Thursday, June 30, 2005

Getting the speed hump

As part of their campaign to open up Birmingham to allow car drivers free rein - we've already seen them get rid of bus lanes that get in the way of driving into the City from Sutton Coldfield - the Tory/Liberal Democrat council had a go at speed bumps last week. The plan is to create a network of 'Blue Routes' across the city that will be kept clear of traffic calming - even if it means removing exisiting measures - to allow emergency vehicles to get through faster.

I'm a little puzzled why this should be news - local authorities have always had a statutory duty to consult with the emergency services before traffic-calming measures are put into place and this has been done. It has to be noted that the services concerned haven't always responded to such consultation, so perhaps they should take a little more responsibility themselves.

This kicked off a couple of years ago, when the head of the London ambulance service reckoned that cutting response times by one minute could save 500 lives a year from cardiac arrest. At the request of the GLA, the London Health Observatory took a glance at this theory and how it relates to traffic calming overall. Their conclusion was that traffic calming is only likely to delay emergency response in a tiny number of cases - a delay of a minute would require them to cover around a mile of traffic calming at 20mph and there are far greater delays caused by patients waiting to call for help.

The benefits of traffic-calming more than outweighed any likely risk - if a pedestrian is hit by a car travelling at 20mph, 95% will survive. Increase the speed to 30mph and the survival rate drops to 50%. Impacts at 42mph will only leave 5% of victims alive. Aside from that, traffic calming makes walking more attractive, which has its own health benefits. Traffic calming works, it is popular with local residents and pays for itself rapidly - within a year in most cases.

If you really want to improve response times, the answer isn't to rip up speed bumps, but to reduce congestion, so encouraging car usage isn't really the right answer. It does pander to the prejudices of voters, though, so that's all right.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Council prejudice?

Apparently, even though the civil service may be moving away from the compulsory wearing of ties, Birmingham City Council likes employees to wear suits and not to have beards or they may face the sack. (Although the current term is having your employment terminated by mutual consent.)
'Mr Bloomfield is not the correct image for the current leaders of the council, even though he is easily the best man for the job. He faced problems because he had a beard and on occasions he did not wear a suit.'

Are these people mad or just stupid? Answers on a postcard please to the Council House, Birmingham.

They're doing well at getting rid of City Council senior officers at the moment, although their current autocratic style isn't going down well with the Labour group - especially after an officer was appointed to an interim post by the Tory/LD coalition without the customary all-party involvement.

The Mast Debate goes on

So the Liberal Democrats and the Tories have decided to end the Labour-imposed moratorium on the installation of mobile phone masts onto Birmingham council property. As Liberal Democrat campaigners the length and breadth of the country continue to leap aboard this particular bandwagon to try and harvest some popular votes (Try this search to see the results), it is good to see them taking a lead in Birmingham and heading in the opposite direction. I'm sure the lovely Nokia Davies will be delighted.

Cllr Mick Wilkes shows us why he almost stole the deputy leader's chair from under Paul Tilsley by assuring us that this will give the council much greater control over siting and emissions. It will also give the council a boost to funds - as well as bribing residents and governing bodies to accept mobile phone masts in return for a share in the rental. It might allow the Tories a little while longer to sharpen the axe before slicing into some of our services. It would be entirely wrong of me to suggest that the additional income was enough to persuade the Liberal Democrats and the Tories to slap the whole policy into reverse and pray that the political consequences have blown over by the time May 2006 comes around.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

No IDea

So, the bill's through the second reading. Top marks to those Labour MPs who voted against the government, even though this was a manifesto issue. MPs like Lynne Jones, Clare Short and David Winnick (and John Hemming, saints preserve us) did the right thing tonight, even if the rest of their brethren failed us today.

I fail to understand why the government still think this is a good idea - polls indicate that support is starting to drift from the much-quoted 83% in favour, with the latest polls suggesting that just over half of the population now back the idea. Mention that the card could cost you as much as £300 and support drops to around 4%. I doubt that the government could ever hope to charge that for a card - costs will have to be trimmed, hidden and passed on to external users.

Although the government moved swiftly to rubbish the report from the LSE, bear in mind that it comes from a respected institution and was created with the help of IT and business experts from around the world. It is also backed by the Information Commissioner himself - who has jumped squarely into the political debate. You can read the executive summary or the full 300-page report, but the condensed version is that while a system might have benefits, the current proposals will drain the public purse for a system that won't work. The press release contains a summary of the summary and glancing through the list of best/worse case scenarios, the worst case scenario seems a damn sight more likely than the best option on almost every occasion. Top marks to Talk Politics for another thorough critique of this albatross of a proposal.

Identity theft is undoubtably a problem, but will the card resolve it? Probably not - and it could make it worse. NO2ID point out that identity theft is significantly more of a problem in the US and Australia, where they each have a single identifier (Social Security number and Tax File Number, respectively) which has become the unique reference used for most contacts with government and business. Our evolved system of multiple proofs of identity offers a touch more security - thieves may get hold of a telephone bill of yours, but a single document is of limited use. Get hold of the ID card identifying number or, worse, the actual biometric data and that's game over - identity thieves can steal your whole life and proving otherwise will be more of a nightmare than it is now.

Will it be secure? Of course not - part of the plan is to allow access to private sector companies for various reasons. If you want to hire a car or get credit or open a bank account, they'll want to see your card and to check the biometric data therein. All this will require the mother of all computer networks with huge numbers of points where it might be attacked and compromised. I doubt that the government will need to make the card compulsory - before long you will find your life impossible without it.

Another point which hasn't been discussed - how much access will foreign governments have to the database? This is being brought in on the back of the US withdrawing the visa waiver for all foreign nationals without biometrically-verifiable passports - so are the US going to be allowed to cross-check your ID with the UK database? (The answer will be 'Yes', of course.)

This proposal is ill-judged and won't work - the time is right for the bill to be quietly put away before it becomes even more of an embarrassment to the government. Labour's Poll Tax? Nope. The poll tax will come to be seen as the Tories' ID Card scheme and will look like a well-implemented and well-thought out programme in comparison.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Performance Review

As we've had a month or so of parliamentary action, perhaps a quick glance at their recent performance is in order. It doesn't make good reading for the Liberal Democrats or the Tories, while the nine Labour MPs all have solid attendance records. (Votes are those attended since the start of the current session, questions are written questions asked within the last twelve calendar months) . Sourced from They Work For You and The Public Whip and correct at time of going to 'presss'.

Name, Constituency, Votes, Questions
Lynne Jones, Selly Oak - 100% - 19
Liam Byrne, Hodge Hill - 100% - 77
Richard Burden, Northfield - 100% - 34
Roger Godsiff, Sparkbrook/Small Heath - 100% - 28
Gisela Stuart, Edgbaston - 100% - 10
Steve McCabe, Hall Green - 100% - 7
Sion Simon, Erdington - 90% - 4
Khalid Mahmood, Perry Barr - 90% - 1
Clare Short, Ladywood - 84% - 29
John Hemming, Yardley - 58% - 58
Andrew Mitchell, Sutton Coldfield - 47% - 43

John Hemming is saved from being the worst-performing MP in Birmingham only because of the Tory MP in Sutton Coldfield (which is not part of Birmingham in the eyes of the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, as we know - although the Boundary Commission begs to differ). Not only that, John's is the eighth worst performance by a Liberal Democrat MP (not counting the late Patsy Calton) - another of the LD worst performers is also 'dual-hatted' as a local councillor as well. If John is seeking to excuse his performance as down to not having acquired office space, then I can point out that his new colleague across the border in Solihull, Lorely Burt, managed to make 85% of the divisions in the House.

The title of the most pointless MP who has actually taken the oath (Sinn Fein MPs don't swear in, so can't vote) goes to 'Gorgeous' George Galloway who has been effectively representing his constituents in Bethnal and Bow by not attending a single vote. No Respect for their votes at all, there.

Costing the earth

Bad news for drivers of those gas-guzzling SUVs - Liberal Democrats in London want to double the congestion charge for those vehicles. They've got a list of 68 models, including the Land Rover Discovery, which would face a higher daily charge.

Makes a change to see them actually proposing a measure not calculated to gain some votes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Old school ties

Some of you may have wondered why a 'hitherto obscure, rookie' MP from a small opposition party may have landed an invitation to one of the infamously boozy Private Eye lunches.

Aside from the possibility that some of the stories in the Eye lately (chiefly about Rover and vote fraud) seem to bear the fingerprints of that newbie, it is interesting to note that the editor of that illustrious organ, Ian Hislop, is also an alumnus of Magdalen College, Oxford and a contemporary of Cllr Hemming. Proverbially, there is no honour amongst thieves, but there seems to be even less honour amongst journalists and politicians, hence the embarrassing little tale below.

(Hat tip to an anonymous source, by the way)

'Honest John' drops a clanger

As reported by Talk Politics over the weekend, the Observer got hold of a Private Eye story on our favourite local MP, which calls into question his common sense, if not his sanity. The magazine itself has just landed on my doormat and contains the evocative paragraph:
'Has any other MP ever turned up at the Coach and Horses in Soho, got hog-whimperingly drunk and then announced to a roomful of complete strangers - many of them Eye hacks - that he has made his mistress pregnant?'
Truly, in vino veritas, but what the hell was he doing revealing his secrets to the most indiscreet journalists in the UK (and the ones who have more experience of libel law than any others, I would add). A major error of judgement or just an example of his honesty?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Send lawyers...

The apparently unrepentant MP for Yardley is thinking about getting all legal on the press, raising the issue of libel for some of what was printed on Friday and over the weekend in the local and national media.

Libel, by the way, is the publication of defamatory words that cause damage to reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person. It includes internet publication and also the repetition of a libellous statement - so you will excuse my caution.

I'm instinctively worried about any MP who reaches for the lawyers as a matter of course in their defence. Recent libel activists have included Archer, Hamilton, Galloway and Aitken - not great company for anyone to be in unless the matter is hugely serious.

John considers himself to be in the 'unlucky position' that what he does is in the public eye. Rubbish. Nobody is forced to run for public office in this country. He chose to put himself (and his family) through it of his own volition, in the full knowledge that this skeleton was rattling in his cupboard. The odds on it NOT coming out were always slim. Every Labour candidate (and I'd guess this holds good for the other major parties) is asked if there is anything in their background that might embarrass the party if it were to become public. John is certainly aware that there are many voters in Yardley who won't like this story one little bit, no matter how much he pleads to be judged on his performance as an MP - that's why it was kept quiet until after the election and we can surmise that's why he has released it now, to get the worst of the criticism over and done with now.

Things get a little murkier yet.
The Evening Mail First Edition (and I think C1) went out with basically a story that we had given them in detail. Everything was accurate and truthful.
I don't know who the 'we' is in this, but given the tone of the original article, it seems to have come from Emily and John, with no comment from his wife. In essence, John gave the story to the press. This piece was bylined David Bell, with whom John has worked in the past.
They then changed the story in C2. All the other newspapers thought that this had been checked in the same rigorous manner. Sadly, it hadn't. This, of course, after the "mother of all sex scandals", gives potentially the "mother of all libel cases".
The focus of the story did indeed shift during the day, as the final edition changed the headline to focus on the 'Love Rat' (don't you just love the tabloid-speak) and his affairs. This followed a doorstep interview with John's wife by Lisa McCarthy, who now gets joint credit with David Bell for the story. John has, by the way, denied the specific number of affairs and claims that this is simply plucked from thin air by his wife. John was being exceptionally naive if he thought he could control the story once he had launched the initial bombshell to a friendly journalist.

What intrigues me is that John claims that there are inaccuracies in this story which may be actionable, yet much of the new substance comes from his own wife. Ms McCarthy was photographed, notebook in hand, talking to John's wife, so hopefully her journalistic training will hold up and she has a contemporaneous record of the conversation - certainly the articles are peppered with direct quotes.

If John is thinking about taking legal action, he might want to consider whether he really wants to have his affairs dragged through the courts. The Evening Mail might cave in, but I doubt that the nationals would follow suit.

It will be interesting to watch. Whatever else you might say about John, he's a source of amusement.

As an aside, the comments section offers a right of reply and I'm happy to correct any factual errors made. (As always)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bring it on

I know that there's still a month to go until the real business of the summer starts.

I know that Australia are still in a league of their own when it comes to the international game.

I know that they have an experienced team of quality players who are just playing themselves back in after a short break.

And yet....

England, Somerset, Bangladesh (Bangladesh!!) and England again.

They've not had a good week, so despite what I know, I still dream.

Consultants bleed you dry

As Birmingham City Council prepares to ink a contract to agree a £300 million consultancy package over the next decade, I find myself in agreement with the scrutiny committee on the council wondering why the well-paid managers can't find answers for themselves. According to the review documents submitted to the scrutiny committee, they already have some ideas, but can't possibly develop strategies to achieve their aims without the magicians from Capita or one of the other 'strategic partnerships' on offer.

I'm not saying that there isn't a role for a fresh eye on some subjects, but I'm at a loss to understand why there should be a ten year contract, rather than specific contracts for specific projects. To my mind, the whole business case for involving an outside group should be reconsidered.

I'd also place a bet that one of the chief recommendations of the consultants will be to outsource various aspects of the council's operations and that another branch of the consultancy will be ideally placed to offer a financially-attractive deal (stuff the quality of service). Nick Cohen has an apposite article in the Observer today. We only have to look at the quality of outsourced IT projects delivered by major contractors to understand just how poor a deal the taxpayer and the council employees really get from consultants and their sidekicks. It is arguable that the chief role of consultants is to take the blame for cock-ups and unpopular changes.

Bluntly, if your managers and their staff can't find cost-neutral service improvements and financial savings or lead through a change process, get some new managers, not some consultants.

In other news

Of more importance is the revelation in today's Sunday Mercury that Julie Kirkbride and the 'flamboyant' (Copyright all papers) John Hemming were both offered free cars from the Rover company in 2003, apparently in return for their silence over the corporate mismanagement.

One question springs to mind - why did it take both of them until now to bring this to the attention of the public?

Incidentally, Charles Kennedy has defended his leadership, after his choice for parliamentart chair of the LibDems was dumped in favour of his MPs' candidate this week. He's admitted that voters are unsure of the Liberal Democrats and accepted the blame.

In an unusual use of rhyming slang, he commented on the Hemming affairs by proclaiming that the 'buck stops here.' At least I think that's what he said.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

'Superstud'

Dear God. Has it come to this?

John Hemming is not some cheerful Robin Askwith character in 'Confessions of a Councillor.' He's supposed to be a serious political figure - he was the Deputy Leader of the largest local authority in Western Europe, for God's sake. The people of Yardley elected him to represent them - a touch of humility and shame isn't inappropriate here. Cheerfully describing himself as 'Superstud' doesn't cut it. We learn in the paper of record that is the News of the Screws World that he intends to stay involved with both women.

I simply ask you to consider the opprobrium heaped upon Kimberley Quinn and ask you what your instinctive reaction would be to a woman who had (allegedly) worked through 26 lovers in 19 years (not including her partner). If you would view her and John in the same light, all praise to you - but I'm afraid the battle for sexual equality is still being fought.

I note again that John denies that specific number. For all we know, it could be higher. Cheating on your wife is nothing to be proud of. It isn't a resigning issue, but shut up about it - you're starting to look like an egotistical fool.

Happy Father's Day

The Evening Mail continues to air the couple's dirty laundry in the most public of ways, with his wife telling us that she did try to divorce him eight years ago, but he reshuffled the finances to ensure that she would have been left with nothing in a settlement. I'm almost starting to feel sorry for John, now - his wife and mistress are fighting a highly visible and highly embarrassing media war over him. Something tells me it may not be over yet - and the longer it goes on, the more damage will be done.

She's found an interesting excuse for her husband's philandering ways
'He is a liberal and ancient liberals have a very easy philosophy of life.'

Day two - the story hits the nationals

The wife continues her assault in the Telegraph today, while the Sun gives it barely a mention. The dead tree copies of the Daily Mail, the Times and the Mirror all give it a page's worth with more or less the same story and quotes, but the prize for the best headline goes to the Mirror for 'Libidinal Democrat'
I think this sort of thing sends out a disgraceful moral message
And why not feed the prejudices of the Telegraph?
So many problems in society are caused by single parents and the breakdown of the family and while John is obviously very concerned with improving peoples' lives he has only added to the problem.
'Cos single parents are evil and must be stopped. What a load of Tory claptrap - I thought we'd got rid of that in 1997. Most single parents are not single by choice, but by circumstance and they struggle to do their best for their children, just like every other parent. And just like every other parent, they will get it wrong sometimes and the children may go off the rails. To declare my interest, I'm the product of a single-parent family. I was loved and my mother worked desperately hard to give me the best possible start in life, as a result of which I have a reasonable job, a couple of degrees, a family of my own and this collection of ramblings on the web. This may or may not be a good thing for society - you can judge that, but I know that I owe her an enormous debt that I can't hope to repay. I'm not sure that anyone involved in this story is best placed to lecture us on what's best for society.
Like most relationships, we've had our ups and downs.
John's had a lot of ups and downs, apparently. 26 different sets of them.
I meant my vows when I said them 23 years ago
Glad one of you did. Perhaps John should remember the one about 'forsaking all others.' Perhaps John should just have his trousers padlocked shut.

Speaking to the Birmingham Post, John tells them that all married couples have affairs - a sweeping statement if ever there was one. I think we're all grown up enough to appreciate that humans will fail and many people will stray from monogamy. The odd failure is to be expected in any system, but when it happens 26 times, then I think we're talking a habit here.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Affairs of state

This explains his sudden interest in public toilets for elderly men and pregnant women. (You can write your own jokes about his interest in pussy.)

'My wife isn't best pleased' says John. Really?

Anybody who has only seen the first edition of the Evening Mail, which clearly based the story on a chat with Emily Cox, would be well advised to invest in a copy of the final edition, which develops the story and carries a brief interview with John's wife, who definitely seems to be less than pleased. Apparently, his wife is of the view that the poor love was entrapped by Cllr Cox's feminine wiles,
'I think she took advantage of him... she is now in a position where she can make our life very difficult for us.'
I think John may have been in a position that has made his life difficult - so don't put all the blame on her.

But there's more - poor Emily is not the only little transgression in John's marital past - there have been 25 others. TWENTY-FIVE? In 18 years (apparently he started wandering four or five years into their 23-year marriage)? I know power is supposed to be the ultimate aphrodisiac, but this is approaching Clintonian levels - he was only elected a month ago and is already embroiled in a sex scandal - not that this is the first 'accident', apparently, despite him being warned to 'take the relevant precautions' by his wife. (In the name of balance, I should add that John describes his wife's story as 'nonsense'.)

No wonder the Evening Mail describe him as a 'tireless bundle of energy' and his romancing his wife as a 'fairytale' - it certainly sounds Grimm.

I tend not to moralise over personal issues like this and don't consider that they impact hugely on what someone does in their public life, although I am concerned that Emily is an employee of John's - she also became a councillor whilst she was having an affair with him and whilst he was leader of the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham. I'm not aware of any 'family values' preaching on his part which might raise charges of hypocrisy, nor does he particularly push his family to the front in campaigns. The Mail editorial notes that many gay MPs no longer feel the need to conceal their sexuality - although it isn't appropriate to confuse sexual orientation and activity, as we have choice over our actions, not our orientation. He isn't the first - and won't be the last - politician to have spent a while 'discussing Uganda'. Our politicans are only human and will have the same failings as other mortals, although failing twenty-six times looks a little more like carelessness.

He's lucky that it was kept secret during the campaign - in a close election, something like this could have made the difference. However, four years is a long time in politics and I doubt the electors of Yardley will give it much consideration when the time comes - providing no more skeletons come leaping out of closets.

Of course, don't get the idea that John is the only councillor putting his cross in the wrong ballot box - I know of another couple of candidates who should be looking over their shoulders for a visit from the Mail hacks. (Any guesses posted will be deleted, so don't even think about it).

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

You wait ages for one and then none come along

So, after a mini-blaze of publicity for John Hemming and the Liberal Democrats - indeed it was a key item in their 2004 local elections manifesto - the 'bus wardens' scheme seems to be firmly stuck in the depot.

Apparently, the Liberal Democrats allocated £700,000 of our money to the project, but forgot to check the legality of the whole thing. Apparently, only a police officer or the driver can force you off the bus and Transport West Midlands say:
'The Birmingham City Council initiative is still not much more than that at the moment. The detail of the way that the scheme will work has yet to be fully announced to us.'

This, four months after the launch and a full year after the Tory/Liberal Democrat coup that put them in power. You may well ask what they've been doing all this time. They're not bogged down by legal problems - this is another of those back-of-an-envelope schemes that looked good in the manifesto but wasn't thought through.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Sutton Coldfield Question... again

Bob Piper spotted this detail...
It has prompted one city councillor to write to all ten of Birmingham's MPs
The councillor in question is a Tory, so can be forgiven for not being able to add up, but you would have thought that a friend could have loaned him a finger to count to 11, which is the number of MPs in Birmingham. Whatever anyone else may say, there remain eleven MPs within the Birmingham City Council boundary. Plans may be afoot to allow Sutton Coldfield to declare UDI, but we can't ignore it, like an embarrassing relative. Perhaps Reg is just reading too much Liberal Democrat propaganda.

And he's right, by the way - we do need to invest more in youth services. We also need to invest more in adult education by the look of it as well.

A sitting MP?

John Hemming continues to lift the lid on the big scandals in our lives.

Having revealed the iniquities of a system producing degrees for pastry chefs and failed to make a cheap political point about emigration, he's moved on to public toilets. OK, so 'Toilets, toilets, toilets' isn't much of an election slogan compared to 'Education, education, education,' but it has revealed the existence of the British Toilet Association, a hitherto shadowy organisation. Unusually, John is interested in taking a leak rather than leaking.

Nothing like a safe seat, eh?

(Answering his question cost you £148.)

Nice to see my money isn't going to waste

No, really.

Paying a political researcher to sit on his sofa at home watching 'Trisha' for EIGHT MONTHS while you investigate allegations of misconduct? That's neither good value for my money, nor is it fair to the employee in question - justice delayed is justice denied, as a great Liberal politician once said (sadly, an extinct breed).

Not only that, these are allegations of gross misconduct - that is they are considered to be so serious as to be grounds for dismissal. John Hemming bleats that the law is so complicated (bear in mind that this is the party that seeks to deregulate business - which always means bad news for employees or consumers), rather than finding out whether the council is victimising an employee or just being incompetent. I know what it sounds like from here.

Going underground...

I've not written about the Blunderground/Mike Whitby Vanity Project for a while, but it is back in the news again. It seems that after a year, the feasibility study has been prepared and is about to be published - weeks late.

Horror of horrors, it seems that the Tories may have got their sums wrong. During the campaign last year, they suggested that the whole scheme could have been knocked together for around £200 million. The consultants suggest a cost exceeding £1 billion - which more than doubles when you take into account the cost of building the other Metro lines also required to make the underground worthwhile (I still hold that those are likely to be conservative costings - you can always bank on the final cost being much higher than the estimate where big public projects are involved). Unsurprisingly, this also makes the scheme fail the cost/benefit tests set out by the government - although that doesn't stop Mike W asking them to look again at their standards to try and make the scheme fit.

Apparently the costs have grown because the proposal being brought forward is more comprehensive than the original. Translation - this is a proper proposal rather than one knocked out on the back of an envelope in a desperate search for a winning 'big idea.'

Liberal Democrat 'transport expert' (no laughing at the back, please) Paul Tilsley, now also the driving force behind the cities' Liberal Democrat councillors and Deputy Leader, reckoned that people wouldn't cope with years of disruption to build the above ground Metro in Birmingham. I did point out at the time that building an underground system doesn't actually all take place underground. How do they think that simultaneous construction of lines to Perry Barr, along the Hagley Road and along the Coventry Road (three main arteries into the City) out to the airport will affect lives then? It should happen, but I'm not convinced about the need to do all of it at once.

All this comes to a head as the government agrees to the Snow Hill/Five Ways extension and the other local councils start to lose patience with Birmingham and threaten to go their own way. Even the support of the local business community for above-ground trams doesn't divert the Tories and Liberal Democrats from their mindless pursuit of the Birmingham Blunderground. Even Labour's Albert Bore has weighed in, accusing Whitby and Tilsley of 'flying in the face of reality' by not backing the over-ground Metro.

I could claim that the article I wrote in December was well-researched and prescient (and a lot cheaper than £150K, I might add), but it was more about stating the bleeding obvious. We can build an underground system, but it will be hideously expensive and take two decades to start operations. In six years, we could have the first trams running through the City, for £72 million - that's fourteen years earlier and for a lot less than a tenth of the cost.

Which would you rather pay for?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sore loser

I'm going to be a little cautious about what I say here, but Respect should be very careful about petitioning for an election court to be held to consider the result in the Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath constituency. They should be certain that there are no skeletons in their own cupboard.

I'm sure that the court will be interested to hear of the Respect supporters (and the Liberal Democrat councillor) who were ejected from polling stations for being there without permission.

I say this because I've seen the figures for the count at ward level. The area of the constituency that contains a large chunk of the new Bordesley Green ward turned out massively for Respect in both the ballot box vote and the postal vote.

Once you start getting the drains up, you never know what you might find.

Road to hell

When Alistair Darling's proposals to introduce road pricing in the UK were previewed earlier in the week, there was cautious support from the Tory shadow transport secretary Alan Duncan said to the Today Programme on Radio 4:
'I think it is a vision for the future ...We have more cars in the same amount of space so we do have a problem with congestion.'
Tom Brake for the Liberal Democrats (an appropriately named spokesman, if ever there was one) added his support:
'We see it as far fairer. It taxes car usage, not car ownership'
So we have an innovative policy - not without civil liberties problems, to be fair - but it seems to have a degree of cross-party support. Not only would it have an impact on traffic jams, it would also help to relieve the environmental cost of driving and make people think more about their journeys. These sort of decisions aren't easy, but as we know, natural resources are not limitless and tough decisions have to be taken for the greater good. Better public transport will help - although with a council currently committed to ripping up bus lanes and twiddling their thumbs over extending the Midlands Metro light rail system, there's no sign of that in Birmingham. Public transport alone only stands to cut journeys by about 10%, but this road pricing option could offer 40% cuts.

So, to Birmingham and a city blighted by congestion and at risk of grinding to a halt within a generation. After much consideration, there came the response of the Tory councillor in charge of being nice to car drivers from Sutton Coldfield transportation. With all the wisdom conferred by his office, Len Gregory spoke:
'I think it would be unpopular and almost certainly seen as unfair and the figures don't seem to add up.'
Nice one, Len and about as forward looking as we have come to expect from this less-than-competent bunch currently running our city. He's learnt something from all that time spent with the LibDems, though - never agree with national policy if it could cost you votes locally, no matter what the cost.

So we know the Tory/Liberal Democrat policy - no improvements to public transport and more congestion. That's a great offer. As Sir Albert Bore (Labour group leader on the council) put it the other day
'Birmingham is not seen as a city which is pushing ahead... there is a sense that Birmingham has lost its way'

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Tories and Lib Dems get their way

So farewell then, Lin Homer, chief executive of Birmingham City Council, who has decided to leave for a career in the civil service rather than face another couple of years with the Tories and Liberal Democrats undermining her.

If any of you doubt how bad it was, consider that she has left the City Council for a job running the Immigration & Nationality Directorate at the Home Office.

Ouch. Frying pans and fire spring to mind.

As Zoe Hopkins points out, neither the leader or the deputy leader deigned to comment on her departure to the press, that was left to a backbench councillor who said that:
'I am very pleased for Lin Homer. It is obviously good news for the city that the Home Office think she is so good that they have headhunted her to deal with the nation's asylum problems.'

Good news in the sense that we now have to find another chief executive - it took over a year to find the last one.

Coincidentally, the official press release which has now been posted on the council website (after the press got hold of the story) includes the following lines:
'Deputy Leader, Cllr Paul Tilsley, said: The fact that Lin has been headhunted by the Home Office to lead one of the highest profile Directorates within Government, is a great compliment to the City’s original selection of the Chief Executive.'
Great minds think alike? Or is somebody pulling his strings?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

And so it came to pass...

As foretold here only yesterday by Gypsy Rose Hemming - those new House of Commons tealeaves are awfully effective - the truth has come out about the election of the new Liberal Democrat leader in Birmingham. (I say 'leader', but I really mean 'Mike Whitby's poodle')

It was rumoured in the press last week that Paul Tilsley collected the support of 26 out of the 28 Liberal Democrat councillors - a resounding victory, by any standards. That may not have been the entire truth. as the press today has reported a slightly different story (spin from the Liberal Democrats - 'Never!' I hear you cry).

It seems that Paul only managed to find 14 councillors to support him, with 13 others backing Mick Wilkes. And what of the other councillor? S/He chose to abstain - a typical LD indecision. If there HAD been a draw, apparently the two candidates would have had to draw lots to see who won the £50K p.a. fee to be the next Tory stooge (a rise from the old days when betrayal was a mere 30 pieces of silver).

So, it seems that the council rumour mill was far more accurate than the media, until someone corrected the error. That champion of honesty will, like all good journalistic sources, remain nameless. It doesn't bode well for the future, given the apparent amount of opposition to Tilsley within the LD group. If he doesn't keep his friends on-side, then things could get interesting for him, especially with the run-up to the 2006 local elections.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Saying one thing and doing another

Not an unusual stance for our Liberal Democrat friends over the environment. After all, taking action to protect our global future requires some tough choices. (I look forward to hearing that John H has ordered one of these).

For a party attacking the government over their steps towards achieving the Kyoto targets and a party committed to cutting C02 emissions by 20% by 2010, you would have thought that backing renewable energy sources like wind farms would be a good idea.

Sadly, like the congestion charge, this only applies in areas where they can't make political capital out of opposing them - which is nowhere.

We know that Chatshow has already come out against a wind farm in his constituency, now we have the Saddleworth Moor Action Group, featuring Liberal Democrat councillor Mike Buckley, opposing a site that could power well over 30,000 homes. But then, the LD candidate in Penrith opposed a windfarm in that constituency as well, because votes matter more than principles.

Guess the council

Weak and rudderless leadership...

Councillors lack basic skills to deliver best value...

Insular, vacillated over important decisions...

Low staff morale, friction between councillors and senior officials...

Oddly, not Birmingham, but the Liberal Democrat-run Inverclyde Council which has just had a review from the Accounts Commission in Scotland.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

If he got annoyed about THAT

Unity poured some fire onto those fine people over at CAP Alert, who assiduously sit through the latest movie releases so that you don't have to sully your eyes with anything that might be offensive to God (or mention homosexuality as anything other than something likely to bring hellfire itself down upon your head). They don't like a couple of my favourite films (Dogma, for example) and they aren't big fans of Harry Potter, either.

Anyway, given his views on that, I wonder if he has seen this group of fundamentalist nutters who want to have a whole museum dedicated to creationism. They genuinely believe that God knocked out Earth and everything upon it in six 24-hour shifts (obviously before the introduction of the European Working Time Directive) and that man walked with dinosaurs (only in 1 Million Years BC, sunshine).

Never mind the science, eh?

Don't laugh too much, there are some schools in the UK actually teaching this rubbish as a 'faith position' alternative to science. It's as if the Enlightenment never happened.

The post-mortem starts

It seems that Chatshow Charlie's attempts to forestall the traditional, post-electoral blood-letting by a losing party with his policy review, have come to naught. The review at first seemed to hold hope for an early removal of the millstone-like local income tax hanging around the party's collective neck, but that hope disappeared early on as the briefers changed tack, probably to scare off Simon Hughes, who still circles the wounded Kennedy.

Public dissent has surfaced in The Liberator (which even includes a songbook, apparently), but also includes a couple of articles critical of the spin emanating from the Kennedy team which blames the membership and the conference structure for the wacky policies exploited by their opponents - votes for prisoners (defended by Kennedy, lest we forget) and alcohol and porn for 16-year-olds being a few examples. Kennedy had to fall back whimpering that the manifesto was what mattered and tried to ignore that these awkward little policies had been through the party policy system, rubber-stamped by himself and then presented to conference. Still, as the losing Liberal Democrat candidate in Hemel Hempstead said:
'There's a difference between policy and what you'll do in government'
With friends like this, you do wonder how long Charlie can hold onto his job.

Lines like
'For too long, the party has focused on the mechanics of campaigning to the detriment of political thinking'
and
'The Liberal Democrats can neither hope nor deserve to overcome popular cynicism about politics unless they make their values explicit.'
suggest that some in the party realise that opportunism and oppositionalism don't make for a party of government.

Simon's out there Charlie. And he sniffs blood in the water.

Careful who you are memed with

John made a point about his recent campaign to push for a fairer voting system (one with which I have some sympathy) about spreading the image of people being gagged by the voting system in that their voices are not listened to by the government.

If I was him, I'm not sure that I'd want to be linked with the last 'politician' to be seen in public wearing a gag (although I'm reliably informed that there are others who are regularly gagged in the privacy of certain establishments in Soho)...


The lovely Nick Griffin of the BNP, seen modelling a fine example of the genre after the 2001 election in Oldham. (Not even I would put John in the same category as the odious Griffin, to be fair).