised concerns that in all circumstances women who attend these proceedings should and must attend on a voluntary basis."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The NHS does not belong to any one party

Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, this weekend commented about how the NHS is something all parties should support and none can claim as their exclusive property. This is what he said:

"This week Health Secretary Alan Johnson got hot under the collar when campaigning in the Glenrothes by-election and accused us of trying to 'steal' the NHS from Labour. Mr. Johnson is getting jittery over a series of polls from the last year which have shown that, in its sixtieth year, people are beginning to trust Conservatives more than Labour with the future of the NHS.

The NHS was introduced by Aneurin Bevan (a socialist) but the groundwork, in the form of White Paper, came from Beveridge (a Liberal) and Henry Willink (a Conservative) in Winston Churchill's coalition Government.

Whilst I find Alan Johnson's irritation quite amusing, he should remember that the NHS does not belong exclusively to any group - let alone a political party.

One of the most remarkable things about the NHS is the loyalty it inspires in staff, patients and the public alike; it binds the nation together. Most of us were born in an NHS hospital. We are all shareholders through the taxes we pay. Even if we've never been treated in an NHS hospital, we all have an auntie, sibling, friend or neighbour who works in the NHS. My father worked in the health service from the day it was created in 1948; next week I'm looking forward to attending a dinner in honour of his 30 years of service in the pathology lab at East Ham Memorial Hospital.

After eleven years of Labour's central command and micro-management, it comes as no surprise that they believe the debate about our health service centres on political possession. But Alan Johnson is completely missing the point: the competition isn't over ownership, it's about trust.

We can be proud that, in its diamond anniversary, the British people have indicated they're willing to trust their NHS to our care. We will do everything we can to live up to that honour."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What Daniel Finkelstein actually said

It would be a shame if the spat between Tim Montgomerie on Conservative Home and Danny Finkelstein, principal leader writer of The Times, about whether Danny had criticised his own paper's coverage of Yacht-gate, obscured the rather important point that he actually made.

We have seen far too much of the politics of personal destruction. There has always been an element in politics of trying to wreck the reputation of your rivals and opponents, sometimes on wholly unfair grounds. New Labour enormously increased their use of this deplorable tactic in the 1990s but I'm afraid all the political parties have joined in, and the media have enjoyed the game so much that they not only run with stories which are weak to say the least, but sometimes kick them off.

The real point Danny Finkelstein was making is that there is far too much from all sides of fake outrage over trivial things and trying to smear people on the basis of appearances or innocent activity. And he's right.

The definitive account of what it is like to be the target of a smear campaign is Lord Ashcroft's terrifying autobiography, "Dirty Politics, Dirty Times" which describes what a sustained political and media assault can feel like from the viewpoint of the person on the receiving end. It ended with the government admitting in court that it had encouraged people to make damaging and untrue allegations against him and paying him compensation.

I refer to the book as terrifying because, describing the effort which a man of his immense personal and financial resources had to make to clear his name, it makes it obvious that people without those resources would have found it even more difficult to vindicate themselves.

Politics in Britain would be much healthier if all parties took a step back from the tactics of personal destruction and personal abuse. A greater degree of scepticism from the media, e.g. making more effort to establish that there is actually a real basis to such stories before they publish them, might also be good think for British political culture.

It may be an uphill struggle trying to persuade most of the people likely to read this site that they can learn anything from a book written by a tory billionaire who mostly operates in the background, especially one whose very name causes a pavlovian reaction in members of other parties.

The mere mention of some subjects causes an automatic mental spasm which temporarily disrupts or deactivates the cognitive process in the minds of certain people involved in politics.

* For example, just mention "Europe" and some normally sane Tories have a temporary attack of madness. (Less of a problem now than it used to be but still a subject on which any Conservative should exercise extreme care!)

* Similarly many Labour councillors in authorities which still run council houses go completely barking if you remind them that the policy of the present Labour government has been to force through a gradual but very large absolute and relative increase in council house rents. One of the most intelligent and normally most friendly and reasonable Labour councillors I ever met had to be rebuked by the Mayor for swearing at me in a council meeting when reminded of this.

I mention the issue of these pavlovian "spasm subjects" because the very name of Michael Ashcroft is a "spasm subject" for a large number of Labour MPs who are

* rightly terrified that he may be responsible for costing some of them their seats and

* wrongly convinced that this is in some way unfair, and is or should be illegal.

If you want some solid evidence that fear of Lord Ashcroft drives Labour MPs temporarily insane, look at the way Labour are currently trying to gerrymander the electoral spending rules to try to stop him helping the Conservative party. A bill currently before parliament seeks to reverse a reform law which Labour themselves passed a few years back when a Labour MP was convicted of overspending and everyone agreed at the time that the rules then in force for triggering spending limits, and to which they are now trying to return, were an unworkable mess.

I should declare an interest at this point in that my campaign has had some support from the target seats fund which Lord Ashcroft runs, all of which is legal and properly declared and not all of which comes from him personally. Since the sums involved are considerably less than the taxpayer's money which my opponent is entitled to spend from his "Communications allowance" I consider that this does no more than move a financial playing field which would otherwise be heavily tilted in Labour's favour part of the way back towards being level.

Friday, October 24, 2008

High Speed Rail proposals

Conservative shadow Transport minister Theresa Villiers has laid out plans to introduce the next phase of high speed rail to the UK, in what she described as a “momentous step forward for Britain’s transport infrastructure”.

A Conservative Government would build a new high speed rail line between Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London, which would cut journey times between Birmingham and London to 40 minutes and between Leeds and London to less than an hour and a half.

Theresa, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said that high speed rail would have many benefits for the UK:

Helping businesses and generating huge economic benefits, potentially to the value of £60 billion

Healing long-standing divisions in our economy by shrinking the distance between north and south

Relieving over-crowding on existing lines

Helping to protect future generations from climate change

She announced that a Conservative Government would say no to a third runway at Heathrow, and concentrate instead on the advantages of our high speed rail plan:

“It will leave a lasting legacy for the future - and it will lay the foundations for a high speed network that I believe will one day stretch across the country.”

The current proposal will target construction of the first stage of the new high speed line to begin in 2015, with full completion by 2027.

All excellent stuff: my one concern is that I would like to see proposals to extend the high speed link to reach Cumbria brought forward.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Brown attack backfires

I thought yesterday while watching Prime Minister's Questions that Gordon Brown's call for unspecified "authorities" to investigate George Osborne, when far more serious evidence of wrongdoing has existed for some time about Labour party fundraising, might come back to haunt him. It has.

Papers including both the Sun and The Times wrote up the story in a way which is not exactly favourable to the PM. The Sun pointed out that there is no evidence of wrongdoing. The Times said that the PM's attack "appeared to back-fire."

As they pointed out, surprised Downing Street officials could not say to which authorities Mr Brown was referring. A spokesman told The Times “Whichever authorities are appropriate.”

The Times also reports that "Sources close to Mr Brown admitted that he might have gone farther than he intended." and that

"His surprise statement eased rather than increased the pressure on Mr Osborne."

A senior MP told The Times:

“Prime ministers order investigations. They do not call for them.”


Tony Wright, Labour chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, also weakened the Prime Minister's position by by playing down suggestions of an inquiry and admitting that there was no corruption or law-breaking.

You can read the full Times report at

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article4996464.ece

Dealing with Russia

Democracy is something that a country usually has to learn over decades or even centuries. There is no doubt in my mind that Russia, for all the huge faults that it demonstrated this year by invading Georgia and threatening just about every other neighbour, is more democratic, less tyrannical, and less dangerous than the Soviet Union was when I was a boy at the time of the cold war.

Nevertheless Russia's path towards democracy has been slow and painful, and the country can be very difficult to deal with. The West has to make enough friendly gestures to reward Russia's fitful steps in the right direction and make clear that we will deal fairly with them if they give us a chance, while standing up to them over issues like Georgia and the Litvinenko assassination without provoking Russia's deep-seated and long term paranoia.

A more minor difficulty, but a difficulty nonetheless for Western political parties, is how to deal with Russia's representatives on bodies like the Council of Europe.

Labour MP Denis MacShane is forever banging on, and was again this week, about the fact that the Conservatives are currently members of the centre-right European Democrats group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which also includes, amongst others, representatives of Vladimir Putin’s "United Russia" party. He includes the Conservatives of working with the Kremlin in the Council of Europe.

The Conservative Party has in fact announced that, in light of recent events in Georgia, it is to review its membership of the European Democrats group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

However, McShane's attack is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black given that Labour’s representatives to the Council of Europe sit as members of the Socialist Group, which also includes Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s comical nationalist outfit, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

The Conservatives have responded that Zhirinovsky’s statements that Russia is “entitled to carry out a preventative nuclear strike” against Poland and that Georgia is trying to create a “mono-ethnic state and fascist dictatorship” hardly makes his group a better choice of partner than United Russia for any mainstream British political party.

Carl Thompson points out in The European Journal at

http://europeanjournal.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/09/labours-strange.html

that these Zhirinovsky quotes are not the worst ones that Conservative Central Office could have used. The absurdly named Russian "Liberal Democrats" are neither liberal nor democrats. Their leader has been accused of everything from anti-semitism and misogyny to corruption and demagoguery. He has been filmed throwing juice at his opponents, grabbing a female reporter by her hair and brawling in parliament. In late 1999 the LDPR held a series of demonstrations in Moscow in which signs reading “the only good Chechen is a dead Chechen” were displayed.

There are legitimate questions about how mainstream democratic parties should deal with either United Russia or the Russian "Liberal Democrats" and I'm not ecstatic about the idea of our political parties sitting in the same group as either. But unless we're going to pull out or organisations like the Council of Europe, which I think would be very silly, we have to recognise that people from these parties have been elected to their country's legislature and we will sometimes have to talk to them and deal with them. And perhaps Mr McShane should ask his party to take the plank out of their own eye before he complains about the speck in that of the Conservatives.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Labour back to their old dirty tricks

When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister he promised an end to the Blairite trick of reannouncing the same public spending several times. But now he has brought back Peter Mandelson it looks like the same old game has started again

David Willetts has accused Labour of “spinning non-announcements” in their latest offer of support to small businesses.

David, the Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, said, “Instead of offering real help, Labour ministers have returned to their bad old ways, spinning and reannouncing old policies to get a headline.”

Analysis of Labour’s announcement on small business support shows:

* There is no new money - the £350 million is already allocated to the Train to Gain fund for small businesses.

* Most of the supposedly ‘new’ services for small businesses are already provided under the existing scheme.


David said, “Instead of spinning non-announcements, the Government should be doing everything it can to help small businesses so that jobs are not lost.”

And he called for “real action”, including allowing small companies to delay their VAT payments if they're in trouble, cutting National Insurance for the smallest businesses, and reducing small business tax.

Lib Dem points out Osborne allegations "do not add up"

It's not often that the BBC runs with allegations against a Conservative or Labour figure which are so implausible that even Lib/Dems are pointing it out, but that has happened with the latest attack on George Osborne.

Mike Smithson, who runs the excellent Political Betting website

(www.politicalbetting.com)

and who used to be a professional fundraiser, has highlighted the fact that

"From a fundraising perspective this story does not add up" and concludes that on balance the story is probably about nothing.

You can read the full article at

http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2008/10/22/why-was-the-alleged-ask-only-for-50000/#comments

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Feedback from October Copeland Council meeting

The October meeting of the the full Copeland Council was held this evening.

The meeting began with a series of civic presentations to organisations and individuals who had worked to contribute to the local environment.

This was followed by discussion on the Executive report. The first hour of this was taken up by a debate on the problems with the council's accounts. It was the kind of angry debate which is sometimes described as "A full and frank exchange of views."

Copeland Council is still in the final stages of closing the accounts for 2006/7 and finalising those for 2007/8. There have been some serious difficulties in sorting them out, and large sums of money have had to be spent on external consultants to do so.

At the July meeting of the council I had asked for a report to be prepared on how the council got into this situation, how much it would cost, and what could be done to make sure it didn't happen again. The Conservative group wanted that report to come back to full council, but instead Labour amended our motion to take out this requirement. Instead they presented the report to the Audit Committee at the end of September. The District Auditor attended the same meeting and expressed a number of serious concerns about the council's financial management.

These included -

* Total lack of formal management systems to control the checks and balances of the process, absence of quality checking.

* Absence of contingency or HR succession planning

* Submissions to Audit panel were in the first instance incomplete and not signed by 151 officer

* District Auditor was quotedas saying on the resubmission of accounts that "There was so much discrepancy between first and second submission figures, the alarm bells should have been ringing". This apparently related to more or less static items such as fixed assets.

* There was no accurate maintained asset register, which again pointed to lack of Management Systems.

* The rush to meet the delivery deadline in order to avoid one of the penalties no matter how accurate the accounts were was a factor.

* Submissions were only made available to Committee on day of meeting, they could not therefore have really been expected to scrutinise to any degree.

* The officers did not draw the obvious discrepancies between the two submissions to the attention of the Committee

So naturally we wanted to discuss those concerns and did ask questions about them, which was met with outrage from the Labour executive. The tone was set when the Deputy Leader of the council accused the Leader of the Conservative Group of talking rubbish right at the start of the debate, which was not a good indication of an awareness of the problems facing the council since most of his first batch of questions were pretty much quotes from the District Auditor. Then the Leader of the Council accused me of going for "a cheap headline" (e.g. in the local press) for daring to ask questions about concerns raised by the External Auditor and items in the council officers' own report to Audit Committee.

To give you an idea of how desperate the Labour party was to avoid discussing the issues, at one point they started answering questions we hadn't asked but to which the answers would have made the council look good. For example, they congratulated themselves on the fact that Copeland Council had not invested any money in Icelandic banks. (We already knew that - see previous blog posts - and Conservative councillors had not accused them of doing so.)

The debate on the accounts went on for more than an hour, at the end of which the leader of the council reluctantly admitted that perhaps not everything in the way they had been managed was perfect, and we then went on the rest of the executive report ...

Other highlights from the rest of the meeting

* Possible hospital sites - the council had previously identified five possible sites for the rebuilt West Cumberland Hospital to feed back to the NHS Trusts. They are concentrating on two of these at Hensingham and The Ginns. See item on hospitals blog - link at right.

* Flooding - the council's performance in dealing with floods a week ago had been much better than the previous month but the frequency of the problem is raising concern. There are particular worries about the Pow Beck area.

* Recycling: the extended system of recycling bags has proved popular with many people but there have been teething problems in some areas with making sure all residents understand when the bags will be collected. I asked for and was given an assurance both that further efforts will be made to publisise the collection arrangements and that a lenient view will be taken of people who make an honest mistake about when to leave their recycling bags out.

* Arts & Leisure - there are a number of initiatives to increase access to leisure facilities, including reciprocal arrangements between Copeland and Allerdale councils, and there was some discussion on extending these, both to additional services and geographically towards the Millom end of the borough.

* A Town Council for Whitehaven - the recent consultation on this got a very low response and most of what came back was against the idea. It was agreed that we need to consult more effectively and get views of a wider range of people, but we also need to look at alternatives to a Town Council, such as using an Area committee of the councillors we already elect to address issue of more local, democratic accountability, and using "special expenses" to address the issues of fairness between different parts of the borough.

Cut National Insurance for small businesses

Alan Duncan has called on the Government to help small companies and boost jobs by cutting the rate of employers’ National Insurance by 1p for at least six months.

The cut forms part of a fully-funded package that would also see the small companies’ rate of corporation tax reduced to 20p.

Alan, the Shadow Secretary for Business, said, “Small businesses are facing very difficult financial pressures at this time and it’s essential that the Government looks at what it can do to help now.”

Under our proposal, businesses with less than 5 employees would have the rate of employers’ National Insurance that they pay cut by 1p for at least six months.

A small business with 4 employees and an annual wage bill of £150,000 would save more than £100 a month.

The cut would be paid for through our existing plan to abolish complex reliefs and allowances introduced by Gordon Brown, and use the money to cut the small companies rate of corporation tax to 20p.

Alan stressed our package would help thousands of SMEs as well as tackling unemployment by reducing the costs of employing people:

“Along with our suggestion to defer VAT payments for six months, this is part of a package of measures that the Government needs to look at urgently. For small businesses, this could be the difference between insolvency and survival.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Let Small Businesses defer VAT bills

David Cameron has called on the Government to allow small and medium-sized businesses to defer their VAT bills for up to six months.

In an article in The Observer, David described small and medium-sized businesses as the "lifeblood" of our economy, as they employ over 13 million people and turn over £1,440bn a year.

He outlined three areas in which small businesses must be helped:

Councils must speed up the time it takes to process payments to small businesses who provide them with goods and services

Banks have got to behave responsibly and "stop the march to mass insolvencies"

The Government must do everything they can to help small businesses, including scrapping the propose 2p rise in corporation tax

David explained that our plan to allow small and medium-sized enterprises to defer their VAT bills for up to six months would mean a typical business with 50 employees, revenues of £5m and an annual net VAT bill of £350,000 wouldn't have to pay £90,000 to the taxman when the bank has just taken away its overdraft.

And he stressed, "Britain's small businesses need our help. We intervened to prevent the beating heart of our economy - the financial system - from collapsing. We've got to do the same for its lifeblood."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Impractical, disproportionate, and potentially unlawful

That's what senior officials in the Home Office have said privately about Labour's latest "big brother" proposals.

Even as 42-day detention without charge hits the dust, the government continues to ignore advice and waste billions of pounds on more plans to keep tabs on us all, guilty and innocent alike.

The latest proposals include making a passport necessary to buy a mobile phone, storing the name and address of everyone who buys a mobile phone in a register, creating a huge database to monitor the internet usage, e-mail and telephone records of everyone in Britain, and linking the systems used by mobile phone networks to track where a phone is to the automated systems which track the whereabouts of calls via automatic number plate recognition.

Total costs for these projects might be as much as £12 billion of which £1 billion has already been approved for the pilot stage of the database.

A leaked memo said that officials looking at the implications of the proposals have called them "impractical, disproportionate, politically unattactive, and possibly unlawful from a human rights perspective."

Jack Wraith, of the data communications group of the Association of Chief Police officers, told the Sunday Times that he was worried about the implications if the data fell into the wrong hands. Describing the proposals as "mission creep" he said that

"If someone's got enough personal data on you and they don't afford it the right protection and that data falls into the wrong hands, then it becomes a threat to you."

Since in the past year the government has lost discs and data sticks with key personal data on every family in Britain and thousands of members of our armed forces, to give only two of the worst examples, this is hardly an unreasonable fear.

Postscript re modern technology

This morning I activated Microsoft Office on the third computer permitted by the license. Unlike the other two, this one is connected to the internet. So instead of using the telephone activation option, I clicked on the "activate your software over the internet (recommended.)" option.

Well, I can certainly see why it was recommended. Instead of having to key 56 numbers into my telephone and then type 42 numbers into the computer, activation took about five seconds with no further human intervention required.

Apparently they must be assuming that the majority of people have all their computers hooked up to the internet these days.

The wonders of modern technology ...

This week I bought a set of Microsoft Office for several of my home computers (the licence allows me to use it on up to three non-business machines.)

I actually had to use the disc on one of the computers, the others had come with Office pre-installed so I could enable the function by typing in the 25 digit code.

Except that wasn't the end of it. It was also necessary to activate an installation process. One of the PCs was on the net, the other two were not, so I had to use the phone installation.

In favour - there was an automated activation system which is available 24/7 on a toll-free number, and it did have checking options available to warn if you have mis-typed something, and to allow you to listen to a set of numbers more than once.

Against - to activate the software on each PC I had to first key nine groups of six numbers (54 in all) into my telephone and then listen to the phone as it gave me seven groups of six numbers (42 in all) to type into each computer.

I cannot help wondering if anti-piracy procedures of this nature will not be a bigger handicap to many potential genuine users than they are to some hackers and software pirates.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Back to Queen Anne - and then some

A few years ago BT used to have its own Economics Advisory Department, and I met some extremely talented economists who worked in it. They circulated regular bulletins to the forecasting and planning community within BT and one of my professional pleasures at the time was reading some of the fascinating articles which the head of the department, a master both of the subject and of the English language, occasionally wrote with his views on the state of the economy.

Of all those articles, the best was called "Back to Queen Anne!" which was published just after the Minimum Lending Rate fell to the record low of 5%. He referred to the "anti-usury" laws which were passed from the middle ages through Tudor and Stuart times in vain attempts to restrict the rates of interest which lenders could change, gradually passing lower and less realistic legal ceilings on interest rates, until in Queen Anne's time a law was passed attempting to outlaw interest rates above 5%.

In the present circumstances, the Federal Reservce Board in the US has dropped some rates to 1% and some economists, who in my opinion should know better, have been calling for interest rates to be dropped below 2% on this side of the Atlantic as well.

Such desperate measures are all to likely to merely increase the risk of panic, but worse, they look at only one side of the equation.

Yes, such rates will help lenders - in fact, if the rate of interest is below the rate of inflation, that amounts to a negative real rate of return - effectively it means that people are being paid to borrow, and charged for saving.

And that's why negative real interest rates are counter-productive in the long term. One of our major problems as a society is that we are not saving enough - the most serious valid criticism of Gordon Brown's economic record is that many of his policies, from the £5 billion a year raid on pension funds and over-complicated pensions credit through to punitive means testing on many forms of state support, have wrecked incentives to save.

If we then pay people less in interest than the amount by which inflation erodes their savings, we eliminate what little reward for saving has been left. That is really not a good idea.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Government consultation foul-up

I am a strong supporter of new nuclear build, and am convinced that the argument for nuclear power to play a part in a balanced energy policy can win an open and fair debate. That makes me all the more furious that another mismanaged government "consultation" on nuclear power has again handed the moral high ground to anti-nuclear luddites.


The Market Research Standards Board ruled that the Government's consultation on nuclear power was in breach of rules ensuring that respondents are not led towards a particular answer.

This is the second time that the nuclear power consultation has been found to be biased – in February 2007, the High Court ruled that the Government’s consultation process had been ‘manifestly inadequate’, ‘misleading’, and ‘procedurally unfair’.


Is there nobody in government with the basic competence to organise a fair consultation on energy policy without discrediting a perfectly valid argument by trying to rig things in its favour ?

Cameron on the origins of the crisis

From DC's speech at Bloomberg:

"The failure to regulate U.S. sub-prime mortgages was an American failure. And the failure to regulate public and private debt in Britain was a British failure. It was a failure Gordon Brown was warned about time and again. And time and again he ignored those warnings. Four years ago he was telling the city: “I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers”. Two years ago, he was dismissing calls for what he called a “regulatory crackdown” on the City. And only last year, he was celebrating what he called a “golden age for the City of London."

...

"Now he’s describing that very same time an “Age of Irresponsibility”.

“A Golden Age” to an “Age of Irresponsibility” – in less than a year. That’s what I call a Rock of Stability.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sun fears on government database

The harshest critics of Rupert Murdoch and The Sun would accept that you always know where you stand with them.

When I read one of their "Sun Says" editorials I usually find myself strongly agreeing, occasionally violently disagreeing, never anything in between.

Most of the occasions when I have recently disagreed have been in connection with national security, for example on 42 days detention without charge, where it has sometimes seemed that they automatically support any proposal for more government and police powers without stopping to consider, not just any civil liberty implications, but whether the proposal would actually work.

But that makes it all the more telling that in today's "Sun Says" editorial, which you can read here, the paper's leader writers express some strong and valid concerns about the proposed new government database. Comments they make include:

Loss of trust

"THE more information about us the Government collects, the greater the chance of it being lost. ...

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith insists there are sound anti-terror reasons for keeping tabs on us all. She promises councils won’t use the database to snoop on people dropping apple cores.

But she also needs to convince us Labour can be trusted with so much sensitive info.
The fear is that it will all end up in a skip.



If the most pro-security newspaper in Fleet Street can see the risks with what the government are proposing, isn't it time for the Home Secretary and Sub-Prime Minister to think again ?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Secondary level SATS scrapped

SATS at secondary level are being scrapped to reduce the exam burden, with the public exames at 16 to be used to monitor school peformance, but they are to be retained at 7 and 11 so that we have a measure of primary school performance.

The current level of bureaucratic burden on schools is admittedly far too high, so there is a case for this measure, as long as the improvement between the SATS at 11 and the public exams at 16 can be used to measure Value Add, which is a better indication of how well schools are doing than the level of attainment.

Let's hope it can be addressed in a way which means less paperwork for schools rather than even more.

Wise after the event

There has been a great deal of being wise after the event and political point scoring after many local authorities - of which Copeland is not one - found they had exposure to losses in Icelandic banks.

Authorities controlled by all three political parties have done this, so instead of pretending that any party has a monopoly of wisdom we would be wise to start by seeing what we can do, preferably in a less heavy handed way that Gordon Brown has, to get the money back and reveiw investment guidelines for the future.

Paul Scully, Leader of the Conservative opposition on one of the Liberal Democrat councils which has millions of pounds tied up in Iceland was not particularly impressed with the comments made by the national Lib/Dem team (and neither were his Sutton Lib/Dem colleagues.) This is what he had to say on his blog about it

"It was disappointing to see Vince Cable unhelpfully trying to lever some political capital out of the situation whilst others were seeing their monetary capital disappearing. He criticised councils for investing in Icelandic banks explaining that he and his colleague, Lord Oakeshott had concerns as far back as July. It is a shame that he didn't tell his colleagues at Local Authority level about his fears as it might have saved Sutton £5.5m. Never mind, he got his headline."

and

On the party political point, it is interesting to see Vince Cable quoted in the Telegraph as saying "In a crisis like this I don't think people would warm terribly to my running around saying 'I told you so'" The LibDem parliamentary finance team certainly did not warm themselves to Sutton's Lead Finance Councillor who told Lord Oakeshott yesterday afternoon that his comments were less than helpful.

You can read the full posts at

http://paulscully.blogspot.com/2008/10/icelandic-meltdown-hits-sutton.html

and

http://paulscully.blogspot.com/2008/10/call-for-icelandic-losses-investigation.html

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad

That was my reaction on hearing the home secretary on the BBC Today programme this morning talking about 42-day pre-charge detention.

First she says that in the light of the massive defeat by the Lords the government will take the measure out of the Counter-Terrorism bill.

But then, refusing to admit that the measure is dead, she says they are going to prepare a special bill just to bring in 42-day detention if something happens to convince people that it is needed.

Then, disgracefully and even more ridiculously, she accused the opposition parties of playing politics with national security.

The interviewer quite rightly asked Ms Smith if she was seriously suggesting that people like former spy Chief Dame Eliza Manningham Buller who opposed the bill, former Chief Constable Lord Dear who moved the amendment, the current DPP, and former Labour Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, and former Labour Attorney General Lord Goldsmith were all opposing 42 days for political advantage.

The Home Secretary had to admit that she wasn't suggesting that.

She was then asked if she accepted that when all these people who knew something about terrorism were opposed to 42 day detention because they thought it was the wrong thing to do, was it not possible that the opposition parties also really believed that it was the wrong thing to do.

Jaqui Smith had no answer to that and changed the subject, alleging that there had been a lack of willingness from the opposition to discuss how to implement the proposals workable.

The interviewer pointed out that if you think something is fundamentally wrong there is no point discussing how to implement it.

She had no answer to that one either and repeated her previous point.

Overall it was one of the worst performances I have ever heard from a holder of one of the great offices of state.


Shadow Security Minister, Pauline Neville-Jones, had made these comments on the House of Lords vote.

"The vote was decisive. The proposal to extend pre-charge detention failed on three significant grounds: necessity, desirability and practicability. On all sides of the House of Lords the majority view - drawing on significant experience in policing, security and the law - was that these provisions should be completely removed. The Government produced no evidence to support an extension to 42 days. The extension would have been disproportionate and, in any event, so unworkable that the police and prosecutors would not have used it."

Monday, October 13, 2008

House of Lords crushes 42 days proposal

The House of Lords has thrown out the proposal to extend the time suspects can be held without charge from 28 days to 42 days. An amendment to retain the present limit was carried by 309 votes to 118 - a majority of 191.

The amendment was proposed by a former Chief Constable, Lord Dear, who told the Lords that the proposal from the government was "fatally flawed".

Opening the debate, he said: "This attempt to appear tough on terrorism, I believe, is a shabby charade which is unworthy of a democratic process and we should reject it."

He said there was "no proven case" for changing the limit, that the legislation was "fatally flawed, ill thought-through and unnecessary" and would "further erode fundamental and legal rights that have been the pride of this country for centuries".

Later Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told MPs the 42-day plan would be dropped from the Counter Terrorism bill.

Let's hope common sense prevails and this bad idea has finally been killed

Of "Podestrians" and RTAs

Interesting comment at a meeting I attended today.

A "Podestrian" is a humorous term for a pedestrian with Ipod or radio earphones in both ears,

Apparently 10% of minor Road Traffic Accidents involving pedestrians include such a person

Sunday, October 12, 2008

These sentencing guidelines are literally rubbish!

As a Copeland councillor and Conservative PPC for Copeland I had messages from irate people all over the country when Copeland Council prosecuted Whitehaven bus driver Gareth Corkhill for leaving his wheelie-bin slightly over-full so that it was four inches short of closing.

An anonymous donor paid his £225 fine but he still ended up with a criminal record. Last year nearly 44,000 Britons received fines, generally of around £100, for “crimes” such as leaving their rubbish out on the wrong day.

I have said all along that the authorities should try to be lenient with people who are trying to do the right thing but may have made human mistakes, and if we're going to make an example of anyone it should be the serial culprits involved in dropping litter and fly-tipping.

Which makes it absolutely infuriating when a judge is forced by sentencing guidelines to be lenient with someone who operates flytipping on an industrial scale.

I defy anyone other than a fly-tipper to read this article in the Express without being furious or embarrassed.

It is absolutely barmy that we have sentencing guidelines which effectively require a judge to let off with a suspended sentence a repeat offender who has made a lucrative and fraudulent business out of dropping rubbish on beauty spots.

The judge himself said that he understood how homeowners would feel “resentful” at being penalised for “some miserable dustbin offence” while this individual escaped with a suspended sentence. He added that

“It creates problems of perception that decent, law-abiding citizens fear having a dustbin with a lid that doesn’t close and this defendant gets away scot-free.

“Sadly the guidelines on individual offending prevent me from imposing an immediate custodial sentence.

“Although that’s what, in truth, a number of people would wish to do.”


The leader of Dartford Council, Jeremy Kite, whose officers helped to bring the case, told the Express: “I sometimes feel the world’s gone mad.”

Quite.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Phil Roberts RIP

I've had to post far too many obits for good people on this blog in the past few months and here is another one.

Phil Roberts, who died in West Cumberland Hospital on Monday at the age of 90, was not a public figure and will probably not be known to most of the readers of this blog. But many people in Whitehaven and Cumbria did know him through his work for various charitable and social organisations.

In particular he is remembered by many former pupils of what was then called Whitehaven Grammar School where he taught for many years, ending as Deputy Headmaster. He was also chairman of the Friends of West Cumberland Hospital.

I'm sure that all those who remember him would agree with me that Phil was the best of what is meant by that expression, an English Gentleman. Everyone who knew him will miss him.

The funeral is to be held at St James' Church, Whitehaven at 1pm on Thursday 16th.

It's a funny old world

Yesterday my old friend Iain Dale endorsed Barack Obama in the US presidential election. Today in The Sun Stephen Fry, without quite going all the way, very nearly endorses John McCain.

If you'd told me that each of those two would make supportive noises of different presidential candidates this week and asked me to guess which I'd certainly have called it wrong.

This is an extract from Stephen Fry on the US election:


I was surprised when I did a bit of filming around the New Hampshire primaries with Mitt Romney. Do you remember him? He ran against McCain for the Republican ticket. He was a nice fellow and very relaxed.

What was interesting, though, was none of the Democrats would let us film with them because they wanted complete control over everything.

Quite surprising. You’d expect the Republicans to be the uptight ones not the other way round. It did make me think about things. At one point Obama was David Beckham, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela all rolled into one, a worldwide celebrity. I think he lost a bit of ground, though.

Like with David Cameron in Britain, people want to know what he’s actually going to do. I do like him, but the thing is he’s not as GREAT as I want him to be.

He’s a fine orator but, you know, he’s actually a bit joyless. He’s great to a large room or a big crowd but unfortunately he speaks exactly like that when he’s doing a small interview as well.

I really like McCain. Judging both of them on public image, which is dangerous, McCain looks like a far friendlier character than Obama.

I do think the McCain/Palin thing will blow up in their faces. There’s the joke figure of Sarah Palin, who is laughably dreadful, but McCain, for all his faults, is a remarkable man.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Sun on "Data Dunces"

This is "The Sun Says" reaction to the latest government loss of people's personal data:

ANOTHER day, another data disaster from this most incompetent of governments.

The Sun’s revelation that the private details of HALF our armed forces have been lost angers our new Defence Secretary John Hutton.

Good. But being furious is not enough. Mr Hutton is the new broom at Defence. He has a chance to show what he is made of.

The MoD has had an embarrassing run of data losses, of which this is by far the worst. So let’s see Mr Hutton crack the whip.

Sackings are called for. Many of them.


The last line, and particularly the last three words, may be a little premature pending a full investigation. But The Sun is right that there needs to be accountability and action.

And can there possibly be anyone in Britain who does not now see that the required database to support ID cards would itself be such a large security risk as to offset any security gain from the cards themselves? The more data the government holds in one place the greater the damage that can be done when someone loses it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nice to get a one word answer!

It makes a nice change to get a one word answer to a poltical question.

Earlier today I asked if Copeland council has any financial exposure to Icelandic banks or any other institutions reportedly in trouble. I got a one-word answer: no!

Seven key points on the Brown reshuffle

Andrew Sparrow has an interesting post on the democratic implications of the latest government reshuffle at the Guardian's politics blog here.


In the past this country's informal constitution included limits on the number of MPs and peers who could be given paid government jobs so as to restrict the ability of a Prime Minister to buy support for the government in parliament by lavish handouts of government jobs. The law still exists but they have got round it by appointing people to unpaid ministerial positions (see point 4 below.)

In that context it is most interesting to read Andrew's key points about the reshuffle, which in summary are:

1. The government is bigger than ever. According to his calculations, there are now 121 ministers, whips or law officers.


2. The payroll vote is bigger than ever. The payroll vote refers to members of the government and parliamentary private secretaries.

Paul Waugh has worked out that if you include the five backbenchers who have been given jobs as regional ministers' assistants and two backbenchers who have been made "government representatives" (ie, "envoys"), then no fewer than 44% of the all Labour MPs have an official government post of some kind.


3. The cabinet is huge. Officially there are only 23 members of the cabinet. But another 10 ministers have the right to attend on some or all occasions.

4. The number of ministers working for free seems to be higher than ever. There are 13 ministers or whips working without a ministerial salary.

5. Brown has now promoted most of those involved in the "curry house plot" against Tony Blair in 2006. As Rosa Prince has pointed out, 11 of the 15 members of the 2001 intake who signed a letter calling for Blair to quit have now got a government job or a select committee chairmanship.

6. You don't actually have to be sitting in the Commons or the Lords to be a minister. As Norton points out, Peter Mandelson, Stephen Carter and Paul Myners are already fulfilling their ministerial duties even though they haven't taken their seats in the Lords.

7. And we now have a minister for content. The the official list of departmental responsibilities for the culture department shows that Carter will be in charge of "communications and content"

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Government postpones May elections

Local Government minister John Healey has now confirmed that, as expected, the county elections planned for May 7 will be put back to June 4 to be combined with the European elections.

There have been some people who have got excited about this, as it is suggested that the government may be doing it for party-political reasons. Well, it would hardly be the first time, but I'm relatively relaxed about this one.

1) It will cost all parties, and more importantly the taxpayer, less money,

2) it means one campaign rather than two and at a warmer and drier time of year to be pounding the streets, and

3) I suspect Labour are still going to get another pasting from the voters anyway.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Quote of the day

“As so often when disaster strikes, this government leaps into action and begins an energetic programme of dithering.”

Simon Hoggart

(Thanks to "disgusted" at political betting for drawing my attention to this quote.)

George Osborne responds to Alistair Darling

This is the response to the Chancellor's emergency statement to the Commons yesterday afternoon by Shadow Chancellor George Osborne as issued by CCHQ and reported on ConHome.

“Mr Speaker, as we see again from today’s markets these are clearly times of great instability for our economy and great anxiety for the people we all represent here.

Families are deeply worried about their savings, their homes, their jobs and it is up to us to try to work together to get the country through this current crisis.

I don’t think the British public would thank us if they saw happening here in this House of Commons what everyone saw happening in the American Congress.

That is why we offer to look constructively at any proposals brought forward by the British government.

For let’s be blunt about it.

If the banking system fails, it’s not just the banks that go bust.


Businesses fail. Families can’t get mortgages. People lose their jobs – not just in the banks but across the wider economy.

The Prime Minister said we’d never see a return to 15% interest rates – well this week one of our high street banks has written to many of its small business customers increasing their interest rate to 15.8%.

All of us need to work together to stop Britain sliding from a banking crisis into a deep recession.

Of course, constructive support does not mean we are suspending our critical faculties.

We will return at a later date to ask how on earth Britain found itself, at the end of this age of irresponsibility, with more personal and public borrowing than any other advanced economy in the world.

But today I want to ask the Chancellor about the immediate issues facing the banking system: about the issues of confidence, liquidity and capital.

First, he mentioned the Banking Bill. Can he confirm he will create the Bank of England resolution regime that we think should have been used to deal with North Rock and Bradford & Bingley.

As I told him last week when he met, this Bill will have our support.

We also welcome the decision to raise the limit of protection on retail deposits to £50,000.

We’ve been proposing this for almost a year from this despatch box and it is clearly the right thing to do.

Even so, events are moving fast with the broader guarantees issued by first Ireland and Greece, then Germany and Denmark and others.

Will the Chancellor confirm that none of these countries informed the British Government in advance and does he agree that it is not helpful for European leaders to call for international co-ordination at summits and then hours later act unilaterally?

As he implied in his statement their confusion is adding to market anxiety today.

He is going to ECOFIN tomorrow.

What reassurance can he give us that we can avoid descending further into a beggar-thy-neighbour approach that will in the end help no one?

Turning to the issue of liquidity:

The increasing reliance of our banks on the overnight money markets is creating a ‘hair trigger’ effect, which leaves individual institutions more and more exposed to events.

This clearly must be undone, and so we all support the Bank of England’s decision to extend funding to the banks from tomorrow.

This should address the urgent liquidity problem, but let’s be clear about what’s happening here.

The Bank of England is becoming not just a lender of last resort but the lender of only resort.

Does the Chancellor agree with me that in the medium, term and the long term that is unsustainable?

We need to address not just the symptoms of the crisis but the cause.

That brings me to the issue of capital.

The cause of this crisis is that we built an economy on debt-fuelled bubble – and now the bubble has burst and the debt is being called in.

This leaves banks undercapitalised and their balance sheets weak.

There are steps that can be taken now to stop for example the ‘mark to market’ accounting rules adding to the downward spiral of falling asset values and restricted lending.

Now the Chancellor’s immediate reaction was to say it would make ‘no difference’.

Many many banks disagree with him and so do many other European countries.

If he won’t accept our argument, will he at least engage with theirs’?

That still does not address the central challenge – the need to recapitalise the British banks.

Does he agree with me that this must, in the first instance, mean shareholders accepting their responsibility?

As I said to the Conservative Conference, banks that pay out dividends instead of rebuilding balance sheets should be held to account by regulators.

Now I know the Prime Minister said, when he went to New York, that he wanted to handle this crisis on a case by case basis.

But events have moved on and does the Chancellor accept that the ad hoc approach is running out of road?

No one is expecting the Chancellor to get up here and speculate on every single option available but he himself confirmed yesterday that big steps are being considered by the government.

And would it not be irresponsible to not at least consider more dramatic measures to help our banks – including support from creditors and government injections of capital.

Of course there must be very strict conditions to protect taxpayers and ensure that they benefit first from any gain.

We could not contemplate taxpayers’ money being used to prop up the kind of salaries and bonuses we have seen in recent years.

The Chancellor can ask his new city minister about that in the House of Lords.

And we must make sure that in return for any support the banks start lending again.

But in the end, for all the risks to taxpayers involved, there is one thing worse than government action.

And that is inaction in the face of this crisis.

For then the far-greater risk to the taxpayer, and the country, is of a long and lasting recession.

Boom has turned to bust.

Now bust must not become something worse.

That is why Conservatives stand ready to help.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Apparently not ...

Further to previous post, the BBC website reports this lunchtime that Downing Street insists it is pushing ahead with attempts to extend terror detention without charge to 42 days.

Gordon Brown's official spokesman said the prime minister believed pushing ahead was the "right thing to do".

The BBC understands that ministers have warned the PM it would be "politically suicidal" to try to force the measure through against the wishes of peers.

No 10 declined to answer "hypothetical" questions about whether the measure would be dropped if peers reject it.

Perhaps Gordon should change his surname to Bennett!

Has the penny finally dropped on 42 days ?

Several newspapers suggest today that the government may have finally realised that detention without charge for 42 days should be dropped.

Not because they have recognised that it's a bad idea, but because ministers have accepted that there is "not a cat in hell's chance" of getting it through the House of Lords.

I hope this report is correct, not because I've gone soft on terror, but because locking people up for that length of time without charge would be actively counterproductive. Internment was the best recruiting sergeant the IRA ever had.

It might be a different matter if the authorities responsible for bringing prosecutions or the majority of security experts thought that further increases in the time people can be held awaiting charge was necessary or helpful. But in fact the current DPP, the former Attorney general and Lord Chancellor under Blair, and Dame Manningham-Buller are among those who oppose it.

A bad idea whose time has come and gone.

Conservatives propose a two-year council tax freeze

George Osborne has announced that if the Conservatives win the next election, every counciol will be eligible to join a scheme for a two-year freeze in council tax in order to help families cope with the rising cost of living.

This measure will save a typical Band D household over £200, and millions of families will benefit.

The Shadow Chancellor promised, “Every council tax bill of every family in every council that takes part will be frozen.”

And he said, “Instead of council tax bills that rise year after year under Labour, millions of families will get help at the time they need it most. Conservatives will not leave people to struggle with the credit crunch alone.”

The costs for the council tax freeze will be shared between local and central government.

Any council that makes savings to keep its annual council tax increase to 2.5% or below will receive additional money from central government to reduce council tax bills by a further 2.5%.

This central government funding will be raised by reducing spending on expensive private sector consultants and advertising by £500 million in the first full year of government, and by £1 billion in all subsequent years.

George stressed that as families across the country tighten their belts and live within their means, so must the government.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Did Channel 4 break the law?

It was reported last night on several blogs including Iain Dale here, and Conservative Home here, that CCHQ has foiled an attempt by Channel 4 to infiltrate a Conservative fundraising organisation. It is alleged that a production assistant for the Dispatches programme called Jenny Williams attempted to join, and made a donation to the party, but that Conservative officials became aware that something funny was going on.


Both blogs quote an official Conservative statement that

"It is not acceptable for journalists to masquerade as a member of the Conservative Party - or any Party for that matter - in a covert, self-appointed role to “check” compliance procedures. It is of particular concern that as part of this subterfuge, Channel 4 deliberately obscured the source of Party donations so we were misled into believing it was Miss Williams who made the donations, when it was not."

The party has a letter of apology from Ms Williams which apparently includes the following statement

"I write to confirm that the donation of the sum of £334 made in two payments on the 4th August 2008, and the 1st September 2008 were made by me but the true donor was Channel Four Television."



When it became clear that the money had been given under false pretences the Conservative party did not apply it to party funds, but instead donated it to the Welsh House Farm Project, a community centre in Birmingham.



It is my understanding of the campaign finance laws passed by the present government that giving money to a political party through surrogates or knowingly making a false declaration about where money donated to a political party has come from is now illegal. Certainly the police investigated a recent case when it was alleged that money was given to the Labour party through surrogates.



Did Channel 4 or Ms Williams break the law ? It will be interesting to see whether the electoral commission or the police follow this up.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Britain neglects the navy at our peril

At a dinner earlier this week I found myself seated between two retired naval officers - one British, one American - both of whom now work in the nuclear industry. Many aspects of their conversation were fascinating, but one thing was particularly relevant to today's news. The Brit has a son who has followed him into the Royal Navy and is currently serving ashore in the middle east - on principle I'm not going to say the name or the country but I'm sure you get the drift.

Looking up the details on arriving home I find that literally thousands of Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel are currently serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact the article linked to below says that half of the 8,000 British personnel in Afghanistan for the next six months are sailors and marines.

It just goes to show how much we expect of our armed services - as well as their own skilled and specialist roles we require them to serve in theatres of war and in other tasks when we're short of people.

Which makes it all the more disgraceful that the present government is neglecting the Royal Navy. Our Fleet protects 90 per cent of Britain's imported trade. Yet according to a report in today's Telegraph, nearly half our destroyer fleet has been mothballed, and the RN now has just five air defence warships left to protect our ships from aircraft and missile attack at a time when other nations such as China, India and Iran are investing heavily in anti-ship warfare.

Three Type 42 destroyers – Exeter, Nottingham and Southampton – have been "parked up" in Portsmouth at "reduced readiness" up to two years before they were due to be decommissioned.

Falklands War veterans are particularly angry after HMS Exeter, the last serving warship from the campaign, was refused permission to fly a paying-off pennant when it entered harbour after its last mission.

Britain's force of destroyers and frigates has now been reduced from 35 to 22 in the last decade despite government promises it would not slip below 25.

It will be another two years before the first of six of the highly sophisticated Type 45 destroyers can be deployed, and meanwhile there is a serious gap in air defences.

Pressures on the Navy's budget are immense with cuts of 20 per cent predicted in the next decade reducing the ship building budget to by £4 billion to £14 billion.

The government has made a big fuss about the proposed new fleet carriers it intends to build, but without enough escorts it will be impossible to deploy these vessels to project power in any dangerous theatre of operations as they would be too vulnerable.

You can read the full article here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hell freezes over again ...

Earlier this year when Hillary Clinton appeared in a sympathetic interview with someone who she used to regard as part of the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" one of the US papers wrote the headline "Hell has officially frozen over."

I wrote something similar last month, when the Guardian published a piece which took seriously the idea that progressive people consider that there were times when Labour deserved to lose an election, even to the Conservatives, and that we might be approaching one of those times.

Now for the third time in a year and the second in less than 30 days we have another "Hell freezes over" moment.

Gordon Brown is to give Peter Mandelson a peerage so he can return to the cabinet. He must be desperate.

I have been trying to think of an example of two living people who are even more notorious for not liking each other so that I can write an "and next week X and Y announce that they are the best of friends" joke. Even in the world of politics I cannot think of two people both of whom are still alive to which that applies.

But perhaps the general flavour of the point could be caught by "And next week Ted Heath rises from the dead and announces that Margaret Thatcher was the greatest Prime Minister of all time."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Feedback from Copeland O&S - Hospital news

A meeting of the Children Young People and Families committee of Copeland Council today heard a presentation from representatives of NHS Cumbria.

The most interesting thing to come out of the discussion is that it now appears to be impossible for a final decision on the site of the hospital in Whitehaven to be taken in 2008 as had been expected - a consultation beginning later this year and a final decision in February or March looks more likely.

More details on the hospitals blog - see link at right.

Blair Resigns

Sir Ian Blair has announced his resignation as Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

"I am resigning in the best interests of the people of London and of the Metropolitan Police Service." he said.

He added that he had wanted to stay on until his contract ran out in February 2010 but that "At a meeting the new mayor made clear, in a very pleasant and determined way, that he wished there to be a change of leadership at the Met."

and that

"Without the mayor's backing I do not think I can continue in the job."

I think Boris Johnson did the right thing. Sir Ian's comments after recent inquries showed that he had become an obstacle to better policing.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Quote of the day - Wednesday

"They're useless, they're irrelevant, and they're going to go!"

Eric Pickles MP on the unelected bodies which an incoming Conservative government would scrap.

He also confirmed that money would be made available to enable councils to restore a weekly rubbish collection while increasing recycling.

Victory for the Ghurkhas

I was pleased to see that the High Court showed yesterday that there are institutions in Britain that are still motivated by a sense of justice.

It was atrocious that a group of Ghurkha veterans including winners of the Victoria Cross should have had to sue the government for the right to live here. They were the bravest of the brave, and this country owes them.

Of course we need a better system of balanced, non-racist immigration controls. But if there is one group of people who deserve sympathetic consideration when we decide who should have the right to live in this country, it is those who risked their lives to defend it.

I hope the government will not appeal against the decision and will act to give justice for the Ghurkha veterans.

Brown gets it wrong

Nick Robinson has pointed out on his blog that when he interviewed Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister got it wrong by claiming that the increase in deposit protection from £35,000 to £50,000 was "in the Banking Bill."

Actually it isn't. This measure was brought forward by the FSA under their existing powers. You can read Nick's post on the subject here.

Which of the following explains this, and which would be more worrying at a time of internation financial crisis: does it indicate that we have a Prime Minister who does not understand the financial regulation system he largely created, or that he was surprisingly careless in an interview on national TV about whether he was speaking the truth?

Conference Agenda - Wednesday

The Conservative conference agenda for Wednesday 1st October includes

* Preparing for government, with Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude

* Our local environment - speakers include Eric Pickles

* International Challenges - speakers include William Hague and Pauline Neville Jones

and the main event ...

* The party leader's speech from David Cameron