Showing posts from April, 2005

So what would it take ?

Opinion polls are a useful tool, but they are not perfect. In 1992 they got the result wrong: in 1997 and 2001 they predicted that Labour's percentage lead in votes would be much larger than it actually was. Pollsters in the US have similar problems. (Remember when we all went to bed under the impression that Kerry was winning and woke up to find that Dubya had the last laugh.) All the pollsters are trying to correct for the bias which understated Conservative (and Lib/Dem) support in the last three elections; they are using different methods to do this, and that's one of the reasons different polls are all over the place. We will only find out whether any of them have got it more or less right on election night. I very much doubt that those polls suggesting a Labour landslide of the same order as 1997 and 2001 can be right. For one thing, in those two years Tony Blair was still popular and most people accepted his self-evaluation as a "pretty straight kind of guy". I

Shadow Health Secretary visits WCH

During the planning for the election campaign I was told that we could expect three Conservative font bench visits to the Copeland constituency, and asked who we would like and where in the constituency we should take them. Top of the list in my reply was for a Shadow health spokesman to visit West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, and I was delighted when the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, took up this request and came to WCH on Friday. It was an interesting and useful visit, and I am grateful both to Andrew for coming to support our local hospital and to the management and staff who took time to meet us and show us round. One of the key Conservative policies in this election is cleaner hospitals to reduce the threat of MRSA and other hospital acquired infections. West Cumberland has one of the better records in this area, and is one of the hospitals where the number of hospital acquired infections is falling: as we went round we saw some of the policies we hop

Priorities for Copeland

A gap in posts for a week due to technical difficulties - the site was down for maintenance when I tried to post. Normal service will now be resumed. Time and again the same issues which people are most concerned about in West Cumbria keep coming up on the doorstep. Some are national issues which do not directly affect us here in Copeland. But there are a four particular issues which especially affect the lives of the people I meet or have the potential to do so. These four main issues are my top priorities for Copeland, and they are 1) JOBS West Cumbria has lost large numbers of jobs in recent years, and we are likely to lose many more due to changes in the nuclear industry. It has been estimated that 17,000 jobs, including those which may be hit by "knock on" effects following from decommissioning, are dependent on Sellafield and Drigg. And even if there is a new generation of nuclear plants including one in West Cumbria, which I strongly support, it is unlikely that there

Why Britain is such a centralised society

Going straight from being a senior councillor to being a parliamentary candidate has given me one insight into why this country has such a centralised political system - the attitude of national pressure groups, lobbies, and charities. To be fair to them, they behave in the way they do partly because we have developed such a centralised political culture. But while everyone talks the language of localism, far too many people are practicising the politics of centralism - perhaps without even realising it. Between 2001 and 2004 I was the Portfolio holder for Planning and Conservation in the cabinet of a council dealing with a very heavy load of planning applications. And one of my motivations for standing for election to the House of Commons is to try to get central government off the backs of local government, because over those three years I become fed up to the back teeth with blinkered, incompetent micromanagement and interference from London. So it was an eye-opener on standing down

Future Developments at Sellafield

I believe this country needs a balanced energy policy, which should make full use of nuclear power, renewable energy, and reducing waste of energy from all sources. I was very pleased when Tim Yeo promised that if the Conservatives win the election, a decision will be made on whether to commission a new generation of nuclear power stations within a year of the election. If Britain is to continue have a nuclear industry, we do need a decision in the near future, or we will have abandoned nuclear power by default. And for areas like West Cumbria the uncertainty is very damaging. I would like to see one of those new power stations at Sellafield. Obviously we have to take account of the limitations of the existing national grid and what can economically be done to improve it. I am advised that it would be difficult to upgrade the grid sufficiently to deliver the output from a 1000 MW reactor such as the AP1000, but many people connected with the industry consider that it would be economic

Another good week's campaigning

Have been canvassing in Millom and Gosforth today: have also canvassed this week in Whitehaven, Seascale, Egremont, and Ravenglass. As always happens, the reception was better in some streets than others, but overall I am reasonably pleased. We have lost very few of those who had indicated that they would vote Conservative last time. Every day we find some more people who voted Labour in the past but will be voting Conservative this time. And I keep finding people right across the political spectrum who have had enough of Tony Blair. This is the seventh general election campaign in which I have been actively involved - I started in 1979 at the age of 18 - and it is the only election in all that time in which the number of negative comments I have heard on the doorstep about the Labour leader have greatly outnumbered those made about the Conservative leader. That even applies in 1983 when I had to take on the chin more criticisms of Margaret Thatcher than were made about Michael Foot -

You couldn't make it up!

For weeks the Labour party has been accusing the Conservatives of planning to slash spending on public services. One version of their scare story has misrepresented Conservative proposals to reduce administration and bureaucracy as a cut in front-line services. The Prime Minister even appeared to suggest that the Conservatives might sack every policeman and teacher in the country. (In fact we have no plans to cut front-line services.) The other version of the scare story compares projected spending by Labour or Conservative governments five years into the future; both parties are planning to spend more on public services but the Conservative proposals for a smaller increase is described by Labour as "a cut". (Confusingly the amount under discussion in both stories is £35 billion.) But today the Labour party has suggested exactly the opposite - instead of destroying the public services by spending less than Labour they are now accusing us of planning to spend £15 billion a

More news on Postal votes

The situation on postal votes becomes more and more alarming. There are plenty of people who really need them - I took a postal vote application form to a rural area today for someone who had a good reason why she would not be able to get to the polling station. But we have to protect the integrity of the poll, and it is clear from the Birmingham judgement that the present system does not. Today it is alleged in a Sunday newspaper that a committee of ministers considered the problem, initially wanted to legislate to increase the security of postal votes, but then took no action after being advised that the proposed measures, including those supported by the Electoral Commission and the police, would reduce takeup of votes among groups which were believed to favour Labour. There need to be some hard questions asked about these allegations. If they are true then the ministers involved should be impeached.

A good weekend's campaigning

I have campaigned in Millom, Haverigg and Gilgarran this weekend. Quite pleased with the results. Almost all those who had previously been canvassed as Conservative still are, and a chunk of those who had previously been against or doubtful now say they will vote Conservative. I am still meeting a significant proportion of voters who say they have not made their minds up. Some of those will be Labour supporters who are too polite to tell me they are not going to vote for me. So will many of those who say things like "Yes, I'll consider it" or "Yes, I'll be there." However, I have been canvassing for twenty six years and you do develop a sense for when people really are still thinking about it and when they're just being polite. If someone says to me something specific like "I'll be voting Conservative this time" or "Yes, I'll vote for you", then nine times out of ten they really will. If someone says they are not voting for me

How not to promote tourism in Cumbria

Because of the pope's funeral it was agreed not to carry out intrusive campaigning such as canvassing today, but we were advised that it is acceptable to deliver leaflets so I and my team have been doing that. While out delivering leaflets I had a call from Radio Cumbria. Apparently the tourist board, presumably as a joke, are running an advertising campaign advising people to come on holiday in Cumbria as an "election free zone." Well, there certainly are elections here and they are being fiercely contested. Anyone who comes here expecting not to see election posters is likely to be disappointed. People complain when they think politicians are being less than truthful in their campaigning. In the real world anyone campaigning to win an election is bound to present the facts in the way most favourable to their own case, but the voters and are perfectly entitled to expect political candidates not to make false statements. In my opinion that expectation has already been dis

Tim Yeo promises early nuclear decision

On a vist to Cumbria the Conservative shadow Environment Secretary, Tim Yeo, has made some very helpful comments about the future of the nuclear industry. He promised that that a Conservative government would make a decision about a new generation of nuclear power plants within a year being elected. One of the worst problems for West Cumbria has been uncertaintly about the future so this promise was very welcome. I was also very pleased to hear the positive tone of Tim's comments about the nuclear industry. "It's for the nuclear industry to show that it can be cost competitive" he said. "If it can, and can show that understandable concerns about waste can be met, then nuclear power has a role to play. It already produces a fifth of our energy and has the advantage of not producing carbon dioxide emissions." This was the most positive statement yet made about the future of the nuclear industry by the relevant parliamentary spokesman of either of the two mai

First full day of campaigning

I have been out and about in Whitehaven today, while teams of my supporters have been delivering leaflets in a number of areas including Millom. First indications from my first election canvassing session today confirms the impression from our local surveys over the past few months that the Conservative vote is reasonably firm and the Labour vote rather less so. A lot of voters are very concerned about the rundown of local industry, the management of local health services, and the economic future of West Cumbria. Many Copeland residents say they have not yet decided how to vote. I think the election here in Copeland is likely to be very close indeed.

And so at last it begins ...

It is eight months since I was selected to fight the Copeland seat but it seems like years. And the unofficial pre-campaign has run on so long that it must seem to most members of the public that we have already been fighting an election campaign for months. But today at last the "phoney war" came to an end as the PM finally went to Buckingham Palace to request a dissolution of parliament. And we finally know officially what everyone involved in politics has been convinced of for some time - the general election will be on 5th May. The news coincided with a clutch of opinion polls, one showing the Conservatives five points ahead and the others showing reduced Labour leads, which suggest that the election is not a foregone conclusion. I think there is everything to play for. Anyone who spends time on the doorstep knows that many voters are fed up with politicians of all parties, large numbers say they have yet to decide how to vote, and that the Labour vote in particular is qu

RIP Pope John Paul II

Like all political candidates I have suspended political campaigning yesterday and today as a mark of respect for Pope John Paul II. I was still at school when he was elected, following his predecessor's tragic death after just a month in office. He was a towering presence for nearly three decades and a man who will be remembered as one of the strongest popes in history. I did not agree with all of his views - on some issues he made me look like a soggy liberal, while on other issues, despite his reputation as an arch-conservative, he could be quite left-wing. But whether you agreed with him or not, you had to respect his integrity. Despite the trappings of power there was something about Pope John Paul which held to the simplicity, modesty, and sincerity which I associate with the early church and with Jesus himself. I myself am an anglican, my wife is a catholic, although we both think of ourselves as Christians. I was pleased that yesterday's service at my local anglican chu