Wednesday, December 31, 2008

David Cameron's New Year Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Daft plans to stop doctors from dispensing dropped

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tidings for a modern Christmas

Some alternative Christmas tunes (alternative suggestions welcome)

From "God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From "Away in a Manger"

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

From "Christmas is coming"

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

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

An ecumenical Christmas Prayer

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas messages

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

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

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

Dear Sir,

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

Yours sincerely

Brigid Whiteside

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

De-politicising the police

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cameron on the action Britain needs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas in Whitehaven II

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

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

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

Apologies to all the ones I have undoubtedly missed!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pantomime: Cinderella at the Rosehill Theatre

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wasting Police Time

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

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

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

Examples of the jokes given included

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kells & Sandwith result

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

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

Previous election, 2005:

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

Labour majority: 1010

18th December 2008:

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

Labour majority: 16.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kells & Sandwith by-election

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

There are three candidates, who in alphabetical order are:

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

Polls are open from 7am to 10 pm.

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

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

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

Christmas in Whitehaven ...

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Labour's 2009 Poster campaign

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

A second group of spoof Labour posters is here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Michael Gove on the "Children's Plan"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas in Kells and Sandwith

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Government caught releasing dodgy statistics

More than a hundred years ago, Benjamin Disaeli said that

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

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

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

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

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

"Dear Jeremy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fisking Gerald Kaufman

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E.g. in the parliamentary Labour party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Tale of two Freudian slips

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

So it should.

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

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

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

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


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

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

And they are right.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cameron on the economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Service Announcement

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

29 Honorable Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Conservative action on the economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cameron's third anniversary

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

Quentin Letts on the debate on Damian Green's arrest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Cameron on the Queen's Speech

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

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

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

“Let the work of change begin.”

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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 04, 2008

European Court is right about the DNA Database

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Feedback on Copeland Council and Bransty meetings

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

Key issues covered included

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Keswick and Bransty public meetings

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

Trevor Kavanagh in today's Sun

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

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

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

Not any more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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