Showing posts from October, 2008

Polling Council condemns anti-hunting poll

The British Polling council has investigated a poll conducted by anti-hunting organisations and found that they broke the rules designed to ensure that opinion polls are honestly and transparently conducted. The poll was conducted by IPSOS - MORI for the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. This poll was been the subject of an investigation by the British Polling Council which found that MORI broke the ‘Objects and Rules’ of the Council, which exist to ensure that polling is fair and open. The partial results were published on 17 February 2008. British Polling Council rules state that full details of published research must be published on the research company’s website within 48 hours of details being released. Details of the poll were in fact only released on the MORI website on 29 February, 12 days after the publication of the press release. When MORI were contacted by the Countryside Alliance. Only then was it revealed that the poll question

Last Echo of a Gerrymander

With the news that voters in Stoke-on Trent have decided to scrap the post of elected Mayor, the last echo of one of Labour's more subtle gerrymanders dies away. When Labour set up the legislation to change how councils work at the start of this decade, they determined to scrap the committee system and encourage as many councils as possible to go for directly elected mayors. The government laid down rules insisting on the way councils had to consult their electorates about various models for systems with elected mayors chosen by the voters, or systems with a leader chosen by other councillors. And the systems included in that consultation appeared to me then and now to have been chosen to tilt the scales towards elected mayors, In reality there were three systems which were expected to be taken seriously 1) Mayor and cabinet - the voters elect a mayor who appoints a cabinet 2) "Strong Leader" and cabinet - councillors elect one of their number as leader and he or she appo

How not to cross the floor

I cannot imagine that I would ever change political parties. But some people do, and of those some are honorable individuals. Indeed those who have moved from one party to another include both examples of the most distinguished politicians, such as Winston Churchill, and some of the worst. I had extremely mixed feelings about what happened to Bruce Douglas-Mann in the early eighties. Of all the defecting MPs who joined the SDP he was the only one who fought a by-election - and the Conservatives won it. As a Conservative I cannot be other than pleased when we win an election but I will admit to a twinge of regret that Douglas-Mann lost out because of his courage. When people change parties, the main thing I look at to assess wehther they are doing so for honorable reasons is how they treat those who used to be their friends and allies. Honorable people who cross the floor usually want to keep the respect of those who voted for and supported them. I can think of one MP who changed partie

Polly Toynbee on Gordon Brown

A quote from the Guardian columnist who until fairly recently was one of the sub-prime minister's greatest fans on Fleet Street: "Gordon Brown seems unable to stop saying things so blindingly untrue that you wonder how he gets the words out." You can read the full article at

One law for everyone, continued ...

The government has announced that Sharia courts can deal with issues of property, children and family matters under the UK arbitration act 1996, and then submit their rulings to a UK court for ratification. This is permissable under UK law providing that the proceedings are fully voluntary and that both parties to a dispute are treated equally. There is plenty of precedent for writing into a contract that both sides agree arbitration on a particular basis. Five Sharia courts currently operate mediation systems under the Arbitration Act. However, it is extremely important that if Sharia courts are ruling on family matters there are safeguards to ensure that the treatment of women if even-handed and that their agreement to take part in these proceedings is both fully voluntary and based on informed consent. Dr David Green, the Director of the Civitas think tank, told the Telegrapph: "I think there are a number of problems with regards to Sharia law. These Sharia councils are suppose

The NHS does not belong to any one party

Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, this weekend commented about how the NHS is something all parties should support and none can claim as their exclusive property. This is what he said: "This week Health Secretary Alan Johnson got hot under the collar when campaigning in the Glenrothes by-election and accused us of trying to 'steal' the NHS from Labour. Mr. Johnson is getting jittery over a series of polls from the last year which have shown that, in its sixtieth year, people are beginning to trust Conservatives more than Labour with the future of the NHS. The NHS was introduced by Aneurin Bevan (a socialist) but the groundwork, in the form of White Paper, came from Beveridge (a Liberal) and Henry Willink (a Conservative) in Winston Churchill's coalition Government. Whilst I find Alan Johnson's irritation quite amusing, he should remember that the NHS does not belong exclusively to any group - let alone a political party. One of the most remarkable things abo

What Daniel Finkelstein actually said

It would be a shame if the spat between Tim Montgomerie on Conservative Home and Danny Finkelstein, principal leader writer of The Times, about whether Danny had criticised his own paper's coverage of Yacht-gate, obscured the rather important point that he actually made. We have seen far too much of the politics of personal destruction. There has always been an element in politics of trying to wreck the reputation of your rivals and opponents, sometimes on wholly unfair grounds. New Labour enormously increased their use of this deplorable tactic in the 1990s but I'm afraid all the political parties have joined in, and the media have enjoyed the game so much that they not only run with stories which are weak to say the least, but sometimes kick them off. The real point Danny Finkelstein was making is that there is far too much from all sides of fake outrage over trivial things and trying to smear people on the basis of appearances or innocent activity. And he's right.

High Speed Rail proposals

Conservative shadow Transport minister Theresa Villiers has laid out plans to introduce the next phase of high speed rail to the UK, in what she described as a “momentous step forward for Britain’s transport infrastructure”. A Conservative Government would build a new high speed rail line between Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London, which would cut journey times between Birmingham and London to 40 minutes and between Leeds and London to less than an hour and a half. Theresa, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said that high speed rail would have many benefits for the UK: Helping businesses and generating huge economic benefits, potentially to the value of £60 billion Healing long-standing divisions in our economy by shrinking the distance between north and south Relieving over-crowding on existing lines Helping to protect future generations from climate change She announced that a Conservative Government would say no to a third runway at Heathrow, and concentrate instead on the advan

Brown attack backfires

I thought yesterday while watching Prime Minister's Questions that Gordon Brown's call for unspecified "authorities" to investigate George Osborne, when far more serious evidence of wrongdoing has existed for some time about Labour party fundraising, might come back to haunt him. It has. Papers including both the Sun and The Times wrote up the story in a way which is not exactly favourable to the PM. The Sun pointed out that there is no evidence of wrongdoing. The Times said that the PM's attack "appeared to back-fire." As they pointed out, surprised Downing Street officials could not say to which authorities Mr Brown was referring. A spokesman told The Times “Whichever authorities are appropriate.” The Times also reports that "Sources close to Mr Brown admitted that he might have gone farther than he intended." and that "His surprise statement eased rather than increased the pressure on Mr Osborne." A senior MP told The Times: “Prime

Dealing with Russia

Democracy is something that a country usually has to learn over decades or even centuries. There is no doubt in my mind that Russia, for all the huge faults that it demonstrated this year by invading Georgia and threatening just about every other neighbour, is more democratic, less tyrannical, and less dangerous than the Soviet Union was when I was a boy at the time of the cold war. Nevertheless Russia's path towards democracy has been slow and painful, and the country can be very difficult to deal with. The West has to make enough friendly gestures to reward Russia's fitful steps in the right direction and make clear that we will deal fairly with them if they give us a chance, while standing up to them over issues like Georgia and the Litvinenko assassination without provoking Russia's deep-seated and long term paranoia. A more minor difficulty, but a difficulty nonetheless for Western political parties, is how to deal with Russia's representatives on bodies like the

Labour back to their old dirty tricks

When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister he promised an end to the Blairite trick of reannouncing the same public spending several times. But now he has brought back Peter Mandelson it looks like the same old game has started again David Willetts has accused Labour of “spinning non-announcements” in their latest offer of support to small businesses. David, the Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, said, “Instead of offering real help, Labour ministers have returned to their bad old ways, spinning and reannouncing old policies to get a headline.” Analysis of Labour’s announcement on small business support shows: * There is no new money - the £350 million is already allocated to the Train to Gain fund for small businesses. * Most of the supposedly ‘new’ services for small businesses are already provided under the existing scheme. David said, “Instead of spinning non-announcements, the Government should be doing everything it can to help small businesses so that jobs are

Lib Dem points out Osborne allegations "do not add up"

It's not often that the BBC runs with allegations against a Conservative or Labour figure which are so implausible that even Lib/Dems are pointing it out, but that has happened with the latest attack on George Osborne. Mike Smithson, who runs the excellent Political Betting website ( and who used to be a professional fundraiser, has highlighted the fact that "From a fundraising perspective this story does not add up" and concludes that on balance the story is probably about nothing. You can read the full article at

Feedback from October Copeland Council meeting

The October meeting of the the full Copeland Council was held this evening. The meeting began with a series of civic presentations to organisations and individuals who had worked to contribute to the local environment. This was followed by discussion on the Executive report. The first hour of this was taken up by a debate on the problems with the council's accounts. It was the kind of angry debate which is sometimes described as "A full and frank exchange of views." Copeland Council is still in the final stages of closing the accounts for 2006/7 and finalising those for 2007/8. There have been some serious difficulties in sorting them out, and large sums of money have had to be spent on external consultants to do so. At the July meeting of the council I had asked for a report to be prepared on how the council got into this situation, how much it would cost, and what could be done to make sure it didn't happen again. The Conservative group wanted that report to come ba

Cut National Insurance for small businesses

Alan Duncan has called on the Government to help small companies and boost jobs by cutting the rate of employers’ National Insurance by 1p for at least six months. The cut forms part of a fully-funded package that would also see the small companies’ rate of corporation tax reduced to 20p. Alan, the Shadow Secretary for Business, said, “Small businesses are facing very difficult financial pressures at this time and it’s essential that the Government looks at what it can do to help now.” Under our proposal, businesses with less than 5 employees would have the rate of employers’ National Insurance that they pay cut by 1p for at least six months. A small business with 4 employees and an annual wage bill of £150,000 would save more than £100 a month. The cut would be paid for through our existing plan to abolish complex reliefs and allowances introduced by Gordon Brown, and use the money to cut the small companies rate of corporation tax to 20p. Alan stressed our package would help thousand

Let Small Businesses defer VAT bills

David Cameron has called on the Government to allow small and medium-sized businesses to defer their VAT bills for up to six months. In an article in The Observer, David described small and medium-sized businesses as the "lifeblood" of our economy, as they employ over 13 million people and turn over £1,440bn a year. He outlined three areas in which small businesses must be helped: Councils must speed up the time it takes to process payments to small businesses who provide them with goods and services Banks have got to behave responsibly and "stop the march to mass insolvencies" The Government must do everything they can to help small businesses, including scrapping the propose 2p rise in corporation tax David explained that our plan to allow small and medium-sized enterprises to defer their VAT bills for up to six months would mean a typical business with 50 employees, revenues of £5m and an annual net VAT bill of £350,000 wouldn't have to pay £90,000 to the ta

Impractical, disproportionate, and potentially unlawful

That's what senior officials in the Home Office have said privately about Labour's latest "big brother" proposals. Even as 42-day detention without charge hits the dust, the government continues to ignore advice and waste billions of pounds on more plans to keep tabs on us all, guilty and innocent alike. The latest proposals include making a passport necessary to buy a mobile phone, storing the name and address of everyone who buys a mobile phone in a register, creating a huge database to monitor the internet usage, e-mail and telephone records of everyone in Britain, and linking the systems used by mobile phone networks to track where a phone is to the automated systems which track the whereabouts of calls via automatic number plate recognition. Total costs for these projects might be as much as £12 billion of which £1 billion has already been approved for the pilot stage of the database. A leaked memo said that officials looking at the implications of the proposals

Postscript re modern technology

This morning I activated Microsoft Office on the third computer permitted by the license. Unlike the other two, this one is connected to the internet. So instead of using the telephone activation option, I clicked on the "activate your software over the internet (recommended.)" option. Well, I can certainly see why it was recommended. Instead of having to key 56 numbers into my telephone and then type 42 numbers into the computer, activation took about five seconds with no further human intervention required. Apparently they must be assuming that the majority of people have all their computers hooked up to the internet these days.

The wonders of modern technology ...

This week I bought a set of Microsoft Office for several of my home computers (the licence allows me to use it on up to three non-business machines.) I actually had to use the disc on one of the computers, the others had come with Office pre-installed so I could enable the function by typing in the 25 digit code. Except that wasn't the end of it. It was also necessary to activate an installation process. One of the PCs was on the net, the other two were not, so I had to use the phone installation. In favour - there was an automated activation system which is available 24/7 on a toll-free number, and it did have checking options available to warn if you have mis-typed something, and to allow you to listen to a set of numbers more than once. Against - to activate the software on each PC I had to first key nine groups of six numbers (54 in all) into my telephone and then listen to the phone as it gave me seven groups of six numbers (42 in all) to type into each computer. I cannot help

Back to Queen Anne - and then some

A few years ago BT used to have its own Economics Advisory Department, and I met some extremely talented economists who worked in it. They circulated regular bulletins to the forecasting and planning community within BT and one of my professional pleasures at the time was reading some of the fascinating articles which the head of the department, a master both of the subject and of the English language, occasionally wrote with his views on the state of the economy. Of all those articles, the best was called "Back to Queen Anne!" which was published just after the Minimum Lending Rate fell to the record low of 5%. He referred to the "anti-usury" laws which were passed from the middle ages through Tudor and Stuart times in vain attempts to restrict the rates of interest which lenders could change, gradually passing lower and less realistic legal ceilings on interest rates, until in Queen Anne's time a law was passed attempting to outlaw interest rates above 5%. In

Another Government consultation foul-up

I am a strong supporter of new nuclear build, and am convinced that the argument for nuclear power to play a part in a balanced energy policy can win an open and fair debate. That makes me all the more furious that another mismanaged government "consultation" on nuclear power has again handed the moral high ground to anti-nuclear luddites. The Market Research Standards Board ruled that the Government's consultation on nuclear power was in breach of rules ensuring that respondents are not led towards a particular answer. This is the second time that the nuclear power consultation has been found to be biased – in February 2007, the High Court ruled that the Government’s consultation process had been ‘manifestly inadequate’, ‘misleading’, and ‘procedurally unfair’. Is there nobody in government with the basic competence to organise a fair consultation on energy policy without discrediting a perfectly valid argument by trying to rig things in its favour ?

Cameron on the origins of the crisis

From DC's speech at Bloomberg: "The failure to regulate U.S. sub-prime mortgages was an American failure. And the failure to regulate public and private debt in Britain was a British failure. It was a failure Gordon Brown was warned about time and again. And time and again he ignored those warnings. Four years ago he was telling the city: “I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers”. Two years ago, he was dismissing calls for what he called a “regulatory crackdown” on the City. And only last year, he was celebrating what he called a “golden age for the City of London." ... "Now he’s describing that very same time an “Age of Irresponsibility”. “A Golden Age” to an “Age of Irresponsibility” – in less than a year. That’s what I call a Rock of Stability.

Sun fears on government database

The harshest critics of Rupert Murdoch and The Sun would accept that you always know where you stand with them. When I read one of their "Sun Says" editorials I usually find myself strongly agreeing, occasionally violently disagreeing, never anything in between. Most of the occasions when I have recently disagreed have been in connection with national security, for example on 42 days detention without charge, where it has sometimes seemed that they automatically support any proposal for more government and police powers without stopping to consider, not just any civil liberty implications, but whether the proposal would actually work. But that makes it all the more telling that in today's "Sun Says" editorial, which you can read here, the paper's leader writers express some strong and valid concerns about the proposed new government database. Comments they make include: Loss of trust "THE more information about us the Government collects, the greater

Secondary level SATS scrapped

SATS at secondary level are being scrapped to reduce the exam burden, with the public exames at 16 to be used to monitor school peformance, but they are to be retained at 7 and 11 so that we have a measure of primary school performance. The current level of bureaucratic burden on schools is admittedly far too high, so there is a case for this measure, as long as the improvement between the SATS at 11 and the public exams at 16 can be used to measure Value Add, which is a better indication of how well schools are doing than the level of attainment. Let's hope it can be addressed in a way which means less paperwork for schools rather than even more.

Wise after the event

There has been a great deal of being wise after the event and political point scoring after many local authorities - of which Copeland is not one - found they had exposure to losses in Icelandic banks. Authorities controlled by all three political parties have done this, so instead of pretending that any party has a monopoly of wisdom we would be wise to start by seeing what we can do, preferably in a less heavy handed way that Gordon Brown has, to get the money back and reveiw investment guidelines for the future. Paul Scully, Leader of the Conservative opposition on one of the Liberal Democrat councils which has millions of pounds tied up in Iceland was not particularly impressed with the comments made by the national Lib/Dem team (and neither were his Sutton Lib/Dem colleagues.) This is what he had to say on his blog about it "It was disappointing to see Vince Cable unhelpfully trying to lever some political capital out of the situation whilst others were seeing their monetary

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad

That was my reaction on hearing the home secretary on the BBC Today programme this morning talking about 42-day pre-charge detention. First she says that in the light of the massive defeat by the Lords the government will take the measure out of the Counter-Terrorism bill. But then, refusing to admit that the measure is dead, she says they are going to prepare a special bill just to bring in 42-day detention if something happens to convince people that it is needed. Then, disgracefully and even more ridiculously, she accused the opposition parties of playing politics with national security. The interviewer quite rightly asked Ms Smith if she was seriously suggesting that people like former spy Chief Dame Eliza Manningham Buller who opposed the bill, former Chief Constable Lord Dear who moved the amendment, the current DPP, and former Labour Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, and former Labour Attorney General Lord Goldsmith were all opposing 42 days for political advantage. The Home Secret

House of Lords crushes 42 days proposal

The House of Lords has thrown out the proposal to extend the time suspects can be held without charge from 28 days to 42 days. An amendment to retain the present limit was carried by 309 votes to 118 - a majority of 191. The amendment was proposed by a former Chief Constable, Lord Dear, who told the Lords that the proposal from the government was "fatally flawed". Opening the debate, he said: "This attempt to appear tough on terrorism, I believe, is a shabby charade which is unworthy of a democratic process and we should reject it." He said there was "no proven case" for changing the limit, that the legislation was "fatally flawed, ill thought-through and unnecessary" and would "further erode fundamental and legal rights that have been the pride of this country for centuries". Later Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told MPs the 42-day plan would be dropped from the Counter Terrorism bill. Let's hope common sense prevails and this bad i

Of "Podestrians" and RTAs

Interesting comment at a meeting I attended today. A "Podestrian" is a humorous term for a pedestrian with Ipod or radio earphones in both ears, Apparently 10% of minor Road Traffic Accidents involving pedestrians include such a person

These sentencing guidelines are literally rubbish!

As a Copeland councillor and Conservative PPC for Copeland I had messages from irate people all over the country when Copeland Council prosecuted Whitehaven bus driver Gareth Corkhill for leaving his wheelie-bin slightly over-full so that it was four inches short of closing. An anonymous donor paid his £225 fine but he still ended up with a criminal record. Last year nearly 44,000 Britons received fines, generally of around £100, for “crimes” such as leaving their rubbish out on the wrong day. I have said all along that the authorities should try to be lenient with people who are trying to do the right thing but may have made human mistakes, and if we're going to make an example of anyone it should be the serial culprits involved in dropping litter and fly-tipping. Which makes it absolutely infuriating when a judge is forced by sentencing guidelines to be lenient with someone who operates flytipping on an industrial scale. I defy anyone other than a fly-tipper to read this articl

Phil Roberts RIP

I've had to post far too many obits for good people on this blog in the past few months and here is another one. Phil Roberts, who died in West Cumberland Hospital on Monday at the age of 90, was not a public figure and will probably not be known to most of the readers of this blog. But many people in Whitehaven and Cumbria did know him through his work for various charitable and social organisations. In particular he is remembered by many former pupils of what was then called Whitehaven Grammar School where he taught for many years, ending as Deputy Headmaster. He was also chairman of the Friends of West Cumberland Hospital. I'm sure that all those who remember him would agree with me that Phil was the best of what is meant by that expression, an English Gentleman. Everyone who knew him will miss him. The funeral is to be held at St James' Church, Whitehaven at 1pm on Thursday 16th.

It's a funny old world

Yesterday my old friend Iain Dale endorsed Barack Obama in the US presidential election. Today in The Sun Stephen Fry, without quite going all the way, very nearly endorses John McCain. If you'd told me that each of those two would make supportive noises of different presidential candidates this week and asked me to guess which I'd certainly have called it wrong. This is an extract from Stephen Fry on the US election: I was surprised when I did a bit of filming around the New Hampshire primaries with Mitt Romney. Do you remember him? He ran against McCain for the Republican ticket. He was a nice fellow and very relaxed. What was interesting, though, was none of the Democrats would let us film with them because they wanted complete control over everything. Quite surprising. You’d expect the Republicans to be the uptight ones not the other way round. It did make me think about things. At one point Obama was David Beckham, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela all rolled into one,

The Sun on "Data Dunces"

This is "The Sun Says" reaction to the latest government loss of people's personal data: ANOTHER day, another data disaster from this most incompetent of governments. The Sun’s revelation that the private details of HALF our armed forces have been lost angers our new Defence Secretary John Hutton. Good. But being furious is not enough. Mr Hutton is the new broom at Defence. He has a chance to show what he is made of. The MoD has had an embarrassing run of data losses, of which this is by far the worst. So let’s see Mr Hutton crack the whip. Sackings are called for. Many of them. The last line, and particularly the last three words, may be a little premature pending a full investigation. But The Sun is right that there needs to be accountability and action. And can there possibly be anyone in Britain who does not now see that the required database to support ID cards would itself be such a large security risk as to offset any security gain from the cards themselves? The mo

Nice to get a one word answer!

It makes a nice change to get a one word answer to a poltical question. Earlier today I asked if Copeland council has any financial exposure to Icelandic banks or any other institutions reportedly in trouble. I got a one-word answer: no!

Seven key points on the Brown reshuffle

Andrew Sparrow has an interesting post on the democratic implications of the latest government reshuffle at the Guardian's politics blog here. In the past this country's informal constitution included limits on the number of MPs and peers who could be given paid government jobs so as to restrict the ability of a Prime Minister to buy support for the government in parliament by lavish handouts of government jobs. The law still exists but they have got round it by appointing people to unpaid ministerial positions (see point 4 below.) In that context it is most interesting to read Andrew's key points about the reshuffle, which in summary are: 1. The government is bigger than ever. According to his calculations, there are now 121 ministers, whips or law officers. 2. The payroll vote is bigger than ever. The payroll vote refers to members of the government and parliamentary private secretaries. Paul Waugh has worked out that if you include the five backbenchers who have been g

Government postpones May elections

Local Government minister John Healey has now confirmed that, as expected, the county elections planned for May 7 will be put back to June 4 to be combined with the European elections. There have been some people who have got excited about this, as it is suggested that the government may be doing it for party-political reasons. Well, it would hardly be the first time, but I'm relatively relaxed about this one. 1) It will cost all parties, and more importantly the taxpayer, less money, 2) it means one campaign rather than two and at a warmer and drier time of year to be pounding the streets, and 3) I suspect Labour are still going to get another pasting from the voters anyway.

Quote of the day

“As so often when disaster strikes, this government leaps into action and begins an energetic programme of dithering.” Simon Hoggart (Thanks to "disgusted" at political betting for drawing my attention to this quote.)

George Osborne responds to Alistair Darling

This is the response to the Chancellor's emergency statement to the Commons yesterday afternoon by Shadow Chancellor George Osborne as issued by CCHQ and reported on ConHome. “Mr Speaker, as we see again from today’s markets these are clearly times of great instability for our economy and great anxiety for the people we all represent here. Families are deeply worried about their savings, their homes, their jobs and it is up to us to try to work together to get the country through this current crisis. I don’t think the British public would thank us if they saw happening here in this House of Commons what everyone saw happening in the American Congress. That is why we offer to look constructively at any proposals brought forward by the British government. For let’s be blunt about it. If the banking system fails, it’s not just the banks that go bust. Businesses fail. Families can’t get mortgages. People lose their jobs – not just in the banks but across the wider economy. The Prime M

Apparently not ...

Further to previous post, the BBC website reports this lunchtime that Downing Street insists it is pushing ahead with attempts to extend terror detention without charge to 42 days. Gordon Brown's official spokesman said the prime minister believed pushing ahead was the "right thing to do". The BBC understands that ministers have warned the PM it would be "politically suicidal" to try to force the measure through against the wishes of peers. No 10 declined to answer "hypothetical" questions about whether the measure would be dropped if peers reject it. Perhaps Gordon should change his surname to Bennett!

Has the penny finally dropped on 42 days ?

Several newspapers suggest today that the government may have finally realised that detention without charge for 42 days should be dropped. Not because they have recognised that it's a bad idea, but because ministers have accepted that there is "not a cat in hell's chance" of getting it through the House of Lords. I hope this report is correct, not because I've gone soft on terror, but because locking people up for that length of time without charge would be actively counterproductive. Internment was the best recruiting sergeant the IRA ever had. It might be a different matter if the authorities responsible for bringing prosecutions or the majority of security experts thought that further increases in the time people can be held awaiting charge was necessary or helpful. But in fact the current DPP, the former Attorney general and Lord Chancellor under Blair, and Dame Manningham-Buller are among those who oppose it. A bad idea whose time has come and gone.

Conservatives propose a two-year council tax freeze

George Osborne has announced that if the Conservatives win the next election, every counciol will be eligible to join a scheme for a two-year freeze in council tax in order to help families cope with the rising cost of living. This measure will save a typical Band D household over £200, and millions of families will benefit. The Shadow Chancellor promised, “Every council tax bill of every family in every council that takes part will be frozen.” And he said, “Instead of council tax bills that rise year after year under Labour, millions of families will get help at the time they need it most. Conservatives will not leave people to struggle with the credit crunch alone.” The costs for the council tax freeze will be shared between local and central government. Any council that makes savings to keep its annual council tax increase to 2.5% or below will receive additional money from central government to reduce council tax bills by a further 2.5%. This central government funding will be rais

Did Channel 4 break the law?

It was reported last night on several blogs including Iain Dale here, and Conservative Home here, that CCHQ has foiled an attempt by Channel 4 to infiltrate a Conservative fundraising organisation. It is alleged that a production assistant for the Dispatches programme called Jenny Williams attempted to join, and made a donation to the party, but that Conservative officials became aware that something funny was going on. Both blogs quote an official Conservative statement that "It is not acceptable for journalists to masquerade as a member of the Conservative Party - or any Party for that matter - in a covert, self-appointed role to “check” compliance procedures. It is of particular concern that as part of this subterfuge, Channel 4 deliberately obscured the source of Party donations so we were misled into believing it was Miss Williams who made the donations, when it was not." The party has a letter of apology from Ms Williams which apparently includes the following stateme

Britain neglects the navy at our peril

At a dinner earlier this week I found myself seated between two retired naval officers - one British, one American - both of whom now work in the nuclear industry. Many aspects of their conversation were fascinating, but one thing was particularly relevant to today's news. The Brit has a son who has followed him into the Royal Navy and is currently serving ashore in the middle east - on principle I'm not going to say the name or the country but I'm sure you get the drift. Looking up the details on arriving home I find that literally thousands of Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel are currently serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact the article linked to below says that half of the 8,000 British personnel in Afghanistan for the next six months are sailors and marines. It just goes to show how much we expect of our armed services - as well as their own skilled and specialist roles we require them to serve in theatres of war and in other tasks when we're short of peopl

Hell freezes over again ...

Earlier this year when Hillary Clinton appeared in a sympathetic interview with someone who she used to regard as part of the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" one of the US papers wrote the headline "Hell has officially frozen over." I wrote something similar last month, when the Guardian published a piece which took seriously the idea that progressive people consider that there were times when Labour deserved to lose an election, even to the Conservatives, and that we might be approaching one of those times. Now for the third time in a year and the second in less than 30 days we have another "Hell freezes over" moment. Gordon Brown is to give Peter Mandelson a peerage so he can return to the cabinet. He must be desperate. I have been trying to think of an example of two living people who are even more notorious for not liking each other so that I can write an "and next week X and Y announce that they are the best of friends" joke. Even in the world

Feedback from Copeland O&S - Hospital news

A meeting of the Children Young People and Families committee of Copeland Council today heard a presentation from representatives of NHS Cumbria. The most interesting thing to come out of the discussion is that it now appears to be impossible for a final decision on the site of the hospital in Whitehaven to be taken in 2008 as had been expected - a consultation beginning later this year and a final decision in February or March looks more likely. More details on the hospitals blog - see link at right.

Blair Resigns

Sir Ian Blair has announced his resignation as Metropolitan Police Commissioner. "I am resigning in the best interests of the people of London and of the Metropolitan Police Service." he said. He added that he had wanted to stay on until his contract ran out in February 2010 but that "At a meeting the new mayor made clear, in a very pleasant and determined way, that he wished there to be a change of leadership at the Met." and that "Without the mayor's backing I do not think I can continue in the job." I think Boris Johnson did the right thing. Sir Ian's comments after recent inquries showed that he had become an obstacle to better policing.

Quote of the day - Wednesday

"They're useless, they're irrelevant, and they're going to go!" Eric Pickles MP on the unelected bodies which an incoming Conservative government would scrap. He also confirmed that money would be made available to enable councils to restore a weekly rubbish collection while increasing recycling.

Victory for the Ghurkhas

I was pleased to see that the High Court showed yesterday that there are institutions in Britain that are still motivated by a sense of justice. It was atrocious that a group of Ghurkha veterans including winners of the Victoria Cross should have had to sue the government for the right to live here. They were the bravest of the brave, and this country owes them. Of course we need a better system of balanced, non-racist immigration controls. But if there is one group of people who deserve sympathetic consideration when we decide who should have the right to live in this country, it is those who risked their lives to defend it. I hope the government will not appeal against the decision and will act to give justice for the Ghurkha veterans.

Brown gets it wrong

Nick Robinson has pointed out on his blog that when he interviewed Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister got it wrong by claiming that the increase in deposit protection from £35,000 to £50,000 was "in the Banking Bill." Actually it isn't. This measure was brought forward by the FSA under their existing powers. You can read Nick's post on the subject here. Which of the following explains this, and which would be more worrying at a time of internation financial crisis: does it indicate that we have a Prime Minister who does not understand the financial regulation system he largely created, or that he was surprisingly careless in an interview on national TV about whether he was speaking the truth?

Conference Agenda - Wednesday

The Conservative conference agenda for Wednesday 1st October includes * Preparing for government, with Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude * Our local environment - speakers include Eric Pickles * International Challenges - speakers include William Hague and Pauline Neville Jones and the main event ... * The party leader's speech from David Cameron