Saturday, March 29, 2008

Simon Heffer, Pompous Ignoramus

Simon Heffer takes the trouble to comment on a recent trip by Councillors and officers from Essex County Council to the US to promote inward investment. It was a cross-party trip but that seems to have escaped him. His insight includes the following:
Essex has more business than it can cope with, with its green fields being concreted over, its roads sclerotic, and only the drug-addled are unemployed, so I am not sure why £24,000 needed to be spent to encourage any more.
The depth of contempt for ordinary people and ignorance of how an economy actually works is truly breathtaking. Essex does not have more business than it can cope with unless you think that Essex people have no aspirations at all to improve their situation. Essex Councils certainly have aspirations for their people, and they are making a concerted effort to move the Essex economy into higher-value business, which in turn offers Essex people greater rewards. Of course, Simon doesn't believe in social and economic mobility. In his world plebs stay plebs and have no other function but to mow is lawn and serve him complicated coffee. As for green fields being concreted over, most Essex Councils are concentrating development on brownfield sites, and the roads work a great deal better than those in any other of the counties that surround London. His comment about the unemployed is just offensive and shows a man who clearly has never held a real conversation with anyone earning under six figures.

When considering Simon Heffer you really only have to remember that this was a man who until very recently was a Gordon Brown cheerleader, though he has fallen strangely silent on that of late. His analysis there was on the same level as his views on Essex.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mirror toadies in action

Remember the Daily Mirror? It used to be a campaigning newspaper that supported the ordinary man over the powerful, a voice for reform and a constant thorn in the side of the establishment. Now, it is a desperate rag that is joined at the hip to a failing Labour government that has ceased to even try and argue its case save to rubbish its opponents with bitter personal attacks. So, we have seen a succession of assaults on David Cameron because he went to Eton, as if it is his fault that he was born into a successful family. Now they have run a story where they secretly following David Cameron on his bicycle to see if he obeyed the highway code. No, I am not making this up. Anyway here it is reported by the Telegraph, which can at least claim to be a newspaper instead of a government propaganda sheet.

With the government at its lowest poll ratings in recent times and with many of the British people facing hard times this is the best that they can come up with? Pathetic.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Polly Toynbee and reality

Interesting commentary from Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian. What made it interesting was less the article and more the reader's comments. Remember, this is the Guardian, which fulfils much the same purpose for the Left as the Telegraph does for the Right. Her pro-government stance is trashed by so many of her readers that for a moment I thought I had was on the Daily Mail site instead. The political dynamic for the last decade has been dominated by the superficial success of the economy, which has supported Labour through all of their other tribulations. It is now clear that the economy is in bad trouble, and that Labour's management of it has left Britain poorly placed to deal with a downturn. Darling's budget was the last straw for many people: contrast the attitude of the US government and institutions, which their proactive measures to help their people with Darling hoping for the best and, incredibly, putting up taxes. That was the point where many people, amid rising bills for petrol, food and heating their homes, finally gave up this government. Now we face the democratic death rattle of a party heading for opposition, with successive local elections leading up to the final act of a General Election. Even Polly's spin won't save them.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

John Baron MP urges residents to have their say on gypsy and traveller proposals

Government must listen over plans for 81 new traveller pitches in Basildon District

John Baron today called on local residents to submit their views to the Government Office in the East of England (GO-East) on recent proposals from the unelected East of England Regional Assembly (EERA) for a new gypsy and traveller strategy. The plans announced last month would see a further 81 authorised pitches imposed on Basildon District, in addition to the 116 pitches already provided. They would leave some neighbouring authorities with as few as 15. GO-East is now undertaking a 12-week consultation on behalf of the Secretary of State, from 25 February to 16 May.

John said:
I am urging local residents to take part in the latest consultation on the future of traveller site provision across Essex, as this issue is an important test case for local democracy.

Plans to force new traveller sites on Basildon District are unfair and need to be stopped. They implicitly reward travellers for developing land without planning permission because the target of 81 new authorised sites is calculated to reflect the number of existing unauthorised sites. This is quite wrong.

Basildon has already done its fair share of providing traveller pitches – over 100, while some neighbouring authorities have none at all. That is why it is so important that local residents take this opportunity to have their say. It is time for other local authorities to step up to the plate and help address traveller needs.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

John Baron MP tells Prime Minister Iraq dossier should be published

MP raises Information Tribunal ruling at PMQs

In Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, John Baron MP challenged Gordon Brown over the Government’s failure to publish an early draft of the 2002 Iraq dossier written by FCO spin doctor John Williams, despite rulings from the Information Commissioner and an Information Tribunal (22nd January 2008) instructing this to happen.

John said:
Now that the Information Commissioner and an Information Tribunal have instructed the Government to release the John Williams draft of the 2002 Iraq dossier, saying that it could add to what we know about the role of spin doctors in presenting the case for war, and highlighting discrepancies in the evidence provided by the Foreign Office, will the Prime Minister now immediately release the document, and if not, why not?
The Prime Minister said that a decision will be announced very soon.

Commenting afterwards, John said:
The Government has for too long withheld the truth about the role played by spin doctors in producing the Iraq Dossier. Now the Information Tribunal agrees that the Williams draft could have played a greater part in influencing the drafting of the dossier than the Government has so far admitted – even to the Hutton inquiry. The public deserves to decide for ourselves the importance of this document in the run up to war.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Gardiner's Lane South plan B

In 2003 Basildon District Council published a Supplementary Planning Guidance for Gardiner’s Lane South. This built on the 1992 Local Plan and designated the 90-acre open space for a large commercial and a limited housing development. So, far, so good, but despite a planning application for the site being passed in 2005, it hasn’t proved possible to design a project to actually get anything built. The sticking point has been the identified need for a bridge and junction over the adjacent A127 to take the traffic from the commercial development, which has a price tag of the order of £45m. No government cash has been forthcoming for that, and that upfront cost made a project unattractive to the private sector, despite the boom in commercial property that has only just come to a stuttering halt. What does a Council do when faced with such a situation? Well there is the option of working with the landowner, English Partnerships, an arm of the government, to somehow, some way get a development started on the original plans. That is certainly what the local Labour Party said we should do. Or, we could recognise that if we couldn’t get the development going in the most benign of markets then it certainly won’t happen during the current slowdown, and then think of something else. Because we are sensible people, we have gone with option 2, and we will be working with English Partnerships on a predominately residential alternative, which doesn’t have anything like the same heavy transport impact. That also means that there is a green field somewhere that we won’t have to concrete over to meet the government’s housing targets for Basildon District, which is also a good thing. The only real concern would be if the loss of potential employment land could damage the local economy, but we are confident that our other regeneration projects and developments like the huge London Gateway port just 7 miles down the road will provide the commercial space, and employment, that we need.

The Labour Party was still upset though, because the original proposal was largely their idea. Frankly, they shouldn’t be so defensive. No-one has torn into them about the viability of the original scheme, and anyway that is not the point. What matters is what works for our community not the egos that have been invested in glossy site maps. Housing on Gardiners Land at least has some prospect of actually being built.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Egg sacks 7% of its customers

Credit card provider Egg, now part of Citigroup, has stopped the credit cards of 161,000 of its customers, about 7% of its entire base. Apparently this is because they are 'high risk' and it the straightened economic climes represented an exposure that the financial institution was no longer willing to accept. However, many of their understandably miffed ex-customers do not seem very high risk. In fact they seem to be the sort of people who manage their money well, and who pay down their credit card debt entirely every month. This gives us a clue as to what is really going on. No doubt some of those dispensed with are generating too-high credit risks, but some are probably the opposite, generating no actual credit at all, and hence generating no profit for Egg. Instead of coming clean that people who pay in full every month actually cost it money because of the expense in servicing their accounts, Egg is instead trying to pretend that it is acting solely as the soul of prudence. That this means putting all of the blame on its customers and worrying people all over the country. Egg's new management must know that brand damage can stick, and Egg cards might be a tough sell after this. The only conclusion is that a mix of poor cost control and poor risk management has put Egg into a very bad place indeed.

Let us hope that this is the only card issuer that finds itself in this sort of bind. Otherwise it would be an indicator of a much wider economic malaise.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Derek Conway Out

What a Contrast. Peter Hain is found to have undeclared donations of over £100,000 via a sham think tank and he hangs on for weeks until the police are about to call before resigning his post while Gordon Brown dithers. Derek Conway, a Conservative MP, is found to have put his sons on staff and paid them thousands for doing nothing and David Cameron sacks him the parliamentary party the day after the story breaks. Indecision on the part of the Prime Minister versus decisiveness and leadership from the Leader of the Opposition. Cameron has clearly done the right thing, and his firmness about a misuse of the public purse contrasts with Labour's unwillingness to deal with borderline corruption.

Conway, on the other hand, is beneath contempt. We had him on the shortlist for the Billericay selection some years ago, but he fell by the wayside when the selection committee checked his references. Though personally plausible, no-one who had worked with him had anything positive to say about his personality or his abilities. Pity Bexley weren't so thorough.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Peter Hain resigns at last

Peter Hain has resigned. This is not shock news, what is a shock is that up until today he was still in office. The man failed to declare over £100,000 in donations to his campaign for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party which were routed via a fake think tank that seems to have served no other purpose, and which therefore suggests a degree of premeditation at least. His defence was pressure of work, or as Gordon Brown put it ‘incompetence’, neither of which would be allowed by any judge in the land as a reason for breaking the law. Sill, he clung on to office, despite little or no support from within the Labour Party, never mind from anyone else. Brown, typically, couldn’t decide to sack him, so he limped on until today when the Electoral Commission’s decision to refer the matter to the police finally convinced him that the game was up.

The declaration of donations and the associated administration has become something of a stick used by politicians to beat each other, but the law has a serious purpose. Without transparency on where a politician, and an officeholder in particular, obtains the funds for political purposes then there is always the danger that a decision can be taken to favour a party for reasons other than the public good. More than £100k from anonymous donors hidden behind a front organisation would have meant that there were people to whom Hain was beholden unbeknownst to anyone but Hain and his funders. This is not a technical breach and he should never have made such an arrangement and should have been turfed from office as soon as the scheme was uncovered.

A criminal investigation could be bloody, especially as the police are so keen on Labour at the moment.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Public Finances gutted to support Northern Rock

So, for all of the tough talk the government have caved in and have now offered an absurd level of public financial support for a private sector bailout of Northern Rock. Let us not forget that an offer by Lloyds TSB when the crisis first broke was rejected out of hand, even though it entailed a much lower level of public risk than what it is now on offer. Now they are going to guarantee all of the Rock's exposure to the Bank of England as some sort of long-term bond issue, which drops it neatly on top of Britain's existing public debt. This was already running perilously close to the limits set by the government and this breaks it completely. So what? Well, it will affect Britain's sovereign debt position, because the cost to our country of borrowing money is very much dependent on the UK's existing level of indebtedness. That means a bottom-line cost to our taxpayers, and for years. More public debt also reduces the government's room for manoeuvre in the short-term, and let us not forget that we have a real danger of either reduced growth or outright recession in 2008. Basically, the government position means that of all of the other potential commitments for public money, it has decided that Northern Rock is the most important. That is patently absurd. What is really going on is that Gordon Brown has bottled it again. This time he is too scared to take on Northern Rock and shut it down, which is the only way the public's financial position can be safeguarded. What they are proposing makes no sense in business or public policy terms, unless you want to avoid short-term political pain. Once again the country's interests are sacrificed to manage tomorrow's headlines. And Brown was meant to be different.