Saturday, February 27, 2010


At today's Conservative conference David Cameron promised real action in six key areas to help get Britain back on its feet

1: Act now on debt to get the economy moving
Deal with the deficit more quickly than Labour so that mortgage rates stay lower for longer with the Conservatives.

2: Get Britain working by boosting enterprise
Cut corporation tax rates, abolish taxes on the first ten jobs created by new businesses, promote green jobs, and get people off welfare and into work.

3: Make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe
Freeze council tax and raise the basic state pension, recognise marriage in the tax system and back couples in the benefits system, support young families with extra health visitors, and fight back against crime.

4: Back the NHS
Increase spending on health every year, and make the NHS work for patients not managers.

5: Raise standards in schools
Give teachers the power to restore discipline, and create new smaller schools.

6: Change politics
Reduce the number of MPs, cut Whitehall and quangos by a third, and let taxpayers see where their money is being spent.

The "Moral Compass" malfunctions

Most politicians in Britain have scruples about making political capital from attacks on the families of their opponents. Even some of the most ruthless practitioners of hardball politics ususally do not cross that particular line. And on the rare occasions when someone does cross it, members of the perpetrator's own party are usually as furious as those in the victim's party.

Or at least that was the rule until now - but it doesn't appear to apply to the Brownite "Forces of Hell".

The filthy lies which Damian McBride, one of the closest lieutenants of Gordon Brown, was caught plotting to plant on the internet included false allegations about the wives of both the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Chancellor: see the Observer report here and BBC report here.

When this came out the Brownite spin machine tried to distance themselves from McBride's plans and disavow them as the work of a couple of rogue individuals. But now it seems that, having learned nothing, they are dusting down the tactic of attacking Conservatives through their families.

Tim Walker writes in the Telegraph today that

"Alistair Darling is unlikely to be the only one to have the “forces of Hell” unleashed against him by No 10 Downing Street. Mandrake hears that Samantha Cameron is to be the new target of a Labour smear campaign."

If Tim Walker's article, which you can read here, is remotely correct, this is reprehensible and demonstrates that McBride's tactics were not a one-off.

The present Prime Minister sometimes talks about a "moral compass" but there are too many people around him who would not understand a moral principle if it bit them.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Savings and Investment to fix the economy

Last night, George Osborne set out how the debt-fuelled model of growth that Gordon Brown pursued for the past decade is fundamentally broken. Gordon Brown’s debt is the single biggest threat to the recovery and our economic future. We have to deal with our debts to get the economy back on its feet. And we need a new economic model built on saving and investment.

Labour’s argument that we can afford to wait until 2011 before dealing with the deficit is complacent and puts the recovery at risk. We need to start dealing with the deficit in 2010 for three key reasons: the lack of confidence in the public finances is already undermining the recovery; if Britain loses the confidence of international markets, the result would be emergency cuts that would indeed be swingeing and savage; and real public sector reform takes time, so starting early on the deficit creates space for more targeted cuts that protect the poorest and front line services.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reforming the Planning System

The Conservatives have launched this week a green paper on reforming the planning system. You can read it here.

Writing on Conservative Home, Shadow Local Government secretary Caroline Spelman had this to say about the proposals:

"Any objective look at the planning system tells you it simply isn’t delivering. It lacks democratic accountability or environmental sustainability, and despite an unprecedented property boom it has delivered the lowest number of new homes since World War II. It is holding our country back and it is fostering mistrust in our political system.

Our planning green paper, Open Source Planning, sets out in detail how we would reform the planning system so that it is more accountable, more efficient and far more capable of delivering the new homes our country so desperately needs.

So we will start with abolishing the arbitrary targets that are conceived in Whitehall and forced on local communities, regardless of the impact on the environment or the infrastructure. This top-down, one-size-fits-all approach has made the issue of development unnecessarily adversarial by pitching communities against regional quangos in a fight over how neighbourhoods evolve.

The regional housing and planning targets have led to Green Belt being torn up and urban green spaces such as back gardens being replaced with blocks of flats. Instead of delivering the kind of affordable homes young families desperately need, they have turned housebuilding into a target-driven fantasy, with the emphasis on ticking boxes rather than meeting need. That’s why expensive city centre apartments languish unsold while family homes get knocked down to make way for yet more flats and it’s why new build homes lack sufficient parking spaces which mean pavements and verges are so congested with cars.

Surely it should be for local councils, in discussion with local communities, to define the criteria and objective for new development? It’s obvious that local people will understand the needs and sensitivities of an area better than a remote bureaucrat process.

We need a more mature way of securing development and making sure we get the right kind of homes built in the right places. That’s why we are going to replace central targets with genuine local plans so that communities can come together and shape the character of their neighbourhood.

Local people will be able to get into a proper debate about the merits of new homes and new businesses being built in their area because for the first time they will have a direct link to the financial benefit from that development. Communities and local authorities will be able to see the rewards of new development and have a direct stake in meeting local need. At the moment communities more often than not find themselves penalised under the imposition of new development as they see services and infrastructure over-burdened. We are going to change that so that they become genuine beneficiaries of the new houses and businesses we need.

Every new affordable housing unit built will earn local councils 125% of the council tax raised by that unit; this will reward councils to promote the development of affordable housing. These substantial financial incentives, combined with National Affordable Housing Programme grants to help subsidise construction, and the introduction of Local Housing Trusts, will deliver substantial amounts of affordable housing.

Once local communities and their councils have agreed on the way in which local need is going to be met this will become the ‘local plan’, and the powers of the Planning Inspectorate to over-rule that plan will be abolished. The effect of this will be that whilst sustainable development will be encouraged as long as it conforms to the plan, environmentally important locations such as Green Belt, urban green spaces and wildlife habitats will be protected.

To ensure that the plans work effectively with neighbouring planning authorities there will be a new duty for councils to cooperate on development, which will ensure synchronisation and maximum efficiency in new development.

Within the Paper there are also important measures to get transparency and fairness into the planning system, not least details of our commitment to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and turn it into a specialised infrastructure unit within the Planning Inspectorate accountable to the Secretary of State. This will deliver real political accountability and also ensure a smooth, efficient transition for infrastructure projects already in train. We will give Parliament a new role to vote on and ratify national planning policy to ensure real democratic legitimacy in the process.

The Paper also addresses the current unfairness in the planning system which often leads to unauthorised traveller sites and illegal trespass, by giving councils stronger enforcement powers and ensuring councils are properly funded for the sites they provide.

What our planning system needs more desperately than ever is to be more efficient and more accountable. In the race to compete with other countries which emerged from recession long before us our present bureaucratic Soviet-style planning system is holding us back.

The time has come for local communities and local councils to shape the way areas evolve and meet the challenges of a growing population, changing working patterns and new infrastructure demands. Open Source Planning shows how that can be done, it is online here."

Caroline Spelman

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Labour's Debt Crisis

Last week, it was revealed that every British family faces a bill of £4,800 to pay for Gordon Brown’s borrowing so far this financial year alone.

We can’t go on like this. The Prime Minister must now heed the advice of leading economists and business leaders and set out a credible plan to get the deficit under control, starting this year, to put Britain back on her feet. The longer he delays, the more the recovery and our credit rating will be put at risk.

Key facts about Labour’s Debt Crisis

· This year, Britain is expected to borrow almost twice as much as when we nearly went bust in the 1970s.

· The British Government is now spending more money on the interest on the national debt than on schools.

· Britain has the biggest budget deficit of any large economy.

· Last week, we had the worst public borrowing figures for any January on record - it was the first time for years that the government had not had a surplus on January.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Don't Mention Our Record" Labour tells activists

According to the Daily Mail the Labour party has told its' workers NOT to campaign on the record of the Labour government. A leaked document about Labour's "Operation Fightback" gives this advice as Labour tries to regain momentum after what the paper describes as "months of dire economic news and setbacks."

You can read the full article here.

Key points in the article include -

" ... the leaked document is an astonishing admission that voters have little to show for 13 years of Labour rule."

"It says: 'Voters considering voting for the Tories are attracted to the argument that David Cameron would make a change.

'Labour needs to ensure that the next election is seen not as a referendum on the government but as a big choice about the change we want for Britain.'"

Yet more roadworks on the A5094 in Whitehaven.

Unfortunately the work on the A5094 coming into Whitehaven Town Centre from the South has still not been completed and there are traffic lights with one-way-at-a-time working yet again today on Back Corkickle.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Concessionary Fares - time running out

A final reminder from tonight's Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood forum which is also relevant to senior citizens in other parts of the Copeland BC area.

Concessionary Travel permits etc for 2009/2010 expire at the end of March. Copeland BC have sent application forms for those who want to take advantage of the scheme for 2010/2011 to existing customers and they are available from the council offices. If you want to have concessionary travel available from 1st April, please try to get your application in by 19th February (e.g. this Friday.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Election Countdown

The election countdown at right is to the last possible date for the election, e.g. Thursday 3rd June.

The actual date is under the control of the Prime Minister and could be well before that.

Corkickle Roadworks complete

Pleased to report that the roadworks on the A5094 are finished for now.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Times: "Tories right on cuts, say Economists"

Today's Sunday Times publishes a letter from a number of leading economists about the need to tackle Britain's public sector deficit and has a front page headline about the fact that their recommendations are extremely similar to Conservative Policy.

You can read the letter itself here, and the article by the paper's Economics editor, David Smith, here.

The article begins with the words

"Leading economists say the government lacks a credible plan to cut Britain’s budget deficit and that action to reduce the country’s borrowing should start immediately after the election.

"In an endorsement of the Conservatives’ position and an attack on Labour — although the economists insist they are non-partisan — they warn that a failure to act could trigger a loss of confidence that could push up interest rates, undermine the pound and threaten the recovery."

As the Sunday Times leader points out here,

"The signatories of this letter are serious people. They include several former members of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee; a former deputy governor of the Bank and head of the Financial Services Authority; a former chief economist of the IMF and a Labour peer."

Conservative Home describes here the following similarities between the points being made by these Economists and the arguments being advanced by the Conservatives:

1."The next government should set out a detailed plan to reduce the structural budget deficit more quickly than set out in the 2009 pre-budget report." That's Tory policy.

2."The government’s goal should be to eliminate the structural current budget deficit over the course of a parliament." That's almost Tory policy. The party promises to eliminate the bulk of the structural deficit.

3."There is a compelling case, all else being equal, for the first measures beginning to take effect in the 2010-11 fiscal year." That's Tory policy.
4."The bulk of this fiscal consolidation should be borne by reductions in government spending." That's Tory policy.

Dumbing Down

I was very unimpressed at the question I was asked by the BBC last week. They were asking one question of all major party candidates in Cumbria and the North East.

So was it something relevant to the problems facing the country, like

* How will you protect NHS services? or

* How should the government's deficit be reduced?

Was it something relevant to the needs of the area, like

* Do you support New Nuclear Build?

* Would you give local planning authorities more discretion to give
permission to build allow the number and kind of houses which the area needs?

No, their idea of an important question was, "Where did you go to school?"

I believe that candidates for councils or parliament should be judged on what they have achieved and what policies they support, not on decisions made on their behalf when they were children.

For the record I went to state primary schools and then to a secondary school which was then a direct grant school, although it was subsequently forced to go independent.

The results of the poll were given on the NE and Cumbria section of the BBC Politics Show this lunchtime. I was pleased to see that most of the MPs and candidates featured, and most of the members of the public interviewed, told the BBC that it is people's policies and knowledge of the people they seek to represent, not where they went to school, that is important.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Back Corkickle and Calder Avenue road closures

This morning and lunchtime two roads in the Corkickle area of Whitehaven are closed or restricted.

The North end of Calder Avenue is currently (Saturday lunchtime) completely closed due to a nasty accident. The one way system means this is usually the only direct route from Valley Park and Calder area of Whitehaven, so this is a serious obstruction.

Postscript (Saturday afternoon) - Calder Avenue is now open again.

At the same time roadworks have resumed on Back Corkickle, fixing a collapsed sewer, with traffic lights allowing travel one way at a time. These roadworks are running a day ahead of schedule.

Factor a delay into your travel plans.

Forthcoming meetings

There will be a special meeting of Copeland Council at 2pm on Wednesday 17th February to agree the council's response to the DECC consultation proposing that Sellafield, Braystones and Kirksanton should go forward as potential sites for New Nuclear Build.

The meeting will be held in the Copeland Centre at Catherine Street, Whitehaven and will be open to the public.

The previous evening (Tuesday 16th Feb) the Bransty and Harbour neighbourhood forum will take place at 7pm at the URC Church Hall in Market Place, Whitehaven. The agenda will include the proposed Albion Square development, proposals to tidy up the YMCA, and other local issues.

An extraordinary case

I wasn't terribly impressed last year when the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, was convicted of breaking a law which she herself had helped to draft.

If anyone else had been convicted of the offence concerned - essentially failing to get the paperwork right when employing a cleaner from overseas who turned out not to have the necessary permission - I would have been strongly in favour of clemency. There's far too much onerous paperwork as a result of silly laws passed by the present government.

But for one of the people who drafted the law - and one of the government's law officers - to be unable to comply with it suggests either incompetence in drafting the law or, more likely a lackadaisical attitude to complying with it. E.g. a view that laws are for other people to obey, not Labour ministers. And that attitude should be driven out of politics.

(I would have been equally convinced that a Tory minister found guilty of breaking a law which he or she had helped to draft should be sacked.)

Now the Attorney General has been trying to increase the penalty awarded by the courts against a man who inflicted injuries in self-defence against an aggressor who had not just threatened him with an axe, but actually hit him several times with it.

A report of the incident is given by the Daily Mail here. Doubtless there is more to the story - there always is - but I note that the Lord Chief Justice dismissed Baroness Scotland's argument that the suspended sentence imposed on Kenneth Blight, who spent four months on remand awaiting trial, was "unduly lenient" and indeed cut the suspended sentence from two years to one.

The Lord Chief Justice described Mr Blight as a 'decent' and 'mild natured' man, and argued that the decision to impose only a suspended sentence was 'humane and justifiably merciful' on the grounds that

'This man feared for his life and initially picked up the knife to defend himself'

in 'the most extenuating and exceptional circumstances'.

I find the fact that the government was trying to increase this sentence to be cause for concern.

Discussing Copeland issues for Five Years

This blog was founded five years ago today, which makes it one of the longest running continuous political blogs in the UK, and far away the oldest political blog in Copeland.

It's also the only political blog in Copeland which allows a full range of both supportive and hostile comment provided you don't post anything defamatory or offensive.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Valentine for Whitehaven - more A5094 roadworks

There will be another set of Roadworks on the A5094 coming into Whitehaven commencing this weekend.

POSTSCRIPT - these works started on Saturday, a day ahead of the schedule in the Whitehaven News. On Saturday there were traffic lights at Back Corkickle, as of Sunday the road is closed, including the junction with Park Rise at the bottom of Midgey.

This week's "Whitehaven News" advised that another collapsed sewer will need to be mended slightly further up the road from the one which caused the recent closure of Back Corkickle just down from Inkerman Terrace.

The road will be closed on Sunday 14th February for eight hours while the work is carried out and then there will be traffic light controls on Monday and Tuesday while the road is resurfaced. You can read the full story here.

Factor a delay into your travel plans

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Right and wrong reasons to criticise Jamie Reed

There are plenty of valid reasons to criticise the performance of Jamie Reed as MP for Copeland.

However, the fact that he has organised meetings in the House of Commons for the Nuclear Industry and for groups working for the industry is not one of them.

It has been estimated that 24% of the working population of Copeland is directly employed by the nuclear industry. And many more are part of the supply chain.

The economy of West Cumbria is heavily dependent on civil nuclear power. And therefore a local MP who was not in regular contact with the industry would simply not be doing his or her job properly.

Any MP for Copeland who was not willing to help the nuclear industry discuss with government and opposition alike the issues of Energy Policy affecting the industry would be failing in his or her duties to the constituency given that those issues present both enormous threats and opportunities for local employment.

Let me be completely open about this - if I become MP for Copeland I will deploy every ethical and open means, within the national and local interest, to help the nuclear industry lobby for measures which will create jobs and opportunities for my constituents. Not because I expect to get a penny in personal gain out of it but because this is in the interests of the people I aspire to be elected to represent.

So whatever criticisms I make of the present MP for Copeland, the fact that he has hosted meetings for the nuclear industry won't be among them.

I do regret that in his defence in this week's Whitehaven News, which you can read here he appears to accuse "certain opposition MPs" of "dirty politics" in making allegations against him.

If you want to find out where these attacks are coming from, just type the words "Jamie Reed nuclear" into Google or Yahoo and hit "Search".

You'll find that the Telegraph article is only the latest in a long series of attacks of this kind. I trawled through thirty web pages of them without finding a single attack on Jamie Reed's advocacy of nuclear power from another MP. But I found dozens of such attacks coming from anti-nuclear campaigners and journalists.

And I have no doubt whatsoever that within five minutes of the election result in Copeland being declared, and should I win, the same people will be throwing the same smears and nonsense at me. I am ready for them.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

What lead does Cameron really need ?

Warning: this post is about election mechanics and likely to be of interest only to political anoraks.

But if you have an interest in politics, there have been two posts at Political Betting this week that you absolutely have to read.

Not all that long ago, the most insightful views on politics came from politicians, jounalists or academics and were first launched in lectures or newspaper/magazine articles.

I'm starting to find that a lot of cutting edge thought is coming through on blogs, and Political Betting is one of the best.

It is received wisdom among a lot of journalists and academics that David Cameron needs a lead of ten or eleven percentage points in vote share to win a parliamentary majority because of an inbuilt bias in the electoral system. (And I wonder how the people who write and post gleefully about this would feel if the bias were the other way round.)

Blogger Andy Cooke has written two seminal articles on making a well-argued strong case that this receieved wisdom may at best significantly overstate the bias in the system and at worst be completely wrong.

His first article, Does Cameron really need an 11 point lead? examines and explains several key factors which enabled Tony Blair to win landslide majorities in the 1997 and 2001 elections, and a working majority in 2005, with far fewer votes than were cast for John Major in 1992.

He highlights differential turnout in safe Labour seats, anti-Tory tactical voting, and Labour's strong performance under Tony Blair in key marginals.

However Cooke also points out that all of these factors are likely to be strongest in their impact when Labour are doing well but have the potential to unravel if their support declines.

Andy Cooke's second article, Could Cameron get a majority with a lead of just 5 points? looks at how each of these factors could unravel, increasing the impact of a swing from Labour to the Conservatives.

For example, anti-tory tactical voting which had a marked effect in 1997 and 2001 was obviously far less significant in 2005, and this certainly contributed to the Conservatives regaining several seats which I know well. In the coming election there is a good chance that anti-tory tactical voting will be weaker still while anti-labour tactical voting may have more of an effect.

If Andy Cooke's assumptions are correct, a 7% voting share lead for DC would produce a working Conservative majority, a 6% lead would give him a good chance, and a 5% lead a slight possibility of a Conservative majority.

There is considerable scope for argument about whether Andy Cooke's assumptions are correct, but his arguments look reasonable and his conclusions look a lot more plausible than those who argue that David Cameron could get 40% of the vote against 30% for Gordon Brown and still fail to get a majority.

Inkerman Terrace/Back Corkickle Road Works

Road Works continue at Back Corkickle just below Inkerman Terrace in Whitehaven. However, the road is no longer completely closed at the town centre end.

There are now traffic lights, with one direction open at a time, for a stretch about half way between the junctions with Coach Road and Foxhouses road.

Factor a delay at this point into your travel plans.

POSTSCRIPT - These works now completed, but the Whitehaven News advises that there will be another set of road works to mend a collapsed sewer next week. The road will be closed on Sunday 14th February for eight hours while the work is carried out and then there will be traffic light controls on Monday and Tuesday while the road is resurfaced. You can read the full story here.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Ladbrokes odds on the Cumbria seats

Jonathan Isaby at Conservative Home has an interesting article here about the current betting odds at Ladbrokes on constituency results at the coming election.

Ladbrokes have posted their betting odds for fifteen markets on the General Election here, including both total numbers of seats and odds for every constituency on the UK mainland.

Their odds effectively predict a Conservative majority of 33 and Jonathan has gone through the individual seats to see which party is the favourite in each and hence which seats are part of the projected 132 gains for a 33 majority. (The figure of 132 gains does not include a few which the Conservatives are already projected to have won as a result of boundary changes, but it does include Crewe & Nantwich and Norwich North which have been won in by-elections and which it would be a gain relative to the last election to hold.

In Cumbria Ladbrokes projects three Conservative gains from Labour which are (surprise, surprise)

Barrow & Furness

They also have Workington as one of just three seats nationally which the betting markets regard as "too close to call between the Conservatives and Labour."

Frankly I think all four of these seats are going to be close. In all four, we had more votes than Labour in last year's county council election. Being ahead in local elections does not guarantee general election success, but is a reasonable indication, especially if you are more than 10% ahead and are taking council seats from your main rival (which we did in Copeland), that you have a genuine chance of winning.

No election is over until all the votes are counted: my team are taking absolutely nothing for granted. The safest bet of all, so far as the coming General Election battles in Cumbria are concerned, is that some of the election results in the county are going to be close.

Home Housing withdraw proposed charges (for now)

Home Housing have withdrawn the consultation on proposals to charge tenants of Copeland Homes a "service charge" for gardening etc, following strong opposition from tenants and councillors. The charges will not ge ahead for now.

However, they have reserved the right to consult again on a similar proposal later in the year, so ths issue may rear its head again in the summer.

Back Corkickle closed again

Residents of Whitehaven could be forgiven a sense of deja vue as Back Corkickle is closed again just below Inkerman Terrace.

This time there is a diversion in place through Midgey for traffic heading to the A595.

Postscript - the closure has now been replaced with traffic lights, with one direction open at a time, for a stretch about half way between the junctions with Coach Road and Foxhouses road.

Factor a delay at this point into your travel plans.

FURTHER POSTSCRIPT - These works now completed, but the Whitehaven News advises that there will be another set of road works to mend a collapsed sewer next week. The road will be closed on Sunday 14th February for eight hours while the work is carried out and then there will be traffic light controls on Monday and Tuesday while the road is resurfaced. You can read the full story here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

An Abuse of Privilege

The courts should and will decide whether the three Labour MPs and one Conservative Peer who are to be prosecuted over their expenses are innocent or guilty.

It is absolutely clear that the system of parliamentary expenses needs radical reform, and that some MPs have abused a lax system: they should be treated the same way that anyone else who behaved similarly would be.

That includes the presumption that any individual is innocent until proven guilty. British law is built on that principle - however much some politicians have been trying to undermine it - and it should apply whether the accused is an MP or a dustman.

Of course, it is highly ironic that a former minister in the present government, and two backbenchers who supported it, should rely on the principle that the accused is innocent until proven guilty when this government has not exactly been the strongest defender of that principle for others. That doesn't make the principle wrong.

One thing which nobody should be able to do is claim parliamentary privilege. That privilege is there to allow MPs to say what they think is true without being sued and to protect the privacy of constituents who have written to an MP. It is not there to protect any public servant, of whatever grade or party, from investigation of material evidence that he or she has been stealing from the taxpayer.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A silly question and a misleading answer

The MP for Copeland asked what looked like a planted question at Prime Minister's Question Time today. Both question and answer were misleading.

The question began with the statement that the Prime Minister is the only leader of a British political party who supports Nuclear New Build.

This is not true - David Cameron has said that he sees nuclear new build as having a role to play within a balanced energy policy.

The Prime Minister's reply started well, saying that he hopes all parties will support nuclear new build. Thus far I agreed with him.

But then he quoted the time - eight minutes past twelve - and suggested that as he understands it the current Conservative policy is that nuclear new build is a last resort.

That isn't the current policy - that form of words was dropped three or four years ago. Shadow Secretary of State Greg Clark has made clear that we want to see new nuclear build.

And incidentally, though the question looked like a plant the Prime Minister didn't even answer it. He responded to the point scoring which came before the question but his answer did not contain any specific mention of changes to the planning system, which the actual question was nominally about.

This sort of casual distortion of the policies of the Opposition in support of childish party-political knockabout is not in the interests of the nuclear industry or of employment in Copeland. If you want to encourage investment in nuclear new build you will not help to get it by undermining the pro-nuclear consensus.

"Why has this been put in writing?"

Some people will discount Clare Short's evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry because she has long been an opponent of Tony Blair.

Personally I disagree with Clare Short on a great many things, but at the end of the day, even if the timing of her resignation reduced its' impact, she did eventually give up a seat in cabinet because she strongly disagreed with the way the Iraq war was handled. Her explanation of why deserves to be listened to.

There are several number of contenders for the most damning bits of evidence so far given to the Chilcott Inquiry.

One would be Tony Blair's response to a question about the battlefield, short-range weapons which were referred to in the original intelligence source which suggested that Saddam could deploy weapons in 45 minutes. Short-range battlefield weapons are not usually referred to as Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Blair was asked if he understood the distinction and replied “I did not focus on it a great deal at the time”.

As John Rentoul points out, It is hard to imagine Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Clem Attlee, John Major or Jim Callaghan presented with anything like the 45 minute claim, and not asking questions like

“What’s this? What do we mean by it? Yes, but what kind of weapons? Where could they hit?”

Instead Blair, on his own admission, did not focus on such details. He should have.

But perhaps even more damning as an indictment of the way Britain's entry into the war was mismanaged came from Sir Michael Wood, principal legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who thought that going to war wtih Iraq on the information Britain had at the time was illegal.

He told the inquiry that someone at No 10 had asked, "Why has this been put in writing?", when he submitted a paper on the consequences of invading Iraq without legal approval.

That is not a question which someone who wanted to take the right decision should have asked.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

People who live in glass houses ...

The "Cumbrian Patriots" blog which is run by the BNP candidate for Copeland has had an article up for the past couple of days poking fun at a UKIP candidate who failed to spell the word "Britain" correctly.

Unfortunately for the BNP their item pointing out that UKIP can't spell came quickly on the heels of items which demonstrate that the BNP can't add up.

Just underneath the scan of UKIP with the wrong spelling, was a scan of a BNP leaflet which includes a quote attributed to their party's national chairman about how well they supposedly did in Copeland. A couple of posts before that the BNP candidate himself made a claim about the share of the vote which the BNP received in Copeland in last year's elections.

These claims are contradictory, and they're both wrong.

Griffin (or whoever drafted the statement which appears under his name) claims that the BNP got

"An incredible 19% share of the vote across the whole of the Borough of Copeland"

I suppose that is incredible in the literal sense that you can't believe it - because it isn't true.

Jefferson, by contrast, refers to "the rock solid 17%+ we received right across the Borough."

Not as far out as his national chairman, but still wrong.

In the European elections, the BNP polled 2572 of the 20275 votes cast in the Borough of Copeland, which is just under 12.7% - to put that in context that is less than half the votes polled by the Conservatives or Labour, and the BNP came in fourth behind those parties and their least favourite party, UKIP.

They did a couple of points better in the county elections, but didn't reach 17% let alone 19%.

Pete Whitehead estimated on the Vote UK Discussion Forum that the BNP got about 13.4% of the votes cast in the Copeland Constituency during the county elections. It's impossible to prove or disprove that because two county divisions are split between Workington and Copeland.

In the thirteen county divisions wholly within the Copeland constituency, the BNP polled 14.2% of the vote. In the twelve within Copeland Borough they polled 3250 votes out of 20593 which is 15.8% of the vote. That is some way short of a "rock solid 17+%."

I'm sure the BNP would prefer if the coming parliamentary election in Copeland were fought on the Borough boundaries - I'm sure Jamie Reed would too. But it won't be.

The Indy adopts Sir Humphrey's polling tactics

One of the funniest scenes in the Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister series was when Whitehall Mandarin Sir Humphrey demonstrates to Bernard, the minister's private secretary, how to make opinion polls give the result you want.

First he asks Bernard a series of questions to which most people would reply in the affirmative and which lead as a logical conclusion to support for the reintroduction of National Service. Then Sir Humphrey asks a contrasting series of questions, again to which most people would give positive replies, but this time logically leading towards the rejection of the same policy.

At the end of the first series of questions, Sir Humphrey asks Bernard "Would you support the re-introduction of compulsory National Service" and gets the reply "Yes."

At the end of the second series of questions he asks "Would you oppose the re-introduction of compulsory National Service" and a visibly astonished Bernard finds himself replying "Yes."

(A superb bit of scriptwriting and magnificent acting, BTW.)

Both Political Betting and Anthony Wells make justified criticisms this morning of the opinion poll question the Independent commissioned from ComRes and used to justify the front page subheading "Vote of No Confidence in Tory Economic Policies."

This conclusion seems to have been based on the reply to a question about whether respondents agreed that “Mr Cameron should be clearer over what he would do about the economy”

As Anthony Wells put it,

'The Indy have put this as a subheading on their front page, but frankly it’s a fairly pointless question. A good sign of a decent question is whether anyone can really agree with the opposite – and how many normal people would say “I think David Cameron should be much vaguer and less clear about his plans for the economy”?'

And as Mike Smithson says

'To anybody but the Indy’s headline writer “Being clearer” is a million miles away from “Vote of No Confidence.”'