Monday, April 30, 2007

Vote for the best local candidate on Thursday

Naturally I hope to see Conservatives winning seats in Thursday's local elections. The reason for this is that I think that the election of more Conservative councillors is likely to produce better run councils.

Throughout the media, pundits and commentators have written of these elections as a verdict on Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, or David Cameron. Suggestions are already being made of the number of net gains in council seats Daid Cameron needs to make to be perceived as successful.

The number of Conservative and Labour candidates elected and defeated will be written up as if the main purpose of the local, Scots, and Welsh elections were a sounding board for the coming general election.

However, it isn't. The purpose of the election is to decide which individuals will run local councils, the Scots parliament, and the Welsh assembly for the next few years.

Obviously it is entirely legitimate for someone who wishes to demonstrate tbat they are unhappy with, say, inadequate support for West Cumberland Hospital from the government to make this point by voting against Labour at the local elections. However, many others will be voting on the basis of the record of the local council which is actually being elected, or of their stance on issues which that council will be addressing. Many voters will take into account their opinion of the candidates standing for particular parties.

And therefore treating a set of local and regional elections as if it were a vast opinion poll is misleading.

Much as I detest Tony Blair, when I completed by postal vote in the council elections, my primary reason for voting was not to give him "one final kicking."

Much as I detest Gordon Brown, my primary motivation in casting my council vote was not to pass a verdict on him.

Though I want to see David Cameron become Prime Minister, my primary reason for voting Conservative was not to get a couple of days' good headlines for him in the national press reports on the local elections.

For me, there were two main reasons for voting Conservative in the council elections

1) I want to see more support given to West Cumberland Hospital, and a poor result for Labour in Copeland may well be interpreted as a signal that the government needs to do more to support our hospitals, and

2) I think that Copeland services would be run better if the present complacent and arrogant Labour administration was at worst given a jolt by the election of more Conservatives, or at best removed and replaced by a different administration.

I hope that there is a good turnout in the elections on Thursday, because that is healthy for democracy.

I hope that all voters pay attention to the qualities and capabilities of the candidates standing for election, because that is healthy for local democracy and for local communities.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Incompetent Labour living in a fantasy world ...

If you want proof that the Labour party in Copeland is so complacent and out of touch that they might as well be on another planet, you need look no further than the "Environment" section of their manifesto for the current council election campaign.

One entire side of the leaflet is given over to a long list of things which, in the fantasy world inhabited by local Labour politicians, Labour controlled Copeland Council has achieved.

Actually, many of them have nothing whatsoever to do with Copeland council. But surely any political party which was even minimally competent would make sure all the things they were boasting of as achievements were actually true?

Could any major political party possibly be silly enough to put an election leaflet round claiming credit for an "achievement" which every reasonably well informed person in the area knows has just been abandoned ?

Yes, Copeland Labour party is that silly. The first item in their "Environment" list boasts of having obtained "Yellow Flag" quality beach status for Copeland's beaches.

There is one slight problem with this claim. In Labour's fantasy world, our beaches may have yellow flag status. But in the real world which most Copeland residents live in, the four local beaches in Copeland which were entitled to fly "Quality Beach" flags last year have just lost that right - because Copeland Council missed the deadline to apply this year.

This isn't exactly a secret; a couple of weeks ago there was a large article in the local press about it, and the Whitehaven News wrote a leader item criticising the low priority given to the issue by Copeland council. So it would appear that the local Labour party who are supposedly running the council can't be bothered either to ask their officers what they're doing or to read stories which are splashed all over the local paper.

Residents are entitled to ask what this tells us about how Labour run the council. And you might also like to bear in mind before you vote: if Labour are too incompetent to check their facts either with their own officers or even against the local newspapers, how many other things in their election manifesto are nonsense?

Monday, April 23, 2007


For the past two days the papers have been full of speculation that the police investigating the so-called "Cash for Honours" scandal have recommended that the Prime Minister's chief fundraiser Lord Levy, the Downing Street Director of government relations, Ruth Turner, possibly also the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, should be charged.

As far as I can discover, neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service have officially confirmed or denied these allegations, and nor should they at this stage. However, it has been made public that on Friday the police submitted ‘a 216 page report with supportive material’ to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In a statement, the police said: ‘The Met has had extensive consultation with the CPS during the enquiry and provided them with reports together with over 6,300 documents. To date 136 people have been interviewed as either witnesses or suspects. It is now a matter for the CPS to consider the evidence, advise us on whether any further enquiries are necessary and whether any charges should be brought’ (Scotland Yard Press Statement, 20 April 2007).

Despite all the speculation, it is clearly not possible for anyone except the police and CPS officers who have seen the full report to form a judgement about whether there has been criminal activity at the heart of government. But one thing which certainly is clear is that this case has demonstrated that the rules governing publicity for ongoing police investagations are in need of review.

For a year now there has been a vast quantity of speculation in the media and on the internet about the possibility of charges being brought. There have been millions of words written by people hostile to the government suggesting that there would be enough evidence to bring charges - and there have also been a large number of planted stories and opinion pieces from New Labour and their supporters suggesting that the whole story has been blown up out of all proportion and often attacking the police.

The only way we will find out whether there really is a strong case against anyone of criminal behaviour associated with Labour party fundraising, or indeed concerning any of the other allegations which have been made, will be if and when it comes before a court.

Sadly, one consequence of all the hype is that, if the Crown Prosecution Service does not launch a prosecution, many people will be convinced that they have been put under political pressure. However, the government have only themselves to blame for this situation.

Labour politicians and some of their friends in the media have publicly accused the police of responsibility for leaks to the media about the progress of Inspector Yates' investigation into "Cash for Honours". However, there is good reason to think that many of the media stories came from sources associated with the Labour government, and not from the police at all.

This raises an important question. Do our current judicial rules, particularly the "Sub Judice" restrictions on reporting as they currently stand, contain adequate safeguards against the possibility that people in official positions who believe that they may be accused of wrongdoing may arrange leaks of the progress of a police investigation in the hope of deliberately sabotaging any possible prosecution? The idea would be to create publicity about alleged offences so that the accused can use the defence that this publicity will make a fair trial impossible.

As soon as any trial which comes out of the current investigation is concluded, or if it becomes clear that there will be no trial, we need a fully independent review of the rules concerning press statements, leaks, and reporting of ongoing criminal investigation to make sure that spin - on either side - cannot sabotage justice.

One other point. The DPP, because he has worked on legal matters with the Prime Minister's wife, has rightly and wisely removed himself from any involvement in the decision whether to start a prosecution on Cash for Honours. The Attorney General should have done the same thing at the outset. If he has a scrap of common sense, or regard for the principle that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done, he must state now that he will take no part in any decision about any prosecutions in this case.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Select Committee Nuclear Report

This week the House of Commons had a debate on the subject "New nuclear? Examining the Issues" which was introduced by the Conservative Chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, Peter Luff M.P.

You can read the full text of the debate in Hansard at the House of Commons website, or on "They work for you" at this URL -

This was an excellent debate which showed the House of Commons at its best, and also showed the progress on both the Conservative and Labour sides towards a consensus that new nuclear build has a part to play in a balanced energy policy.

Sadly that consensus does not yet extend to the Liberal Democrats or the Scottish Nationalists, which does not bode well for the ability of Scotland to keep the lights on if an unholy alliance of those two parties takes power North of the Border after the Scottish elections in two weeks.

This is an extremely important issue both for Copeland and for the country. I also raised the importance of nuclear power with David Cameron yesterday, and was pleased with his positive and helpful reply.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nuclear Autopsy inquiry

Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling announced this afternoon in the House of Commons that he is asking the QC who investigated the Alder Hey hospital case to conduct an inquiry into allegations that workers in the nuclear industry had tissue samples taken from their bodies after death.

Michael Redfern, who led the Alder Hey Children's Hospital inquiry in Liverpool, has been asked to establish the facts and report to ministers.

All the cases where it is alleged that tissue may have been taken without family consent involve people who died in the 1960's and 1970's. According to BNFL tissue sampling began in the 1960s and ceased in 1992.

Alistair Darling, who announced the move in an emergency statement to the Commons, said that families of workers at the Sellafield site in Cumbria, and the public, wanted answers to questions raised by the latest disclosure.

Mr Darling said most of the workers covered by the revelation worked at Sellafield, but he added that one individual worked at the Capenhurst nuclear site in Cheshire after transferring from Sellafield. There was also data at Sellafield relating to an employee at the Springfields nuclear site in Lancashire and six at Aldermaston.

BNFL, which operates the Sellafield site, identified 65 cases in which tissue was taken from individuals which was then analysed for the radionuclide content of organs, said the minister.

"It's important to tell the House the limited nature of the records that are held by BNFL. These are medical records which show what analysis was done on organs removed following post mortem examination.

"Because they are medical records which dealt with the analysis carried out at Sellafield, they do not provide an audit trail which would show in every case who asked for such an examination under what authority and for what purpose. Nor do they disclose whether or not the appropriate consent from next of kin was received.

"Some records have more information than others but at this stage it is simply not clear what procedures were followed in every case.

"From the information I have, I can tell the House that 23 such requests for further examination and analysis were made following a coroner's inquest.

"A further 33 requests appear to follow a coroner's post mortem. Three requests were made associated with legal proceedings and there was one request made by an individual prior to death," said Mr Darling.

On the BBC News this afternoon a former health worker at the Sellafield site suggested that most of these tissue samples would have involved very small amounts of material - literally "a few grams."

A spokesman for BNFL, quoted in "The Sun" online edition, said that

"This is an historic issue not a current one, however our prime concern is the feelings of the families of those involved.

"The sampling of autopsy material began in the 1960s and ceased in the early 1990s. Files exist at Sellafield for 65 cases. An examination of the data has shown that in 56 of those cases the sampling was done associated with coroners' post-mortems or inquests.

"In five other cases it was done under instruction from other legally correct bases, such as family solicitors.

"For the remaining four cases there is no record of instruction or consent on file although this does not mean that appropriate requests were not made.

"The subject of sampling autopsy material came about at the present time because of a request to re-examine the historic research data to support new studies.

"That request was made by the Westlakes Research Institute to the Westlakes/NDA Research Governance Group and this is being considered by that group, the company and the unions. We are aware of work carried out by and published by other organisations.

"Tissue samples waiting to be analysed were stored appropriately, on occasions for several months, however the samples were destroyed by the actual analysis process.

"There is no tissue stored on site today and the practice of taking samples for radiological analysis ceased in 1992.

"We will consider with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority any information we have and will discuss with other interested parties in order to agree a way forward."

Clearly the first thing to be done is to establish exactly what did happen, and whether proper permission was given for it.

David Cameron launches Conservative Local Government campaign

David Cameron is launching the Conservative campaign for the 3rd May local elections today.

He is expected to say the following.

“The mission of the modern Conservative Party is to improve the quality of life for everyone, and local councils have a leading role to play in doing just that.

Conservatives are the largest party in local government, and I’m proud of the work they do in towns, cities and rural areas right across the country. From Bradford to Barnet, Dudley to Daventry, and Macclesfield to Medway, Conservative led councils are delivering better services while providing value for money and helping keep the cost of living down through lower council tax. Their achievements show exactly why it’s right to give more power and responsibility to local councils.

At the heart of our local election campaign this year is the promotion of civic pride. We believe in social responsibility, in trusting people to do the right thing and giving them real control over their lives. After a decade of top-down centralisation from Labour, it’s time to recognise that we will only tackle the big social challenges we face if people have a real sense of pride in, and responsibility for, their local community - and play an active part in making it a better place to live.

That’s why we’re focusing our efforts on fighting crime and grime. There is a clear connection between cleaner streets and safer streets. Going green is not just good for the environment, it’s good for tackling the crime and anti-social behaviour that can have such a devastating impact on people’s quality of life.

Conservatives have a great record on fighting crime and grime at the local level. The figures show that Conservative councils have the cleanest streets, with lower levels of litter, graffiti and fly-posting. All over the country, communities have voted blue and gone green – and many of the best examples are set out in this document.

On May 3rd, people will have the chance to vote for change, and to make a real difference in their quality of life. The Conservative Party’s message is simple: Vote Blue, Go Green.”

This link will take you to the Conservative website page with the text of the campaign booklet which sets out the key priorities for Conservative councils.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bus stations and Seagulls

You never know what's going to come up on the doorstep when one is fighting a local election on conducting a resident's opinion survey.

Of course, the most frequently raised issue of concern at the moment in West Cumbria is the future of our local hospitals. We have been running a petition on this subject which has secured hundreds of signatures. But a number of other issues have also been raised.

Two interesting issues were mentioned to myself and my colleagues Alex Carroll and Alan Mossop on the doorstep in Bransty ward at the weekend.

More than one person told us they were concerned about the proposed new Bus Station site in Whitehaven. They considered the original bus station site to have been far more suitable than the proposed new one.

The other issue concerned seagulls - there are a lot of these birds in Whitehaven at the moment. You always expect some on coasts and around a harbour but the population is such that some are coming further inland. They can be noisy and aggressive, and in areas where rubbish is still collected in black bags rather than wheelie bins, seagulls have caused an environmental health hazard by tearing the bags open looking for food, and thereby strewing rubbish over the street.

Copeland council is responsible for pest control; is it time for a set of measures to be taken to check the seagull population in Whitehaven?

I would like to see an investigation into the environmental impact of the seagull population at it's present level, which should establish whether there is a case for a humane programme of population control.

I would be interested in any feedback from Whitehaven residents, especially in Bransty, on either of these issues.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Do You Need a Postal Vote?

If you will be away or otherwise unable to vote in person for your local council on 3rd May, you have until noon next Wednesday (18th April) to get the application form to the electoral registration office at your local borough council office.

Remember that all previously existing postal votes were cancelled last year. I know that many residents of Copeland Borough who had previously had postal votes received a letter advisitng them of this, and with the letter came a form to apply again.

I certainly had this letter myself, but today I spoke to someone who never received hers. If you have not applied for a postal vote within the past six months, you no longer have one, and need to apply again by noon on Wednesday if you want to vote by post.

No more Magna Carta?

Dan Keiran is about to bring out a book called "I fought the law" from which there was an extract in last week's Sunday Times.

His basic argument is that all sorts of behaviour which British people would expect to be legal because we fondly believe that we live in a free country have been criminalised over the past few years.

Now it is easy to ridicule or criticise Dan Keiran because he is not always as good as he should be at getting his detailed facts right. While browsing in a bookshop I picked up his previous book, which is called "Crap Towns." (Apologies for the bad language, but it's his not mine.)

After reading the first two pages I put it down in disgust with the strong opinion that if those pages were representative, the adjective was better applied to the quality of Mr Keiran's research rather than the towns he wrote about. Certainly any numerate and computer-literate person could have established in twenty minutes on the internet that some of the myths and urban legends repeated in the book are factually inaccurate.

Sadly, he shows the same willingness to repeat amusing but inaccurate myths in his new book, on a number of peripheral matter which I presume were put in to make the book entertaining. For example, he repeats the old canard about whether it is legal at various times of day to shoot Welshmen with a longbow inside the city of Chester. (Believe me, Dan, if you try it at any time of the day or night the police will find something to charge you with, and if they can prove you've done it the charge will stick.)

However, on his basic argument, Keiran is absolutely 100% right.

Remember Walter Wolfgang? It is absurd and disgraceful that an octegenarian former refugee from Nazi Germany was not just thrown out of a conference, but also briefly detained under anti-terrorism legislation when he tried to return, for shouting "Nonsense" (or words to that effect) at the then Foreign Secretary. Perhaps Walter Wolfgang was lucky not to be charged under the Official Secrets Act for giving away the state secret that Jack Straw was talking nonsense.

It is completely unacceptable that a lady was charged and given a criminal record for standing at the Cenotaph and reading the names of a list of our soldiers and service personnel killed in Iraq.

I will admit that I used to find some of the demonstrations outside the House of Commons unsightly and irritating. But every time I walked past a demonstration which I disagreed with, there or anywhere else, I would remind myself that what made our system stronger than the Soviet Union, the apartheid regime in South Africa, Pinochet's Chile, or Nazi Germany was that anyone, no matter how powerless, could express their disagreement with anyone, no matter how powerful, and as long as they did so without attempting to block the public highway, threaten violence, or drown out an opposing point of view they could do so without threat of punishment.

As Dan points out, section 132 of the Serious and Organised Crime amd Police Act has taken away the right to spontaneous protest within a certain distance of the House of Commons. The area where protest has been banned includes Downing Street and the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall.

Shame, shame, shame on Tony Blair, and shame, shame, shame on every Labour party robot who voted for that bill and took away one of the things which made me proud to be British.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What Doctors think of the Labour government

I am indebted to Iain Dale's diary for the news that a poll out this morning shows that if there were a general election today only 7 per cent of doctors would vote Labour.

Conservatives would be supported by 43% of doctors (up 16% on 2005) and the LibDems by 15% (up 4%).

Labour are down from 24% in 2005.

The poll also found a lack of support for Chancellor Gordon Brown leading the NHS as Prime Minister. Asked "Would the NHS provide a better service under Gordon Brown?", 6% said 'yes', 61% said 'no' and 32% said they were unsure.

Just 2% of doctors described their level of morale at work as excellent, with 54% saying it was poor or terrible.

This is the verdict of people who are intimately informed about the working of the NHS under a party that came to power promising "24 hours to save the NHS."

Balls talks ... Arrant Nonsense

Few things have illustrated as clearly what is wrong with New Labour as their reaction when The Times eventually managed to use Labour's own Freedom of Information legislation to see the advice given to Gordon Brown before his disastrous decision to abolish the Dividend Tax credit on pension funds and thereby raid pension funds to the tune of £5 billion a year.

By now this has taken £50 billion from pension savings directly and between another £25 billion and £50 billion indirectly through knock-on effects such as reduced incentives to save, consequent closure of many final salary pension schemes either to new members or even sometimes existing ones, and reduced asset prices.

It is interesting to see how clearly the risk of such a sequence of events was foreseen by the treasury. Their advice to Brown warned of the possibility that

Pensions would be cut

Fund values would fall by up to £50 billion

Council tax would rise to pay for local authority pension fund defecits

Schemes would be driven into insolvency.

All these things have come to pass.

This has clearly dented Brown's reputation and it has come up a number of times on the doorstep in recent weeks. It has been interesting to see how this report was the "last straw" which caused many people who had previously bought into the common wisdom that Brown is a successful chancellor to finally realise that his record is more mixed than they had imagined.

Faced with the prospect that the lasting damage which Brown inflicted on pensions might finally be matched with corresponding damage to his own electability, New Labour and their friends have responded in the only way they know how to do - spin and counterattack.

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian wsa the funniest, suggesting that the whole thing was an orchestrated pesonal attack on Gordon Brown by the Conservatives and our supposed allies in the press. Come off it Polly - for most of the past dozen years "The Times" has been new Labour's closest ally among the quality press, even more so than The Guardian.

Meanwhile, Treasury minister Ed Balls accused Brown's critics of "arrant nonsense" and suggested that the chancellor had been advised to scrap DTC on pension funds. He is guilty of the same error - selective quotation - of which he accuses others. But this is not the main reason why Balls is the person who is talking arrant nonsense.

It is legitmate to point out that Brown was warned of the risks he was running ten years ago with his £5 billion a year raid on pensions. But the strongest evidence that his judgement was at fault is not the 1997 decision, bad though that was. It was the fact that, although it has been crystal clear for eight years that the risks of a pensions disaster of which the treasury had warned were becoming a reality, not until this year did the government make a serious attempt to repair the damage. And even then it was too little, too late.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wishing you a Merry Easter

Today is Easter Sunday.

For those in Western countries who do not believe in the Christian message, today is just a holiday, and I wish any such person reading this a good one.

For those who do believe or have an open mind on the subject, it is the day when we remember a message of hope and love which could triumph even over death and disaster.

May the love of the risen Jesus be with you today and always.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Candidates for Copeland Borough Council

The following people are standing in the elections for Copeland Borough Council on 3rd May.

I have listed for each ward the number of councillors to be elected, and then the candidates in alphabetical order with the town or village where they live, and party affiliation.

Addresses are given based on electoral registration details given on the nomination papers as reported to the Whitehaven News - I understand one or two of these addresses may be out of date by election day as a small number of candidates are moving house (but only within the Copeland area.)

ARLECDON (1 seat): C Ross, from Kirkland, (Labour); Marie Simpson, from Arlecdon, (Conservative); Graham Sunderland, from Arlecdon, (Independent).

Note - Arlecdon ward also includes Keekle

BECKERMET (2 seats): Yvonne Clarkson, Calderbridge, (Conservative); John Jackson, Frizington, (Conservative); John Woolley, Whitehaven, (Labour).

BOOTLE (1): Keith Hitchen, Holmrook, (Conservative) ELECTED UNOPPOSED

BRANSTY (3): Alex Caroll, Whitehaven, (Conservative); Les Harley, St Bees, (Labour); Jim Hewitson, Parton, (Labour); Alan Mossop, Whitehaven, (Conservative); Chris Whiteside, Whitehaven, (Conservative.); Jeanette Williams, Distington, (Labour).

Note - the Bransty seat is mostly in Whitehaven but also includes a stretch of countryside around Harras Moor and Scilly Bank, and a slice of Moresby Parks.

CLEATOR MOOR NORTH (3): Hugh Branney, Ennerdale, (Labour); Joan Hully, Cleator Moor, (Labour); Doreen Platt, Egremont, (Conservative); Bill Southward, Cleator Moor, (Labour).

CLEATOR MOOR SOUTH (2): David Banks, Thornhill, (Labour); Cath Gill, Rheda, (Labour); Joyce Morris, Cleator Moor, (Conservative).

DISTINGTON (3): John Bowman, Distington, (Labour); Brian Dixon, Gilgarran, (Labour); Willis Metherell, Pica, (Lab); Frank Hollowell, Lowca, (Lib/Dem); Victoria Vincent, Parton (Conservative)

Note - Distington ward also includes a number of villages in the north of the borough.

EGREMONT NORTH (3): John Brown, Gosforth, (Conservative); Mary Holmes, Egremont, (Conservative); Kenneth Kirkby, Egremont, (Conservative); Sam Mateer, Thornhill, (Labour); Elaine Woodburn, Egremont, (Labour); Margaret Woodburn, Egremont, (Labour).

EGREMONT SOUTH (3): John Coyles, Egremont, (Conservative); John Holmes, Egremont, (Conservative); Jean Lewthwaite, Woodend, (Conservative); Michael McVeigh, Egremont, (Labour); Connie Watson, Egremont, (Labour); Peter Watson, Egremont (Labour).

ENNERDALE (1) : Mike Minogue, Cleator Moor, (Lib Dem); Mary Ross, Kirkland, (Labour); Bob Salkeld, Lamplugh, (Conservative);

(The Ennerdale seat covers a large area of countryside including the Ennerdale Bridge and Lamplugh areas)

FRIZINGTON (2): Peter Connolly, Frizington, (Labour); Tim Knowles, Frizington, (Labour); Ken Simpson, Rowrah, (Conservative).

GOSFORTH (1): Christina Cornall, Gosforth, (Labour); Alan Jacob, Gosforth, (Conservative).

HARBOUR (3): Anne Bradshaw, (Labour); John Kane, (Labour); Graham Roberts, Conservative); Andrew Welsh, (Conservative); Brigid Whiteside, (Conservative); Henry Wormstrup, (Labour); all are from Whitehaven.

HAVERIGG (1): Margaret Barnes, Haverigg (Independent); Carl Carter, Haverigg (Labour); Douglas Wilson, Haverigg (Conservative).

HENSINGHAM (3): Martyn Barnes (Conservative); Margaret Docherty, (Labour); Geoffrey Garity, (Labour); Norman Williams, (Labour); Marcus Swift (Conservative); all are from Whitehaven.

HILLCREST (2): Calvin Jones, (Labour). Alistair Norwood, (Conservative); Andrew Wonnacott, (Conservative); all are from Whitehaven.

HOLBORN HILL, MILLOM (2): Fred Gleaves, (Conservative); Dave Micklethwaite, (Lib Dem); John Park, (Labour); Rowena Pitt, (Conservative); Neil Wilson, (Independent); Roland Woodward, (Labour); All live in the Millom Town Council area.

KELLS (2): Glen Gray, Gosforth, (Conservative); Allan Holliday, Whitehaven, (Labour); George Clements, Whitehaven, (Labour).

MILLOM WITHOUT (1): Gilbert Scurrah, Thwaites, (Conservative). ELECTED UNOPPOSED

MIREHOUSE (3): Eddie Brennan(Labour); Anne Faichney (Labour); George Higgins (Conservative); Leah Higgins (Conservative); Paul Whalley(Labour); Dorothy Wonnacott (Conservative); all are from Whitehaven.

MORESBY (1): Geoff Blackwell, Moresby, (Labour); Gareth Maley, Whitehaven, (Conservative).

NEWTOWN, MILLOM (3): Robin Pitt, (Conservative); Francis Heathcote, (Conservative); Raymond Cole, (Conservative); Anthony Gilmore, (Labour). All live in the Millom Town Council area.

SANDWITH (2): David Gray, Gosforth, (Conservative); Jim Prince, Peter Tyson, (both Whitehaven, Labour).

SEASCALE (2): Eileen Eastwood, (Conservative); David Moore, (Conservative), Les Tulley, (Labour). All Seascale.

ST BEES (1): Norman Clarkson, Calderbridge, (Conservative); Esther Clements, Whitehaven, (Labour).

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Brown's Pensions Disaster

It should have been obvious to everyone at the time that Gordon Brown's abolition of the Dividend Tax credit for Pension funds, which increased the tax on pension funds by £5 billion a year, was likely to have dire consequences.

Obviously the first of these is a cumulative £50 billion directly grabbed in extra tax, but it has also been suggested that the impact on pension funds, including money which has not been invested in them because people know it would be grabbed in tax, and the overall impact of lower asset prices as this policy is one of the reasons UK stocks and shares have underperformed our international rivals, may be closer to £100 million.

It has been obvious for several years that this is one of the main reasons why, in the words of Labour MP Frank Field, this government inherited one of the strongest positions on pensions in Europe but now has one of the weakest.

In my view this was the worst single mistake in economic policy since Churchill put Britain back on the Gold Standard seventy years previously, and it has done much more long-term harm than ERM entry and Black Wednesday put together.

After a two-year battle, the Times Newspaper has now secured the release under Freedom of Information Act provisions of the advice given to Gordon Brown at the time. Surprise surprise - Treasury officials foresaw many of the problems and warned Brown about them but he went ahead anyway.

For the past decade Brown's reputation as a chancellor has been higher than most of his constributions deserve, because his one excellent decision - to give the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England the independent authority to set interest rates - has enabled the strong economy he inherited from Kenneth Clarke to stay strong for a decade. However, the chickens are coming home to roost, and the history which future generations will read about Brown the chancellor will begin by identifying his actions as the biggest single cause of the pensions crisis which will affect millions of people - not so much those who are already retired as those who will be reaching retirement age for decades to come.

Anyone with two working brain cells - including the more intelligent members of the Labour party such as Frank Field - has been able to foresee since the 1980's that Britain faced a demographic time-bomb from the later part of the present decade onwards, as people of traditional working age will form a smaller and smaller proportion of the population. The last government saw this coming, and imposed a series of measures, some pleasant, some not, to give people a strong incentive to save for their future. The policy worked and by 1997 Britain had more money saved in pension funds than the whole of the rest of Europe put together.

Brown's unforgivable incompetence, raiding that nest-egg and destroying the incentive to save, has put Britain's future pensioners right back where we started. Because of Gordon Brown, millions of people will find, when they reach retirement age without adequate savings or pensions provision, that they have to choose between retiring on a pittance or working until they drop. There has been much talk of Blair's legacy: Brown's legacy will be to be remembered with anger as the man who wrecked Britain's pensions. And that anger will be justified.

Farm payment money may be late again

Environment secretary David Milliband admitted last year that not all the Single Farm Payment money due to farmers this year can be guaranteed to arrive by the due date of June 2007. We are told that £300 million has been budgeted for late payment fines.

I would be interested to hear from any farmers, especially in Copeland, who may be reading this about whether the money has reached you on time. I know that many local farmers had to borrow money last year because the payment was so late.

Meanwhile a report by an all-party committee of MPs has suggested that the previous Environment secretary (and current Foreign Secretary), Margaret Beckett, should have been sacked for incompetence over her failure to get to grips with the issue last year.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee of the House of Commons has just published a damning report into the failure of the Rural Payments Agency (RPE) and Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to pay farmers their money on time. They said that heads should have rolled at the top for this incompetence.

Committee Chairman Michael Jack MP said that “A culture where ministers and senior officials can preside over failure of this magnitude and not be held personally accountable creates a serious risk of further failures in public service delivery.”

MPs accused Mrs Beckett of knowing what problems she faced but said that she took the “sublime hope it would be all right on the night”. The National Farmers’ Union President, Peter Kendall, added his voice to criticism said the NFU had warned the RPA and Defra the payment method was “over-complicated and over-bureaucratic”.He said: “It is truly terrible this saga has cost farmers about £20m of their money and untold stress.”

I am grateful to the Cumberland News for some of the information in this post.