Tuesday, September 30, 2008

DC on the financial crisis

There was an unscheduled speech from David Cameron this morning about the financial situation.

DC gave a warning to the banking community that there will have to be a day of reckoning but added that today was not the day for this.

He offered the government the full support of the Opposition in passing the necessary legislation to help the country through the crisis.

He said that tomorrow in his speech he will outline a full policy response.

Quote of the day - Tuesday

"There are more of us than of the bullies"

Speaker from the organisation "Kid's Count"

Conference agenda - Tuesday

The Conservative conference agenda for Monday 29th September includes

* Schools, with speakers including Michael Gove

* Crime, with speakers including Dominic Grieve and Nick Herbert

* Welfare, with speakers including Chris Grayling

* Families, with speakers including Andrew Gove, Maria Miller, and Theresa May

Monday, September 29, 2008

Calling time on Brown's age of irresponsibility

On his excellent speech to the Conservative conference today, George Osborne set out a Conservative policy to deal with the credit crunch and end Gordon Brown's "Age of Irresponsibility."

Measures to be taken by an incoming Conservative government will include:

* Scrapping the discredited fiscal rules

* Creating a new Office for Budget Responsibility to assess independently the sustainability of the public finances and hold the Government to account

* Giving the Bank of England a far greater role in market oversight

* Creating a new Debt Responsibility Mechanism

* Introducing a new system of deposit insurance for savers for the first £50,000 of deposits, to be paid out within a week.

George stressed that the Conservative plan for a strong economy will demonstrate that “the election of a Conservative Government would herald a new age of responsibility and economic reconstruction”

The Shadow Chancellor's proposals for financial and fiscal responsibility are set out in a document entitled "Reconstruction - our plan for a strong economy" which is available on the Conservative website here.

Conference quote of the day - Monday

Alan Duncan MP, during a speech about the forthcoming energy gap, described the policies of the Liberal Democrats as follows.

The Lib/Dems are living in a world of complete illusion. Their leader has said that they would build no new coal power plants and also that they would build no new nuclear plants.

So the truth about the Lib/Dems is that they will never get any power.

Conference Agenda - Monday

The Conservative conference agenda for Monday 29th September includes

* Enterprise and Business, with speakers including Alan Duncan and David Willetts

* The Economy with speakers including George Osborne

* The NHS with speakers including Andrew Lansley

* Caring for an elderly population with Andrew Lansley and Stephen O'Brien

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Conference, day one: quote of the day

From the introductory session at Conservative conference 2008:

"I do not want to be filling in forms so that a failing government can congratulate itself,"

Monica, Psychiatric Nurse

Tories to find £121m to restore weekly bin collections

I was delighted to learn David Cameron has told the Daily Mail that a Conservative Government will find the money to allow councils to restore weekly bin collections for all households.

Just over half of councils have scrapped weekly collections.

The Mail notes:

"The average cost of weekly collections is £59.80 per household per year, compared to £44.63 for fortnightly ones. That means the total cost of moving back to weekly collections is £121million. The Tories say they will raise £133million by scrapping funding for a range of inspectorates, regional assemblies, Labour's new planning superquango and forcing councils to spend less on promotion."

The following bullet points were issued in a CCHQ press release this weekend:

"A Conservative Government will change Whitehall policy so that there is an expectation that councils should offer full weekly collections, ending and reversing the Labour policy of bin cuts, which are harming public health and the local environment.

Central funding will be offered for all councils to have a proper weekly collection, so they can offer a proper refuse service, as well as comprehensive recycling collections. This will be provided by scrapping a series of unelected quangos and local government bureaucracy.

Councils, subject to the ballot box, will still have the final decision on what services to offer – but they will no longer be forced and bullied into cutting services because of Whitehall diktats.

Gordon Brown’s plans for new bin taxes will be scrapped. Labour’s stealth taxes threaten to harm the environment by fuelling fly-tipping and backyard burning.
Conservatives will champion green incentives – from trials for free green compost bins, water butts, green cones and garden wormeries, to the ‘Recyclebank’ scheme, used in America, where householders are paid for recycling.

New powers will be given to councils to introduce local council tax cuts for recycling and green behaviour."

It can be irritating when Labour copies all our polcies, but I think it is such a good idea to go back to weekly collections that I promise not to complain if Labour copies this one.

Conservative Conference in Birmingham

Today is the first day of the Conservative Conference.

The current financial crisis shows Britain needs change, not more of the same. Instead of a divided Government, led by the man who left the economy so badly prepared for this crisis, we need a strong, united, positive alternative to Labour.

This conference will show that the Conservatives are a strong, united, positive alternative to Labour.
Because we’re a united team people can trust us to work together for the country in a crisis, unlike Labour who are fighting each other.
This week we’re talking about the future of the country, unlike Labour who spent their conference arguing about their internal problems.
We’re not sitting back and waiting for Labour to fall apart, we’re coming forward with bold, radical ideas for changing Britain. There is absolutely no complacency.

Plan for change
We have a clear plan for change: to rebuild our battered economy, to renew our bureaucratised NHS, and to repair our broken society.
Our plan for a strong economy will help ease the pain of the downturn and improve our economy for the long term. We will make sure government lives within its means, cut the national debt, and make Britain more competitive.
Our plan for a better NHS will get rid of Labour’s top-down targets and bureaucracy, and make sure doctors answer to patients, not politicians.
Our plan for social reform will start to repair our broken society by raising school standards and discipline, ending the something-for-nothing welfare culture, and strengthening families.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tories have no plans to scrap school building projects

Can you guess what the following three true statements have in common ?

1) The Conservatives are not planning to cancel any school building projects

2) The Conservatives are not anti-nuclear

3) John Redwood does not support the "Railtrack" model of rail privitisaion

Answer - untrue statements from the New Labour spin machine have been made on all these subjects this week.

Shane Greer notes

here that the Labour Party website has essentially accused the Conservatives of planning to cancel hundreds of school building projects:

However, this is not true. The Conservative paper that Labour is referring to makes clear that no building projects would be cancelled. Rather, they’d be taking £1.5 billion a year from the Building Schools for the Future fund for allocation after 2011. Why 2011? Because no funds have been allocated past 2011. And where would this £1.5billion go? Into building new academy schools!

Then, in the Whitehaven News this week, "Jedie" Jamie Reed (Labour MP for Copeland) alleged for the nth time that the Conservatives are anti-nuclear. This is untrue, Jamie knows perfectly well that it is untrue, and repeating this nonsense is not in the best interests of the nuclear industry which directly employs 24% of the working population of Copeland.

And then there's John Redwood. Now I have never agreed with all of John Redwood's positions, especially where he goes beyond Conservative policy. However, one area where I do agree with him that restoring regional train operators would have been a far better model for the railways than the "Track Authority" option which was actually chosen at the time of privatisation.

This did not stop Junior Transport minister Tom Harris from claiming on his blog that John Redwood "still thinks Railtrack was a good idea!"

Devil's Kitchen has an excellent post here which points out not just that John Redwood has made clear in the House of Commons that he thinks nothing of the sort, but that Tom Harris spoke immediately afterwards in the same debate and acknowledged the fact, saying "It is good to know that we do not have to wait for the publication of his memoirs to see that he disagreed with his Cabinet colleagues on the nature of the privatisation of the railways in 1993."

There are people in all three political parties who ought to make more effort to stick to the truth. But as they get increasingly desperate in the face of a growing threat of electoral annihiliation, New Labour seems to be sinking to lower depths of mendacity and scaremongering as they try to convince people that the election of the Conservatives would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

Scrap ID cards

I was pleased to see that Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve has kept up the attack on the government's expensive and over-rated ID cards project.

Even before the repeated fiascos in which the government kept losing people's personal data, I had doubts about ID cards because of the risk that innocent people who forgot to carry the damn things would become at best the recipients of police attention better directed at genuine criminals, and at worst would find that having a bad memory or being disorganised had become a criminal offence. Now that the government has proved conclusively that it cannot be trusted with the data in such a system, the prospect of criminals getting hold of the information in the ID card database and doing far more damage should be blindingly obvious.

Dominic Grive said this week that it is “high time” Labour abandon their "ill-fated" ID cards project after Jacqui Smith unveiled the design of ID cards for foreign nationals.

The Shadow Home Secretary stressed, “ID cards are an expensive white elephant that risk making us less - not more - safe.”

And he said the Government were “kidding themselves” if they think ID Cards for foreign nationals will protect against illegal immigration or terrorism - as they don't apply to those coming here for less than three months.

A Conservative Government would abandon the ID cards project, and Dominic said he hoped Labour had taken that into account when they negotiated the contracts.

“If they have not acted on this to protect the British taxpayer, it is reckless in the extreme at a time of heightened economic uncertainty.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cameron on the Credit Crisis

Interviewed on the Credit Crunch and other issues by Sky, David Cameron said that

* he recommends urgent action on deposit protection and a lead role for the Bank of England in managing financial rescues.

* The underlying economic problem is too much debt.

Referring to the impact of energy prices he said that he had a gas bill over £1,000 last year and an oil bill of over £1,000.

In response to Gordon Brown's "No Time for a Novice" jibe, DC replied that the PM may have experience but his experience has been of bungling the regulation of the financial sector, and building up the largest ever fiscal deficit.

You can watch an extract from the Sky interview on "Conservative Home" here.)

What a difference 18 months makes

Gordon Brown attacked David Cameron this week for supposedly using his family as political props.

But as Iain Dale pointed out, in April last year Number Ten's press office issued to the media this photograph.)

Sauce for the goose ...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ernest McConnell RIP

I was saddened and surprised to learn that Ernest McConnell, one of my Bransty ward constituents and, among many other things, Churchwarden at St James' church for many years, died suddenly on Monday of this week.

Ernest was a very warm, friendly man who had a great sense of humour, and often a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He had made a vast contribution to the Whitehaven community and will be missed.

His funeral will take place at St James' on Monday, September 29, at 1.45pm

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Johnson House update

Following the call in of Copeland Council's executive deciding to sell land at Johnson house, the Executive has considered the recommendation from the panel which reviewed the decision.

They decided to properly advertise the proposed sale, as should have been done in the first place, and to hold further discussions with the potential buyers and the neighbours: the executive has also requested a report on some of the other issues raised by the call in.

There is grounds for optimism that an honorable compromise may be found for the site, and it does appear that at least some of the serious concerns which came out during the call-in may be addressed, but anyone who has been following the story of Johnson House will be aware that Copeland Council has some important learning points from this episode.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Official: Home Information Packs have failed

A secret Government report has condemned Home Information Packs (HIPs) as "a waste of time".

The damning report, only made public because of a Parliamentary Question from the Conservatives, savages Labour's flagship housing policy.

Grant Shapps, the Shadow Minister for Housing, said Labour had been "caught red-handed" trying to hide this damning indictment of Home Information Packs.

And he promised a Conservative Government would abolish this unnecessary piece of red tape:

"Home Information Packs have served to undermine the housing market, increased the cost of buying and selling a home and discouraged speculative sellers."

Almost 4,000 buyers, sellers and estate agents across the country were surveyed for the Government report.

Yougov poll predicts Tory majority of 128 seats

An exclusive Politics Home study of 35,000 voters in 238 marginal constituencies, based on fieldwork carried out by YouGov predicts that if an election were held now the Conservatives would win 398 seats, Labour 160, and the Lib/Dems 44.

This is one of the largest surveys of marginal seats ever attempted.

You can read a report summarising the results here,)

Marginal seats have been grouped into 17 categegories, and an overall swing based on the total votes in that category applied to Anthony Wells' estimate of the notional 2005 results.

In terms of the overall national position the evidence provided by this survey is quite powerful, but in terms of individual seats, where the sample sizes were between 100 and 400, not too much weight should be given to it.

For example, one of the categories consists of the four Labour-held seats in Cumbria, where 536 adults took part, of whom on a standard voting intention 39% intended to vote Conservative, 36% Labour, and 16% Lib/Dem. (They asked several different versions of this question, which got slightly different results. On the basis of this, the survey predicted that there would be a 6.5% swing from Labour to Conservative in Cumbria and that two of the four Labour held seats in the county would go Conservative.

In many respects this appears to be an interesting and informative survey, but my scepticism of the reliability of the individual constituency predictions is somewhat skewed because the notional base for my own constituency, Copeland, is inaccurate.

If there really is a 6.5% swing from Labour to Conservative in Copeland, we will be into recount territory with the seat way too close to call. Boundary changes shift from Workington to Copeland three rock-solid Conservative wards, and one three-way marginal which has councillors from all three parties. Allowing for the impact of this the Labour majority falls to about 13% and therefore a 6.5% swing would leave Copeland very close indeed.

However, the study doesn't start from this point.

Anyone who knows the area concerned realises that the four Allerdale wards which transfer into the Copeland seat are basically the most Conservative part of the former Workington constituency. They are represented on Allerdale council by the Conservative leader of the council and three of his most senior colleagues. But unfortunately for anyone trying to estimate exactly what is likely to happen in an election, these wards are not always contested - basically Labour and the Lib/Dems often don't bother to put anyone up except in Keswick, which is the three-way marginal, and didn't last year.

So in the absence of appropriate recent local election data, the notional 2005 result for Copeland on Anthony Wells' site was created by transferring a block of electors with Conservative and Labour vote shares equivalent to the Workington average into Copeland. This probably seems reasonable to anyone who lives three hundred miles away from Cumbria, but it means that a block of net Labour supporterts have been put into the Copeland estimates increasing the notional Labour majority when it is almost certain that what the boundary changes have actually happened was to transfer in a block of net Conservative supporters, making Copeland more marginal (and Workington safer for Labour.)

On that basis the study calls Copeland as a Labour hold, but if the suggested Cumbria swing is approximately right the situation is far too close for anyone to be able to predict accurately which way the seat would go if an election were held this autumn. And of course, there could be anything up to 21 months until the election, so there is probably still plenty of time for the position to change.

Well, we'll all find out what the real situation is when the General Election finally arrives some time between now and June 2010, but I believe there is everything to play for in Copeland.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Feedback from Keswick & District Neighbourhood Forum

I attended this evening's meeting of the above forum at the Borrowdale Institute in Rosthwaite. The meeting was so well attended that not everybody could get in, and some of us ended up standing in the kitchen! The reason for this high level of attendance was that bus services in the Borrowdale valley have just been cut back, particularly in the evening, and local residents were keen to know if their representatives could do anything about it.

After a lengthy discussion had made clear some of the concerns, it was agreed to look at organising a special meeting in about a month's time, which representatives with expert knowledge of the issue would be invited to attend. Other issues on the agenda included the transport plan, and a presentation from a director of Allerdale Council about the Council's improvement plan.

Kavanagh on Brown

Trevor Kavanagh, formerly political editor of the Sun, eviscerates Brown's economic legacy in an article in today's paper,

"We'll all pay for PM cheating on Prudence"

Among his points:

* "As Chancellor, Gordon ran the economy in much the same way as the bosses of troubled companies such as HBOS and Northern Rock.

* While preaching “prudence”, he doubled spending and borrowed like there was no tomorrow.

* He kept billions off the books by using costly and badly negotiated “Private Finance Initiatives” to build hospitals and schools.

That piled an extra £150 BILLION on to State borrowing — taking the total to 45 per cent of national earnings.

And add on another £1,300 billion in unfunded public sector borrowing — and £1,000billion in private borrowing for mortgages, credit cards and overdrafts.

That lot works out at around £2,500billion — or £40,000 of debt for every man, woman and child in Britain, now and for years to come.

Meanwhile, our savings have plummeted to about 2p in the Pound — the lowest since World War II — so there is nothing left for the rain already coming in through the broken roof.

Kavanagh adds:

Mr Brown blames America for the global economic crisis. But none of this came out of a clear blue sky.

Even I knew a year ago we were in trouble, and regular readers may remember me saying so.

I revealed that one of the merchant banks that went bust last week had warned executives not to talk about the impending catastrophe — even to each other.

I was also told wildly irresponsible lending by HBOS — parent to the Halifax — had been worrying senior executives for years.

If I knew this, so did the most powerful Chancellor in living memory.

Alistair Darling was so horrified by what he found at the Treasury, he blurted out that we face the biggest financial crisis in 60 years.

The question is... Why didn’t the Chancellor and Prime Minister who preached prudence and promised no more boom and bust do anything to stop it?"

You can read the full article here.)

Regenerating Whitehaven

My colleague and fellow Bransty councillor Allan Mossop had an excellent letter in this week's Whitehaven news about the need for more action to prevent the decline of our local economy.

Highlights from his letter include:

SIR – Yet another shop (Steve’s Paints) in Whitehaven town centre is closing down. When is Copeland Council going to stop sleepwalking into disaster and do something to stop the decline of the town centre?

At the meeting in the Civic Hall a few months ago ... a number of suggestions were put forward that might have helped to stop the drip, drip of business closures in and around the town. To date, so far as I am aware, absolutely nothing has been acted on as a result of that meeting.

This newspaper made an offer to be part of the initiative, and relay any events or happenings to the public. Up to now the only news items have been regarding book-keeping practices within the council finance department worthy of any banana republic, plus a totally unacceptable planning procedure. Any business acting the same way would have had their collar felt by HM Revenue or the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform.

Many suggestions put forward at the Civic Hall meeting could have been introduced by the ruling cabinet long before now, except they are blind to what is going on around them.

I suggested a relaxing of the parking restrictions, and the first hour, or half-hour free: nothing has been done. Instead we have a force of traffic wardens who actually enjoy putting tickets on vehicles for the flimsiest excuse.

Instead of going on expensive “bonding weekends” the ruling elite should take a trip to those towns which have abolished parking restrictions and charges within town centres. These are the only towns who have reversed the trend of business closures.

The council sees parking charges as a source of revenue but in fact are bleeding our high streets dry by driving shoppers away. Whether they like it or not, the car is here to stay and should be accommodated favourably and encouraged into town instead of encouraged to out-of-town stores with free parking.

You can read the full letter on the Whitehaven News Economist website here.

Alan Sugar then and now

I am indebted to Ian Dale for pointing out the contrast between what Sir Alan Sugar has been saying this week about how wonderful Gordon Brown is with what the then Mr Alan Sugar was saying sixteen years ago.

I would not dream of suggesting that Sir Alan's comments in a TV interview this summer, and opening the Labour conference, about how wonderful the Prime Minister is amount to toadying - first because it takes a brave man to say anything positive about Gordon Brown in the current climate, and secondly because I don't want to risk a class action from any toads who are reading this blog.

But there is an interesting contrast with the letter which he wrote to the Financial Times in March 1992 condemning Gordon Brown in scathing terms and defending the then Conservative government.

Iain has helpfully posted the 1992 letter and some of Sir Alan's current comments for comparison (see here.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Spot - Tony Benn on death threats

One of the occupational hazards of being involved in politics at anything above the level of backbench councillor is the need to judge when people who threaten to kill you are actually making a serious death threat which needs to be reported to the police and when they are just indulging in hot air which is best ignored. Unfortunately the only safe rule is that if you are in the least doubt you had better report it - which means another waste of police time.

Tony Benn had an amusing item on the subject at the tail end of his "My Week" piece in today's Sunday Times ...


I got a death threat the other day. I was very chuffed as I’ve not had one for years. Once I was called the most dangerous man in Britain; now I’m told I’m a national treasure. That’s the final corruption in life: you become a kindly, harmless old gentleman. I am kindly, I am old and I can be a gentleman, but I’m not harmless.

When I was a minister, a man wrote to say he was going to kill me. Fortunately, he put his name and address on the letter so my officials sent the police round. The man then sent a second letter. “Dear Mr Benn,” it said. “I recognise that my last letter to you was in rather bad taste. Will you please ask the police to go away?”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

HMG should support both English and Scots jobs

The merger document between Lloyds TSB and HBOS included a pledge to 'keep jobs in Scotland', as well as stating that its 'management focus' would be on saving as many posts north of the Border.

According to both the blogosphere and some of the MSM such as the Telegraph (see here,) this was partly the result of pressure from the government. To quote from the telegraph article,

"The Chancellor pleaded with the bosses of the new super-bank, formed when Lloyds TSB completed its emergency takeover of HBOS, to save as many posts as possible north of the Border.

Similarly he admitted making 'very clear' that HBOS's headquarters should remain in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital for which he is an MP."

I do not for a moment suggest that the government should not have tried to limit the impact of job losses, but they need to ensure that support for jobs is done on an even-handed basis. There are plenty of parts of England and Wales where the economic situation is just as bad as it is in Scotland.

The government at Westminster is responsible for looking after the interests of the whole of the UK. It should seek to protect jobs in Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. If there is any truth in the inference that the government has given a higher priority to saving jobs in Scotland over those in England and Wales, the consequences for those areas of Britain which are given less support, and indeed for the future of the United Kingdom, could be serious.

Friday, September 19, 2008

In today's Economist Magazine

Today's Economist has an interesting article: "Who killed New Labour" which is well worth a read.

A key sentence from the article to give you the flavour:

Mr Blair said of the Tories in 1994: “Their philosophy is done. Their experiment is over.” New Labour seems, at the moment, to have reached that point too. Old age, penury, Mr Cameron, Mr Brown: they are all incriminated. But, in the end, New Labour killed itself.”

You can read the full article on the Economist website here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't wreck the City, warns Cameron

David Cameron has warned in an FT article that, with huge and valid concerns about the stability and performance of financial institutions, it is important to avoid the kind of populist over-reaction which would prevent them from doing their legitimate job.

This is particularly important in a country like Britain where the City of London provides a significant proportion of our national income.

We do need to review the regulatory climate, but it is important not to introduce the kind of excessive and over-bureaucractic regime which will simply send business abroad.

So far the mainstream Labour party has avoided this pitfall, but the "usual suspects" are starting to come up with attacks on capitalism, and even Polly Toynbee made a very tasteless comment about wanting to see more City bankers committing suicide.

A few more examples of such comments, as Conservative Home pointed out:

"The good news is, there'll now be a realisation - even George Bush sees this now - that we need international regulatory mechanisms that will ensure, for example, that these people and operations actually pay tax." - Ken Livingstone

"In the face of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, we're going to have to re-regulate finance and taxation." - Caroline Lucas MEP

"There is a consensus forming that says an unregulated financial system is a disaster." - Professor Sheila Rowbotham

David Cameron is right to warn that a panicked over-reaction to present difficulties could mean that London's financial industries will be badly damaged for the future. In the long term, even remote areas of the country such as Copeland could find that we in turn lose out badly if the huge engine of wealth creation which the City represents stops pulling the British economy along.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This month's "pot calling the kettle black" award.

Apparently Hariet Harman has said that David Cameron "wants women for one thing and one thing only - their votes."

As Jane Moore put it in The Sun, and next week Russell Brand accuses Calum Best of only wanting women for sex.

IPSOS - MORI has Conservatives on 52%

According to Mike Smithson on the Political Betting website, an IPSOS - MORI poll for the Press Association which is about to be published has the following voting intention figures

Conservatives 52%
Labour 24%
Lib/Dems 12%

Fisking Sadiq Khan

One of the more unpleasant types of hypocrisy affecting many on the left is the ungracious way they too often react when a rival party promotes someone from a group they have championed and regard as natural supporters. Often the left attacks the individual concerned in a way they would instantly brand as racist, sexist, or bigotry if anyone on the right was stupid enough to use the same tactics.

Classic example this week is a ridiculous attack by Labour whip Sadiq Khan on Conservative shadow minister Baroness Warsi. The comments he has made which I have fisked here are as reported on the Telegraph website, which refers to a pamphlet which he has published.

The Daily Telegraph reports Sadiq Khan as alleging that Baroness Warsi was given her post as a shadow communities minister as part of a "opportunistic courtship of the Muslim vote" by a "cynical Tory Party,"

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has used the "Tory spin machine" to make out that his party is on the side of British Muslims because it needs their votes to win key seats, he said.

"Despite the fact that there are no Tory Muslim MPs, by appointing the unelected Baroness Sayeeda Warsi to his shadow cabinet, David Cameron can now claim to have Britain's most senior Muslim politician in his ranks," Mr Khan said, in a pamphlet for the left-wing Fabian Society.

Is he seriously suggesting it is a good thing when Gordon Brown appoints Muslims to senior office but a bad thing when David Cameron does ?

Mr Khan alleged that the Tories' "courtship" of ethnic minority voters had "extended only to symbolic appointments", giving the example of Ray Lewis, who was briefly Boris Johnson's Deputy Mayor of London and is black.

Ken Livingston also said he would have appointed Ray Lewis, though he backtracked when the Lewis appointment ran into problems.

He also accused Mr Cameron of making ethnic minority parliamentary candidates fight for "hopelessly unwinnable seats"

WHAT! Hopelessly unwinnable seats like Windsor where the Tory MP is Adam Afriyie who has a majority of over 10,000 ? Or North West Cambridgeshire, where the Tory MP is Shailesh Vara whose majority is nearly as large?

"The fact that most of these candidates have been chosen in hopelessly unwinnable seats doesn't stop the Tory spin machine claiming that they are now the true inheritors of the Muslim vote," said Mr Khan.

Oh, you're only talking about Muslims ? Still doesn't apply: as a Conservative spokesman pointed out, it's a false generalisation to say that either Muslim or non-Muslim ethnic minority Conservative candidates have all been given impossible seats.

Rehman Chishti has been selected to stand in Gillingham and Rainham, which is notionally a Conservative seat. Zahid Iqbal will stand in Bradford West, which has a Labour majority of just 3,000. Helen Grant has been selected to contest Maidstone and the Weald, currently represented by Ann Widdecombe with a majority of almost 15,000.

Baroness Warsi declined to comment on Mr Khan's allegations about herself, but said she was "delighted" to see that his pamphlet endorsed Conservative proposals that immigrants should learn to speak English, the teaching of British history in schools should be compulsory, and that all Muslims must condemn "honour" killings and forced marriage, which Mr Khan rightly described as "murder and kidnap" respectively.

"All these issues and many others are issues on which the Conservative party has been taking the lead," Baroness Warsi said.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Support the Gurhkas

Veterans of the Gurkha regiment risked their lives fighting as bravely for this country as any soldiers ever born.

I am deeply ashamed that the High Court case in advance of which veterans form the regiment have been protesting had to be brought.

We need a balanced, non-racist immigration policy which reflects the manpower needs of this country, the number of people our public services can support, and what individual applicants can offer.

But I do not see how any reasonable person could oppose inclusion in our immigration policy of the principle that people who have risked their lives for this country should have the right to live here.

Labour MP criticises Brown's first year as PM

Gisela Stuart MP has written an article in the Party Conference season special edition of The House Magazine which is extremely critical of Gordon Brown's premiership, according to the Birmingham Post.

The newspaper writes that

"Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) said Labour under Mr Brown had failed to come up with fresh ideas and had forgotten how to communicate with voters.

She criticised Government policies on dealing with terrorism and the European Union ...

"When Mr Brown came to power, Labour MPs were humming “Things Can Only Get Better”, the theme song used for the party’s triumphant election campaign in 1997, she said.

She added: “Today it’s more likely to mean ‘surely it can’t get much worse’.”

You can read the Birmingham Post article which describes Gisela Stuart's attack on Brown on their website here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

David Cameron warns against complacency

David Cameron spoke to staff at the Conservative Campaign centre this morning.

After thanking those present for their hard work over August, he said that

"The main thing I want to say is that I think the real danger we have at the moment is the danger of in any way looking complacent ....

"That deal is never sealed until that cross goes in the ballot paper."

You can see the full clip on Webcameron (see link at right) or at the Conservative Home website here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lib/Dems come out for Cameron

I have had an email from Sajjad Karim MEP with details of a letter he and several other former Lib/Dems who now support the Conservatives have sent to the Guardian this week.

You can read their letter on the Guardian website here.

In Copeland, where the 17,000 jobs depend on the nuclear industry and therefore an anti-nuclear party like the Lib/Dems have no chance of coming better than a porr third place, the points which Saj and his colleagues make are particularly apposite.

Obviously Lib/Dems and tories will never agree on everything. But we do agree on some of the things which this government is doing wrong - for example, both parties would scrap ID cards and oppose the idea of locking up suspects without charge for 42days.

In constituencies like Copeland, where only the Conservatives can defeat Labour, the most effective way to vote against illiberal policies such as ID cards and 42-day detention without charge is to vote Conservative.

Sunday spot - on chauvinism

The following quote from a book on (primarily male) chauvinism was drawn to my attention recently.

"A chauvinist believes that 'Where you go, I will go' was said by a woman to a man."

I suggest a more balanced version of that statement might read something like this:

"A male chauvinist, or someone who is more familiar with the history and customs of Ancient Rome than with the Bible, believes that 'Where you go, I will go' was said by a woman to a man.

"A female chauvinist, or someone whose knowledge of the bible is superior to her knowledge of Ancient Rome, believes that 'Where you go, I will go' was said by one woman to another.

"A well informed person knows that both are correct."


I was asked for the source on these.

1) The promise "Ubi tu Gaius, ego gaia" (Where you go, I will go) was the wedding vow which brides in Ancient Rome made to their grooms.

2) In the bible, after both their husbands had died, the Moabite woman Ruth made the same promise to her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth returned with Naomi to Israel where she married a noble called Boaz and became the great-grandmother of David.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Let's not get complacent but ...

Another analysis in the Guardian, this time from Martin Kettle called

"Message of the polls" which was published earlier this week.

The Guardian is becoming to New Labour what Private Fraser what to Captain Mannering's platoon - constantly repeating "We're all doomed!"

Friday, September 12, 2008

Different views does not mean stupid

Dominic Lawson began a piece in the Indy this week with the following comment:

"It is one of the most cherished illusions of the left that conviction politicians of the right are stupid: not just wrong, but actually obtuse. The consequences of such prejudice are obvious: colossal underestimation, leading to blind arrogance, and thus electoral defeat."

Although this statement is completely true, it is unfortunately also the case that far too many Tories make exactly the same mistake about left-wingers and many Lib/Dems are equally quick to jump to the same wrong conclusion about anybody on the left or the right.

No political view has a monopoly of intelligence or stupidity. No names or pack-drill, but I've certainly met some Conservatives who made Piers from "The New Statesman" look bright, some socialists who could perform the same office for two short planks, and some Lib/Dems who have less common sense than the average five-year old. I have also met people in all three parties who were intelligent, interesting, honest, and cared deeply about doing the right thing for their local communities.

Unfortunately if you are totally convinced of something there is a huge temptation to assume without even really noticing that you are making the assumption that anyone who can't see it must be an idiot. But it ain't necessarily so.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The politics of personal abuse

It is a sad fact that rather too much of politics these days consists of personal attacks on opposing candidates. I am not saying that those who put themselves forward for office should be immune from criticism, especially if they deserve it.

But there is far too much abuse which is false, utterly irrelevant to the office which the person attacked holds or is standing for, or worst of all, drags the family or children of candidates into the mud.

I have been following the US elections with fascination. There has been much that is good about the way the American primary system gives enormous opporunities for ordinary voters to influence the outcome, and I can also see some immensely positive things about both John McCain and Barack Obama. There are also things about their system which I really don't like, including the cost, the consequent effect on their politics of the need for candidates to raised huge sums of money, and the amount of mud which all too frequently gets thrown around. (And no, I'm not suggesting that the need to raise money doesn't sometimes cause problems on this side of the Atlantic too.)

Let me make clear that all four Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates have said things which I agree with and others that I strongly disagree with. Nothing in this post should be taken as an endorsement of either side. What I am saying is that I am surprised and disappointed by the degree of venom and the number of blatant and reprehensible lies which have been told about both Democrat and Republican candidates and their families. You would think there were enough true things which partisans on each side could find to attack on the other without making up the kind of thing which has been flying around.

The website here lists some 71 allegations which have been made about one of the four candidates, and gives a view of which are true and which are not. It would be extremely funny if it wasn't so sad that some of these stories can be repeated and believed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Report on Johnson House call-in published

The report of the three-person scrutiny team who investigated the proposed Johnson House sale has now been published as part of the Agenda for the 16th September meeting of Copeland Council's Executive.

A fairly comprehensive summary is given on the front page of tomorrow's Whitehaven News which you can read on their website here.

It is difficult to disagree with my colleague Alistair Norwood's description of this as a "damning" report, since it is clear that in a number of respects the arrangements to sell the land was mismanaged. The report also suggests a constructive way forward.

Among the concerns raised by the scrutiny group:

* The land should have been classed as Open Space and accordingly advertised as prescribed by section 123 (2A) of the Local GOvernment Act 1972.

* The Formal valuation of the land was not made until August 28 2008 – 16 days after the Executive considered its report on the land disposal. The scrutiny tribunal's report says “The Executive decision would have been better if it had been made in principle subject to the determination of the valuation of the land."

* The scrutiny tribunal were concerned about drainage issues

* They felt that inadequate consideration had been given and information provided to the Executive about the option of selling Johnson House the part of the site which they actually need for the extension and giving the residents the opportunity to manage the remainder of the site as woodland.

* "While this disposal was a special purchase under the council procedures due consideration should have been taken of the ability of the buyer to acheive the conditions of sale. It could be considered that it was an unreasonable request to ask a not-for-profit organisation to take over the management of a woodland when they do not have the staff or resources to do so."

The report makes a number of constructive recommendations to further explore the possibilty of selling Johnson House the land they actually need while selling the remainder of the site to local residents for them to develop as a woodland.

I hope the Executive gives sympathetic consideration to the recommendations of the scrutiny group. I think the council also needs to consider how some of the mismanagement of this sale came about.

Newsflash - Hell freezes over !!!

Which I would have expected to happen before The Guardian even considers the possiblity of not supporting Labour.

But today an editorial called "Progress in Blue" begins as follows:

"There have been moments in the postwar history of Britain when people who would naturally be inclined to vote Labour have been driven to ask themselves whether the return of a Conservative government would be the worst possible outcome for the country or for the general cause of progress? For those in Britain who think of themselves as progressives, the answer has usually been an unhesitating yes. Nevertheless there is a reasonable and sober body of historical work which reaches the judgment that there have, indeed, been times when Labour has deserved to lose.

We may be approaching another moment for difficult questions."

You can read the full article here.

Violent crime up in rural areas

New analysis by the Conservatives show significant increases in violent crime in England and Wales, including in rural areas.

Total violent crime has increased by 93 per cent in rural areas since 1998-99, compared to the average of 78 per cent for England and Wales.

Violence against the person has increased by 98 per cent, compared to 91 per cent nationally.

Sexual offences have increased by nearly two-thirds, compared to 15 per cent nationally.

Robbery is up by 30 per cent, compared to 27 per cent nationally.

Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, said:

"Violent crime is one of labour's biggest failures causing untold misery to too many up and down the country. These figures show that people in rural areas are often hit the hardest. This comes as they are suffering from post office closures and GP surgery closures.

"Labour have run out of ideas. All they can offer are more gimmicks and failed initiatives. This makes them part of the problem, not the solution."

In Cumbria where we have one of the most effective police forces in the country, if not the most effective, robbery is actually down. Violence against the person is well up, if a bit lower than the national average: sexual offenses show a very worrying rise.

The figures for Cumbria comparing 1998-99 with 2007-08 and giving percentage changes are:

Violence against the person, up from 5582 to 8055, a 44% rise.

Sexual Offences, up from 200 to 345, a 73% rise

Robbery, down from 119 to 52, a fall of 56% (well done Cumbria police)

Total violent crime, up from 5901 to 8452, a 43% rise.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Feedback from Copeland Council

The September meeting of Copeland Council took place this afternoon.

Having complained at some recent meetings that the Executive reports had been a bit thin we were pleased to see a very comprehensive report this time which generated more than a few questions.

Key points of interest:

1) A report on the state of Copeland's accounts will be coming to Audit committee on 24th September. It is recognised that the present situation with the accounts is very unsatisfactory and it will be interesting to see what the report says about how the council fell into the situation were we have two sets of accounts not signed off, and lots of money having to be spent to put it righ.

2) A decision on the site for a new hospital will need to be made before the end of the year. It is universally agreed by Copeland councillors, and included in the Masterplan, that this needs to be in Whitehaven, although it is not true that the council regards Pow Beck as a favoured site.

3) There was negligible interest in the idea of a Town council for Whitehaven when the council organised a survey over the summer: admittedly it could have been better publicised but there was a very low response.

4) Orders to ban drinking in the street in a "designated area" within Millom were approved in line with the public consultation held earlier this year.

5) A website which will advertise all job vacancies at any of the local councils in Cumbria including Copeland has been set up and will be publicised in about a month's time when a few minor problems have been sorted out.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Feedback on Millom Neighbourhood Forum

Attended the Millom Neighbourhood forum which took place in Haverigg Cricket Club this evening, chaired by Cllr Ray Cole.

Main agenda items

1) Presentation by Elaine Woodburn, leader of Copeland Borough Council, about the possibility of a nuclear waste repository. This sparked a lively debate.

2) Presentation by James Fraser from Cumbria PCT and David Lemare from Adult Social Care at CCC about the current consultation on adult Mental health care in Cumbria.

This sparked an even more lively debate. The consultation is open until 30th September so if you have views about the services provided for adults with mental health issue in Cumbria, PLEASE SEND IN YOUR VIEWS before the end of the month.

3) PC Sue Addyman gave a presentation about Neighbourhood policing in the Millom area, including Operation Cardinal, which is a crackdown against violent crime and the intimidation of victims and potential witnesses.

Lib/Dem bloggers attack Clegg over tax plans

Some Liberal Democrat bloggers have highlighted the confusion over their own party's tax plans.

For example, there is a post called "Clegg goes bonkers again" on a Lib/Dem site which you can read here.



Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cliff Richard's domestic arrangements

I have no interest in who lives in Cliff Richard's House. But looking at the photograph of the singer which accompanied his press release on the subject, there is a question I certainly would like to ask him.

Since Cliff Richard was an adult when I was born, and appears to have hardly aged in that time, I would like to know who did the painting in his attic, and is the artist still taking commissions?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Cannon to the right, cannon to the left

The fire being directed at Gordon Brown in the press today is quite astonishing.

Two of the most influential columnists on the right and left are both calling for the Prime Minister to go. Matthew Paris in The Times describes the collapse of Gordon Brown's leadership as a "national emergency" and suggests that

"Britain is heading into a recession with a doomed and flailing leadership at the helm."

He argues that in their own interests as well as that of the country the Cabinet should persuade the Prime Minister to resign. You can read the full article here.

Meanwhile in the Guardian Polly Toynbee, who used to be one of GB's strongest supporters in the press, makes a surprisingly similar argument from a left-wing perspective. She lays into the Prime Minsiter and those who have not attempted to remove him in extraordinarily strong language. Her article "Unseating Gordon Brown may be Labour's last chance" begins by saying that

“... The smell of death around this government is so overpowering it seems to have anaesthetised them all. One bungle follows another and yet those about to die sit silently by.”

The piece goes on

"... A cabinet of minnows and spineless backbenchers include many - perhaps most - who want Brown gone, but lack the nerve to act."

You can read the full article

But perhaps the most astonishing attack of the lot is that the Guardian is also publishing material openly and directly comparing Gordon Brown to Hitler in his last days in the bunker.

The plight of a Labour government must be pretty desperate when a left-wing newspaper such as the Guardian publishes a piece like this article by John Crace.

It includes a link to, and effectively endorses, a YouTube clip taken from the film "Downfall" showing Hitler ranting in the Berlin bunker after his generals tell him the last Nazi army has been destroyed, with the English subtitles changed so that Hitler is identified with Gordon Brown, who is shown ranting, screaming and shouting obscenities about the Labour government being finished after the loss of the Glasgow East by-election.

Now as a Conservative candidate in a marginal seat, if I was most concerned for my own personal interests I would be delighted for this to go on as long as possible. The longer the Labour government continues to act like a paralysed rabbit in the headlights of the oncoming juggernaught which is the next election, with ministers and MPs neither willing to support the Prime Minister nor able to summon the courage to sack him, the more likely a Conservative landslide becomes when that election finally arrives.

But as someone who cares about this country, and lives in a community which faces huge economic challenges, I find it a very bad thing that we face the prospect of another 22 months of indecision and lack of leadership, with a lame duck prime minister at the head of a discredited and incompetent government. For the New Labour government to carry on like this until the last possible moment when an election has to be called, in Summer 2010, is neither in Britain's interest nor even the long-tem interests of the Labour party.

However, I'm not placing any bets against them doing precisely that.

Friday, September 05, 2008

New hospitals boss takes up position

Carole Heatly, the new chief exec of the trust which runs West Cumberland Hospital and the Cumberland Infirmary, has taken up her post more than a month early. She started work on Monday, even though she had not been due to take over until the end of October. More details on my hospitals blog (see link at right)

Johnson House call-in

The report on the Johnson House call in has been postponed again. It will now be available to Councillors on Monday but is not expected to be published until it has been to the Executive.

I think it is very important that this report is seen to be dealt with in a transparent way and the concerns that were raised during the call-in process are addressed.

Britain should opt out of plans for "in absentia" trials

I am deeply concerned by the proposal that EU citizens could be tried in absentia for crimes alleged in another European country and then automatically extradited.

The proposals, which have been approved by the European Parliament, would mean that British people could be convicted in their absence by foreign courts, and then immediately extradited to another European country on the basis of an "in absentia" guilty verdict in its courts for offences carrying fines or custodial sentences.

In a joint statement the Parliament said: "The EU wants to create a common area for justice, which requires the mutual recognition of criminal law judgments by member states."

The proposals, which were put forward by seven countries, including Britain, were described by the European Criminal Bar Association (ECBA) as being "by their very nature a violation of the fundamental procedural rights of the accused".

In a letter to MEPs, the ECBA said: "The rights of European citizens will be undermined because in absentia judgments will result in the surrender of European citizens on the basis of a judgment given at a trial in which they never had the chance to participate."

Anyone convicted in their absence will have the right to a retrial or appeal after their extradition. However, the pressure group Fair Trials International said this is an inadequate safeguard. "Retrials can raise serious issues such as the disappearance of evidence, difficulty in locating witnesses, and difficulty in witnesses accurately recalling facts due to elapse of time," it told The Times.

Philip Bradbourn, the Conservatives' European Parliament justice spokesman, said: "This goes against one of the most fundamental cornerstones of British justice - that the accused has a right to defend himself at trial.

"If other EU countries want to go ahead with this proposal that's their choice, but the British Government should have no part."

Another Conservative spokesman added: "We have no idea why the Government has chosen to sponsor this proposal - it is still a mystery."

The proposal was overwhelming adopted by the Parliament and it will now be considered by the Council of Ministers. European countries would be able to opt out from the law even if it were adopted by the Council. If it is, Britain should do so.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Another important Health Consultation begins

Anyone interested in the future of health in Cumbria should have a look at a consulation document which has just been been published on the future arrangements for pharmacies and dispensing practices. These proposals are likely to affect two GP practices in Copeland - one in Seascale and one in Whitehaven - and may result in the closure of Bootle surgery if they go ahead as planned.

You can find the document online at


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Johnson House call-in

The decision by Copeland Council's executive to sell land at Johnson House was "called in" last month for further consideration by the relevant "Overview and Scrutiny" committee.

Due to the short timescales in which a decision had to be taken and the difficulty getting a full meeting together at this time of year, the committee set up a panel of three councillors to examine the issues and call witnesses.

The report of that panel was originally due to come out earlier this week. There has been a slightl delay but the report is now expected within 48 hours and is likely to make interesting reading.

Another botched Labour effort to copy Tory proposals

It is sometimes alleged, usually by Labour supporters, that the Conservatives do not have any policies. Actually this is nonsense, but David Cameron is faced with the need to hold some of our plans until the election is finally called, because when we do publish proposals the government often nicks them.

This would not be a bad thing if they implemented them properly, but quite often what we get is a half-hearted mess which may discredit the policy - as for instance over the botched attempt to taxation "non-domiciled" residents which ended up scaring away some high-earning foreign residents without bringing in a penny of extra tax revenue.

They have done it again this week. Where the Conservatives want to scrap stamp duty for nine out of ten first time house buyers, Labour is to suspend stamp duty on house purchases below £175,000 for one year.

But as with the way Labour did a half-hearted copy of our plans on inheritance tax which did not go far enough, this latest Labour attempt to copy Tory plans does not go far enough either.

City analysts said the plans — announced by Chancellor Alistair Darling — are "too little, too late".

The National Federation of Builders called it “little more than a political sticking-plaster”.

And Shadow Chancellor George Osborne called it “a short term survival plan for the Prime Minister, not a long-term recovery plan for the economy.”

There is also a question mark over where £600million needed to fund the scheme will be found.

Appropriate punishments for false accusations ...

Recent events appear to suggest that there is a need for much clearer sentencing guidelines for people who knowingly and maliciously make a false accusation against someone else.

The instances which have caused most controversy involve false accusations of rape but the argument applies to any other false accusation.

There is good reason to believe that real cases of rape are a genuine and growing problem. Accordiny to a survey by the Channel 4 show Dispatches, one in four women has had her drink spiked with a date-rape drug. People working on the study questioned 750 women in 16 cities across the UK.

In 1994, 169 incidents involving allegations of date rape drugs were reported to the police, but last year this had reached 998. That’s almost a six-fold rise.

The proportion of rape allegations leading to a conviction is only 5%. This very probably indicates that far too many actual rapists are getting away with their crime, but knee-jerk measures to try to raise the conviction rate will not necessarily automatically reduce the level of injustice. Malicious false allegations do happen, and in some cases excessive use of alcohol can make it particularly difficult to establish the facts, especially when one or both participants became too drunk to remember the following morning whether consent was given or not. The police labs which test people for date rape drugs have sometimes found no sign of them but dangerously high levels of alcohol.

This is not an argument against sympathetic treatment of rape victims. It does mean that both accuser and accused have a right to a fair hearing - and if any government appears to be trying to rig the courts against the accused they risk creating a backlash in which juries simply will not convict - and that will undoubtedly let more guilty rapists walk free as well as acquitting some men who are innocent.

The signs that such a backlash may be starting are evident in the comments left on various news websites following reports that Gemma Capon was let off with a 12-week suspended sentence and ordered to pay £95 costs after being convicted of making false allegations of rape against her former fiance.

Ms Capon told detectives that her former fiance had forced his way into their home and raped her on the living room sofa. As a result he was arrested in front of colleagues at the pub where he works as a chef and held for almost 24 hours. He was interviewed, had his DNA, fingerprints and mugshot taken and was subjected to intrusive forensic examinations. However, he was fortunate enougyh to have an alibi, and was released on bail. When police confronted Capon with discrepancies in her story she confessed that she had made it all up and was charged with wasting police time. Officers spent 156 hours investigating the false claims, which could have been used protecting women from real dangers.

District Judge Tim Daber said Capon's behaviour had undermined the 'credibility' of genuine complaints.

Of the large number of people who have commented on this, only a microscopic proportion consider a 12 week suspended sentence and less than £100 in costs to be remotely adequate. But I am not rushing to blame Jude Daber, because he was operating within the rules laid down by the government. And the real problem is that the six-month maximum jail term which was the most severe penalty he could have imposed given a charge of wasting police time, and which set the context for the punishment he could give, having to be matched against circumstances such as how quickly she confessed, is ridiculously light.

Almost every man who has commented on the Capon case, and a large number of women, has rightly commented on the fact that her punishment was ludicrously light compared with the sentence the man she falsely accused would have received if convicted.

Almost every woman who has commented on the case, and a large number of men, also recognised that whenever a woman makes a false accusation of rape, it makes it harder for genuine rape victims to get justice.

There is no need for men and women to disagree over this: such false allegations are against the interests of innocent victims of both sexes, both the men who are falsely accused and women who are genuine victims. But it is very clear from the comments made by a large number of men that they percieve elements of the government and the "politically correct" as trying to rig the courts against men. When such people are called up to serve on juries in rape cases the likely result is only too obvious.

This is the second such case to hit the headlines in a few days: the previous week Joanne Rye was given an eight-month prison sentence for falsely accusing an innocent taxi driver of raping her. There have been understandable comparisons between the suspended sentence imposed on Capon and the much more serious penalty imposed on Rye: the latter case was vastly more serious, as Rye kept up the lie for 20 months, despite a check of the satellite navigation system in the cab concerned proving that the accused man had been nowhere near the area where Rye said she was raped, and CCTV footage of her drunken behaviour on that night which proved it could not have happened in the way described.

But both women caused great shame and disgrace to totally innocent men who were arrested at his home and taken to the police station where intimate samples, DNA and fingerprints were taken.

Under the Labour government's present policies both men will now have their DNA on file. These incidents tend to confirm my in the view that CCTV, which helped clear an innocent man, is generally a good thing but that only those who are actually convicted should have their DNA retained.

In the interests of justice it appears that clearer sentencing guidance is needed when someone is convicted of making false accusations. This should not only apply where the false accusation concerned is rape - a false accusation of assault, theft, or fraud should be treated in exactly the same way.

It seems to me that the guidelines we need should start from the baseline that, before any mitigating or aggravating circumstances are taken into account, the starting point for calculating the sentence appropriate for someone proven to have knowingly made false accusations against an innocent person should be the sentence the accused party would have received if the false accusations had resulted in them being convicted.

Feedback from meetings today

Two meetings today

1) A meeting of the Economic Development O&S Committee of Copeland council. I attended the parts of this meeting which related to planning enforcement and planning appeals. The other part of the meeting related to the proposals to close a number of BT phone boxes (reported separately on this blog). I was not present for this part of the meeting, because as a BT employee I had previously declared an interest in this item and felt that it would not be appropriate for me be in the room.

2) There was also a meeting of the Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood forum, which unfortunately at the last moment I was unable to attend because of a domestic issue. The main agenda item was a presentation by the Leader of Copeland Council, Elaine Woodburn, about the possibility of a nuclear repository in the borough.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Spare first-time buyers the stamp-duty burden

The Conservatives have proposed that nine out of ten first time buyers should not have to pay stamp duty.

Under Labour, Stamp Duty has become a major barrier for those looking to get onto the housing ladder.

More people are paying it: research by the Halifax bank shows that homebuyers in nearly a third of local authorities now face a Stamp Duty bill equivalent to a fifth of average local full-time earnings. Five years ago, this was the case in only 5% of local authorities.

The cost has risen: in 1997, the average homebuyer did not pay any Stamp Duty on their first home; but today’s first-time buyers have to pay an average of £1,600 to the Treasury. This represents a huge outlay at a time when cash is already tight.

We believe in encouraging homeownership, not putting obstacles in people’s way. And that is why the next Conservative Government will abolish Stamp Duty for 9 out of 10 first-time buyers.

Anyone who buys their first home for under £250,000 will pay no Stamp Duty at all. This will take 200,000 people a year out of Stamp Duty altogether.

George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor said of the Conservative proposals:

"Our message to the family working long hours, saving every spare pound to afford their first home is this: your dream is our dream too. Your aspiration is our aspiration. We will get you out of tax and into your home. And by joining us, you can help make it happen."

STOP PRESS - Labour tries to copy Tory plans again

Typically, shortly after I had written this piece, the Labour government tried to steal Tory clothes by scapping stamp duty on house purchases below £175,000 for one year. But as with the way Labour did a half-hearted copy of our plans on inheritance tax which did not go far enough, this latest Labour attempt to copy Tory plans does not go far enough either.

City analysts said the plans — announced by Chancellor Alistair Darling — are "too little, too late".

The National Federation of Builders called it “little more than a political sticking-plaster”.

And Shadow Chancellor George Osborne called it “a short term survival plan for the Prime Minister, not a long-term recovery plan for the economy.”

There is also a question mark over where £600million needed to fund the scheme will be found.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labour - the new Nasty Party

Vicky Woods had an excellent article in the weekend's Telegraph called

When did Labour become the nasty party?

It makes some very powerful points about how the power of the state to boss ordinary people around has increased out of all proportion to justice or common sense.

Although the increase in state power which she rightly criticises has been particularly marked under the present government, there have been similar moves under governments of both parties and it is extremely important that the next Conservative government makes a serious effort to roll back the extent of bureaucratic interference in people's lives.

The article begins with a coruscating attack on the national children's database:

"I was stunned to read this week about the stupidly named "ContactPoint": the children's database that is almost ready to be launched.

"ContactPoint" will include the names, ages and addresses of all 11?million under-18s in England as well as information on their parents, GPs, schools and support services such as social worker and the police.

I can think of 20 objections to such a database; but here are a few:
1) Who the hell decided that "ContactPoint" was a good idea and to whom are they accountable? Us? Don't think so.
2) Who the hell in government thought this was a good idea and why wasn't it scrutinised and argued over by Parliament? Answer: parliamentary scrutiny is a kind of yesterday idea these days; do keep up.
And 3) Why should any parent in Britain agree to have their three-year-old on a database? Answer: they won't need to; nobody would dream of asking for their consent."

As she rightly points out both the children's database and the National Identity Register, presented as tools to keep our identities safe and stop them being stolen by crooks, are all too likely to hacked into like any other database - that's if some incompetent clerk or employee of some badly run contractor doesn't lose the data on a CD or datastick where it gets into the wrong hands.

She concludes by saying

"These people are not our friends. They're a nasty bunch. Pray heaven I live long enough to vote them out."

You can read the full article