Thursday, November 30, 2006

Go figure

With autumn comes the latest batch of performance statistics showing just how well the Tory/Liberal Democrat Regressive Partnership is performing after two long years in power. They don't make good reading for the city.

Back in 2004, the Labour administration on the council met the recycling target as set by the government, beating it by almost three percentage points. A couple of weeks back, we had the recycling figures, which showed that Birmingham is in the bottom ten percent of local authorities in the country when it comes to recycling and missed last year's recycling target. Yup, 358 councils have a better record on recycling than Birmingham and just 38 have fared worse than us on household waste (the figures on municipal waste from commercial and council sources are actually slightly worse). But don't worry, the Cabinet have a plan to get to 40% recycling by 2026. Yup, we'll catch up with Oswestry in the third decade of this century. By the way, Rushcliffe Borough Council is already past the 50% recycling figure and the document itself suggests that the national target could be 40% by 2016.

I had some hope when I read that Martin Mullaney had undergone a conversion to the cause of the wheeled bin, only to see my hopes dashed when a council officer rubbished the idea - Ian Coghill has a blind spot when it comes to wheelie bins and is determined to hold out against the change.

And if that wasn't enought, we've now had an update on the performance of the social services department. Last year, the council house was adorned with stars to celebrate the hard work of the social services team in dragging the department back from the brink (following an action plan largely devised by Labour in 2004 and funded by a thumpingly good increase in the annual grant). This year, Cllr Anderson isn't singing quite such a happy tune as the great leap forward fell rather short and the department was labelled as having an 'uncertain capacity for improvement.' In particular, there was criticism of the process for adapting houses for the elderly or disabled, with the average waiting time increasing to 74 weeks. Yup, that's an AVERAGE time of almost eighteen months - so there are people out there waiting an awful lot longer. Detailed reading of the report suggests that the department is hanging on to that star by the tips of its fingers.

Yet again, I find myself asking the council - where's the drive and vision to get us to that recycling target in something less than two decades? These problems are symptomatic of the complete lack of ambition or desire to lead that has affected the council since Whitless was shoehorned into the leader's office. Why has progress stalled on two more vital issues? Where's the leadership? Answers on a postcard, please.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tossers, one and all.

How do I put this?

The Tory website Sort-It about personal debt was clearly devised by a whole creative team of tossers.

For example, the section entitled 'Look what my inner tosser did' has a few poor little rich kids whinging about spending £200 on two bottles of Cristal or getting a taxi home from central London to Docklands rather than spending 20 minutes on public transport with the proles or the bloke who has to buy a new Dior coat every season to fill the emotional void of his existence.

All of 'em tossers and I don't care about them. Really, I don't.

I'm more worried about the low-income families that I know who have to struggle to make ends meet. Yes, they are better off under Labour, but at this end of the socio-economic spectrum, it is a very fine line that they walk. Very often, they don't have access to the credit system that most of us take for granted - banks don't like that kind of customer - and so end up in the world of the euphemistically titled 'sub-prime lenders.' This is a polite term for those companies that are a couple of steps up the ladder from loan sharks. Virtually anyone can get credit these days, they'll just pay a high price if they aren't considered to be a good risk.

I'm not sure that painting all those in personal debt as being victims of their own personal tossers is anything other than a crass oversimplification of a serious social problem, but that's the modern Tory party for you.

Later in the week, we had the Damascene conversion (or not) of the Tory Party to Polly Toynbee's views. Of course, the whole point was that they should pick up on her imagery and not on her policy ideas, because the Cameroonies are all image-heavy, policy-light. This is a standard routine for the Tories now - political out-rider makes a headline-grabbing statement that seems to shift Tory policy onto Labour ground, then the leader makes all the right noises, but fails to offer any clear policy. We've seen this before and we'll see it again.

All sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing. This bunch of monied Etonians have no concept of poverty in our country today, but then why should they? To them, relative poverty is not being able to afford that extra bottle of champagne or to only ski for a week rather than two. Going into debt for that bottle of Cristal or the designer handbag is the extent of their problem, not feeding and clothing the kids.

Don't be conned by these tossers.

Councillors jailed for electoral fraud

Curiously, our local campaigner against dodgy electoral practices has nothing to say about the conviction and imprisonment of two councillors in Burnley for fraudulently collecting proxy votes to ensure victory. Both were sent down for 18 months.

But then both were Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Liberal Democrats - two faced?

Remember when the Liberal Democrats selected a mobile phone industry publicist as a parliamentary candidate despite their consistent opposition to mast planning applications? Here's another one for the You Couldn't Make It Up files.

William Rennie, the winner of the Dunfermline by-election threw the Prime Minister a curved ball during PMQs today

After the conflict ended, cluster bombs used in Lebanon by Israel had resulted in 159 casualties, including 23 deaths so far. In Geneva last week, why did the UK not support calls from the UN Secretary-General, the International Committee of the Red Cross and 27 nations for urgent action? In Oslo next year, will the Prime Minister push for a ban on those indiscriminate bombs, or does he agree with the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, who has responsibility for the armed forces, who strongly advocates the use of such bombs?
As FibDems reminds us, Wee Willie knows more about this than he's letting on. You see, Willie used to be a PR man for the company that handled the Raytheon account. Raytheon make cluster bombs. Indeed, on a recent visit to their factory in his constituency, Willie commented:
'it is easy to understand why the company enjoys such a good reputation both in Fife and further afield'

Here's the Raytheon-manufactured AGM154 delivering some of that reputation.

Still, why should he be consistent?

Lest we forget...

Happy days. I remember the news coming through on the BBC around 9:45 in the morning and then the celebrations down at the Students Union.

Damn fine day.

Here we go again...

Under an hour to go and I'm planning on watching the first couple of overs before heading off to bed.

Just like last time, I don't believe that we can do it.

And yet....

England expects.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Does Brown want the Blair blessing or not?

Here's a thought. Does Gordon really want Tony to anoint him as the heir apparent?

From here, it looks as though the leadership will be a no-contest. I really don't see any alternative challenger from any wing of the party with sufficient weight to have a hope of stopping the man from No 11. I'm not even certain that anyone could muster enough MPs prepared to sign the death warrant for their own political careers to pose a serious challenge. Hence the unseemly rush to put a case for the deputy leadership, with almost the entire parliamentary party appearing to be assembling their individual campaigns. I'm undecided as to who will get the weight of the blog behind them - I know that they're all waiting to see.

But as for the top job, that will be Gordon's (barring any last minute disasters). He doesn't need Tony's support to win and he might benefit electorally from putting some clear blue (red?) water between him and the present administration. An endorsement might prove a long-lasting embarassment.

The only question is when Tony will go. I've been pondering this for a while and I suspect it could be a lot sooner than everyone thinks. Previously, I've commented that he would go when it suited and he would go when he wasn't under pressure. By the way, despite Guido's fervent masturbatory fantasies about seeing Blair in the dock over charges of selling honours, I'd be amazed if anyone ever faces charges on that. My prediction (the value of which may go down as well as up) is that Tony will announce his departure around the beginning of January 2007. Imagine my surprise when this forecast gained support from a little outburst on that centre of political debate, I'm A Nonentity, Get Me Out of Here from Lauren Booth.
'No - he's definitely not. In fact he will go in January. He made the decision so he is standing down in January.' Her words seemed to be a definite answer from a close family member to the question Gordon Brown has no doubt been asking himself for months. Then, almost sensing the shockwaves resonate around No 10, Lauren appeared to backpedal, adding: 'No, maybe March. What am I saying? Easter.'

If Tony is going to do the decent thing before the local elections and ensure that we have a leader in place, then he only has a short window in January to do the deed, otherwise the timescale for the elections wouldn't be manageable with an election campaign to follow.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A vote for the BNP is a vote for the Liberal Democrats

Not apparently the case in Calderdale, for a report by FibDems....

Now here's what happens when you post a quick couple of lines and miss the date. This story did the rounds a few weeks back and had the Lib Dems across the web jumping all over everyone. I didn't write about it then because I'd seen the controversy and wasn't happy with the story.
Indeed, the Lib Dem group leader on the council stated that none of his people had canvassed support from the BNP for their no confidence motion. As a matter of interest, when the vote was taken, both BNP councillors were out of the chamber and as the Labour councillors voted with the Tories, the motion fell. I didn't check the date on FibDem's report and missed that it was the same press story that had triggered the initial firestorm. Usual apologies all round and I'll wipe the egg off my face.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Call yourself a leader?

How useless do you have to be as the leader of the BNP to fail to be convicted of inciting racial hatred? Didn't anyone tell you that that is pretty much the job description? In case anyone needs reminding, here's what a current high-profile BNP member thinks and what a recently expelled BNP member thought in their more private moments. (The latter was expelled from the party for anti-semitism, by the way, and nothing to do with her asking for the money collected to fund her legal campaign or an attempt to spin a more friendly view of the BNP). See, they keep the flame of hate burning.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Race to the top

As forecast, the resignation of Cllr Abdul Aziz proved a bitter matter as he attacked his former colleagues for, let's face it, racism.

The preamble to the Lib Dem constitution says the Lib Dems exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society. They can't even create a fair group, how in the name of God do they claim that they can create a fair and free society?

This is a novel policy to deal with equality and diversity. The policy is to get rid of Asian councillors from the Liberal Democrat group who can do the job of a cabinet member or be scrutiny committee chairmen and replace them with those who cannot.

Groundhog day for the Liberal Democrats, barely a year on from the last high-profile resignation from their party. Then Cllr Talib Hussain commented on his dismissal:
The reason for sacking me is my colour. I feel I have been sacked because I am an Asian.
Those seats in front of Sir Albert in the council chamber are going to get mighty crowded if this carries on.

And still we wait for the long-promised reshuffle of portfolios which will allow the mostly-male and all-white chairs of scrutiny and members of the cabinet to more properly represent the people of Birmingham.

Meanwhile, of course, the Tories are running true to form as one former parliamentary candidate and councillor decides to spread a nasty poem (she's not the only one to have been burnt by that little ditty) - although some of her best friends are Asian or German, another Tory A-lister considers whether selection committees are irredeemably racist and two investigative bloggers dig into a Tory parliamentary campaign and discover cardboard cut-out Little Englanders within.

On the Tory councillor, one MP commented that
Racism has absolutely no place in British politics and I am asking the CRE to advise on what further action can be taken.

Thank you, Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat chair of campaigns and communications. Now, I'm off to reset my ironymeter, which has unaccountably pinged off the scale.


The phrase 'hard-working families' is over-used by all politicians, but rarely can it have applied so well as to those who have been hit by the failure of Farepak, dragged down by the collapse of its parent company, European Home Retail. In a packed debate, united by cross-party anger at the behaviour of the company, Anne Snelgrove, the Labour MP for South Swindon, kicked off at the directors and named them, almost spitting the names out
They were the finance director and company secretary Stevan Fowler, the independent non-executive directors Neil Gillis, Paul Munn and Michael Johns, the chief executive William Rollason—I understand that he is soon to appear in an Australian court, possibly on a not unrelated matter involving another company—the executive director Nicholas Gilodi-Johnson, who is set to inherit £70 million, and the chairman Sir Clive Thompson, formerly of Rentokil, who is a modern-day Scrooge. He bemoaned a 30p rise in the minimum wage when he was earning more that £2 million a year, he wound up the pension scheme at Rentokil for all but the executives and then walked off with a £690,000 a year pension. No doubt Sir Clive and the directors will be eating a very big turkey this Christmas and enjoying it.

Sir Clive Thompson wrote an article a few years back entitled 'How Labour Suffocates Business' in which he complained about regulation
Witness our government's ill-advised Rip-off Britain campaign, which inappropriately tarred with the same brush the whole of British industry

There are some who would gladly see this particular industrialist - a Tory supporter a few years ago and a past president of the CBI - denied the oxygen of oxygen. He seems to know more about rip-off Britain than most.

The core of this is that this scheme hurt some of the poorest people in society, but cruelly hit hardest at those who had thought to put a little aside in advance for Christmas. Rather than fall prey to loan sharks or credit cards or some of the more unpleasant sub-prime lenders, these people placed their trust in a company that claimed to protect their cash with a security bond. Unfortunately, that bond was for a mere £100,000 and the debts could top £45 million. As this area of the market concerns goods being held for payment and not strictly a credit scheme, it escapes the regulation of the Financial Services Authority - a position that will soon be altered, I suspect. Sir Clive had a view on regulation in 1999
...the Government imposes regulations and burdens on business, increasing our costs and lowering our flexibility to respond in fast-changing markets...

Ah, diddums.

This from the chairman of a company who was content to see the parent siphon off the cash to support a failing business. A man who didn't care that his firm was taking payment from the bottom rung of the financial ladder right up until the very minute that the receivers walked in in October - only after the last payments had been made. (And don't forget that HBOS took about a million a month from the company - hence their swift, damage-limiting donation of £2 million to the rescue plan).

Sir Clive left Rentokil after a dramatic profits warning in 2004, which wiped £436 million off the share value of the company. His pain was eased by a pension pot approaching £14 million - some way short of that which the typical low-paid Rentokil employee could expect. Our very own Digby Jones described Sir Clive as 'the very best' - words he might now choose to regret.

Perhaps he might see fit to donate some of his millions to the poor folk that his company rooked this year.

It is right to praise the companies that have come forward to offer support - even HBOS - Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco have all offered substantial sums. MPs reported that some firms have been underwriting credit unions to allow these families to join and immediately take advantage of this form of micro-lending. Even many of our much maligned MPs are digging into their pockets to donate to the campaign.

Why should we let Thompson and his cronies cancel thousands of Christmasses across the country? Hughes Views summed it up well, referring to an Edward Heath quote.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Getting the revenge in first

Today's Post carried a story about yet another defective defecting Asian Liberal Democrat councillor. This was something of a pre-emptive strike against Cllr Abdul Aziz by his former best friend, Cllr John Hemming, the eminence grise behind all things Liberal Democrat on the City Council.

Cllr Aziz has abandoned the Liberal Democrat ship and will join Cllr Talib Hussain on the independent benches in front of the Labour Group. I understand that we can expect some strong views from him on the subject of the Liberal Democrats and John Hemming in particular.

Oh - is that promised attempt to redress the balance of representation in the executive any further forward?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

There may be storm clouds ahead...

The marriage of the year (although which year has never been identified) is off.

Lembit's split from Sian.

Don't all rush at once, girls.

Compare and contrast

'His constituents have a right to know what sort of person he is, not as a matter of salacious gossip, but so that they have an honest picture of the man ... As to the plea for privacy Gregory Barker has chosen a life in the public eye'
Mary Varrall, Lib Dem candidate in Bexhill and Battle.
I just hope now Charles can be allowed some privacy
Mark Oaten on Chuckles' resignation
He and his family now need to have their personal privacy respected
Lib Dem whip Andrew Stunell on Mark Oaten's resignation
There are lots of people who have tried to keep their private lives private
Simon Hughes on Simon Hughes

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Council jobs

This one is rumbling on.

Iron Angle in the Post yesterday had an Iron Angle piece from Paul Dale, where he told us that the street lighting DLO operation employed 51 people and had a wage bill of £2 million a year. Paul reckons that this equates to an average salary of £40k, give or take. Now, I haven't seen the figures that Mr Dale has - some of us don't get cabinet members to show us their spreadsheets and Paul might find the lawyers asking him some questions - but I'd guess that the £2 million figure is the budget line figure and that it will include the 'on costs.' You see, employers aren't just lumbered with paying the contracted wage and bonus costs, but also their National Insurance and pension contributions - the bits that you don't see on your wage slip. I think that the figure of around 24% covers both of those, so that suggests that the average gross wage (including bonuses and overtime payments) for the workers in street lighting is somewhat closer to £30k a year. As this will include specialist technicians and managers, that's a whole lot more sensible - and backs up the argument that the bloke on £90k a year is a very much the exception.

Am I going to defend these anomalous payments? Not a bit of it. But...

These guys don't just handle street lighting - they also look after traffic lights. Anyone who has seen Birmingham city centre knows just how little it takes to gridlock the traffic network. Keeping the traffic management system functioning is a core role for the city council - plunging the city into gridlock costs millions of pounds in lost productivity and damages our reputation as an international city. It is common in the private sector that if you have a mission-critical system, then the people who look after it are paid VERY well, but they are expected to keep it functioning whatever the cost and whatever the time involved. In a previous life, I worked for a company reliant on a few centrally located servers to keep the retail business and the systems technicians were earning six figure salaries - well out of kilter with their managers. The payments were huge, but the cost of having the system fail would have such a huge commercial impact that it made these wages costs insignificant.

What angers me is that this process is being used to railroad through more wholesale changes to the pay and conditions of all City workers. This is a particularly nasty campaign being waged by the Tories and Liberal Democrats running our council and it might be about to backfire severely. Either Amicus will launch court action against the council or the threat to the safety of the workforce will require the council to withdraw them from the streets.

The council has apparently launched a 'leak enquiry.' It shouldn't take long - just ask around the cabinet.

Brilliantly handled, Cllr Rudge.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Liberal Democrats get tough

They had a leader who was trained to kill with his bare hands (and one since who could bore you to death), but they currently have a councillor in Manchester who used to be a mercenary in Africa and has just been convicted of assault - dragging his wife around their home because she forgot to dry his coat. (Hat tip to Parbury Politica via Kerron)

Meanwhile, Sandra Gidley considers the manifesto upon which she fought the last election to be 'dishonest.' She's not the only one, but she's the first Lib Dem MP to admit it. (Yellow Peril - watching them, so you don't have to.)

And the Lib Dem donation saga rumbles on
A figure close to Sir Menzies [that's Ming, then] said: “The party certainly owes Charles Kennedy a great debt, and it is £2.4 million..

It seems that they are ready to face the possibility of repayment - with a little help from their friends - but are still holding up their belief that
'We would be astonished if they found that in law this company never existed and therefore we have to pay the money back.'
The Electoral Commission don't have to find that company never existed, only uphold the judge's view that the company has never traded. Apparently, senior Lib Dems are baffled. Then they should read the law.

Intelligence questions

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.
A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.
I'm not convinced. Thanks to Andrea.

Oh, do keep up.

Dave Radcliffe, one of the select group of blogging Birmingham Lib Dem councillors, gives us his wisdom on the struggle for seats in Birmingham amongst the Labour MPs. His finger is on the pulse as always as he reveals what this blog (and subsequently the local print and broadcast media) covered almost two months ago.