Thursday, July 09, 2009

Astonishing article from Simon Heffer

Astonishment, nay shock at Simon Heffer's latest column. Was is the radical policy? Was it the breathtaking political insight? No; it was the fact that he referred to David Cameron as 'Mr. Cameron'. You see almost since David Cameron became Conservative leader he has been the subject of a stream of vitriol from Mr. Heffer, who took to referring to him as 'Dave' as a mark of his particular contempt. This was at a time when 'Simon' was particularly impressed with Gordon Brown and when he was convinced that the Conservatives would never move into the position as a credible challenger to Labour under David Cameron. To be fair, Mr. Heffer has changed his mind about both and now has dropped the playground insults in favour of political commentary, which is of course is his job. The advice he gives here is that public sector jobs will have to go.
There is no easier way to save money than by sacking people from the public payroll. This will entail more than cutting a few quangos: a defence expert recently told me that 25 per cent of the 100,000 civil servants at the Ministry of Defence could go without any detrimental effect to our defence capabilities. That is just one example. How many bureaucrats are there in the Department of Health dealing with a target culture that does nothing to improve hospitals? How many are there in the schools department who are helping achieve the stunning levels of mediocrity that so distinguish our state education system? And what about the growth-like-Topsy of our local government, where some county council leaders now have entourages and vast private offices, and where business is run by a "cabinet"?
He actually has a point, but it is the sort of point that someone has when observing that large mammals defecate in forests. Anyone who knows anything about organisations knows that about 75% of the cost of a typical office-based operation are staff costs. So, calling for David Cameron to cut civil service jobs is about as useful as suggesting that someone cashes in a winning lottery ticket. It is pointless and obvious, given that the Conservatives have already committed to a very sharp reduction in government spending. That it hasn't been spelled out in lurid detail is neither here nor there. It is going to happen, because it must.

I suspect that Mr. Heffer is paid to provide a rather higher degree of political insight than that.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Your data managed by Google?

This government has a long, proud record of hugely expensive IT projects that deliver poor solutions late. Even among these, the centralisation of NHS records is a standout, delivering a solution at least 10 years out of date at an eye-watering cost of £12.7 bn. Speaking as a fairly senior IT professional, I cannot figure out exactly how this project costs as much as a fleet of nuclear ballistic-missile submarines. Even at the most expensive consultancy rates and even with the obsolete monolithic architecture they have settled on, the price should still be only a fraction of this staggering sum. Someone is clearly making a fortune out of the UK taxpayer on this one.

Fortunately, the Conservatives have better ideas. In 2009 it makes no sense to build huge systems from scratch just to manage data. There are established standards and services for this that could deliver electronic NHS records at a cost that is orders of magnitude lower than that the government is shelling out. The Conservative suggestion is to use facilities already being run by Google and Microsoft, and why not? Provided there is a framework that puts the onus on the private companies to keep the data safe then there is no more of a security issue that with a government system, less probably given the government's record of data mishaps. So, patients and health professionals get access to their data, it's presented using existing web standards so further applications are straightforward and it's cheap and available today. That has to be better than lining the pockets of IT consultancies and it has the overriding virtue that it would actually work.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Labour liars

Gordon Brown is lying when he claims the choice is between 'Labour investment and Tory cuts'. Everyone knows that his is lying, public, press, fellow members of the government, and in this case the porkies are so blatant that this issue is fast becoming the Prime Minister's lack of honesty rather than the state of the economy. Matters haven't stopped there, however, with government ministers trying to smear Conservatives as being homophobic, this when there are two gay members of the shadow cabinet.

Dishonesty seems to be built into the Labour party, because these two latest examples are only the latest in a long line of fictions. Many in Labour seem to regard lying as a perfectly legitimate political tactic and it is not hard to figure out why. These are the words of a Labour activist posted to the ConservativeHome website:

Prejudiced against Conservatives?

No, I don't think I am. The term 'prejudice' means to pre-judge someone based on irrational fear. I haven't pre-judged the Conservatives. In fact I listen to the arguments they make, read discussions on sites like this, and then reach my judgement.

And my judgement is that the vast majority of Tories are backwards social misfits who hate freedom and wish to do the country great harm.

Like many of his Labour cohorts, this fellow is utterly convinced of his moral superiority when compared to Conservatives. He is also convinced that the Conservative party is a force of evil. Given that view it is a short step to the belief that anything goes when it comes to keeping the forces of darkness at bay. So, lies an smears are perfectly acceptable because they are weapons wielded by the morally perfect against the morally defective.

Pathetic really.

Basildon Festival

The Basildon Festival is on this weekend; live music on two stages, events, stands and a funfair. It's annual and free and yesterday thousands came to enjoy themselves in the sun. The whole thing is run by Basildon Council and, as ever, Council staff have worked incredibly hard to make the whole thing a success. I went yesterday and met my colleague Cllr. Kevin Blake who was really getting into the festival spirit, and who can blame him. His portfolio includes the festival's organisation and so the lead-up to this weekend must have been pretty stressful. Seeing the huge crowds and everything going like clockwork I'd have been pretty happy too.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cameron fulfils promise on EU

Something pretty important happened yesterday: a new group formed in the European Parliament. Hardly earth-shattering you may think, but this represents David Cameron meeting the promise he made during his leadership campaign, that Conservative MEPs would leave the vaguely rightwing European People's Party group and find a home more suited to the policy position of the British Conservative party. Why has it taken so long you may ask? The reason is that for a group to be a group with any real power in terms of the EU parliament it has to include members from 7 different nations and at least 25 members. This is a high hurdle and organisation had to wait until the recent European elections before such a coalition could be put together. The delay has meant ridicule from both ideological Euro-federalists and Europsceptics, both of whom share the common goal of not having an effective opposition in the European parliament. The former don't want anything disturbing the sense of inevitability about 'ever-closer union' while the latter want to avoid any comparisons with the antics of the UKIP MEPs, who haven't managed to form an official EU group in between living large on the taxpayers' shilling. Anyway, the point is the David Cameron has delivered, again. The further point, as Dan Hannan MEP articulates here, the European Parliament now has a, real, Conservative, opposition.

Friday, June 19, 2009

LabourList has Brown's number

In case anyone thinks I am pathologically biased against Gordon Brown, this is what LabourList thinks about him. I especially liked this bit:
After a tough month or so for Labour, there are signs that the party is hunkering up, dusting down and preparing once again to fight the good fight.

It's not coming from the Party leader, who continues to hide away in his Downing Street bunker, making only guest appearances to toe the line both at the dispatch box and through the automation of a decade-old politics: Labour investment over Tory cuts.
Of course they are spot on, but enough of the troops in parliament seem determined to hang on to the vote-loser. The thing about Brown is that many ordinary people hate him with a passion. Tony Blair never caused this kind of reaction, which is why he was the most successful Labour Prime Minister in history.

So, they got rid of him, err...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taking on the BNP

People are quite exercised at the BNP's recent electoral success. This has led to a hand-wringing from and the good, who in many cases seem unable to comprehend that people would vote for fascists and racists. In fact they seem unable to really accept that the mere labels fascist and racist were not enough to dissuade people from voting BNP. Eric Pickles, Conservative Party Chairman, does not fall into this category, recognising that descriptive prose is not enough and that the BNP has to be taken on.

What does this mean though? Well, first we have to understand why people actually vote Nationalist. The BNP primarily draws its support from the Old Labour voter segment, that is traditional working class within established working class communities. New Labour has taken these people for granted since its inception, reasoning that the communities that have voted Labour for generations will always vote for them regardless. This has fallen foul of the reduction in tribal loyalty in politics, but it has also been reflected in over a decade of Labour policy. In policy terms white working-class culture has been ignored or denigrated and low-cost and social housing has been provided at the lowest rate for decades, creating competition with immigrant communities for a scarce resource. Labour has orchestrated increasing inequality and decreasing social mobility, trapping people in low incomes with no prospect of improvement and, of course, there is the very high level of immigration in general, which creates job competition at the bottom end of the employment market. I have found that this in particular can be incomprehensible to middle-class lefties, who really have no clue just how tough things can be for the people who serve them their morning latte.

In order to fight the BNP the Conservatives have to address the real policy issues that concern their typical voters. If we ignore their concerns then it is not unreasonable that they will turn to someone else, and on current evidence it won't be the Labour party.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Rebellion of the incompetent

I generally have fairly low expectations of the competence of members of the Labour party, but the recent failed rebellion against Gordon Brown sets a new standard in uselessness. Seven ministers refuse to serve, backbench MPs on the airwaves calling for Brown to go, Labour getting 16% of the vote in a national poll and still they couldn't pull it off. These people would need detailed instruction to run a whelk stall.

Let us be clear on the situation Labour are in: Gordon Brown is political poison. The people's judgement is in, as illustrated by a poll in today's Times where 51% said Brown should go for the good of the country. Out on the streets of Basildon Brown is actively disliked by the sorts of people who don't normally bother with politics. I don't know what it must have been like for Labour canvassers during the recent elections, but it couldn't have been fun and the election results spoke for themselves. There are now no Labour County Councillors in Basildon and exactly one in Essex. If Labour persists with Brown then the next general election will be Armageddon for for them. Sensible Labour people know this, so how come Gordon still sits in number ten? The answer is simple, they may be sensible but the rebels seem to have the organisational ability of a hippy commune. It started with Hazel Blears jumping ship before the polls closed; sabotaging your own party during an election is not the way to gain support and of course she is now grovelling in apology to her own furious activists. Then James Purnell resigns as soon as voting finished, a heavyweight and potential leader about which the revolt could coalesce. Except he goes out of his way to stress he is acting alone and actively discourages anyone to join him. Then we have Caroline Flint, robotically defending Gordon Brown one day and then damning him the next, not much credibility there and again no co-ordination with anyone else. So it went, individual talking heads with no leader, no programme and no plan.

Gordon Brown toughed it out, because among his many flaws he fails to recognise just how bad it is for his party on the ground. Or maybe he doesn't care? Or maybe he really is so deluded he thinks he can turn it around before a general election? Whatever motivates him he would not have survived a properly organised assault. This effort he beat off with help from apparatchiks and the self-interested. So, now things will rumble on to the Party conference season where that most stage-managed of events will offer little opportunity for dissent. The smart money is now probably on Gordon Brown leading Labour into the next election, and annihilation.

John Baron MP: Council tax cover-up - new evidence of serious errors in council tax bills

MP says surge in council tax appeals reveals systematic over-charging by Government

John Baron MP warned today that Gordon Brown and his Ministers are deliberately covering up serious problems over the banding of homes for council tax. New figures have revealed that Whitehall’s council tax snoopers have been forced to redo the council tax bands of thousands of homes after appeals by householders across Basildon District and the country.
John said:
We now have clear evidence of a council tax cover-up. The Labour Government has been caught red-handed fiddling council tax to make families in Basildon District and across the country pay more. Whitehall bureaucrats know that many homes across the country are wrongly banded, but have refused to correct the tax inspectors’ errors to save the Government money and save face.

The whole basis of our tax system is undermined if the state conspires to over-charge the public. Labour Ministers only want to reform the council tax system if it rakes in extra cash for Gordon Brown’s coffers.
  • Official papers from Gordon Brown’s council tax inspectors, the Valuation Office Agency, have admitted that many homes are in the wrong band for council tax and families have been paying over the odds for years. Accidentally leaked minutes have confessed that if the tax errors became known, the Government would lose money and would have to pay tax refunds. This was also ruled out since it would generate “adverse press coverage… in the current climate.
  • The combination of a campaign by ‘Money Saving Expert’ Martin Lewis, the publication of these leaked minutes and an ITV Tonight documentary, has produced a surge in council tax appeals. Now Parliamentary Questions have forced the Government to publish detailed figures on the changes to council tax bands.
  • In the last three years, 190,000 existing homes have had their council tax band changed: 133,985 homes have moved down a band. In Basildon District, 566 homes have moved down a council tax band as a result of appeals. This proves there are serious and systematic errors in the banding of homes, which Ministers have been covering up to save money.
  • Wales has been used as a test-bed for a council tax revaluation. Three times as many homes moved up a band as down. Yet since that 2005 revaluation, a succession of errors has also been uncovered with the Valuation Office Agency’s work. To date, 1 in 20 homes in Wales have had their post-revaluation banding corrected. A wholesale council tax revaluation has thus caused more problems than it solved.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Brown wants to change the way we vote

Apparently, Brown wants to change the electoral system to introduce the Alternate Vote systems for Westminster elections. This is supposedly part of his plan to regain the political initiative.

  • Most ordinary people could not care less about this and the debate will be seen in most of the country as the Westminster village talking to itself. This at a time when people are very concerned about their jobs and homes.

  • This is very easy to attack as Labour trying to fix the electoral systems because they are scared of losing the next election. In fact, the Conservatives are already reported as taking this line.

  • Such a measure could only be introduced after a referendum, and the chance of Gordon Brown winning a referendum on anything at the moment is just about zero.
If Labour think a debate on this subject will help them then they are deluded. The country is crying out for real measures to address real problems, not least people getting tossed out of their jobs and homes. Electoral reform is not the problem, and even if it was what has Labour been doing for the last 12 years? Up until now the Labour government has devoted more time to fox-hunting than the constitution.