Wednesday, December 31, 2008

David Cameron's New Year Message

In my New Year message three years ago, I said that I wanted the modern Conservative Party to be a voice for change, optimism and hope. What was true in the good times is even truer now that times are tough, and getting tougher. People are looking to us for hope in these dark days, and we must be ready to offer it: hard-edged hope, built on a clear-sighted analysis of what has gone wrong and how we can put it right.

That provides this Party with three important tasks for 2009. First, we must show that we have learned the lessons of Labour’s Debt Crisis and will never let it happen again. Second, we must offer constructive and positive ideas to help keep people in work and in their homes, and make sure the recession is as short, shallow and painless as possible. But third and perhaps most important of all, we must set out our positive vision of change: to describe the new economy and the new society that we want to build once the recession is over and the recovery underway.

Labour have failed in these tasks, and that’s why the country needs change. Far from learning the lessons of their Debt Crisis, Labour are making it worse by choosing to borrow even more. Instead of constructive and positive ideas to help save jobs – like the National Loan Guarantee Scheme that we have proposed – Labour are wasting billions of pounds on useless schemes like their temporary VAT cut. And above all, instead of moving forward to a new economic vision, they are taking Britain straight back to the arrogant, big government-knows-best ideas that bankrupted our country the last time Labour were in power, in the 1970s.

This means that the choice facing the country will be clearer in 2009 than it has been for a while: a choice between the past and the future.

Labour say that their Debt Crisis calls for even more borrowing, even bigger government, and a return to 1970s-style subsidy and state control – with every utterance from Gordon Brown now confirming that ‘New Labour’ is dead.

By contrast, the modern Conservative vision is of responsible government and responsible business helping to build a responsible 21st century nation - where social reform and decentralisation strengthen our society, where a stronger society reduces demands on the taxpayer, and where lower taxes, a less interfering, bureaucratic state and green growth combine to produce a sustainable economy.

So far from dropping our green agenda because of the recession, we will this year step up the pace because leadership on the environment will help create the jobs, wealth and opportunity Britain needs. Far from dropping our commitment to make British poverty history, we will this year intensify it because we must not allow this recession to create social problems and costs for the future. And far from dropping our commitment to help the poorest people on the planet because times are tough at home, we will re-affirm in 2009 both the moral and the practical case for fighting global poverty.

For us, the strong economy of the future will be built on a strong and responsible society. The Emperor Hadrian, when asked how Rome would be rebuilt after a devastating fire, replied: “Brick by brick, my citizens; brick by brick.”

That is how we will rebuild our broken economy and our broken society – business by business, family by family, community by community. Not through imposing some kind of state blueprint from above, like Gordon Brown wants to do, but by allowing the talent and effort and incredible character of British people to shine. That is the greatest source of hope we have. That is why I’m optimistic about our country’s future. And that is why we need change now.

People can see that Labour have been in power too long. They have been corrupted by power, and their arrogance means they cannot now even see their mistakes, let alone correct them. It’s no surprise that the person who helped break our economy and our society won’t admit they’re broken. It’s no surprise that a Prime Minister whose decisions over a decade helped cause the Debt Crisis; who failed to prepare the country for the gathering storm, and whose irresponsible extra borrowing will now deepen and lengthen the recession turns round and tells us the recession will be a test of everyone else’s character. The Prime Minister tells us to find our blitz spirit when he is the one dropping the bombs – the tax and debt bombshells that are taking Britain to the brink of bankruptcy.

This government has lost its moral compass. Where is the morality in asking our children to pay off our debts? Where is the morality in encouraging people who have already borrowed too much to borrow a little more? Where is the morality in trying to reflate the bubble and return the country to the age of irresponsibility that led us to this mess?

It has to end – and the sooner the better. The longer Labour are in, the worse it gets. So let’s make sure we’re ready for an election at any time, and let’s do all we can to make sure that 2009 is the year when change comes to Britain too.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Daft plans to stop doctors from dispensing dropped

I was very pleased to learn shortly before Christmas that the government has dropped plans to restrict the ability of GP practices to dispense medicines. This could have had dire effects on a number of local GP practices such as the Seascale medical centre, who might well have had to close their Bootle branch.

An extract from Hansard which quotes the annoucement in the Commons is given on my hospitals & health blog (see link at right.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tidings for a modern Christmas

Some alternative Christmas tunes (alternative suggestions welcome)

From "God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen"

God help you, British Businessmen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Gord our saviour needs you lots of tax to pay,
To clear off all the billions he's borrowing today,

(Chorus) But to Business no comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
But to Business no comfort and joy.

From Gord our boss in Downing Street,
A Civil Servant came,
To CBI and FSB brought tidings just the same,
If you don't pass on cuts in VAT, we'll make you feel our pain,

(Chorus) But to Business no comfort and joy, (etc)

They thought they'd ended Boom and Bust, and put it down to Gord,
Of praise for anybody else, NewLab had not one word,
But when in time Recession hit, a different tune was heard,

(Chorus) But to Business no comfort and joy, (etc)

They blamed it on the Bankers and they blamed it on the Yanks,
And ev'ryone but Gordon when the Economy tanks!
For sorting out the mess they still expect the voters' thanks!

(Chorus) But to Business no comfort and joy, (etc)

From "Away in a Manger"

Away in a manger, no house and no bed,
No sellers had HIPS done, so the market was dead,
The CCTV cameras looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay."

From "Christmas is coming"

Christmas is coming,
The organically-reared goose is getting morbidly obese,
Please put a quid in the fund for pension fund relief
If you haven't got pounds sterling
A Euro now will do
If you haven't got a Euro
Alistair Darling may have a bailout for you

(But only if you work in banking or certain arbitrarily selected industries - tough luck if you work for Woollies.)

An ecumenical Christmas Prayer

During a lovely service on Christmas morning at St James' Whitehaven which I attended with my family, I was struck by something which Canon Kelly did during the intercessions and which ought to be done more often.

While praying for "all Christian leaders" he specifically mentioned not just the Archbishop of Canterbury but also the Pope and the Moderator of the Free Church Council.

Christian churches ought to make a point of praying for each other than is sometimes the case, and I was pleased to see this gesture, especially appropriate at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas messages

A very happy Christmas, and a prosperous, successful, and healthy New Year 2009 to everyone reading this blog.

We have been delivering a "Christmas Card" newsletter from the Conservatives to as much of Whitehaven as we can cover with the available time our delivery force has left after the Kells & Sandwith by-election. In Kells and Sandwith we have included a slip saying thank you from the Conservative candidate, Brigid Whiteside, to those who voted for her.

For those who have not seen either that slip or the letter from Brigid in today's Christmas issue of the Whitehaven News, the latter is repeated below:

Dear Sir,

Following on from the Kells & Sandwith by election. In this season of peace on earth and goodwill to all people, regardless of their faith, colour, or birthplace, I would like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone reading this, and thank all those electors in Kells and Sandwith who voted for me on 18th December.

Yours sincerely

Brigid Whiteside

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

De-politicising the police

Probably the worst legacies that the Blair and Brown governments will leave behind is a mountain of debt that will take decades to pay back, and a wrecked pension system.

But a close third is the way they have attempted, with far too much success, to politicise a great many things which ought not to be politicised, starting with the civil service. Within a year of taking office they had changed the law to allow political appointees like Alistair Campbell to give orders to civil servants and replaced the senior press officers at the great majority of government departments. And the process has continued from there.

But far more insidious and dangerous is the way Labour has attempted to politicise the senior ranks of the police. I would not for an instant suggest that every Labour Home Office minister has been a party to this, nor that every senior officer has gone along with it. But there have been a number of senior police officers, of whom Sir Ian Blair was the archetypal example, who have been unhealthily close to the government.

There will be a big problem for the next government in dealing with this. Simply replacing those officers who are - let's put this politely - too close to the present administration to be seen as impartial, with people who are closer to the incoming government, is all too likely to be seen as replacing bias in one direction with bias in the other.

The challenge is to ensure that there are fair and effective means to remove senior officers who are manifestly failures, or demonstrably biased, while ensuring that officers who are both impartial and good at their jobs cannot be removed for telling a minister of either party what they don't want to hear.

As originally drafted this post continued with a carefully worded statement of concern about some unguarded words of a certain very senior officer in the metropolitan police. But as he has now apologised and the apology has been accepted let's leave it there.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cameron on the action Britain needs.

Britain is facing a serious economic problem. David Cameron is putting forward positive and constructive proposals to deal with these problems.

Anyone who is tempted to believe the rather ridiculous Labour propaganda story that the Conservative policy on the recession is to "do nothing" would be well advised to go to the horse's mouth and see what the Conservatives are actually proposing.

The following message from David Cameron spells out his positive programme to help British businesses, families, and individuals.

"When the financial crisis happened, I made it clear that the Conservative Party was ready to put aside party differences to help bring stability. That's why we supported the recapitalisation of our banks.

"I also said that we would not suspend our critical faculties over this Government's calamitous economic policy decisions - decisions that helped not only cause this crisis by encouraging government and personal debt to spiral out of control, but could also make the recession deeper and last longer.

"That's why we have set out a positive alternative, starting with immediate action to tackle the credit problems at the heart of the issue.

"It's clear the recapitalisation is failing to restart lending to the real economy, so we've proposed a National Loan Guarantee Scheme to underwrite loans to businesses.

"It is vital that this £50bn proposal - which has been welcomed by the business community - is taken forward by the Government right now.

"I can't promise it will save the world, but the sooner the Government swallows its pride the sooner we can get credit flowing again, and help Britain's struggling businesses.

"Conservatives have always understood and supported businesses, we know what they need to prosper.

"We also recognise that they make a difference not just by creating wealth, offering employment, and paying taxes to fund public services, but by making their money in a moral way, treating their employees right, strengthening communities, and playing a positive part in society.

"So we don't see the financial crisis as an excuse to bash capitalism, we see it as a challenge to make it work better in the future.

"As well as better regulation we need to reinforce the values of trust, integrity and responsibility - with strong institutions, and incentives to do the right thing.

"And just as importantly the Government should lead by being as prudent with the public finances as we expect banks to be with private finances, and by being as moral and responsible with the public purse as we expect business to be with consumers' cash.

"That's what a Conservative Government would do. Let's hope we get a chance to have one in the coming year."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas in Whitehaven II

I really was tempting fate by mentioning the excellent Christmas lights display in Loweswater Avenue, Woodhouse: as mentioned, the following day I spotted two more in Whinlatter Road in Mirehouse.

There is in fact at least one more magnificent display in the Kells & Sandwith division, half way up Monkwray Brow.

While walking the patch in my own council ward, Bransty, this weekend I have seen several elaborate light displays, particularly at Broom Bank and the entrance to Bay Vista. Displays in Harbour ward include several in Esk Avenue and there is another in Mirehouse next to the shops.

Apologies to all the ones I have undoubtedly missed!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pantomime: Cinderella at the Rosehill Theatre

After three weeks in which virtually every spare minute was spent running around Kells and Sandwith, it was even more pleasant than would normally have been the case to forget politics for the other kind of pantomime, and take my children to see a very good performance of "Cinderella" at the Rosehill Theatre, near Moresby just north of Whitehaven.

In the interests of fairness I should say that I have heard that this year's pantomime at the Civic Hall in Whitehaven was also excellent.

As my late mother, was both (in her professional life as a teacher) an officer of the Herts Drama Teachers association, and (as a hobby) a prolific supporter and producer of amateur dramatic performances, I have seen a great many pantomimes, from the excellent to the truly dire, but I don't think I have seen many that were more fun. Nor can I ever recall a very small boy dressed as a squirrel so thoroughly stealing the show. All the cast and those who organised the event deserve congratulations.

You can find more details of events at the Rosehill theatre on their website here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wasting Police Time

If the Telegraph report referred to here gives an accurate and balanced account of the action taken by police in Port Talbot, who warned newsagent Bob Singh that he could face prosecution for breaching public order if he continued putting jokes on his leaflets, then the officers who visited him should themselves be prosecuted for wasting police time.

According to Mr Singh's account in the Daily Telegraph, his jokes "contain no bad language and are not racist"

He admitted some were "a bit saucy" but insisted that they "don't target any person or gender."

Examples of the jokes given included

"What is the technical name for three days of horrendous weather followed by bright sunshine? A Welsh Bank Holiday!"

"What do you call a sheep with no legs? A Cloud!"

Have the officers involved cleared up every single case of murder, rape, burglary, vandalism and assault in Port Talbot? If not, both the local Chief Constable and the Police Authority should be looking again at the priorities being set for the police force: they should not have one second to spare for pursuing this sort of complaint against a shopkeeper until they have dealt with more serious crimes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kells & Sandwith result

Kells and Sandwith Cumbria County Council by-election result this evening.

This is usually one of the safest Labour county divisions in Copeland.

Previous election, 2005:

Joseph McAllister (Labour): 1,367 (65.8%)
Gordon Brown (Independent): 357 (17.2%)
Leah Higgins (Conservative): 355 (17.1%)

Labour majority: 1010

18th December 2008:

Wendy Skillicorn (Labour): 434 (41.7%, down 24%)
Simon Nicholson (BNP): 418 (40.1%, did not contest in 05)
Brigid Whiteside (Conservative): 190 (18.2%, up 1%)

Labour majority: 16.

Official turnout figures have not been released but I can say unofficially that the turnout was only about 25% and was depressed both by bad weather and the election being a week before Christmas.

In many ways an election at such a time, with a very low turnout, was a freak result, and should not be overstated, but for a party like the BNP to get such a large vote is cause for concern. There will be a lot of people asking how this could happen.

Just to be clear, I don’t think any mainstream party can afford to be complacent about the BNP, and we all need to find non-racist, and non-inflamatory ways to do something about the problems which are making people vote for them.

As the saying goes, for every complex problem there is a solution which is simple, clear cut, easy to explain, and wrong.

That’s the sort of solution which the BNP all too often put forward, and the challenge for everyone else is first to find solutions which actually work and then persuade the electorate to support them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kells & Sandwith by-election

A reminder that tomorrow (Thursday 18th December) is polling day in the Kells and Sandwith county division for the vacant seat on Cumbria County Council.

There are three candidates, who in alphabetical order are:

Brigid Whiteside (Conservative)
Simon Nicholson (British National Party)
Wendy Skillicorn (Labour)

Polls are open from 7am to 10 pm.

For a whole host of obvious reasons I support the Conservative candidate, but I would urge any Kells and Sandwith elector who may be reading this to go to the polling station and use your right to vote, regardless of your views. This is important to help whoever is elected to do things for local residents: whichever candidate is elected has more chance of getting things done if he or she has the mandate of being positively chosen by the electors, rather than slipping in on a low turnout. It is also important to maintain and use the democracy for which so many generations have fought and died.

There are still many people in other countries who would love to have the right to vote which Kells and Sandwith residents can exercise tomorrow.

Franklin once wrote that "The Price of Liberty is eternal vigilance." Freedom costs, but the price is worth paying. All you have to pay tomorrow is a few minutes' trip to the polling station to cast your vote, and a few minutes' thought about which candidate you should vote for.

Christmas in Whitehaven ...

I should have known it was tempting fate to mention the excellent Christmas lights display in Loweswater Avenue, Woodhouse: the following day I spotted two more in Whinlatter Road in Mirehouse.

I shall be walking the patch in my own council ward, Bransty, at the weekend and will have to keep an eye out for any more in that part of the town.

I shudder to think now much work and effort goes into these displays, and the electricity meters in these houses must go round like the hands of a clock, but it obviously gives them a lot of pleasure, and hopefully does the same for people walking or driving past.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Labour's 2009 Poster campaign

I am grateful to Iain Dale's blog for drawing my attention to a site called "10 Drowning Street" and a humorous version of Labour's 2009 poster campaign (not suitable for children) which you can read here.

A second group of spoof Labour posters is here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Michael Gove on the "Children's Plan"

I am grateful to Conservative Home (see link at right) and Hansard for drawing my attention to Michael Gove's speech on the first anniversary of the Children's Plan.

The burning question in Copeland will be whether our MP, as the self-described first Jedi Knight in parliament, took part in the lightsaber duel ...

Anyway, here is Michael Gove, shadow education spokesman, leaving aside the more formal type of debate on starting his contribution to a debate last week ...

"I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Government Front-Bench team for their understanding in allowing me to leave the Chamber briefly earlier in order to see my daughter’s nativity play. Even though we all face tough economic circumstances, I know that all hon. Members will want to find time in their schedules for seasonal festivities.

I was particularly pleased to read about the great fun had by all at the Christmas party held by the Secretary of State at the Department for Children, Schools and Families. I understand that, as well as wine and canap├ęs, the Secretary of State also laid on for members of the press a Scalextric demonstration, a Nintendo Wii and some Star Wars light sabres. Those were not products acquired during the seasonal sale that Woolworths has just launched to celebrate the life-saving effects of the recent VAT cut; nor were they the toys that the Prime Minister threw out of his pram on hearing what the German Finance Minister thought of his policies. They were, in fact, there to help members of the press celebrate the first anniversary of the children’s plan.

I also understand that the climax of the party was a light sabre duel between the Secretary of State and Mr. Michael White of The Guardian, modelled on the epic duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars—these are serious times and we need serious people. I also understand that the Secretary of State won, and I am sure that, as he triumphed, he uttered the words that the Home Secretary spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) just the other week—“May the force be with you”. But whether or not we believe in the force, and the power of the dark side, I am sure that we can forgive light-heartedness at this time.

Of course, some hon. Members may have been in good spirits yesterday for reasons other than the formal anniversary of the children’s plan. They may have been listening to the Prime Minister taking pride in his global rescue plan. Well, we now know what the man in charge of Europe’s biggest economy thinks of that. The Prime Minister may believe, in his more modest moments, that he is Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the truth is that he is closer to a political Max Mosley: he thinks he is king of the world and he has clearly got money to burn, but all people remember is that he got a terrific spanking in German. [Interruption.] Thank you."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas in Kells and Sandwith

It seems that there is usually at least one family in every town who go in for a Christmas lights display in a really big way. While out delivering leaflets for the current Kells and Sandwith by-election I found a house on the Woodhouse estate which has a magnificent array. (It's in Loweswater Avenue, Whitehaven.)

This by-election, which will take place a week before Christmas (this Thursday, December 18th) is proving very hard to call. Kells and Sandwith is normally an extremely safe Labour ward, and anything other than a massive Labour majority would be bad news for them.

Trying to make contact with electors at a time of year when it is dark before most of those with jobs are at home and very dark at the time we would usually do most of our canvassing has been challenging. On the basis of the people I have spoken to, Labour support is down, and the turnout is likely to be low. The election may turn on which of the three parties contesting the election are most successful at getting their supporters to turn out.

Polls are open on Thursday from 7 am to 10pm.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Government caught releasing dodgy statistics

More than a hundred years ago, Benjamin Disaeli said that

"There are three kinds of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics."

And for at least that far back, official statistics have been distrusted.

The new UK statistics authority was set up earlier this year, with Sir Michael Scholar, retired top mandarin and president of St John’s College Oxford as the three day-a-week non-executive chairman.

Their job is to monitor the accuracy and fairness with which official statistics are collected, analysed and reported. He obviously takes that role more seriously than some officials in number ten or the home office expected. Sir Michael has complained publicly about the way the government released unreliable statistics designed to make it sound like policies to cut knife crime were working.

This is an extract from Sir Michael's letter to the top civil servant at Number 10:-

"Dear Jeremy,

I am writing, as chair of the UK Statistics Authority, to express my concern about yesterday’s announcement of statistics related to knife crime.

It has been reported to me by the National Statistician’s Office that officials or advisers in No. 10 Downing Street caused the Home Office to issue a press release which prematurely published rovisional statistics for hospital admissions for knife or sharp instrument wounding.

This press release said that “the number of teenagers admitted to hospital for knife or sharp instrument wounding in nine…police force areas fell by 27% according to new figures published today”.

These statistics were not due for publication for some time, and had not therefore been through the regular process of checking and quality assurance. The statisticians who produced them, together with the National Statistician, tried unsuccessfully to prevent their premature, irregular and selective release.

I hope you will agree that the publication of prematurely released and unchecked statistics is corrosive of public trust in official statistics, and incompatible with the high standards which we are all seeking to establish ... "

A richly deserved slap on the wrist for the Labour government. But if this kind of vigilance from the National Statistics office is continued it may mean that governments of all colours have to pay more attention to the accuracy of the figures they release, and that might even mean that government statistics cease to be seen as another form of lying.

Fisking Gerald Kaufman

A response to Sir Gerald Kaufman's article in The Guardian which you can read here.

"I am getting increasingly worried about the mental condition of the House of Commons".

A cheap shot, to which I shall resist the obvious cheap riposte. Instead I shall merely note that it is Sir Gerald who has started off his article by descending to questioning the mental stability of those who take a different view from him about the importance of an issue. A classic New Labour smear tactic once deployed by the Blairites against Gordon Brown himself.

"I do not refer to individual MPs. Most of them are sensible and hard-working. I am talking about the Commons as a collective, which seems these days to be carrying self-absorption into the realm of solipsism."


"This week we have had two ministerial statements about welfare reform. Attendances in the chamber were respectable, but no more. On Monday there was a debate about the rights of MPs, and the chamber was crammed. The welfare statements affect the lives of millions. The debate about the arrest of a Tory MP and the police search of his parliamentary office was of scant relevance to anyone outside Westminster."

MPs would not be human if they were not concerned about something that directly affects them, but that doesn't mean they were wrong. The rights and privileges of parliament, like the rights of equivalent bodies in every other country, were hard fought for, and need to be defended in every generation, not because MPs themselves are important, but to defend their ability to stick up for everyone else.

There was a time when Labour MPs and campaigners understood that. 29 of them still do, but Sir Gerald Kaufman clearly does not. And when a party gets so used to being in office that they forget it, they are in need of being reminded about the need to protect the rights of parliament through a spell in opposition.

"In the debate I quoted the statutory justification for what the police did. This stimulated Conservative MPs into a paroxysm of rage, which I found amusing rather than alarming, since what particularly aroused their frenzy was my citing the section of the Tories' 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act which permitted the search."

Gordon Brown was not arrested and did not have his office searched in 1985, the year after that act was passed, after openly boasting in a TV interview with Frank Bough of having done more or less what Damian Green was accused of. Nor was Robin Cook or any of the other Labour MPs who produced leaked documents while the Tories were in office. So the Conservatives can reasonably argue that they neither used the 1984 act in the way it was deployed against Damian Green, nor imagined that it would be used that way under any future government.

The one point Sir Gerald may have is that if the act can be used in that way, there may well be a need to amend it.

"An opinion poll published the next day stated that 56% of those responding said they had not followed the matter closely enough to express a strong view, while 45% thought it was a typical Westminster argument that bore no relation to the lives of ordinary people."

In the middle of dire economic circumstances the majority of the electorate can be forgiven for being more worried about where the next pound's coming from, whether their job is safe, how to keep up the payments on the mortgage etc. That does not mean that other concerns are of no long-term significance.

"People confined in closed institutions can tend, if circumstances provoke, to become self-absorbed to the point of the irrational. Such a state of mind can arise in an army camp, a prison, a boarding school, or a parliamentary building."

E.g. in the parliamentary Labour party.

"We are called the House of Commons for a very good reason. We do our best to represent our constituents but we, rightly, have no status that inflates us above our constituents. We, rightly, unlike MPs from some other countries, have no immunity from arrest. If we travel abroad on Commons business, we do not get diplomatic passports and, again rightly, go through immigration control exactly as experienced by those we represent. Though the confidentiality of our correspondence with our constituents is indispensable, it exists by convention rather than being enshrined in statute or standing orders. In theory we have the right of access to ministers, but sometimes we struggle for that access."

All the more reason not to let the Executive get above themselves.

"Our only true rights are that we cannot be sued for slander for what we say in the Commons chamber, nor for libel for the content of early day motions we table. I believe this state of affairs is right and proper. I value the letters MP after my name, but do not believe this should give me an elevated status; and this is what the Damian Green affair is about."

It's not about elevated status for MPs beyond the protection required to let them do their job and protect their consituents.

"He has been arrested and questioned. There is no doubt that the police had the right to do what they did, and to become agitated about this is to seek to place MPs above their constituents."

And if the law were generally used that way, half the journalists in the country, most opposition spokesmen, and many backbench opposition MPs, would reguarly have been arrested. Including most of the senior members of the present government when they were in opposition.

Being agitated about this is not seeking to place MPs above their consituents, it is wanting to make sure we have an effective opposition and do not become the sort of country where people who embarrass the government are subject to arrest.

"The Police and Criminal Evidence Act gives the police the right to search the property of anyone arrested on an arrestable offence and, if the police arrested Green on an arrestable offence, they had the right to do what they did. I think the Speaker of the Commons, the lack of respect to whom by some MPs I find disturbing, bent over backwards in insisting that in future a search warrant should be required. I do not believe that the self-aggrandising inquiries announced by two Commons select committees are in the slightest degree necessary."

I would wager the shirt off my back that if Gordon Brown or Robin Cook had been arrested in a similar manner when the Conservatives were in office, Sir Gerald Kaufman would have considered an equivalent inquiry to be very necessary indeed.

"The debate on Monday, in which some MPs wallowed in preening self-importance, showed the Commons at its worst."

No, with 29 honorable exceptions, it showed the Labour party at its worst.

"The Tories have failed to turn the Damian Green arrest into a resonant political issue. The people of Britain care about their jobs, their homes, their savings, their pensions, climate change, poverty and disease in the developing world. It is these matters that should have the attention of those lucky enough to have MP after their names."

Those matters should have the attention of MPs, but so should the ability of parliament to hold the executive to account. Without that power they will ultimately not be able to do anything effective about the issues Sir Gerald mentions or anything else.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Tale of two Freudian slips

Martin Kettle argues in the Guardian here. that Brown's slip of the tongue at Prime Minister's questions - "We not only saved the world" may become one of the things for which he is remembered.

So it should.

But another commment yesterday which may be seen as a gaffe could be far more significant in the long run.

The comments made by the German finance minister, Peer Steinbruck, go against the normal conventions of diplomacy and may not be particularly helpful to Anglo-German relations, but they may also match the comic definition of a gaffe as an incident in which a politician voices a truth he might have been wiser to leave unsaid.

When Mr Steinbruck said of the UK cut in VAT and the atrocious borrowing implied by the British government's Pre-Budget Report that

"Are you really going to buy a DVD player because it now costs £39.10 instead of £39.90?"


"All this will do is raise Britain's debt to a level that will take a whole generation to work off."

he was only saying what an awful lot of British people have also been thinking and saying.

And they are right.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cameron on the economy

Speaking at the London School of Economics, David Cameron has spoken about the “clear choice that is emerging in British politics” on the economic problems facing the country.

He argued that two main problems face this generation – a recession coupled with a record level of Government debt, and that the Government are trying to tackle one while ignoring the other.

David outlined the Conservative approach of addressing both problems together, to set the economy and our public finances on a sustainable path, and make the recession shorter and shallower.

He also promised greater transparency and accountability from a Conservative government that look to reduce waste, reform public services and reduce demands on the state.

David said, “Every week this Government is in power the mortgaging of the future gets greater. Every week the debt gets larger. Every week the burdens on our children mount up higher.”

And he added, “We urgently need a change of direction, not more of the same.”

Public Service Announcement

I think the following suggestion which I picked up from Iain Dale's blog (see link at right) is a good idea, and have done this on my own mobile phone.

We all carry our mobile phones with names & numbers stored in its memory. If we were to be involved in an accident or were taken ill, the people attending us would have our mobile phone but wouldn't know who to call. Yes, there are hundreds of numbers stored but which one is the contact person in case of an emergency? Hence this 'ICE' (In Case of Emergency) Campaign.

The concept of 'ICE' is catching on quickly. It is a method of contact during emergency situations. As mobile phones are carried by the majority of the population, all you need to do is store the number of a contact person or persons who should be contacted during emergency under the name 'ICE' (In Case Of Emergency). The idea was thought up by a paramedic who found that when he went to the scenes of accidents there were always mobile phones with patients but they didn't know which number to call.

He therefore thought that it would be a good idea if there was a nationally recognised name for this purpose. In an emergency situation, Emergency Service personnel and hospital Staff would be able to quickly contact the right person by simply dialling the number you have stored as 'ICE'.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

29 Honorable Members

The government has defeated by 285 votes to 281 an amendment which sought to ensure that the committee of inquiry into the arrest of Damian Green MP was effective.

The amendment would have allowed the committee of inquiry to follow the lines originally proposed by the speaker: unfortunately the government has secured a committee with a government majority and more limited terms of reference. The result will be that it is being boycotted by the opposition parties and has zero credibility.

The 285 MPs who went into the government lobby not only failed to do their job in protecting the right of parliament to hold the executive to account: taking a longer term perspective they were foolish even in terms of the Labour party's sectonal interests. At some point, possibly after the next election, Labour will be back in opposition. Do they really want to go into that position having set the precedent that opposition MPs can be arrested and have their homes and offices searched by large numbers of anti-terrorist officers for embarrassing the government ?

Unwise enough for Labour MPs - what on earth the UK Independence Party MP Bob Spink thought he was doing in voting with Labour on this issue is beyond comprehension. I doubt very much that many UKIP voters support either the government's immigration policy or the idea that opposition MPs should be arrested for challenging it.

However, 29 Labour MPs had more sense. In addition to 184 Conservatives, 58 Lib Dems, 4 SNP and 2 Plaid Cymru MPs, plus George Galloway, Clare Short, Andrew Pelling, Richard Taylor and Bob Wareing, the following 29 Labour rebels also voted for a real inquiry:

Diane Abbott
Charles Clarke
Frank Cook
Jeremy Corbyn
Paul Farrelly
Frank Field
Mark Fisher
Paul Flynn
Ian Gibson
John Grogan
Fabian Hamilton
Dai Havard
Kate Hoey
Kelvin Hopkins
Glenda Jackson
Lynne Jones
Andrew Mackinlay
Denis MacShane
Bob Marshall-Andrews
John McDonnell
Gordon Prentice
Alan Simpson
Sir Peter Soulsby
Gisela Stuart
Paul Truswell
Keith Vaz
Alan Williams
David Winnick
Tony Wright

I have to confess that I would never in a million years have expected to find myself including Keith Vaz MP in a list of MPs I was singling out for praise but consistency demands that I do so.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Conservative action on the economy

Gordon Brown keeps peddling the line that the Conservatives support a "do nothing" strategy of letting the recession take its course.

This is not true. The following are some of the policies which Conservatives support to help families and businesses right now.

We will freeze council tax for two years by reducing wasteful spending on advertising and consultancy in central government

We will abolish Stamp Duty for nine out of ten first-time buyers and raise the Inheritance Tax threshold to £1 million. Both of these changes will be funded by a flat-rate charge on non-domiciles.

We will provide tax cuts for new jobs with a £2.6bn package of tax breaks to get people into work, funded by money that would otherwise go on unemployment benefit

We will cut the main rate of corporation tax to 25p and the small companies' rate to 20p, paid for by scrapping complex reliefs and allowances

We will give small and medium-sized businesses a six-month VAT holiday, funded by a 7.5% interest rate on delayed payments

We will cut National Insurance by 1% for six months for firms with less than five employees, paid for from the above changes to the company tax regime.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cameron's third anniversary

Three years ago today David Cameron became leader of the Conservatives.

Whether you like David or not, whether you support the Conservatives or not, anyone who is interested in the health of British politics should recognise that DC has done democracy a service.

By bringing the Conservatives back into the game he has offered the electorate a choice.

No party can be certain of victory at the next election, but that is as it should be. When Labour thought they could not lose they made some of their worst mistakes.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Quentin Letts on the debate on Damian Green's arrest

No apology for returning again to the subject of the Damian Green arrest.

MPs should not be above the law, and civil servants cannot have an absolute right to leak things. Nevertheless parliamentary privilege, which provides members of parliament with a degree of special legal protection while doing their job, is an important part of a functioning democracy, and it is there not just to protect MPs but to protect ordinary citizens whose interests an MP may have taken up.

It is no accident that the same 200-year old and previously disused common law offence which was used to arrest Damian Green had previously been used to arrest a part time journalist on a local paper who was strip searched and threatened with life imprisonment for embarrassing the local police by revealing that they'd lost the keys to the local nick. (As mentioned in previous posts, the case against her was dismissed the day after Damian was arrested.)

Nothing I am writing on this is intended as an attack on the ordinary coppers who are simply trying to do their job, many of whom are deeply annoyed about what is going on. One serving police officer blogged anonymously shortly after the Green arrest "I didn't think I'd joined the Stasi" while a retired officer in Copeland said to me of the Green arrest, which he found terrifying, that in all his decades on the force he'd never heard of the common law offence for which Damian had been arrested.

I watched with interest much of yesterday's debate in parliament about the Damian Green arrest. One or two MPs who I do not normally have much time for, such as David Winnick and Chris Huhne, were excellent. Sadly many Labour MPs and the Home Secretary were rushing to find excuses for tactics which they would have been the first to condemn if Robin Cook or the present Prime Minister had been arrested while the Conservatives were in government.

I did not hear a single convincing argument from any quarter to suggest that what Damian Green is accused of doing is in any material way different from what Gordon Brown openly boasted on television of doing as an opposition MP, when he was interviewed in 1985 by Frank Bough.

All governments have people working for them who leak. All oppositions use the information leaked to them. All governments get cross about it and set up leak inquiries. Under the last Conservative government two civil servants were prosecuted for leaking. With 20:20 hindsight I think the juries concerned were probably right to convict Sarah Tisdall and acquit Clive Ponting.

But the arrest of a senior opposition MP for being the recipient of leaked information is new. And to see members of the present government alternating between pretending it is nothing to do with them and trying to smear Damian Green, when most of them from the Prime Minister down had done exactly the same sort of thing in opposition, is quite nauseating. These people are not fit to run our country.

Quentin Letts has a good article in today's Mail Online which you can read here. I particularly like the bits where he says:

"We might not be able to run an Empire any more, but by God the British Establishment can still organise a stitch-up.

"These tricksy little nuances – which kybosh the urgency of any inquiry and certainly make it party-political – were tucked away on yesterday's Order Paper. Some Opposition MPs, to their credit, actually read this highly technical document. On seeing the dirty work contained therein yesterday, these Hon Members promptly went loopy.

"Chris Huhne, for the Lib Dems, gave a magnificent defence of civil service leaks. I'm being serious. It really did happen. Foghorn Huhne, for once, roared like a trapped polar bear. His colleagues looked as stunned as the rest of us. Perhaps they should have elected him their leader, after all.

"Dominic Grieve, the donnish, 1950-ish figure who is now Shadow Home Secretary, did not just land bolshy Jacqui Smith in his net. He removed her fins and scales, filleted her, scraped out her guts and chucked her mermaid tail into the cat's lunch bowl, accusing her of 'wilful ignorance' and 'smear and spin'."

David Cameron on the Queen's Speech

I'm grateful to Conservative Home and Hansard for the following transcript of David Cameron's reply to the Queen's Speech.

"Let me tell the Prime Minister what is wrong with this Queen’s Speech. There is no recognition in the Government’s programme of how the world has changed. We are moving into an age in which there is no Government money left, so we need public sector reform to get better value for money. We are moving into an age of massive debt, so we need to mend the broken society and reduce the demands on the state. But in the Queen’s Speech there is no serious reform, just bureaucratic bungling and technocratic tinkering. It is all about the short-term prospects of the Prime Minister, not the long-term future of the country. It is last year’s Queen’s Speech from yesterday’s Prime Minister.

"There is no change. Let us look at the promises that the Prime Minister made when he said — remember the phrase ? —

“Let the work of change begin.”

"Let us examine them. We were told that there would be loads of eco towns, but only one is still alive. He promised zero-carbon homes, but there have been virtually zero of them. There are just 15 in the whole country. He promised 3 million new homes, but house building fell by a quarter last year. What about free nursery education for all two-year-olds? That has been abandoned. More maintenance grants for students were granted last year, collapsed in a complete shambles this year and face massive cuts next year. Then there is the Prime Minister’s promise of a new constitutional settlement. We were promised more powers for Parliament to question the Executive. That one ended up down the nick.

"What about the statement of British values? Does anyone remember that? According to Government sources, that will never see the light of day. What about British day? Does anyone remember that one? The question is simple—when will it be? How long does it take to set a date for a new bank holiday? Given that the Prime Minister is about to stand up and cancel happy hour, we need cheering up. When will it be?

"It would not matter if those ideas were all just gimmicks, but some of them really raised people’s hopes. Whatever happened to social homebuy? The scheme was launched in a blaze of glory and was by now meant to have helped 10,000 families to buy their home— [ Interruption. ] I know that the Government do not follow these things, but we like to check up on them. It was meant to have helped 10,000 families, but it has helped just 235. With this Prime Minister, it is always about short-term politics and never about long-term change.


"The Prime Minister is wrong in recession; he is wrong for the recovery. Largely responsible for the collapse of our economy, he is absolutely clueless about the collapse of our society. He is yesterday’s man, so will he get on and call an election so that the people of this country can put this dreadful Government out of their misery and start the long-term change that our country needs?"

Thursday, December 04, 2008

European Court is right about the DNA Database

I'm very sorry that the issue of the DNA database had to be taken to the European court. I would have preferred to see the British government recognise that the two innocent men who had their DNA and fingerprints taken by police, but were never convicted of anything, should not have had this information retained.

But although it is not often these days that Conservatives come out and praise the European Court of Human Rights, this time the court is absolutely right.

It is absurd that we are retaining the DNA of millions of innocent people, while there are also millions of convicted criminals who are not on the database because their convicion was before a particular date.

Dominic Grieve, Shadow Home Secretary, said our approach to a national DNA database has been vindicated by the ruling, which “vindicates all that we have been saying about the Government's wrong-headed approach to this issue which has caused so much resentment amongst the law abiding majority”.

He called on Jacqui Smith to “come forward and say what steps she will now take”, given that the profiles of more than a million innocent people are currently on the UK's DNA database.

And he laid out the Conservatives position that "We would have a Parliamentary debate about the database and put it on a statutory basis."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Feedback on Copeland Council and Bransty meetings

The December Meeting of Copeland Council took place in Cleator Moor yesterday afternoon (2nd December).

Key issues covered included

* Approval of the Local Development Scheme (This is part of the Local Development Framework which will replace the old District Plan, and sets out how the other documents in that framework will be approved.

* Future of West Cumberland Hospital - the leader of the council agreed with me and with Conservative Group Leader Cllr David Moore that we should pressure the local NHS Trusts to avoid any further delay in taking a decision about the siting for the new hospital. See fuller report on my hospitals blog (link at right.)

* Christmas Parking. We had asked at a committee meeting whether there would be any free parking at Christmas to attract shoppers into Whitehaven and were promised a statement at the December council.

Due to an administrative error it appears that the Portfolio holder, Cllr Clements, had not been advised that he was supposed to be making a statement about this. When asked, however, he declined to agree to any free parking in Whitehaven this Christmas on the basis that the money which might possibly have been used for this was being spent instead on a marketing campaign for the town as recommended by one particular business group. The Conservative group, while not opposed to the marketing campaign, felt that the failure to organise any Christmas parking concession put the town at a disadvantage.

The Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood Forum was later the same evening.

The possibility of a Town Council for Whitehaven was discussed, followed by a presentation on the four traffic options for the town centre being considered by the County Council. That consultation will continue until March.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Keswick and Bransty public meetings

The Keswick and District Neighbourhood forum met last night in the Quaker meeting house opposite Booth's at 7pm.

Topics included Emergency Planing, Lake District National Park issues, Transport options for young people in Borrowdale after the 9pm bus has been withdrawn, and grant applications

The Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood forum meets this evening at the Bransty Legion at 7pm.

Topics include the Whitehaven Town Centre traffic proposals and whether Whitehaven should have a Town Council

Monday, December 01, 2008

Trevor Kavanagh in today's Sun

Trevor Kavanagh has an excellent article in today's Sun which you can read here and begins as follows:

"I USED to think ID cards were a good thing. Along with CCTV cameras and DNA databanks. Even, at a pinch, 90-day detention.

What law-abiding citizen could object to these new weapons against terrorists, rapists and murderers? Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

Not any more.

Not after the death of innocent Jean Charles de Menezes or the pointless shooting of drunken barrister Mark Saunders by two police marksmen.

Not after the inexcusable bugging, strip-searching and futile £1million vendetta by police against journalist Sally Murrer for revealing officers had lost the keys to the local nick – a case which was rightly dismissed last week.

And certainly not after the Stasi-style raid by anti-terror police on an MP I know to be above reproach.

Damian Green’s “crime” was to make Home Secretary Jacqui Smith look even more foolish than she is by exposing the chaos in her department over illegal immigration – surely a matter of national interest.

If Damian Green can be banged up for nine hours for telling the truth, what hope for you and me?

Indeed, if Westminster is not a sanctuary for an elected MP, what hope for any of us?

Parliament may at times be a disreputable bear pit, but it is the core of our democracy for which many fought and died."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A law that should be repealed

The more I read about the common law offence of “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” the more I am convinced that it is dangerously vague and bad law, and should be abolished.

A number of journalists including Sam Coates and Matthew Parris in The Times and Nick Cohen in the Guardian have written very powerful articles on this. With superbly ironic timing, a case which had been brought involving the same charge against journalist Sally Murrer collapsed the day after Damian Green was arrested. Nick Cohen writes a damning and frightening account of the way that case was prepared here.

Some of the reactions to the Green arrest comparing the present government to Robert Mugabe are a little over the top. But it is not exaggerating to say that if you could ask the people of my father's generation who fought and in many cases died to defend this country from Hitler what they were fighting for, some of them would have listed keeping this the sort of country where you could not be arbitrarily arrested for criticising the government as being one of those aims.

The arrest of Sally Murrer shows that this is not just about defending the privileges of politicians, but about keeping Britain a free country for all of us. As Matthew Parris writes,

"The common law offence of “aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” sets such a ridiculously low hurdle that thousands of my colleagues in the newspaper industry, many MPs, most Opposition spokesmen, and innumerable helpfully indiscreet police officers would be behind bars if every offence was investigated and prosecuted. Much journalism would become impossible, legitimate questioning and debate by MPs would be ruled out, and activity in the public interest would be outlawed."

You can read his full article here.

A law that can be used to arrest anyone from a senior opposition politician to a part-time journalist on a small local newspaper on what appears in both cases to be wholly inadeqate grounds has no place on the statute book of a modern democracy.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cross party concern at arrest

It is not just Conservatives who are extremely concerned at the way shadow cabinet member Damian Green MP was arrested and had his home and parliamentary office searched.

I don't aften agree with former Labour minister Denis MacShane but I did agree with his response to the Green arrest. He said that the Speaker should make clear that MPs were entitled to hold sensitive material in the same way as lawyers and doctors, and added:

"To send a squad of counter terrorist officers to arrest an MP shows the growing police contempt for Parliament and democratic politics," he said.

"The police now believe that MPs are so reduced in public status that they are fair game for over-excited officers to order dawn raids, arrests and searches of confidential files held by MPs or those who work for them.

"I am not sure this is good for British democracy."

Tony Benn, not someone you would expect to rush to the defence of a Tory MP, said

"I may sound strangely medieval, but once the police can interfere with Parliament, I tell you, you are into a police state."

The Lib/Dems were equally incredulous, calling the arrest a "Mayday Warning" for democracy. Both their Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne and leader Nick Clegg expressed concern at Thursday's events: Nick Clegg told the BBC that he was "really shocked" by Mr Green's arrest.

"This is something you might expect from a tin-pot dictatorship, not in a modern democracy," he said.

Given the culture of "extraordinary secrecy" in Whitehall, it was getting harder to hold the government to account and opposition MPs had a constitutional duty to keep "ministers on their toes", he added.

He called on Gordon Brown to "rule out any further use of anti-terrorism powers in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism."

The Daily Mash on the Damian Green Arrest

"The Daily Mash" has a satirical view of the arrest here.

News - War

THE Prime Minister last night began the elimination of his enemies as he pledged to cleanse Britain of the virus of dissent."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Statement by Damian Green M.P.

Speaking outside the House of Commons, Mr Green said: "I was astonished to have spent more than nine hours today under arrest for doing my job.

"I emphatically deny I have done anything wrong. I have many times made public information that the government wanted to keep secret - information that the public has a right to know.

"In a democracy, opposition politicians have a duty to hold the government to account.

"I was elected to the House of Commons precisely to do that and I certainly intend to continue doing so."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Green arrest raises disturbing questions

Damian Green MP, Conservative front-bench spokesman on immigration, was arrested today, apparently by nine anti-terrorist policemen, in connection with home office documents allegedly leaked to him by a home office whistleblower.

His home and office have been searched, but he has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

I have met Damian Green on several occasions, and I like and respect him. I do not believe for one second that he would have put into the public domain any information he had received unless he was convinced that it was in the public document to do so.

For the police to arrest opposition politicians for releasing to the media documents critical of the government is not the way we do things in Britain.

All governments have people working for them who disagree with some of the things they do and leak them to the opposition. All oppositions make use of the information. All governments get cross about this, and order leak inquiries. But it is unprecedented in Britain for a senior opposition politician to be arrested for it. This raises disturbing questions.

When the Conservatives were last in power, many members of the then shadow cabinet, including Gordon Brown, quoted from leaked information. It was said of the late Robin Cook in particular, by one Conservative minister, that he seemed "to have an inexhaustible supply of stolen documents."

But I'll tell you this. If Robin Cook had been arrested for releasing leaked documents from the then Conservative government, I am absolutely certain that half the Tories who grumbled about him would have been on the phone to the then Home Secretary Michael Howard, demanding that charges be dropped before Britain was made to look like some sort of authoritarian banana republic.

And I am even more certain that most of the Labour politicians and sympathisers who have been defending the arrest of Damien Green would have accusing Michael Howard of running a police state if the same thing had happened to Robin Cook.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Darling Tax

I am still fuming at the size of the mess the Labur government is leaving for the incoming government to clear up. Perhaps one of the new taxes that will have to be introduced to get the nation's finances back on an even keel should be named "The Darling Tax" to remind everyone whose fault it is that these tax rises are necessary.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Andrew Rowe RIP

I was sorry to hear that Andrew Rowe, who served as the MP for Mid-Kent from 1983 to 1997, has died.

Andrew was one of my heroes when I was a young man. He was living proof that you could be a moderate Conservative without being "wet" and that you could be civilised without being soggy. I gather that he was also a very effective constituency MP.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the Day

"This year alone, the £78 billion borrowed by the Treasury is more than Winston Churchill needed to fight the Second World War."

George Osborne

PBR = Preposterous Borrowing Requirement

PBR is supposed to stand for "Pre-Budget Report" but it could equally stand for "Preposterous Borrowing Requirement".

In any complex package like the one which the government announced in the PBR, almost everyone is going to find some things they like and some which they don't. But it is the overall picture which appalls me, and particularly the enormous debt mountain.

All governments will automatically tend to go into spending deficit in a recession. In fact, fiscally progressive income taxes and a social security net are often collectively called "the stabilisers" as they tend to take proportionately more money off people when the economy is charging ahead while forcing the government to pay out more as it goes into recession. This will tend to moderate both inflationary booms and recessions even before and additional government action.

But for a government which was already expecting £30 billion defecit when they thought the economy was still growing, and knows perfectly well that the recession will make it much worse, to further build up the borrowing requirement in the way that they have put forward in the PBR is not just gambling, but completely reckless.

If the government is right that the recession will only last until next summer - and many experts think this is optimistic - they will still have landed the economy with annual borrowing peaking at £100 million, total national debt in excess of a TRILLION pounds, and it won't just take until after the next election, but until after the election following that, to get the national finances back on an even keel.

And if the recession lasts longer than the government now predicts, that debt mountain will be even worse.

Whoever wins the next election taxes will have to go up. Britain will be paying for the profligacy of Brown and Darling for many years after the voters have sent them to well deserved oblivion.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Misuse of the MPs "Communications Allowance"

The Lib/Dem MP for Cheadle, Mark Hunter, also PPS to the Lib/Dem leader, has been criticised by the impartial parliamentary watchdog for misusing his "Communications Allowance."

Mark Hunter MP, who is PPS to Nick Clegg, was ordered to repay £500 after having allowed a constituency-wide survey on the NHS, paid for by the Communications Allowance, to be contaminated by party political messaging.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards concluded:

"I conclude, therefore, that the way Mr Hunter deployed this survey in his Liberal Democrat newsletter was a breach of the rules since he was using the product of material paid for from the Communications Allowance for party political or campaigning purposes."

He continued:

"I do not believe it was a calculated breach. But this was more than a series of isolated misjudgements or individual mistakes. The evidence suggests that at its heart lay a confusion in Mr Hunter’s approach between communications with constituents as their constituency Member of Parliament and communications with them as a member of his political party. The former is properly a matter for support from Parliamentary allowances; the latter, not.

While minor misdemeanours in themselves, the party reference in the survey’s end note and its description as a Liberal Democrat survey in the party newsletter are in my view symptomatic of a failure to make a sufficiently clear distinction between the Parliamentary and the party political. The line between the two can be difficult to draw but in my view the successful drawing of that line is central to the public acceptability of these allowances.

In this case, Mr Hunter did not distinguish clearly enough between his Parliamentary and party political roles and as a result I conclude that he breached the rules by using the Communications Allowance, albeit largely indirectly, to support his party political or campaigning activities."

Previously Labour MP and former cabinet minister Ruth Kelly had to issue an apology for spending part of her parliamentary communications allowance on a constituency newsletter that, in clear breaches of guidance, boasted of Labour Government achievements. The guidelines state that "no party political or campaigning material is allowable in any part of a publication funded, in whole or in part, from the allowances."

Mrs Kelly told the newspaper that broke the story - The Mail on Sunday - that she apologised unreservedly. Her newsletter included the following sentences:

“This reaffirms Labour’s commitment to investing in the NHS”
“The Labour Government has invested so much in improving early years’ services"
It boasts of “the difference made by Labour’s commitment to investing in and modernising our NHS"
It includes the slogan from her website “Your NHS. Better with Labour”
It also promoted the work of Bolton West Labour Party.

Mr Hunter and Mrs Kelly are not the only offenders. CCHQ has identified other leaflets - paid for by taxpayers - but which appear to be in breach of parliamentary guidelines:

* Bridget Prentice, a Minister for Justice, has the Labour Party logo on every page of her newsletter – and even includes a photo of her local Labour Party HQ.

* Gisela Stuart, majority 2,349, also uses the Labour Party’s colours across the entire leaflet, including photographs with Gordon Brown and claims Gordon Brown is ‘delivering a fair deal for pensioners today’.

* Julie Morgan includes a section in her leaflet celebrating the arrival of ‘a new Prime Minister’ who has seen ‘many testing occasions’ as well as pointing out she supported Harriet Harman for Labour’s Deputy Leadership.

More details are given on the Conservative Home website - see link at right, or go to

Commenting on the Labour abuse cases, Francis Maude said:

“The Communications Allowance was deliberately created to enable sitting Labour MPs to protect themselves against their democratic opponents. This is further evidence of how Labour voted through taxpayers’ cash to bankroll their political campaigning in marginal seats. If Gordon Brown is serious about restoring trust in politics, he should scrap this unfair Allowance now."

Labour MPs frequently bleat about the money which Lord Ashcroft, about whom they are completely paranoid, gives to support Conservative candidates.

It is worth stating that the money given to most Conservative candidates such as myself from the target seats fund which Lord Ashcroft runs in his capacity as a party deputy chairman - not all of which comes from him personally - is considerably less for most of us than the amount of taxpayer's money which our Labour or Lib/Dem incumbent opponents are entitled to claim via the Communications Allowance.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ICM reports an 11% Tory lead

After a week in which the Conservative lead in the opinion polls has ranged from 11% down to 3%, it bounced back to 11% in the latest ICM opinion poll.

This ICM poll gives the party shares as:

LABOUR 31% (+1)
LIB DEMS 19% (+1)

Practically every opinion poll for a year has estimated the Conservative share of the vote at 40% or above, including all the polls in the past week, but Labour has been between about 31% and 37% and the Lib/Dems between 12% and 19%.

So the range in Conservative opinion poll leads in the past week - 11%, 5%, 3%, and back to 11% - has largely been due to different estimates of how support divides between Labour and the Lib/Dems.

It is also noticeable that the media has given much less attention to the opinion polls showing the Conservatives still more than 10% ahead than to those with a narrower lead.

It is worth remembering that if a poll has a sample size of 1000 or so, as most of them do, the standard margin of error is about three percentage points for each party's estimated share of the vote. As the poll lead is the difference between the top two shares, the standard margin of error on a poll lead is rather more than that. For that reason anyone who is really interested in what opinion polls are saying is wise to pay more attention to the shares of the individual parties than to the lead.

The opinion poll with the latest 11% Conservative lead was ICM, while another poll which had a much lower Lib/Dem share, higher Labour share, and lower lead was Ipsos MORI.

The main difference between ICM and MORI is that the former takes measures to ensure a politically balanced sample through past vote weighting. MORI doesn’t and as Mike Smithson of the "Political Betting" website was arguing on Wednesday the latest survey simply had far too few 2005 Lib Dem voters in it to make it representative.

As Mike put it

"What’s happening at the moment is that it’s the way the different firms are polling the Lib Dems that is driving the top-line numbers."

and he added

"My view, as I have argued here before, is that the ICM methodology is sounder than MORI’s."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lest we Forget

Earlier this month on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Dat we commemorated all those who were killed or wounded in war.

This week a plaque was unveiled to remember those people who made a special effort, sometimes at considerable personal risk themselves, to save Jewish people from the Holocaust.

The official British government record in terms of effective action to protect people from being murdered by the Nazis was mixed. There were undoubtedly some enlightened official decisions which allowed many thousands of people who would otherwise have been killed by Hitler's regime to escape to this country, to America, or to what is now Israel. However historians who examine the record as a whole will always ask whether there was more that the Western powers could have done.

That question will not be asked of Captain Foley, the British Intelligence head of station at the Berlin Embassy, who saved a very large number of people - probably thousands though nobody knows the exact number - from death in Nazi extermination camps. He was one of a number of individual British officials who saw what was coming, and granted visas for Britain to every Jewish refugee they possibly could, sometimes literally securing their release from concentration camps to leave the country. In many cases Captain Foley and his wife personally hid Jewish refugees in their own house.

Men and women like Captain Foley and his wife acted at great personal risk; but they saw a choice between good and evil and they chose the right side.

Few of us will face choices so stark, but there are times when all of us should remember the moral courage of people like the Foleys. Sometime we should ask ourselves - what side are we on?

Quote of the day

"Alistair Darling could be quite a good Chancellor if Gordon ever gave him the job."

Ken Clarke

Friday, November 21, 2008

Clarke backs Osborne

Ken Clarke has publicly supported George Osborne as Shadow Chancellor and disavowed those who have been suggesting that David Cameron appoint him instead.

In an interview in the Daily Mail, Ken suggested that his name was being used in a dirty tricks campaign against the Shadow Chancellor which was designed to undermine the party leadership. He said that Mr Osborne was being "targeted in a personalised political campaign" and added: "I think my name is being used as part of this attempt to undermine George."

Mr Clarke warned:

"I think for David Cameron to replace George Osborne with me or anyone else would be a serious political mistake. The impression it would give of self doubt, division and sudden loss of confidence in what we have been saying would be catastrophic. It would be a triumph for opponents of the Conservative Party."

Mr Clarke backed Mr Osborne's dramatic warning at weekend that soaring borrowing could trigger a run on Sterling. He accused Mr Brown of putting the economy at risk with his plan to borrow billions to pay for a tax giveaway next week worth up to £20billion. He described the crisis as "the worst in my lifetime" and said:

"It's going to be a very deep recession and a persistent one. We don't know when the recovery will start and we don't know how strong it will be."

Mr Clarke added: "We could be back in a situation where the timing and issuing of vast quantities of bonds is very difficult. That would drive up long-term interest rates for everyone. In that situation the prospects for recovery are badly damaged"

Contrary to Labour suggestions that George Osborne should not have commented on the risk to the pound as this broke some alleged convention, Ken Clarke also denied that there has ever been a convention banning politicians from commenting on the health of the Pound.

Ken has got the line right - he recognises who is putting the economy at risk, who the Conservative party should be criticising, and that is Gordon Brown. The small minority within the Conservative party which has been launching "friendly fire" at the shadow chancellor should follow Ken's example and shift their guns to the proper target.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lower spending increases are not spending cuts: 2

When I heard that David Cameron had dropped the promise to match Labour's spending increases, I had two immediate reactions

1) Given the increasingly dire financial position and Labour's reckless tax and spending plans, this is the right thing to do: it appears unlikely that the country will still be able to afford increases on the scale currently proposed.

2) We will need to be on our guard, because Labour and some of their allies in the media will dishonestly misrepesent lower spending increases as spending cuts.

The Labour MP for Copeland proved me right on the second point almost instantly. A quick look at Hansard reveals the following question which he asked at this week's PMQs (Prime Minister's Questions):

Jamie Reed (Lab, Copeland): "Constituencies such as mine are set to benefit from new schools, new hospitals, new health facilities and new social housing in the near future, but those developments will be put at risk by the public spending cuts from the Opposition. Does the Prime Minister agree that constituencies such as mine throughout the north of England would be decimated by such proposals?"

The Conservatives have not proposed "public spending cuts" in schools, hospitals, health facilities, or social housing.

We are not in a position to put forward a budget for what a Conservative government will do if elected, when the election may not take place for about 18 months, though we will do so in our manifesto when an election is called. The "decimation" which the MP for Copeland refers to exists only in his overactive imagination.

We have dropped a guarantee to match Labour increases - but if that means we end up spending less, the intention is to economise on bureacracy, regulations, and quangoes, not front line services like schools and hospitals.

If he spent more time taking up issues of concern to his constituents and less time inventing imaginary Conservative policies to attack he would be a much better MP.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A wise man shows he knows when to call it quits

I have enjoyed John Sergeants performances on "Strictly Come Dancing" and I think that up to this point, he and his dance partner have provided a lot of pleasure and amusement to viewers of the show. There is also no doubt in my mind that the panel of judges rashly went "over the top" in their criticisms of him a week ago last Saturday, and probably perversely boosted his vote in the process.

Whatever the judges said, John Sergeant's dancing performances improved greatly over the series and were fun to watch. His professional partner, Kristina Rihanoff, deserves some of the credit for that.

However, in pulling out of the competition this week he has done something very rare: run with something as long as it was entertaining and funny but stopped before it became too much of an embarrasment.

Perhaps as a political journalist he has learned a lesson from watching politicans, who rarely know when to quit.

Lower spending increases are not spending cuts

Because of the credit crunch which has already hit us, and the recession which even the government admits is likely, Britain can no longer afford the large increases in public spending which Labour is proposing.

Labour's policy of unfunded tax cuts now combined with rises in public spending will mean even bigger tax rises after the next election if they win.

As any reputable economist will admit, big increases in public borrowing, even if temporary, will usually mean that interest rates have to be higher than they otherwise would have been. This means that if the government is already borrowing lots of money, as the current Labour government is, a further fiscal stimulus (that's economist-speak for governments spending more) can "crowd out" private spending.

That is why the Conservatives will no longer by promising at the next election to match Labour's spending plans for the first two years of a Conservative government.

This does NOT mean that we are proposing to cut spending on schools and hospitals.

Saying that we are no longer confident that the country can afford large spending increases is not the same as saying that we are going to cut the overall level of spending. And where a Conservative government does make savings it will be in administration and unproductive spending, while front line services such as schools and hospitals will be protected.

David Cameron has stressed Britain faces a clear choice: tax cons now and tax rises later with Labour, or fiscal responsibility and permanent funded tax cuts with the Conservatives.

In a press conference in London, David attacked Gordon Brown’s plans to go on a “borrowing binge”, warning that Labour’s borrowing bombshell will turn into a tax bombshell in the long run.

Labour Ministers Tony McNulty, Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson have all indicated that increased borrowing would have to be paid for with higher taxes at some point – and David said:

“Gordon Brown knows that borrowing today will mean higher taxes tomorrow. If he doesn’t tell you that he is deliberately misleading you.”

David stressed that instead of a tax con, Britain needs fiscal responsibility:

“Not spending money we haven’t got - but saving it to help people through tax relief. Not borrowing money on the nation’s credit card - but getting a grip on public spending and making sure Britain starts living within its means. That’s the only responsible way to get our economy back on the path to recovery.”

David promised to set up an independent Office for Budget Responsibility to bring stability to the public finances and open the way for permanent tax cuts in the future.

And he said he would restrain the growth of spending by not matching Labour's "unsustainably high" spending plans for 2010-11 and the years beyond.

“What once looked affordable in boom times is now clearly unsustainable. Let me put this as clearly as I can - unless we curb the growth of spending, taxes will need to rise in the future. Without such restraint, the borrowing bombshell will turn into a tax bombshell.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MPs should be briefed on science

I broadly welcome the news that Adam Afriye MP, Conservative science spokesman, is proposing that Conservative MPs should attend briefings on scientific literacy under a plan to strengthen evidence-based policy-making.

Classes explaining scientific method and basic concepts will be included in the induction programme for all Tory MPs after the next election, and sitting members and peers will also be offered the opportunity to attend.

The policy is intended to address concerns about a lack of scientific expertise and understanding in the House of Commons and Whitehall.

Scientific challenges such as global warming, stem-cell research, pandemic flu and GM crops are becoming increasingly important political issues. Making information available to MPs of all parties about the scientific evidence on these and other subjects strikes me as an excellent idea.

This is not a problem unique to Conservative MPs - Professor Sir David King, the Government’s former chief scientific adviser, has criticised the Civil Service for a reluctance to use science properly when framing and implementing policy.

Mr Afriyie told The Times: “The evidence-based scientific approach extends well beyond subjects like embryology or GM crops. It is also critical to social policy and criminal sentencing, and it cuts across all areas of government.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quote of the Day: Ken Clarke

I'm indebted to Iain Dale for the following quote from Ken Clarke.

Ken said yesterday that

"The G20 thing is a bit of a circus. They decided they wanted more growth. Yes and we all love mothers too. The summit was held because all 20 of them wanted to use he word 'global' to emphasie that it wasn't their problem. I'm afraid they all went there for the photo opportunity and I fear the photo that they missed was that with President-Elect Obama."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas Parking

I was hoping to be able to give details of parking arrangements over Christmas and particularly whether there will be some free parking in Copeland to try to bring shoppers into Whitehaven and our other shopping areas in the run up to Christmas.

I am advised that "the question of free car parking in Whitehaven at Christmas is currently under review and an announcement will be made by the portfolio holder, Cllr George Clements, at Council on 2nd December."

When a government is past its Sell-By date ...

A good test of when a governments has been in office for far too long, is whether they are unable to take criticism.

In particular, those who have become so accustomed to holding office that they see it as a privilege and not a right interpret any suggestion that they might have made a mistake not as criticism of themselves but as a disloyal attack on the country.

E.g. if the pound drops 25% and the Shadow Chancellor makes some comments about why this may be happening and how to avoid making it worse, and the government accuses him of "Talking Down the Pound."

You can't run a democracy on the basis that any attempt to criticise the government is immediately damned as disloyal and against the rules: that way lies the politics of Robert Mugabe.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Report back from Copeland Council O&S Management Committee

I attended the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee of Copeland Council yesterday.

Mostly an admin type meeting dealing with the sort of issues which councillors have to address but which tend to send most other people to sleep. However, one or two issues which do have an effect on people in the real world did come up. Issues discussed included

* How Copeland can feed views into the consultation by Cumbria CC about traffic in
the centre of Whitehaven - prevailing view was that we may want to discuss this
at an Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

It was noted that a lot of people may think that becase the consultation is
described as being about Whitehaven Town centre it won't affect residents of
less central areas of the town or other parts of Whitehaven. However, in practice
it will affect a lot of other people. Those who shop in the town for example.

* Questions asked about whether there will be free parking over Christmas. See
forthcoming post.

* Some early discussion about the process for setting next year's budget and
council tax. There may have to be some difficult decisions on this.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Conservative proposals on Post Office Card Accounts

Following the excellent news that a campaign by Conservatives and others has shamed the government into renewing the Post Office Card Account contract, this is how Conservatives believe that the card should be extended, helping both Post Office branches and customers.

What does the Post Office Card Account do now ?

POCA is a basic cash account run by the Department for Work and Pensions, which currently can only receive welfare, state pension and tax credit deposits.

How would the Conservatives extend it?

A Conservative government would expand and widen the role of POCA, both enabling it to accept additional deposits – including housing benefit and any weekly wages – and create sub-accounts which can be used for direct debit payments on a full range of public and private sector bills, including utilities.

Based on evidence from industry, vulnerable customers ‘cost’ utility companies on average double the amount of non-vulnerable customers. This is because of higher collection costs.

The running costs of the additional functionality will be met in full by participating energy companies. A number of utility companies, including EDF, United Utilities and Water UK (the representative body for UK water companies) have endorsed this proposal.

Who will benefit

According to the latest Treasury figures, over two million people do not have access to a bank account (HM Treasury, Family Resources Survey, 23 July 2008).

However, research by the social enterprise Saving for Poverty has shown that the figures for those who are unbanked or act as unbanked (because they withdraw all their cash on a week-by-week basis) is actually nearer to 8 million.

Not being able to pay bills by monthly direct debit adds a substantial penalty onto household bills – primarily because of the higher collection costs faced by energy companies dealing with unbanked customers.

Amongst the six main energy suppliers, direct debit customers save up to £80 a year over standard customers, and save £122 a year over pre-payment meter customers according to the latest available figures from Energywatch (August 2008). These figures are even higher when compared to online direct debit payments.

Save the Children has estimated that the ‘poverty premium’ costs an average £1,000 per year. This figure includes fees arising from the use of non-mainstream credit lenders who can charge as much as 170 per cent interest.

Utility companies will use the cost savings generated through these customers paying through automated direct debit style processes – estimated by Saving for Poverty to be up to £800 million a year – to offer lower rates to these users, bringing them broadly into line with traditional direct debit customers. This equates to £100 per POCA customer.

Post Offices

Fees from utility companies for this POCA functionality are projected to generate £20 million in additional revenues for post offices each year (Saving from Poverty).
Post Office Ltd. makes a saving of approximately £18,000 from the closure of each individual post office (Royal Mail). The £20 million of additional revenues could therefore help to keep more post offices open and help suspend the Labour Party’s programme of forced post office cuts.

Victory on Post Office Card Account

I was delighted to learn that the government has renewed the Post Office's one billion pound contract to distribute benefits, and abandoning a plan to offer it to the private sector which might potentially have caused the closure of anther 3,000 local post office branches on top of the 2,500 the government closed this year.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell told the House of Commons that he was dropping the procurement process that could have led to a private company winning the Post Office Card Account contract, and that he will allow the Post Office to carry on providing the service.

Conservatives and others have campaigned to keep the Post Office Card Account with Post Offices Limited, not least because this gives some real opportunities to enhance the capabilities of the card which would simultaneously help some of the most vulnerable members of society and reinforce the economic position of post office branches.

Two million people had signed a petition and 265 MPs from all parties signed a parliamentary motion calling for the contract to stay with the Post Office.

The new contract will now run from 2010, when the current contract runs out, until March 2015, with the possibility of an extension later.

It had been widely expected until recently that the contract would be awarded to the private company PayPoint and Purnell said his decision to keep the contract with the Post Office did not reflect on the service offered by other bidders.

The decision was warmly welcomed by the National Federation of SubPostmasters. George Thomson, its general secretary, said it was the correct decision of the post office network and for customers.

"The Post Office's bid was highly competitive, and provides customers with unrivalled geographical coverage, security and peace of mind, and a seamless transition from the current card account," he said.

"The alternative to today's news - the loss or the joint award of the contract - would have undoubtedly resulted in at least 3,000 unplanned post office closures."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Keep Britain Working

David Cameron has proposed giving tax cuts to employers who hire new workers, in a move that will create an estimated 350,000 new jobs over the next year.

Tax cuts worth £2,500 per person, per year would be given to employers who hire new workers who have been unemployed for three months or more.

£2.6 billion of tax breaks would be given to employers in total – and this would be paid for using the money saved on welfare payments.

The scheme would create new jobs, boost the economy and reduce the damaging social costs associated with unemployment.

And, because it would be funded from lower spending on unemployment benefits, it would be revenue neutral overall for the Government.

David called on Labour to adopt this scheme as soon as possible, stressing, "Instead of the Government paying for people to be unemployed, it can pay for them to be in work."

He said there was a "clear choice" between unfunded "tax cons" from Labour and fully funded tax cuts from the Conservatives, and outlined our other proposals to help Britain's families and businesses:

* A 2-year council tax freeze, paid for by cutting back on government
advertising and consultancy fees
* Taking the family home out of Inheritance Tax and nine out of ten first-time
buyers out of Stamp Duty by introducing a levy on non-domiciles
* Allowing small businesses to delay their VAT payments by 6 months

* Cutting payroll taxes for the smallest companies

David stressed, "The modern Conservative Party will not stand aside and let unemployment claim livelihoods and ruin lives."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Consultation on Whitehaven Town Centre Traffic

I attended a presentation to councillors yesterday evening on the consultation which Cumbria CC is currently carrying out on options for managing traffic flow in Whitehaven Town Centre.

The consultation runs until March. It will be presented to the public at several public meetings including:

South Whitehaven Neighbourhood Forum, 7pm this evening, Mirehouse Community Centre

Hillcrest & Hensingham Neighbourhood Forum, 6.30pm on 27th November, St John's Church Hensingham.

Bransty & Harbour Neighhourhood Forum, 7pm on 2nd December, The Legion, Bransty

There will also be an interactive exhibition at the URC Church, Market Place, from Thursday 20th November to Saturday 22nd November (Noon to 6pm Thursday to Friday, 9.30 am to noon on the Saturday) and an ongoing exhibition at the Danial Hay library in Lowther Street.

The public can email questions or comments to

Essentially there are four options. Option one, the minimum change option, keeps broadly the same traffic flow but includes some enviromental and junction improvements, particularly the introduction of proper mini-roundabouts at the horrible junctions at George Street/Tangier Street and Duke Street/Church Street.

Options 2, 3, and 4 are much more radical, but all are variants on the idea of banning most traffic out of Lowther Street and Strand Street, and making most of the rest of the current ring road two-way, with a clockwise gyratory system involving the Northwestern part of Duke Street, Tangier Street, George Street, and the Northeast end of Church Street.

The aim is to get a broad public response now with a view to detailed design in about two years time and implementation in about 2012.

I would strongly urge all Whitehaven residents, businesses, and those who work or shop in the town to check out the consultation and let the County Council know your views.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Bonkers Tax Cutters"

I do not normally expect to find myself in strong agreement with John Rentoul of the Independent but he makes some very good points on his blog today here.

Not long ago, any suggestion from the Conservatives that they might cut taxes was greeted with a barrage of accusations from the Labour party in general and Gordon Brown in particular that these tax cuts were not properly costed and that "unfunded" tax cuts (or indeed "unfunded" spending) was a disaster.

Now after billions of "unfunded" spending to nationalise Northern Rock and more unfunded billions paid out to support the other banks, Brown is not only proposing unfunded tax cuts of his own, but criticising, yes, criticising the Conservatives for the fact that the tax cuts we in turn are proposing are not unfunded, e.g. that there has been an attempt to say how they would be paid for.

As Rentoul puts it

From punk tax cuts to bonkers tax cuts. I could not believe what Gordon Brown was saying this morning, that Conservative tax cuts didn't count because they were "funded" - that is, paid for by savings elsewhere.


For Brown to advocate unfunded tax cuts - that is, paid for by more borrowing - suddenly takes us into the political economy of Alice in Wonderland.


"Now Brown hints at big tax cuts paid for by higher borrowing. It is a complete reversal of his previous rhetoric, even if he hasn't stuck to it since about 2003.

"I cannot understand the current presentation of Brown as a statesman suddenly come into his own, while Cameron and Osborne are portrayed as schoolboys who have responded to the economic crisis erratically and uncertainly. Higher borrowing - on top of the much higher borrowing that kicks in automatically because tax receipts fall in a recession - will make matters worse in the long run.

"Brown is making it up as he goes along, as he has done since his golden rules were rewritten to suit his political ambitions, only now it is serious, and seriously wrongheaded."


(I will save any Labour backers reading this the effort of posting a comment to ask what I would have done about Northern Rock and the bank bail out. I would have let Richard Branson buy Northern Rock. The bank bailout, however regrettable the need for it, was necessary to prevent a serious risk of grave damage to the rest of the economy and the Conservatives supported it.)