Friday, August 27, 2010

IFS report- how to make numbers say what you want

Andy Cooke on Political Betting has written a very well argued critique at post 168 of this thread of the IFS report about whether the budget hit rich people or poor people hardest.

His starting comment is

" 168. I’ve had more of a poke around the IFS report. It’s an impressive example of how to present facts to support whatever case you want to make." and his conclusion is "It’s intriguing how they’ve taken an analysis that shows that the Budget is definitely progressive up until 2012 and managed to present it as “regressive”.

Main points from his argument:

* Appendix A of the report shows the Budget effects without their admittedly uncertain estimates of the effects of renewed DLA testing and the Housing Benefit effects, as well as the Tax Credit changes.

"If you pretend that Osborne had no power to change Darling’s pre-announced changes (that they are binding on him and were the baseline), then the blue bars are what you’ll concentrate on. If you want to see the overall effect of the Budget (assuming that Osborne had the power to implement whatever changes he wanted to, comparing the output of the Budget with what the state was before) then the black line marked “Total” is the overall effect of the Budget. Because that is the effect of the Budget. You’ll note that the poorest deciles are best off (1st 2nd and 3rd deciles are no worse off and in most cases better off), the middle deciles are slightly worse off (gentle downward slope from 4th to 8th deciles), a downward jump for the 9th and a big downward jump for the 10th."

(My use of bold text.)

Appendix B contains the details of how the IFS came up with their changes, and particularly some less than rigorous assumptions about Housing Benefit changes which are assumed to have all their incidence on tenants rather than landlords (very unlikely), Disability Living Allowance, and Tax Crfedits. In Andy's words

"Housing Benefit: They use the DWP paper, whose core assumption is “assuming that they would be renting at the same rent level in the same property and with the same household composition. No behavioural changes have been assumed, such as customers moving to a cheaper property or landlords reducing their rents. As a result, when we report ‘losers’ or ‘losing out’, these could be actual losers (seeing their benefit decrease) or notional losers, meaning that they would not see any benefit decrease, but would receive less HB compared to what they would have done under the previous scheme. So, for example, a new LHA customer applying for benefit after measures take effect may ‘notionally lose out’, meaning that they would receive less than under the current arrangements.”

They then (in essence) assign the savings estimated amongst the claimants as if it’s coming out of their pockets.

The other two are done as follows:

Disability Living Allowance
“The Budget policy costings document says that the effect of this reform will be to remove DLA from around 20% of claimants. We randomly remove entitlement to DLA from the appropriate number of claimants in order to match the long run saving from this policy (around £1.4 billion).”

Tax credit reforms
“There is no way to identify those who will be affected by changes to the way in-year awards are calculated so we simply reduce all tax credit awards by the same percentage amount so that the total amount saved from the policy is correct (around £1 billion).”

These aren’t exactly rigorous techniques, so I’d say that the published headlines are not exactly sturdy. Even with all this done, they have to gloss over the fact that the richest decile still bear a far greater share of the impact than the poorer deciles (in table 2.1) and the expenditure tables in Table 3.1 (which they’ve previously argued (when exploraing VAT effects) should be taken as better indicators when indirect taxation is looked at (overcome effects of wealth-rich but income-low students, etc) still have a total effect that’s progressive pretty much throughout.

Andy Cooke says that he is "disappointed" in the IFS. Indeed.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A complaint about BBC bias

I have this evening submitted the following complaint about an item on the Radio 4 news this afternoon.

I want to complain about an item comparing the election of Sheriffs in the USA with the UK Coalition government's proposals for elected Police Commissioners, This item failed to give both sides of the argument for and against using elections to hold police services to account. In particular, the item was biased in two key respects. First, while it included contributions from commentators critical of the US system, who were given an opportunity to criticise the election of Sheriffs and explain their concerns about it, there was inadequate opportunity for counterbalancing comment from a supporter of the American system explaining what benefits it might provide. Secondly and far more seriously, given that there are significant differences between Coalition proposals for the UK and the American system, there was no attempt whatsoever to explain those differences or note that most of the cricitisms made of the US system are not applicable or relevant to the government's proposals for the UK.

The news item to which I am objecting ran at about 5.20 pm this afternoon (23rd August) on the BBC Radio 4 News. It began by referring to proposals by the present UK government for election of Police Commissioners and pointed out that the USA has had elections for Sheriffs for many years.

The programme included comments from one candidate for Sheriff and an extract from a re-election broadcast from another. The latter was referred to by opponents and supporters alike as "America's toughest Sheriff" which raises questions about how representative he is: this would not necesarily have been an issue if a wider range of candidates for Sherriff had been discussed in the programme, but it was clear that both the candidates referred to had been chosen to illustrate particular criticisms of the system. One, with no previous law-enforcement experience, had been chosen to illustrate the concern that an elections might sometimes be won by a candidate with limited qualifications: the other had clearly been been chosen to illustrate concerns about how populism might influence policing.

While there the programme did give some air time to the case in support of those specific candidates, it was wholly lacking in any real opportunity for a supporter of the US system to explain properly what benefits they believe that system provides. Essentially the debate was framed on territory chosen by the critics of the US system, and this is the first sense in which the item was subtly biased.

My second criticism is still more serious. The US system allows for the direct election of the operational heads of local police forces. This is NOT what is proposed in the UK. Wholesale adoption of the US system would be equivalent to the election of Chief constables.

What the government is proposing to do is replace NOT Chief constables but Police Authorities, who do NOT have control over operational policing, with directly elected police commissioners. The existing Police Authorities consist partly of county councillors and partly of Home Office appointees. So rather than introducing control by elected officials over police operations such as exists in the States, the government is proposing to replace an existing tier of indirectly elected politicians and political appointees with an equivalent directly-elected official.

Consequently most of the arguments in the US interviews are simply not applicable to the UK proposals. If the British government had been proposing elections for Chief constables, the discussion about whether a retired journalist who is standing for Sheriff has enough experience for the job might have been relevant to the UK. Because they aren't, it wasn't.

People with no policing experience can and do become Chairman of Police Authorities now: so can people with vast experience. The current chairman of my local Police Authority is a county councillor who was previously an officer in this county's constabulary for twenty years. If the coalition plans go though, I would bet money on it that he will be elected as our first Police Commissioner.

But it is not essential for the Authority Chairman or Police Commissioner to have police experience in a system where operational control and management reside with a Chief Constable who does have that experience.

Similarly, the discussion about the "toughest Sheriff in the USA" covered the timing and locations of specific police operations against illegal immigration and whether these amounted to racist targetting of particular ethnic groups for electoral purposes. The programme made no attempt to address the fact that Chief constables in the UK have operational independence and politicians would not be able to order such operations under either the existing system or the proposed one.

You can certainly make arguments both for and against the coalition government's proposals. I have no doubt that the US experience of electing police chiefs might be relevant to some of those arguments - on both sides.

My complaint is that the programme focussed on two arguments which have been made in the States against their system in a manner which inferred that those arguments were also pertinent as criticisms of the coalition government's proposals, without any acknowledgement of the differences between the US system and the UK proposals which an informed person could reasonably believe made those criticisms inapplicable to the coalition's proposals.

Consequently I do not believe that an intelligent, well-informed and fair-minded person who listened to that broadcast could avoid the conclusion that the item comparing UK government proposals for elected Police Commissioners with US practice electing Sheriffs showed a lack of balance amounting to bias.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Elevating stupidity into an art form ...

The anti nuclear campaign sent me a letter today. They say that their aim is to try to persuade government ministers not to support new nuclear build.

To this end they were asking me, one of the most outspoken supporters of nuclear power in the Conservative party, to ask the present MP for Copeland, who is

a) one of the most outspoken supporters of nuclear power in the Labour party, and
b) recently compared the present Prime Mininster to a nazi collaborator

to sign an anti nuclear early day motion. One of the main arguments in the letter they sent me is that nuclear power supposedly does not create jobs.

Just in case anyone reading this does not already know, about 25% of the working population in both Copeland Borough on which I am a councillor, and Copeland Constituency, which Jamie Reed represents, are directly employed by the civil nuclear industry. Including both those directly employed in the industry and those whose jobs are dependent on it, about 17,000 local jobs depend on the nuclear industy. And Bransty ward, which I represent, has one of the higher concentrations of nuclear employees in Copeland.

Now before I start on the other factual inaccuracies with which their argument is riddled, let's just consider just how many extreme improbabilities there are in the idea that they might get anywhere by sending me this request.

1) Theye're hoping that Conservative and Lib/Dem ministers will listen to an opposition MP who has gone out of his way over the past two years to insult those ministers when they were in opposition, including a very offensive insult against the present Prime Minister which the speaker required him to withdraw.

2) They're hoping that the MP concerned can be persuaded to put arguments supporting the anti-nuclear case, despite crystal clear election promises in the opposite direction, by a letter from his main opponent at the last two elections.

3) They're hoping to persuade me to put those arguments supporting the anti-nuclear case, despite my crystal clear election promises to support the pro-nuclear view.

4) They're trying to persuade both Jamie Reed and myself to rip up the promises on which we were elected by arguing that nuclear power does not create jobs when Jamie Reed has a higher proportion of nuclear industry employees in his constituency than any other MP and I am probably one of the twenty councillors in the entire country with the highest proportion of nuclear employees in their ward.

Either their targetting isn't very good, or they must be desperate!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Exposed: Labour ignored crucial warnings over pensions raid

Newly released documents dating from 1997 expose the dangerous arrogance with which Ed Balls and other Labour Ministers ignored official warnings that their plans could cut the income of millions of pensioners by up to a fifth.

The uncovered documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show how the Labour Government was warned that changes they were planning to the tax system for pension funds could result in a 20 per cent fall in share prices, with a massive knock-on effect on pensions. Labour Ministers ignored these warnings and proceeded with the changes.

The decision to abolish dividend tax credits has been estimated to have cost British pensioners up to £150 billion, and was described by one Pension Fund expert as the ‘biggest attack on pension provision since the war’.

Commenting, Conservative Party Co-Chairman Sayeeda Warsi said:

“Labour’s pensions raid turned the British pensions system from one of the best in the world into one which is struggling to cope, leaving 2 million pensioners living in poverty.

“As Gordon Brown’s key adviser in the Treasury in 1997, Ed Balls should come clean about his involvement in Labour’s unfair pensions raid. How can he claim to lead the Labour Party forward when he can’t own up to his past mistakes?”

(Source: CCHQ press release republished on Conservative Home, which gives the full text of the press release including "Notes to editors" which verify the details here.)

Feedback on Overview and Scrutiny Meeting

The first meeting of the new "External" overview and scrutiny committee of Copeland Council took place today.

Member of the committee spent a large part of the day interviewing people connected with the courts service in Whitehaven about the proposals now out to consultation to move both the county court and magistrate's court in Whitehaven to Workington.

These are part of a set of national proposals for the courts service which have been floating around for a while: one of the first things we heard today was that these did not jsut come forward after May's elections.

We heard a great deal of evidence raising concerns about these proposals, which do not appear to take adequate account of the poor transport links in West Cumbria or the size of the area that the Workington court would have to serve.

We also heard strong and compelling evidence that these proposals are not necessarily the most cost effective option. If the Whitehaven County and Magistrates' courts were combined in the Whitehaven Magistrates court building, there would be some savings, and the Whitehaven Magistrates'court building would require minimal capital investment to accomodate the county court cases.

However, the Workington building is not big enough to accomodate all three courts without massive and very expensive investment, which the service would have trouble finding the money to carry out.

The other issue discussed was the Fire Service in Whitehaven. We are hearing suggestions, which give rise to grave concern, that there may be reductions in service. The committee has set up a group to investigate and scrutinise these proposals, which will meet next week.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Seagulls !

How could I have forgotten when writing up the council meeting on Tuesday?

There was also a question about seagulls in Whitehaven - a subject which caused an amazing amount of reaction when I wrote about it in this blog during the 2007 local election campaign.

There is an annual survey of herring gull numbers in Whitehaven. This year's surey has not yet taken place. When it does, we were promised it will be reported to the council, and I will report it, and any action proposed, on this blog.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When lefties aren't actually left wing ...

One of the more bizarre aspects of my political experience is that the more often I speak to Labour or "left wing" activists in a context other than arguing accross the council chamber or another formal political forum, the more likely I am to find that they have at least some views that are, to put it frankly, right wing.

Not always in private either - I can remember being very shocked when I was first outflanked on the right by a prominent Labour councillor some eleven years ago, but it's happened to me often enough since then that I can deal with it.

There was a very funny item in the Sunday Times at the weekend called "Face it, you're in denial about turning into a Tory" by Matt Rudd.

He was reporting on an academic paper from James Rockey of Leicester University entitled "Who is Left-Wing and who just thinks they are?" which can be downloaded from here.

The research paper finds evidence from a study of 134,000 thousand people who were asked how right or left wing they thought they were, and whose answers to this question were then compared to their answers to questions about specific areas of policy. The answers demonstrated consistent patterns of bias: for example, "the more educated on average believe themselves to be more left wing than their actual beliefs on a substantive issue might suggest." Similarly the older and better off respondents were, the more likely they were to describe themselves as more left-wing than was borne out by their actual beliefs.

There is an old joke, which has more than a little truth in it, that "If you're not a socialist at fifteen you've no heart, if you're still one at fifty you've no brains." (Though some of use got through our socialist phase younger than fifteen. IIRC mine finished when I was about nine.)

The basic argument is that a lot of people form their self-image while in full-time education at the start of their adult lives, and going through their socialist or "progressive" phase. Later in life they don't like to admit to themselves how far they have moved to the right when they start earning, having to work for a living, paying tax, etc.

I do think there is something in the argument. If I had a hundred pounds for every person I've met on the doorstep who wouldn't vote for me because he or she considered me too right wing, but who had some views himself or herself which are well to the right of mine, I would be much better off. If I had a hundred extra votes for every such conversation I would probably now be in a different job ...

Guardian poll finds public supports coalition on economy

Today's front page lead article in the Guardian starts as follows:

David Cameron's first 100 days in Downing Street have seen the coalition win the key argument over the economy, with a Guardian/ICM poll today showing that voters back austerity measures to reduce Britain's record peacetime budget deficit."

You can read the full article here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

August meeting of Copeland Council

Copeland Council met this afternoon at Millom School.

A large part of the afternoon was taken up with the Council Executive report and questions. Much of this was political knockabout with planted questions from Labour backbenchers to Labour executive members used to make a lot of noises about cuts from the coalition government.

Of course, since the previous Labour government had admitted before the election that they would have had to make £40 billion of cuts had they been re-elected most of these cuts would have happened anyway.

Other issues raised included

* New contract standing orders were approved by the council

* Concern was expressed at the lack of adequate publicity and information about issues like amended bus timetables when the road from Cleator Moor to Whitehaven was closed at Keekle for planned repairs

* There was a "Part II" discussion about the Tesco site in Whitehaven. What this means is that the council discussed this issue in private. The fact that the discussion was taking place was on the council agenda and is not a secret: there are good reasons, within the law, why the details of the discussion cannot yet be made public. Once any decision or agreement is made, however, the details will be made public.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Party or Country first

If you believe that duty to your country comes before duty to your party, then the coalition government was right to offer roles to Frank Field, John Hutton, and now Alan Milburn, and they were right to accept.

One of the things that many members of the public most hate about politics is the way that a "yah-boo-sucks" and "Not invented here" attitude keeps the talented people whose party doesn't happen to be in power from offering ideas to benefit the country. Anyone who has spent much time on the doorstep has regularly heard complaints from voters who do not like the bickering between parties and say things like "They all ought to get together and sort it out."

Of course it's not that simple, and people who strongly disagree with the direction a government is taking may have good reasons not to be able to serve, or be offered places in, that government.

But there are sometimes advisory roles where someone who is not a supporter of a government can nevertheless provide an input which may be - and this is the key point - in the interests of the country. I believe that the jobs which have been offered to Frank Field, John Hutton, and Alan Milburn come into that category.

I would not have thought it possible to write this, but the comments which John Precott has made on this subject accusing them of being "collaborators" has caused my opinion of him to sink even lower.

Prescott was probably the worst minister in the last government - and considering that it also included ministers like Frank Dobson, Margaret Beckett, and Stephen Byers, that really is saying something. But his use of words like "collaborator" for members of his party who think there might be a benefit to the country of working with what is, whether he likes it or not, the elected government demonstrates a truly unpleasant degree of sectarianism.

The worst fault of the last government was a strong propensity to put party before country. Prescott demonstrates that at least some of them have not learned this lesson in opposition. And until Labour does learn this lesson, they will not again be fit to be serious contenders for power.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

VJ Day - lest we forget

Sixty-five years ago today World War Two finally came to an end with the defeat of the Japanese.

When I was a boy both the first and second world wars were very much within living memory, and a fair number of the older men I knew were veterans of one of the two world wars - the great war as well as WWII.

But in the last couple of years, the great war has passed from living memory into history with the deaths of the last survivors of the trenches, and world war II is beginning to do the same. The last of the people I knew who fought against the Japanese, and who survived great cruelty and mistreatment as a POW, died earlier this year in his nineties.

Which makes it all the more important that we do not forget.

We do not have to be prejudiced against modern-day Japanese or Germans, or blame them for the crimes of their grandparents' generation, to recognise that the wartime governments of both powers were amongst the worst mass-murderers who have ever existed. Their defeat saved the peoples of the world from a terrible tyranny. The sacrifices of those who fought against them and ultimately defeated them should never be forgotten.

Murray beats Nadal in straight sets

Andy Murray's run of superb tennis continued with a smashing 6-3 6-4 victory over world number one Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

He will now meet the winner of the other semi final, which is between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, for the final.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Talking to a brick wall

Hat tip to Political betting for pointing out this clip of an interview by Labour's former pollster Deborah Mattinson on her book "Talking to a brick wall." (Follow the link if you want to buy the book from Amazon).

The book will of course be headlined as a description of, as it says on the cover, "How New Labour stopped listening to the voter" but it makes a lot of points about the gulf between the public and the entire Westminster Village (including politicians of all parties and journalists). Anyone involved in politics in any party might well find the interview worth fifteen minutes of your time to watch.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Milking an issue ...

During an election debate at Whitehaven school as part of the 2005 election campaign, Jamie Reed who was then the Labour candidate for Copeland (now the MP) claimed that he became interested in politics as a small child when Mrs Thatcher took away his school milk.

I pointed out immediately that he probably hadn't been born, and certainly wasn't old enough to be at school, when Mrs Thatcher took school milk away from some pupils. (I was right the first time - he hadn't been born in 1971.)

If the Labour's propaganda campaign on this subject convincing him that Maggie Thatcher had stopped his milk really was the reason why Jamie Reed joined that party, perhaps I should have pointed out that he had been conned into joining them under false pretences and sent him a Conservative application form.

The actual history of events was:

1) 1968 - Labour government takes free school milk away from secondary school children. The Secretary of state for Education at the time was Ted Short.

2) 1971 - Conservative government takes free school milk away from 7-11 year olds. The Secretary of state for Education at the time was Margaret thatcher, who unlike her Labour predecessor and successors, faced a campaign of personal vilification over the decision which is still remembered today.

3) 1977 Labour government with Jim Callaghan as PM and Shirley Williams as education secretary, cancels free school milk for 5-7 year olds. So it was Jim Callaghan and Shirley Williams, NOT Margaret Thatcher, who took free school milk away from the infant Jamie Reed.

What I find absolutely disgraceful about the way the television covered the recent school milk issue is that every report on BBC and Sky has referred to the 1971 decision and personally attributed it to Margaret Thatcher, but hardly a one has mentioned the 1968 or 1977 decisions, or Ted Short and Shirley Williams. A pretty clear case of bias.

As 'The Independent' wrote on the subject, "What is little known is that Mrs Thatcher actually opposed ending school milk and was forced into the position by the Treasury. She was so upset by the public response that she considered quitting politics. In her autobiography, she wrote: 'I learned a valuable lesson. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.'"

Because of the mess left by the previous government, the current administration will have to consider a huge range of unpalatable cuts. So would Labour if by any terrible chance they had won the election. Some of those will go ahead, others will be withdrawn, doubtless to petty Labour chants of "U-turn." What this will actually prove is that the government listens.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sayeeda Warsi on Labour's Legacy

Baroness Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative party, writes:


"We all know that over 13 years the last Labour government spent huge sums of money and left us to deal with the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history. But what we didn't know was just how wasteful they were with our money.

From wasting £12 billion on an NHS computer system that didn't work to kitting out regional fire offices with £6,000 luxury coffee-making machines, Labour showed complete contempt for taxpayers' money up and down this country.

Despite this reckless spending and waste, Labour remain in complete denial about their legacy. They blame the bankers, the recession, the global downturn - everyone and anyone - except themselves.

Today, I gave a speech to begin the process of exposing Labour's waste.

video exposes some of the most shocking examples of Labour's legacy.

Labour's incompetent handling of our economy will hit all of our pockets. The cuts to come are Labour's cuts. So, it's only fair that the people responsible should share some of the pain. That's why today I have written to each of Labour's leadership candidates asking them to voluntarily give up their severance pay, worth £20,000 each. Forfeiting this pay would be the first step towards rehabilitation, and the first time they had come to terms with the mistakes of the past.

In the coming weeks and months, the Coalition will be making its own contributions to exposing the truth. We are going to shine a light on every aspect of Labour's total lack of respect for taxpayers' money. If you feel as strongly about exposing Labour's legacy as I do, please forward this message to five friends or family.

This is a big job, but the Coalition is determined to take the difficult and responsible decisions to get our country back on track.

Sayeeda Warsi
Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party

Monday, August 09, 2010

New nuclear plants operational in eight years

The government has announced that it expects the first of a new generation of nuclear plants to come on stream within eight years.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne today handed Cumbria a potential economic boost, confirming that a number of potential sites for the stations had been identified – generally close to existing nuclear energy installations – and that power should be on stream by 2018.

Three sites in West Cumbria are of course among the places in the running for a new generation atomic power reactor, bringing a major jobs and cash boost to the county. Of these the preferred site locally is of course Sellafield.

Mr Huhne reiterated that the Government would not subsidise the new nuclear power stations but said investors had indicated they were ready to press ahead thanks to rising gas, oil and carbon prices.

“We are on course to make sure that the first new nuclear power station opens on time in 2018,” Mr Huhne told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“There are a number of sites that have been identified around the country and those are generally on sites where we have previously had, for example, nuclear power stations and where the local people are very keen that there should be new nuclear build.”

Rex Toft R.I.P.

I seem to be writing far too many obits on this blog this year.

Rex Toft, a former Conservative parliamentary candidate for Copeland has died, and there will be a memorial service for him at St Mary's Gosforth at 1pm on Thursday.

During his long political career Rex came within two thousand votes of unseating Jack Cunningham in the eighties, became county councillor for Gosforth Ennerdale, Leader of the Conservative group on the County Council, and eventually leader of Cumbria County Council.

I first met Rex in 2004 on the evening when I was first selected to fight the seat, and he game me some very useful advice both about elections in Cumbria and about certain long journeys which both he and I reguarly had to make at that time.

He was a good guy and will be missed.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Dr Karen Woo (and colleagues) RIP

I single out Doctor Karen Woo among the members of the medical team who were murdered in Afghanistan, not because the tributes which are rightly being paid to her do not also apply to the other members of the team, but because the extensive news coverage today has not named most of the other victims. I understand that the team leader, also murdered in the attack, was Tom Little from America.

The story of this team and what happened to them is an illustration of the best and worst of which human beings are capable.

Dr Woo and her colleagues had skills which would have enabled them to enjoy a comfortable, well remunerated and safe existence in Britain, America, or Germany. They risked their lives to work in much less pleasant conditions because they were helping the poor, and if there is a heaven I am as certain as one could ever be that heaven will be their destination.

Those responsible for the murder of this medical team demonstrated the most egregious evil of which human beings are capable. I note with disgust that the Taleban have claimed responsibility for this atrocity and attempted to justify it on the ludicrous grounds that some the victims allegedly had bibles in one of the main Afghan languages in their possession, and were therefore supposedly trying to spread the Christian message.

Even if this pathetic apologia were true, which I doubt, it would no more justify these murders than Christians in Britain would be justified in searching anyone of foreign or Islamic appearance, and gunning down like a dog anyone who was found with a copy of the Koran in English.

Heroes like Dr Woo and her colleagues should be remembered for giving their livesin a selfless effort to help the Afghan people.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Hitting the ground running, continued

Here are just some of the things the new coalition government has done in its' first 100 days for local government alone:

Local taxation

• Scrapped Labour’s plans for new bin taxes on family homes, which would have harmed the local environment by fuelling fly-tipping and backyard burning.

• Announced we will work with local councils to freeze council tax for at least one year, and two, if money permits; and give people the power to veto high council tax rises.

• Introduced a more generous small business rate relief scheme, to help firms come out of recession, for one year starting in October. Firms with a Rateable Value under £6,000 will pay no business rates at all for a year.

• Scrapped Labour’s ports tax – unfair retrospective business rates on firms in ports which threatened to decimate those firms and damage Britain’s whole manufacturing sector.

Housing & planning

• Scrapped John Prescott’s flawed Regional Strategies and the role of his unwanted and unelected Regional Assemblies.

• Introduced new powers for councils to resist unwanted garden grabbing and scrapped arbitrary Whitehall density targets for new housing.

• Abolished the expensive red tape of Labour’s Home Information Packs (HIPs have already been suspended, pending full abolition by primary legislation).

• Encouraged councils to use their enforcement powers to tackle unauthorised traveller sites, and promised to give them stronger powers to ensure fair play in the planning system.

• Pledged new financial incentives for councils to build more homes and support economic growth.

• Overhauled the flawed system of counting the numbers of rough sleepers, so councils and charities know the true scale of homelessness and can target their expert help and advice where it is needed most.

• Announced the abolition of the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission – whilst ensuring a fast-track planning system for major projects with full Parliamentary accountability.

Local democracy

• Abolished Labour’s unnecessary Comprehensive Area Assessment inspection regime.

• Stopped Labour’s imposition of expensive new unitary councils in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk.

• Vetoed a proposed excessive salary package of £240,000 for a new chief executive of the Audit Commission, to send a strong signal to town halls that they don’t need to spend a fortune on senior salaries.

• Worked with councils to deliver a new era of town hall transparency, with town halls to publish their spending and contracts over £500 online by the end of the year.

• Pledged to give councils stronger powers on licensing to tackle the alcohol-fuelled violence that plagues local high streets at night.

• Announced plans to give councils a lead role in public health, make our health service more answerable to patients and ensure more joint working with the NHS and social care.

Funding for frontline services

• Reduced the ring-fencing of local authority budgets by £1.2 billion – as the first stage in phasing out such ring-fencing; this gives councils power and discretion to focus their resources on frontline services.

• Delivered £6 billion of savings this year to help tackle the budget deficit, but protecting the £29 billion of funding for Formula Grant – the funding of councils used for frontline services, and ensured that no council had a reduction in revenue of more than 2 per cent.

• Secured and authorised £1.25 billion of the last Government’s £1.5 billion housing pledge, despite the lack of sustainable funding and the massive budget deficit we inherited. Tackling the deficit will help prevent soaring interest rates for home owners.

Regional government

• Taken steps to replace distant and unaccountable Regional Development Agencies with new local enterprise partnerships of local firms and councils working together.

• Stated we are minded to close all the unelected Government Offices for the Regions – they are agents of Whitehall which interfere with local councils.

Big Society

• Moved to cut the red tape, paperwork and form filling that hinder local people from organising street parties, fetes and local community events.

• Encouraged councils and residents to fly the English flag and have pride in our nation, rather than letting political correctness or ‘health and safety’ zealots get in the way.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, commented that

"There’s more to come, but we have a great message on how we are championing the interests of local taxpayers in difficult times, and are putting more power and responsibility into the hands of councils, communities and citizens."

Thursday, August 05, 2010

"Egremont today falls out of the sky"

That's the front page headline on this month's final issue of Labour's "Egremont Today" publication. The last "Egremont Today" front page can be read here.

I have very mixed feelings about this. Obviously I have had my differences with "Egremont today" and indeed there have been some moderately sharp two-way exchanges between that publication and this blog.

However, it is a good thing when politicians of whatever colour make an effort to communicate with their electorate, and regardless of your views about the politics of Peter Watson and Egremont Labour party, their worst enemy could not dispute that they put a lot of effort into Egremont Today.

Ironically, the truth of one point which Peter Watson wrote in his valedictory editorial on the front page was demonstrated only too clearly by turning the next two pages to read the articles by our local MP on page three and Brian Simpson MEP on page five.

Jamie Reed MP wrote on page five about being "determined to fight the impending Tory cuts to our community" and predicted that "the remote millionaire politicians of this government" will "try to dismantle the building blocks of our community." Brian Simpson wrote a long rant about "Tory Hypocrisy."

Which only underscored the following comment by Peter Watson which should perhaps be seen as the last word on "Egremont Today".

"Our biggest regret is that the significance of what we have been doing has never been understood in our own party. Orthodox political communication remains the trading of recriminations between opponents."

Inkerman Terrace open again

As planned, Inkerman Terrace re-opened today.

The Cleator Moor road from Hensingham is still closed, however.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Roadworks pain continues

Disruption to traffic and business continues in Whitehaven, where Inkerman Terrace has been closed for several days while a hole which appeared in the road is investigated. The Whitehaven News reports they are hoping to re-open that road tomorrow.

The main road between Whitehaven and Cleator Moor is also closed near the swimming pool.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Demos on why Labour lost the election

Interesting blog post from Janet Daley on the Daily Telegraph about a YouGov poll for the Labour think tank Demos which suggests that Labour lost the last election "because too many of its own supporters had become disillusioned with the Big State. All that extra funding poured into the public services was seen for what it was: profligacy and an invitation waste taxpayers’ money."

Janet Daley comments that

The responses (from Labour voters, remember) to the pollsters’ questions read, gratifyingly, like a Telegraph leading article. Government spending under Labour is described as having “reached or even breached acceptable limits” and – miraculously – a good many of those who deserted the party actually said that they no longer saw the state as a force for good. In short, they got it. That theory that many of us had been putting forward – to the effect that the public were not credulous fools and that they could see clearly that throwing more money at a problem was not going to cure it without some serious re-thinking of the way that money was spent – has been vindicated.

Demos has certainly got it. They are now advising all the Labour leadership candidates to support the Coalition’s planned spending cuts as well as the basic principle of the Big Society programme in which the power of the state is diminished.

You can read the full post here.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Expression of the week

Wonderful expression heard today for something which is hard to learn.

"A learning curve like trying to climb Everest with two broken legs."

How not to organise the tax system

A lot of very frustrated people have told me that over the past few days they've been making a lot of phone calls to the Inland Revenue Tax Credits hotline.

A classic example left over from the last government of how not to organise the tax system. You make a tax credit available to a huge proportion of the population. You require them all to reapply for the benefit annually. You refuse to accept online applications, encouraging people to phone or write in (and effectively particularly encouraging them to phone.)

Then you fail to provide enough telephone lines or advisors to answer them around the time the deadline for applications falls due.

Result - thousands (possibly millions) of people desperately trying to get through.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

DC: We've hit the ground running

David Cameron writes:

"Parliament has risen, summer is here and this coalition government is nearly at the three month mark. It's a good time to take stock of what we've done so far and where we're going. Eleven weeks in and I believe we've made a good start.

We said we'd take the tough decisions needed to rescue our economy and we've been doing that. We've scrapped Labour's jobs tax, completed an in-year spending review to save £6 billion of waste and presented an emergency Budget that will balance the books within five years.

We promised radical reform of our public services and we're delivering, with a big expansion of the academy programme in our schools and unprecedented reform of the NHS - £1 billion of bureaucracy cut, pointless targets scrapped, whole tiers of bureaucracy abolished and real power for GPs and patients.

We campaigned relentlessly on pushing power out from the centre and we're making it happen. Eric Pickles' department has been busy dismantling the architecture of top-down control, scrapping Regional Assemblies, Regional Strategies and the bureaucracy of RDAs.

We said we'd do the right thing by our troops and we've been doing that too. We have established a National Security Council, made sure we have a clear strategy on Afghanistan and doubled the Operational Allowance for our Forces.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but it does show our intent to hit the ground running as a great reforming government. And just as we've started, so we'll go on - taking the tough decisions on our economy, radically re-thinking our public services, pushing power out to people and doing all we can to restore Britain's standing in the world.

But however frenetic the coming months and years will be, however busy life in government is, I will never forget how we got here - through your hard work and your tireless campaigning.

Thank you for your continuing support - and have a great summer.