Saturday, April 30, 2005

Education and the BNP

Simon Smith, the BNP candidate in Warley, used to be a teacher at a school in Solihull until last year.

He's been interviewed on BBC Radio WM, all in the name of balance and has done much to prove that if you give these racists enough time, they hang themselves. He told the presenter that blacks and Asians born in the UK could not be British because

'a dog born in a stable doesn't make it a horse.'

Can't fault that logic. Apart from the tiny error that dogs and horses are different species, while I think most scientists accept that human beings are pretty much the same across the planet.

Except Simon, who has more in common with the Neanderthals than homo sapiens. He wasn't sacked from teaching because of his political views, but because he is clearly a moron.

Lest we forget that it was only last year that the Birmingham Tory party had to apologise for a leaflet reminding Northfield voters that they 'felt just as strongly on key issues like asylum and immigration' as the BNP. Indeed, Michael Howard was moved to comment:
'For centuries Britain has welcomed energetic, ambitious and optimistic people from every part of the world. We have a stronger and better country, rich in our cultural diversity, because of the immigrant communities that have settled here.'

So why's the policy changed in a year, Michael?

Mail on the nail

Quote from Chris Game from Birmingham University on the Yardley marginal contest:
'John Hemming has been very prominent of late, but he does have the capacity to attract dislike as well as enthusiasm.'
And that's just his own party.


There's no poll evidence to confirm my view about the relative insignificance of this week's upheavals over Iraq, although I think we can expect that on Sunday and Monday.

The YouGov/Telegraph poll on Friday threw up some interesting results. Firstly, the Labour vote seems to be firming up at around 36% and we've seen the expected Liberal Democrat campaign bounce push them up to 24% from 21% at the start of April. The real bad news is for the Tories, who have seen their vote share slide from 35% to 32% over the same period, suggesting a Tory/LibDem swing. This doesn't surprise me that much, as I suspect that Labour/LibDem swing voters will have shifted over the Iraq issue and are already on-board with the Liberal Democrat vote. Overall, the vote is settling, as the undecided voters make their minds up - 27% down to 23% since the start of April. Of course, the fieldwork for this poll was done over the period of the Iraq revelations, so we won't really see any significant impact yet. The 'real alternative' approach for the LibDems is also having some impact, as the wavering voters are generally shifting towards them, but if Labour can keep pushing the line that the fight is between them and the Tories, half of the the undecideds would plump for Labour, against 36% for the Conservatives. Despite all of the grief, Blair has also firmed up his lead as the best PM, up slightly to 36% - 12 points clear of Howard and 18 points ahead of Kennedy. ICM ran a poll for the Guardian this week, which produced some different results. Here, the Labour vote topped 40%, 7 points clear of the Tories, with the Liberal Democrats down on 21%. While people liked and trusted Charles Kennedy, they didn't find him charismatic and 44% still viewed Tony as the best PM on offer - double the number who backed Howard or Kennedy.

On the issues, both the YouGov/Telegraph poll and one that YouGov did for Sky comment on issues indicate the unimportance of Iraq in this election - 11% of the electorate consider it one of the three deciding factors. If anyone doubts the effectiveness of a campaign based on prejudice, the Tories have shifted immigration up into the second spot, with 42% of the electorate putting it into their top three. You can see why, as the Tories have a commanding lead on this issue over Labour of 18 points. The traditional Tory issue of crime has also climbed up and they have held a 7 point lead over Labour. Unfortunately for them, the other major issues - health, education and the economy all hold double figure Labour leads.

ICM questions on the issues only ask about which will be the most important, rather than looking at a basket of key issues. This is handy for assessing top priorities, but I suspect that most undecided voters will choose on the basis of a small range of issues. However, Iraq is only a key issue to around 3% and immigration to 8%. Health, the economy, law and order, education and tax are all strengths for the Labour party.

A Labour victory seems assured (despite dire threats about a LibDem protest vote benefitting the Tories, comprehensively exploded by the Independent today) and this is backed by the British Electoral Survey results from Essex University, which shows a widening Labour lead over the Tories and a Tory/LibDem swing. To confirm this theory - the bookmakers Paddy Power are already paying out on a Labour win.

I've said for a while that this election will be decided on turnout and there's an interesting article by Anthony Wells that discusses how different pollsters weight answers on certainty to vote. MORI's method of only accounting for those certain to vote seems to have an inbuilt Tory bias - they tend to be the most reliable voters. ICM weight each respondent by their likelihood to vote on a scale of 1-10, so allowing more for individual habits. Along with their accuracy in 1997 and 2001, this is one of the reasons I trust the ICM polls more than others.

That said, I think that there will be a number of unpredictable results - Labour will hold a number of awkward marginals (including Yardley, I suspect) while the LibDems will make some surprising gains against the Tories. I'm standing by an estimate of a majority of 70, but there's still a lot to play for. Now's the time to start looking at the weather forecast as well - turnout depends on good weather!

Thatcher leaves country in disgust

I can hear the cheers rising across the nation now. After all those faded celebs who threaten to leave the country if Labour win (Phil Collins and Jim Davidson have done the decent thing, but we're still waiting on Andrew Lloyd-Webber to make good on his promise), Baroness Thatcher has had enough and has left Britain. It is only a holiday to Venice, but it's a start. We'll get her exiled yet and she can take that waste of space Howard with her as well.

Incidentally, anyone wonder why he's so desperate to move the agenda on from Iraq? Not just because it favours the Liberal Democrats and they look set to remove Oliver Letwin, but because if the focus remains on that issue, the massive holes in his policy will be exposed.

Howard would still have taken us into war, because of Iraq's repeated breaches of UN resolutions, so we'd still be in the same godawful mess, with this new policy of 'Regime Change Plus.' At least the Attorney-General felt that there was an arguable case for war, a Tory AG couldn't have argued the same way, as the war would have been unquestionably illegal under international law.

We were wrong to invade Iraq, but Howard's foolish plan would have led to British troops legitimately refusing to follow illegal orders and British soldiers ending up facing criminal charges in international courts for an illegal military action.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Special agents

John Hemming tells us that he will appoint 100 polling agents to monitor specific constituencies.

Like Talk Politics, I'm a little concerned about this, so here's some guidelines from Manchester City Council that John might find useful. It isn't exciting reading, but it is important to bear in mind. Particularly the highlighted sections about intimidation:

The main area of potential fraud in relation to polling stations is personation, that is, individuals attempting to vote as another person in the polling station on polling day. In cases where the presiding officer suspects that the person is not who they claim to be, or has already voted, or where a candidate or polling agent requests it, the presiding officer will put the two statutory questions to a person applying for a ballot paper.
These are:

  • ‘Are you the person registered in the register of local government (or parliamentary) electors for this election as follows?’ (Read the whole entry from the register), and
  • ‘Have you already voted at this election, otherwise than as a proxy for some other person?’ If the answer to each question is ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively, the presiding officer must issue the person with a ballot paper. No proof of identity is required.
There are similar questions in the case of persons voting as a proxy. However, if the presiding officer believes, or a candidate or election agent declares to the presiding officer that they have reason to believe, that the offence of personation has been committed, and is prepared to substantiate the charge in court, the presiding officer may order a constable to arrest the applicant, although the person should be allowed to vote. The order of the presiding officer shall be sufficient authority for the constable.

If the cars of party workers are used to transport electors to the polling stations, they may be parked at the polling station for only the time it takes the electors to vote. Cars displaying political literature should not be parked at polling stations for hours at a time.

For clarification, polling station staff will not allow TV or video cameras into the polling station. Any reports of voters being photographed or filmed entering or leaving a polling station will immediately be reported to the police. Such activities are intimidating and unacceptable. Similarly, the use of loudhailers or microphones in the vicinity of polling stations will be reported to the police.

Candidates (or their agents) have a right to appoint polling agents to attend polling stations. A candidate or agent can also act as a polling agent. The main role of the polling agent is to aid in the detection of personation. They are subject to the secrecy requirements.
    Up to four polling agents can be appointed to attend each polling station, although only one polling agent is allowed to enter each polling station at any one time, and they may only enter the polling station for which they have been appointed.

    Properly appointed polling agents have the following statutory rights:
    • To be present before the opening of the poll to witness the sealing of the empty ballot box.
    • To challenge impersonators.
    • To require the presiding officer to put the statutory questions to electors where there are reasonable grounds for questioning the elector’s identity.
    • To prevent plurality in voting both of ordinary electors and those voting as proxy.
    • To mark their own copy of the register. If the polling agent leaves the polling station before the close of poll, they must leave their marked copy of the register in the polling station.
    • To make notes of improper occurrences in case they are called to give evidence at a later date.
    • To be present when the presiding officer marks ballot papers at the request of electors.
    • To be present at the close of poll when the various packets of documents are sealed. The polling agents may attach their seal to any packets and the ballot box.

    However, polling agents may not:

    • Handle the ballot box, ballot papers or any other equipment or documents.
    • Request that the presiding officer not issue a ballot paper to any elector.
    • Interfere in the electoral process in any way other than as outlined above.
    Any polling agent or candidate/election agent acting as a polling agent who refuses to abide by the statutory rules will be instructed to leave the polling station. If they do not obey the presiding officer’s instruction to leave, the police will be informed.

    By the way, John - don't forget that if those agents are paid to attend, those costs must be included in the election expenses for each candidate where they are deployed.

    Vodka, vodka, everywhere and every drop to drink

    A story reaches me from the distant reaches of our European galaxy and one that's yet to be picked up by the media in the UK, so another exclusive for this website (hat tip to my source).

    It seems that at the start of April, the European Committee of the Regions ran a fact-finding tour to Kaliningrad. Clearly, this would be a high-profile, stressful job for only the most reliable, sober politicians, so the UK delegate was none other than Ruth Coleman, Liberal Democrat PPC for Leeds Central against our very own Hilary Benn. She's also the former leader of the ruling group on North Wiltshire council and an apparent heavyweight in the world of Liberal Democracy.

    Aside from the other EU representatives and ten officials along for the ride, they also took a Swedish journalist, which proved to be a mistake. You see, the Russians are a generous and hospitable people, but they made the mistake of offering the delegates vodka at every opportunity and the delegates, no doubt to be polite, took every opportunity to drink it - even in official meetings (well - you can't trust the water abroad, can you?).

    Perhaps it was the caviar, perhaps the excitement of the occasion or the dodgy Russian road surfaces, but one of the delegates then cheerfully vomited over the interior of their executive coach. Needless to say, the Swedish journalist concerned took great delight in publishing the details of this excursion (good excuse to practice your Swedish, there).

    Perhaps someone should ask Cllr Coleman what happened on the trip, particularly in light of the Liberal Democrats' views on binge drinking. It might also be worth asking ALDE, the European group of Liberal Democrats whether she will be representing them on any future freebies fact-finding trips.

    They think it's all Rover.

    I'm still searching for more support for John Hemming's view that the DTI brought down Rover (anything to shift the blame from his former mates at Phoenix).

    Perhaps Digby Jones can throw some light on the matter. The director general of the CBI has blamed, er, a flawed business model (backed up by a report from the Cambridge-MIT Institute Centre for Competitiveness and Innovation). Sir Digby had more to say, though:
    'If you, as four people, take £40m out of the company - quite legally, honestly, openly and transparently - on your way to burning £600m in cash and end up putting 6,500 people on the dole, I think your behaviour has been appalling. I say you have to look at the moral position.'

    A reader writes to tell me of a survey in Professional Engineer magazine, which surveyed 400 engineers. 33% of them blamed the current management and about the same blamed the previous owners. A massive 7% blamed the government, while 4% thought the unions and workers were to blame.

    So, still no support from anyone outside the inner circle of Birmingham Liberal Democrats for John's theory about the DTI. The forthcoming inquiry will be very revealing and I suspect that it will blow his idea clean out of the water - I believe that the Phoenix management knew that Rover was doomed some weeks or even months before the final collapse. Sadly, I also suspect that what they did to the company was probably strictly legal. Whether it was moral or ethical is an entirely different matter.

    Almost forgot

    In my diatribe against the Tories earlier, I forgot to mention the views of one of Howard's advisors on inclusivity, which may explain their current headlong dash for the clear blue water on the right.

    In her leaflet Mrs Warsi, the Conservatives' first female Muslim candidate, says: "Labour has scrapped section 28 which was introduced by the Conservatives to stop schools promoting alternative sexual lifestyles such as homosexuality to children as young as seven years old... now schools are allowed and do promote
    homosexuality and other alternative sexual lifestyles to your children. Labour reduced the age of consent for homosexuality from 18 to 16 allowing school children to be propositioned for homosexual relationships."

    Later in her leaflet Mrs Warsi is quoted saying: "I will campaign strongly for an end to sex education at seven years and the promotion of homosexuality that undermines family life."

    Back to the good old days, eh?

    Clause 28 was a knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the jerk) to deal with a problem that never really existed. I'm not aware of any teacher or council ever trying to promote homosexuality - a ridiculous idea, as it suggests that you can choose to be gay or straight in the same way that you choose to drink tea or coffee. One of the insidious effects of this ban was to make some teachers nervous about tackling homophobic bullying for fear of falling foul of the law.

    If anyone runs into Mrs Warsi in Dewsbury, I'd love to hear an example from her of any council in the UK promoting homosexuality.

    Meanwhile, a victim of Lynton Crosby and his attack dog Mark Textor speaks out. Ironic that the Australian Liberal Party is the same as the Tories. Just like Birmingham, really.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2005

    How clean is your house, Charlie?

    Aside from Michael Howard telling us (with a straight face) that

    'I'm not aware of any occasion when I have deliberately or knowingly misled people'

    Little Chuckie K then topped it with
    'They are falling back now on the most negative form of personalised campaigning. It won't do them any good, it won't do the quality of the general election campaign any good.'

    Oh yes. Negative campaigning is something that other parties do, isn't it, Charles?

    Sadly, for legal reasons, I can't reproduce the leaflet distributed by the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham last year that accused a Labour councillor of being a 'whoremaster.' For once, they found themselves on the wrong end of legal action and settled out of court. But here's another one attacking Tories for betraying their electorate.

    Remember Simon Hughes arguing that political parties should have to follow the advertising standards guidelines?

    I don't mind arguing about political differences, but I don't like the way that the Liberal Democrats portray themselves as different from the other parties and in some magical way, cleaner and more honest. Those of us who have seen their work out in the field know that this is rubbish - if anything, they fight dirtier, more cynical and nastier campaigns

    Divine intervention?

    Is God getting into the election campaign? And is he a Tory?

    I've always liked that Mr Heseltine

    Not only did he call the election accurately some months ago, he also reckons that Tory and Liberal Democrat plans to slim down or abolish the DTI are

    'one of the most naive policies I have come across.'

    I shall send him an application form to join the party forthwith.

    Freedom of speech - not under the Tories

    Well, maybe I am being a bit sensationalist.

    We already know that they don't like their own candidates to have too much of an independent voice, as Howard Flight found out.

    Of course, if that voice is telling lies about asylum seekers, hypocritically trying to convince white voters that you are anti-immigration and then reminding Asian voters how helpful you have been over visas or pandering to the 'send them back' school of thought, that's OK. It's also fine to attack the education policies of one of your own councils.

    If however, you are a redundant employee of the party (a growing constituency of voters, one suspects), then the price of free speech is around £10,000.

    It's as if the Human Rights Act never happened. Rumours that Old Queen Street are looking at Brian Sedgemore have been denied. (Hey - the LDs get Sedgemore, we get a former Tory council candidate in Coventry, who denounces their policies in ringing tones as 'a bit dodgy.')

    One bright glimmer of hope for fairness in the Tory party - their Cumbrian council leader has admitted that their asylum-seeker press advertisements were misleading and the Notting Hill Tories don't seem to like the new direction of their party either.
    The grandees are rumbling in the jungle. Over the weekend, Michael Portillo criticised the Tories' "Victor Meldrew" manifesto, Ken Clarke said the public had "had enough of immigration" and Cecil Parkinson insisted that the Conservatives "cannot be a one-issue party".
    Another bright glimmer of hope is that Howard seems to have given up.

    Monday, April 25, 2005

    Hit or miss?

    Chuckie K has come out with the expected attack on Labour over the war on Iraq and has called upon voters to revenge themselves upon Tory and Labour candidates on May 5.

    I just don't see this as an effective vote-winner for the Liberal Democrats. If the issue was so important to you, your mind will already be made up, so I doubt that there will be many voters who will be swung to the LDs by being reminded about Iraq at this stage. While it will work against Labour in seats with a significant Muslim vote, there's also some evidence that in white, working-class seats, the war may actually have a positive effect.

    The other point to bear in mind is how little this matters to the average voter. My experience of campaigning last year was that it wasn't a doorstep issue in the local elections (despite the efforts of some parties to generate votes that way) and it hasn't been a big issue this year. It surprised me, because this is the issue that has shaken my belief in the party more than any other, but people just aren't bothered by it.

    The polls suggest it barely registers on the radar of most voters - just 3% cite it as a key factor in deciding their vote. In comparison, health scores 21%, tax and public services 15% and education and crime 13% apiece. We've had the leading opposition party banging on about asylum and immigration for weeks and that's only got to 9%, so the effect the LDs can have in a week will be limited. Even where the effect is expected to be magnified, in those seats with a large Muslim electorate, the anti-war vote will be divided between the LDs and Respect.

    As with most elections, the floating voter will be mainly swayed by the issues that affect them. Health, crime, education and tax are the big issues, not foreign policy. The 20% who can't decide which party has the best policy on the headline issues will decide the election, not those who oppose the war. Whatever we may think of how Blair behaved over Iraq, it won't be a big factor across most of the country.

    Passed the Post

    Well, it took seven days and the efforts of three bloggers to get a straight answer, but the white smoke has risen over Yardley and I am able to confirm that [drum roll] John Hemming's boys and girls are processing postal vote applications through their local office.

    As I have said before - it is entirely legal and is done by the other parties as well. It is just that the Electoral Commission don't like the parties having anything to do with postal votes.

    Doing the business

    Nice to see Oliver Letwin out of his constituency - he's fighting hard to keep the LDs out down there in Dorset and my contacts suggest he has reason to be scared. Watch out for a Portillo moment early in the morning on May 6 - it will be a close-run thing.

    He was wasting his time helping Michael Howard launch the party's policy for business, though, as Labour effectively trumped that launch with a letter in the Financial Times today signed by 63 supporters from various branches of industry.
    “Economic stability and a competitive tax framework have created the environment for business to invest for the long-term, raising competitiveness and creating wealth and employment across the UK.”

    Carrying on where they left off in 1997, the Tories plans for business start by putting almost a quarter of a million people out of work through their civil service cuts and start hacking away at the evil empire of bureaucracy in society.

    Making the world safe for business also includes making life more difficult for the ordinary person. The Tories want to cut back on employees suing their bosses by forcing claimants to pay a deposit and ensuring that the losing party will bear all the costs of the case. Which means, that if you take your employer to court, they will threaten you with highly-qualified and expensive QCs and experts because the mere threat of massive costs will deter most claimants, no matter how justified their case.

    Channel 4's excellent Factcheck has some more on why the Tories have come late to the party when it comes to cutting back on red tape and needless performance monitoring.

    So, we know that Howard has alienated senior police officers, NHS managers, the CBI and Rupert Murdoch. Once you add in the list of movers and shakers in British business, then things look bleaker than ever.

    The only interesting thing is that there are hints of Howard at this morning's press conference calling for the voters to send a message to Tony, an echo of his Oz 'concession' trick that is supposed to have depressed the opponent's support enough to allow John Howard to sneak in. I still think that this election is more open than people think.

    Post haste

    Some days ago, Talk Politics asked a question of our favourite local Liberal Democrat (not exactly a wide field from which to choose).

    Is John Hemming, opponent of the current postal vote system, allowing his supporters at his Coventry Road office to process postal vote applications for onward passage to the Elections Office at the City Council?

    Now, there's nothing illegal about this in any way. The other major parties do it centrally, but they still do it. The tThe Electoral Commission opposed this practice, but all three parties disagreed, so the rules are a compromise. So, given John's views on postal voting, are his people complying with the spirit, as well as the letter of the law?

    His answer so far is that:
    'My agent indicates to me that if anyone suggests that they put any postal ballots in our office he will walk them instead to the post box (a few doors down).In the past we have had one or two ballot envelopes (B - sealed) handed in at the office. We do have council postal vote forms in the office which are available to people on request.'

    Which doesn't answer the question. Nobody has suggested that the LDs are collecting actual votes. That's a typical example of answering the question that you wished you had been asked - quite apart from the weasel words of 'my agent indicates to me...'

    So, given that John has been good about responding to comments on this site and elsewhere (for which I give him credit - more politicans should make the effort), any chance of a straight answer?

    Saturday, April 23, 2005

    Lowering the profile

    Not exactly the most auspicious of starts to the new Birmingham W1 office in London - designed as a base for Birmingham businesses, but mainly as a marketing ploy for our fair city.

    I'm all for innovation and I wish the new project well, but....

    Why choose to launch in the middle of a general election? Delaying the official opening a couple of weeks wouldn't have hurt. Why not invite members of the national press and show them that we mean business?

    The excuse was that a high-profile event would send out the wrong message. Nope, it would send out exactly the right message - that Birmingham is a force to be reckoned with and while losing Rover is a blow, we're positive about our future. There couldn't be a better time to push the cause of Birmingham and show people what our city has to offer for investors.

    So, comments like this from the Birmingham Post:

    'Guests left the reception saying they did not fully understand the role of the Birmingham London office and how the facility can be used by the business community. One person, a familiar face in Birmingham business circles, likened it to an expensive lock-up garage.'

    make you wonder how businessmen like Mike Whitby, Tory Leader of the Council, and John Hemming, Tory lapdog Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, ever made their money with marketing skills that poor.

    Lunatics running asylum

    On the day the BNP ran their sole party election broadcast of the campaign, blaming asylum seekers for the problems of the homeless, the Tories ran an advert in the Evening Mail telling us that asylum-seekers had cost Birmingham council tax payers almost £25 million since Labour came to power. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

    Aside from the fact that this figure is tiny compared to the £2 billion raised by council tax in the past eight years and the £16 billion that it has cost to run the City over the same period, the Tories forgot to pass on one little detail. The Refugee Council has researched this and say that councils are reimbursed by central government for 82% of the costs of managing asylum-seekers. Accordingly, supporting people fleeing oppression, war and death has cost my city less than £600,000 a year over the past eight years. That's not too high a price to pay, surely?

    Incidentally, nice spot from Dave that the BNP broadcast is a little economical with the truth. Under the Homelessness Act 2002, local authorities are required to treat ex-servicepeople as priorities for housing to reduce the numbers living on the streets. Asylum seekers and immigration have nothing to do with it.

    Meanwhile, Caroline Spelman (Tory candidate for Meriden) was whinging about asylum-seekers in Solihull on Channel 4 News on Wednesday. Not just any asylum-seekers, mind you, but unaccompanied minors dispersed under a government scheme to spread the costs. Yup, she was complaining about the costs imposed on this wealthy area by refugee children who are on their own in this country. Caroline - that's just wrong. Shame on you.

    There is nothing the Tories won't do to try and collect a few extra votes from the right wing. They feel that Labour has stolen most of their policies from the middle ground, so are veering to the right and pandering to prejudice to try and steal votes from the BNP. There is nothing wrong with having a reasoned debate over immigration, but the Tories are trying to appeal to prejudice and fear. They use weasel words and claim to be brave enough to stand against the tide of political correctness and raise issues over which others are silent, but as the police officer in Nottingham said to Howard this week:

    'When you talk about political correctness you are talking about people like me, a black police officer who is basically being told to shut up and deal with racism. Why don’t you stop using that sort of language and deal with the issues?'
    Over recent weeks, Howard has mentioned asylum-seeking and immigration in the context of crime, race riots, terrorism and murder and now council tax.

    All this in spite of opposition from his own colleagues, the UNHCR, concern from the Commission for Racial Equality, the CBI (how in heaven's name can a Tory leader wind up the CBI?), even Rupert bloody Murdoch thinks you're wrong. Most importantly, while you might be dragging in the BNP vote, the electorate don't seem to see it as the biggest issue. Even the Financial Times doesn't approve.

    'Britain is at peace with its neighbours, the economy has enjoyed 12 years of uninterrupted growth and people are better off than ever. This presents the Conservatives with a problem: how to persuade the electorate to turn out and vote for a change of government on May 5. Michael Howard's strategy has been to play on the fears of voters in a manner that has produced short-term returns but will do the party no good in the longer term.'
    Boris Johnson has stepped back from the asylum quota - he's stated that he isn't in favour of seeing legitimate refugees turned away. Don't tell the boss, Boris. He's sacked you once and you know what he does to those who don't follow party policy, don't you? Sadly, many of Boris' potential colleagues seem only too happy to play follow the leader and I bet not one will be sacked over it. Enoch would be proud.

    And then Micky H sits down for more Paxo stuffing and refuses to give us any clue as to how many immigrants they might decide to let in or where they will locate this fantasy island to process asylum-seekers. (Transcript and link to video) Paxman also points out that not only would we be the first country to withdraw from the 1951 Convention on Refugees, but we'd be joining the elite group of non-signatories - Saudi Arabia, Libya and North Korea. Even the proposed cap on asylum-seekers isn't worked out - Howard reckons that if somebody turned up after all places had been allocated for that year, they'd be asked to wait (don't know where, obviously - perhaps they could wait in the country from which they are desperately trying to escape).

    Good to see that the migrant worker running the campaign has sorted out his next job, if he can get that visa and many others are less well rewarded for delivering leaflets for the Tories. You couldn't make it up.

    Hypocrisy, thy name is Howard.

    Friday, April 22, 2005

    Picky, picky

    Really anorak-like, technical point here.

    I've just received a leaflet from one of our Liberal Democrat candidates demanding that I write to the Deputy Prime Minister asking the government to scrap the Council Tax.

    They refer to him as John Prescott MP.

    Except that he isn't.

    Not since parliament was dissolved a few weeks back - we currently have no MPs, only candidates.

    Incidentally, there's another example of a fine bar chart, showing that the LibDems are winning here.

    Except that they're not.

    They refer to the 2004 elections. Firstly, these were fought on new local boundaries which do not match the constituency boundaries, so unless the LDs know more about their vote than they're letting on, those figures will be inaccurate. Secondly, those were local elections with much lower turnouts. Let's compare like with like, shall we? At the last general election, the LD vote was under 15%.

    Oxygen of publicity

    I feel that I may be fuelling his fire, but what the hell.

    John Hemming, perpetual Liberal Democrat PPC for Yardley (until the boundaries change next time round) has turned his fire onto the easy target of silly degrees. Specifically, a degree in International Culinary Arts (Pastry) BSc (Hons) offered by Thames Valley University. The great man writes:
    I have great difficulty understanding why someone should have a Batchelor of Science degree to be a pastry chef.
    This does sound odd, until you look at the course syllabus and note that the course covers costings, design, hygiene, marketing and portion control - rather more than knocking together an apple pie. I have nothing but respect for anyone who has a full-time job and is working on a part-time degree and when that job is in the hospitality industry - not known for paying high wages - I'd rather cheer them on than criticise.

    It may be a specialised degree, but then so is Atomic, Nuclear and Theoretical Physics and at this level, I'd bet that almost all the graduates find good jobs in the industry.

    Let's face it John, somebody had to make your desserts when you were on those council-taxpayer funded party-political junkets at the Copthorne Hotel or when your fellow PPC in Sparkbrook entertained his mates in the Council House.

    Don't be so damned elitist and assume that anything you don't understand must therefore be easy to do.

    His master's voice

    I wonder if the Annil Chandra who is the mouthpiece for John Hemming's campaign against the DTI is the same Annil Chandra who was defeated when he stood for the Liberal Democrats in Bournville in June 2004?

    Indeed it is.

    An independent voice for Rover workers? Not really.

    On past form, they'd be well advised to steer clear of anything even remotely connected to John Hemming. Last time, they got shafted by his mates from Phoenix.

    [EDIT: To keep JH happy, here's Annil's other life in Paradigm Jaunt. Not doing thorough research indeed.]

    Thursday, April 21, 2005

    John Quixote

    Not that it really required a crystal ball to know that John Hemming's latest demonstration of tilting at windmills was going to end in tears. It was never likely that any judge was going to slam the brakes on the whole election process on the basis that the Yardley election MIGHT be dodgy, even if the case wasn't chock full of flaws.

    Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne must book their holidays in the Bahamas on the strength of the business that he puts their way. Rather pricey way of getting some free publicity, so it's a good thing that John can afford it and 'Slugger' Prescott agrees.

    I'm hanging on here, waiting for John to assure us that his campaign team in Yardley are standing up against their national party policy and refusing to handle postal vote applications in their local office.

    It's that man again

    It seems that John Hemming isn't alone in blaming the DTI for the collapse of Rover. The Evening Mail headling tonight is 'Workers set to sue Govt.'

    It seems that Annil Chandra, a former project manager, reckons that the DTI had a duty of care and that, while the management had caused the instability of the company, the DTI pushed it over the edge.

    'After suppliers withdrew their services following Mrs Hewitt's announcement that the company was in receivership before administrators were actually appointed.'
    Hmmm. Anyone else feel the hand of Hemming in this?

    Let's just examine that minor factual inaccuracy, there.

    Wagon plc were the first supplier to halt deliveries to Rover and announced it to the Stock Exchange on Thursday 7 April at 13:51. The statement from Patricia Hewitt came in the evening and the BBC listed it on their website at 22:59. As it was a joint statement with Amicus and the TGWU, perhaps they should be named as co-defendants. Note too the quote from Tony Woodley of the TGWU

    'They [MG Rover] agreed the wording of the statement that was read out by Patricia Hewitt'
    And if you look a bit further down the article,

    Earlier on Thursday, MG Rover had been forced to halt all production at its Longbridge plant due to a shortage of certain parts, after a number of its suppliers refused to ship orders due to the ongoing financial uncertainty at the firm.
    Isn't it far more likely that the imminent collapse of the SAIC deal spooked the suppliers who made a commercial decision not to expose themselves to any further financial risk? Once one stops shipping, others will follow suit and suddenly, the production line grinds to a halt on Thursday - still well in advance of Patricia Hewitt's statement.

    Incidentally, the skill of the Rover management is shown by their apparent rejection of a £100 million deal with Virgin to sell their cars at discounts of up to 35%. These sort of discounts sound hefty, but aren't unusual. I'm aware of fleet operators who are able to negotiate discounts of closer to 50% on bulk purchases, so 35% isn't even trying. The article doesn't suggest that it was turned down on the basis that the company would make a loss, but rather that John Towers wanted to keep a premium pricing structure. And much good it did him.

    But when have the facts ever stopped John from making his case? He's continued trying to convince us that Rover's downfall was down to the DTI, even citing a news article in his support (like Dave at Talk Politics, Ezilon are new to me, too). Yet, if you read that article, SAIC and Rover themselves both seem to be leaking like sieves about the parlous state of the company, but the DTI just seems ready to help.

    Leaning on a lamp-post...

    Another of the campaign's traditions last night. Two weeks before polling day, we're allowed (assuming we've paid the relevant fees to Birmingham council for public liability insurance) to run around the area tying placards to lamp-posts.

    There is a minor art to this - knowing where the entrances to the polling stations are, so that voters get the message on the way in; making sure that areas where traffic builds up are suitably covered so that drivers can't miss your candidate's name; and, above all, knowing where the borders of the constituency are. A candidate in Solihull once spent hours postering large parts of the Meriden constituency, only serving to confuse local electors.

    Anyway, I crawled into bed around 2am, absolutely knackered (do remember that some of us have full-time day jobs and do this political stuff as a hobby - not all of us are millionaires).

    Wednesday, April 20, 2005

    A busy weekend

    I was able to escape from home over the weekend and get out and do some serious campaigning. A street stall on Saturday, which turned out to be much colder than I expected when I left home and then doorstep work on Sunday. I enjoy that sort of work much more than simple leafleting, because you get to talk to civilians, not party workers or candidates. We even found a Tory lurking hidden on the patch - we did think of arranging some sort of preservation order, as these creatures are very rarely found in the wild these days. Most Tories have been safely confined to Solihull or the Principality of Sutton Coldfield for their own protection, where they can run freely amongst their own and read the Daily Mail without fear of having their prejudices challenged by reality.

    We were able to talk to real people and perhaps put the case for Labour in a more direct manner. I do believe that people are more inclined to vote for a party if that party has made the effort to get out to see them and our candidate certainly made the effort. No hand went unshook, no baby unkissed.

    There was also a reminder of why I bother doing this. Towards the end of a rainy, chilly day, with water streaming down our voter ID pads, we knocked on one of our last target doors. Inside, an elderly couple and he sang the praises of Heartlands hospital. He's been a visitor there for some thirty years and recently had cause to attend as a patient, following a nasty fall, so he has some perspective on things. He was amazed at the improvements that there had been in the past eight years. That's why I get out there and spread the word about the party. Not because it soothes my ego or lines my pocket (neither is true), but because I do believe that politics can make a difference to people's lives. For him, it did.

    And then Monday night, I took the wife out. Not to a fancy restaurant, a concert or to the theatre. Not me, I know how to treat a lady. I took her to see the Prime Minister.

    Getting to a party rally these days is a lot like attending a rave in the early 90s. You'll get a cryptic message a few days before about an event involving Prescott or Blair and asked to declare an interest. There then follows a phone call to check that you aren't a swivel-eyed assassin, a Liberal Democrat or Gordon Brown. Once you have passed these tests, you will get a phone call on the day and given the secret location and time.

    We were treated to Kevin Whately as the compere and we had Rosie Winterton as a warm-up - she seemed to have lost track of her speech to start with, but then got into full flow about health and introduced our latest Party Election Broadcast. John Reid then put in an appearance, live by satellite (although briefly silenced), for a brief question session with the audience. He may be the attack dog of the front bench and the Minister for the Today Programme, but I like him - he's not afraid to mix it with the opposition a little.

    Finally, the top of the bill arrived - fresh faced and looking confident. Like many people, I disagree with Tony over some fundamental actions taken by this government, but you can't fault the man for the passion of his speech. He owned that room while he was speaking. The content was good, pushing the positive side of our policies and playing to our traditional strengths on health and education, which was a joy to hear after so much negative campaigning.

    My nine-year-old daughter was also impressed - she went to school this morning clutching her ID badge and full of excitement at what she'd seen the night before. We'll get that social conscience honed yet.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2005

    Playing in the major leagues now

    It is a measure of how far that the Liberal Democrats have come from their traditional sandalista and organic muesli roots that their party leader got a hard going over from Paxo on Monday's Newsnight (well worth watching, by the way). Good to see Kennedy having to defend some of their policies, although he did look a little battered by the experience to start with.

    Charlie floundered a little over the Local Income Tax, hoping that Paxman wouldn't notice that he was trying to answer the question that he wished he'd been asked, rather than the question actually asked. He didn't like it being pointed out (courtesy of the Liberal Democrats' own tax calculator) that many ordinary people would lose significantly - a fireman and a nurse in a typical Band D property would see their bill rise by £400 a year (predicated on the 4% rise in income tax, which is expected to be the average effect). Hardly going to make London more attractive for these key workers, is it? That will lead to pay inflation for key public servants and still higher taxes, quite aside from the bureaucracy required to administer it, which will potentially outweigh any savings from scrapping the council tax system.

    He coped very badly when the Liberal Democrat hypocrisy over congestion charging was discussed - they back it in their manifesto, but oppose it locally in Edinburgh and Bristol and oppose extending it in London. But, runs the defence, this isn't hypocrisy, this is local people making decisions on local issues. In that case, why have it as a national policy at all, if the national party has no plans to bring it into being. What other policies will be dumped because they won't suit local situations? Pushed on the issue, he couldn't name one city where the Liberal Democrats would back congestion charging - perhaps our very own Liberal Democrat leader would care to make a stand for Birmingham? Much the same seems to apply to wind farms - Charlie opposes them in his backyard, but wants more renewable energy. NIMBYism is live and well and wears yellow. Sometimes, Charlie, you have to lead and say unpopular things - that's the trick of government.

    If you want to be a real political force, you need to have some consistency across the party. At best, this is disorganised, at worse, it is simple opportunistic oppositionism. Neither makes for a party of government.

    Another Tory gaffe

    Only a minor one and only of interest in Stoke Newington, but if you are going to criticise education and spelling, don't live in a glass house.

    Meanwhile, creative subversion of Tory posters continues. Here. Here. And Here.

    If you believe the polls, fewer and fewer people are thinking what they're thinking.

    Monday, April 18, 2005

    Wild Rover

    Let's just accept John Hemming's view that the DTI pushed Rover over the edge.

    Let's just accept John Hemming's view that Rover would have stumbled on for another month before ending up in a heap.

    Do you think that the various suppliers who would have continued piling up unpaid invoices for Rover would have thanked the DTI for doing nothing? If the DTI did decide to help Rover over the edge, it may have been a mercy killing and their action may have allowed the supply chain a slightly more cushioned landing than would otherwise be likely.

    Ultimately, whatever happened to Rover at the end isn't the issue. With sales tumbling, no new products on the horizon, a poor brand image, no prospect of a partner and the money finally running out, the company was doomed. No matter how hard John H tries to say otherwise, the fact remains that Rover was drifting further up the creek with no sign of a paddle. The behaviour of the DTI is largely irrelevant, whatever the truth of John's claims. The behaviour of Phoenix and Rover management over five years was crucial. The unions and the workers trusted Phoenix and have been comprehensively screwed over as a result of that trust.

    Sunday, April 17, 2005

    In glorious Hemmingvision

    There I am, sitting down to lunch on a Sunday when John Hemming appears on my screen. There really should be some warning to viewers that the forthcoming programme may contain scenes of Liberal Democracy that might alarm viewers with a sensible disposition. I may complain.

    He was wittering on about Rover and made that wonderful statement (I may paraphrase slightly, but the sense remainst the same) that
    'if there had been a Liberal Democrat government, Rover wouldn't have collapsed about a month before it needed to'
    So there you have it, John Hemming would have kept Rover going for a whole extra month. As the Liberal Democrats wouldn't have put any extra money into the company, it is difficult to see how this could have been sustained.

    I think that the government have probably acted in the long-term interests of the employees. Yes, additional help could have been offered to keep the factory open another month and to get past the election, but this would have been a cynical ploy - wouldn't it John? The company had failed and the most useful course now is to ensure that help is there for the former employees, make use of the Pension Protection Fund to provide for their future and to identify anybody who might be prepared to continue manufacturing on the site. I still maintain that we will have manufacturing at Longbridge, but it will be a smaller, sports car maker - along the TVR/Morgan/Lotus model.

    No wonder he's being kept out of the group that's trying to sort the problems out. Given his track record with Phoenix, he isn't part of the solution, he's part of the problem.

    Nice to see our union friends standing up for Labour

    From The Guardian...

    We are in no doubt what a Tory government would mean for our members and for Britain; and that's why we are urging our members to vote Labour on May 5. But the Liberal Democrats are no better, as demonstrated by their failure to spell out how they would pay for their spending plans.

    Voters should also remember that the Lib Dems failed to support the introduction of the minimum wage and described the previous increase as "dangerous"; opposed the 10p tax rate, which helps the lowest earners; have failed to match Labour's pledge to extend paid maternity leave to nine months; want to scrap the DTI, the department that has been working to save Rover; threaten to return Britain to Thatcherite levels of unemployment by pledging to scrap the New Deal, which so far, has helped over 1 million people back into work; and are now proposing to effectively ban strikes in "essential" services and end national bargaining in the public sector.

    Those who suggest there is little difference between the main parties are not only wrong, but also provide dangerous succour to those considering not voting or registering a protest vote. There is only one way to keep the Tories out and re-elect a Labour government and that's by voting Labour.

    Tony Dubbins - Chair, Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation
    And the following general secretaries and union leaders:Dave Prentis (Unison); Derek Simpson (Amicus); Tony Woodley (TGWU); Paul Kenny (GMB); Billy Hayes (CWU); John Hannett (Usdaw); Alan Ritchie (Ucatt); Michael Leahy (Community); Gerry Morrissey (Bectu); Gerry Doherty (TSSA); Keith Norman (Aslef)

    RESPECT - find out what it means..

    George Galloway, the leader of the vanity party, Respect, is standing in Bethnal against Oona King and it seems to be a nasty little fight. She's already had to apologise and pay damages regarding comments made last year and there have been allegations of anti-semitism against his supporters.

    You may agree or disagree with Oona King's support for the Iraq war, but don't forget that Galloway travelled to Iraq and praised Saddam - 'Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you 'hatta al-nasr, hatta al-nasr, hatta alQuds' [until victory, until victory, until Jerusalem].' He's stated that he believes that Tariq Aziz, a man as steeped in blood as Saddam, is a 'political prisoner'. However you cut it, the Baathist regime was an evil, murderous, fascistic state modelled on a Stalinist structure. There's not really a lot worth supporting there. Not that it stops Galloway.

    Nick Cohen wrote about this in the New Statesman before the local elections last year and he returns to it in the Observer today, reminding us of another former Labour politician who stood in the East End and supported an evil regime. He's been joined by AA Gill, who casts an acidic eye over both candidates, but reserves a special bile for Gorgeous George and his Mercedes. Even Cherie has been down there, rallying the troops.

    This chunk of the left has cheerfully thrown away concepts of justice and freedom in their pursuit of power. To gain electoral support, they pander to a minority, extreme religious viewpoint, but if they win, this core vote will demand that they repay the debt. Having already sold their souls, what else have they to offer?

    Keep an eye on Harry's Place and Respectwatch for updates on this unholy alliance of leftists, fascists and religious zealots.

    Saturday, April 16, 2005

    Still pumping out the sewage in Surrey

    It isn't just about the parliamentary election, you know - there's also local elections in the shire counties. And the Tories lie there as well.

    Lies and misleading propaganda is going out in Surrey, as well as Harrogate, only this time, the Tory candidate is telling BNP-style porkies about asylum-seekers, claiming that they get preferential treatment over housing. Bloggerheads has the story.

    They've also been telling porkies about threats to close church schools, which has angered the local Liberal Democrats. Something about demarcation, I believe.

    Scotsman not backing Liberal Democrats

    'Indeed, so statist is the Liberal Democrat orthodoxy now and so entrenched the belief that government knows best how to spend, that the logical conclusion is surely to have all wages and salaries paid directly to the Inland Revenue and for the Treasury to regulate means-tested cash allowances for each household. As the Liberal Democrat manifesto now stands, anyone on a higher than average income must be tempted to wonder whether it is worth the bother to work as they do. A few years of this and it is emigration, not immigration, that will be the hot topic. As for the touting of public spending as a gift to be bestowed, so often and so mechanically is the word "free" used as a prefix to some purported new area of spending that the media has almost given up on its duty to point out that such things are not "free" at all, but are financed by a switching of resources from some other part of government, or, as is more likely, financed by higher taxes on income, spending or wealth.'
    The Liberal Democrats do seem to have forgotten that the top 1% of the economic system who will pay this new 50% tax rate on income are the ones who can afford the best advice on tax avoidance (avoidance is legal, evasion is not). As Labour found out in the 70s, you can't tax them until the pips squeak, because you suddenly find out that the fruit is seedless.

    Going postal

    Perhaps when John Hemming next tries to blame Labour for all the faults in the electoral system, he should remember that, like the Tories and the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats tried to block toughened rules about allowing postal vote applications to go through party-controlled mailing centres. That also seems to have slipped Michael Howard's mind.

    The obvious reason for this process is to allow the parties time to capture the data. The chances are that if you have used a Tory or Labour application form to register for a postal vote, you are likely to be a supporter of that party, so can expect a blizzard of reminders to cast your vote in the right way.

    BrandRepublic takes a look at the media spend of the major parties and how they are targetting the key swing voters by direct marketing through telephone and mailing. It shows a shift to direct mail by Labour and the Tories, with a similar shift likely on telephone canvassing as well, even though the figures don't show this up. Labour tripled their spend on direct mail, compared to 2001, while the Tories have always spent more on this, but still doubled their expenditure to over £500,000 at the start of this year, up from £270,000 in 2001. As the other two pull back from press advertising, the Liberal Democrats have invested massively in this and have increased their spend tenfold. BrandRepublic also has a short article about the nascent electronic political fight, as well.

    I don't like this - but then I am a traditionalist. It has been reported that as few as 800,000 voters in marginal seats will decide the election. This is probably entirely true, but will lead to the parties concentrating their campaigning on those few voters and ignoring the rest of the country, who will only be spoken to through the twisted prism of the media. Partly, this is an understandable resource issue - the parties don't have the footsoldiers to knock on doors any more. As a nation, we are trending away from party involvement and preferring to attach ourselves to issues.

    Once again, the politician is moved further away from the electorate and the disconnect worsens. The long term prospects aren't good for turn-out and that's not good for democracy.

    Video killed the political star

    From Andrew Neil cavorting with Portillo, dancing girls and the worst Charlie Kennedy lookalike in history (not that it's a wide field), to the Tories' banned party election broadcast (hat tip to The Returning Officers).

    Shame Labour can't run either Paxman's recent visit to Howard on the campaign trail or the classic 'Did you threaten to overrule him'. Watch that and tell me he's fit to be PM.

    I detect the nimble fingers of Zack Exley in the latest on-line spoof. However, the current champions in the on-line game are the team at Bloggerheads with their 'Backing Blair' campaign. Vicious, smart and funny and the phonebox cards are inspired.

    People just can't stop themselves 'improving' the Tories' posters, can they? You could just do your own. Some have even sparked protest demonstrations in deepest, rural Oxfordshire.

    Friday, April 15, 2005

    Liberal Democrats inconsistent? Never.

    Labour's Fraser Kemp has pointed out that Charlie Kennedy opposed a wind farm in his own constituency, despite national policy to encourage renewables.

    Funny, their policy also sets out to encourage kerbside recycling, but one of John Hemming's first acts when he joined his Tory friends in running Birmingham City Council in 2004 was to scrap a long-awaited plan to deploy wheelie-bins in Birmingham to improve kerbside recycling and also to stop the appalling mess caused by the current system of black plastic bin bags.

    A new kid on the block, Mouldcracker, posts a few comments by the Green Party on the Liberal Democrat's environmental credentials.

    By the way, although the Liberal Democrats promise to oppose building new airports and expanding airports in the South East, there's no room in the manifesto for anything supporting their campaign against expanding Birmingham airport.

    Can anyone loan the LibDems a calculator?

    More woe for our diamond-studded colleagues in Cowley Street.

    It seems that their proposal to save £3.8 billion by scrapping the third tranche of the Eurofighter project has a slight flaw. It seems that the contracts with our European neighbours (and you thought that they were pro-European co-operation) will cost us £3.25 billion in penalty clauses if we withdraw, which reduces the savings to a slightly less impressive £625 million.

    That money would come in handy to support the thousands of workers put on the dole if they ever put this policy into action.

    It hasn't been a good few days, with the Inland Revenue announcing that the likely tax take was £3.81 billion below what the LibDems originally reckoned, that free personal care would cost £1.3 billion MORE than they budgeted for and that scrapping those tuition fees would cost an extra £4.3 billion.

    Hidden costs

    I'm sorry for Chuckie K, I really am. I remember how it was when my children were new-borns - the late-night feeds, changing nappies and rocking them to sleep as dawn's light crept over the horizon. So, when Charlie has to do all that and then face a campaign press conference a few hours later, I feel for the poor bloke. So, when he loses the plot over the Local Income Tax, I don't really mind.

    They've admitted that this will cut tax, by the simple expedient of having central government make up the £2.4 billion shortfall in income that the proposed tax will generate. This shortfall will come out of the extra tax on top earners - which is increasingly looking like a very elastic amount.

    ..he's lying...

    Not often that Jimmy Nail gets a political misquote, but there we go.

    After annoying senior coppers by lying about crime, Howard and his band of merry men (stealing from the poor to give to the rich) have now incurred the wrath of the NHS for lying about the spread of MRSA.

    Their leaflets imply that the local hospital in Knaresborough and Harrogate had 247 MRSA cases last year, but this figure actually applies to the whole region. The total for that NHS trust is just six. Similarly, Twickenham residents have been told that their two hospitals infected 166 patients, rather than the more accurate 60. The Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, Dr Gill Morgan is quoted by the BBC as saying:

    'We are extremely concerned about the public fears that may have been raised by the Conservative Party letter about MRSA rates at voters' local hospitals. We fear it could create a misleading picture and damage the reputation of local hospitals up and down the country where frontline staff and their managerial and support staff colleagues are working so hard to tackle MRSA.

    '[The] debate [on tackling MRSA] needs to based on accurate facts that aren't open to being wrongly interpreted by voters.'

    Are you as afraid as they want you to be?

    So farewell then

    The last British volume car maker slipped into history today.

    The shock of thousands of job losses hasn't stopped Michael Howard from wondering if Tony Blair should have intervened sooner or whether
    official red tape and the weight of tax levies affecting industry and commerce might have played a role in the disaster
    No, Michael. Perhaps the falling sales had more to do with it. A decade ago, Rover had 12% of the UK market. This share declined to just 3% last year. Some of us can remember the support that the Thatcher government (with Micky H as a leading member) gave to ship-building, mining and other manufacturing industries, so you'll pardon me if I look elsewhere for support.

    The Liberal Democrats today (no link, but I heard the quote on BBC Radio 5) said that they blamed the collapse on the useless Phoenix management team, which seems to have taken the business out of the fire and straight into the frying pan. John Hemming is the sole voice to blame the whole mess on the DTI (not his former mates in Phoenix). Light has also shone upon Talk Politics and he now understands the emnity some of us feel towards Birmingham Liberal Democrats in general and John Hemming in particular.

    How hard is it to keep a hospital clean?

    A story from the Honourable Fiend about how hard it is to keep MRSA out.

    Hygiene is an issue in hospitals, but MRSA exists at all because we have over-used antibiotics for a generation, with us patients demanding them for any cold or cough we get and doctors handing them out like sweeties. Fortunately, that seems to be changing, but probably too late.

    As has been pointed out, if the Tories hadn't obsessively privatised anything that they could, perhaps we wouldn't be in this mess now.

    Just a conspiracy theory

    Kamel Bourgass murdered a police officer and should be imprisoned for a very long time.

    I'm not going to question that, but think about this for a moment.

    Why would a (supposedly) highly-trained al-Qaeda terrorist choose to submit himself to the asylum process? Why expose yourself to government scrutiny and risk discovery? Why live a hand-to-mouth existence in the black economy and committing petty crimes, with the ever-present risk of arrest and the exposure of the terrorist mission?

    This man wasn't part of a global terrorist plot. He was a loner who had discovered his recipes for poison from survivalists and anarchists in the US, not some Afghan training school. He wasn't a terrorist professional, but an amateur. More on the story on the Register.

    Thursday, April 14, 2005

    Hemmingwatch III

    John's a busy man.

    When he's not leading a raid on the Birmingham Elections Office to uncover misplaced postal votes from June 2004, he's heading off to issue proceedings against the Prime Minister. When it is pointed out that this is incorrect, he has to correct the petition to have a go at the Department for Constitutional Affairs. No wonder he can't find the time to read carefully prepared notes from various pressure groups desperate to get their views heard.

    But nothing gets in the way of his ham-fisted attempts to blame the DTI for the Rover situation. He's even suggested that the workers should sue the ministry, working out that the claims could total £500 million. Perhaps the workers should look closer to home, to their bosses and the Phoenix consortium for running the business into the ground and exhausting the £500 million 'loan' from BMW and the other money raised from selling off group assets.

    Incidentally, John now admits he was wrong to trust John Towers to run Rover. Up until the latest convulsions, John had happily portrayed himself as being key to saving the company. According to the unofficial history of Rover, John was the driving force behind the creation of the Phoenix Group and we know that he forecast that Rover could be in profit by 2002. It was only in the past few days that John remembered that he considered legal action against the directors in 2003, but held off.

    I hear rumours of a campaign amongst the Liberal Democrats to parachute a dog into the Yardley campaign to replace John, on the grounds that it can't do any worse.

    At the sharp end of the campaign

    A cool spring evening with a late burst of blue sky keeping the rain away for a while and I'm not sat in a comfy chair with a cold beer in one hand and my new Wisden in the other.

    Nope, I'm out wandering up and down streets in a Birmingham constituency tracking down Labour voters and reminding them that the country needs their votes on May 5th. I'm pleasantly surprised by the reception I get. Sure, there are the houses where the householder sneers as they open the door and sees the rosette 'I'm not voting for you lot' or, more simply, '**** off.' I just put them down as 'don't knows.' There are the houses where I suspect that they are hiding behind the sofa, so I just drop a leaflet through the door and head on to the next. Incidentally, when I get to run the country, the first law will require a standardised letterbox design and will prohibit those vicious doors that snap down on your fingers. And don't get me started on those stealthy, ill-fed dogs that lurk behind the door and are so close to starvation that they seek to drag your body through the letter flap and hide your remains behind the pot plants.

    Apart from those problems, there are still those houses where the resident is pleased to see you and happy to confess that they will vote Labour and are pleased at what we've done over the past few years. Even better are the ones who aren't quite sure about voting Labour this time, but who are impressed enough by the litany of progress to put a poster in their window. Campaigning works best when you can show them that their votes last time have had visible effects - a school transformed or a new project for young people on the way.

    This is a campaign that will stand or fall on turnout on May 5th. In many seats, it will be a battle for the hearts, minds and votes of each elector. For all the high-level, high-octane briefings, broadcasts and photo-opportunities, the parties still rely on us foot-soldiers to get out and get our voters out. Democracy at the sharp end.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2005

    Criminal damage is wrong, of course

    But this is almost political comment. As is this. As for the Tories own attempts at photo manipulation...

    Having a candidate hold a blank piece of card to which appropriate lettering can be added is hardly a new trick and every party does it. so that's not the issue. I am concerned that after standing up for a local resident under threat of deportation and being prominent in campaigning for her, the Tory candidate saw nothing wrong in changing that photograph to tell a different story. At the very least, it was political ineptitude - the constituency is a truly marginal Labour seat (majority 153) and would be realistically expected to turn Tory in May. Then again, maybe not.

    Monday, April 11, 2005

    Return of the nasty party

    Despite the pleadings of the UNHCR to keep the problem of refugees in perspective - asylum claims in the UK have dropped 61% over the past two years, Howard keeps up the attack. My fear is that the Labour Party will respond with ever-tougher policies, rather than standing up for what is right.

    The UNHCR representative in the UK, Anne Dawson-Shepherd wrote to the party leaders and asked them to:

    'show political leadership and social responsibility by working towards reversing the atmosphere of intolerance that has been fostered towards refugees and asylum seekers.

    'Refugees are extremely vulnerable, having experienced violence in their homelands, and arrive in the UK without family or other support networks. They are not a threat, but are threatened, and thus deserve Britain's support and understanding.'

    She also criticised the Tories for claiming that the UNHCR has set up pilot overseas processing centres in Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

    'It is not correct that overseas processing centres have been established. Certainly this would not happen in countries with poor human rights records, which are also non-signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention.'

    Keith Best is another former Tory MP and the current director of the Immigration Advisory Service. He's weighed into the discussion as well
    'Research shows that every time something hardline is said in the press by politicians about immigration, there is a direct link to racist attacks. That is the danger. I wouldn't advocate this whole thing being taboo. My concern is that the debate is conducted at such a profoundly ignorant level.'
    Howard is sending out the wrong messages for the most cynical of reasons. Whenever he says immigration or asylum-seekers, the audience doesn't think of Australians or Americans, but hordes of Asians or Africans - anyone with a dark skin. He demonises them, promising to test them all for various contagious diseases and tying them to the terrorist threat. Howard is a throwback to a nastier, dirtier form of Toryism that we all hoped had been abandoned to the far right, but the Labour Party must avoid trying to out-tough the Tories. Let them run to the right and let us stand our ground and give a voice to the voiceless minority.

    This explains his interest in Rover

    I can barely type through the tears of laughter.

    Top marks to Bob Piper and Talk Politics for revealing John Hemming's early electoral defeat at the paws of a canine.

    It also reveals that he started out as a Mercian Nationalist. Many of those in Yardley?

    Tories launch the British Dream

    More of a nightmare, really. Find their manifesto here.

    At the risk of falling foul of Godwin's law myself, I was intrigued by the BBC's choice of photo to illustrate the launch.

    'We will spend the same as Labour would on the NHS'
    Nope, Andrew Lansley reckons that the Tory private healthcare subsidy will take £1.2 billion from the NHS to help the richest 10% in society.

    'As well as keeping taxes low, we must reduce the burdens on business through deregulation. A Conservative Government will negotiate to restore our opt-out from the European Social Chapter and liberate small businesses from job destroying employment legislation.'

    If you are in work, this little phrase should alarm you. The Social Chapter is designed to allow the EU to set European-wide policy on health and safety, equal pay, working conditions and consultation between management and workforce. The Tories will also force government departments to cap and reduce the costs of regulation, which must also have benefits that exceed the costs. How they will quantify those costs isn't clear, but I'll place a bet that your rights as an employee will suffer.
    We will ensure proper discipline in schools by giving heads and governors full control over admissions and expulsions.
    So if your child is expelled unreasonably, tough. Watch out for schools disposing of those under-performing pupils and passing them onto the new 'Turnaround Schools'
    '[We will] review all speed cameras to ensure they are there to save lives, not make money'
    John Hemming is thinking what they're thinking.
    We will introduce a points-based system for work permits similar to the one used in Australia. This will give priority to people with the skills Britain needs.
    We'll start with dodgy foreign political imports, eh?
    'We will take back powers from Brussels to ensure national control of asylum policy, withdraw from the 1951 Geneva Convention... Our objective is a system where we take a fixed number of refugees from the UNHCR rather than simply accepting those who are smuggled to our shores. Asylum seekers’ applications will be processed outside Britain. We will set an overall annual limit on the numbers coming to Britain, including a fixed quota for the number of asylum seekers we accept. Parliament will set, and review, that number every year.'
    This fantasy island for asylum processing returns, as does the 'fixed quota.' This has already been attacked by Charles Wardle, a former Tory immigration minister, who said that Labour had the most practical policies and that these proposals show that Michael Howard is 'utterly unsuited' to be PM (we know that already, don't we?). If even the leader of the barkingly-mad UKIP party says that your policies on immigration are 'so unworkable it was almost laughable,' then I think you have a real problem. Don't forget that we take 2.8% of all the refugees in the world - making up around 0.4% of our population, hardly overwhelming us. Still, why let facts get in the way of easy political points scoring?

    Sunday, April 10, 2005

    Still not convinced..

    Charles Kennedy has apparently urged a 'positive' campaign, telling the electorate what they intend to do
    'We are not going to get involved in all this nonsense that's going on the other side of the railway tracks, with the other two parties, about negative this and negative that. People are bored with all that stuff.'

    Of course you won't Charlie. Others in your party might disagree.
    'We will say to them, if you vote for us, we will deliver an end to top-up fees and tuition fees and we will actually go out there and make sure that old people who are suffering from terrible conditions like Alzheimer's get support for their washing and feeding and clothing and so on, and we will get rid of the council tax.'

    No you won't. Charlie. Unless the electorate does something unreasonably weird, the most likely outcome of a Liberal Democrat vote is a Tory government. Even if you do manage to hold the balance of power in a hung parliament, how do we know that you won't jump into bed with the Tories?

    Saturday, April 09, 2005

    Wild Rover

    Bob Piper has some interesting comments on the blog about Rover from the author of The UK Today, taking issue with John Hemming's attempt to shift the blame for the apparent collapse of Rover onto a few briefings from the DTI (anything to shift the focus from those who assembled the Phoenix consortium).

    Although the PM and Chancellor were criticised for 'electioneering' by visiting Birmingham yesterday, they would have been damned as uncaring if they didn't. In fact, not offering a failing business a £100 million loan may be a very brave decision, as the loan may only have staved off the inevitable until after the election.

    You do have to question a business that finds the money to pay top managers millions while digging a deeper pensions hole and not making any profit. Or perhaps that's John Hemming's idea of good corporate governance?


    The Liberal Democrats have taken up cudgels on behalf of those signed up to the Telephone Preference Service, which is supposed to stop nuisance sales calls.

    They claim that calls made by Tory and Labour canvassers to these numbers are unlawful and have made complaints on that basis to the Information Commissioner. The Labour view is that this is incorrect, as the calls aren't being made for marketing purposes, but to establish voting preference.

    I can't help but suspect one or two ulterior motives here. Firstly, we know that Liberal Democrats tend to do well when turnout is low (by-elections and local elections are key examples), so have an interest in keeping voters at home. Secondly, the LibDems aren't as well-off (or as far in debt) as the other two parties, so aren't able to afford the call-centres working flat out to identify key voters.

    Maybe I'm just being cynical here, but I just don't put trying to generate interest in the democratic process in the same category as flogging double-glazing.

    Go Jerry, Go Jerry

    With John Hemming's ego now into overdrive, he plans to make the whole electoral system do a sharp emergency stop by trying for a judicial review of the Prime Minister's decision to call an election for the 5 May.

    What amazed me was his choice of lawyer - none other than Jerry Hayes, fresh from the losing side in the Aston electoral fraud case where he represented two of the former Labour councillors. His one success was to get John Hemming to admit that many of his allegations were based on hearsay.

    It remains to be seen whether the leadership of the Liberal Democrats will thank this putative MP for putting their carefully planned campaign on ice, should the review succeed.

    Thursday, April 07, 2005

    Are you drinking what we're drinking?

    Seems that Asda are pushing a range of beers to go with the election.

    The Liberal Democrat one is faintly green, but the taste will change depending on where it is sold and you may worry about drinking it when you wake up in the morning.

    The Tory one is simply recycled from a few years ago, has a strong whiff of Australian ingredients and may leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Don't trust the list of ingredients either.

    The Labour one may just leave you feeling a little bitter, but you know that you have to drink it.

    Taxation truths

    Channel 4 News have dug into another of those Tory mantras about '66 tax rises since 1997.'

    In summary, the overall effect of tax rises and tax cuts means that the overall tax take, as part of GDP has jumped from 34.8% in 1996/8 to a whopping 35.6% in 2003/4. They've risen by a whole 0.8%.

    The Institute of Fiscal Studies actually reckons that there have been 157 tax rises since 1997, but 215 cuts over the same period. Most of the changes are tiny and of major interest only to tax lawyers.

    Incidentally, the IFS has also produced a report which suggests that while average incomes have dropped by 0.2% - the first decline in over a decade - there has been a slight narrowing of the inequality gap.

    'Incomes of the richest fifth of households fell by around 1% in 2003/4, those of the poorest fifth rose by around 1%'
    Hardly earth-shattering in its redistribution, but a start. It remains to be seen if this is a sustained change.

    They also state that:

    Pensioner poverty continues to fall dramatically... by a tenth in the single year 2002/3 to 2003/4 and has fallen by over a quarter since 1998/99'

    So, things ARE getting better.