Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Poll underlines failure of the PBR

The Observer has a new poll today that puts a further 8 points between Labour and the Conservatives since the PBR, underlining its political failure. That it is an economic failure is the opinion of most observers outside, well, Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown. They are betting everything on the recession stopping abruptly in July 2009. No-one, and I mean no-one buys that.

John Baron MP asks Information Commissioner to force Government to reveal Titan prison sites

MP refers case after Government admits there will be no proper consultation

John Baron MP has referred to the Information Commissioner the Government’s refusal to allow his Freedom of Information request for a list of sites currently being considered for the Titan prisons. These prisons would house at least 2,500 inmates – more than double the size of Britain’s current jails.

A letter from Justice Minister David Hanson MP confirmed plans to build a Titan prison in the Thames Corridor/Thames Gateway, but refused to list possible sites for fear of “prejudicing the commercial interests” of the Government. A second letter from Shahid Malik MP confirmed that Ministers want to retain the option of buying land before announcing their plans for a jail or undertaking a consultation.

John said:
Ministers want to buy the land for a Titan prison without even telling local residents. Any consultation which takes place after land has been bought is bound to be a sham, because communities will be presented with a ‘done deal’.

I have asked the Commissioner to look at this matter because the public interest in favour of transparency and full consultation must override commercial factors, and because Ministers have still refused to rule out Basildon as one of the sites

We do urgently need more prison places to tackle chronic overcrowding, but Titan prisons are not the way to go: all the evidence shows that smaller prisons provide better rehabilitation outcomes.

SH adds: The key local concern is if one of these places is destined for Basildon. We do need more prisons, especially given the rate at which Labour's opponents are being arrested, but we need an open and transparent process for deciding locations, not Home Office whim.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Labour's VAT Cut didn't work

As predicted, the public didn't buy the governments mortgaging of our childrens' futures in order to cling onto power. The latest poll with fieldwork done after the PBR has the Conservative lead increasing to 15 points.

I wish the recession would end tomorrow, but the sad fact is that it won't. That being the case, what will the government's poll numbers look like as the state of the economy takes its inevitable toll on individual British families? Politically, the PBR narrative had to stick, and it didn't.

Still, there's always the police ready to arrest Labour's opponents.

Slow Slide to Fascism

I have always held off on some of the more vitriolic styles of criticism of the Labour government. My view has always been that these are people who believe in basic British democratic values and that I disagree with them on many matters of public policy there was always that basic bedrock of agreement on the kind of country we are and should be. Epithets such as ZaNuLabour always seemed to me to be overblown and to miss the point that honourable men and women can disagree about matters of great importance while still agreeing on the principles within which the discussion is held.

It seems that I was wrong.

The arrest of a Conservative Front-bench spokesman by 9 anti-terror police for no crime other than being in receipt of leaked information from the Home Office is nothing short of the use of the official power of the Executive to suppress political dissent. Weasel words from the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister about not being aware of the arrest are denials of knowledge of only of the specifics of the police operation. They have not denied instigating the investigation or even authorising the arrest of an opposition MP, and if their carefully chosen words do not rule that out then there is a reason. There is no way on God's green earth that the Metropolitain Police would have acted in the way that they did unless they had discussed and agreed their approach at the highest level. If they hadn't then the Home Secretary would have been calling for their heads right now. She isn't, so therefore she is implicated.

Labour have brought in three times more criminal law then the comparible period of Conservative government. Much of it is under the banner of anti-terrorism legislation. Yet it is an open secret in the legal community that government departments have used such legilsation as a vehicle to put things onto the statute book that would otherwise stand no change of becoming law. A high-priced city lawyer who has worked for the government put that to me just the other day. This is why somone heckling at Labour party conference can be ejected under anti-terror laws. This is why local councils can conduct surveillance operations against litter-droppers under anti-terror laws. This is why an Member of Parliament can be arrested and held for hours and all of their records confiscated under anti-terror laws. Except that in none of these cases was there a terrorist, or any connection to terrorists.

There will be an accounting for this; a political price and maybe a personal price for many of the principal actors as the affair unravels. The government's actions have been condemned from Left to Right. No newspaper has supported Labour repression, and even broadcast journalists are finding it difficult to stay neutral. The Labour government is in a place where the only support it has on this issue are unthinking partisans. Many of their own members, judging from the chat on LabourHome, are recoiling in horror. Labour's poll numbers are going to be hit, and coming after the failure of the PBR in political terms Brown's bounce is well and truly over. So, they have a choice, the same choice faced by Robert Mugabe when his political grip began to weaken, democracy or repression. Do they step away from the road to the police state or do they pick up the pace?

By the way, if you think that I am giving into hyperbolae here then remember that the last time the executive cracked down on an oppositon MP in this sort of way was hundreds of years ago, and it started a war.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Labour's VAT cut won't work

It is rumoured that Labour will be proposing a 2.5% VAT cut tomorrow. This will no doubt lead to nice soundbites, but will it work to help the economy? Well, the general problem with fiscal stimulus, as with any measures that affect a system the size and complexity of the UK economy, is the lag between action and effect. It is known, for example, that interest rate changes take at least 3 months before they have any discernible effect, and up to 18 months to have their full effect on the economy. So, we are actually still living with the Bank of England's policy as it was over the last two years, and their recent handbrake turn is something for mid-2009, not today. It is similar with changes to taxation as they take time to work through people's incomes and affect their confidence and economic decision-making. So, a key factor in choosing taxation changes to stave off or ameliorate recession is how quickly the change inserts itself into the decision cycle. Reducing VAT is a bad choice simply because it does not immediately connect with the consumer. Prices may come down, but not in any uniform and easily discernible way, and it will be some time before people feel that they have any more money in their pockets to spend, which is the point. Reducing VAT also does nothing to affect employee retention, which was the Conservative proposal.

What the government should have done is reduce the tax burden on small business, remember that a rise in Corporation Tax for small business is still planned though there are rumours that at least may be postponed. What they really should have done is reduce income tax, because that is an unequivocal rise in personal income that the consumer would immediately notice, and so the lag effect would be reduced.

Tax cuts should have been matched by savings of course, but, hey, this is a Labour government.

New Labour Bombshell

This sums it up very nicely:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

BNP Membership List online

Someone has put the entire BNP membership list online. On the face of it this is a gross breach of Data Protection law, and both the BNP and the perpetrator are responsible. The BNP have a duty to protect the personal information of their members and they have clearly failed. Whoever leaked it has ridden roughshod over the privacy of thousands of individuals. Both could be prosecuted or be subject to action from the Information Commissioner.

The information also throws up an insight or two on the BNP's support base, which is summed up in an article on Labourhome entitled 'The BNP IS Labour's problem'. Basically, if you have a predominately Labour-voting area then you get BNP support. Conservative areas tend to reject them.

By the way, if you want to check out the list then it would be irresponsible of me to tell you to go and look on Wikileaks.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Tax cuts?

Following Barack Obama's win in the US on a tax-cutting platform, there are rumours that this formerly taboo subject is coming to British politics. According to the Mail, David Cameron will be unveiling something of this ilk on Tuesday. Labour actually have more scope for this now that they have decided that our children can pick up the tab for anything they want to spend. Expect them to steal any policy pronto.

Brown bounce - Conservatives 13 points ahead

The Telegraph has a poll today that puts the Conservatives 13 points ahead of Labour. Data for the poll came before the Glenrothes by-election, but that result needs a bit of perspective. It was a safe Labour seat. The major challengers were the SNP, in power in both the unpopular local Council and the Scottish government, and they ran the local Council leader of said unpopular local Council as their candidate. There was also something else: the SNP's key policy is independence for Scotland, pointing to the supposedly successful Scandinavian economies. That played pretty well during the late boom, but now with Scotland's banks baled out by the Bank of England and Iceland demonstrating that a nation can run out of cash, this looks a little less credible. In fact, it looks a lot less credible. So, a number of factors in play that wouldn't apply in an national election. Gordon Brown will not be going for an early poll.

That having been said, there is a window for Brown here on the economy, but to jump through it he would have to junk a lot of what has gone before. Prepare either for U-turns or dogma.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bashing the Banks

Quite a lot in the press over the last few days about the evil banks failing to pass on the Bank of England's 1.5% interest rate cut until the government put on the squeeze. It's nonsense of course, but the media seem to have fallen for it and, after all, it makes for good copy. Following a change to the Bank of England's overnight rate each bank has to calculate the effect on its finances, and even allowing that some of that can be done in advance there is still the mechanical process to change financial products to match. This is not a small deal, typically taking days to ensure that all of the systems are correctly set up for new pricing. So, it was always going to take time for the banks to react to the Bank of England's move and the suggestion that the delay was anything other than business as usual suggests some masterful spinning from No. 10.

The other funny thing is the way that criticism of the banks has changed from lending too easily to lending too strictly. Now that the banks have got taxpayer's money it is apparently OK to write bad loans is it? The is an illogical position: public money was not given to the banks to waste it and normal credit risk considerations have to apply or else the taxpayer will be wondering in a few years where all the cash has gone.

The fact is that the banks are a traditional easy target for the press and can be castigated no matter what they do. Where were the these journalists when Icesave was running a Ponzi scheme or RBS was wrecking itself in a ludicrously overpriced acquisition? They missed the stories then, and they are allowing the government to feed them its propaganda now.

Basildon Council debates secrecy

We had an extraordinary Council on Monday, called by the Labour Party around this motion:
This Council believes that local democracy is strengthened if the business of the authority is conducted in an open and transparent way. Council expresses its concern that the current administration seems to prefer secrecy to open government and furthermore calls upon the administration to fully embrace the principles of openness, transparency and fairness in its dealings.
The Labour Party simultaneously tried to present the idea that Basildon's Conservative administration deliberately runs as a secret cabal while also asking in a bipartisan way for more information for backbenchers. Now, there is an interesting debate to be had about the role of backbench Councillors and the way that a Council's decisions are subject to proper scrutiny, but you can't run that at the same time as accusing the Council's Cabinet of deliberately keeping people in the dark. One is an apolitical look at the way the Council operates, the other is knockabout. So, of course the debate was its usual partisan row that moved the issue on not a jot.

If Labour are serious about this then calling extraordinary meetings with critical motions is simply not the way to go. Oh, and for those who don't know the recent political history of Basildon, the way the Council currently operates was designed by Basildon Labour Party.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

BBC all out of friends

Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, has quite a few things to worry about after the Ross-Brand debacle. He has forthcoming reports from OFCOM and the BBC Board of Governors on the subject, and the problem of getting his organisation back under some sort of editorial control. He should have one greater worry, however. In the recent row those speaking up in support of the BBC were noticeable by their almost complete absence. While the BBC was being pilloried by press, public and politicians there was almost no-one stepping up to remind us of the supposed value of taxpayer-funded TV. When the Mail on Sunday ran a poll to determine the level of support for the license fee the numbers were appalling from the BBC's perspective with 74% considering the current cost unjustified. There were some other interesting numbers too, with 71% of the youth audience supposedly served by Brand and Ross rejecting their behaviour. You could not imagine the BBC's 1990s campaign to promote the license fee being run today, which is pretty bad for an organisation that depends utterly on the license fee for its income.

How have things come to this pass? Well, there are three main reasons for the BBC's crumbling support. First, paying Jonathon Ross £6m a year is indefensible and the public see it as a waste of money, their money. Second, the BBC's insistence on chasing every audience segment, including those exciting by obscenity and abuse had removed any moral authority it may once have had. All any journalist has had to do to make the point is to quote the BBC's own content at its senior executives, and they have been doing that all week, including a seminal interview on the BBC’s own Newsnight with the DG where he was confronted with an appalling joke about the Queen, which I will not repeat here. Third, the systematic bias against the Conservatives has removed any support from one half of the British political divide entirely. If the BBC don't think that this will hurt them under a Conservative government then they are being hopelessly naive.

So, we have a public body that has lost the support of the public for its means of funding from the public, and which has also alienated the party currently running a double digit lead in the polls.

This is how institutions end.

Labour blames the soldiers for equipment failings

An SAS Major has resigned over the government's repeated failure to give his men the equipment that they need in Afghanistan. The bit of kit at issue is the Snatch Landrover, which was designed to resist rifle bullets and petrol bombs in Ulster, but which has no place on a battlefield that includes heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, landmines and shaped-charge roadside bombs. The government minister in charge reacted thus:
'there may be occasions when in retrospect a commander chose the wrong piece of equipment, the wrong vehicle, for the particular threat that the patrol or whatever it was encountered and we had some casualties as a result'
So, basically, when four of his men were blown up in a vehicle that was considered cutting-edge in 1970 it was all his fault. There you have it: Labour's complete contempt for our armed forces and their utter refusal to take responsibility for the young lives lost because of their incompetence and malice.

And they have the nerve to wear poppies.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Basildon Council has no money in Icelandic Banks

Just to be clear, Basildon District Council has no cash in Icelandic Banks. At the turn of the year members voted on an ultra-cautious investment policy, because we didn't like the way the markets looked at all. I am not saying that we were prescient, but it didn't take a great brain to work out that the international money markets were not working as they should. So, we elected only to have short terms placements at the best of the UK banks and building societies, and if we lost a quarter point of interest here and there it was a price worth paying. It is very sad that not everyone took this view, and it will be interesting to know how much of this poor-decision making was down to elected member policy, and how much was financial professionals getting it wrong.

Friday, October 03, 2008

'Superb David Cameron'

The world has tilted from its axis. Simon Heffer has written in glowing terms on David Cameron's conference speech:
David Cameron made a superb speech at Birmingham. It cast Gordon Brown's laboured effort at Manchester eight days earlier into the shade in terms of delivery, content and credibility.
Never mind the praise, the tone and the language has changed out of all recognition. It is 'David Cameron' or 'Mr. Cameron' not 'Dave'. Gone is the playground abuse and instead we have what is actually quite a good critical review of the speech. The problem that Mr. Heffer has is that he has to row back quite a long way from years of taking the mickey and, until a year ago, heaping praise on Gordon Brown. However, we should not be churlish, because this is actually quality writing. Actually, it is sad. What an excellent body of work Simon Heffer could have created over the years if he had put his mind to it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brilliant Speech from Cameron

That ranked as one of the best political speeches I have ever heard. Simple in style, devoid of rhetorical flourishes, incisive in its diagnosis of what is wrong with our country and firm in its presentation of solutions.

Highlights for me:
  • Sound money, no debt binge under Cameron
  • Individual responsibility and responsiblity for professionals and organisations outside of Whitehall
  • An end to the health and safety culture though specific legislation
  • 3p off Corporation Tax
  • Calling on the government not to appeal the High Court decision on the Gurkhas, huge cheer from the floor on this one
  • All Conservative Euro MPs to sign up to transparency of expenses, or they stop being Conservative Euro MPs
  • Tackling parliamentary sleaze
  • Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty
He told a story that perfectly illustrated the gulf between the Labour Party's inflated view of their own virtue and the grim reality. A man whose wife died under appalling circumstances in a hospital received a letter from Alan Johnson via David Cameron's office. It was read out and it was a ghastly example of apparatchik, bureaucratic Labour doublespeak that summed up exactly what was wrong with Labour in government. This to a widower. You just wanted something very bad to happen to the heartless scumbag who composed it and to the Minister who let things like that go on in their department. The sooner both are gone the better.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TaxPayers Alliance Handy Calculator

Try it here.

Mislaid another bank

Bradford and Bingley has collapsed and it to be nationalised. This is for the same reason, broadly speaking, as Northern Rock: a dodgy mortgage portfolio sold without adequate credit risk control that was paid for from the money markets rather than retail deposits. So, when the money markets dried up no one would take the mortgages a security, or at all, and that was that. The government is probably right to step in, provided it does what it should have done with Northern Rock and immediately breaks up the business. It needs to sell off the good bits, shut down the bad bits, and reassure depositors. Sadly, that probably means the end for the B&B's loyal staff, most of whom were not a party to the poor decisions of their board, exacerbated by a tripartite regulatory system that is a new synonym for failure.

So, what needs to be done now? Well the Conservatives are starting to propose the sorts of measures that are needed in the form of a reform of banking regulation, and public finances that are not built on excess debt and off balance-sheet vehicles. I have no inside information, but this is what I think: first, we need transparent public finances. No more rubbish about 'borrowing only to invest across the economic cycle' or an 'end to boom and bust', with rhetoric replacing realistic public policy. Fortunately, the smart money is that is exactly what George Osborne will be talking about tomorrow at Conservative Party Conference. Then we need to revert to a system of banking regulation that actually works. That means an end to the Treasury, the FSA and the Bank of England collectively failing to notice a crisis until queues started forming outside of bank branches. So, one regulator, and I would plump for the Bank of England in that role. Then we need to look at Bank's capital adequacy requirement, which is how much cash they keep on hand relative to lending. This needs to be increased and banks cannot be allowed to sidestep it by securitising loan books, which takes them off the balance sheet in a way that avoids regulation but not risks. We also need a better way of measuring asset quality, though the markets are probably taking care of that, and a way of reflecting the underlying funding for bank business. So, there needs to be a limit on what proportion of loans can be funded out of money market activity as opposed to customer deposits or other long-term debt. Put simply, the timescale for most long-term lending must match the timescale for the funding. Otherwise institutions are exposed to grotesque market risks. It is not accidental that the banks that have failed had the highest exposures of this type.

As Gordon Brown said, the 'age of irresponsibility' is at an end. Given he is the architect of it then he goes too.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

US bailout makes sense

The idea of letting bankers escape the consequences of their own folly leaves a bad taste, especially if the bailout is provided from public funds. Some people are dead against it, others have doubts, and the point is made that other businesses are allowed to go to the wall, why not banks? The answer is another question: do you have a bank account? As the answer is almost certainly yes then you can see the problem. If a carmaker or a retailer or an estate agent goes under then it can be very bad, but the damage is limited, at least on the national scale. If a bank goes under it can be catastrophic for a wide swathe of the country. That means people in fear for their savings, business denied the capital they need to survive, mortgages climbing to punitive rates and the very mechanisms by which the commerce on which we all depend getting done under threat. So banks, popular or not, have such an important role in a modern society that letting them crash is like refusing to put out a fire in your house just because the person you live with started it.

The thing is that the actual malpractice at the root of all this belongs to only a limited number of players in the world financial system. Some banks in the US invented a thing called the NINJA loan, which stands for 'no income, no job, no assets'. This is a loan product for people who have no prospect of paying it back, and yes, this is as bonkers as it sounds. You can do this sort of business in a rising property market because if the victim defaults, and they do in droves, you just reposses and sell on into a rising market. These mortages were securitised, sold on, and, well, you know the rest. There were some UK near-equivalents in the Northern Rock 125% 'Together' mortgage, but nothing nearly so bad. Most banks have been caught out be the problems in the Money Markets, not by bad loans, at least not to the point that they will fail. So, a bailout makes sense, and it doesn't even mean that most of those getting it are undeserving.

We do need better regulation though. Unfortunately, most of the horses are long gone.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's not greed

Lots of soul searching in the Sunday papers about the current crisis in the world's markets. In particular there is a lot of railing against 'greed' as the prime cause of everyone's woes. Well, that allows journalists to get on their moral high horses and to preach to a willing congregation of readers who, let's face it, never liked bankers anyway. The problem is that is rubbish. Greed is a fairly basic human trait and has featured in at least some aspects of business since time immemorial. Or are we really saying that particular vice was invented at the same time as short selling? Assigning the present difficulties to greed is lazy journalism and lazy politics and there has been plenty of both.

The actual problem is not greed, it is complexity, and it is complexity that people mistakenly thought could be managed by computers. Modern IT systems can manipulate data by the terabyte and in a mass of the most complex algorithms, far beyond the scope of general understanding, to the point where only a few backroom experts really know what is going on. Now that is fine for some things, not everyone needs to understand exactly how that reactor core is kept stable or that satellite is kept on station. People do need to understand products in a market though, if they are going to make intelligent decisons about them, and this is where it all went wrong. Financial instruments were packaged and securitised and hedged against in a multiplicity of ways so that there was no intuitive understanding, even by the people who traded in them. It didn't matter though, because the underlying asset values, primarily domestic and commerical property, kept going up in value. Understanding risk is not important when in the short term there isn't any. We all know what happened next: asset values started to fall, because they are cyclic and they always do eventually. Then understanding risk was suddenly very important, and no-one did. The rest, as they say, is history.

It wasn't greed, it was plain old stupidity, the same old stupidity that comes periodically from people trying to adapt to a changing world. And adapt we must, learning the lessons, making the changes and so on. We have had a colossal failure of banking and banking regulation, because for this to have happened very large numbers of people must have nodded and smiled and looked the other way when some of them were actually paid to ask very hard questions instead. That has to change, but it must be remembered that the reaction to the last broadly similar convulsion of the financial sector in 1929 was so wrong-headed that it led to the Great Depresson, fascism, World War Two and the Cold War. We need decent leadership and a regulatory framework that does not crush the market's ability to create wealth, because if economic growth goes into prolonged reverse then the political downsides are too awful to contemplate. So, let's hear less moralistic sound-bites about greed eh? This is just a little too serious for posturing to be the only response.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Perspectives on the Market Crisis

A lot of nonsense is being talked regarding the current crisis. That short-sellers brought down HBOS, that the world is going to end, that Gordon Brown has got a grip. The reality is somewhat different. In the end HBOS was the victim of a business model that was not designed to deal with a severe downturn, short selling only amounted to a few percentage points of the activity on their shares over the last few days. That didn't stop Alex Salmond sounding off though in a concentrated whinge about the fate of a Scottish institution. Then we have had some predictions of the apocalypse, largely from the same sort of people who thought the good times would never end. The fact is that business cycles have existed since, well, ever. They are documented to at least the Middle Ages. So, what goes down does eventually go up. It would take a series of catastrophic misjudgements to prolong the current crisis beyond the norm, which, unfortunately does mean a slowdown of at least a couple of years. All of this leaves Gordon 'an end to boom and bust' Brown looking like a bit of a fool. Now the Labour Party is trying to spin a narrative that he is the man uniquely qualified to bail the country out. This is very, very high risk stuff indeed. Collapse the government's competence down to one man and you make the argument about him. If he doesn't, or can't, deliver then that is the game. If I were them I would really push policy, not personal factors, because policy can change but your people can't, unless you fire the Prime Minister of course.


Friday, September 19, 2008

BNP come third in Noak Bridge

The results are in for the Noak Bridge Parish Council by-election. There were two independent candidates and the BNP, who put out three leaflets and canvassed extensively. It is in the context of all that effort that the result should be considered:

Party Votes %
Independent 244 49%
Independent 166 33%
British National Party 89 18%

They lost, and lost badly in a field that included none of the other parties that regularly fight elections in Basildon District. I am very proud of our people today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tories on 52%

Apparently there is going to be a Mori poll published at midnight putting the Conservatives on 52%. Two things spring to mind: firstly Simon Heffer will now start complaining that David Cameron has failed because he hasn't broken 60%.

Secondly, who are this 24% who still want to vote Labour?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Gordon Brown in deep trouble

This from Nick Robinson's blog a couple of days ago:
The PM, it seems, has been saved for now at least not by anything he's done but by an atmosphere of weary resignation that has taken over much of his party.
Robinson has, to be fair, recognised that this is the equivalent of the Michael Fish 'no hurricane' forecast just before the south of England was hit by a, well, hurricane. Gordon Brown is now in deep trouble, with up to 23 backbench MPs doing to him what he did to Tony Blair, that is to create an environment where he can no longer function as Prime Minister regardless of what the party rulebook says. Labour's arcane system requires 70 odd MPs to precipitate a leadership contest, but the current rebellion calculates that far fewer than that number can put Gordon Brown under enough pressure that he goes. His options are limited: cannot ask for loyalty, because he showed none to Tony Blair; he cannot rely on his electoral mandate within the Labour party, because he and his cronies engineered it so that there was no election. All that is left is force and so far, the response to the rebels has been brutal, with sackings from whatever position held for the crime of, wait for it, asking for a ballot paper as allowed under Labour Party rules. It also begs the question of how the names of the requesters have become know to Gordon's operation, and that is the subject of much debate in online political circles. These heavy-handed tactics might keep Gordon in position in the short term, but they come at a cost of moral authority both within the party and the country.

Politically, Gordon Brown is finished, but at this rate he will drag down his party too. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair stood aside because, ultimately, they were not prepared to do that. Does Gordon have that sense of historical perspective and moral courage, or is he a dictator who cares not what comes after him as his foes close in on his bunker. If it is the latter then the focus of history has become needle sharp on the events of the next few days. Always remember that political parties can die.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

BNP on our doorstep

We have a by-election for Noak Bridge Parish Council, and the BNP are standing. Now, in Basildon the political parties don't usually stand in Parish elections, leaving the politics out of it at that very local level. The BNP don't play like that though, and they are quite happy to run an election campaign full of lies and on issues that a Parish Council can't do anything about. Hot flash: Noak Bridge Parish Council can't affect immigration policy, not that you would believe that based on the BNP leaflets. As for claims that the 'Council' wants to build 10700 houses in the fields around Noak Bridge, helpful map provided, that is the Labour government's housing target for Basildon and Basildon Council's policy is to build in the existing urban footprint, not on the Green Belt. This is also another thing that is nothing to do with a Parish Council.

Of course, the BNP have form in all of this. Up and down the country the BNP has managed to win the odd election through a mixture of lies and distortions. When elected, their Councillors show little interest in public service, and anyway they cannot deliver on their promises. After that the electorate usually wises up and they are dumped. Hopefully, we won't have to see that cycle in Noak Bridge.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Labour isn't dumping Brown

Simon Heffer writes a piece in which he suggests that the obvious course of action for the Parliamentary Labour party to get of Gordon Brown:
...Labour MPs know what to expect when a party continues to be loyal to an obviously defeated and discredited leader. The party soon loses so heavily that it is out of power for several terms. For many MPs, it is the end of a political career. Many ministers suffer a similar fate, eventually clawing their way back into employment only after two or three years of misery and humiliation. Does Labour want its own 1997?

Self-interest should dictate it does not.
If it was that obvious then why is nothing much happening? Gordon Brown is an electoral disaster who possesses none of the policy and character strengths of a John Major. That he has to go is indeed obvious, but it might not happen, and there is a reason for this. According to a parliamentary friend of mine, you have to think about who Labour MPs actually are. For most of them being an MP is the best job that they have ever had, more responsibility and better pay then they could command in the private sector. Most Conservatives on the other hand take pay cuts to enter parliament. So, let's say you are a Labour MP. You are on a majority of a few thousand and mathematically virtually certain to lose your seat at the next election. You have been told that a change of leader means an early election, which will make you unemployed. So, you back Gordon because at least that means nearly two more years in work. If there is going to be a coup it will come from those with majorities in the 6-8000 range who have everything to play for, but given Labour's arcane rules there aren't enough of them against the small majorities and the huge majorities who have no particular reason to dump Gordon. That is why he clings one.

Just where did you think the 'a new leader means an early election' stuff actually comes from?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Wat Tyler project well underway

Basildon's Conservative Council regeneration portfolio is not short of major projects. This reflects our activist approach to improving our community. Basildon Tories don't just sit about, we get things done despite jibes from our local Labour party. I remember a comment from a Labour Councillor a while ago while we were discussing our plans in a Council meeting along that lines that 'you haven't built anything yet'. Well the George Hurd Centre opened recently, a £2m centre for the elderly housing a day centre and offices for voluntary organisations working with the elderly. We have now been asked by the Audit Commission if they can use that project as an example of best practice by Local Authorities, because of the way we managed to get it built at no cost to the Council as part of a land swap deal that also saw the provision of affordable and social housing for our people. Our next opening is likely to be the Heritage Centre at Wat Tyler park, which has been paid for largely by Lottery funding and which will boost the attractiveness of what is already an excellent public asset. Building work is progressing well and the project is on time to complete for an opening next year. This compliments the other regeneration efforts in Pitsea, which are also proceeding apace.

The only cloud on the horizon is the general economic malaise, which has hit the property industry especially hard. This has had the effect of winnowing out poor projects around the country, and all of ours are still in progess, but recession and uncertainty are not friends of large-scale regeneration. Better national leadership can make a real difference here. Can we have some please?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Did you miss the Relaunch?

Was that it? This was supposedly the week where Gordon Brown fought back, releasing a series of eye-catching policies that put the government back onto the political offensive and started to rebuild trust and support among the electorate. Except he didn't. The Stamp Duty freeze was pitched only at the low end of the market and adds up to trivial money against the size of the housing market. The increased fuel allowance never happened. And, er.., that's it. In the middle of this of course Charles Clarke unleashed his broadside and, tellingly, Gordon Brown was only defended by a backbencher, a couple of junior ministers and Ed Balls, a man who would be standing next to the Prime Minister against the bullet-scarred wall if it all were to come to an end. The Cabinet kept quiet. No senior minister rallied to the boss. Not one. Meanwhile the polls stay awful and another Scottish by-election is coming up with even worse prospects than Glasgow East. Then there is Labour party conference where it is already being said that Gordon has to give the speech of his life. Huh? Most people don't watch party conference speeches and even if Gordon Brown makes a good speech it does nothing to change the dynamics of the situation. The reality is that the government is dysfunctional, and everyone knows it. Labour keep giving Gordon brown another month, then another month, to do what? If he could do something then he would have done it by now, unless he is some sort of political masochist.

The question is if the Labour party are political masochists.

UPDATE: After I had posted this I came across and article that puts me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with Polly Toynbee. Or maybe it puts her in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with me...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

'Labour is destined to disaster if we go on as we are'

So says Charles Clarke in the New Statesman, where he delivers a devastating critique of Brown's henchmen's use of the word 'Blairite' to marginalise anyone who criticises them. His is one of those who 'fear that Labour's current course will lead to utter destruction at the next general election' and states that 'we will not permit that to happen'. This is fighting talk, but his analysis of Labour's current situation is pretty much spot on. Brown is trying to characterise anyone who criticises him from within Labour's ranks as a malcontent supporter of the former Prime Minister, hoping to capitalise on the discomfort that many in Labour felt with their most successful Prime Minister, well, ever. What he isn't doing is anything to reverse his party's current poor electoral performance and historically low level of support. Over the last few days we saw the much heralded relaunch, which consisted of marginal unfunded support for the housing market that no expert thinks will make a blind bit of difference. In political terms it was like a pebble in a pond: a few ripples and then gone. Labour remain in their hole, with a party conference coming up that is likely to descend into civil war.

I'll get some popcorn in.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Darling vs. Brown

So, it wasn't a grand strategy then. When Darling spoke out he was freelancing, maybe thinking about his place in history, or finally discovering some shreds of self-respect. Whatever the reason, he told the truth as he saw it, for a short while at least. Brown wasted no time in putting Darling back into his box, but no-one could mistake his mumbled retreat for enthusiastic support for the Prime Minister. Of course, the problem with all of this is that the topic of disagreement is the British economy. Brown and Darling rowing about just how doomed we all are cannot but cause a loss of confidence, and that has translated into a mini-run on sterling which may in turn lead to people getting tossed out of their jobs and having their homes repossessed.

Dysfunctional government may be interesting spectacle, but we all have to live here.

The difference between boys and girls

My two small offspring were presented with similar soft toys in the shape of a pig.

Girl's choice of name: Piggy

Boy's choice of name: Lothar, destroyer of the undead.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Darling admits economy is tanking

The stock government response to the recession has been to downplay it, and when that didn't work to claim that things were worse under the Conservatives in the early 1990s. Given the daily reality that most people face the first was insulting and the second irrelevant. Now they are trying a new tack, actually admitting it's all rather bad, in fact the worst it has been for 60 years, which means since the great depression. At least Alastair Darling has said this, in an interview with the Guardian. So, this raises a question: is this a change of language from the government? Or is it just a change of language from the Chancellor in contrast to the claims from his boss that things aren't so bad? This story broke this evening in an interview for tomorrow's paper, so I would expect a vigorous journalistic follow-up over the next couple of days that will tell us if this really is a new strategy. My small experience of public policy is that admitting things are bad is quite a good idea when they are actually bad, with the important proviso that you then have to credibly sort them out. Admitting that all is gloom and then failing gets you nowhere. In fact it leaves you with nowhere to hide. In the murky world of Labour's internal politics, Darling might just have deliberately hung his boss out to dry. George Osborne certainly picked up on this when he asked "Who is telling the truth at the top of government?". Who indeed?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Brown and Darling driving British business abroad

Under Tony Blair Labour understood the importance of thriving business to Britain. Business provides jobs and brings in tax revenue and so any government of any stripe needs commerce to meet any other objectives that it may have. Brown and Darling have thrown that all away with incoherent tax policies that squeeze multinational businesses, presumably in some effort to placate the brothers in Transport House or their own back benches. Now British business is voting with their feet and becoming Irish business instead. Tax revenue and jobs are leaving our shores thanks to these two incompetents, who don't recognise that you cannot run a high-tax regime and expect everyone just to knuckle down and pay up. Even more stark is the news of revived US growth on the back of tax cuts and financial stimulus from their government. Meanwhile our hapless, dithering duo have done absolutely nothing to help British business and British people, except to trail plans about maybe changing Stamp Duty and wrecking the housing market in the process. This recession may have its origins abroad, but no government has done so little to deal with it than Brown's Labour shower.

Brown maybe a bright chap, but he has no leadership qualities that are at all evident. Darling is just his poodle, an empty suit without a shred of self-respect. They are dithering while our country needs help and it is unforgivable. Come the next election they will find out just how unforgiving the electorate can be.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

John Baron MP says give teachers the powers they need to sort out discipline

Growing concerns over violence and disruption in schools and on the streets

John Baron MP has welcomed recent policy proposals announced by the Conservatives to restore classroom discipline and raise standards of behaviour in schools.

Life in local communities is being marred by violence and disruption in schools – and on the streets as well from children playing truant. These social problems hit the poorest areas the hardest. Bureaucratic rules imposed by the Labour Government have made it harder for teachers to keep order, while false allegations and assaults on teachers have never been higher.

Since 1997, across Essex, the number of permanent exclusions from secondary schools has fallen by 10% – not because of better discipline, but because it has become more difficult to exclude troublemakers.

Conservative proposals include:

· Restoring the authority of headteachers, by ending the right to appeal against exclusions to external panels. Parents would still have a right of appeal to school governors – who are the people who should decide such matters.

· Changing the law so that teachers can physically restrain violent pupils if they need to.
· Establishing new protections for teachers from false and malicious allegations.
· Give headteachers the freedom to pay bonuses to teachers who do a good job.
· Allow headteachers to ban any items they think may cause violence or disruption in schools.

John said:

“In too many of our schools, good education is ruined by bad behaviour. The problem doesn’t lie with teachers – but with the Government’s rules and regulations which stop teachers instilling proper discipline. Conservatives will give teachers and heads the powers they need to tackle disruptive kids, improve standards and ensure parents have a real choice over where to send their child.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

Latest Election Prediction

A new prediction has been posted on 24 August 2008 at

Polls in the recent few weeks show a stable, or slightly increasing, lead for the Conservatives over Labour. Populus (Times) has 16% (up by 3%), YouGov (Sunday Times) has 20% (down by 2%), and Ipsos-MORI has 24% (up by 4%). Unchanged are both ICM (Guardian) on 15% and today's ComRes (Independent on Sunday) on 21%.

Overall and on average, the Conservative lead is 19%, which is 1% higher than last month, and a historical record for recent years.

The current prediction is that the Conservatives will have a majority of 172 seats, winning 411 seats (+6 seats since 27 July 2008).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

There is no hope with Gordon

That wasn't my title, it came from a post on Labourhome of all places, where at least some members of the Labour party are no longer in denial. The poster's central point that Gordon is electoral poison is spot on. Should be interesting when all the politicos are back at work in September...

Professers slam NICE on cancer drugs

I have a particularly nasty cancer, Multiple Myeloma. When I was diagnosed five years ago I was told I probably had two years to live. Today the disease is in remission thanks to the excellent care that I have had with the team at St Bartholomew's (Barts) Hospital, where I went through three clinical trails in the course of my treatment. In each case that gave me exposure to the way we test and then license cancer drugs in the UK, and my view is that the system betrays the hard work of the doctors on the front line when the National Institute for Clinical Excellence refuses to licence drugs that save or prolong life on the basis of some opaque actuarial calculation. Basically, they put a monetary value on a year of human life and then plug drug performance into a spreadsheet on that basis. If the drug is 'cost-effective' then it gets licensed and becomes available on the NHS. If the drug doesn't deliver 'value' for money then it gets the thumbs down. Now that may sound reasonable, except that they don't show anyone their models and there are many cases where every similar body in the developed world disagrees with their conclusions. This leads to situations where some cancer drugs are available almost everywhere else in the world except for England, and that includes such faraway and different places as Scotland. For example the drug that initially saved my life, Velcade, fell foul of this process until a general outcry caused a change of heart. This disgraceful situation is now the subject of a letter to the Times, signed by no less than 26 professers of medicine working in cancer research.

Something needs to be done to stop the tragic situation of desperate patient selling their homes to fund cancer drugs that are available free of charge everywhere else in the world than England. Others, of course, just die in pain for the want of modern treatment. It seems that there is no end to the damage that this numbers-obsessed government can do.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Latest government data cock-up

Now the Home Office has contrived to lose data covering the entire prison population of 84000, plus another 30000 people who are on the Police National Computer, on an unencrypted memory stick. My profession is IT, and one of things that I do is run records management for a FTSE 100 so I do know what I am talking about when I say that there is no excuse at all for this. Firstly sensitive data should never be consigned to portable storage, unless is as part of a courier transit from one secure location to another. If such transit is routine then it should be electronic, but in any case the data should be encrypted. Putting this sort of data on a memory stick, unencrypted is unforgivable, and the government's efforts to blame a contractor would have more credibility if the Home Office didn't already have form for doing exactly the same thing. The thing is that working with data in this way is usually not necessary. If you need to test software then data for that purpose can be desensitised, that is you change it to factitious details but in the correct format. So names become 'Joe Bloggs' or 'Jane Doe' and so on. On the rare occasions that you really need to work with real data, then you are very, very careful, or not, if you are this government.

My view is that this whole area needs some legislative focus. The most recent Criminal Justice bill adds large financial penalties for negligent data handling, but the process of implementation will take until the middle of next year. Right now there are no meaningful penalties beyond bad publicity for an organisation that is incompetent as opposed to criminal in the way it handles personal data. This has to change if we want to stamp these sorts of blunders out.

This latest screwup also begs a question; would you trust this government to run a National Identity database?

Thought not.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Basildon won't follow Labour's car park advice

Labour's latest wheeze to hammer the motorist is that Councils should use car park charges in an effort to 'shape' the behaviour of their people. The idea appears to be that charges are put up, funny it is always about taxing people more, in order to deter people from using their cars and thus encouraging local shops and fitness. So, Local Government minister John Healey said,
Only one in five councils are using charging to the full potential. Not just to cover costs but to shape their area.
because it would help in
reducing congestion, improving levels of health and exercise, encouraging the use of local shops...
This is idiotic on a number of levels. Firstly, 90% of the built environment that will exist in the next 50 years is already here. Development takes many years. Today's cities, towns and villages are not laid out with a range of local shops within easy walking distance of everyone and so many people would just have to pay the charges because they had no alternative. Secondly, even if there were local shops it is inconceivable that every village or similar area could have the entire range of retail outlets that people need and so many people would just have to pay the charges because they had no alternative. Thirdly, people with limited mobility need their cars or else they do not go anywhere and so many people would just have to pay the charges because they had no alternative. Fourthly, even if you are able-bodied sometimes you just have too much to carry, like the weekly shop for a large family, and so many people would just have to pay the charges because they had no alternative.

Basically, people would have to pay up and, of course, flat charges that do not take income into account hit the poorest the hardest.

What Labour also fails to take into account is the fact that many car parks are not Council-owned, most supermarkets and many large shopping centres have free parking for example. So, what are they suggesting, that Council's kill the trade in the town centres where they typically do have car parks and leave the out-of-town shopping centres to benefit?

This is a silly and ill-thought out suggestion and we won't be doing anything like it in Basildon. What is it about the Labour Party that they are so addicted to taxing people so much?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Elite Sport in Basildon

Everyone is revelling in the success of our Olympic team after a magnificent weekend's competition. One can only extend congratulations and acknowledge the hard work of the athletes, coaches, organisers and support staff who have pushed Great Britain to number three in the medal table and given us all so many unforgettable images and memories. But looking at those proud, happy faces standing on the podiums to see their flag being raised I just think how good it would be if one of the gold medal winners was from Basildon, or Billericay, or Wickford, or Pitsea, or Laindon or one of our other communities here in Basildon District. Unfortunately, we have had a historic problem with that. You see our local Labour party had this thing about competitive sport: they didn't like it. Winners and losers offended their sense of equality, espcially winners who achieved at the highest level. So, our sporting infrastructure was designed specifically not to support competition, with small sports centres that are unsuitable for organised events, and a swimming pool deliberately designed to be just too short to meet competition standard. By the way when I tell that to people they usually assume I am making that up, but sadly it is true. If you don't believe me get down to Gloucester Park pool with a tape measure and you will find it is just short of the 25m length that would support competition.

Well, the Conservatives have a different approach. We want sport for all, and that means elite sport just as much as casual lesiure usage. So, we are progressively renewing our sporting infrastructure, will relaid all-weather pitches. New competition standard netball courts, an Athletic track brought up to AAA standard, and, of course, a brand new sporting village with a 50m, Olympic-size, pool. To be fair to the Labour Party today, they have shed their virulent hatred of excellence, though they still display occasional grumpiness with the whole sporting agenda. It's a pity that we lost a generation of potential elite sportsmen and women before they got with the program.

Maybe it could have been a Basildon boy or girl standing there with gold around their neck...?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Spin Exposed

It is Tuesday, Radio 4, World at One and James Plaskitt, Junior Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions is being interviewed by BBC journalist Shaun Ley:

Ley: Are you worried that this collection of economic statistics we've seen today, including obviously the rising unemployment figures, will further destabilise the prime minister's leadership ?

Plaskitt: I'm not commenting on that issue as I made clear at the outset. It's not about that.

Ley: But you're -

Press officer: We're only talking about today's employment figures.

Ley: Sure, but you're a minister, you're a member of his government.

Plaskitt: Well, the answer's no.

Ley: You don't think it will?

Plaskitt: No.

Absolutely incredible that a government press officer would cut into an interview this way. All credit to the BBC for broadcasting it, and that is interesting in itself. Shaun Ley offers up an explanation of what went on in his blog, but does anyone think that the Labour-supporting BBC of old would have hesitated in cutting out the press officer's intervention? It wasn't live so they could have done so easily. These are the people who didn't broadcast Neil Kinnock making a fool of himself before the 1992 election for no reason that has ever been adequately explained and the people who ran biased media against the Conservatives for decades. Could it be that the realisation that Labour may not be in power for much longer has emboldened them? Could it be that emerging debate on the future of the BBC has made them realise that systematic political bias is not a long-term survival strategy? In that at least I think that the damage has already been done.

Petition the Prime Minister to Create a dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital within the UK

We are engaged in a series of wars where we as a nation have not supported our military with either the equipment to fight, or the facilities to care for our servicemen and women. There is now a petition on the N0.10 site to Create a dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital within the UK:
With the growing numbers of wounded personnel repatriated to the UK and with continued growth in medically discharged personnel since the Falklands war to current conflicts and operations, our service men & women and veterans of previous operational service are owed the best medical care possible. The existing facilities are falling short and the NHS are not meeting the needs of veterans who still need treatment for their service related conditions. A dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital will greatly help resolve this National scandal since the complete closure of our military hospitals that has proved to be total folly.

We used to have many such dedicated hospitals, but in acts of short-sighted folly they were all closed. Right now our wounded get one ward of one NHS hospital. It is pitiful and it is not enough.

Sign the petition here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Liberal Democrats write off the North

The Policy Exchange has written a report that essentially says that regeneration of some northern communities is futile and the best thing for many of the people there is to move south. There is some other reasonably good stuff about devolving regeneration monies to Local Authorities, but the central idea that whole towns and cities should essentially be written off is as David Cameron said 'insane'. So, who wrote this claptrap? Well, according to the Telegraph two of the culprits at least are Liberal Democrats. So, why is David Cameron being pressed for comment. Where is Nick Clegg when you need him?

Gordon Brown has nothing to say

The South Ossetia crisis put me in mind of the early 90s when with the Cold War ended a lot of morons thought that was the end of war altogether. I well remember smug interviewers putting the probing question ‘who are our enemies now?’ to hapless politicos as if the lack of an immediate threat meant that we could disband our armed forces, all join hands and sing kumbaya. Unfortunately, that sort of thinking permeated into the body politic, and we cut our military so much that when the new wave of threats appeared they struggled to cope. People have come home in body bags because of those oh so clever people and now South Ossetia shows starkly how a major foreign policy crisis with a military dimension can boil up out of nothing.

What on earth did the Georgians think would happen? The Russians claim most of the people of South Ossetia as citizens and there were around 1000 Russian ‘peacekeepers’ already on the ground. The Georgian action may have been strictly legal in terms of International Law, this is Georgian territory after all, but moving military forces in on that scale was remarkably ill-advised. There was bound to be a Russian response, but the scale and speed of it bears some examination. From media reports it appears that the Russians brought air power to bear almost immediately, and followed that up with what appears to be an entire Motor Rifle Division, reported as the 42nd Guards. For those who aren’t familiar with the Russian Order of Battle, a MR Division is a combined arms force with over 150 tanks and over 250 other armoured fighting vehicles with well over 10000 men. The 42nd may also have some attached special forces. Mobilising something on that scale from barracks would take days, but it seems they were on the ground and advancing in about one day. That means that they were already at a high state of readiness and within striking distance of the Georgian border, which makes the Georgian action even more puzzling. How could they not notice a formation of that size so close and so ready for action?

Meanwhile, David Cameron has been saying exactly what the government should have been saying if they hadn’t outsourced our foreign policy to the EU. The Georgians may have made a terrible misjudgement, but the Russian reaction has gone well beyond being reasonable, with widespread air attack and ground action that is less designed to protect their people in South Ossetia and more designed to cripple Georgia as a nation. This is the point when Labour’s dithering and incompetence stops being funny. Our foreign policy should not be paralysed by a Prime Minister who can’t make a decision and a Foreign Secretary whose sole focus is getting the Prime Minister’s job.

Can we really afford another two years of this?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Government by leak

Here is how it goes: you are in government and want a few favourable column inches, so you leak a policy idea into the media and soak up the coverage without having to do a thing. Maybe the broad reaction is favourable, so you actually do what you said in the leak and get the benefit all over again. Then you announce the thing multiple times just to be on the safe side, each time conveniently forgetting that you've said it all before. It's the gift that keeps giving, squeezing the last bit of favourable spin out of any policy measure, fantastic! Except of course sometimes, such as when the measure might affect market decisions and skew them in some unwelcome direction. So it goes with Stamp Duty, where the normal government spinning process has kicked the housing market when it is down because, not unreasonably, people think that if they wait a bit the government might suspend the tax and save them a fortune.

The blunders of this government keep coming. This is not a Labour/Tory thing; this is increasingly an idiot/competent thing. You couldn't imagine this happening with Tony Blair, and I never thought I would ever write something like that.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

John Baron MP: FOI figures show NHS co-payments used to be allowed

MP says allowing patients to top-up would not mean the end of the NHS as we know it

Figures obtained by John Baron MP through Freedom of Information requests show that co-payments (or ‘top-ups’) were available in the NHS as recently as last year – before being stopped by guidance issued by the Department of Health. John has been campaigning against the ban on co-payments following the sad case of a constituent (Mrs Linda O’Boyle) who was refused funding for a cancer drug and then sought to pay privately. Under current arrangements, patients who go private for a drug not available on the NHS risk losing their entitlements to basic NHS care. Opponents of co-payments argue that topping-up would create a two-tier health service and undermine founding principles of the NHS. However, these new figures prove that co-payments were available in the past without any difficulties. A trust in Cornwall allowed 20 patients to co-pay for drugs which the NHS refused to fund before the ban was introduced.

Commenting, John said:

“The new figures show that co-payments were available in the NHS until last year without undermining its founding principles. Therefore, opponents of co-payments are wrong to argue they would mean the end of the NHS as we know it.”

“We always knew the present ban on top-ups is inhumane as it can result in NHS care being withdrawn from patients wishing to pay for drugs not available on the NHS. But these FOI figures also confirm the ban is illogical because it has been ignored in the past.”

“The latest NICE decision regarding the Bowel Cancer drugs shows just how far behind we are other European countries when it comes to patients accessing the latest treatments. This issue is not going away.”

From personal experience I know that the current situation regarding cancer drugs is perverse. NICE initially rejected the drug that saved my life, Velcade, and that decision almost certainly meant a number of people died in pain. The system couples that with making it impossible for people to pay for lifesaving drugs themselves, which means more early deaths and the attendant family tragedy. What kind of monsters are running our country? Don't they realise that these are real people, or maybe they just don't care.

Even worse than Heffer?

Simon Heffer is away, but a replacement has been drafted who spookily fills exactly the same niche as the great man himself. Her piece in the Telegraph leads on the case of the Conservative ex-candidate for Watford who engaged in a 3-year campaign of vandalism and harassment against is Liberal Democrat opponent, and her take on it is that David Cameron should 'speak up'. Now this man engaged in evil, criminal behaviour for which I fervently hope he will be justly punished. As soon as he was found out he immediately resigned from the Conservative Party, and if he hadn’t he would have been chucked out. What he was doing was not only against the Law, it was against the basic principles of the Conservative Party today, or at any time in the past for that matter. However, the reality is that every party attracts a certain number of bad people and the important thing is to note if their doings are broadly condoned or tolerated or if they are stamped on hard as soon as they are discovered. This man was in no doubt about the reaction of the Conservative Party so he walked before he got the boot.

What else is there to say? Does this woman seriously entertain the idea that this was in any way the way Conservatives are expected or encouraged to operate? If she does then she should lay out her case, and let's face it if she has something then it would be a huge news story. She won't do that of course because she has nothing. I'm an ex-parliamentary candidate, Constituency Chairman and current senior Councillor so I know of what I write. Conservative are expected to meet the highest standards in public life or else they cease to be Conservatives. There is nothing to this but one scumbag in Watford and the dripping pen of a columnist who has clearly been instructed to keep bashing David Cameron while Simon gets sunburnt. Oh, and the Liberal Democrats have jumped on this idea as well.

There's a surprise.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Labour pours more money down Northern Rock drain

Labour has poured another £3bn into Northern Rock, this time in the form of 'equity' in the failed bank. Let us be clear, if Northern Rock had not been nationalised then it would have gone bust. The ex-shareholders have not yet been compensated, so what we have is the government buying 'equity' in a bankrupt bank with a huge mortgage book of low quality loans in the middle of a housing crash and with a potentially huge unquantified liability to its former owners. This is not a good investment. They haven't even told us how much 'equity'? Does £3bn represent 10% of the bank when it is eventually floated back onto the stock market as is the supposed intention? Or is it 20%? More? Less? Who the hell knows. This is a simple case of good money after bad.

Nationalising Northern Rock made no sense in financial terms, but it was never about money, it was about Labour marginal seats. Make no mistake, if it had been called 'Southern Rock' and based in Guildford then it would have gone to the wall. That could not be allowed to happen to one of the biggest employers in one of Labour's heartlands so they used the taxpayers money to bail it out, and now to keep bailing it out because even with guaranteed government funding Northern Rock is still tottering. This is £3bn that the government can't use it to help the many people who are finding it tough as the country slides into recession. How about reducing taxes? How about kick-starting the housing market? How about reversing the punitive increase in Vehicle Excise Duty that hits the poorest families the hardest? No, instead the cash goes to preserving a few thousand jobs and a few jobs in particular: Labour MPs in the North East.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brown and I agree on something

That David Milliband's missive in yesterday's Guardian was a job application. The reaction is furious, and ill-judged, with anonymous briefings and two backbench MPs calling for Milliband to be sacked. Think on it, this is the Prime Minister laying into his own Foreign Secretary, careless of the damage such behaviour must do to his government. Where Blair would have taken it on the chin, at least in public, because he knew over-reaction would only given the story legs and credibility, Brown unleashes the great clunking fist and thereby puts 'Labour splits' onto front pages and news bulletins. Does he really think that he can keep the cabinet in line through fear? If that is true then the Labour frontbench are worms, but I don't believe that. These aren't Wehrmacht generals bound by some blood oath into ignoring the historical interests of their own people for the ravings of a madman, rather these are decent men and women with a commitment to public service, and, frankly, they won't be impressed. So, Milliband goes onto the radio today as if nothing had happened, and he still doesn't speak up for his boss. What will Gordon do next? Sack him?

Politics 101: keep people inside the tent, or you might become unexpectedly wet.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brown's challenger breaks cover

David Milliband broke cover today with an article in the Guardian talking about Labour renewal. For those not skilled in the art of political doubletalk what it really says is ‘I am a candidate for the forthcoming leadership election’. What it means is that Milliband has broken with the ‘caretaker leader from an older generation leading Labour to a not too catastrophic defeat at the next election then resigning in favour of a young Turk’ scenario. This would have seen our man placed to move smoothly in to pick up the pieces in opposition. Instead, he is going for the leadership of the party now, calculating that he could hang on to it even in defeat by blaming Brown for the mess. This is serious stuff; because now a credible challenger has emerged Brown will be faced by much the same dilemma that Blair faced with him. Is Milliband more dangerous to Brown in the Foreign Office or on the back benches? There are rumours of a reshuffle after all.

One thing is certain, Milliband is more dangerous to the Conservative Party than Brown ever could be.

Rubbish in Pitsea

So, they passed it. We are going to have a refuse treatment plant at Courtauld Road in Pitsea that will treat the rubbish of the whole of the South of the county, thanks to Essex County Council passing the planning application. This was opposed by Basildon District Council, all parties in a rare moment of unanimity, local pressure groups and the local population. In fact, I never met a single person in favour of the scheme who lived anywhere near the site. The real problem with one rubbish disposal site for such a huge area is getting the rubbish to the site in the first place. You have to remember that this development has been so long in gestation that the world has changed radically since it was devised. Today, the idea of 400 vehicle movements per day in order to ship rubbish to Basildon from as far away as Epping Forest seems absurdly unsustainable. Not that stopped Essex County Council’s planning committee.

Still, there is one ray of hope. The scheme depends on government funding in the tens of millions or else it goes nowhere. Right now the government hasn’t got a bean, and anyway they may not be the government for very much longer. There may be a few icebergs before a Titanic of rubbish sails into Pitsea.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Electoral Calculus says Labour doing better

From the Electoral Calculus website:
Recent polls still show a very strong Conservative lead over Labour, but one which
is slightly reduced from last month. Populus (Times) has 13% (down from 20%),
YouGov (Sunday Times) has 22% (up from 18%), ComRes (Independent on Sunday) has 21% (unchanged), ICM (Guardian) sees 15% (down from 20%), and Ipsos-MORI has 20% (up from 17%).

Overall the Conservative lead is 18% which is 1% lower than June. The prediction also includes the results of the recent YouGov poll in Scotland showing the SNP 4% ahead of Labour. As is our standard practice, we do not include the results of by-elections in the prediction because they are not a good predictor of subsequent general elections.

The current prediction is that the Conservatives will have a majority of 160 seats,
winning 405 seats (-1 seat since 28 Jun 2008).
Not really going to send Gordon on holiday with a spring to his step.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The other election on Thursday

This was a Council election in Westminster:

The Labour candidate was Dave Rowntree, whose previous claim to fame was as the drummer in Blur. He lost pretty spectacularly in a 14.1% swing to the Conservatives. What is significant is that this particular seat has never had anything other than a Labour Councillor from its inception. Gordon Brown's Labour continues to set records.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Labour grassroots react to Glasgow East

Catastrophe in Glasgow East, and it finally seems to be dawning on the people's party what everyone else figured out some time ago: Gordon Brown is electoral poison. So, the chaps at Labourhome are in open revolt, with an astonishingly candid debate on whether to ditch their leader.

The by-election result was awful for Labour, but hey, by-elections are not always a good guide to a subsequent general election. In this case, however, there is an interesting detail: turnout was high, only a little behind that in that last general election. This means Labour voters were not staying at home, they were coming out and voting for someone else. So, will someone tell me who exactly is today's Labour is meant to appeal to? They came fifth in Henley, so it's not the affluent. They lost in Crewe and Nantwich, so it's not the aspirational. They lost in Glasgow East, so it's not the struggling. Rejection right across the demographic spectrum is difficult to achieve, but Gordon Brown has managed it.

If they had the brains that God gave a weasel then Labour would ditch Brown. Let's hope they don't eh?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Glasgow East votes today

The punditry has more or less decided that Labour is going to squeak home in Glasgow East tonight. That the result is even a matter for debate is a commentary on where Labour is under Gordon Brown's leadership, though perhaps 'leadership' is too strong a word. The result is everything. If Labour's majority is slashed then everything depends on how much by. A very close result will put the fear of God into Labour MPs much farther afield than Scotland. If Labour lose then Brown is, as a parliamentary friend of mine put it, toast.

Simon Heffer does OK

I have been quite critical about Simon Heffer in the past, but one must be fair. His last column actually wasn't too bad.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Basildon to keep emptying the bins

Public health has improved enormously since the days of the Victorians, and that improvement is largely down to the Victorians. However, it isn’t advances in medicine, even widespread immunisation, which has increased life expectancy since the days that we sent children up chimneys. That has largely come from seemingly simple measures such as clean water, sewerage and the efficient collection of waste. So, Local Authorities have a duty to collect the rubbish that is a legacy of Victorian times. Now, incredibly, this government wants to do away with that responsibility, seemingly as part of its push to give Councils’ any excuse not to pick up people’s bins.

Basildon Council has the same pressures as everyone else: legislative incentives to recycle that mean considerable investment, and so there has been the temptation to play fast and loose with our rubbish collection responsibilities. Well, we haven’t, because we think that this basic service is so essential that even tentative suggestions to even think about biweekly collections and the like have been pretty firmly rejected. That also goes for pay-as-you-throw or any other wheeze that makes people pay for rubbish collection when they are already getting stung for so much Council Tax. We will be continuing with a high-quality weekly collection, paid for out of existing Council Tax unless the Labour government uses legislation to put a gun to our heads. The trouble is that I wouldn’t put is past them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Simon Heffer on Whelk Stalls

Simon Heffer has never run for elected office. Simon Heffer has never run a business of any size. However, Simon Heffer feels qualified to comment both politics and economics at great length and with great assurance. Now, a total lack of experience does not always disqualify a commentator from, well, commentating. After all, many of those who guide us through the maze of professional sports are not ex-professional sportsmen but journalists who have become knowledgeable through study and experience. Simon does not write like one of those though. He writes as if he is an ex-Prime Minister who also happens to be a self-made billionaire and guess what, he ain't. This brings us on to Simon's latest missive where he roundly condemns Labour's failure in Glasgow East and by extension their failure for the rest of the country. He then somehow mutates this into a pretty nasty attack on David Cameron using such phrases as 'economically ignorant' and 'old claptrap' to describe the Conservative leader's approach to rebalancing the economy after a decade of Labour misrule. This is not a measured critique; this is bar-room ranting from a man who a year ago was singing the praises of Gordon Brown and who has happily sat on a Labour government committee. Meanwhile in another part of the Telegraph there was an article by David Cameron laying out what Labour should do right now to help the British people as the economy slides of a cliff and pretty clearly laying out aspirations for a smaller and more efficient state that promotes individual responsibility and economic growth instead of strangling it. The contrast was stark: a man slurring his words after four pints on the one hand, insightful analysis tied to practical policy on the other. David Cameron is under no obligation to help the government out of the economic mess that they have made, in fact it is politically dangerous, but he did it anyway. That is because he is a leader, not a windbag.

This brings us on to basic politics. Simon's approach is ideological, with the axe falling and the pieces dropping where they may. Government spending is to be cut quickly and nothing else matters. Except that other things do matter, like maintaining good quality public services, and the secondary effects on the economy of firing people in large numbers, because that what slimming government means, also have to be managed. Anyone who has ever been is business will tell you that transforming an organisation, any organisation, to reduce costs while still keeping things moving forward is very difficult and it is almost impossible to do it very quickly. Of course, Simon has never been in business. There is also the small matter of the politics. Each of the general elections since 1997 has been fought by the Labour party on the theme of their investment versus Tory cuts. Oddly enough, David Cameron doesn't want to give his opponents any ammunition that would allow such a campaign against him next time, even allowing that public opinion has shifted from where it was in 1997. Of course, Simon has never been in politics. This brings us to the interesting question of why the Telegraph actually employs him? Actually, it is a matter of marketing. Somewhere in the back room of the Telegraph HQ there is a marketing department and one of the tools that they employ is customer segmentation. This is the art of taking a customer population and slicing it up into geodemographic chunks with witty names like 'shotguns and pickups' and 'struggling families' to better analyse their needs and wants and to provide for them, at least insofar as it promotes sales. So, the Telegraph will have noticed that they have a paper-buying segment called 'experienceless ideologues' and the word will have gone out to devote a certain amount of newsprint in cater for them. Step forward Simon Heffer, kept around in order to keep a minority of people like him ponying up 80p a day. The question is does he realise that this is his function? If so, maybe it is time to re-evaluate his writing as satire.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Basildon Labour isn't Diverse

Last Thursday there was Member training on Inclusion and Diversity at Basildon Council. This was for Councillors of all parties, both District and Parish, to hear about the Council's diversity agenda from the officers with that responsibility. Now, Councils have often got themselves into all sorts of trouble with diversity and inclusion, ending up with crazy, politically-correct, policies that seek to promote inclusion by excluding mainstream British culture. The acme of such an approach was probably the old Labour administration on Birmingham City Council cancelling Christmas one year in case in offended Turkeys or something. Obviously, we are not going to do anything bonkers like that. Diversity policy should be all about delivering better service to everyone, not bigging up one community at the expense of another. The FTSE 100 company I work for knows all about that, running an independently commended diversity policy because it is the right thing to do but, crucially, because delivering better service to everyone makes good business sense. So it also goes in the public sector.

Anyway, there we all were, hearing from our recently appointed Inclusion and Diversity Manager on the way we will be taking that agenda forward. It took us a while to make this particular appointment because we were very keen to make sure that we had the right person for the job. A couple of tries at the market had yielded a very poor field and we did not appoint as a result, and the Labour party criticised us for that. However, we have a policy at Basildon in that we will give people jobs just to tick a box. People have to be up to our high standards or we do not hire them. Given their previous interest you would have thought that this meeting would have been well-attended by Labour members, but you would have been wrong. Only one party on Basildon District Council was present, and that was the Conservative Party.

Perhaps, this will be the end of pious lectures on the subject from Labour. Maybe pigs will fly.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Brown tells us not waste food, and to wash hands after going to the toilet

Gordon Brown has decided to lecture me not to waste food. This is good advice if he was my mum, but actually he isn't and while there is nothing wrong with what he said, there is plenty wrong with the fact that with everything else going on he felt the need to say it. It is not the job of the Prime Minister to attempt to micromanage the habits of the nation and to even attempt to do so shows an astonishing level of detachment from reality and a disturbing level of control-freakery. Hang on though; what if there is some serious policy reason why this should suddenly leap to the top of the political priority tree? We have heard the portentous phrase 'Food Security' for example. Maybe we shouldn't be wasting food because one day there might be a shortage? Or is it that wasting all of this food means a vast environmental footprint? Unfortunately for Brown it's a big no to both. Most of our food is either home-grown or comes from the EU. So excepting a general European war we are probably all right. As for the wasted energy, all of those uneaten chips don't add up to much when compared with UK energy consumption. What is important is not Food Security; it is Energy Security, because food production is essentially the process of turning energy into foodstuffs. So, rising energy prices mean that food costs more in the UK, and it means that people in the poorest countries starve. Gordon Brown is, if you remember, the man who raised taxes on North Sea oil exploration and the man whose government prevaricated on Nuclear power for a decade. So, if we have a problem with energy security then he has contributed to it, and if that means a problem with food security then he should have joined the dots some time ago.

So, don't try to make out it is my fault if I don't clean my plate.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Labour Can't find a candidate for Glasgow

In two and half weeks there will be a by-election in Glasgow East, one of the safest Labour seats in the county. If Labour loses, and the SNP are hotly tipped, then it will be a calamity for the government, a clear message that no Labour MPs seat is safe. So, you would have thought that they would have put their best brains and organisation into the campaign? Well, the scary thought is they may have, but whoever is in charge they haven't yet managed to organise a candidate selection, which most people think is a pretty important starting point for an election campaign.

Apparently Glasgow East is in dire straights, with around 50% unemployment, chronic drug use and third world levels of life expectancy. It is a testament to Labour's complete failure to look after their core support and the sapping effect of welfare dependency locking people in to poverty. The left-wing press has already started talking about how much cash it would take to improve the lives of the people there, with the implication that taxes should rise as a consequence. This is nonsense; giving people cash is actually the problem because it removes the incentives for able people to work and to better themselves. If you want to know why so many people in Glasgow East don't work then the answer is simple, because they don't have to. In the US a combination of social action coupled with withdrawing welfare if people don't try to help themselves has done wonders. In Glasgow Labour pays to keep people poor and deprived.

Maybe when the poor stop voting for them Labour will finally get it. Never mind that Gordon Brown may go down in flames if Labour lose. Maybe a system that promotes welfare deprivation will burn too.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Basildon cash is a loan

In April 2007, after a long and tortuous process, Basildon Council established an Arms Length Management Organisation to run the Council's housing stock, St. Georges Community Housing Ltd. The key reason for this was that by establishing an ALMO and obtaining a '2 star' report from the audit commission we were in line for £142 million of government funding in order to raise our Council houses to what is called 'Decent Homes' standard. Basildon's housing operation had already been rated as 2 star so this seemed a reasonable course of action. Now, the Audit Commission have just reported back on St. Georges and they marked them at 1 star, though the report gave inadequate reason for a supposedly precipitous drop in standards and the tenants themselves report a high degree of satisfaction with St. Georges. In any case, the ALMO can be re-inspected within six months, so that is not an insurmountable obstacle. What has now happened is that we have been told that the cash from the government would not be a grant, rather a loan where the government would make some or all of the interest payments. This is news to us, that is the elected Councillors of all parties, and I am sure that the tenants did not know when they voted for the ALMO. Apparently, it was not entirely unknown within the Council organisation, but I have failed to find any report that was ever presented to me that states this rather important fact. However, I have spent some time off with illness and it is possible that this happened while I was unwell, except that none of my colleagues can find any such report either.

Now, a loan of this type to a Council is not the same as personal or corporate debt, but it would add to the already large debt that Basildon has associated with its housing stock and it might leave the Council vulnerable to changes in government funding arrangements for, well, ever.

This is not a good state of affairs to say the least. I sense some late evenings poring over financial projections in my immediate future.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Labour - are they actually trying to lose?

The result of the Henley bye-election had Labour in fifth place behind both the Greens and the BNP. They lost their deposit. This is a very bad result for them, and for the Liberal Democrats. One reason that it may have been so bad is that Harriet Harman chose polling day to announce legislation that would allow companies to discriminate against white men when hiring. I think that all discrimination is odious, and dangerous because if you allow it as a principle then the argument moves on to who is discrimminated against, which may end up in a very bad place indeed. In political terms it is also deeply stupid. If you analyse the demographics of Labour support then at its core is working-class white men. This measure is aimed against them like a missile, but the barrage doesn't end there. Ed Balls has threatened to close what he calls 'failing' schools, but that amounts to about a third of the schools in the country, 3 in Basildon, and it went down like a lead balloon. Then there are the polyclinics that threated GP surgeries to the point that over a million signed a petition against them. Meanwhile the chancellor wants to retrospectively rise car tax to hit just about every motorist in the country and there are still millions of people who have not been baled out by the government's package to help the poorest hit by the 10p tax fiasco.

Who is running the political strategy for the Labour party? Are they actually trying to drive away support? At this rate they will end up not only with less than 200 MPs but hardly any councillors, no money, and a legacy of bitterness that will keep them out of power for a generation, or finish them off entirely. I am genuinely perplexed as to what may be going on. These are not stupid people after all, but they are acting like political morons.