Sunday, April 13, 2008

Brown, beginning of the end?

Absolutely terrible newspaper coverage for Brown this weekend. There have been pieces in the Guardian, Mail and Times the gist of which is that Brown is facing widespread disloyalty and speculation about his leadership from within the parliamentary Labour party and the government itself. The Sunday Times goes with the imminence of a backbench revolt on the 42-day detention issue, and the likelihood that Brown would lose a vote of confidence linked to the issue, requoting a poll from Saturday's Telegraph that puts the Conservatives 16 points ahead of Labour. It also suggests that Brown has lost confidence in his leadership in the biggest swing against a Prime Minister ever, and that includes Chamberlain in 1940 just before he was forced to step down and hand the country over to Churchill.

In a local context, the last time we had local elections in Basildon with the national polls in this state, the Conservatives won every seat that was being contested, including some seats that had never previously been held by the Conservatives. Now, I am not suggesting that this could happen this time, but even half of that would mean a catastrophic set of results for Labour locally, and by extrapolation nationally. If that happened and if Boris took London what would that mean for Brown? Nothing good I suspect.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Labour leader trashes ex-Labour Councillor

Jane Dyer, an sitting Councillor, has ditched Basildon Labour and re-badged herself as an Independent. Labour leader, Nigel Smith, has reacted with uncharacteristic bile and labelled her a 'dead loss', amongst other things. His point appears to be that Cllr. Dyer was not as active at the Council as he would have liked. Well, I must admit that I haven't had much to do with her over the four years of her term, but my experience is that Councillors can often be valuable community representatives without a great deal of speechmaking. I suspect that Nigel's irritation is less that she didn't pull her weight and more that she has baled on the increasingly riven local Labour party. This year's local elections have already seen a well-respected Labour Councillor deselected and spun off to an unwinnable seat. Now they have managed to lose a Councillor altogether. One wonders what is going on?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Poll puts Conservatives 11 points ahead

The latest ICM poll in the Telegraph puts the Conservatives on an election-winning 43%. Details here.

Brown heads of tax rebellion - by lying

Labour MPs have finally woken up to the fact that the abolition of the 10% starting rate for income tax in the last budget under Chancellor Gordon Brown kicks the poorest people in the land. So, a group of them tabled a fairly strongly worded motion in the House of Commons criticising the government on the subject. This was then withdrawn following a promise to look at the matter. That promise has now been withdrawn, leaving Labour backbenchers looking like dupes and the government looking duplicitous. Now, the changes to the tax regime were quite complex; a mix of rates and thresholds, allowances, National Insurance and a dash of Tax Credits. A precise calculation of who is better or worse off depends on individual circumstances, but there is as emerging consensus that quite a few of the poorest will see their incomes decline. Worse than that the emphasis shifts from getting money through working to getting money as a state hand-out for many who will not actually be worse off, provided that they fill in those forms properly of course.

You can tell when the government knows it has got it wrong: when it starts rabbiting on about 'since 1997...' on any given subject. This is exactly what they are doing here, tacitly admitting that the current changes are a balls-up but claiming that taken together with their past actions things are still on the plus side. It seems that some Labour backbenchers at least are concerned that ordinary voters might not see it that way. How those same backbenchers feel right now, having been shafted right along with the low-paid can only be imagined.

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.