Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gurkhas: how they voted

Conservative, Lib/Dem, and nationalist MPs voted for the Gurhkas. The Lib/Dems have told the BBC that the following 28 Labour MPs rebelled against the government over the number of Gurkhas allowed to live in the UK:

Dianne Abbott
Ian Cawsey
Harry Cohen
Jeremy Corbyn
Paul Farrelly
Mark Fisher
Neil Gerrard
Kate Hoey
Kelvin Hopkins
Joan Humble
Glenda Jackson
John McDonnell
Shona McIsaac
Andrew MacKinlay
Gordon Marsden
Bob Marshall Andrews
Julie Morgan
Nick Palmer
Stephen Pound
Nick Raynsford
Andy Reed
Linda Riordan
Alan Simpson
Andrew Smith
Paul Truswell
Keith Vaz
Robert Wareing
Mike Wood

This list includes several MPs who are normally arch-loyalists but not, interestingly and disappointingly, any of the Labour MPs from Cumbria despite this being a county with strong service connections.

Postscript: when the full list came out, we learned that the Labour MPs for Barrow, Carlisle, and Workington voted against the Gurkhas.

The MP for Copeland did not vote.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bye Bye Brown

Iain Dale put You Tube to far better use today than the Prime Minister did a few days ago, calling on the PM to resign and suggesting that people sign the petition to that effect on the Number ten website





You can sign the petition here.

David Cameron on today's vote

DC issued the following statement this afternoon:

"Today is an historic day where Parliament took the right decision. The basic presumption that people who fight for our country should have a right to come and live in our country has been set out very clearly. And the Government has now got to come back with immediate proposals so that those Gurkhas who have been waiting so long for an answer can have that answer. It can be done, we've set out a way for it to be done so that it doesn't ruin our immigration system and it should be done.

"I think that everyone would like to say congratulations to Joanna Lumley for the incredible campaign that she's fought with all these brave Gurkhas, some of them very old and very infirm, coming to Parliament again and again.

"The Government attempted a shoddy deal today to try and buy off some of their backbenchers and I'm proud of the fact that it didn't work and I'm proud that Labour joined us all in the lobby and actually got the right result for Britain and for the Gurkhas.

"I also pay tribute to Nick Clegg for holding the debate today, it was pleasure to join him in that lobby and get the Government to see sense."


Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green added:

"A Conservative Government would scrap Labour's plans for the Gurkhas. We will create a new category within the points based system for former service personnel who are not British citizens and we will allow them the right to settle. The vast majority of those who will benefit from this category will be pre-1997 Gurkhas. We will be consulting with Gurkhas representatives and others about how best to achieve this."

Victory!

Delighted to see that the House of Commons defeated Gordon Brown's shabby attempt restrict the rights of Gurkha veterans to settle here.

The number of Gurkha veterans and their dependents is small in comparison to the numbers who Labour has already allowed to come here, and they have proved their loyalty to this country.

Congratulations to those MPs of all parties - Conservative, Liberal Democrat, nationalist, and Labour rebels - who showed by their votes tonight that there are still people in this country who think that those who risked their lives for Britain should be honoured by Britain.

Let our Gurkha heroes stay

I strongly support the campaigns by The Sun newspaper and others that the heroes of the Gurkha regiment should be allowed British residency.

If they were good enough to shed their blood to defend this country, they are good enough to live here.

What sort of "Human Rights" legal regime allows murderers like the killer of Headmaster , rapists like Ali Majlat, and hijackers to stay here but refuses to allow people who fought in our armed forces to do so?

Like David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher, and Joanna Lumley I believe that the government must change the rules to let our Gurkha heroes stay.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Twenty Firsts Meme

First Job
Temporary postal clerk at Grenada Publishing, Frogmore, Jan 1980

First Real Job
Joined BT (then known as British Telecom) in 1985 as an Assistant Commercial Analyst

First Role in Politics
Press Officer of St Albans YCs in 1979

First Car
An blue mini van which had previously been owned by a fencer and a nurse. On one side it had a sticker which said "Fencing, a modern sport" and on the other one which said "Give Blood"

First Record
Flanders and Swan "At the drop of another hat."

First major sports match attended
I watched David Gower's England side win the Ashes at the Oval in 1985

First Concert
A joint primary schools music concert in about 1970.

First Country Visited
France, on a day trip to Boulogne with the school where my mother taught, at the age of 10

First TV Appearance
"Cross Questions" which is the Anglia TV equivalent of Question Time in about 1984 (In the audience, not on the panel.)

First Political Speech
At my school's Junior Debating Society in about 1972 ...

First Girlfriend
Many years ago, a colleague who had sensed that my then boss's secretary and myself were attracted to each other but that neither of us would have done anything about it manipulated us into going out for a meal together. We ended up going out together for a year.

First Encounter with a Famous Person
Apparently at a family wedding aged about six I aimed my first camera at the groom's brother, noticed a lady next to him automatically pose, and said ("Oh, I'm not taking one of you, I'm taking a photo of Uncle Eric.") I have no memory of this, but my family repeated the story for years afterwards, as the lady was my grandmother's friend Violet Carson (Ena Sharples from Coronation Street.)

First Brush With Death
Spun off the road just in front of two large lorries when I hit a patch of ice on the road in 1985.

First House/Flat Owned
5 Abbots Avenue, St Albans.

First Film Seen at a Cinema
"The Jungle Book" at a cinema near Bracknell aged about 7.

First Time on the Radio
BBC Three counties radio, local election night 1987, I had a microphone pointed in my direction and was asked for a comment just after being elected as a councillor for the first time

First Politician I Met
Sir Victor Goodhew, then MP for St Albans, who spoke at my school in 1976

First Book I Remember Reading
The Little Red Engine, aged about 5.

First Visit to the Theatre
"Puss in Boots" at St Albans Abbey Theatre, about 1971, on an evening when there were no buses and cars would hardly run due to heavy snow, so we walked there and back.

First Election
The first public election where I stood as a candidate was the 1985 Norfolk County Council election, Mousehold Ward (Next to Catton Grove where Iain Dale was contesting his first election at the same time.) A very safe Labour ward, takes its' name from Mousehold Heath where Jack Kett mustered his troops before starting his rebellion against Henry VIII. My campaign got about as far as his rebellion, but it was good experience.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What Happened at Spring Forum

Tim Montgomerie at Con Home gave his list of ten things which happened at the Conservative Spring Forum on Saturday and Sunday. My comments (I was there on Saturday) in italics

(1) The media have decided that the Conservatives have won the next election. There has long been an expectation of Tory victory but it's become a near certainty because of recent events (particularly the Budget and misuse of expenses). Yesterday's announcement on primary school academies from Michael Gove led bulletins throughout the day. Tory policy matters because the media class has decided that it will be Government policy in a year's time.

Regardless of what the media think, we must not take anything for granted. Victory is not certain until the returning officer announces the gain that gives us an overall majority and we cannot afford to be complacent.


(2) The Tories have decided that Labour has reached the contempt phase. William Hague predicted in 1997 that New Labour would first produce fascination among voters, then disillusionment, and then contempt. It's taken longer than he perhaps hoped but yesterday the Shadow Foreign Secretary launched a no holes barred attack on the "decomposing political muckheap" that is Labour's frontbench. He described Labour as the "disgustingly grubbiest" of all administrations of the modern era. Strong stuff and it wouldn't have been issued if CCHQ wasn't confident that the public is now contemptuous of Brown.

Perhaps - but if Labour are in the gutter we must be careful not to join them there.


(3) David Cameron is oozing confidence. The Tory leader is a confident man who has a realistic expectation that he will be Prime Minister in a year's time. It was obvious from his powerfully delivered speech and also obvious from two brief chats I had with him earlier today. He is fully aware that with the expectation of a Tory victory he, his team and his manifesto are about to face unprecendented scrutiny. A media class that gave Tony Blair an easy ride will not give an easy ride to the Conservatives.

David Cameron is confidence but not complacent - and he is right not to be.


(4) The media are attempting to set up a Boris V Cameron split. Saturday's Times suggested that Boris "despises" Cameron. Interviewed by ConHome yesterday the Mayor of London dismissed the story as "tripe" and "fantastic". He also said that it was "almost certain" that being Mayor would be his last big job in politics but not one journalist in Cheltenham believes that Boris has given up his ambition to follow David Cameron into Downing Street. The Boris story is going to run and run.

The media do seem to be doing this - it is nonsense but that won't stop them.


(5) David Cameron and George Osborne say they want a mandate for specific spending cuts. David Cameron said that ministers will be promoted according to their success at using new technology and decentralisation to deliver more on smaller budgets. And, nearer the time of the election, they will spell out the specific nature of planned spending cuts.

Whoever wins the next election will have to make the cuts which Brown and Darline are frantically trying to defer until after that election. We have a difficult balance to strike between the need, on the one hand, to be honest with the voters and avoid presenting the Labour smear machine with ammunition they can use to "prove" the lie that a Conservative government will slash and burn public services and end civilisation as we know it.


(6) The next Conservative government will probably raise taxes. That has to be the conclusion from David Cameron's address to Spring Forum. He said (my emphasis): "Fifteen years ago, I was in the Treasury as we had to deal with public finances that had got out of control; debt that had got too high. We had to put up taxes, and I hated it. But it was the right thing to do and that lesson has stayed with me."

Whoever wins the next election will have to raise taxes, cut spending, or both.


(7) Philip Hammond is a rising star. His steady rise in the ConHome league table captures the increasingly high regard that grassroots members have for the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. A safe, intelligent and hardworking frontbencher, George Osborne said that Mr Hammond would be "one of the most powerful members of the government."




(8) Spring Forum needs to be better organised. The Saturday agenda was very thin - rescued by strong speeches from Boris Johnson to all representatives and from William Hague to candidates. Two half hour sessions from Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove were closed to the media and put in such a small room that many conference attendees couldn't even get in. The party needs to decide whether it wants a two day conference or a one day rally. Spring Forum fell between the two possibilities this weekend.

Agreed.

(9) Jeremy Middleton will be a great representative of the grassroots.

Jeremy is the new National Convention chairman - and as such the elected representatives of ordinary party members.

I (Tim Montgomerie) backed him and am therefore biased but the grassroots have a new Chairman of the National Convention who believes in members' democratic rights and is a believer in the internet's transformational power. Commiserations to the other candidates for the job and the party owes the now retired Don Porter enormous thanks for all his years of service to the Conservative Party.


(10) The new generation of Conservative candidates is impressive. I hesitate to name too many names but the more I see our candidates the more I'm hopeful about the next Conservative government. Andrea Leadsom, Harriett Baldwin, Charlie Elphicke and so many others I caught up with in Cheltenham are going to make us proud.

This time I'm obviously biased but I have a high opinion of many of my fellow candidates.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A message from David Cameron

The Budget can be summed up in one word: Dishonest.

Wednesday was Budget Day. The borrowing figures got the headlines - and rightly so. We're in a new age of austerity yet this Government is trapped in the old age of irresponsibility. Sitting there in the House of Commons listening to the Chancellor tell us he was planning to borrow more in the next two years than all previous governments combined left me open-mouthed. I used to say this Government seems intent on saddling future generations with debt. I was wrong. After this week, they're going to crush them.

But, as ever, the real story of Labour's Budgets comes after the Chancellor sits down and you get to unpack truth from fiction. And this year, there was more fiction than normal. Within an hour the IMF had rubbished his growth forecasts, suggesting Labour's Debt Crisis will be even worse. Then their claim that only the rich would carry the burden of their mistakes was dismissed - their tax rises will hit the many, not the few, with everyone earning over £20,000 worse off. And by Thursday it became clear that there's an even bigger black hole in their figures - which will be plugged by guess who? Yes, all of us - in even higher taxes. This Budget can be summed up in one word: dishonest.

So I shouldn't have been surprised at the con trick they're trying to pull on expenses. Labour's idea of a clean-up operation is to pay MPs just for turning up to work, giving them the same amount of money but for less accountability - in fact, no accountability, no receipts. I went to see the Prime Minister about his plans and told him straight: this is just not good enough and the country won't buy it. We need a system that reduces the cost of politics, that is more transparent and more trustworthy. I want no more claiming for stamp duty or furniture or flat screen televisions or patio heaters. Let's deal with the lack of public confidence that way. And let's have a clear declaration from all MPs: this is where I live and this is why I require expenses to allow me to do my job.

The Budget, cleaning up politics - just a couple of the things we'll be talking about at Spring Forum this weekend. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

27 February 2032 - is Darling Liberation Day

According to the ITN News, that's how long it will take to pay off the Darling debt.

How accurate is this? I don't know for sure, neither do they, and neither does Alistair Darling.

But we all know this for certain:

ITN are right to point out that dealing with the burden of debt run up by the present government will take a long time.

Happy St George's Day !

A day to celebrate all the positive things about England.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Dishonest Budget

The chancellor's description of the economic situation was bad enough, but the reality of the fiscal problems which the Labour government is leaving behind is even worse.

The Chancellor described the worst recession, fastest rising unemployment, and the worst public finances since the War, but could not describe a credible solution.

Even on the Government’s own figures:

Over the next two years, the Government will borrow £348bn – more than all governments up to 1997.
We will be borrowing £703bn over the next five years – £269bn more than the £434bn forecast in the PBR.
The national debt will double again to £1.4trillion.
Every baby will now be born owing £22,500.
Interest costs have risen again to £43bn a year – more than the schools budget.

But the Chancellor's growth predictions look highly optimistic. Within hours of the Budget the IMF predicted an even steeper recession this year and next. And Darling's predictions of 3.5% growth from 2011 onwards look unreasonably high.

If the IMF is right there will be an additional £23 billion hold in the government's finances.

This budget is dishonest for two reasons: it understates the degree of painful adjustment required, and it seeks to put too much of the painful measures which will be needed off until after the next election, which may be electorally convenient for the Labour government but is not in the interests of the British people.

The government's proposals involve tax hikes for everyone, not just the trumpeted tax increase on the rich - though most of the increases will only take effect after the coming election. They also propose to cut spending. Labour have cut their departmental spending plans by £9bn of current spending and £11bn capital spending by 2013:
£2.3bn off the NHS capital budget next year.
£0.6bn off the Schools department capital budget next year.
£0.3bn off Universities and Skills capital budget next year


If the Conservatives had proposed this Labour would describe it as "Slashing schools and hospitals."

Conservatives would favour spending restraint over tax rises, but unlike Labour we recognise that if the government starts to restrain the growth of spending immediately, rather than waiting until after the election, the cuts will not have to be so severe.

We would make every effort to cut administration and bureaucracy rather than front line services. We would scrap Labour's expensive ID cards scheme.

Britain cannot afford another five years of Labour incompetence. It's time for a change

Darling should help Pensioners and Savers today

Conservatives want today's budget to include action to:

* abolish income tax on savings for basic rate taxpayers

* raise the pensioners’ personal allowance to £11,490

Local Tories in West Cumbria joined other Conservatives throughout the country last weekend in hitting the streets to campaign for action in support of Pensioners and Savers in the budget.

Conservative campaigners and councillors have been out campaigning throughout the country at the weekend: in Copeland events were organised in Whitehaven, Seascale, and Millom to deliver leaflets . Those taking part included Ray Cole, Conservative county Councillor for Millom, Sue Brown, Conservative county Councillor for Seascale Whicham, and their local teams, and those out in Whitehaven included myself, Councillor Andrew Wonnacott (Hillcrest) and others.


Since the disastrous £5 billion pounds a year raid on pensions in the first Labour budget, government policy has been toxic towards saving. By example and by failing to reward savers, government policy has created a borrowing culture in which people are no longer encouraged to put money aside for the future. Both individuals and the government are accumulating a frightening burden of debt.

That has to change. Instead of penalising savers, we need a culture which encourages saving and a tax system which rewards them. Alistair Darling has a chance to start helping people to save in tomorrow's budget. But if he doesn't do so, a Tory government will.

Why voters are deserting Labour

The Guardian has an interesting page here which has quotes from those interviewed in a recent poll who plan to switch their vote compared with the way they voted in 2005.

The switch voters quoted give one line explanations of their reasons for changing.

It has three sections, with quotes from those switching from Labour to Conservative, Lib/Dem to Conservative, or Labour to Lib/Dem. No table for those moving in the other directions. If this were a right wing paper that might give rise to accusations of spin, but bearing in mind that this is the Guardian, that presumably means there were not many voters in the survey moving in those directions.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Feedback on Special Neighbourhood Forum

Tonight at Millom School there was a special neighbourhood forum on the nomination of a large area of land near Kirksanton as a possible site for new nuclear build.

Very interesting meeting, about a hundred people there, many of whom, while not necessarily anti-nuclear, thought this was the wrong site.

A lot of issues raised which will have to be carefully considered.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7pm at Calderbridge village hall there is a similar meeting to discuss the equivalent nomination of land at Braystones.

We are currently in an initial one month consultation period on the nominated sites, which lasts until 14th May. This will not be the last opportunity to comment.

You can have your say online at http://www.nuclearpowersiting.decc.gov.uk.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Brown v. Nixon

Matthew Parris in The Times commented here at the weekend that the media comparison of Gordon Brown and Richard Nixon is an insult ... to Richard Nixon.

His argument is that Nixon had real achievements - going to China, ending the Vietnam War - while Brown merely uses spin to generate newspaper headlines about programmes that never happen or only deliver miniscule results.

Trying very hard to be fair to Brown, it seems to me that his legacy will have two major good elements and six bad ones

GOOD THINGS

1) Gave the Bank of England control of interest rate and monetary policy, thereby ensuring that the golden economic legacy Brown inherited from Ken Clarke lasted nearly ten years. That's his one major positive acheivement.

2) Stopped Tony from scrapping the Pound: without GB's delaying tactics it is likely that Tony Blair would have scrapped the pound and bounced Britain into the Euro before it became obvious that this would have been a really bad idea.

BAD THINGS

1) Wrecked Pensions: GB's £5 billion a year raid on pension funds had dire copnsequences for the entire pension industry, and along with his over-complicated pensions credit and a tax policy which punishes saving, has contributed to a serious shortfall in the money put aside to fund pensions. In the words of Frank Field, we have gone from having one of the strongest pension provisions in Europe to one of the worst.

2) Damaged Bank Regulation: Gordon Brown took regulation and supervision of Banks away from the Bank of England which had done it successfully for decades and gave it to the FSA and other new bodies on whose watch things have gone terribly wrong. This mistake did not cause the present banking crisis and recession but it almost certainly made it worse.

3) Sold off Gold Reserves at the bottom of the market costing the taxpayer a fortune

4) Failed to keep borrowing under control when the economy was growing with the result that it is now dangerously high during the slump.

5) Blocked most of Tony Blair's better ideas: As well as the bad idea of joining the Euro, some good parts of TB's reform agenda like giving schools and hospitals more genuine independence were casualties of the decade long tension between Blair and Brown

6) Made the culture of spin and smears even worse.

Almost every Prime Minister has a fixer and one or more "Attack Dogs." Margaret Thatcher had Willie Whitelaw as her fixer and Norman Tebbit and Sir Bernard Ingham as her attack dogs. Tony Blair had various fixers, his attack dog was Alastair Campbell.

Gordon Brown's equivalent was Damian MacBride - the only person in British politics who makes Alistair Campbell look like Mother Theresa of Calcutta. He may or may not have known about the specific emails which brought MacBride down, but there is no possibility that he was unaware of what sort of man one of his closest associates was. For a decade Brown's dirty tricks department has been putting the boot into Labour rivals, and occasionally external opponents, and contributed to a toxic political culture which will be one of the hardest things for his successor to change.

May that work begin as soon as possible.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Smith should resign

The last holder of public office in this country who tried to have opposition MPs arrested for embarrassing the goverment was King Charles the first. The Home Secretary would be wise to reflect on what happened to him.

If you want an indication of how little Labour has learned from the past week, you need look no further than the fact that Jacqui Smith was still trying to attack Damian Green this week after he was comprehensively cleared by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It wasn't just the Conservatives who found this week that the Home office had greatly overstated the national security implications of the material published by Damian Green: it was the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, which has a Labour majority, and their view was endorsed by the DPP.

It wasn't just the Conservatives who pointed out that much of the information Damian Green was accused of leaking was clearly in the public interest, that much of it was already known by, for example, Labour party officials who were not members of the government, and that none of it put the country of individuals in danger. These things were included in the findings of the Director of Public prosecution.

So for Jacqui Smith to pretend that the DPP findings support the view that Damian Green had fallen below the standard of what is expected of an MP was nearly as contemptible as the Damian MacBride smears.

I was going to write a comment on why she should resign, but the Financial Times - a newspaper which endorsed Labour at the last few elections - has already done so. You can read the full article here, but these are the key paragraphs:

"Ms Smith, meanwhile, demonstrates the nasty habits of a long spell in office. Elected in 1997, she has never known political life in opposition. She confuses her own political desires with the public interest. Ms Smith allowed the police investigation into Mr Green’s leaks to continue – ostensibly on national security grounds – long after it was clear that all he had done was reveal some of her department’s shortcomings.

Ms Smith has proven that she is not up to the challenge of running the Home Office. After an excruciating expenses storm, she has been so politically enfeebled that when her anti-terrorism chief resigned it was announced by the mayor of London. Ms Smith does not even have a commendable legislative record to mitigate these failures; she led the government’s efforts to win the right to hold terror suspects for 42 days without charge. Mr McBride has resigned. Ms Smith should follow him."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pensions and Savings action day

Today and through the weekend Conservatives in Copeland have joined colleagues in other parts of the country, hitting the streets to campaign for action in support of Pensioners and Savers in next week's budget.

Conservative policies to help savers include proposals to:

* abolish income tax on savings for basic rate taxpayers

* raise the pensioners’ personal allowance to £11,490

and we have been delivering leaflets today in support of those plans

More details of this campaign to follow.

David Cameron writes: A defining week in the history of this government

I think it's been a pretty defining week in the history of this Government.

It started with all that nonsense over Easter when it emerged that while people up and down the country were worried about their jobs, homes and futures, one of the Prime Minister's main advisers was busy cooking up lies to spread about me, my colleagues and our families. After five days, the Prime Minister finally took full responsibility and said sorry. But, in many ways, that's the easy part. The hard part is what comes next - addressing the culture of spin and smear in Downing Street. As anyone who works in an office knows, it's the boss who sets the culture - so Gordon Brown's got to ask himself some serious questions.

And it ended with the Director of Public Prosecutions chucking out the charges against Damian Green. Let's be clear what happened here. An Opposition MP was arrested, and he and his family put through hell, for simply doing his job. It was wrong. He's been vindicated. And the Home Secretary's got to ask herself some serious questions.

Taken together, these episodes demonstrate clearly the need for change. Not, as Gordon Brown would have it, change in some advisers' code or a review into police operations. But a change in leadership at the very top. This lot have been in power far too long - they're out of touch, forgotten who they're serving, what they're in power for and how they're meant to behave. To bring some integrity back to Downing Street, the only answer is an election and a change of government.

But this week hasn't been all about politics. I visited Stafford Hospital on Tuesday - that's the place which had really unacceptable standards of care. It was incredibly moving to meet victims and their friends and family. And though it was little consolation to them, I outlined how the Conservatives would help stop another Stafford from happening again by having an information revolution so hospital failings are exposed quicker.

I'm sure there'll be as much to write about next week - it's the Budget.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Swimathon 2009 result

I completed the Swimathon 2009 yesterday to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer care.

I completed 5,000 metres e.g. 200 lengths of the 25 metre pool at the "Sportspark" pool at my old university, UEA, in one hour, 49 minutes and 31 seconds.

You can read more about the Swimathon at http://www.swimathon.org/.

You can still sponsor me online on the Swimathon website where my personal sponsorship page is here, and I would be most grateful to anyone who is kind enough to sponsor me and support this worthy cause.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Labour Plot to smear opponents backfires

A very close associate of the Prime Minister, Damian McBride, has had to resign from a senior position at Ten Downing Street after he was caught red-handed plotting to spread a tissue of sick and obscene lies about the families and sex lives of several senior Conservatives.

McBride, who was Head of Strategy and Planning at No 10, sent emails to a number of colleagues proposing a smear campaign which would have used a website called “Red Rag” to promote unattributed and baseless smears, such as suggesting that the wife of one senior Conservative party figure has mental problems, and going further down into the gutter from there.

This man was writing the worst kind of Labour propaganda and smears on government time, paid for by the taxpayer, and sent his proposals for this tawdry smear campaign from a Downing Street email address. I’m rather inclined to agree with The Times that he should not have been permitted to resign: he should have been sacked.

Charles Clarke MP said, as soon as the emails became public knowledge, that “Damian McBride has no place in Downing Street. His actions bring shame on the Labour Party and he should be dismissed immediately.”

Former Transport Minister Tom Harris MP said that

“We screwed up, big time. We have no one, absolutely no one at all to blame for this but ourselves. The damage the Labour party and the government have sustained this last 24 hours has been entirely self-inflicted.

And the people behind this sordid little mess owe everyone named in these emails a very public apology.”


The Prime Minister has today written to the people named in the emails expressing his “regret” but to the best of my knowledge they have had no apology. McBride has apologised to his colleagues in the Labour party for embarrassing them – which I can appreciate he has – but according to the newspapers nobody has apologised to the victims of this attempted smear campaign.

And McBride is not the only person with questions to answer. Derek Draper’s reply to the emails was that the proposed smears were “Absolutely totally brilliant, Damien.” Even after the whole sordid business became public he was still defending McBride and said that some of McBride’s proposed smears were “brilliant and rather funny.”

While the Labour party retains any connection with the “Labourlist” website run by Draper, it will be legitimate to question the sincerity of claims that the party disavows the tactics McBride and Draper were plotting to use.

Nor is Gordon Brown entirely off the hook. He may not have been aware of the precise details of the smears that were being cooked up. But McBride had been one of Brown’s closest colleagues and supporters for the best part of a decade, starting as his special adviser in Number Eleven when he was chancellor and coming with him to Number Ten when be became PM. It is beyond belief that Gordon Brown does not know exactly what kind of man Damien McBride is.

There are people in the Labour party with integrity. They are the kind of people who are horrified to see venom as a substitute for debate and character assassination as a substitute for policy. For the sake of the health of British politics, let us hope that those like Damien McBride who have been plotting to fight the dirtiest election campaign in history are defeated.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chris Whiteside in Swimathon 2009

I will be taking part in Swimathon 2009 next week to raise money for charity, particularly Marie Curie Cancer care.

I hope to swim 5,000 metres e.g. 200 lengths of a 25 metre pool. When I was younger, fitter, and had more time for training I managed to get my time for the 5,000 metres down to an hour and twenty minutes, but this year I will be delighted to finish and doubly delighted if I can get my time within an hour and 45 minutes

You can read more about the Swimathon at http://www.swimathon.org/.

Swimathon have arranged for people to be able to sponsor swimmers and pay online. My sponsorship page is here.

and I would be most grateful to anyone who is kind enough to sponsor me and support this worthy cause.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Special Meeting of Copeland Council today

A special meeting of Copeland Borough Council has been called for 5pm this evening in the Copeland Centre in Catherine Street, Whitehaven, at the request of fice Conservative councillors.

We were forced to call this special meeting in order to put forward constructive proposals for reform on some of the issues arising out of the terrible audit reports which were discussed at the council last week. We had tabled a motion for debate at that meeting in order to put these proposals forward, but that motion was guillotined (e.g. ran out of time) after just the proposing and seconding speeches because the Labour majority refused to allow enough time to discuss it.

Consequently the only way to ensure the issues are addressed was to call a special meeting.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

If Jesus had a vote

If Jesus were to express a view on the merits of any political party, I suspect he would have things to say which all parties would find very uncomfortable.

It has been my experience that there is a strong and inverse correlation between the actual merits of anyone involved in politics, and the degree to which they are convinced that they have a monopoly of virtue.

Those with the strongest conviction that their opponents are evil tend to find it easiest to convince themselves that therefore the most morally dubious tactics can be justified to stop those opponents. And those who imagine themselves to be the strongest arbiters of morality all too frequently think this allows them to take liberties which they would be the first to condemn in anyone else.

If I knew nothing else about a given political party, should they be arrogant enough to publish election publicity claiming that Jesus would vote for them, then that alone would make me suspect that he would do nothing of the kind.

While the country is suffering from a severe recession, I think it likely that Jesus would praise those who made sacrifices to help others: and likely that he would urge those, of whatever party, who claimed every possible penny from the taxpayer, let alone those who actually claimed fraudulently, to think again.

The bible makes very clear that Jesus discouraged those who stirred up hatred between different races, telling his followers to "love your enemies" and picking a member of a despised neighbouring race, the Samaritans, as the hero of his parable of the good neighbour. It is unlikely that he would encourage a simplistic approach to immigration policy.

Attempts to to close loopholes in our immigration system, particularly those which allow criminal gangs to exploit and effectively enslave vulnerable people - whether women forced into prostitution or cocklers working in dangerous conditions - is something which I think he would understand. Playing the race card, either by stirring up hatred against foreigners, or falsely accusing your opponents of doing so, is something which I think Jesus would condemn.

If any aspiring politician who claims to be a Christian should be thinking about whether Jesus would vote for his party, perhaps he or she might bear one thing in mind. Before asking yourself whether Jesus would vote for you, ask yourself what change in the way you treat other people would make it most likely that you deserve his support.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Gordon Brown loses an election

Hat Tip to Herbert Proper Snr on the political betting site

He says that Madame Tussauds' website contained the following:


"Gordon Brown voted out
——————————————————————————–
In the last week 6333 people registered their votes in a poll to decide if the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, should be immortalised in wax here in the World Leaders Zone at Madame Tussauds.

By a convincing consensus he is duly voted out of Madame Tussauds, becoming the first incumbent Prime Minister not to be featured in the attraction for over 150 years.

The Results FOR Gordon Brown to be featured in Madame Tussauds – 1025 (16.2%).

AGAINST Gordon Brown to be featured in Madame Tussauds – 5308 (83.8%)

Thank you to everyone who voted."


Although a quick check of the Madame Tussauds (London) website did not locate this report, the "New Millenium" page under "History" on the site, here, does indeed include notes on which world statesmen have had their wax images added to the display, which includes the following:

"Two European political heavyweights in the fom of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy whilst Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, is voted out of the attraction by the public."

Monday, April 06, 2009

Special Meeting of Copeland Council

There will be a special meeting of Copeland Borough Council at 5pm on Thursday 9th April.

This meeting was called at the request of five members of the Conservative group, to complete discussion of the scathing reports from the Audit Commission which was guillotined at the 31st March meeting.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

When April Fools get rather too serious

The News and Star reported this week how two 18-year old apprentices in West Cumbria were arrested and suspended from their jobs after an April Fool prank was taken as a potential terrorist threat and caused 65 people to be evacuated. You can read the full story here.


There is an important balance which should apply in our attitude to humour. Provided that it does not cause genuine inconvenience, suffering, or danger, it ought to be possible to enjoy a joke without anyone over-reacting. But some jokes go over the top.

At some point in the past twenty years Britain seems to have gone from erring on one side to the other in our attitude to humour. For many years we were a bit too tolerant of cruel jokes. C.S. Lewis, best known for the "Narnia" children's books but also a distinguished writer on literature and religion, once wrote that the English obsession with humour meant some unpleasant people had discovered that they could get away with almost any act of cruelty if it could somehow get itself passed off as a joke.

Now we have gone to the other extreme, and it is a regular occurrence for professional comedians, many on the political left as well as the right, to protest at badly drafted, politically correct legislation against "thought crimes" which will catch humour, whether ill-intentioned or not, as well as genuine nastiness.

However, we must not criticise those who are responsible for protecting people against potential terrorist threats if they fail to see the funny side of a joke while taking security decisions.

Police and security officials have to bear in mind that real terrorists or criminals might try to use humour as a "double bluff" to disguise their activities. If someone claims to be carrying a bomb on the way into an airport, as one or two jokers have, it may be probable that they are just a cretin who thinks they are being funny. But where lives could be at risk, no security officer can afford to ignore the possibility that this is Al-Qaeda's latest tactic.

When a security guard and other witnesses saw two men leave a van in a restricted car park for a company providing services to the nuclear industry, and leave the area through nearby fields, they could hardly afford to ignore the possiblity that this really was a terrorist incident instead of a silly joke.

The same test which is often suggested for science and medicine is not a bad rule of thumb for humour: "First, do no harm."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Eric owns up

Hat tip to Iain Dale for drawing my attention to the exchange below between Eric Pickles M.P. and Andrew Neil on "Straight Talk" which is due to go out today.

Eric Pickles and myself go back to the days when we were both Young Conservatives and I have a huge amount of time for him. I was astonished by what happened on Question Time, but I think Eric deserves to win back some of the respect he may have lost last week with this very frank interview in which he describes the programme as

"a car crash in slow motion"

and explains how he has changed his views as a result. Here's the exchange about his experience on last week's QUESTION TIME.

Andrew Neil: You were also brought in because you were seen to be a man of the people, so how could a man of the people make such a Horlicks of Question Time, as you did last week?

Eric Pickles: I think you’re being kind to me; I think it was worse than a Horlicks. It was like, it was like a car crash in slow motion, and which you’re just trying to steer away and the worse, the worse, the more I tried to steer away the worse it was. So actually...

AN: Didn’t you see it coming?

EP: Yes, that’s the worst thing, and you could see the conclusion coming and I made the mistake of making actually quite a trivial point. I should have been...but it has changed my views. It’s changed my views.

AN: Tell me why, and how...

EP: I used to think that actually all we needed to do was to increase the transparency and to increase the auditing. I don’t think that at all. I think we need a completely different system. I am embarrassed...

AN: A different manner of payment?

EP: Oh, absolutely. I am, I cannot justify Members of Parliament claiming flatscreen televisions, buying beds, buying 3-piece suites, buying cookers, buying microwaves. And the fact is, I have never done that and would never dream of doing that - as we say up north, ‘I buy me own bed’ - doesn’t in any way make me less guilty. It’s the fact I can, and I think we need to have a much more clearer, which removes all discretion, I don’t want to find ourselves in a position where somebody can’t be a Member of Parliament unless they are, to use your phrase, ‘a southern toff’, or somebody sponsored by a union, but I just feel now that the three party leaders have to come up to a conclusion. I think in many ways an inquiry is pointless. I mean, I heard you the other day; you went through all the various options, they’re pretty there, and we’re going to have to grab it, and I think we’ve got to be on the basis where it’s a lot less...

AN: For your expenses?

EP: Oh yes, absolutely, absolutely.

AN: Does David Cameron share your view on this?

EP: I think he does. If you recall him speaking last Wednesday saying that the Party leaders needed to decide, and I think they should.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Cameron meets Obama

Conservtive Home reports on yesterday's meeting between David Cameron and President Obama. It was the second meeting between the men - the first was when Mr Obama was still a candidate last summer.

President Obama has a massive schedule that included his first meetings with the Russian and Chinese leaders. That it happened at all is a sign of the White House's expectation that Gordon Brown (who Obama lavished praise on earlier in the day) is unlikely to be in office for long.

On the American side were Hillary Clinton, Tim Geithner, National Security Advisor Jim Jones and the Acting US Ambassador to London. On our side were David Cameron, William Hague, George Osborne, Pauline Neville-Jones, Ed Llewellyn and Andy Coulson.

The meeting ran for slightly longer than thirty minutes and topics covered included the G20, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, green technologies and NATO reform. CCHQ described the meeting as "positive" and "business-like". Mr Cameron told the BBC that he had found the President "deeply impressive".

Mr Cameron has also met the Australian PM over the last few days and the Mexican President. He is also due to hold talks with Canadian PM Stephen Harper.

Feedback from 31st March Copeland Council meeting

HIGH POINTS

Briarwood: Unanimous agreement from Conservative, Labour, and independent councillors to support a campaign for Briarwood Nursing Home - the council agreed a motion to urge Anchor Trust to either keep it open or find a way to transfer the home to another organisation who could maintain it.

Financial reform: The leader agreed to take away and consider a fifth suggested learning point for the council which I put forward, in addition to the four recommended by the District Auditor, in response to the complaint about the accounts in respect of the sale of land at Whitehaven Golf Course.

Hospital Beds: The leader also joined me in welcoming the news that the new "Step-Up, Step Down" beds at West Cumberland Hospital arising out of "Closer to Home" are due to open on 12th April.

Planning: Although the Labour group voted down two proposals I had made on the planning scheme of delegation to officers, they did agree to review the scheme in six months.

LOW POINTS

Dire reports from the Auditors on Copeland's financial and general management.

With the long-delayed signoff on the accounts for 2006/7 and 2007/8, this should have been the meeting at which to consider the Audit Commission reports - described at the previous week's meeting as being as poor a set of figures as you will find anywhere. As I have previously mentioned,

Copeland is officially one of the eight worst district councils in England in terms of management of it's resources.

The "Annual Audit and inspection letter" begins as follows

Key Messages

"Overall, the council has inadequate arrangements for managing the use of its resources. In this respect, Copeland was one of only eight district councils in England which were assessed as inadequate for the financial year ending 31 March 2008.

Underpinning this assessment was inadequate performance in three of the five areas assessed:

* Financial Reporting
* Financial Management; and
* Internal Control

The council did not have adequate arrangements in place in 2007/8 to produce its annual accounts in line with statutory requirements and in accordance with professional standards. As a result the council was unable to publish its audited accounts for the year by the statutory deadline of 30 September 2008."


Other scathing comments from the Audit Commission include

"Similarly the council continued to experience severe difficulties in producing and publishing its audited accounts for 2006/7"

"The council's published financial statements are a key demonstrator of its accountability for public funds. Failure to publish them on time and to appropriate quality standards can only weaken the coucnil's ability to demonstrate that accountability."

"Weaknesses in financial systems, in 2007/8, meant that members could not be assured that the reports they received were consistent with underlying financial records.

Fundamental weaknesses were also found in the council's arrangements for managing it's asset base."

"The Council experienced significant failings in internal control in the early part of 2008/9."

"On the basis of a selected set of service and other performance indicators the council's overall performance in 2007/8 was below the average for all district councils."

"Due to the inadequate arrangements for managing the use of resources, we anticipate giving a qualified value for money conclusion for both 2006/07 and 2007/08."

"There is a particular need for the council to improve its financial reporting arrangements and to ensure that the 2008/09 accounts are produced in accordance with statutory timescales and professional standards."


"Fixed assets at 31 March 2007 were understated by £3.135 million (9% of the council's fixed asset base.)"


"Draft accounts for 2007/08 were presented to, and approved by the Audit Committee in June 2008 ... these accounts were incomplete and inaccurate and were therefore returned to the council as I considered them to be 'un-auditable'."

The result of that latter point was an extra audit fee of tens of thousands of pounds. Put together, the additional costs of this extra fee and nearly £100,000 on external consultants to sort out the accounts came to significantly more than the £135,000 raised by this year's increase in Copeland council's share of the council tax. In otherwords, if the accounts had not got into such a mess, we could have avoided a council tax increase this year without taking extra money from reserves.

Failure to engage with the probems raised by the Auditors.

The point mentioned at the top resulting from Whitehaven Golf Course was about the single constructive response we received to any of the issues raised about the accounts and the audit reports. When questions were asked during the Executive report about the closure of accouts, the Leader largely alternated between hiding behind the officers or the Audit Committee, using them like human sheilds, or attacking the members who asked the questions for daring to raise them.

Attack may be the best form of defence but it is not the best way for an authority which has just been rated by independent auditors as one of the eight worst in England to learn from those reports and improve.

And the motion which we had tabled for debate on some of the issues arising out of these reports ran out of time after just the proposing and seconding speeches because the Labour majority refused to allow enough time to discuss it. Consequently we have been forced to call a special meeting of the council to permit such a debate.

Not listening to Parish Councils

I moved an amendment to proposed changes to the Planning Scheme of Delegation, which details which planning applications have to come to the planning panel and be debated in public, and which can be delegated to officers and dealt with in private. The effect of that amendment would have been that when an elected Town or Parish council has raised material planning issues in respect of a planning application, those concerns must either be taken on board or debated at the planning panel.

Most of the Labour group - with one honorable exception - voted this down, though they did agree to a review in six months.