Showing posts from January, 2009

Too many NEETs ...

NEET is an acronym for people not in employment, education, or training. It is bad news both for the people in this position themselves, and for society, if we have large numbers in this category, and a worrying sign that the number of NEETs is rising. David Willetts has criticsed the Labour government for failing to take advantage of the economic boom years after it was revealed the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) has risen by nearly 100,000 since 2003. New Government statistics show that the number of NEETs increased by 94,000 between 2003 and 2007 (the latest local authority sources), with almost half of local authority areas seeing a rise. David, the Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, said, “These new figures show the scale of the problems facing young people all over the country, even before we entered the recession.” He condemned Labour for doing so little to help NEETs during the good years – and stressed the figures high

Quote of the day

On Labour's economic record "The only thing they've been economical with is the truth!" (said by my colleague Councillor Allan Mossop during a group meeting.

The IMF says the slump is worse in Britain

And the Institute of Fiscal Studies warns that it will take more than twenty years to pay off the debts accumulated during this recession. Gordon Brown has been claiming * that the slump is hurting every country in the world, (which is true) * that Britain is better placed than most other industrialised countries to deal with it, (which is not,) and * that he deserves full credit for everything that has gone right with the economy, but no blame for anything that has gone wrong (which is ridiculous.) Unfortunately for the Labour government's argument, the International Monetary Fund has published a report which argues that Britain, far from being better placed to deal with the slump, will be "hit harder than any other advanced nation in the worst recession for more than 60 years." The IMF economists preduct that Britain will be worse affected than the USA, Japan, Spain, Italy, France, Canada or Germany. (See the Times Online report here. ) In the Sun newspaper, George P

Sack corrupt Lords - Cameron

David Cameron has called for a change the law so members of the House of Lords could be stripped of their peerages for breaking new anti-sleaze rules, in an article in the Independent which you can read here. DC promised to bring in a raft of measures to repair what he called Britain's "broken politics" and said that the Lords scandal was a symptom of a government that is "making decisions convenient for themselves rather than the people they are supposed to be serving". "It is completely unacceptable behaviour; we need to make sure it is properly dealt with," said Mr Cameron, who described as "pretty chilling" the transcript of Lord Taylor of Blackburn's remarks to undercover reporters from The Sunday Times posing as businessmen offering payment for a possible law change. "It is pretty clear that this went well beyond the rules that exist," he said. "We would change the law to make sure it is possible to suspend, exclude

Copeland Lib/Dems attacked by their own side

Copeland Liberal Democrats have come under fire from their own colleagues for failing to put up a candidate in the recent Kells & Sandwith by-election. The Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) has this article on their website referring to Kells & Sandwith which notes that there was no Liberal candidate and is extremely unhappy about the fact. They even suggest the possibility that local liberal parties which consistently fail to put up candidates in elections should be suspended. This can be a very difficult decision for all parties, not just the Liberals. In my opinion any party which wants to be taken seriously should make great efforts to give the electorate a choice by offering a candidate in every election if you possibly can, at least for parliamentary, county, borough, and district elections. (I have an open mind about parish councils - some are genuinely apolitical.) But it can take a huge effort. I am very proud of the fact that as a constituency party

Elections in Cumbria in 2009

1) At some stage between now and June 2010, there will be a general election. When this happens there will be six MPs elected from Cumbria, with some boundary changes: specifically Keswick and three other Allerdale Borough Council wards (Dalton, Crummock, and Derwent Valley) will move from the Workington constituency into the new Copeland constituency. There are also boundary adjustments affecting the other seats. The effect of these changes are to make the Labour held constituencies of Barrow & Furness, Carlisle, and Copeland significantly more marginal. All three would turn Conservative on a swing of a little over 6%. The most likely date for the General Election is May 2010, but it could be called at any time that the Prime Minister chooses, and he would undoubtedly call an election this year if he thought he had a good chance of winning it. One constraint on when an election could be called this year is that they would need to pass a special act of parliament all

Feedback on last night's meeting re Traffic proposals

There was a special meeting of the Bransty & Harbour neighbourhood forum last night to discuss the county council's proposals for traffic management in Whitehaven Town Centre. About 30 people attended: I think the meeting could have been better publicised. However, for those who were there the discussion was quite constructive and the County council representatives present did genuinely appear to be listening. This meeting was at an early stage of developing proposals: any changes which are agreed as a result of these proposals will not be implemented for several years and there will be another consultation on the refined proposals first. The meeting divided into four groups of about half a dozen to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the proposals. In the group which I attended the main conclusions were * The proposed junction improvements in Option One were strongly welcomed * The other three proposals, Options, 2, 3, and 4 are extremely similar * In these three proposal

The best letter of complaint ever

I am rather inclined to agree with those on the BT Yahoo homepage and the Telegraph who describe this as the best letter of complaint ever written. Apparently Sir Richard Branson personally phoned the customer to thank him for his feedback. A wise move.

Consultation on control of government spending

George Osborne and Francis Maude have launched a consultation, entitled It's Your Money, on a series of proposals designed to create a new cultural of financial discipline across Government. In a speech at the Institute of Chartered Accountants, George Osborne attacked Labour for creating a public sector in which civil servants are encouraged to “shovel money out the door as fast as possible, regardless of how well that money is spent or how it can be paid for.” He warned that a Conservative Government will inherit "the worst set of public finances any incoming government in Britain has ever had to deal with" - and outlined a series of proposals to introduce financial discipline: * Create strong incentives for better financial discipline, including a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers in the employment agreements of all senior civil servants. (A fiduciary responsibility means that someone is trusted with the assets, wealth or well-being of a third party and has the

Time to ditch Labour

As Labour describe it, all the economic good news of their first ten years in office was entirely due to Gordon Brown - nothing to do with either the strong economic legacy they inherited from Ken Clarke or a growing international economy - and all the problems since were due to international factors. They don't even appear to see the inconsistency of taking all the credit for any good news and blaming other people for any bad news. If you have been one of their supporters, Labour think you're too stupid to remember that they promised "no more boom and bust." Of course, to any objective observer, Labour has got some things right and some things wrong. The sound economy they inherited from Ken Clarke lasted as long as it did because of one very important decision Labour got right - delegating the power to set interest rates to the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. But ironically even that good decision included one of the causes of the present crisis -

Cash for Laws

Accepting money from a private individual or company, not for advice, but to exercise any official responsibility is unacceptable whoever does it, and anyone proven to have acted in this way must be severely disciplined. That applies whether it is asking questions or seeking to table changes to proposed laws, or breaking the rules against paid advocacy. Whether the people concerned are MPs, Peers, or any other member of a parliament or elected official, whether they are Labour, Conservative, Liberal or nationalist, it is just not on. I am not easily shocked, but I was shocked and astonished by yesterday's Sunday Times article here which alleged that four Labour peers indicated their willingness to help change proposed legislation in return for large amounts of money. All four have denied the allegations. The Sunday Times claims that their reporters, posing as lobbyists acting for a foreign client who was setting up a chain of shops in the UK and wanted to secure an exemption from

Recession, Depression, Recovery

With the news yesterday that official figures finally confirm that the UK has had two consecutive quarters of negative grown, the commonly accepted definition of a recession, commentators have started to ask whether Britain may be headed for an actual depression. I was reminded of a line used in the '70s in the US by then candidate Ronald Reagan, which could be adapted to the UK today as follows: A Recession is when your neighbour loses his job A Depression is when you lose your job Recovery begins when Gordon Brown loses his job.

Welcome news re Sellafield

I am pleased to see that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has announced that Sellafield is in contention to be a possible site for a new nuclear power station. If it happens this will be excellent news for West Cumbria and will have very strong local support throughout the political spectrum. However, it is not a done deal - you do not get nuclear power stations built just by making an announcement. That is why we need together, accross the political divide, to ensure that the necessary difficult decisions such as how to upgrade the national grid are taken.

Support Our Small Shops

Small shops are at the heart of our high streets and town centres. They offer diversity and choice and provide a really personal service to their community. Yet in many communities these independent retailers are under threat. They face a rising burden of regulation and tax, a daily battle against crime and violence, and competition from the growth of out-of-town shopping centres. It is estimated that 2000 shops close every year. SMALL BUSINESS RATE RELIEF Rising business rates are hurting small shops - and yet many shops don’t claim the rate relief they're entitled to because they don’t know about it or because it's too complicated. Rate relief could save shops up to £1,100 a year - so it's vital we help owners claim the full amount they're owed. With the help of Leaseholders United, we are providing shops with an online tool to find out what relief - if any - they’re eligible for. If you run a small business and want to see if you're entitled to rate relief, simpl

Labour climbdown on MPs expenses

The government have backed down, at least for now, on their dreadful proposal to change the law so as to exempt MPs expenses from the same Freedom of Information requirements they imposed on everyone else. The taxpayers are the people who fund parliament, which is there to represent the interests of all British citizens, and the public have a right to know that their taxes are being properly spent. It's perfectly reasonable that MPs should have the same sort of responsibility to account for how they have spent taxpayer's money that any other public body would have, and the same sort of measures should be in place that anyone in a properly run business would expect to find.

Copeland budget 2009 to 2010, continued

As previously mentioned, the meeting of Copeland Council's Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee which was supposed to be considering the budget had to be postponed from the week before last until the end of the month because proposals for consideration were not ready. And then the meeting of the council's Resources Working Group had to be postponed from last Thursday to tomorrow for the same reason. I gather that the papers for the meeting were sent out by courier today, e.g. the day before the delayed meeting date ...

The Strongest Possible Shadow Cabinet

David Cameron stressed we have the “strongest possible Shadow Cabinet to take us forward to the General Election” after announcing a number of changes. He said, “With Ken Clarke’s arrival, we now have the best economic team. With the other changes I have made today, we have combined fresh thinking with experience, hope and change with stability and common sense.” The reshuffle details are as follows. Joining the Shadow Cabinet: Kenneth Clarke becomes Shadow Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Secretary Mark Francois becomes Shadow Minister for Europe New Shadow Cabinet responsibilities: Alan Duncan - Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling - Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve - Shadow Justice Secretary Nick Herbert - Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Theresa May - Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women Eric Pickles - Chairman of the Conservative Party Caroline Spelman - Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretar

Copeland budget 2009 to 2010

The meeting of Copeland Council's Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee which was supposed to be considering the budget had to be postponed from the week before last until the end of the month because proposals for consideration were not ready. The meeting of the council's Resources Working Group had to be postponed from last Thursday to this coming Thursday for the same reason. This is not a good sign.

Ken is back

Pleased to see that David Cameron has persuaded Ken Clarke to rejoin the shadow cabinet. We need to use all our best people, and Clarke is one of them. Ken Clarke was a very successful chancellor, who took over after Black Wednesday and left an economy surging so strongly ahead that all Brown had to do was not wreck it. I don't share Ken's views on Europe in general, and the Euro and the Lisbon treaty in particular, but the Conservative party is big enough to be able to accomodate people with a range of views. As a cabinet minister Ken Clarke was completely loyal to John Major, and I'm confident he will work with, not against, David Cameron. The people who argue that his presence on the Tory front bench gives new Labour and the BBC an opportunity to point to Conservative splits over Europe are missing an important point - the BBC and others had already been pointing to Ken’s absence from the front bench as proof that Europe was stopping Cameron from being able to deploy his

Labour trashes democracy with another rubbish policy

I was furious to read in the Sunday Times today this article about how the government has slipped through a measure giving councils the power to levy a £100 rubbish tax in a clause in the Climate Change bill. The idea is to tax anyone who leaves out too much rubbish, particularly rubbish which cannot be recycled. This new bin tax has been condemned by the Conservatives, and rightly so. It has not been thought through and will be unfair and counter-productive. It is outrageous that if you get a lot of unsolicited mail, possibly because a previous resident of your house was on a lot of mailing lists, you should have to pay to dispose of it. And let's think what the practical results are going to be. People don't like paying tax. There are at least two obvious ways to get out of paying this one. People will use them. Unless they start charging people to use municipal rubbish sites, a legal way to avoid the bin tax is to drive to the dump to get rid of your rubbish. Result, more c

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the TV

Digital switchover returns ... Many people in Whitehaven and other areas of Copeland who were affected by the switchover of the TV signal from Analogue to Digital in 2007 will remember it as an expensive and annoying business, which went much less smoothly than all the national media hype suggested. Most of the rest of North Cumbria, including the Keswick and Cockermouth area and the remainder of north and central Copeland, will be affected by the same process this summer when the Analogue TV signal at Caldbeck is turned off. And some bad news for those who thought they had been through all the pain in 2007: when they switch the Caldbeck, Parton and St Bees transmitters from Analogue to Digital only service over in June and July this year, they will also be adjusting some of the channels for those of us who have already gone digital, so that the government can claim some frequency capacity back. It's still not sorted out but it looks probable that some of those whose TVs were affec

Embarrassing Quote of the week

I am indebted to Letters from a Tory (who in turn hat-tipped Guido Fawkes) for pointing out the following statement made by Tony McNulty M.P. in November 2008: “This is desperate stuff from the Tories, who continue to scrabble around trying to find a coherent economic policy. There is no way they can get 350,000 new jobs out of these proposals. There are too many restrictions being applied, the incentive is too small and many of these ‘new’ jobs will simply displace other people seeking work. In addition, the Conservatives just cannot pay for this tax cut - it is misleading of Cameron to say he can pay for getting the short-term unemployed back into work by using figures of savings you would make from the long-term unemployed. Osborne’s judgment is wrong yet again. They are making headlines on the hoof and they will be found out. They need to make their sums add up - particularly at such a difficult time for the global economy. … Their figures on how many jobs would be created are

MPs Expenses

The Independent has an article today here under the title "A good day to bury bad news on MPs' expenses" and pointing out that while attention was focussed on big stories such as the Heathrow runway announcement, ministers have slipped out the news that they plan to change the law to prevent publication of MPs expenses. Typical of this government - they lose a court case under existing law, so they change the law - though there is little doubt that most of the public would rather see MPs obey the existing law. The article says that "MPs will vote next week on an order that would prevent up to one million pages of receipts being released, despite having last year lost a long-running freedom of information battle. "Under the plans, released quietly yesterday alongside major announcements on Heathrow and Equitable Life, MPs' expenses will be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act – thus preventing the public from seeking a full breakdown of legislators&#

Labour MP suspended

Douglas Carswell MP has an interesting blog post here about the expulsion from the Commons for five days of John MacDonnel the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington who will have areas of his constituency bulldozed as a result of the new runway at Heathrow. I do think it is outrageous that the government would not even allow MPs to vote on this.

Partial Victory on Equitable Life

The government will compensate those policyholders "hardest hit" by the collapse of life insurer Equitable Life, the Treasury has announced. Minister Yvette Cooper also apologised to the million-and-a-half policyholders who had lost money. A former appeal court judge will advise the government on who will receive payment and how much. Conservative MPs and campaigners, however, have said the scheme does not go far enough. Liz Kwantes, of the Equitable Life Members Help Group, said she was worried about further delays. "By the time they decide how to measure it, we've lost another year," she said. "A lot of people have lost a lot of money. People have had a hard time - some have lost houses, their health has gone," she added. Regulatory failure More than eight years after the Equitable closed to new customers, the government has admitted that some regulatory bodies were partly to blame. "We agree there has been maladministration in several areas and

Feedback on yesterday's meeting of Copeland Council

Two particular issues were discussed 1) The council's accounts for 2006/7 and 2007/8 have still not been finalised. A report from the audit commission had been presented to the council's Audit Committee last week. Because it has been classified as a "Part II" (e.g. confidential) document by council officers, members of the council were extremely limited in what we were able to say about it. The Conservatives believe that the public should be entitled to know about some of the things in the report, and said so: we also asked if the report could be circulated to all councillors, and if a public report could be made on the progress in sorting out the accounts. However it did come out in the debate that * Finalising the accounts has fallen further behind schedule * There will be extra costs beyond those previously reported although nobody is yet able to say how much. 2) The Rugby club The Labour Leader stunned the council by proposing during the Executive Report, with n

Labour's Debt Crisis

The new Conservative poster campaign is about the huge public debt which this government is accumulating and will take a whole generation to work off. It shows a newborn baby with the slogan Dad's Nose. Mum's Eyes. Gordon Brown's Debt. and adds Labour's debt crisis: Every child in Britain is born owing £17,000. They deserve better.

2 million jobless ... and Brown hires a butler

Excellent piece by By Fergus Shanahan in today's Sun which you can read here. As he puts iit, Brown has "not so much lost the plot as the whole allotment."

Copeland Council's Accounts

According to the Labour executive's report to tomorrow's meeting of Copeland council, which was written a few days ago, "The audit of the 2007/08 accounts and the post-audit amendments in relation to the 2006/7 accounts are progressing. The Head of Finance and MIS and the Audit Commission manager have met regularly to discuss progress and actions arising. The Audit Commission will provide feedback on the progress of the audit to the Audit Committee at its' meeting of 7th January (the meeting of 17th December was re-arranged.)" Unfortunately the report containing that feedback is a "Part II" report, e.g. one which is confidential, and I would therefore be breaking the rules if I said what was in the report. I can and will say, however, that * I am very concerned indeed by the issues raised in the Audit report * The accounting problems about which Copeland councillors have had previous debates at full council and audit reports have, to put it very mildly

Flood warnings issued for parts of Cumbria

The Environment Agency has issued flood alerts for many parts of north and west Cumbria. As of Sunday evening Flood Watch warnings - where flooding of low lying land and roads is expected - have been issued for: Coast from Gretna to Silloth Coast from Silloth to St Bees Rivers Greta, St Johns Beck and Bassenthwaite Lake Rivers Esk and Irthing Middle River Eden Rivers Lowther and Eamont Lower River Eden Rivers Brathay, Rothay and Winster Rivers Ehen, Calder, Irt & Esk Rivers Duddon, Crake & Mill Beck Rivers Cocker, Marron and Derwent Rivers Wampool and Ellen Upper River Derwent, Stonethwaite Beck and Derwent Water Rivers Caldew and Petteril Upper River Eden Rivers Kent and Bela The Met Office says today will continue to be wet with the most persistent rain across Cumbria and Lancashire. It will continue to be very windy, with gales in many places. Tonight will be wet and windy, with the rain heavy at times. The winds are expected to be gale force in many places.

Mark Harper MP on action to help disabled people

As the recession bites, it is more, not less, important that we make sure that disabled people are able to compete for the opportunities which will be available. Of course, it would have been much easier to do this in the good years but that opportunity has been squandered by the present Government. Being prepared and ready to take office from day one is vitally important, and is a lesson we have learnt from the failings of this Labour Government. In 1997, Labour came to power 'policy light' and had given little consideration to how their rhetoric was going to be converted into solid policies which would benefit disabled people. A future Conservative Government will not repeat this mistake. Welfare reform Having inherited a sound economy, and benefiting from a decade of economic 'good luck' according to Tony Blair, it is disappointing that more progress hasn't been made in helping disabled people get off benefits and into work, reducing poverty. There is a broad con

Message from David Cameron

As the figures come out which finally officially confirm that Britain is in recession (not that anyone had much doubt about it), David Cameron has sent out the following message about the practical, lasting help this country needs. We face a very difficult time in 2009. Unemployment is rising, people are struggling to pay the bills, repossessions are going up, businesses can't get hold of credit. The situation is critical, so it is vital that any political decisions made now meet two vital tests. First, we need to be sure that what we're doing is really related to what is wrong with our economy. Our party's biggest proposal - the National Loan Guarantee Scheme - is absolutely related to the core problem of this recession; the drying up of credit that is denying businesses cash flow. By making sure money can flow from banks to businesses again, our scheme directly addresses that. The second test for politicians is that any action taken must be right for the future as well as

A well deserved honour

I was pleased to see that several Cumbrians were honoured for distinguished service to the community in the New Year's Honours list. I was particularly pleased to see that Kerry Maxwell, who has done a great deal both for the regeneration of Whitehaven and for vulnerable young people in the town over the past 18 years, has been awarded the OBE.

Putin demonstrates the case for Nuclear Power

One of the senior officials at Sellafield said to me last year, only partly in jest, that the person who had done most to revive support for nuclear power in Britain was Vladimir Putin. Many a true word ... The recent dispute between Gazprom and Ukraine has cut off supplies of gas to other countries over a large swathe of central europe who were not parties to the dispute. We cannot afford to be left dependent on imports of oil and gas from unstable areas of the world when the remainder of existing nuclear plants, and a large part of our conventional power generating capacity, reach the end of their operational lives in the next few years. Appropriate forms of renewable energy (preferably not a ridiculous over-use of onshore wind power) have a role to play in dealing with this, but the most appropriate low-carbon means of replacing the plants which will soon need to be decomissioned is a new generation of nuclear power plants.

Rescuing the British Economy

David Cameron has announced a series of new policies to encourage saving and ensure a good future for Britain’s economy. These demonstrate that the Conservative approach is not "Do nothing" but "Do something which will work." David began his speech with an analysis of the problem: the present government has allowed the level of government, corporate and personal debt to rise too high. Labour’s Debt Crisis means we are in a weaker economic position than other countries. He stressed, “We need to make a really big change: from an economy built on debt to an economy built on saving; from a country and government that has lived beyond its means to one that lives within its means.” David outlined two firm proposals to help turn Britain “from a spend, spend, spend society into a save, save, save society”: * Abolishing income tax on savings for everyone on the basic rate of tax (with top rate taxpayers continuing to pay the same) * Raising the tax allowance for pensioner

We need a ceasefire on both sides in Gaza

I support the call from William Hague for a ceasefire in Gaza, implemented by both sides. This is the only solution which will preserve the Peace Process, protect Israel’s security and allow action to be taken to address suffering in Gaza. William called for an immediate end to the rocket attacks by Hamas, condemning them as “acts of terrorism”, and said that this was a "disastrous time" for civilians in Gaza. No country in the world would tolerate having rockets fired at their civilians from a nieghbouring state: we wouldn't accept it and can't expect Israel to. As President-elect Obama put it, if someone was firing rockets at the house where his young daughters were asleep, he would do everything in his power to stop it. But Palestinian women and children are human beings too. William Hague warned that it is not in Israel’s interests to continue the operation for a long time, partly because Hamas will try to declare victory if they survive the onslaught, and partly

When "Anti-racists" are themselves racist

I have been reading about "Daughters of Shame" which is to be published on Thursday by Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of an advice centre for women who are in danger of being forced into marriage against their will. I think it is extremely important to qualify what I am about to write by saying that the great majority of the asians who I have met, and, I believe, the great majority of asian families in Britain respect their womenfolk and would not dream of forcing them into marriage or of threatening them with so-called "honour killings" if they disobey. But for the minority who do think they have the right to treat their women in such a shameful way, it is about time we treated such behaviour with the same zero tolerance which we would expect if this was happening to white women. And if anyone would deny asian women the protection which the law would give to any other woman in this country it is them, not the people who want the law to protect women, who are the racis

Helen Susman RIP

One of the most remarkable human beings I ever had the privilege of meeting died last week at the age of 91. Helen Susman was for many years a lone voice as the only opponent of apartheid in the South African parliament. She was a formidable and very brave lady who somehow managed to combine the strongest and most courageous attachment to moral principle with a strong pragmatism about what would actually work, and who also combined a wicked sense of humour with great courtesy. I met her when she visited Britain while the National party was still running South Africa. There was a great deal of controversy at that time about whether Britain should impose sanctions against South Africa: I asked her what she thought about this and, if we were not to impose sanctions, what we should do instead. Her answer was that we should keep up the moral pressure and keep calling for reform, but that it would not help black people in South Africa if we were to wreck the country's economy. In recent

Best and worst political predictions for 2009:

It's been amusing to look through various predictions which political pundits are making about the new year. The most incoherent and inconsistent set of predictions is made by James Mackintyre at The New Statesman and can be read here. Mr Mackintyre is not optimistic about the UK or US economies and writes that "The economies of both the US and the UK will, as Barack Obama has warned, get worse before they get better, with the house-price crash continuing and unemployment in the UK passing the totemic three million mark." He adds that "The UK recession will deepen with a series of industrial crises, particularly for the car industry as General Motors goes bust and Vauxhall and Honda pull out of the UK. The construction and retail sectors will continue to suffer declines in demand." James Mackintyre thinks it likely that the Labour party will be punished in the opinion polls and local & European elections in the first half of the year as a result, but he so

Happy New Year 2009

Wishing everyone who reads this a happy, healthy, and successful New Year 2009.