Saturday, April 11, 2009

McBride Gone

It seems that Damien McBride has resigned. It would have gone something like this. Story broke yesterday, no.10 tries to get control by giving the Telegraph the exclusive in exchange for relatively sympathetic write-up supported by talking heads on the news today. The hope would have been that this would have defused the Sunday newspapers from taking too hard a line and maybe they could ride out the weekend news-cycle. Calls will have been going out to editors to ask how they were going to play it, and trying to talk it down with offers of other juicy stories if this could be relegated to a single column article on page 13. That McBride has gone means that it didn't work. The better people in the Labour party are rebelling, with Labourhome and Charles Clarke calling for McBride to go and my guess is that the newspapers weren't playing ball either. So he's gone. Now no.10 will hope that it stops here, that they can portray McBride as a lone maverick, rather than Gordon Brown's head of strategy executing an agreed, well, strategy. They may succeed, but if there is much more to this, and if it comes out, then it could go very badly for Gordon Brown.

Labour smear campaign exposed

Guido Fawkes is reporting emails sent from Damien Mcbride suggesting smears against senior Conservative politicians to be run on by Derek Draper's who runs the Labourlist website. Mcbride is a special advisor to the Prime Minister, paid for the taxpayer. The story is running at number 2 on the BBC and on Sky and is in today's press. There is a frontpage story in the Telegraph, but reading this it has all the hallmarks of an exclusive given under condition of sticking to the no.10 line. So, it tries to play things down, doesn't publish the emails, and dismisses the whole thing as 'juvenile and inappropriate'. The email text may come out in the Sunday press, but the rumours are that they are so disgusting that there may be issues of libel if they are put into print. They are apparently a discussion about setting up a deniable website followed by the circulation of sickening stories. One supposedly describes an alleged sexual disease; another claims that a close family member of one leading Tory is receiving treatment for a mental health issue. The emails were sent from an official 10 Downing Street email address by a civil servant who is a close confidante of the Prime Minister.

Now, I don't like the Labour party much, but no-one could argue that Tony Blair was an extremely capable politician, who, crucially, surrounded himself with best talent the Labour movement could offer. Gordon Brown is something quite different. He lacks any recognisable vision, appears to have very little grasp of what is actually going on the country, and is incapable of connecting with ordinary people. Worse than that, most of his team are Labour's second rate who are solely distinguished by sticking with Brown and plotting against Blair while he was in charge. So, they now have all of the top jobs, and they aren't up to it. As the polls stay bad they are getting increasingly desperate and instead of turning their energies to helping our country in the teeth of the worst recession for 70 years instead we have this filth. McBride has broken the Civil Service code and he should be fired. Brown should fire him anyway, but he can't because it is inconceivable that this should go on without his knowledge. We have a Prime Minister who doesn't want to win the political argument, just to trash his opponents with lies in a self-serving attempt to cling on to power. I didn't like Tony Blair, but I was never ashamed that he was Prime Minister.

These people have got to go.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Livingstone defends Quick - Quick Resigns

Ken Livingstone was on Newsnight last night defending Bob Quick. His line was that it was a trivial mistake and that Quick was such an asset in his current role that we could not afford to lose him. This is twaddle. If a junior officer had breached security to the point that a major operation risked compromise then they would have been disciplined, probably severely. There cannot be one rule for the troops and another for the boss. This is particularly important for things like information security, which depend absolutely on people doing the right thing day in and day out. Letting Quick off would be the same as saying that the rules don't matter, or they don't matter if you are a friend of Ken. Fortunatley, Ken isn't running the show any more and Boris had a very different attitude. In fact Livingstone was the only talking head to try and defend Quick, not surprising when you remember Quick sending 20 anti-terror police into parliament without a warrant. That disgrace alienated politicians across the political spectrum, and it hasn't yielded up anything in the way of a prosecution either. An uncharitable explanation would be that Quick was after the top job in the met and hoped to impress the Home Secretary by being tough on Tories. Well, we don't need another political copper thanks, and today at least we have one less.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Quick by name...

So let's get this straight, Bob Quick, the senior anti-terrorist police officer in Britain gets out of a car in front of 10 Downing Street and in front of a bank of cameras with secret documents loose in his hand. They are photographed and a police operation against suspected terrorists has to be moved up because details are now in the public domain. You could not make it up. It doesn't take a great brain to to know to keep confidential documents under cover, but Quick managed to fail at basic security and in so doing has damaged the country's counter-terrorism effort. In case anyone has forgotten this is the same policeman who raided parliament without a warrant and arrested a Conservative frontbencher before whining that the Tories were out to get him. Accident-prone is probably the most charitable thing that you can say about him as he makes his second very public apology for a personal misjudgement. Can the country risk a third?

Ian Tomlinson video

A man died of heart failure at the G20 protests. He was not a protester and the police were quite specific that there had not been in contact with them. Now a video has emerged of Ian Tomlinson being pushed over by a police officer, shortly before he died.

The most worrying aspect of this remains the divergence between the initial statements from the police and what we now know to be reality. In an echo of the spin that surrounded the shooting at Stockwell, we were told that Ian Tomlinson had no contact with the police. The was wrong and misleading to the point of being a deception. As has been observed, central London has no shortage of surveillance, so establishing the circumstances of the incident should have been straightforward. There is no excuse. What would have happened without the chance of a mobile phone video? Would the cover-up have succeeded? If Ian Tomlinson was illegally assaulted then someone should pay, but if the the police lied someone should pay for that as well.

Conservative Housing Policy published

Housing is a key issue in Basildon District and like most the country we have suffered under Labour's incompetent planning regime. This has forced the construction of flats instead of houses and developments against local opposition, all in the service of top-down targets driven by unelected quangos. In this context the publication of a Conservative green paper on housing is very interesting, and there is certainly much in there of interest. The good news is that the whole Regional Spatial Strategy nonsense whereby a bunch of know-nothings try and plan housing for the whole Ease of England gets the boot. Why anyone thought that central planning would be more successful for housing than it was for Soviet tractor production is beyond me, but under a Conservative government it goes. Power would be vested back to local Councils and local communities, with local Councillors no longer constrained in acting as the representatives of their communities on planning matters. This goes hand in hand with measures to encourage the building of homes at a local level and an innovative 'right to move' for social tenants. There is also the welcome abolition of the Home Information Packs and a promise on further reform of the insanely complicated Local Development Framework process.

As the paper lays out very clearly, the net effect of all of the Labour bureaucracy has been that we have been building fewer homes and then the wrong type of home. Local accountability and planning will probably mean more building, but actually of the homes people want to live in. This has two major beneficial effects, firstly people get homes, but secondly we have a chance to avoid the cyclic housing boom-bust that has characterised Labour in government.

All we need now is an election.

Basildon Council Cemeteries

Basildon Council operates a number of cemeteries, providing plots for the burial of local people and for their memorials. As you would expect, these are subject to terms and conditions in order to allow the overall management of the graveyard, particularly to allow unobstructed grounds maintenance. Unfortunately, a problem had built up over a number of years whereby some memorials had exceeded their permitted size, causing all sorts of problems for the Council staff who have to keep the cemeteries in good condition for everyone. This is obviously a deeply sensitive subject, and while people do have to keep to the rules it has been very important to be sensitive to people's grief at losing loved ones and their desire to remember them. So, the Council has been engaged in a programme to regularise memorials, while at the same time ensuring that people and graves are treated with the respect that they deserve. My colleague Cllr. Kevin Blake has handled this with the utmost sensitivity and nearly all of the work is now done with very few complaints. The previous Labour administration backed off from this because of the dangers of negative publicity, and some of my Conservative colleagues weren't too keen either. Despite this, Kevin has taken it on and with his excellent officer team the matter has been resolved in a way that supports both local people in their loss and the Council's operations. This despite the local Labour party's early efforts to turn this into some sort of party political issue.

It is the small local government successes like this that never make the papers.

Monday, April 06, 2009

LSC Funding Crisis reaches Basildon

The situation regarding the LSC college rebuilding programme borders on the unbelievable. It appears that the Learning and Skills Council gave the go-ahead to roughly three times the value of the schemes as there were funds available. This is a disaster of the first rank, with colleges up and down the country committed to works and now with no money to carry on with their projects. Normally I am the first to blame the government for this sort of screw-up, but this one does seem to have been made in quango-land, and the head of the LSC has got the boot as a result. This chap was on a salary of £230k, if you believe it. At least they didn't give him a bonus.

We were relying on this funding for the New Campus Basildon college in Basildon Town Centre, and so that is now on hold, like just about every other scheme up and down the country, while the programme is reviewed. However, we do think that in any sensible review Basildon should get the green light again. It is a simple fact that our educational outcomes for 16-19 year olds are not good enough when compared to other similar communities. Our current further education providers are not collectively providing enough of our young people with the aspiration, motivation and qualifications that they need. As you would expect we are lobbying hard for the new college, which represents not only an opportunity for education, but for the rebuilding of a key part of Basildon Town Centre.

We shall see what happens.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Visteon Redundancies

Visteon, a car parts manufacturer and distributor, is in administration and has just made over 600 staff redundant. Sadly, 180 or so are in Basildon. The workers have been left with nothing but statutory redundancies despite decades of service in many cases. So far, so tragic, but there is the detail that Visteon was originally spun off from Ford, and it appears that the staff that transferred may have been guaranteed Ford's terms and conditions, which would mean much better redundancy terms at least. Not surprisingly, the Visteon ex-employees are furious and are campagining for what they believe they were promised.

Let's home this is settled soon, fairly, and outside of a courtroom.