Saturday, January 31, 2009

Too many NEETs ...

NEET is an acronym for people not in employment, education, or training. It is bad news both for the people in this position themselves, and for society, if we have large numbers in this category, and a worrying sign that the number of NEETs is rising.

David Willetts has criticsed the Labour government for failing to take advantage of the economic boom years after it was revealed the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) has risen by nearly 100,000 since 2003.

New Government statistics show that the number of NEETs increased by 94,000 between 2003 and 2007 (the latest local authority sources), with almost half of local authority areas seeing a rise.

David, the Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, said, “These new figures show the scale of the problems facing young people all over the country, even before we entered the recession.”

He condemned Labour for doing so little to help NEETs during the good years – and stressed the figures highlighted the “complete failure” of Labour’s public policy:

“In particular, it is a failure of Gordon Brown’s bureaucratic education and training system, which is making the problem worse by forcing Further Education colleges to focus entirely on churning out paper qualifications.”

Friday, January 30, 2009

Quote of the day

On Labour's economic record

"The only thing they've been economical with is the truth!"

(said by my colleague Councillor Allan Mossop during a group meeting.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The IMF says the slump is worse in Britain

And the Institute of Fiscal Studies warns that it will take more than twenty years to pay off the debts accumulated during this recession.

Gordon Brown has been claiming

* that the slump is hurting every country in the world, (which is true)
* that Britain is better placed than most other industrialised countries to deal with it, (which is not,) and
* that he deserves full credit for everything that has gone right with the economy, but no blame for anything that has gone wrong (which is ridiculous.)

Unfortunately for the Labour government's argument, the International Monetary Fund has published a report which argues that Britain, far from being better placed to deal with the slump, will be "hit harder than any other advanced nation in the worst recession for more than 60 years." The IMF economists preduct that Britain will be worse affected than the USA, Japan, Spain, Italy, France, Canada or Germany. (See the Times Online report here.)

In the Sun newspaper, George Pascoe Watson writes here about the fact that that the debts Labour is accumulating will take 20 years to pay off, and that the IMF report is a "big blow" to Gordon Brown. As the same paper's leader article adds, Put on the spot by the Tories, the Premier had no answer except to admit we are in “deep recession”.

Meanwhile Ken Clarke has ripped to shreds the arguments for Lord Mandelson's proposals on the car industry.

Labour has failed. They are dashing around in a frenzy of desperate initiatives, confusing announcements with results and panic with resolve.

The choice which the Conservatives offer is not a "do-nothing" policy but a "do-the-right-thing" alternative. And the sooner there is an election so that the public can decide which policy has more chance of working, the better for the country.

Sack corrupt Lords - Cameron

David Cameron has called for a change the law so members of the House of Lords could be stripped of their peerages for breaking new anti-sleaze rules, in an article in the Independent which you can read here.

DC promised to bring in a raft of measures to repair what he called Britain's "broken politics" and said that the Lords scandal was a symptom of a government that is "making decisions convenient for themselves rather than the people they are supposed to be serving".

"It is completely unacceptable behaviour; we need to make sure it is properly dealt with," said Mr Cameron, who described as "pretty chilling" the transcript of Lord Taylor of Blackburn's remarks to undercover reporters from The Sunday Times posing as businessmen offering payment for a possible law change. "It is pretty clear that this went well beyond the rules that exist," he said.

"We would change the law to make sure it is possible to suspend, exclude or expel somebody from the House of Lords who has behaved inappropriately. If there is evidence that the rules have been broken so flagrantly, action must be taken."

Copeland Lib/Dems attacked by their own side

Copeland Liberal Democrats have come under fire from their own colleagues for failing to put up a candidate in the recent Kells & Sandwith by-election.

The Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) has this article on their website referring to Kells & Sandwith which notes that there was no Liberal candidate and is extremely unhappy about the fact. They even suggest the possibility that local liberal parties which consistently fail to put up candidates in elections should be suspended.

This can be a very difficult decision for all parties, not just the Liberals. In my opinion any party which wants to be taken seriously should make great efforts to give the electorate a choice by offering a candidate in every election if you possibly can, at least for parliamentary, county, borough, and district elections. (I have an open mind about parish councils - some are genuinely apolitical.)

But it can take a huge effort. I am very proud of the fact that as a constituency party chairman I never failed to ensure there was a full slate of Conservative candidates in every ward of my constituency at district level and above. But I have to admit that it took some doing. And the harder you are trying to find candidates, the more you have to watch what you are doing.

To be fair to Copeland Liberal Democrats, who are rather thin on the ground, if the hardline policy of suspending a local party which consistently fails to fight every ward were adopted, it would probably make it impossible to run a Liberal Democrat organisation in the constituency at all. This is not a party political point - the same would be true of Conservative and Labour branches in some areas.

If political parties want to get more candidates put up - which IMHO in the interests of democracy they should - they will do better to offer carrots rather than sticks.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Elections in Cumbria in 2009

1) At some stage between now and June 2010, there will be a general election.

When this happens there will be six MPs elected from Cumbria, with some boundary changes: specifically Keswick and three other Allerdale Borough Council wards (Dalton, Crummock, and Derwent Valley) will move from the Workington constituency into the new Copeland constituency. There are also boundary adjustments affecting the other seats.

The effect of these changes are to make the Labour held constituencies of Barrow & Furness, Carlisle, and Copeland significantly more marginal.

All three would turn Conservative on a swing of a little over 6%.

The most likely date for the General Election is May 2010, but it could be called at any time that the Prime Minister chooses, and he would undoubtedly call an election this year if he thought he had a good chance of winning it.

One constraint on when an election could be called this year is that they would need to pass a special act of parliament allowing three "principal" elections on the same day if they wanted to go for the same day as the county and Euro elections (see below). But the need to pass a new law in order to do something has rarely stopped this government.

2) All seats on Cumbria County Council will be up for election in June.

At the moment the county has no overall majority. Usually the elections are held on the first thursday in May, but they have been put back a few weeks to take place on the same day as the county election. Councillors will be elected for a four-year term.

3) On the same day there will be an election for members of the European parliament.

Cumbria is part of the vast "North West" Euro-constituency which currently has nine Euro-MPs but will drop to eight next time.

This election will be fought on a truly dreadful system involving "closed party lists" which is politician-speak for "you can only vote for the party and not the person."

Each party can nominate a slate of candidates, in order, and the seats are allocated to parties in proportion to the votes they get and to candidates in the order that their names appear on the lists chosen by those political parties. Which means that if you are number one on the Conservative or Labour list, you could be caught red-handed stealing from pension funds, fiddling your expenses and contributing to the collapse of half a dozen banks, and unless your party throws you off the list, you are still guaranteed to get elected.

Undemocratic? Absolutely. An insult to the voters? Yes. Supported by almost every party except the Conservatives? Afraid so. Labour brought it in to win brownie points with Brussels and get more control over their own MEPs. The Liberals would have preferred a more democratic form of Proportional Representation such as STV which is used in Ireland, but when they didn't get that, they supported the ghastly regional list system because PR would gain them more seats. Most of the small parties also support PR on the basis that they think they might win one or
two seats through it - as the greens and UKIP did last time.

But however dreadful the closed regional list system is - in my book it's the worst system of election ever devised, and if I had my way I would scrap it tomorrow - it is still important that people vote. This is our one chance for several years to remind the mandarins of Brussels that they should be accountable to voters, and the more people vote, the more chance that some people in the EU parliament and commission might pay a tiny bit of attention.

4) By-elections

Nothing in Copeland at the moment, but on 5th March in Carlisle there are elections for two wards on the City Council. In Castle ward a sitting Lib/Dem resigned the day before she would have been thrown off the council for missing meetings for six months, while Beulah ward has an election caused by the sad death of the sitting Conservative councillor, Sandra Fisher, who was the previous mayor of Carlisle.

I knew Sandra slightly: she was a very nice lady who worked hard for the area and will be missed.

Feedback on last night's meeting re Traffic proposals

There was a special meeting of the Bransty & Harbour neighbourhood forum last night to discuss the county council's proposals for traffic management in Whitehaven Town Centre.

About 30 people attended: I think the meeting could have been better publicised. However, for those who were there the discussion was quite constructive and the County council representatives present did genuinely appear to be listening.

This meeting was at an early stage of developing proposals: any changes which are agreed as a result of these proposals will not be implemented for several years and there will be another consultation on the refined proposals first.

The meeting divided into four groups of about half a dozen to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the proposals. In the group which I attended the main conclusions were

* The proposed junction improvements in Option One were strongly welcomed

* The other three proposals, Options, 2, 3, and 4 are extremely similar

* In these three proposals, the idea of a clockwise gyratory system in the north of the town centre including Tangier Street, George Street, and Duke street was broadly welcomed, as were the junction improvements

* However, there were serious concerns about the implications of closing Strand Street to most traffic (except for access) and the risk of serious congestion on what would become the main two-way route through and around the centre, Irish Street, Scotch Street, and Duke Street.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The best letter of complaint ever

I am rather inclined to agree with those on the BT Yahoo homepage and the Telegraph who describe this as the best letter of complaint ever written.

Apparently Sir Richard Branson personally phoned the customer to thank him for his feedback. A wise move.

Consultation on control of government spending

George Osborne and Francis Maude have launched a consultation, entitled It's Your Money, on a series of proposals designed to create a new cultural of financial discipline across Government.

In a speech at the Institute of Chartered Accountants, George Osborne attacked Labour for creating a public sector in which civil servants are encouraged to “shovel money out the door as fast as possible, regardless of how well that money is spent or how it can be paid for.”

He warned that a Conservative Government will inherit "the worst set of public finances any incoming government in Britain has ever had to deal with" - and outlined a series of proposals to introduce financial discipline:

* Create strong incentives for better financial discipline, including a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers in the employment agreements of all senior civil servants. (A fiduciary responsibility means that someone is trusted with the assets, wealth or well-being of a third party and has the responsibility to manage them in the best interests of the third party)

* Dramatically improve the transparency of information on public sector spending and introduce new measures that show the effectiveness of financial management across government.

* Introduce new ways to investigate wasteful spending and reward public sector employees for suggesting ideas that generate cost savings.

George, the Shadow Chancellor stressed, “Creating a new culture of financial discipline in Whitehall is not going to be easy. It will be like turning around a supertanker. But be in no doubt, we have the political will and detailed plans to turn the supertanker and put Britain on the right course."

Francis, the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, added, "With our commitment to strong incentives, more transparent information and better investigation we can create a culture of financial discipline across government and better value for the tax payers. We know that it is Your Money.”

To contribute to the consultation, please email

Monday, January 26, 2009

Time to ditch Labour

As Labour describe it, all the economic good news of their first ten years in office was entirely due to Gordon Brown - nothing to do with either the strong economic legacy they inherited from Ken Clarke or a growing international economy - and all the problems since were due to international factors.

They don't even appear to see the inconsistency of taking all the credit for any good news and blaming other people for any bad news. If you have been one of their supporters, Labour think you're too stupid to remember that they promised "no more boom and bust."

Of course, to any objective observer, Labour has got some things right and some things wrong. The sound economy they inherited from Ken Clarke lasted as long as it did because of one very important decision Labour got right - delegating the power to set interest rates to the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. But ironically even that good decision included one of the causes of the present crisis - to stop the Bank of England being too powerful Labour took away from them responsibility for regulating the Banks. The organisations to which they gave the task instead have not done a good enough job.

Bad Labour management both now and over the past few years is also contributing to a problem which will long outlast the present recession: after the first few years they failed to keep borrowing under control even when the economy was growing strongly, but now the slump is here Labour are borrowing money as if there were no tomorrow. The burden of debt they are accumulating - over a trillion pounds even according to their over-optimistic forecasts of a few weeks ago, most serious economists reckon it will be far worse - is quite terrifying. It will take decades to pay off.

A clear statement of the case for the prosecution against Labour is given here by Trevor Kavanagh in today's Sun and is well worth reading.

People who have voted Labour all their lives have been saying to me and to my colleagues that they are absolutely fed up with a Labour government which has failed them. A friend said to one of the people who were saying this

"Well, you know what to do: there's a general election coming up soon: vote them out."

Back through gritted teeth came the reply, said with great discomfort

"But you can't vote against the party."

Oh yes you can, whichever party you supported, especially if it is in the interests of the country to vote for a change. For the sake of yourself, and for the sake of your country, you can and you must.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cash for Laws

Accepting money from a private individual or company, not for advice, but to exercise any official responsibility is unacceptable whoever does it, and anyone proven to have acted in this way must be severely disciplined.

That applies whether it is asking questions or seeking to table changes to proposed laws, or breaking the rules against paid advocacy. Whether the people concerned are MPs, Peers, or any other member of a parliament or elected official, whether they are Labour, Conservative, Liberal or nationalist, it is just not on.

I am not easily shocked, but I was shocked and astonished by yesterday's Sunday Times article here which alleged that four Labour peers indicated their willingness to help change proposed legislation in return for large amounts of money.

All four have denied the allegations.

The Sunday Times claims that their reporters, posing as lobbyists acting for a foreign client who was setting up a chain of shops in the UK and wanted to secure an exemption from the Business Rates Supplements Bill, contacted ten peers who had declared outside consultancies - five Labour, three tories, one Lib/Dem and one Ulster Unionist.

The three Conservatives did not even meet the reporters, the Liberal and Ulster Unionist met them but refused to play along - the latter is quoted in the article as saying

“If your direct proposal is as stark as for me . . . to help to put down an amendment, that’s a non-runner. A, it’s not right and b, my personal integrity wouldn’t let me do it.”

But the Sunday Times alleges that four of the five Labour peers they contacted were willing to discuss ways to promote changes to the legislation.

As the Guardian points out here, these allegations, if true, are even worse than the "cash for questions" scandal.

We must not pre-judge the truth of anything until the statements made by the paper have been fully and impartially investigated. But such an investigation must take place as a matter of urgency.

Recession, Depression, Recovery

With the news yesterday that official figures finally confirm that the UK has had two consecutive quarters of negative grown, the commonly accepted definition of a recession, commentators have started to ask whether Britain may be headed for an actual depression.

I was reminded of a line used in the '70s in the US by then candidate Ronald Reagan, which could be adapted to the UK today as follows:

A Recession is when your neighbour loses his job
A Depression is when you lose your job
Recovery begins when Gordon Brown loses his job.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Welcome news re Sellafield

I am pleased to see that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has announced that Sellafield is in contention to be a possible site for a new nuclear power station.

If it happens this will be excellent news for West Cumbria and will have very strong local support throughout the political spectrum.

However, it is not a done deal - you do not get nuclear power stations built just by making an announcement. That is why we need together, accross the political divide, to ensure that the necessary difficult decisions such as how to upgrade the national grid are taken.

Support Our Small Shops

Small shops are at the heart of our high streets and town centres. They offer diversity and choice and provide a really personal service to their community.

Yet in many communities these independent retailers are under threat. They face a rising burden of regulation and tax, a daily battle against crime and violence, and competition from the growth of out-of-town shopping centres. It is estimated that 2000 shops close every year.


Rising business rates are hurting small shops - and yet many shops don’t claim the rate relief they're entitled to because they don’t know about it or because it's too complicated.

Rate relief could save shops up to £1,100 a year - so it's vital we help owners claim the full amount they're owed.

With the help of Leaseholders United, we are providing shops with an online tool to find out what relief - if any - they’re eligible for.

If you run a small business and want to see if you're entitled to rate relief, simply click here if you're based in England or here if you're based in Wales.

Find out more about Small Business Rate Relief


In the Summer, Conservative MPs published a report which set out the challenges facing small shops and ideas for the way ahead. It concluded that we must stand up for small retailers and recognise the vital role they play at the heart of our communities.

So we are campaigning to promote and save our small shops. In particular we are opposing Labour plans to make it easier for more out-of-town development, by scrapping the so-called ‘needs test’. If implemented, this will further undermine small, town centre shops.

You can help save your local shop. Become part our campaign to keep small shops at the heart of our communities.

Mark Prisk MP, the Shadow Minister for Small Businesses - “If you value your local shops then join our campaign to help them. You can make a difference.”


Sign our petition
Read the report and send your comments and ideas to the Office of Mark Prisk at or write to him at Mark Prisk MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA
Write to the Government to say NO to scrapping the needs test. Address your letters to Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA


How does it work?

Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) came into effect on 1st April 2005. The scheme is funded by a supplement on the rate bills of larger business ratepayers.

Who is eligible?

Properties with a rateable value of less than £5,000 will get 50% rate relief on their liability. Above £5,000 relief is available, but by 1% for every £100, below a maximum rate of £10,000 rateable value.

The relief is only available for ratepayers who either:

Have one property and are not in receipt of any other relief.
Have one main property not in receipt of any other relief and other additional properties with values of less than £2,200, to a total value £15,000 outside London or £21,500 inside London.
The local billing authority will calculate the exact reduction. The rate is calculated to each chargeable day. The relief is not automatic and must be applied for.

Who is not eligible?

Businesses with rateable values above the limits
Empty properties
Those receiving charitable relief
Is there a time limit to apply?

Ratepayers have until September 30th 2010 to apply for rate relief covering the years of 2007-08.

Regional Differences

The zero relief for properties with a rateable value between £10,000 and £15,000 outside London and £21,500 inside London.
In Wales the relief is given automatically and there are different RV thresholds.
Take up rates and awareness

The Local Government Association believes that some 870,000 firms are eligible for the rebate but only half have claimed. (1 June 2006)

An FSB survey found that 49% of eligible businesses were claiming SBRR. They also found huge regional variances in take up, with no identifiable pattern by region. (May, 2006)

In September this year, Leaseholders United ran a campaign to raise awareness of the availability of the relief.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Labour climbdown on MPs expenses

The government have backed down, at least for now, on their dreadful proposal to change the law so as to exempt MPs expenses from the same Freedom of Information requirements they imposed on everyone else.

The taxpayers are the people who fund parliament, which is there to represent the interests of all British citizens, and the public have a right to know that their taxes are being properly spent. It's perfectly reasonable that MPs should have the same sort of responsibility to account for how they have spent taxpayer's money that any other public body would have, and the same sort of measures should be in place that anyone in a properly run business would expect to find.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Copeland budget 2009 to 2010, continued

As previously mentioned, the meeting of Copeland Council's Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee which was supposed to be considering the budget had to be postponed from the week before last until the end of the month because proposals for consideration were not ready.

And then the meeting of the council's Resources Working Group had to be postponed from last Thursday to tomorrow for the same reason.

I gather that the papers for the meeting were sent out by courier today, e.g. the day before the delayed meeting date ...

The Strongest Possible Shadow Cabinet

David Cameron stressed we have the “strongest possible Shadow Cabinet to take us forward to the General Election” after announcing a number of changes.

He said, “With Ken Clarke’s arrival, we now have the best economic team. With the other changes I have made today, we have combined fresh thinking with experience, hope and change with stability and common sense.”

The reshuffle details are as follows.

Joining the Shadow Cabinet:

Kenneth Clarke becomes Shadow Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Secretary
Mark Francois becomes Shadow Minister for Europe

New Shadow Cabinet responsibilities:

Alan Duncan - Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
Chris Grayling - Shadow Home Secretary
Dominic Grieve - Shadow Justice Secretary
Nick Herbert - Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary
Theresa May - Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women
Eric Pickles - Chairman of the Conservative Party
Caroline Spelman - Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary

The full Shadow Cabinet from Monday, 19th January 2009 is as follows:

Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition & Leader of the Conservative Party

Rt Hon David Cameron MP

Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition in the House of Lords

Rt Hon Lord Strathclyde

Shadow Foreign Secretary

Rt Hon William Hague MP

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and General Election Campaign Coordinator

George Osborne MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Greg Clark MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP

Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Alan Duncan MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Dr Liam Fox MP

Shadow Minister for Europe

Mark Francois MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Cheryl Gillan MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Michael Gove MP

Shadow Home Secretary

Chris Grayling MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

Dominic Grieve QC MP

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Philip Hammond MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Nick Herbert MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Jeremy Hunt MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Health

Andrew Lansley MP

Chairman of the Policy Review & Chairman of the Conservative Research Department

Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP

Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of

Rt Hon Francis Maude MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Shadow Minister for Women

Rt Hon Theresa May MP

Opposition Chief Whip

Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP

Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Andrew Mitchell MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

David Mundell MP

Shadow Security Minister & National Security Adviser to the Leader of the Opposition

Baroness Neville-Jones of Hutton Roof

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Owen Paterson MP

Chairman of the Conservative Party

Eric Pickles MP

Shadow Minister for Housing

Grant Shapps MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government

Caroline Spelman MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Theresa Villiers MP

Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion & Social Action

Baroness Warsi of Dewsbury

Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills

David Willetts MP

Chief Whip in the House of Lords

The Baroness Anelay of St Johns (attending Shadow Cabinet)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Copeland budget 2009 to 2010

The meeting of Copeland Council's Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee which was supposed to be considering the budget had to be postponed from the week before last until the end of the month because proposals for consideration were not ready.

The meeting of the council's Resources Working Group had to be postponed from last Thursday to this coming Thursday for the same reason.

This is not a good sign.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ken is back

Pleased to see that David Cameron has persuaded Ken Clarke to rejoin the shadow cabinet. We need to use all our best people, and Clarke is one of them.

Ken Clarke was a very successful chancellor, who took over after Black Wednesday and left an economy surging so strongly ahead that all Brown had to do was not wreck it.

I don't share Ken's views on Europe in general, and the Euro and the Lisbon treaty in particular, but the Conservative party is big enough to be able to accomodate people with a range of views. As a cabinet minister Ken Clarke was completely loyal to John Major, and I'm confident he will work with, not against, David Cameron.

The people who argue that his presence on the Tory front bench gives new Labour and the BBC an opportunity to point to Conservative splits over Europe are missing an important point - the BBC and others had already been pointing to Ken’s absence from the front bench as proof that Europe was stopping Cameron from being able to deploy his best people. (See Nick Robinson’s blog a couple of weeks ago.)

By making full use of William Hague and Ken Clarke, DC does two things: he demonstrates that he is not obsessed with Europe, and that he is confident enough and persuasive enough to get the best known figures in the party into his team without limiting it to a narrow clique.

One of the problems which successive Conservative leaders had from 1997 to 2005 was that half the party’s best known figures were not on their teams, and that the shadow cabinet was overshadowed by people on the backbenches behind them.

Instead DC is well on the way to creating a situation where the shadow cabinet looks as much like an administration as the real one.

As a poster using the name Jono said on Conservative Home, (see link at right)

"It was the right move regardless of the European thing.

There is one pillar of the whole, painstakingly constructed edifice of the Brown myth that has always been vulnerable and that is the role of Ken Clarke in creating what was sustainable economic growth. He created the ‘Golden Legacy’ that Gordon, a lesser economist all round, has destroyed. It’s a powerful narrative.

So I’m pretty sure he’s been brought back to challenge Brown, not Mandelson. He is Brown’s achilles heal and Brown knows it. Mandelson just pails. He’s the superficial, headline-grabbing, vain ex-Trot, lightweight irrelevance he has always really been. He’s outclassed.

I think Clarke (no stranger to vanity himself, but a manager like Cameron knows that) is pissed off with Brown’s boasts and he’s been given the opportunity to stick it to the pretender. And he will take that opportunity. One more for the team and a legacy secured.

He is an annoying, flawed, lazy, implausible Europhile but he is brilliant and he’s got the bit between his teeth. Which means there are going to be excellent fireworks from now until the election.

I think Brown’s life just got a lot more difficult - not least because he’s about to be held a lot more accountable for his incompetence - by someone he looks up to (not through choice).

It’s a shrewd move by the Tory leader."

Posted by: Jono

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Labour trashes democracy with another rubbish policy

I was furious to read in the Sunday Times today this article about how the government has slipped through a measure giving councils the power to levy a £100 rubbish tax in a clause in the Climate Change bill.

The idea is to tax anyone who leaves out too much rubbish, particularly rubbish which cannot be recycled.

This new bin tax has been condemned by the Conservatives, and rightly so. It has not been thought through and will be unfair and counter-productive.

It is outrageous that if you get a lot of unsolicited mail, possibly because a previous resident of your house was on a lot of mailing lists, you should have to pay to dispose of it.

And let's think what the practical results are going to be.

People don't like paying tax. There are at least two obvious ways to get out of paying this one. People will use them.

Unless they start charging people to use municipal rubbish sites, a legal way to avoid the bin tax is to drive to the dump to get rid of your rubbish. Result, more car journeys, more congestion, more carbon released into the atmosphere, more damage to the environment.

And if they do start charging for household refuse disposal site, some people will start using the second and illegal option, which is fly-tipping. Result, more car journeys, more congestion, more carbon released into the atmosphere, rubbish and litter cluttering up the countryside, and much more damage to the environment.

My main objection to this is the stupidity of the policy itself, and my second objection is that having to pay bin taxes, when the recession is making money very scarce, it is yet another kick in the teeth for law-abiding families and individuals who play things by the rules.

Neither is it particularly democratic to have hidden this measure in an obscure clause of the Climate Change bill.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the TV

Digital switchover returns ...

Many people in Whitehaven and other areas of Copeland who were affected by the switchover of the TV signal from Analogue to Digital in 2007 will remember it as an expensive and annoying business, which went much less smoothly than all the national media hype suggested.

Most of the rest of North Cumbria, including the Keswick and Cockermouth area and the remainder of north and central Copeland, will be affected by the same process this summer when the Analogue TV signal at Caldbeck is turned off.

And some bad news for those who thought they had been through all the pain in 2007: when they switch the Caldbeck, Parton and St Bees transmitters from Analogue to Digital only service over in June and July this year, they will also be adjusting some of the channels for those of us who have already gone digital, so that the government can claim some frequency capacity back.

It's still not sorted out but it looks probable that some of those whose TVs were affected before will have to re-tune their set-top boxes again, and I have been told it is also possible that we will lose some channels.

I fear it looks likely that this will not be a simple process. Much more on this issue to come in later posts.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Embarrassing Quote of the week

I am indebted to Letters from a Tory (who in turn hat-tipped Guido Fawkes) for pointing out the following statement made by Tony McNulty M.P. in November 2008:

“This is desperate stuff from the Tories, who continue to scrabble around trying to find a coherent economic policy. There is no way they can get 350,000 new jobs out of these proposals. There are too many restrictions being applied, the incentive is too small and many of these ‘new’ jobs will simply displace other people seeking work. In addition, the Conservatives just cannot pay for this tax cut - it is misleading of Cameron to say he can pay for getting the short-term unemployed back into work by using figures of savings you would make from the long-term unemployed. Osborne’s judgment is wrong yet again. They are making headlines on the hoof and they will be found out. They need to make their sums add up - particularly at such a difficult time for the global economy. … Their figures on how many jobs would be created are complete fantasy.”

This quote comes from a press release two momths ago from Mr McNulty, a Home Office minister, on the Conservative plans to pay employers several thousand pounds for each unemployed worker they take on.

I have yet to hear whether he still thinks this now that Labour have copied that policy earlier this week - except that they are now claiming that almost identical measures will create 500,000 jobs rather than the 350,000 which Mr McNulty thought was "complete fantasy" ...

MPs Expenses

The Independent has an article today here under the title "A good day to bury bad news on MPs' expenses" and pointing out that while attention was focussed on big stories such as the Heathrow runway announcement, ministers have slipped out the news that they plan to change the law to prevent publication of MPs expenses.

Typical of this government - they lose a court case under existing law, so they change the law - though there is little doubt that most of the public would rather see MPs obey the existing law.

The article says that

"MPs will vote next week on an order that would prevent up to one million pages of receipts being released, despite having last year lost a long-running freedom of information battle.

"Under the plans, released quietly yesterday alongside major announcements on Heathrow and Equitable Life, MPs' expenses will be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act – thus preventing the public from seeking a full breakdown of legislators' taxpayer-funded allowances.

Officials had planned to release a full breakdown of MPs' expenses, down to the last receipt, after the Commons authorities lost a three-year legal battle over FOI requests demanding disclosure of a receipt-by-receipt breakdown of MPs' spending on second homes.

However, the autumn deadline for publication passed, with officials complaining that the process of scanning and redaction – expected to cost about £1m – was proving even more complex than first thought.

Under the new plans, the full expenses will remain secret. Instead, the House of Commons will publish MPs' expenditure under a series of headings."

This is treating the public with contempt. As the Conservatives have said, the proposals to put MPs expenses into the public domain do not go far enough, and the Government should allow people to apply for full details of claims.

To restore battered public confidence in our political system, we must do more to ensure that the taxpayers know that their hard-earned money is not being abused. As David Cameron said at party conference of the culture of claiming expenses from the taxpayer in secret,‘ALL THAT MUST GO.’

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Labour MP suspended

Douglas Carswell MP has an interesting blog post here about the expulsion from the Commons for five days of John MacDonnel the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington who will have areas of his constituency bulldozed as a result of the new runway at Heathrow.

I do think it is outrageous that the government would not even allow MPs to vote on this.

Partial Victory on Equitable Life

The government will compensate those policyholders "hardest hit" by the collapse of life insurer Equitable Life, the Treasury has announced.

Minister Yvette Cooper also apologised to the million-and-a-half policyholders who had lost money.

A former appeal court judge will advise the government on who will receive payment and how much.

Conservative MPs and campaigners, however, have said the scheme does not go far enough.

Liz Kwantes, of the Equitable Life Members Help Group, said she was worried about further delays.

"By the time they decide how to measure it, we've lost another year," she said.

"A lot of people have lost a lot of money. People have had a hard time - some have lost houses, their health has gone," she added.

Regulatory failure

More than eight years after the Equitable closed to new customers, the government has admitted that some regulatory bodies were partly to blame.

"We agree there has been maladministration in several areas and that government action is merited," said Ms Cooper.

"And I wish to apologise to policy holders on behalf of the public bodies and successive governments responsible for the regulation of Equitable Life between 1990 and 2001, for the maladministration we believe has taken place," she told MPs.

This was highlighted in a critical report published last year by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, who called on the government to establish a compensation scheme.

It is thought that more than a million of the 1.5 million people who had Equitable polices in 2001 have seen the value of their investments slashed, in some cases by as much as 50%.

However, it is not yet clear who will be offered any money, or how much.

In addition, Yvette Cooper told MPs that any eventual payments would still have to "take account of the position of the public finances".

The Conservative view has been and remains that the Ombudsman's recommendation should be implemented in full.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Feedback on yesterday's meeting of Copeland Council

Two particular issues were discussed

1) The council's accounts for 2006/7 and 2007/8 have still not been finalised.

A report from the audit commission had been presented to the council's Audit Committee last week. Because it has been classified as a "Part II" (e.g. confidential) document by council officers, members of the council were extremely limited in what we were able to say about it.

The Conservatives believe that the public should be entitled to know about some of the things in the report, and said so: we also asked if the report could be circulated to all councillors, and if a public report could be made on the progress in sorting out the accounts.

However it did come out in the debate that

* Finalising the accounts has fallen further behind schedule

* There will be extra costs beyond those previously reported although nobody is yet able to say how much.

2) The Rugby club

The Labour Leader stunned the council by proposing during the Executive Report, with no notice whatsoever, that the council should put forward one present and one former member of the Executive as Directors of Whitehaven Rugby Club.

They refused to accept an amendment that these directors should stand on a temporary basis while the principle of how the council should support the club is given more consideration.

At one point they tried to make it difficult for anyone not to support the motion to nominate these directors by linking that proposal with a motion of confidence in the club, but this was dropped when it was pointed out how unreasonable that would be.

The motion was carried with the votes of all the Labour councillors, with the Conservatives and Independent voting against.

Other issues: I repeated my request for the council to press the NHS trusts to support the hospital remaining on the Hensingham site and for the quickest possible decision while the money is still there.

It was agreed to ask the Harbour Commission to look at turning on "The Wave" (a system of lights in Whitehaven Harbour on which a lot of money has been spent) more frequently.

The council will be reviewing refuse collection arrangements over the Christmas period: as usual a number of councillors including myself received complaints about how this had gone in some areas.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Labour's Debt Crisis

The new Conservative poster campaign is about the huge public debt which this government is accumulating and will take a whole generation to work off.

It shows a newborn baby with the slogan

Dad's Nose. Mum's Eyes. Gordon Brown's Debt.

and adds

Labour's debt crisis: Every child in Britain is born owing £17,000. They deserve better.

2 million jobless ... and Brown hires a butler

Excellent piece by By Fergus Shanahan in today's Sun which you can read here.

As he puts iit, Brown has "not so much lost the plot as the whole allotment."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Copeland Council's Accounts

According to the Labour executive's report to tomorrow's meeting of Copeland council, which was written a few days ago,

"The audit of the 2007/08 accounts and the post-audit amendments in relation to the 2006/7 accounts are progressing. The Head of Finance and MIS and the Audit Commission manager have met regularly to discuss progress and actions arising. The Audit Commission will provide feedback on the progress of the audit to the Audit Committee at its' meeting of 7th January (the meeting of 17th December was re-arranged.)"

Unfortunately the report containing that feedback is a "Part II" report, e.g. one which is confidential, and I would therefore be breaking the rules if I said what was in the report.

I can and will say, however, that

* I am very concerned indeed by the issues raised in the Audit report

* The accounting problems about which Copeland councillors have had previous debates at full council and audit reports have, to put it very mildly, not been fully resolved

* I think the Audit Commission report should be circulated to all councillors, and

* An up-to-date report on what has been going wrong with the council's accounts needs to be debated in a public forum so that Copeland's taxpayers and voters can have an opportunity to know how their money has been managed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Flood warnings issued for parts of Cumbria

The Environment Agency has issued flood alerts for many parts of north and west Cumbria.

As of Sunday evening Flood Watch warnings - where flooding of low lying land and roads is expected - have been issued for:

Coast from Gretna to Silloth
Coast from Silloth to St Bees
Rivers Greta, St Johns Beck and Bassenthwaite Lake
Rivers Esk and Irthing
Middle River Eden
Rivers Lowther and Eamont
Lower River Eden
Rivers Brathay, Rothay and Winster
Rivers Ehen, Calder, Irt & Esk
Rivers Duddon, Crake & Mill Beck
Rivers Cocker, Marron and Derwent
Rivers Wampool and Ellen
Upper River Derwent, Stonethwaite Beck and Derwent Water
Rivers Caldew and Petteril
Upper River Eden
Rivers Kent and Bela

The Met Office says today will continue to be wet with the most persistent rain across Cumbria and Lancashire. It will continue to be very windy, with gales in many places.

Tonight will be wet and windy, with the rain heavy at times. The winds are expected to be gale force in many places.

Mark Harper MP on action to help disabled people

As the recession bites, it is more, not less, important that we make sure that disabled people are able to compete for the opportunities which will be available. Of course, it would have been much easier to do this in the good years but that opportunity has been squandered by the present Government.

Being prepared and ready to take office from day one is vitally important, and is a lesson we have learnt from the failings of this Labour Government. In 1997, Labour came to power 'policy light' and had given little consideration to how their rhetoric was going to be converted into solid policies which would benefit disabled people. A future Conservative Government will not repeat this mistake.

Welfare reform
Having inherited a sound economy, and benefiting from a decade of economic 'good luck' according to Tony Blair, it is disappointing that more progress hasn't been made in helping disabled people get off benefits and into work, reducing poverty.

There is a broad consensus that work is the best way out of poverty, but still only half of disabled people are in employment compared to four out of five of non-disabled people in the population as a whole. There are 2.6 million people currently claiming Incapacity Benefit, a number which has broadly stayed the same over the last 11 years in spite of a benign economic environment, and indeed the number of working age claimants has risen since 1997.

The message is clear: if we are to reduce poverty among disabled people, we must improve their opportunities to work, as well as give them the right help and support to get into work.

We will unlock many more opportunites for disabled people to move into work by placing caps on the numbers of economic migrants moving into the UK, and incentivise and encourage businesses to take on disabled people. It is also important that the Government leads by example which is why I want the Department for Work and Pensions to become an exemplar employer of disabled people for the rest of Government and the wider business world.

It is also crucial that we make the changes to our welfare system so that disabled people get the proper help and support to find and stay in work. We will use the expertise of the private and voluntary sector, and pay by results, in order to help disabled people realise their potential.

Removing Benefit Barriers / Independent Living
We will also break down the barriers that prevent disabled people from moving into work and living independently. The benefit system is hugely complicated, overly bureaucratic and confusing for disabled people who use it, and discourages people from moving into work. We want to simplify the system and make sure that it helps people move into work, not stay on benefits.

A future Conservative Government will move faster than the present Government in removing some of the obstacles which prevent disabled people from living independently. One of the central problems that disabled people face is in finding the right care services which best serve their needs. Often they have to fit their lives around those supporting them, rather than being in control themselves. We want to speed up the national roll out of Individual Budgets so that disabled people don't have to wait to take control of their own lives.

The Conservative Party is determined and ready to take up the reins of Government and make a positive difference to the lives of millions of disabled people.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Message from David Cameron

As the figures come out which finally officially confirm that Britain is in recession (not that anyone had much doubt about it), David Cameron has sent out the following message about the practical, lasting help this country needs.

We face a very difficult time in 2009. Unemployment is rising, people are struggling to pay the bills, repossessions are going up, businesses can't get hold of credit. The situation is critical, so it is vital that any political decisions made now meet two vital tests.

First, we need to be sure that what we're doing is really related to what is wrong with our economy. Our party's biggest proposal - the National Loan Guarantee Scheme - is absolutely related to the core problem of this recession; the drying up of credit that is denying businesses cash flow. By making sure money can flow from banks to businesses again, our scheme directly addresses that.

The second test for politicians is that any action taken must be right for the future as well as for right now. What Labour have done is both short-term foolish and long-term foolish. The pointless VAT cut hasn't offered immediate help - in fact it's been condemned by both Next and M&S - and worse, it will add an eye-watering £12.5billion to our national debt.

Contrast that with our plan to abolish income tax on savings for everyone on the basic rate of tax. It's short-term wise - helping the forgotten victims of Labour's recession now - and long-term wise because it sends out the much-needed signal that saving is good. That's exactly the sort of practical, lasting help this country needs right now.

David Cameron

Friday, January 09, 2009

A well deserved honour

I was pleased to see that several Cumbrians were honoured for distinguished service to the community in the New Year's Honours list.

I was particularly pleased to see that Kerry Maxwell, who has done a great deal both for the regeneration of Whitehaven and for vulnerable young people in the town over the past 18 years, has been awarded the OBE.

Putin demonstrates the case for Nuclear Power

One of the senior officials at Sellafield said to me last year, only partly in jest, that the person who had done most to revive support for nuclear power in Britain was Vladimir Putin.

Many a true word ...

The recent dispute between Gazprom and Ukraine has cut off supplies of gas to other countries over a large swathe of central europe who were not parties to the dispute.

We cannot afford to be left dependent on imports of oil and gas from unstable areas of the world when the remainder of existing nuclear plants, and a large part of our conventional power generating capacity, reach the end of their operational lives in the next few years.

Appropriate forms of renewable energy (preferably not a ridiculous over-use of onshore wind power) have a role to play in dealing with this, but the most appropriate low-carbon means of replacing the plants which will soon need to be decomissioned is a new generation of nuclear power plants.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Rescuing the British Economy

David Cameron has announced a series of new policies to encourage saving and ensure a good future for Britain’s economy.

These demonstrate that the Conservative approach is not "Do nothing" but "Do something which will work."

David began his speech with an analysis of the problem: the present government has allowed the level of government, corporate and personal debt to rise too high. Labour’s Debt Crisis means we are in a weaker economic position than other countries.

He stressed, “We need to make a really big change: from an economy built on debt to an economy built on saving; from a country and government that has lived beyond its means to one that lives within its means.”

David outlined two firm proposals to help turn Britain “from a spend, spend, spend society into a save, save, save society”:

* Abolishing income tax on savings for everyone on the basic rate of tax (with top rate taxpayers continuing to pay the same)
* Raising the tax allowance for pensioners by £2,000 to £11,490.

These changes would be funded by restricting all Government departments – except for health, schools, defence and international development – to a 1% real increase in spending in 2009/10.

David also made further policy announcements to illustrate the new direction in which we want to lead Britain’s economy:

* Green tech incubators, to help new green start-ups get off the ground
* An environmental stock market, where green companies are listed and traded
* Measures to ensure the majority of the population have access to fibre-optic
broadband within five years – and as near as possible universal coverage within
ten years

David ended his speech by stressing that Britain’s economy needs to move forward, not back:

“We are at the end of the road under Labour. There is no going forward with them. This country needs to strike out in a new direction. So it is a clear choice: a grim future under Gordon Brown, or a good future with the Conservatives.”

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

We need a ceasefire on both sides in Gaza

I support the call from William Hague for a ceasefire in Gaza, implemented by both sides. This is the only solution which will preserve the Peace Process, protect Israel’s security and allow action to be taken to address suffering in Gaza.

William called for an immediate end to the rocket attacks by Hamas, condemning them as “acts of terrorism”, and said that this was a "disastrous time" for civilians in Gaza. No country in the world would tolerate having rockets fired at their civilians from a nieghbouring state: we wouldn't accept it and can't expect Israel to. As President-elect Obama put it, if someone was firing rockets at the house where his young daughters were asleep, he would do everything in his power to stop it.

But Palestinian women and children are human beings too.

William Hague warned that it is not in Israel’s interests to continue the operation for a long time, partly because Hamas will try to declare victory if they survive the onslaught, and partly because it risks escalating the situation on other borders, such as Israel’s border with Lebanon. He said that

“It is fair to say that Israel will not achieve all its objectives just by military action. They have been defending themselves against attacks from hundreds of rockets with increasingly long range, but they have to balance that with the need to pursue a wider peace in the Middle East. And if this goes on for a long time I think it will damage those prospects.”

He urged the new US administration to make the situation in Gaza, as well as the entire Middle East Peace Process, one of their top priorities.

And he stressed the British Government must work with the United States and other members of the Middle East Quartet to secure an urgent return to negotiations:

“The only long-term solution is a negotiated two-state agreement that achieves a viable and secure Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel with her right to live in peace and security recognised by all her neighbours. This requires Britain to work with those, including President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, who are dedicated to achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Quartet laid down three very clear conditions for Hamas in 2006. These principles remain the standard against which to judge Hamas’s behaviour. While violence is continuing against Israel and these principles remain unfulfilled, talks with Hamas are out of the question.”

Monday, January 05, 2009

When "Anti-racists" are themselves racist

I have been reading about "Daughters of Shame" which is to be published on Thursday by Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of an advice centre for women who are in danger of being forced into marriage against their will.

I think it is extremely important to qualify what I am about to write by saying that the great majority of the asians who I have met, and, I believe, the great majority of asian families in Britain respect their womenfolk and would not dream of forcing them into marriage or of threatening them with so-called "honour killings" if they disobey.

But for the minority who do think they have the right to treat their women in such a shameful way, it is about time we treated such behaviour with the same zero tolerance which we would expect if this was happening to white women. And if anyone would deny asian women the protection which the law would give to any other woman in this country it is them, not the people who want the law to protect women, who are the racists.

One of the most infuriating aspect of the report on Jasvinder Sangh in yesterday's Sunday Times, which you can read here, is the allegation that when she tried to get schools in Bradford to display a government poster about the work of the Forced Marriage unit, every single one refused, citing "cultural sensitivities." The article puts this in the context that the Forced Marriages unit helps some 400 girls every year, some as young as 11, who have been bundled off to other countries to be married, amd that 300 teenage girls have disappeared from school rolls in Bradford over the past few years.

If this report is accurate, this is just not good enough. Most Islamic scholars would tell you that forced marriage and so called "Honour killings" have nothing to do with the teaching of Islam. The same applies to the other major religions of the world (this is not specifically or exclusively a muslim problem).

Cultural sensitivities are important, but protecting women involved from violence is even more important.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Helen Susman RIP

One of the most remarkable human beings I ever had the privilege of meeting died last week at the age of 91.

Helen Susman was for many years a lone voice as the only opponent of apartheid in the South African parliament.

She was a formidable and very brave lady who somehow managed to combine the strongest and most courageous attachment to moral principle with a strong pragmatism about what would actually work, and who also combined a wicked sense of humour with great courtesy.

I met her when she visited Britain while the National party was still running South Africa. There was a great deal of controversy at that time about whether Britain should impose sanctions against South Africa: I asked her what she thought about this and, if we were not to impose sanctions, what we should do instead.

Her answer was that we should keep up the moral pressure and keep calling for reform, but that it would not help black people in South Africa if we were to wreck the country's economy.

In recent years Helen Susman was very disappointed by the ANC, particularly the support of Mbekei for Robert Mugabe, and his failure to acknowledge the causes of AIDS. But she said that although she had hoped for better she would never regret working for the end of Apartheid.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Best and worst political predictions for 2009:

It's been amusing to look through various predictions which political pundits are making about the new year.

The most incoherent and inconsistent set of predictions is made by James Mackintyre at The New Statesman and can be read here.

Mr Mackintyre is not optimistic about the UK or US economies and writes that

"The economies of both the US and the UK will, as Barack Obama has warned, get worse before they get better, with the house-price crash continuing and unemployment in the UK passing the totemic three million mark."

He adds that

"The UK recession will deepen with a series of industrial crises, particularly for the car industry as General Motors goes bust and Vauxhall and Honda pull out of the UK. The construction and retail sectors will continue to suffer declines in demand."

James Mackintyre thinks it likely that the Labour party will be punished in the opinion polls and local & European elections in the first half of the year as a result, but he somehow manages to combine this view with the belief that

"By the end of the year, the two main parties will have switched positions in the polls, with the Conservatives heading into 2010 languishing below 30 per cent."


"The Liberal Democrats will continue to drift downwards in the polls"

In other words, he thinks that while the economy is in a dire mess the Labour government on whose watch it has happened will have a huge opinion poll lead.

Now I'm not taking anything for granted: I don't think any party can afford to be complacent about the next election. But it's not that common for a government to build up a big polling lead during a recession, especially if they've spent the previous few years boasting about how their supposedly brilliant economic management has ensured "no more boom and bust"

If Mackintyre produced the least intelligent set of predictions for 2009, the most interesting and probably the most intelligent, came from Robin Lustig at the BBC which you can read here.

I particularly appreciated the start of his piece, which was the following quote from Financial Times columnist Michael Skapinker:,

"What happens next? I do not know. Nor do you. Desperate though we are to find out, we should be grown-up enough to admit there is no one to tell us. It makes life hard, but what would we be otherwise? Curiosity about what happens next is an essential part of the joy and anguish of being human."

And taking the mickey out of himself, Lustig followed this quote by saying "very wise words they are too. Nevertheless, fool that I am, I shall ignore them."

A third set of predictions came from Iain Dale here:

1. There won't be an election.
2. Unemployment will top 3 million by the end of the year.
3. Damian Green will not face charges.
4. Ed Balls will be Chancellor by the end of the year.
5. Ken Clarke will join the Shadow Cabinet. David Davis won't.
6. The Independent will go out of business.
7. There will be a second massive recapitalisation of the banks.
8. Lynne Featherstone will be promoted to a major job on the LibDem front bench.
9. Jonathan Ross will leave the BBC.
10. The economic growth rate will be three times worse than the Treasury has predicted.

I suspect he has most of these right. The last of the four sets of predictions comes from Adam Boulton at Sky News here, although he's called them "Ten provocations" and I'm going to make a few comments (not exactly fisking as I agree with some).

1/ There will be no UK General Election in 2009.

All four of the commentators whose predictions I have quoted agree on this one: but if Gordon Brown thinks he can win an election he will call one. What he won't do is repeat the mistake he made in 2007 of allowing a head of steam to build up for an election and then looking like a coward when he didn't call it. He will be looking for an opportunity to catch the Conservatives by surprise, and we must not - and won't - give him that opportunity.

I would not be in the least surprised if the briefings Gordon Brown has given the press that there will be no Spring election is disingenuous and that he might call an election with the vote as early as the end of February if the polls in January look promising.

Whether the election is in February, March, June, Autumn, or in 2010, the Conservatives have to be ready, and we will be.

2/ Jacqui Smith will be replaced as Home Secretary.

On the basis of her competence, or lack of it, she certainly deserves to be, but that has not usually been the criteria in this government.

3/ George Osborne will be replaced as Shadow Chancellor.

No. He's had a huge part in the strategy which took the Tories off the "flatline" of around 30% we'd been on for nearly a decade before David Cameron's election. That's why Labour and their friends in the media want his scalp, and we'd be mad to let them have it. And note that Ken Clarke - the strongest alternative candidate for the job of shadow chancellor - has publicly stated that David Cameron would be making a mistake to move George Osborne, even to give the job to himself, for precisely that reason.

4/ The Obama Administration will give priority to the Israel-Palestine Peace Process.

After the economic crisis, yes. Wouldn't you?

5/ The Irish will vote "Yes" on the EU treaty.

There will certainly be a huge attempt to bully or bribe them into doing so, but I wouldn't bet your shirt on this succeeding. People don't like being manipulated.

6/ The Pound will be worth more than the Euro next Christmas.

Probably. But I have a slightly different prediction on this one, and it applies over more than one year. There will be periods when the Euro looks strong, as it does now, and economically illiterate supporters of British entry to the Euro will argue that means we should go in. There will also be periods when the Euro drops, and economically illiterate opponents of entry will argue that this means the Euro has failed.

But the real economic argument for or against scrapping the pound and adopting the Euro has nothing to do with whether the Euro is high or low at any given point in time. It's about two main things

* Whether the benefits of a more stable exchange rate with the Euro-zone, and lower transactions costs for trade with the Euro area, are offset by the costs of less stable interest rates and less stable exchange rates with the dollar zone, and

* How likely it is that the interest rate policy required for the EU will be wrong for Britain because, as the saying goes, "one size does not fit all," especially because of differences in our housing and financial markets and if Britain is at a different stage of the economic cycle to the rest of Europe.

I am inclined to agree with William Hague: it looks most unlikely that a dispassionate analysis of these questions will make it look to be in Britain's interests to join.

7/ Labour will be further behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls next Christmas.

Probably, but we can't afford to be complacent.

8/ The Liberal Democrats will win a parliamentary by election.

Don't know - but I'll bet Labour will lose one.

9/ Either Tony Blair or George W Bush will start studying for holy orders.

10/ President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni will have a child (perhaps by adoption).

No comment - but would you want to confess your sins to any of them ?

Happy New Year !

Happy New Year 2009

Wishing everyone who reads this a happy, healthy, and successful New Year 2009.