Thursday, December 31, 2009

Greenhouses and Health and Safety

Basildon made the papers this morning, and not in a good way:
Gardeners have been ordered to tear down a communal greenhouse on a housing estate because of health and safety fears that they might fall off the roof. Tenants received a letter from St George's Community Housing [Basildon District Council's housing arm] which manages the council housing estate in Basildon, Essex, saying the greenhouse must go.

Andre Le Brise, 57, who lives in flats on the estate and tends to the plants, said: "When we moved here it was worse than a jungle.

"I can't believe we've been told to take it down. It's health and safety gone mad.

"That greenhouse is all some of us have got."

Residents clubbed together six years ago to buy the greenhouse, as well as planting trees and flower beds and buying a lawnmower to keep the communal grassy areas neat.

However, in a letter from Julie Grant, Pitsea area housing officer for the community housing, they have been told to get rid of it or it will be taken down.

Let us deal with the issues: firstly that Council tenants have got together to improve their area is not a bad thing, in fact it is a very, very good thing and should be encouraged. Secondly, this application of Health and Safety seems only to consider what might happen and ignores how likely it is to happen. Risk professionals know that both the threat and probability of it occurring are vital in determining if something is a real risk. If you just consider the worst case scenario without the likelihood of it happening then you can quickly reach a position where any action by anyone doing anything is just too dangerous. This leads to many absurd actions by, typically, local councils up and down the country and unless there is something I don't know about appears to be the case here.

The greenhouse is on public land, and so it should only be there by permission anyway. A fair application on that policy should stop people just building structures without the support of their neighbours. In this case there is no dispute among local people, just with tenants and the Council. Health and safety appears to have little relevance, so why does someone want the greenhouse demolished? Who made that decision? Was it a Council officer or a Councillor? Well, we are going to find out about that. In the interim I have asked that nothing happens until we get to the bottom of this. To their credit, the senior management at St. George's appear to be having second thoughts as well, at least according to the the Telegraph article:

Mandy Skeat, St George's area housing services manager, said: "We contacted residents because of concerns over two items in this communal area which could potentially present a risk to residents.

"We asked for both to be removed.

"Following discussions with the residents concerned we are reviewing the situation and may consider other options."

Yes, we will.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ipsos MORI’s monthly poll gives Conservatives 17 point lead

As widely reported elsewhere, the latest Ipsos MORI’s monthly poll came out at CON 43%(+6), LAB 26%(-5), LDEM 20%(+2). This is interesting because last month's iteration gave a Conservative lead of only 6, and because rumours were circulating that this latest poll cut the lead to 3. These proved to be nonsense, and appear to be the result of wishful thinking from those of the Labour persuasion. Rembering the run up to the 1997 election I have some sympathy with that. It is not nice to watch your party spiral down to a seemingly inevitable defeat and people in that situation will grasp at any straw.

Wishful thinking only goes so far though before it becomes delusion. For example, a phrase that is often put about is that David Cameron has yet to 'seal the deal' with voters. God knows what this is meant to mean, but my experience is that when people start talking in cliché they are trying to obscure meaning rather than anything else. Then there is the comparison with Labour under Tony Blair prior to 1997; the idea that the Conservatives should be running much higher poll leads for example. This is supposed to illustrate the supposed weakness of the Conservative position. However, that comparison in quite invalid for a very simple reason: the 1997 election was about continuity the next election is all about change. In 1997 the economy was doing well, and Labour's basic strategy was to not to screw things up by promising to adhere to Conservative budget projections for at least 2 years. This time everyone knows that whatever party is in post the 2010 election then radical change will follow. The vote will largely be on who can transform Britain for the better and in that regard it more resembles 1979, which was the last time Labour more or less bankrupted the country. So, you are not going to get a vote based on happy optimism. No one is going to be playing 'things can only get better' as a campaign theme. Instead there is a grim determination among the Conservative-inclined that Gordon Brown has got to go and fear from the Labour establishment that their gravy train is coming into its last stop. They are doing their best to translate that fear onto their core vote with things like Alan Johnson's naked appeal to bigotry. That is driving the polls.

On the last matter I predict that Mr. Johnson's words will come back to haunt him in the future. Having told anyone with money and a decent education that they are his enemy, he will find that he has shortened his list of potential friends in a way that is very unwise for a front-line politician. He also sounds like a fool.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Copenhagen Questions

Like everyone else I have been watching the climate conference in Copenhagen. Now, let us remember that this was the place where the nations of the world were to get together to agree the deal to reduce Carbon Emissions and so save the world. As has become traditional for international conferences, the event was surrounded by thousands of protesters who sought to break into the venue or otherwise disrupt proceedings. They delayed many official delegates from getting into the conference centre and generally made things much more difficult. But wait, these same protesters actually wanted a deal, they were climate activists, so the first questions is what the hell did they think they were doing? If you want to save the planet then it seems common sense not to try and stop the people actually engaged in, er, saving the planet. Instead we saw people in polar bear suits doing their very best to wreck the whole event. What is the matter with them? Did they think that this was a meeting to promote fossil fuels or something? The world wonders.

It didn't seem to be much better inside the hall. In a move of sheer genius the Danish organisers had issued 45000 passes for a venue that only holds 16000 people. Cue chaos and delay as people who actually make a difference to the future of humanity had to queue with the guy in a polar bear suit. It was all very egalitarian I suppose, but this wasn't supposed to be a rock festival, rather it was meant to be the turning point for our species. Who were these thousands of 'delegates' anyway? Apparently, they included quite a lot of people from non-governmental organisations with an interest in the climate, you know Greenpeace and their ilk. What did they do when they were allowed to play with the grown-ups? Well, according to accounts it was placards and chanting and walkouts. Now this is all very well for a student meeting, but not where humanity's existence is supposed to be at stake. So, the next question is whose bright idea was it to let these clowns in?

Eventually, even the Danes had enough and chucked the NGOs out. Of course by that time any hope of a comprehensive deal had been lost to the polar-bear suited fraternity. Then President Obama arrived. He was clearly briefed on the shambles that he was entering and so he did the best he could, getting the key developing nations together, thrashing out a deal and then bouncing the EU and the rest of the developed world to accept it. Credit goes to him, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the US State Department for salvaging something from the situation, but in the end the outcome could have been achieved in an afternoon at a motel rather than at a conference that briefly became one of the major sources of carbon emissions on the planet. What was also notable was the non-existent contribution by Gordon Brown and the British delegation. Having billed himself as being the man to save the day, he wasn't even in the room when Obama cut the deal.

So the last question is whether Britain would have done better if we had sent a man in a polar bear suit?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Echo apologises - war over

I have just heard that the Basildon Echo has apologised to John Baron over their story in which they accused him of misusing parliamentary expenses to fund a food parcel for troops in Afghanistan. The story was incorrect, and the mistake could easily have been prevented by either confirming it from the fees office or just giving John time to double-check his accounts in case a genuine error had been made. Instead they published, and then spent the last week printing retractions. Anyway, their apology has persuaded John not to take them to the PCC. This is probably for the best, as no-one would have really won from a formal complaint or court action.

We are lucky here in Basildon District to have such a vibrant print media, including a daily like the Echo. It does give our area a more community feel, and it does mean that politicians are subject to more scrutiny, which is a very good thing. Problems can occur in news reporting though, especially at the moment where depressed advertising revenue must be putting more pressure on journalists to get the stories that shift papers off the newstands. There must be temptation to go with some stories, even where a more sober evaluation would have suggested otherwise.

Anyway, John just wants to move on now, an attitude that does him credit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

John Baron MP refers Echo to Press Complaints Commission

Ex soldier says Echo should now send food parcel to troops in Afghanistan

On the front page of Friday’s Echo, it stated that John Baron’s “claims also included £18.21 on expenses for a food parcel for soldiers in Afghanistan”. It was also inferred that John had deliberately claimed for a gardener’s Christmas gratuity of £10. The paper had approached John late the previous afternoon about the story, whereupon John requested the story be held as he was sure there was an error somewhere but needed time to check the facts. This was refused by the paper. On checking the facts on Friday, he found the errors were on the part of the Echo. He has since requested that the Echo print a full front-page retraction with the same prominence as Friday’s article, but this has been refused. John is therefore referring the matter to the Press Complaints Commission.

John said:
The facts are straightforward: the Echo reported that I had claimed for a troops’ food parcel when in reality the cost came out of my own pocket and I never submitted such a claim. Another fact is that the £10 gardener’s tip was not deliberately claimed for. Given the Echo’s refusal to print a front-page retraction, I am now referring the matter to the PCC.

This is the first time I have taken any paper to the PCC in eight years as the MP, but sloppy and sensationalist reporting of this kind should and will not be left unchallenged. A basic checking of the facts would have revealed the truth, which leads me to believe there is an agenda here.

As an ex soldier I believe the Echo, having falsely accused others, should now make partial amends by putting together a food parcel for our troops in Afghanistan. They should also make clear that they are not claiming it on their expenses.
So, will the Echo staff put their hands in their pockets for our brave men and women in harm's way? If I find out, I'll let you know.

Echo climbs down further on John Baron story

Another article in the Echo following their front-page story that John Baron MP claimed a food parcel for troops in Afghanistan on parliamentary expenses. This one states categorically that he did not and quotes the parliamentary fees office as a source. The article was short, on page 2, but outlined with a heavy border and is the second that they have had to print retracting their original claims. Now, I don't know how journalistic performance is assessed, but I would think that writing a story that was not only untrue, but which forced your paper to print two articles in subsequent editions retracting it under threat of action in the High Court would not be regarded as doing a particularly good job. It doesn't say very good things about the Echo's editorial processes that such a thing could be allowed to happen either.

Have they done enough to avoid a libel action? I don't know. I do know that the Echo is being taken to the Press Complaints Commission by John Baron over this matter, but that is something the editor must be getting used to by now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Echo climbs down on John Baron story - but far enough?

Yesterday the Basildon Echo had a story that more or less printed John Baron MP's press release in response to their accusations on his parliamentary expenses. This was an admission, more or less, that they had got their story of his claiming a parcel for soldiers in Afghanistan on public funds hopelessly wrong. The trouble is that it was on page 7 and was along the lines of 'John Baron claimed...' as opposed to stating the facts as, well, facts. It didn't really compensate for a front page story in definite language and a critical editorial. Now, the High Court tends to deal with matters of libel depending on the scale of the loss of reputation, so trashing an MP on the subject of parliamentary expenses in the run up to a general election would probably be taken quite seriously. Coincidently, there is currently a campaign afoot to reform Britain's draconian libel laws, but for now they remain quite severe.

Somehow I think the Echo may need those lawyers yet.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

John Baron MP slams Echo for Troop food parcel reporting

MP says this is sensationalist reporting of the lowest sort.

Today John Baron reacted to incorrect reports in today’s Echo which stated that John’s “claims also included £18.21 on expenses for a food parcel for soldiers in Afghanistan.” Having been approached by the paper late yesterday afternoon, John requested the story be held because he felt there was an error somewhere but he needed time to check the facts. This was refused by the paper. On checking the facts this morning, he found the error was the Echo’s.

John said:
This is sloppy and sensationalist reporting of the lowest kind. A basic checking of the facts would have clearly shown that receipts were not submitted and therefore the claim for a troops food parcel was not made. As an ex-soldier, I find this sort of reporting offensive.

Meanwhile, had the Echo checked the story about the gardener’s Christmas tip they would have known this claim was made in error and was rightly rejected. Then again I had no time to check the details.

The Echo’s comment that ‘the MP’s scrooge mentality is captured in some of Billericay MP’s John Baron’s claims’ suggests there is an agenda here. Since being the MP, I have personally donated over £10,000 to local charities and good causes and have helped many charitable causes including military ones. These are hardly the actions of a scrooge.

This follows a front page story in the Basildon Echo following the recent release of MPs expenses claims. It appears that the journalists involved decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story. I do hope that the Echo has some decent lawyers on retainer, because something tells me that they are going to need them.

Tony Blair on Iraq and what he should have done

In 2003 I was asked to take part in a debate at London University on the prospect of a war in Iraq. It had been arranged by the university Islamic Students' Society and I was on a panel, representing the case for war. Now, if you are going to take part in such an event you try and prepare, and so I researched the case for war fairly thoroughly. In particular, I looked into the issue of WMDs, and I could find no compelling evidence whatsoever. It was not as if there wasn't a lot of material on the subject available, including authoritative documents from the UN weapons inspectorate, but much as I looked, no WMDs. I don't lie in political debates, so I knew I would have to base my arguments on other things, and Saddam Hussein's regime provided no shortage of these. Hang on though, if an amateur like me could figure this out, then what excuse are MPs, journalists and MI6 running with for not doing the same?

Tony Blair probably knew that there were no WMDs, but he didn't really care, he thought that Saddam Hussein had to go and the rest was what was the best argument to deploy at the time. That he conned his country and his party doesn't seem to bother him at all. This is where we are different I suppose. I couldn't lie for 2 hours to a few hundred people. Tony Blair could lie to his country for months and years.

It didn't have to be that way, because there were pretty convincing arguments for war that had nothing to do with WMDs. I know, because I made them to a pretty sceptical audience one winter night, back when we all believed that a British government had at least a baseline of honesty.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Economist take on Gordon's class war

The Economist has a very good analysis of Gordon Brown's attempts to split the nation by class in the hope of hoovering up a few votes. The full article is here, and this gives a flavour of it:
But—even leaving aside the inconveniently privileged upbringing of some members of the Labour cabinet, and the open question whether Eton and Oxford is a weirder background than a Scottish manse and a lifetime in Labour politics—Mr Brown’s salvo risks backfiring. It is negative and retrograde; it makes him look distracted by antiquated obsessions. Eton gibes might just work as knockabout humour; but Mr Brown doesn’t seem to be joking.
It also makes another important point, that class division can run in many directions. One you decide that Britain as One Nation is no longer government policy then what's to stop the upper and middle classes taking against the poor?
Britain has seen that kind of downward hostility before, in the 1980s, for example. Those at the top end of the scale become cross about their tax burden, and doubtful of the value of state services (which they often don’t use much anyway). They start to think of the poor as scroungers and cheats; good works are abandoned; the social contract frays.
Gordon Brown doesn't care about this of course. There is nothing about the man that suggests he thinks in the long term. Everything is tactical and for his short-term advantage. If he trashes our economy and our society, well, that is secondary to keeping G. Brown and his cronies in the rather good situation they currently find themselves. I firmly believe that one of historical questions generated by the first decade of the 21st century is how a man of with such a demonstrable lack of character or ability managed to become our Prime Minister.

Basildon Council doing well according to the Audit Commission

The Audit Commission has rated Basildon District Council as doing well, scoring 3 out of 4 under the Comprehensive Area Assessment process. This is obviously very good news, and reflects very great credit on our officer team, including our excellent Chief Executive Bala Mahandren. It also says very good things about the Conservative stewardship of the Council, and the Audit Commission specifically picked out leadership as one of the Council's strengths. This was all announced at the Council cabinet meeting on Thursday, where there was an interesting debate. The Labour leader took the line that 'this is all very well but...' and went on to make the point that the Council doesn't get everything right. Of course it doesn't. We know that and there was nothing that even looked like complacency from the administration. It is nice to be told you are doing a good job, but that is not was drives me and my colleagues. We want to do the best job for the people of Basildon District and we are acutely aware where we fall short. So, thanks Audit Commission, but we won't be resting on our laurels.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Brown dumps the national interest

You hold political power in trust, at least in a democracy. You are supposed to use it to advance the interests of the electorate while you have it and then pass it on in the best condition possible to the next incumbent. That is unless you are Gordon Brown, who is cynically using what will probably be his last days in power to shore up the Labour party and lay traps for any incoming Conservative government. That he is wrecking the economy so that it will take a generation to fix seems to interest him not. That the media almost to a man have seen through his grinning façade doesn't seem to bother him either. At least the answer to the future pub quiz question 'who was Britain's worst Prime Minister' is clear.

It seems that Alastair Darling tried at least to start addressing Britain's crippling budget deficit, but Brown and his acolyte Balls put him back into his box. Maybe he's going for 'who was Britain's worst Chancellor?'.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Labour's pathetic class war

You have to wonder if the Labour leadership get out much. Class war is a dead issue, among real people that is. No-one, at least almost no-one, particularly cares about someone's parents, at least not to the point of evaluating their worth as a human being. Labour haven't really cottoned on to this, however, at least not their cocooned, desperate leadership. Their idea is to try to brand the Conservative leadership as 'toffs from Eton' in the hope that people won't vote for them on that basis. Well:
  • It isn't true, the Conservative leadership actually come from very diverse backgrounds.
  • It makes no sense, why is it bad that people have had good educations?
  • It does not even pretend to be a debate about what is good for the country.
  • And, worst of all, it is an exercise in nasty prejudice that would probably be illegal if applied to any other aspect of a group.
It is also a window into the deep contempt that the Labour party feels for their own core vote and the British people as a while. Basically, they expect that voters are so stupid and so small minded that they will respond to a vicious characterisation of the Conservatives over any other issue come election time.

I have news for them. Our people are better than that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Climategate gets worse

You should all know about the scandal that has been dubbed 'climategate' by now. Basically, a large amount of email and other data relating to the work of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia has been leaked, and it does not present a pretty picture. We have conspiracy to evade Freedom of Information Requests by deleting data, schemes to freeze out academics who disagree with the CRU's position on global warming, and emails that suggest holes in the base data that supports Climate Change. However, the worst of it is that the computer models on which so much current political policy worldwide is based appears to be seriously flawed. Programmer notes suggest poor error handling, poor input data, and a number of hardcoded values in an effort to get the programme to match observed climate behaviour in the past. This raises doubts about the model's actual ability to predict the future. Complex computer models can quickly descend into complex garbage without good inputs and well-formed processing. Neither appears to be present here.

It appears that there has been very little effort on the part of the CRU to build decent software using proven programming and software engineering techniques. Instead we seem to have a very bright, but unqualified and inexperienced programmer churning his way through masses of computer code at a level of professionalism that can only be described as hobbyist. Knocked together programs are all right as one-off support for a Phd thesis or as part of an experimental cycle, but definitive climate modelling demands something better.

All of this leaves us with plausible hypotheses on global warming and climate change based on evidence that appears increasingly flimsy. Most seriously the CRU says that it has thrown away much of the base data on which their models are based, making some of their work unrepeatable and therefore unverifiable by anyone else.

Right now there is a broad consensus on climate change among the three main parties, based on what was supposedly solid scientific theories. If these are no longer solid, and if the public belief in global warming continues to slide, then this consensus will fracture.

Maybe it should.

BNP Want to hand over Gibraltar

Extraordinary story in the Sun. Apparently, the BNP want to hand back Gibraltar to Spain. So, this so-called 'patriotic' party would force 30,000 British citizens to become Spanish despite their repeated votes to remain British.

The problem with the BNP is not that they are basket-cases, but that they represent a thoroughly reprehensible political ideology that places ordinary people dead last when considering policy. For Griffin and his ilk it is all about personal power and the power of the State. The little man can just shut up and soldier, literally given the history of countries where nationalists have gained power.

Basildon Hospital

I was in China when the Basildon Hospital story broke, but the details seem clear. The hospital seems to have got much of the medical science and advanced therapies right, while at the same time falling down on basic management and nursing standards that would have been recognisable to Florence Nightingale. I think that I join with our community in feeling a basic sense of betrayal by the hospital management that they have managed to associate the name of Basildon with such a scandal, never mind the lives that have been cut short by their apparent incompetence.

China Trip Review

Back from China, no blogging in the interim because, well, you can't. Certain URLs appear to be inaccessible from the People's Republic, including Reading blogs is also a bit of a challenge, but can be got around.

To the trip itself, well it was pretty hard work with tours of factories, universities, research centres and vocational colleges. We also had some time at tourist sites, but that was as tourist sites rather than as excursions if you get the difference. The Chinese looked after us very well and you could not fault the organisation from the government of Changzhou. They made sure that we had a guide always on hand and that the programme really covered what we needed to do. Of course this was only a first step, with a formal signing of a Letter of Intent between Changzhou and Basildon that will hopefully develop into a fuller Memorandum of Understanding.

However, the key question is, of course, what's the point? What was worth about £8000 of taxpayers money to take a four-person group from Basildon Council for a week? Well, it is like this: Basildon already invests quite a lot of time and energy in economic development. We have about 20% of the Essex GDP, a much larger share than our population suggests because of our very extensive industrial and commercial areas. This is done to promote business, which in turn means jobs and prosperity for our local community. Much business today is, of course, international, but a District Council does not have the capacity to run relationships all over the world, so we need to focus. China is the most populous nation on the planet and is undergoing rapid growth. Business opportunities abound, and that means prosperity and jobs for both Britain and China, because international trade when done right benefits everybody. Councils' have a role to play in this particularly in China because of the importance of local government in the Chinese business environment. A business relationship that includes the Council and our opposite numbers in Changzhou is likely to have a much smoother ride than otherwise. This is not just my opinion by the way, but was strongly articulated by the British businessmen that we met. If we have good relationships in China then that makes it more likely that British business that trades with China will come to Basildon District, which means more jobs for our local people. Even though we were only out there for a week, we identified two opportunities that may lead to new assembly plants in Basildon that are tied to Chinese engineering. Details are confidential, but if either of those comes off it will pay for a relationship with Changzhou for a decade, never mind one trip, and that is without the other benefits of cultural, sporting and educational contacts.

So, this was definitely worth doing, and is certainly worth building on for the future.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Basildon Council trip to China

Next week I am going to China as part of a trade delegation. This includes representatives from Basildon Council, Chelmsford Council, Essex County Council and a number of Basildon and Essex businesses. Now, I am perfectly aware that one reaction on hearing ot such a trip is to assume that this is some sort of 'junket' designed for the pleasure of those travelling as opposed to the service of the public. You do hear of some Councils' foreign travel where the rationale seems, well, weak. However, Basildon Council does not indulge in such things for entertainment. When we go anywhere it is for the benefit of the people of our District and our track record in securing investment in Basildon as a result of being represented at events abroad is pretty good. We fund a great deal of economic development through involvement in a European New Towns grouping for example, and our work at the European MIPIM event has brought in millions of direct funding, never mind attracting general investor interest in Basildon. This has added up to infrastructure, jobs and homes that vastly outweighs the cost of plane tickets and hotels. These are not holidays, just work done somewhere else, and that is how we treat any foreign trip.

I have never been to China before, but Essex County Council has developed relationships there for a number of years with the aim of connecting Chinese and Essex business for mutual benefit. This trip is a first for Basildon, and so while we know what we want to achieve we will have to see if it returns the value that we hope. It certainly appears to have few of the characteristics of a 'junket' though. Industrial cities in China are not really holiday locations, and the weather is pretty much the same as here. Its an 11-hour flight, and we seem to have a reasonably full itinerary. This seems to fit my definition of work rather more than what most people would describe as fun.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Childcare Vouchers and means testing mania

Many years ago I heard Frank Field MP speak, and one of the themes of his speech was the evil of means testing for benefits. His view was that this created benefits traps, with huge marginal rates of tax if people tried to improve their situation, and discouraged thrift. In fact means tested benefits as they operate today mean that it makes economic sense for the poor to stay poor, because increases in income or the accumulation of assets are punished by the withdrawal of means-tested benefits. Unfortunately, Labour under Brown are obsessed with means testing, which is one reason social mobility has decreased under the current government. Despite this, Gordon Brown's latest brainwave is to replace the current system of tax relief for childcare vouchers with, you guessed it, means testing. The argument is that too many people who can afford to pay for childcare are benefitting from tax relief. So, a system that works well is to be replaced by one that gives people an incentive to stay poor. That is even if they take up the benefit at all, becaue means-tested benefits have a much worse take-up rate than universal benefits.

Of course, there is also a political dimension because with an election coming up quite a few Labour MPs have worked out that withrawing childcare tax relief won't be, well, popular. There is already a large online petition against the move and dozens of Labour MPs have stated their oppositon to Brown's policy. These do not include one of our local MPs though. Angela Smith has been in the local papers telling us what a good idea it all is. She is Brown's PPS after all, so not much choice there.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Nuclear power? Yes please!

Finally the government has accepted that the UK needs new nuclear power stations. These are zero carbon and there is enough uranium in the world to power human civilisation for at least a thousand year. The trouble is that it is all a bit late. Power stations take quite a while to build and the best estimates are that as old power stations are decommissioned our country will have power cuts unitl the new capacity is online. Labour have fought shy of nuclear power for years in the vain hope that renewables could fill the gap. This might have been reasonable a decade ago, but it has been obvious for years that the majority of the nation's power would have to found elsewhere. It is only now that even large sections of green movement have come round to a pro-nuclear view that Labour have got off the fence. Meanwhile, other countries haven't been sitting about and our long-term competitiveness is now under threat. Just one more Labour screwup...

Brown blunders on condolence letter

Top of Sky News this morning was the poor bereaved mother of a soldier who has fallen in the Afghan war. She received a letter of condolence from Gordon Brown that got her surname wrong and was littered with misspellings. She was distraught at the loss of her son, her boy, her baby, speaking with a grief that was truly heart-rending. There was also bitterness that all he amounted to from no.10 was a scrawled letter that would not have passed muster from a 10 year-old.

Gordon Brown has bad eyesight and apparently his handwriting isn't very good, and you have to give him some credit for doing the letters himself when he could so easily delegate that painful task. For something like this though excuses will not do. A letter like that has to be right. It is not just his fault though. His private office should have made sure they got the soldier's name right at least, and someone should have had the guts to tell him that the letter simply wasn't good enough.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Gordon Brown's master plan falls flat

So, Gordon Brown went to the G20 and sprung the idea of a universal tax on financial transactions as a way to prevent further financial crises? Oddly enough, most other governments told him to shove off, leaving us wondering what he is playing at. If you want to make far-reaching changes to the way the international financial system works that involves the co-operation of just about every nation on earth than surely you need to do a little preparation with them, instead of just pulling your rabbit out of the hat and expecting instant accord. What he Brown think was going to happen? That they would say, 'Good God man, what a brilliant idea! Why didn't we think of that? We must adopt it immediately'? It is pretty disturbing that the man leading our country could be that out of touch with, well, people.

Councillors gagged?

Councillor Chris Black, Liberal Democrat Councillor from Rayleigh, posted the following comment to the previous post on the this blog:
Steve, this is off topic, but can you please post something about this 'ban' on your colleagues speaking about Travellers, as reported in the Echo?

Seems very odd to me.
I am happy to explain. Here in Basildon we have long-running planning disputes regarding unauthorised Traveller sites. This has been going on for years and has involved litigation all the way up the the Court of Appeal. Misreported comments by Councillors could affect court cases or the complex relationships with other bodies that the Council needs to maintain on this matter. So, we have had a policy, for years, that all comment on that matter comes from the Leader. Our local paper, the Echo, claims to have suddenly discovered this and ran a pretty apalling article on the subject. While it is always better to maintain cordial relations with the local press, sometimes we simply have to put other things first.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Election Prediction

From that excellent blog:
A new prediction has been posted on 2 November 2009 at

Following the party conference season, the Conservative lead over Labour has increased slightly, and is broadly around the same level that it has been for most of the year.

Populus (Times) has a Conservative lead of 10% (down from 14%),
Ipsos-MORI has a 17% lead (up from 12%),
ICM (Guardian) also has 17% (up from 14%),
YouGov (Daily Telegraph) also has 13% (up from 12%), and
ComRes (Independent) also has 13% (up from 12%).

Overall, the Conservative lead is 14%, which is up 1% from last month.

The current national prediction is that the Conservatives will have a majority of 66 seats, winning 358 seats (+11 seats since 4 October 2009).

Brown betrayed us on Lisbon - eurosceptics blame Cameron

It could be argued that the Conservatives were always going to lose the 1997 election. Despite the economy being on the up, after 18 years of Tory rule the mantra of change was hard to argue against. It could also be argued that what turned a defeat into a landslide was Conservative eurosceptics who never forgave John Major for the Maastricht treaty and so tore him down at every opportunity. So, we ended up with barely 200 Conservative MPs and Labour could dominate the political debate in a way that they could never have done with a more numerous opposition in parliament.

At this point some of those same eurosceptics jumped ship into UKIP in order to carry on with their life goal of preventing Conservatives getting elected. This is the root of Brown's betrayal over Lisbon. With most of the UK population very wary of the encroaching power of EU institutions those most exercised about the issue have conspired to ensure that eurosceptic views have the least representation in Westminster. Their cry is always that the UK parliament doesn't matter any more because everything is decided in Brussels. Yeah, right. Brussels didn't take us to war four times. Brussels didn't give us the worst recession, ever. Brussels didn't open our borders for uncontrolled immigration. Brussels didn't even ratify the Lisbon Treaty. With that last act the usual suspects appear to be blaming the Conservatives for not offerring a meaningless referendum instead of Labour for not offering us a real one. Hell, with a handful more MPs David Cameron could have got have got a referendum vote through parliament because many Labour MPs were sickened enough at their party's betrayal of its manifesto commitment to vote with the opposition. There weren't enough Conservative MPs, but there might have been if those broadly on the same side of the European debate had stood together.

With a general election coming up I expect that the same supposedly eurosceptics, people who have allowed a minority federalist view to dominate British politics, will be up to their old tricks. They will be demanding a referendum on a signed treaty, showing a breathtaking ignorance of the way international relations operates, and rubbishing any real an practical suggestions on repatriating powers form the EU. The threat will be that if the Conservatives don't do what they want then they will campaign for a protest vote. Well, that's what you have done since 1997 and look where it has got us. Lisbon is at least partly your fault.

Don't blame me. I voted Conservative.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

BBC's Norman Smith holds his hands up

Some time ago BBC journalist Norman Smith was commentating on the Today Programme on a George Osborne speech to be delivered that day in which he suggested a Conservative government could learn from local government. Mr. Smith was dismissive, saying that local and national government were different and offering up the fact that local Councillors faced surcharges and could be 'banged up' as an example. In fact the legislation under which Councillors could be surcharges was repealed years ago and the bizarre claim that Councillors can be imprisoned had no basis in fact. He was not corrected by any of his colleagues in the studio and so a very misleading impression of the operation of local government was given, as well as a wholly misleading impression of the validity of George Osborne's speech.

I was pretty annoyed at this, so I sent in a complaint. After some delay, the BBC have now responded:
I would like to assure you that we have forwarded your complaint to Norman Smith who acknowledged that you are quite correct and that surcharging has been abolished. Accordingly he acknowledges this error and offers his apologies for the mistake.
Fair enough, I suppose. It was a howling error though.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Patriots for Blair!

Shadow Europe Minister Mark Francois was on Newsnight earlier this week debating the possibility of Tony Blair becoming European President with his Labour opposite number. During the interchange we were informed by the Labour chap that supporting Tony Blair was a patriotic duty, and this theme has been echoed by Labour blogger Luke Akehurst:
I'd go so far as to suggest it is unpatriotic to try to block a Brit from becoming President. any Briton is preferable to any foreigner for the job entirely on the basis that he or she is British? Is that the argument? So, we would support, for example, Nick Griffin ahead of any citizen of another EU nation would we? What nonsense. Anyway, it looks as if three things are conspiring to keep Tony Blair out of this particular job:
  • Firstly, his past is catching up with him. The Iraq war was a foreign policy disaster, largely due to the ineptitude of the Blair and Bush administrations, and the Continental Europeans have not forgotten. As a result there is a echoing void where support for a Blair presidency among other countries should be.
  • Secondly, the British Conservatives have let it be known that they would engage in years of trench warfare with the EU if Blair became president. Given the possibility of a Conservative government then this is a serious threat.
  • Thirdly, and most importantly, Tony Blair has Gordon Brown's full support. So, we can expect off-the-record briefings from third-tier political players and clumsy attempts to influence behind the scenes while the Prime Minister himself says nothing. If you are going to get support it is generally better to get it from people with a bit more ability that the current crowd at no.10.
I think that we are safe.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Simon Heffer promotes someone else for Osborne's job

I make it a policy not to try and spend too much time with ignoramuses. Unfortunately, Simon Heffer is hard to avoid because he has a column in my morning paper. He regularly disturbs my bacon and eggs, and he has in all of the time I have been reading the Daily Telegraph written exactly one article that did not make me resort to profanity. Today's effort wasn't it.

It appears that the genius has noticed that the economy is in a mess and he spends some time detailing this as if it was a revelation. That serves only as a distraction though and he quickly returns to his favourite subject, which is how bad the Conservative party is. Apparently the problem is that the proposed cuts in public spending are not draconian enough, but worse still the Conservatives don't have a strategy for economic growth. This is interesting because it was to be Labour's line of attack after the expected announcement of the end of the recession. They were going to rejoice in the return of the good times, criticise the Conservatives as being too pesimistic and then boldy announce that they were 'going for growth'. Of course it all fell apart when the ONS announced that the recession hadn't ended, but it clearly struck a chord with Simon. There is also something else going on. You see, Simon really doesn't like George Osborne:

It is a commonplace now to say that the City of London – and serious wealth-creators in this country generally – are less than impressed by George Osborne. Mr Osborne is set to become Chancellor of the Exchequer not because he is a great economic thinker or strategist, and not even because he understands economics, but because he is Mr Cameron's chum. There are several people on the Conservative benches infinitely better qualified to do the job, and infinitely more needed by the country at this time of severe crisis: but they don't have a prayer.

Simon used to spend a great deal of time and energy informing us how useless David Cameron was, but given the polls that became more and more laughable. So, now he switches his fire to David Cameron's closest ally.A transparent attempt to get at David Cameron through his friends? Maybe something more; it could be an old-fashioned political hatchet job with Simon as the hatchet. Depressingly enough, the ultimate culprit could well be a Conservative who thinks they should have Osborne's job. So, they give Simon a few off-the-record factoids and set him loose. Simon does not have a mass readership, but Tories do read him. That makes him the perfect tool.

In every sense of the word.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mass Immigration was a Labour core policy

This was the week that Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time and there have been the predictable recriminations from mainstream politicians on whose fault it is that the BNP have amassed a degree of support. Of course the proximate cause of that has been the huge rise in immigration that Labour allowed over the last decade. Now it has emerged that this wasn't a mistake. It was deliberate policy, decided at the highest level for purely political reasons. Apparently the idea was to make Britain more multicultural and so somehow marginalise the Right, the Tories that is not the BNP because before Labour started on this crazy course of action the BNP was absolutely nowhere. This is a disgrace, an appalling abuse of power, gerrymandering a whole country for political reasons. It has also backfired spectacularly in both policy and political terms. The unrestricted immigration policy was ended last year, but the government couldn't claim much credit for that without explaining what they had been doing up to that point. Meanwhile, the BNP has gained the most support in traditional Labour areas, displacing the people's party as the natural choice for some white working-class voters. The immigration debate has killed multiculturalism as a general philosophy and the trend in British politics is and will be for tighter immigration controls. So, by abusing their power Labour have lost their own argument and gutted their own support.

That's justice at least.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gordon Brown and Labour give us the worst Recession ever

It gives me no pleasure to write this, but Labour's hollow boasts that Britain is better placed that other countries to recover from the recession was today exposed as wishful thinking. With six quarters of economic contraction, this is now the worst recession since records began.

Gordon Brown had calculated that he could be the optimist to David Cameron's pessimist, and so sound hopeful against the voice of doom. The continuing recession wrecks that strategy because David Cameron sounds now like the realist and Gordon Brown sounds as if he has been at the drinks cabinet. My prediction is that Labour will tack away from the economy for the next few weeks in the hope that people forget government claims of imminent recovery. Expect the smokescreens to start emerging from no.10 any time now.

Griffin gets a kicking

So, Nick Griffin wasn't desperately good on question time, quelle surprise. The man has a charisma of a walnut, and I mean the sort of walnut you bite into and then realise its gone off. It is true that the program was one-sided, but a someone better would have risen to the occasion. He bombed instead, especially when confronted by some of his own quotes, weaselling and evading on issues like Holocaust denial where an inability to be straight told us all we needed to know.

The fact is that Griffin being so useless is a great stroke of good fortune for our country. Under his leadership, the BNP is going nowhere, anyone can see that. The real problem would come if he were to be replaced by someone a bit more talented and a bit more normal. Unfortunately, there are a few such people in the far-right abut fortunately their poisonous internal politics will probably keep Griffin at the helm for a good few years yet. That is time enough for a Conservative government to address the most serious policy failures that Labour have heaped on communities that are supporting the BNP in any numbers. Then with a bit of luck the BNP will spiral away down the plughole.

Green Agenda at Basildon Council

Nick Clegg gave the local Liberal Democrats a call, or an email, or something and so a motion for Basildon Council to sign up to the 10:10 campaign found itself on the agenda for Basildon Council's meeting last night. This asks people, businesses and organisations to sign up to a 10% cut in carbon emissions by the end of 2010 and you are probably asking what could possibly be wrong with that? Quite a bit, unfortunately. You see Basildon's Conservative administration has been working hard on carbon emissions for years now, with a large number of measures already in place. So, a pledge would really mean a pledge to cut by 3% by mid 2011. It also excludes recycling, which is extraordinary. There is also the small matter of hypocrisy. Liberal Democrat Councillors have repeatedly voted against measures to reduce the Council's carbon footprint. They voted against the refurbishment of the Civic Centre, which allowed us to close another whole building, and they voted against the new Sporting Village, which will allow us to close two more old, hugely energy inefficient buildings.

Anyway, we amended the motion and cue outrage from the Liberals. I suppose being told there was a difference between gesture politics and getting on the job must have offended their delicate sensibilities.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

BNP on Question Time tonight

This is the BNP's take on Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time tonight, send out to everyone on their mailing list:
Question Time is scheduled for 10.35pm tomorrow evening (Thursday) and will be a milestone in the indomitable march of the British National Party towards saving our country.

Our violent opponents on the far Left have promised to lay siege and barricade the studio venue, because they know only too well that this could be THE key moment that propels the BNP into the big time.
Never before have we had the chance to present our patriotic, common sense solutions to Britain's nightmare situation to the public at large in such a prominent fashion.

However, members and supporters must be aware that this show will be a stage-managed farce organised in a specific way to leave several impressions:
  • The audience will be hand-picked and overtly hostile - thus giving the impression that the British people at large must be hostile to BNP views.
  • The panellists will be overtly hostile, even the non-political guests will be hostile. Everyone will be hostile - this will leave the impression to non-informed viewers that BNP views have minority status.
  • I will, no doubt, be interrupted, shouted down, slandered, put on the spot, and subject to a scrutiny that would be a thousand times more intense than anything directed at other panellists.
It will, in other words, be political blood sport.

But I am relishing this opportunity, and I know that, despite the stage-managed hostile audience and panellists, YOU, the ordinary members, supporters and voters of the BNP, will be in the studio with me as I take on the corrupt, treacherous swine destroying our beautiful island nation.
It is an appeal to alienation and hostility, and also a careful attempt to manage expectations. Griffin knows that he is unlikely to shine, and so he is getting his excuses in first. He is a poor speaker with an incoherent argument and so a verbal kicking is the only likely outcome.

The note is also a pretty good illustration why the BNP is not likely to get very far in British politics. Using the phrase 'corrupt, treacherous swine' may have been a winner in pre-war Germany, but in 21st century Britain it sounds a bit bonkers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lisbon Treaty amendments

Now the Slovaks have joined the Czechs in asking for an amendment to the Lisbon treaty. Both are concerned that the treaty as it stands might open them to claims from ethnic Germans evicted after the second world war. In both cases they are a bit late, but the row is delaying ratification much to the consternation of the European establishment. This can only be a good thing, and it raises the very faint hope that the argument will stretch until the UK general election, which might see a Conservative government. That would mean the referendum on the treaty that we were promised by Labour, a promise they ratted on without even bothering to make up a plausible excuse.

An interesting question is what the effect on the general election would be if a referendum on the treaty was a live issue? That would present the Conservatives with a bit of a dilemma, as it would certainly be a good campaign theme, but would risk over-shadowing other policy areas. David Cameron's greatest achievement has been to stop the monomania on Europe and so there would be a careful balancing act required to manage the prospect of a real referendum on Lisbon during an election campaign. Having said that, a problem for the Conservatives is a nightmare for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who would find themselves on the wrong side of the argument and having to explain why they weren't in favour a referendum to a largely eurosceptic public.

Of course, the best case scenario is that this is exactly what happens and that we finally get a referendum on Lisbon from a Conservative government. I am pretty sure what the result would be of that.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

BBC fails to understand Pakistan's war on the Taliban

Pakistan has launched its long awaited offensive against the Taliban in the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan. This follows a series of vicious terrorist atrocities against civilians in Pakistani cities and an assault on the Pakistani army headquarters. Terrorism is always depressing, that human beings use violence not just for political ends, but where the body count of the innocent is the primary means to their ends. War is hell, as a wise soldier once said, but the objective in most wars is to take territory or to destroy military capability or both. Terrorism seeks to kill as many of the innocent as possible until the survivors are so sickened they give into whatever the terrorist agenda happens to be.

As a tactic it has an almost universal history of failure, but that doesn't stop one bunch of sociopaths after another giving it a try. It is also much misunderstood, especially it seems by the sort of half-wits who report on BBC News. The thing is this: because terrorists are very unconstrained in their choice of targets, because you can kill civilians almost anywhere, they can made out as much more powerful then they actually are. Just because terrorists can let of a bomb in a market does not mean that they have any great ability or control. How hard is it to set off a bomb next to a fruit stall after all? Yet to hear the BBC this was direct evidence of the imminent collapse of the Pakistani state. Then after a bomb was let off it Mingora in the Swat valley, which was recently retaken from the Taliban, the breathless BBC reporter stated that there were so many Pakistani troops there that there might not be enough for the enough left for the Waziristan assault? Excuse me? The Pakistani army has 700,000 men with another half million in reserve. For Waziristan the nature of the terrain means that numbers are much less important than mobility and logistics anyway. Where do they find these reporters? Have they never heard of fact-checking before they shoot their mouths off on air.

In fact, the only vaguely impressive thing that the Taliban have done is the attack on the army headquarters, but even here half of their assault was shot to bits at the gate and the rest were killed or captured by special forces after a short siege, which speaks well of the Pakistani army given that the attackers had the element of surprise. The fact is that the Pakistanis are at war with the Taliban, and wars have battles and losses on both sides. Ever since the Pakistani government stopped being a military dictatorship and the civilian politicians got serious about fighting their internal enemy then the tide of success has really only had one direction, and it hasn't favoured the terrorists. It would be nice if the BBC employed people who could place terrorists attacks in context, instead of spouting the line that every suicide bomber hitting a bus queue means a stunning reverse for the forces of civilisation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Expenses Inquiry - another Gordon Brown fiasco

How hard can it be? All that was required was a thorough enquiry into MPs expenses that separated the criminals and chancers from those who had merely struggled to do the right thing against the background of a poorly defined expenses system. A decent Terms of Reference, a competent auditor, a bit of understanding of both public anger and MPs circumstances and the old cliché of 'drawing a line' might have had some validity. Instead Gordon Brown gets it wrong, again. Apparently MPs are furious, especially the same Labour backbenchers who wouldn't even nominate anyone to stand against their dear leader. Maybe some sort of karma is operating here.

On a related matter Jacqui Smith had to apologise to parliament for basically stealing around £100, 000 from the taxpayer by claiming her sister's spare bedroom was her main home and then claiming everything she possibly could for her real family home. This famously included funding her husband's porn movies of course. Her greed wrecked her political career and puts her seat under threat at the next election. Here's hoping.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gordon Brown thinks that things can only get better

Gordon Brown has a new strategy - optimism. He is going to portray Labour as the sunny, happy party against a Conservative Party of doom and gloom. According to the Telegraph:
Labour, as he explains it, will be the Sunshine Party in a general election battle against Tory miserabilists.
Apparently the basis for this uncharacteristic cheer will be the Prime Minister's prediction of higher than expected levels of growth next year. That is higher than expected by anyone else other than Gordon Brown, including the Her Majesty's Treasury, the CBI, and the OECD. His prediction is that the economy will grow by 1.5% next year, which he thinks will spike the Conservative 'we are all in this together' strategy. Well, what's wrong with this picture?
  • The consensus prediction is for much lower growth.
  • The election must be called by half-way through next year anyway, allowing little time for increased growth to kick in and before any numbers are calculated.
  • Most ordinary people do not base their votes on economic predictions, rather on their own circumstances and experience.
  • Unemployment is a lagging indicator, so even if there is higher growth the high unemployment that is the most pernicious effect of recession will be around for quite a while yet.
  • A very strong economic recovery after 1992 didn't do John Major's government much good, despite a much longer run up to the 1997 election.
Actually, none of this matters, because of the one thing a higher growth prediction does give Labour and Gordon Brown. By assuming that things are going to get much better much faster, Labour can promise all sorts of spending at the election that the Conservative Party cannot. By claiming that there will be more money Gordon Brown can then offer to spend it on behalf of the electorate if they vote for him. As an election strategy it is based on contemptible dishonesty.

Business as usual for Labour then.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

David Cameron on poverty

David Cameron is not a rhetorical speaker. He does not reach the verbal heights of a Barack Obama or of my old friend Mark Francois. He doesn't communicate the raw emotion of a John Prescott. However, he doesn't take the route of purely logical argument either. This is best exemplified by Gordon Brown, whose speeches are like being sprayed with information to a point that you start to lose the will to live. In fact, you tend to get the feeling that the main purpose of his speaking is to establish how intelligent Gordon Brown is relative to you. In any case, David Cameron has a very plain speaking style, in fact a studied lack of style that is either very natural, or the product of intensive training. The effect is pretty good though, and his conference speech was a statement of vision delivered without drama, except for one moment. At one point he looked right into the camera and told the Labour party not to dare to lecture the wicked Tories on poverty after their many failures. It was brilliant and spine-tingling, and I am told that it was electric in the conference hall.

My judgement, and that of most opinion-formers, is that David Cameron not only delivered an effective speech, but parked his tanks neatly on Labour's lawn. It was also the right thing to focus on. To paraphrase, the Conservative Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing. It is just that it usually doesn't mention it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The politics of George Osborne's honesty

These are the numbers from the YouGov poll taken after George Osborne's speech:

CON 43% (+2) LAB 29% (+1) LD 17%(-1)

It appears that being straight with the British people doesn't hurt politically. This puts Labour in a bit of a bind. Can they credibly keep to their ostrich-like denial that the nation's debt is a problem? If they do then they sound dishonest, and a bit ridiculous. Bear in mind that every serious commentator and most newspapers accept that there is a debt crisis. Of course they could have a Damascene Conversion, but then they will be seen to follow the Conservatives, again.

George Osborne tells it like it is

In politics you don't tend to tell people that if they vote for you their lives are going to get worse. Labour certainly didn't last week, where the Chancellor and the Prime Minister announced billions of pounds of new policy and neglected to mention the word 'debt'. However, the country is in debt, massive debt, largely due to the same Chancellor and Prime Minister. The billions that they were promising don't exist, except as more borrowings on the money markets. In fact, the reality is that whoever people vote for at the next election their lives are going to get worse. The main difference between the two parties is that the Conservatives are actually telling people this while Labour are, well, lying.

George Osborne laid it on the line in his speech at Conservative Party conference. His theme was 'we are all in this together' and then announced a public sector pay freeze and a raising of the pension age for men to 66 among a number of measures designed to reduce government spending and actually do something about the nation's debt. This came after the Chancellor had sneaked out a pay freeze for senior public servants as some sort of pathetic spoiler. Think about it, the man had a platform last week when he could have made the announcement, but instead of facing his own party audience he tried to distract attention from the Conservatives instead. This is pathetic, student-level politics and fooled no-one.

The Shadow Chancellor was very impressive, not his delivery particularly, but his content. He seems to have struck a chord too. Editorials were consistently positive, and drew attention to the contrast between George Osborne's candour and Labour's spin at their own conference. For the Conservatives honesty may really be the best policy.

St. George's Community Housing gets the two stars

The deal was that if St. George's Community Housing, Basildon Council's housing organisation, got two stars following an inspection by the Audit Commission that they would get £142 million over five years to improve the housing stock. As previously reported the Labour government ratted on the deal and said that regardless of the result of the inspection there would be no money. Now they have have performed a bit of a U-turn, though 'bit' is the operative word. St. George's got the two stars and there will now be £5m this year, about half of the originally promised amount. This is much better than nothing, but nothing like enough.

That we have even got that much is due to careful lobbying by Basildon Council's Leader, Tony Ball, Basildon's Chief Executive and officer team, and the Cabinet Member responsible, Andy Baggott. We were also helped by support from the local Labour party, where the leader, Lynda Gordon, went against her own government and MP to back Basildon's tenants. All credit to her for that, though I suspect this compliment will not help her with her colleagues. Basildon Labour is a bit fractious you see.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Cameron on Marr

I caught the Andrew Marr interview with David Cameron this morning. Having asked Gordon Brown the previous week if he was on drugs, Marr clearly felt that he had to give David Cameron a kicking as well in the interests of balance. So, we had a question if a man from an upper middle-class family could really represent ordinary British people, guesses at David Cameron's net worth and a demand for the exact number of people who would be made unemployed by a Conservative government's cutting of public spending. Well, there is a name for the assumption that someone's worth in entirely defined by their parentage; it is called bigotry, and it doesn't matter if the key factor is taken as race or social class or whatever. You either believe that people can be taken or their own merits or you don't, and Andrew Marr clearly does not. In the case of David Cameron you could not possibility argue that he has escaped the travails and tragedies that we all encounter in our lives, and if you don't know what I mean by that then look it up, because I am not going to spell it out here.

As for his net worth, who the hell knows that at the drop of a hat? I certainly don't, and if an interviewer asked me about it I would probably tell them to shove off anyway. The irony here it that Andrew Marr is probably richer than David Cameron anyway, especially using the tax avoidance scams that the BBC arranges for its better paid staff, whixh the Times revealed today.

Then we come to revealing the precise number of people who would lose their jobs in an effort to curb Labour's disastrous national debt. It was never likely that David Cameron was going to answer that one, because the basic premise of the question is wrong. The reason that we need to cut government spending is because Labour is funding a large part of it by borrowing the cash on the international money markets. If this carries on the interest rates and taxes will have to rise in order to service both capital and interest payments. If that happens then the UK economy will not grow as much as it might, which means prolonged high levels of unemployment. So, the net unemployment levels where government spending is not constrained will be higher and for longer. What would also probably happen is that eventually UK debt could not be financed via the international markets, which would lead to forced cuts in services anyway. This is what the Labour government brought us to in 1976, and the repeat proves the old adage that the problem of socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.

The key point made by David Cameron was that it was extraordinary for the opposition to be making the running on economic policy, while the government was sticking its head in the sand and pretending that it could run astronomic levels of debt indefinitely. Compare Gordon Brown and David Cameron in front of the same interviewer and only one sounded like a Prime Minister, and it wasn't the one with the job title.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gordon Brown claims that he is going to cure cancer!

Just listened to Gordon Brown's conference speech. He claimed that Labour was going to 'beat cancer', unbelievable. Cancer is a complex series of diseases that are and have been the subject of intensive research by some of the best brains on the planet for decades. The idea that a government can wave a magic wand and just do away with it is just garbage. Actually, it is just a lie that plays on the fears of people facing such an appalling disease. You just have to wonder about the cynicism of someone who would do that.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Marr pops the Question to Brown on his health

Andrew Marr asked Gordon Brown about his heath in an interview on BBC1 this morning. This is after speculation in both the internet and the print media that Gordon Brown has some sort of a problem. He said:
A lot of people use prescription painkillers and pills to help them get through, are you one of those people?
The Prime Minister answered basically 'No'. Now, Marr was dead right to ask the question. I am the Deputy Leader of a Council, bit I suffer from a very serious condition, that requires me to pop a great many pills. I have been asked on a number of occasions about my health in relation to my post, and I don't resent it. It's a fair question to me and it was a fair question to the Prime Minister, especially as his job is much more demanding. I think he could have given a much clearer answer though.

As for the rest, he spent all of his time knocking the Conservative Party and trying to fudge issues like public debt and his u-turn on cuts. If he came across as just a bit less bitter and partisan and was just a bit more straight than he would be a great deal more credible. Instead, he just sounds glib.

Marr was pretty tough by the way, in a way that he never had been before with Gordon Brown, when he could interrupt Brown from reciting very, very long lists of bullet points that is. When I was taught public speaking it was put to me that spoken lists should have no more than three items, because people will forget the first by the time you get to number four. Clearly no-one has mentioned this to Gordon Brown.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Water on the Moon

Spacecraft have confirmed that there is water on the moon, both in ice form, but also in the regolith, or moondust. So what? you are probably thinking, and what has that got to do with politics? All right, space policy is not very high on the political agenda, but there are signs that this might be changing, with some limited debate on the UK joining the manned space exploration effort. Certainly, there is no argument about the importance of space, at least in terms of Earth's orbit. Satellites are now integral to everything from communications to navigation. Hell, my phone has GPS. The fact is that space policy is increasing in importance and that in the very long term it could have a strategic significance similar to deep ocean exploration by European powers in the renaissance.

Water on the moon is important because the two basic materials needed to support human life are energy and water. Energy is abundant on the moon in the form of direct and continuous sunlight. Water means that oxygen for air can be electrolysed and food produced, without total dependency on supplies from Earth, which is critical given the mass limitations of current rocket technology. Basically, water on the moon means that a moonbase and economic exploitation of the moon becomes much more practical.

What is astonishing is that the Apollo astronauts also found water, but NASA thought that was due to contamination and so announced that the moon was completely dry. I do wonder if that mistake had some effect on US space policy. If NASA had got that right and so the moon had seemed more interesting, would the Apollo programme still have been halted? That makes an interesting road not taken at least.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Daniel Finkelstein on saving the Labour Party

Daniel Finkelstein, who I met when we both did the Conservative Candidate's board, has written an excellent article on how to save the Labour Party. It is spot on in every regard, and it is very much at odds with what Labour is actually doing.

I really liked this bit:
Advising Labour on how to improve its position without advising it to get rid of Mr Brown is like advising someone how to deal with their cheesy feet problem without advising them to stop wearing shoes made out of brie.
There have been many hundreds of thousands of words written about Gordon Brown and the Labour leadership, but I return to my usual theme. There is no theory of organisational leadership, none, that suggests that there is any benefit in keeping a failing leader in post. Different poll ratings for possible alternative leaders or worries about the length of the leadership election process are all irrelevant. What is comes down to is if the man at the top can to the job, or not. If not, then he should go and go quickly.

Even assuming the Labour party is not inclined to follow that advice, Daniel's article is still very well worth a read.

LSC funding and New Campus Basildon

Basildon underperforms in further education. This is not a matter of opinion, rather a matter of fact, sadly written in the statistics for educational outcomes. So, some of our 16-19 year-olds are not getting the futures that they deserve, and that is a tragedy. There was a solution though, a £90m brand-new college in Basildon Town Centre, run by a consortium of existing educational establishments that would bring a first-class education to thousands of our young people. The money was coming from the national Learning and Skills Council, and the hugely successful New Campus Basildon pilot had already been established in the Icon building.

Now, the troubles with the LSC are now old news in that they promised vastly more capital to projects up and down the country than they actually had. So, it has all come to a halt and we have to recognise that this Biblical level of incompetence has put paid to our most ambitious plans for the education of our young people. They have been comprehensively betrayed by a combination of a stumbling quango and an indifferent Labour government, who both seem to have missed the point that these young adults are our future. We have to provide for them, because one day they will be running the world, and we need them to run it well. We aren't giving up though. Our local education providers, and the local LSC to be fair, are doing their best and Basildon Council will also do what it can. We clearly need an alternative plan for our young people's education, and we are going to have one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brown snubbed by Obama

This morning, I mentioned to my wife that Gordon Brown had failed to have a one to one meeting with President Obama at the UN. Her reaction was 'well, what did he expect?' followed by a few choice words on the idiocy of the Brown circle. As we know, Gordon Brown presided over the release of the Lockerbie bomber. He claimed that it was all the Scottish Government's doing and nothing to do with him, but the reality is that if Edinburgh had thought that they wouldn't have the tacit support of London then Al Megrahi would still be breathing the air of bonny Scotland. Releasing him was always going to cause a political row and the Scottish Government would not risk Labour, their main electoral rivals, making political capital at their expense on an issue like this that speaks to their basic competence in government. Grown-ups didn't take much time to figure this out, including President Obama, who probably didn't like being taken for a fool in addition to watching the release of a terrorist murderer of 200 US citizens. In fact, being seen with Brown could have been taken as an endorsement the terrorist release, and the President wasn't going to do that.

It is one thing to make a choice and accept the consequences, but it is quite another to make a choice oblivious to the likely fallout. One is principled, the other is idiotic.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Time to arm Military Padres in Afghanistan

Interesting article in the Mail, on a request by military padres to be armed during the current war in Afghanistan. Apparently medics and chaplins have already removed their red cross armbands, because the Taliban do not respect the Geneva Convention and so use such things as targets. Now the Royal Marine chaplins want weapons to both protect themselves and to provide a last option in case of capture. The subject is under discussion in the Ministry of Defence, but surely if there ever was a subject for a quick decision then this is it. Other countries arm their chaplins, the men on the ground want it, what's to discuss? Do we have to wait for some horror story to get Bob Ainsworth moving? Unfortunately, that's how it usually seems to go.

Where have Basildon's flags gone?

Some people in Basildon District may have noticed that the Union Flag and the Cross of St. George have disappeared from their customary place over the Civic Centre. Do not be alarmed, the Conservative Council's policy of flying the flags has not changed, it is just that the flagpoles need a bit of work. So, when the contractors have finished a few bits and pieces both flags will be restored to their rightful place. We are also taking the opportunity to get them cleaned.

It is a mystery to me why other public buildings are not similarly adorned with our national flags. In the US, for example, you cannot move without seeing a Stars and Stripes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brown's line on cuts collapses

The headline on Evening Standard kiosks this evening was 'Labour's secret plan for cuts'. This, and the associated coverage marks the end of Gordon Brown's attempt to define the economic debate as 'Labour investment versus Tory cuts'. Everyone has known for months that public spending is going to have to come down in order to pay back the incredible debts Labour has run up for tha nation. This is true regardless of whoever wins next year's general election, but Gordon Brown refused to admit it, sticking to his line like a speak your weight machine despite his own colleagues reluctance to back him up. They didn't want to parrot the boss for one very good reason: he was lying. Not only was he lying, he was lying in a way that was easily disprovable and so had no credibility at all. So, instead of helping Labour's rough position in the polls the fiction dragged them down further.

Yesterday, Gordon Brown at least came clean, sort of, in his speech to the TUC conference. Now there has been a leak from HM Treasury that shows the government has been considering cuts of around 9.3% for months. Some Mandarin there clearly had had enough. The leak doesn't really show that Gordon Brown was lying, because we know that, but it is documentary proof that he misled parliament, and just about every other audience in the land.

The thing is mum was right, lying is bad. Human interactions require a degree of integrity in serious matters, and in politics lying nearly always the wrong thing to do. People tend to respect the truth, even if it is an unpalatable truth. Lies, on the other hand, tend to get found out, and do not command respect. There is also the small problem of a loss of credibility. If people start to distrust you then it doesn't matter what you say, because you won't be believed. In fact the Prime Minister's behaviour is jaw-droppingly silly. I have seen Parish Council issues run with more political sophistication. You have to ask what sort of man he is and what sort of people are giving him advice?

Friday, September 11, 2009

John Cruddas 10 pont plan to save his career

John Cruddas MP, darling of the Labour left has come up with a 10-point plan, supposedly for the country:

1 – establishment of a High Pay Commission;
2 – greater tax justice, including closing tax havens and more equal distribution of income and wealth;
3 – index link benefit levels, pensions and the minimum wage to average incomes;
4 – replacing tuition fees with a graduate solidarity tax;
5 – a Fair Employment Clause in all public contracts;
6 – windfall and transaction taxes and resetting capital gains tax;
7 – a new covenant with the military, including more investment in mental healthcare, equipment, housing and support for veterans funded by scrapping plans to renew Trident and re-deploying the money saved within the Minister Of Defence budget;
8 – a Green Neal Deal*, to include scrapping the third runway at Heathrow;
9 – remutualisation of the finance sector;
10 – a credit card bill of rights for consumers.

This will address the most pressing issues faced by people today and guarantee a Labour election victory, er..., or maybe not. Labour's strategic problem is that its core vote, the traditional white working class, is peeling away. This is has been their bedrock since the party started, but lately that vote has increasingly split off to minor parties, never mind some drift to the Conservatives. Without this particular section of the population largely voting Labour then the party is in electoral difficulty, and if that vote split becomes permanent then those difficulties are permanent. So, what would a policy list designed to appeal to the ordinary working man look like? The number one issue would certainly not be anything to do with a High Pay Commission, it would be about immigration. Number two would probably relate to employment and number three to housing and so it would go. They would all be real, substantive issues that relate directly to the things that touch people's daily lives, but where the Labour government has drifted hopelessly away. It would look nothing like the list produced by Cruddas.

Hang on though, John Cruddas is a bright chap so he knows all of this. Why has he come up with this nonsense? Well, the answer is quite simple. My nonsense is not the same as that of the sort of people who frequent meetings of Constituency Labour Parties. Cruddas isn't talking to me, or the voters. He is talking to Labour members, for whom the idea of High Pay Commission pushes all of their buttons. This is his opening shot in the Labour civil war after a general election loss. You see, like everyone else, Cruddas doesn't think Labour stand a chance with Brown.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Brown's lack of military knowledge on Afghanistan

Gordon Brown had just made a speech and taken questions on the war in Afghanistan. He addressed the equipment problems the military faces with the comment that the the counter insurgency must be 'won on the ground and not in the air'. Let us pause to contemplate the breathtaking stupidity of that comment. Air power in general and helicopters in particular are what is known as a force multiplier, that is they make the traditional 'teeth' arms of infantry, armour and artillery more effective by a factor. With modern air power this can be a large factor. So, suggesting that such a vital component of a modern force as air support, including helicopters, is in some way subordinate to or less important than ground forces is absurd. That would be true even if the government had lavished equipment on the troops on the ground, but they haven't done that either. Instead, we have had vehicles that convert into shrapnel when hit by improvised explosive devices and when their failings were pointed out Labour figures smeared whistle-blowers and senior officers instead of moving heaven and earth to give our soldiers the kit that they needed The army is only now getting vehicles that can survive IED explosions, despite the dozens of flag-draped coffins for the lack of them.

The PPS to the Defence Secretary, a former army Major, had enough yesterday and used his resignation letter to rubbish government policy on Afghanistan. Today, we found out just why things have been going wrong in this war. The man at the top doesn't have a clue.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

al-Megrahi business gets shabbier

So much for high moral purpose and compassion. It appears that the decision to free the Lockerbie bomber was at least in part to do with oil rather than doing the decent thing by a dying man. The Times has letters from Jack Straw that clearly show that al-Megrahi's fate has been in play in UK-Libyan talks for some years now. This despite undertakings given to the US that the man convicted of killing 270 innocent people in the skies above Scotland would stay in prison and serve his full sentence.

Now, Labour figures have been filling the airwaves to rebut the idea that there was a conspiracy to release al-Megrahi. The idea, they say, of the SNP Scottish government taking orders from Labour Westminster is preposterous. Well, framed in those terms they are right, but, of course, that is not how these things happen. This isn't some political thriller where the plot has to be packed into a couple of hours of screen time. What occurred is that the UK government systematically removed any percieved impediment to al-Megrahi's release. This left the desperately naive SNP able to indulge the traditional left-wing practice of doing things to feel good about their own moral superiority. A mix of duplicity and psychology, bear in mind that the SNP people and how they think are well known to Scottish Labour, and there you have it. More complex than a movie script perhaps, but equally effective.

Of course, Gordon Brown has also managed to damage himself further over this matter through the simple tactic of not telling us if he thinks the release of the terrorist was a good idea. With senior figures at home and abroad up in arms, including President Obama who was until lately Gordon's best pal, you would have thought that the British Prime Minister would have shown a bit of leadership. Gordon Brown is nothing if not consistent though, and he has consistently ducked hard issues throughout his entire career. So, Labour takes another knock, as does the SNP north of the border. This last may be most significant. On one poll, the SNP has dropped six points on this issue. That is very bad for them and some may be wondering if they were deliberately shafted by London, or if their shafting was merely seen as an added benefit in the trade deal.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi freed by Scottish Government

So, they let Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi go.

On the one hand you have the fact that had he been any other prisoner then he would almost certainly have been released, given that he has terminal cancer. On the other hand, he killed 270 people in a hideous, cynical mass-murder the like of which the world has rarely seen. Well, I understand about compassion, but surely this must also apply to the families of the bereaved as well as the murderer and I simply cannot see the basis on which the decision to release was made. Releasing this man will have caused deep pain to hundreds of people, the more so because of the predictable street party of his arrival. It is all very well for Alex Salmond to now say that public celebrations in Libya are 'inappropriate', but what did he expect? His words just make him seem foolish and out of his depth at his administration's first real foray into international relations. Was the welfare of one murderer worth the hurt to so many people and the damage done to Scotland's reputation in the US and elsewhere? It takes a great degree of moral certainty on someone's part to think that might be the case. One wonders who is looking in the mirror today and burnishing their ego on being on such a higher moral plane than most of the rest of us, because that is what I suspect is going on. Certainly no rational process would have led to the release of someone like al-Megrahi. In fact a rational process would probably have led to a last cigarette and a blindfold instead of a prison cell.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Election Prediction

From Electoral Calculus:
A new prediction has been posted on 16 August 2009 at

During July, the support for all three major parties has increased as support for
minor parties decreased by 4%. But the relative positions of the major parties has
remained fairly stable with the Conservatives continuing to have a big lead over Labour. ICM (Guardian) has a 14% lead (up from 12%), Populus (Times) sees a 12% lead (unchanged), Ipsos-MORI has 16% (down from 17%). ComRes (Independent) has 18% (up from 11%), and YouGov (Daily Telegraph) has 14% (down from 16%).

Overall, the Conservative lead is 14%, which is unchanged from last month.

The current national prediction is that the Conservatives will have a majority of 72 seats, winning 361 seats (+7 seats since 7 July 2009).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Internet Piracy clampdown after Mandelson's nice lunch

I have just bought a DVD box set, which is loaded with dire threats against video piracy and copyright notices you can't skip past. The effect is very irritating and conveys the very strong impression that the DVD publisher regards me as a criminal. It is also characteristic of the industry approach to piracy, which is to threaten and then victimise their own customers. What is surprising is that they think this will actually work. Don't get me wrong, information piracy is deeply wrong and no-one should engage in it, but if you actually want to prevent it then assuming all of your customers are evil is clearly not the way to go. It doesn't work because it weakens the moral position against piracy and it doesn't work because it is far behind the pirates in technology terms. Continuing with the theme of attacking their own customers, according to the Sunday Times industry figure David Geffen has told Lord Mandelson that Internet Service Providers need powers to identify video pirates and then cut off their internet access. The plan is to to criminalise the six million or so British citizens who make illegal downloads, which is at least consistent with an industry that hates its own customers. So, the moral distinction between the pirates and an industry that seems to regard Orwell's 1984 as a guidebook becomes further blurred and, worse still, it wouldn't even work. I am not going to discuss the technical issues here, suffice to say the trend of the mass entertainment industry running five years behind internet technology continues.

New Labour has a dismal track record when it comes to civil liberties and workable IT solutions, so I think that Geffen's urgings will probably fall on fertile ground. Hopefully, the Conservatives will demand a rather higher standard of policy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Spying is good says Sir Christopher Rose

Daily Telegraph letters today included the following:

SIR – It is unfortunate that you repeated (Leading article, August 10) the criticism of local authorities for using their Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act covert surveillance powers against dog fouling. This is, at best, a half truth.

It is unlikely that the use of those powers would be necessary or proportionate in relation to fouling a pavement. But fouling a children’s playground is much more serious, as dog excrement contains a parasite which can cause blindness in children.

I suspect that many people would welcome the use of these powers to reduce that risk.

Sir Christopher Rose
Chief Surveillance Commissioner
London SW1

Check out the signature. Sir Christopher Rose's job is to make sure the large number of agencies who made the more than half million communications intercept requests and engaged in other surveillance activities stay within the law. On the evidence of this letter he brings the wrong sort of enthusiasm to his role, arguing that surveillance by Councils for trivial reasons is absolutely fine. Now, a standard method to try and justify the unjustifiable is to suggest a lurid risk, usually involving children, that can only be mitigated by an extreme but sadly necessary course of action. There are two components to a risk: threat, what might happen, and probability, how likely it is to happen. Because probability is poorly understood by many people, I give you the National Lottery, then the risks can often be wildly overestimated especially when someone wants to support a weak argument. What is the chance of a child going blind from dog excrement? The answer is very, very small. In fact, based on the 2003 figures the chance of someone being diagnosed with the damaging infection at all was a tiny 0.0037%, and many people so diagnosed have only mild symptoms. So, while dog owners clearly should clean up after their pets, this cannot possibly justify the use of covert surveillance. In fact if you use Sir Christopher's line of argument that even a very small chance of public harm justifies spying on the public then all of us should be watched all of the time. Given that is almost what this country has come to he must be pretty happy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sporting Village in the news

BBC coverage here.

John Baron MP presses Planning Inspectorate over Western Road Development

MP complains of over-development and traffic problems

John Baron MP continues his opposition to the proposed development at 43 Western Road, Billericay, and has written to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol asking him to turn down the developers appeal against the Council’s decision to refuse planning permission.

John said:
Having visited the site, I do feel that the proposal to build 12 apartments represents overdevelopment and will be totally out of keeping with the surrounding area. I also believe that such a development would result in traffic problems, as the approach is difficult.

In general, I am concerned about the wider problem of overdevelopment in residential areas which I believe is totally unfair on local residents.

I also believe there is something undemocratic about decisions regarding residential developments being made by outside organisations such as The Planning Inspectorate in Bristol or the Government. Local residents should have the final say, given they have to live with the decision.

If you know this site then you know it has a long and complex planning history. Basildon Council Planning Committees have repeatedly rejected plans for large flatted development in an ordinary residential street, but it does appear that this saga is set to continue.