Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year's message from David Cameron

David Cameron writes:

2010 will be election year. After all the false starts and speculation, now we know for sure that the country will have a chance to vote for change this year. Within days, the gloves will be off and the arguments will begin. But as we enter this year of intense political activity, I think it's important for all politicians to remember something. While those in the Westminster village might eagerly be limbering up for a frantic few months of speeches and launches and strategies and tactics - and all the hoopla of today's politics - most people in the country will be contemplating the prospect of months of electioneering with emotions somewhere on a scale between indifference and dread: and that is something we need to change. But we'll only do that if we recognise the reasons why politics is broken.

First and foremost it's because the expenses scandal is not a chapter that comes to a close as we move into a new year. It is an ongoing reminder of a deeper breakdown in trust between politicians and the public. And this has many causes. Politicians who think they have the answer to everything and just can't bear to leave people alone to get on with their lives. Politicians who can't bring themselves to recognise any good in their opponents and refuse to work together to get things done. Politicians who never admit they're wrong and never acknowledge that they've made a mistake. A sense that Westminster has become so much about point-scoring, positioning and political dividing-lines that people and their real-life problems are completely left out. These are some of the reasons that politics is broken.

I'm sure I've been guilty of these offences on occasions, and no doubt will commit them again. But we shouldn't stop trying to get it right just because we don't always succeed. Over the past few years, we've tried in the Conservative Party to do things differently. We voted for Tony Blair's school reforms because we agreed with them even though we could have inflicted a damaging defeat on the Government. We've encouraged our parliamentary candidates to set up social action projects in their communities. We've opened up politics through open primaries to select potential MPs and held open Cameron Direct meetings all over the country where people from all parties and none can come and ask me questions. We took swift action on expenses and were the first to pay money back where that was the right thing to do. And we've consistently pushed for TV election debates, whether we've been behind in the polls or ahead in the polls. But there's a huge amount more to do if we want to rebuild trust. So let's try and make this election year the moment to start fixing our broken politics. Let's bring real change to Westminster and the whole political system. A big part of that is about policy: policies to reform expenses and the way Parliament works; policies to redistribute power from the political elite to the man and woman in the street; policies to make government more transparent and accountable.

But it's not all about policy. It's also about character, attitude and approach. It's about how political leaders actually behave, the example they set and the lead they give. It's about doing as well as talking - real social action in our communities, not just pontificating from an ivory tower. And my resolution this new year is to work harder for a new politics in this country. I don't want to mislead people: there's an election campaign coming, and I think it's reasonable for political parties to point out the consequences of their opponents' policies, records and judgments as well as the benefits of their own. The House of Commons - particularly on set-piece occasions like Prime Minister's Questions - is an adversarial place. But let's make sure the election is a proper argument about the future of the country, not some exercise in fake dividing lines. Let's at least recognise the good intentions of our opponents. Let's be honest that whether you're Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, you're motivated by pretty much the same progressive aims: a country that is safer, fairer, greener and where opportunity is more equal. It's how to achieve these aims that we disagree about - and indeed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats there is a lot less disagreement than there used to be.

Of course the area where there is greatest and most sincere agreement between political parties is our shared support for our mission in Afghanistan. I know that we will never take for granted the bravery of our armed forces, and as we prepare to fight the political battles at home, we will keep in mind constantly the humbling courage of those who fight the real battles for us overseas.

So let's make 2010 the year for a new politics. Let's be positive about our own policies as well as pointing out the consequences of our opponents' policies. But above all, let's be honest about the problems facing the country and how we can solve them. Yes, there will be an election this year: that much is certain. And we can be certain too that the arguments will be fierce. But let's make it a good clean fight. And once the battle is over, we will need to rise above our differences and come together because that is the only way - strong, united leadership is the only way - we will sort out Britain's problems, halt our decline, and give this country the success that I know we can achieve.




Watch DC's New Year's message here.

A realistic forecast for 2010 and a "fantasy" one

The New Statesman website has two extremely different predictions for 2010

Peter Kellner the (Labour leaning) Chairman of the Yougov polling company has this message for labour optimists: "Get Real!"

At the other extreme, James Mackintyre, who predicted last year in his Political Predictions for 2009 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."

gets out his crystal ball again and makes a prediction for 2010 which he himself describes as Fantasy Politics.

I am not sure how serious this prediction is supposed to be, particularly given the title: it predicts a 6th May election (that date is plausible) in which BBC and ITV exit polls project a Conservative majority of 30 to 50 seats but when the actual votes are counted Labour have emerged as the largest party in a hung parliament.

This reminds me of an article in one of the papers just before the 1997 election which suggested that there was some chance that the Conservatives might scrape home in that election. I wasn't certain at the time whether that was supposed to be serious either.

I find it very interesting that the most optimistic projections that anyone in the Labour camp or their supporters feel able to put forward suggest a hung parliament in which no party has a majority.

A hung parliament would be a disaster both for Britain and Copeland: for the country because nobody would have the mandate to take the painful decisions which are needed, for Copeland because it would leave the anti-nuclear Lib/Dems holding the balance of power.

Although the majority of recent opinion polls suggest that the most likely result of the election is a narrow majority for the Conservatives, no election result is certain until the votes are counted and nobody can afford any complacency about the results of the coming election, either in Copeland or nationally. The result could be very close and every vote will count.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A very Merry Christmas to everyone reading this

Complements of the season and best wishes for a very happy Christmas holiday to everyone reading this blog, wherever you are and regardless of what you believe.

A Copeland anecdote

A few weeks ago a Lib/Dem blogger who uses the non-de-plume "Yellow Submarine" posted the anecdote below on a "Political Betting" thread. The following day, when asked which seat he had been talking about, "Yellow Submarine" subsequently confirmed that the constitutency concerned was Copeland.

"Anecdote Alert: I spent a week recently in a northern Labour constituency that survived the 1983 Falklands landslide. Labour activists I went to school with talked openly about being “in deep ****” and ” completely ****ed”. They are fighting for their lives and think there is a realistic prospect they’ll lose the seat.
One particulalry telling exchange was about the “guilt” some canvassers were experiencing because there was so much direct Lab/BNP switching going on they thought it might just save them as a certain sort of person just wouldn’t vote Tory ( This bizarre heirarchy of stigma tells you a lot about some WWC areas). However the most shocking thing about the whole exchange was it became clear after a while that the main purpose of the pub invitation was to get *my* advice on their campaign strategy.

WTF?"

by Yellow Submarine November 9th, 2009 at 9:54 am



With regard to where the BNP vote in Copeland is coming from, there is no doubt in my mind that about half of it is people who otherwise would not have voted. For the rest, the friends "Yellow Submarine" was taking to are almost certainly right that there is a lot of Labour/BNP switching going on. Some of it from people who would never dream of voting Tory.

I expect the result in Copeland to be extremely close, and neither the Conservatives nor Labour can take the seat for granted: it really could go either way.

Bransty Landslip

By a strange coincidence I was on Bransty Hill delivering Christmas cards when I got a message that there had been a landslip at the Bransty cliffs.

Fortunately nobody was hurt.

Went to check: the area is clearly signed. But if you are walking anywhere near the cliffs at Bransty this holiday (above or below them), do take care.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DC on supporting our troops at Christmas

David Cameron writes ...

As the snow falls across our country this week, let's remember the soldiers who are serving in the wind and frost of Afghanistan.

Christmas is a tough time to be away from your family, and for many families, this Christmas will be especially painful as they think of the loved ones they have lost this past year. But every single soldier and all their families should know that the whole country is right behind them and incredibly grateful for the work that they do.

Earlier this month, I made my fourth trip to Afghanistan. As you can see in this video, I got to see a bit of what life can be like for our troops. Just before I arrived, President Obama announced a big increase in American troops for Afghanistan. If you add in the extra soldiers Britain is sending over, we now have the best chance to ensure that our counter-insurgency campaign is successful, deliver a safer country to the Afghan authorities, and then bring our brave troops back home.

One of the best ways of thanking our soldiers is by holding big awards ceremonies like the Sun Military Awards last week. This was the second time that I've been to the Awards - and both times I've been staggered by the stories I've heard. Seeing service personnel like Able Seaman Kate Nesbitt, who ran seventy yards under fire to rescue a comrade, and Royal Marine Ben McBean, who lost an arm and a leg in a Taleban blast and then ran the London Marathon, pick up awards is an amazing experience, humbling as well as inspiring.

We should all take the time to think about our troops this Christmas. These men and women are performing heroics for our country. So let's show our support for them and for the families who miss them at home.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The big freeze and Rational Expectations

If you are travelling in the present frosty conditions, do take extra care. I've just got back from a trip to Birmingham on business.

Most people I met on my travels were careful and considerate. There was one lunatic who overtook several cars on the road to Great Clifton at about 6 am this morning, who was travelling well over the speed limit in conditions of total darkness and when there was ice and snow on main roads in the immediate vicinity. One did think "Darwin Award candidate."

But lots of other people were the soul of courtesy, from the police civilian who got out of his car when the A66 was blocked to advise other drivers of progress with sending for snow ploughs, to colleagues at the telephone exchange in Penrith who helped me deal with snow there.

As BT's Business Travel Unit is a great deal more effective at keeping expenses claims under control than the House of Commons Fees unit appears to have been, I had booked my travel well in advance, on trains which I was not able to make, and could have been put to considerable trouble had various officials of the railway companies been the kind of jobsworth who likes exercising authority and being difficult. Fortunately they were to a man and woman very helpful and recognised that the circumstances were unusual because of the very bad weather.

My other thought on my journey today relates to a much misunderstood economic principle - that of Rational Expectations, applied in this instance to travel warnings.

I checked travel conditions on the internet before starting my journey, and today was the only time in my life that I've have done that and subsequently found conditions worse than the warning. Usually the people who compile them bend over backwards to avoid understating the problem.

I should have allowed for the possiblity that just occasionally things might be worse than forecast, but I'm afraid I didn't. And it was for a very simple reason: because the people who predict road and rail travel issues usually err on the side of caution, we are all used to problems not being as bad as expected. And then it is very easy to fail to allow for the possiblity that we might sometimes get an error in the opposite direction. Try as you might, if a forecast tends to overshoot, it's very hard not to at least unconsciously factor this into your expectations.

But as with the boy who cried wolf, sometimes there really is a wolf.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Reliable Sources"

Earlier this evening the Labour PPC for Skipton and Ripon, Claire Hazelgrove, put this comment on Twitter:

"Have now heard rumour from a number of reliable sources of new MORI poll placing the Tories on 37, and Labour on 34. Let's wait and see!"

The actual results of the IPSOS MORI poll concerned, taken some time ago but only published this evening, came out a couple of hours later and were rather different from that rumour: they were


CONSERVATIVE 43% (Up from 37% in the last MORI poll)
LABOUR 26% (Down from 31%)
LIB/DEM 20% (Up from 17%)
OTHERS 11% (Down from 16%)


Which only goes to show that if there is one thing sillier than reading too much into one opinion poll it is paying attention to rumours about an opinion poll.


MORI use different methods to adjust for sampling error to those of other pollsters. For example. they do not weight their samples by past vote, and they only includes those who say they are 100% certain to vote. This means that MORI predictions tend to fluctuate more than those of other polling companies.

So although the actual result of this poll is a nice Christmas present for the Conservatives we cannot assume that the actual position is as favourable as this, and nor can we afford an atom of complacency. There is still everything to play for and no party should take the results of the coming election for granted until the returning officer has announced them.


The other lesson from Claire Hazelgrove's twitter is to demonstrate a pitfall that politicians (and everyone else) always need to watch out for: don't equate "reliable sources" with "people who are telling me what I want to hear."

From the Guardian ...

The Guardian are not renowned for side splitting humour (except occasionally unintentionally) but hat tip to Political Betting for this item from that paper:

An English cat, "One Two Three" and a French cat, "Un Deux Trois" had a boating race. Who won?

Answer: the English cat, "One Two Three."

Because Un Deux Trois Quatre Cinq ....

Friday, December 18, 2009

There is no "honour" in murdering your daughter

News coverage of the tragic story of Tulay Goren, whose father has just been convicted of murdering her, suggests that so-called "Honour Killings" are claiming a victim every month.

It is offensive to call these murders 'honour killings', because there is nothing honourable about them. To kill your daughter or sister can never redeem your family's honour, it destroys it by proving you to be a particlarly depraved criminal.

What is even more extraordinary is that these murders are being linked to the rise in certain forms of fundamentalist religion.

There is no valid religious justification for murder, and the perpetrators of such crimes should not be allowed to hide behind any faith.

It would not justify these crimes if the perpetrators could point to a passage in the Koran or any other holy book as the inspiration for their actions, but in fact it is my understanding that no major faith or sacred text calls on the adherents of that religion to enforce it's precepts by killing members of their own family.

The authorities must work with responsible community leaders - plenty of members of the ethnic minority communities in Britain are as horrified by crimes such as the murder of Tulay Goren as the rest of us - to stamp out this abomination.

Martin Kettle on what the polls are really saying

Hat tip to Mike Smithson at Political Betting for recommending this article by Martin Kettle in the Guardian.

Kettle's article "Not even Cameron can control the politics of anger" suggests that the next election will take place against a backdrop of enormous hostility to government - the present government in particular, but to some extent the whole political system has been discredited and whoever wins the next election will have a very difficult time.

He has some astute comments on the "self deception" of some Labour politicians and supporters who appear to think that the next election is "game on" because a very modest firming of their position has some opinion polls showing them only nine points behind. As he says

"It is one thing to be misled by polls and local elections that are actually in your favour, as Harold Wilson was when he called the 1970 election. It is quite another thing to get carried away – as some in the Labour party are – by polls that are simply not in their favour."

After pointing out that Brown's "class war" politics are likely to surrender the centre ground to the opposition parties, perhaps for a long time, Kettle goes on to conclude that

"In the end, however, not even Cameron can control the politics of anger. As the first election since the expenses scandal, this contest will take place amid a mood of hostility towards politicians that at times seems almost revolutionary in its force, fully encouraged by the media ...

"I believe the modern media now has a collective oppositional self-interest not just to particular parties or class interests, as in the past, but to the very idea of government and politics itself. How far even Cameron can prosper in such a system is one of the many questions that will face him and us in 2010."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cameron visits Barker crossing

David Cameron and shadow farms secretary Nick Herbert were in Cumbria today: their itinerary included a visit to Barker crossing - the new footbridge built by the army in Workington and named in honour of PC Bill Barker who lost his life while saving those of others during the floods.

I was of course pleased to see David and Nick making the effort to visit Cumbria and see the work which is being done to recover from the floods.

One spontanous incident which I found particularly moving happened at the bridge just before DC arrived. One of the people who met him at the bridge was the Brigadier commanding the unit which includes all the regular and TA units in the North West of England, 42 Brigade, which provided the majority of the 200 soldiers who built the bridge. As he was telling us, there were service people from various parts of the country involved, particularly armoured sappers who are used to building bridges for tanks, but also local TA members who were helping their own community.

One of the Workington residents who was using the bridge on her way from Northside to the town centre recognised the Brigadier, and stopped to thank him and his team for what they had done for the people of Workington.

She had just a few well-chosen words to say but they obviously came from the heart.

Monday, December 14, 2009

DC: Labour have lost the right to govern

David Cameron points out that, by their failure to take the decisions the country needs, last week Labour lost the moral authority to run Britain. He writes

"Their Pre-Budget Report on Wednesday was an opportunity to finally confront the biggest budget deficit in Britain's peacetime history. Instead, they put their own political fortunes ahead of what is right for our country. Not only did they decide to carry on their irresponsible spending, but they're actually increasing it next year.

"Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling just don't seem to care about the risks they are running. As I say in this video, it's as if they're a couple of joy-riders in a car smashing up the neighbourhood, not caring about what is going to happen and not caring about anyone who might have to take over the mess they have created.

"It's clear that all they care about now is politics. Just look at the reports about Brown personally overruling the Treasury's advice on the PBR so that he could stick to his wretched political dividing lines.

"And look at the speech Darling gave in Parliament. He said he would increase benefits for some of the most vulnerable people in our country, like the disabled - but he didn't mention his plans to cut those same benefits the year after the election. Then he said that he would protect the NHS, but didn't mention the fact that his national insurance increases - a tax on jobs that hits everyone earning over £20,000 - will cost the NHS almost £450 million.

"If anyone needed one more reason to believe it's time to get rid of the Labour politicians running our country, this week's behaviour gave every reason that could possibly be needed."


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Labour: a party no longer fit to govern

The Sunday Times does not pull its' punches today in describing the miserable failure of Labour's Pre-Budget Report to address the issues facing Britain.

Their main leader article, "A party no longer fit to govern" begins as follows:

"When Alistair Darling delivered his pre-budget report, the public had a right to expect three things. He needed to set out a credible plan to get public borrowing down. He had to be honest about the scale of spending cuts needed during the next parliament. And, if he chose to announce tax rises, they would be for reducing the debt, not spending even more on Britain’s public sector.

"The chancellor failed on all three counts."


You can read the full article here.

Millom Christmas Fair

I took the family down to Millom yesterday to attend the town's christmas fair, held in and around a big marquee in the market square.

The fair was a big success, and was well attended. There was a good variety of stalls and events which obviously represented a lot of work for many people. Fortunately the weather was much better than we have generally been enjoying for the past couple of weeks. My children greatly enjoyed their outing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Sun shreds the PBR

The Sun editorial today "Darling Duds" is very critical of the Pre-Budget Report (and IMHO rightly so).

As they say,

"LABOUR had one last chance yesterday to show it was serious about cutting Britain's crippling debts.

It threw that chance away. And with it may have gone Britain's financial reputation."


and

"Chancellor Alistair Darling's Pre-Budget Report was in reality a Pre-Election Report.

"He set out Labour's political stall while skating around the crushing £800billion Britain owes.

"Faced with disaster in the public finances and the failure of his own projections, Mr Darling might have been expected to change course.

"Instead, the Chancellor buried his head in the sand."


You can read the full article here.

Postscript

A little naughty but their front page today - number nine in this gallery - may also be one of the headlines that people always remember.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Labour puts off the pain until after the election

Today's Pre-Budget Report (PBR) was a disgrace. It was an exercise in deferring the pain of the tough decisions which are needed until after next year's election.

Because the Labour government have failed to take those tough decisions before the election, there will be higher taxes and higher interest rates if Labour win the election.

The central measure was a tax on jobs that hits everyone earning over £20,000 – well below the median wage. That is Labour’s definition of the “well off”.

As George Osborne said, if you want to get ahead, if you want to buy your house, if you want to save for your pension, if you want to leave anything for your kids, Labour is no longer the party for you.

Labour have failed to deal with the £178bn deficit, cancelled the pre-election Comprehensive Spending Review, and instead said that a Labour victory at the election would mean:

£7.8 billion higher taxes - £370 more per family - after the election
Of this £6.5 billion - £310 more per family – is a rise in National Insurance - a tax on anyone earning over £20,000.

Labour’s planned tax on jobs is now £200 a year on someone earning £30,000 a year, or £60 on average earnings of around £23,000

Apart from those areas which are ring fenced Labour's policies mean a real terms 10% cut in all other Departments over just two years.

Other Labour tax rises include

* A £440m inheritance tax rise
* A new £440m phone tax
* £220m on workplace canteens
* a £500m pension tax rise

Yet even with all this pain they have not come anywhere near to bringing their borrowing under control, and the National Debt will now reach £1.5 Trillion within two years.

In the words of the Daily Telegraph,

"Britain will pay dearly as Labour plays politics

The pre-Budget report served an invaluable political purpose. It showed that Labour will, in attempting to save its skin, put sectional interest before the country's interest.

If further proof were needed that Labour is no longer fit to govern, yesterday's pre-Budget report supplied it."


In the words of Business:

Richard Lambert, Director-General of the CBI said that “The Chancellor has made a serious mistake imposing an extra jobs tax at a time when the economic recovery will still be fragile. Increasing the National Insurance contribution will hold back job creation and growth. He has also missed the opportunity to increase the UK’s credibility by reducing the public deficit earlier. We are no clearer today as to how the Government plans to reduce public expenditure."

David Frost of British Chambers of Commerce said that the National Insurance rise is: "Terrible news...It’s an additional cost for business when they can least afford it."

Miles Templeman, Director-Generaleneral of the Institute of Directors: "The key theme of this year's PBR is prudence postponed... A further tax on jobs at a time like this is madness."

John Wright, FSB National Chairman on the tax on jobs: "this is extremely damaging for employment in the UK."

One businessmen quoted on BBC News said that since 2002 Britain had gone from having teh best tax and regulatory regime in Europe in which to do business to number 24 in the rankings.

Two years for new bridges

A report in the News and Star today says that it is likely to take two years until permanent replacements for the Northside and Calva bridges in Workington are open.

Cumbria County Council announced yesterday that it hopes to have a temporary road crossing over the River Derwent by next summer.

Council leader Jim Buchanan said: “We are moving as fast as we possibly can. There is no way that we could move more quickly than we are doing.”

A dozen bridges across Cumbria remain closed after the floods. They include Gote Bridge in Cockermouth, Great Broughton Bridge and Ouse Bridge at Bassenthwaite. CCC engineers have drawn up six options for permanent and temporary road crossings.

We need to hold the government to the Prime Minsiter's promise that the government will meet local authority costs for flood repairs and rebuilding.

Saj Karim on EU help for Cumbria

Sajjad Karim MEP, with his Conservative colleagues Sir Robert Atkins and Jacqueline Foster, have been working to persuade the European Union to provide help for Cumbria in response to the floods.

Saj sent me an email on the subject today and I thought it was worth sharing a few points from that message.


Dear Friends and Colleagues

Meeting with EU Commissioner Samecki regarding Cumbria Floods

Further to my previous update about what actions I have taken with reference to Cumbria, I can confirm that no response has been received from the Government in relation to my call for them to apply for EU funding to assist Cumbria in the aftermath of the devastation caused by the floods.

Yesterday, I met with European Commissioner Pawel Samecki, who is the European Commissioner for Regional Policy. The management of the EU Solidarity Fund is within his remit, so I was keen to meet him to discuss Cumbria’s case and what could be achieved with the solidarity fund to assist Cumbria.

Commissioner Samecki explained that 3.4 billion euros of damage is required before the EU can assist through the auspices of the solidarity fund. The UK Government have to ask for assistance and they have not done so, nor are they showing any indications of an intention to apply. We need to step up and pressure the Government to put in an application. The Government only have 10 weeks from the disaster struck before the window to submit applications closes.

The short term recovery of Cumbria now lies within Government hands, but looking at the bigger picture and at a long term recovery plan; the potential for Cumbria to move to sustainable energy economy is enormous and could play a substantial role in rebuilding the local economy.

Please do keep in touch.



Best wishes




Saj

Sajjad H. Karim MEP
Conservative Member of the European Parliament for the North West of England

A final response to Robin Pitt

Over the past few months Cllr Robin Pitt has made a series of complaints and allegations against an officer of Copeland Council and just about every prominent Conservative in sight.

Not one of those complaints was upheld: as he admitted in the debate on the no confidence motion which was moved against him yesterday, he had no proof to back any of them up.

It is perhaps worth explaining that the justification for moving a motion of no confidence against Cllr Pitt as Chair of Copeland Council's personnel panel is that someone who makes allegations of misconduct against a member of staff for which which he can provide no evidence may not be the ideal person to act as impartial chairman of a body which looks after the interests of council staff.

The debate was an example of the kind of politics in which grown adults act like badly behaved adolescents, and which puts so many people off politics.

For example, before the debate was guillotined, Cllr Pitt repeated a demand that the Leader of the Conservative Group apologise for saying that his (Cllr Pitt's) allegations were untrue. Councillor Pitt demanded this apology on the basis that the council's standards committee had not dismissed his complaints because his allegations were proven to be untrue, but because that there was no corroborative evidence to prove them.

Honestly, how are you supposed to prove a negative statement, e.g. that something never happened?

Because of a clash of dates I had left the previous council meeting shortly before the speeches concerned, but I am advised that Councillor Moore sees no cause to apologise because he was expressing his own opinion that Pitt's allegations were untrue, not claiming that the Standards Committee has used that form of words.

As it happens, I had written an article on this blog on Tuesday 13th June 2006, long before Councillor Pitt had been elected to Copeland Council or turned to the dark side, let alone made the allegations he put forward this year. In an article entitled "Time to rethink the ethics rules" I made a number of suggestions about the Code of Local Government conduct designed to ensure that enforcing high ethical standards does not stop councillors from doing the job they were entitled to do. That post contained several comments about the rights of people who are accused of misconduct, and concerning what should be done to people who make such allegations when they cannot produce any evidence to back them up.

So the following comments, written at a time when I could not possibly have known what allegations Cllr Pitt would make three years later, seem particularly relevant to yesterday's debate.

"Councillors accused of misconduct should be entitled to the same right which the criminal law gives to everyone else – to be considered innocent until proven guilty. If a complaint is made and no material evidence is produced to support it, or an investigation does not establish any wrongdoing or breach of the code, the Standards Board should issue an unequivocal statement that the person who had been accused in the complaint has been cleared.

"Finally, it would be helpful if some disincentive could be applied to those who make malicious or politically motivated complaints. This is easier said than done. In my experience the most common source of unjustified or unreasonable complaints to the standards board is people who were unhappy with the result of a planning application. I cannot see a way of discouraging this which would not also deter people with a genuine complaint.

"However, the second most common source of unjustified complaints is political opponents trying to score party propaganda points. And this would be relatively easy to do something about.

"Knowingly making a false statement in a complaint to the standards board should be a criminal offence, just as knowingly making a false statement on most other official forms is. Complainants to the standards board should have to state whether they are a member of a political party.

"If a member of a rival political party, or an independent councillor, makes a complaint against somebody and produces no material case to support it, then unless there are special circumstances the Standards Board should “name and shame” the complainant by putting a note in the local paper announcing that he or she has been censured for misusing the system by making unsubstantiated complaints.

"Some people reading this may ask if there is a danger that justified complaints might be deterred by such a system. If it were applied to the public in general, there would be. But if it only applies to politicians and members of political parties, the effect would be to make them check their facts more carefully before attacking the integrity of their opponents. And that would be an entirely good thing for the health of local democracy."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Feedback from December Copeland Council meeting

Copeland Council met in Cleator Moor civic hall this afternoon.

The meeting began with prayers for those affected by the recent floods and expecially the family and friends of the late Bill Barker.

The following three hours was, to use a football expression, very much a "game of two halves" with two hours of fairly constructive discussion about positive issues during which most people would agree with the vast majority of what was said on all sides, followed by a fairly nasty final hour marred by some unpleasant party political manouvering.

FLOODS AND INFRASTRUCTURE

It was agreed by councillors on both sides of the chamber that the effect of the recent floods shows how badly Cumbria's transport infrastructure needs to be improved. The need to re-trunk and/or replace the A595 was one, and for a Duddon Bridge, were two of the issues raised.

HOSPITALS

Continued progress on the rebuild project for the West Cumberland Hospital was welcomed but it was agreed that councillors need to be involved in engaging with the NHS trusts about this project and to demonstrate cross-party political support.

PARKS

Copeland council's parks department was congratulated on winning a prestigious national award for the second year running

DILAPIDATED BUILDINGS

A number of buildings in a terrible condition have caused real problems in several parts of Copeland from Whitehaven to Millom, and there has been some progress. Two of these are being improved by their owners, while arrangements are being put in hand to prosecute the owners of two others who have refused to respond to requests to do the same.

There was some constructive discussion of this but one of the Labour councillors from Cleator Moor provided the first sour note of the evening by noting that the former Conservative Club in that town (since demolished) had been a derelict building for a while. Gosh, how funny.

CHOOSING TO CHANGE

A report from the cross-party board which is leading on the "Choosing to Change" programme for reform of the council gave a constructive analysis of the issues involved and the steps being taken to get there. There was some debate on the fact that the board meets in private, but given that it's recommendations will come to the full council in open session, most councillors were willing to give this decision the benefit of the doubt. If the meeting had stopped at this point, without the subsequent events which cast doubt on the seriousness of the Labour majority's commitment to cross-party reform, I would have considered it an excellent meeting.

REPORT OF AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION

Unfortunately the meeting did not stop at that point. Next item was the report of the Independent Head of the Audit committee who has been asked to investigate an incident in which the report of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees had been amended before going to Full Council without reference to the Chairmen of the Committees.

The report made a number of recommendations to move things forward, which most councillors, including myself, supported. Several speakers however, again including myself, were concerned that a couple of sentences in the conclusion of the report could be taken as criticism of a former officer of the council. Although I was and am satisfied that the report was not intended to read as an attack on the officer concerned, we wanted to make the point that we didn't support any such interpetation of what had been written.

Other councillors expressed a similar opinion rather more strongly, and at this point the Labour administration demonstrated that they are not good at dealing with dissent.

Councillor Brian Dixon, the Overview and Scrutiny Chairman who had originally asked for the investigation was half way through his response to the report. He had strong views on the report and they were trenchantly expressed but his speech contained nothing to justify the Stalinist response it provoked.

Apparently incensed at being required to listen to views he didn't like, a member of the Labour Executive popped up and moved that "the question now be put" - e.g. an immediate vote on the recommendations with no further opportunity for debate and without Brian being allowed to finish his speech.

This procedure exists in the standing orders of most councils to stop filibusters and avoid a situation where the same arguments are being repeated again and again. Neither of these justifications appeared to apply today, and nor was it the reason advanced for the motion to block further debate. The proposer of that motion said it was to stop people wrecking the council. However, the motion to proceed straight to the vote was forced through by all but one of the Labour group (one of their councillors abstained.)

In my view this gratuitous cap on democracy was quite uncalled for and left a wholly unnecessary bad taste in the mouth.

PLAY AREA EXTENSION AT CASTLE PARK, WHITEHAVEN

There followed a debate on a planning application to extend the play area at Castle Park. A number of councillors raised concerns which had initially been put forward by local residents, that this could lead to an increase in problems with illegal parking in the area. There was a mostly constructive debate (I was slightly irritated at being described as having said that the council would be encouraging illegal parking if we passed the proposal, when what I actually said was that an increase in that problem might be a result.) It was eventually agreed that the extra play area should be approved but that a number of steps should be taken for more effective enforcement against illegal parking.

MOTION OF NO CONFIDENCE IN THE CHAIRMAN OF PERSONNEL

A motion of no confidence in the Chairman of Personnel was moved by the Leader and Deputy leader of the Conservative group in relation to a series of allegations which he had made against a staff member and several Conservative councillors for which he could not produce a shred of evidence. This motion too was guillotined and voted down by the Labour majority.

A prolonged hung parliament would be a disaster

The arithmetic of the next election makes a "hung parliament" in which no party has a majority a horribly real possibility. While one should always be careful not to over-react to one or two opinion polls, a recent small upturn in Labour support has caused some people in the MSM and blogosphere to speculate about whether such a result is likely.

Certainly David Cameron has always been the first to warn Conservatives not to take victory for granted. Believe me, we don't. No Conservative with any sense will regard the election as being in the bag until the results have been declared.

However, it says something about how desperate some Labour spinners and supporters have become that they are gasping with exitement at polls showing themselves only eight points behind. I remember some Conservatives clutching at straws like that in the run-up to the 1997 election - and much good it did us.

There is everything to play for. But I certainly hope we don't get a hung parliament because this would be a disaster for Britain and for Copeland - in some ways even more disastrous than if the present government, dire as they are, were re-elected.

A prolonged period of minority government would be a disaster for Britain because the terrible financial crisis, in which one pound in every four that the government spends goes staight onto the National Debt, and the annual cost of paying the interest on that debt goes up by £6,000 a second, will take tough measures to sort out. I don't believe for a second that a "hung parliament" would approve the necessary measures.

And a hung parliament would be a disaster for Copeland as well as Britain because it might give the anti-nuclear Lib/Dems the balance of power.

Obviously my preferred outcome would be a Conservative majority government, either straight away, or after a short period of minority administration. If that doesn't happen:

You cannot vote for or against a hung parliament. But you can hope and pray that we don't get one.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Workington bridge named after PC Bil Barker

The new bridge in Workington has been named after hero PC Bill Barker who lost his life while saving those of others.

Where it went wrong for Labour

Hat tip to Political Betting for drawing my attention to an interesting piece by Jeff Randall in the DT, which seemed apposite when it was published last year and seems even more appropriate now.

The title of the article was "Where did it all go wrong? When Labour started telling lies."

The article is worth reading in full but the following words ring particularly true for me:

"No amount of makeovers, re-launches or faked sincerity can change what has occurred. The public has worked out that just about everything Labour had promised on issues that really matter turned out to be untrue.

"For Mr Brown and the entire New Labour project, that is where it has all gone wrong. It is the falsehoods that dumped the party's poll ratings in the gutter.

"Goebbels' comment on the efficacy of propaganda will be familiar to many: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

What is less well known is his qualifying observation: "The lie can be maintained only for such time as the state can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie."

"Labour's big lies on budgetary prudence, educational standards, support for the Armed Forces, the economic benefits of immigration, a referendum on the European constitution (alias the Lisbon treaty), figures on violent crime, weapons of mass destruction, the abolition of quangos, British jobs for British workers and tackling welfare abuse have been exposed for what they were: cynical manipulation of credulous voters."

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Ken Clarke - "New Labour is dead"

Ken Clarke has a superb newspaper column in the Mail this weekend here.

He argues convincingly that the Labour government's attempt to bring back the class war by attacking prominent tories not on the basis of our policies but on where they went to school demonstrates that they know they are losing the battle of ideas, that they are desperate, and that the ideas of New Labour are being abandoned.

As Ken puts it

"If you can hear the sound of scraping coming from within Downing Street this weekend, it is because the inhabitants of No 10 have now found the very bottom of the barrel.

"There is no surer sign that Gordon Brown has given up on governing and opted instead for base political mud-slinging than his decision to lurch to the Left with that old Labour attack on the Conservatives: the class war.

"The attack on David Cameron's background last week and Labour's assault on the Inheritance Tax package (even though they are implementing a version of it themselves) shows Gordon and his dwindling band of advisers have turned their backs on grown-up politics and settled on the politics of envy as a last resort.

... "this decision is a major strategic blunder which Gordon, Peter Mandelson and the others will soon come to regret. More importantly, it marks the definitive end of the New Labour project."


Ken also points out that Labour's own front bench is as vulnerable to such charges - Labour's Harriet Harman went to the sister school of the one George Osborne attended, Labour's Ed Balls went to the same school as Ken himself. In fact nearly half the Labour cabinet went to private schools - which should be neither a matter for praise or blame, but makes it total hypocrisy for them to criticise the Conservatives for something they share.

Ken concludes

"Perhaps the single most important reason why Labour's lurch to the Left will fail is because modern electors aren't concerned about what school a politician went to, any more than they are bothered about what colour or what gender he or she might be. They are concerned about what would-be leaders will do about the state of the country.

"I would never have come back if I thought David Cameron had anything of the old-fashioned toff about him.

"I came back because he is a positive person, a highly intelligent, dynamic man who has the right ideas and is capable of leading a Government that will help people in every walk of life get out of the mess we are in."

Workington Footbridge opens tomorrow

Pleased to see that a temporary footbridge which has been put in position over the Derwent with Army help will open tomorrow.

This will bring some relief to Workington residents for whom the loss or closure of the bridges has caused considerable difficulty.

However, in Workington and many other parts of Cumbria such as Lorton, the fact that many road bridges are still down or closed is causing considerable difficulty. The floods have shown that we need to have a long hard look at our infrastructure.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Floods appeal passes the million mark

Thanks to the generosity of both many local people and organisations, and others from all over the country, the Cumbria Floods appear raised over a million pounds in the first ten days and is still going strong.

Howver, this generosity is needed. Insurance analysts estimated the total damage from the flooding, public and private sector, as about £200 million.

Some of this will be picked up by insurance, but it will not have been possible to insure many of the flooded properties.