Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Another day, another audit report

The Audit Commission has returned to swing another punch at Birmingham City Council and the indicators aren't good. From being classed as 'improving well' last year, Birmingham is now only 'improving adequately.' In other words, the pace of improvement is slowing.

There are some good points - services are regarded as improving after a long period of neglect (let's not point out that much of that period was when Birmingham was at the mercy of a Tory government and that recent improvements have been paid for by above-inflation grants from Labour, nor that the previous report praised the steps taken by the outgoing Labour administration).

A consistent theme running through the report is that while there are high-level ambitions, there doesn't seem to be a strategic view of what is necessary to achieve longer-term goals.

The Council does not provide effective community leadership in addressing local and national challenges including the city region agenda.... The community leadership offered by the council is weak
There is a clear focus on improving underperforming services but the Council does not have a clear view about what its aim of excellent services means in practice.... There is also some lack of realism about... transforming some services, which have only recently begun performing adequately, into excellent services.
People in Birmingham experience worse than average health and high levels of health inequality. Improvement in the health of disadvantaged people has been slow. Approaches to promoting the independence of older people are weak. Joint working with the NHS has strengthened, but the Council does not yet have an overall strategic approach to improving the health of the local population or meeting the needs of older people.
The Council has an unrealistic understanding about what is required to achieve its goal of excellence across all areas of activity... The Council still has a very long way to go to achieve its aspiration of ‘excellence in all our services’.
Then we come to waste management.

there is... no clear strategy in place for waste management.... targets for recycling will only just meet the minimum statutory requirements (despite these being the lowest statutory targets set for any authority)... plans to deliver improvements are not effective. The Council recognises that its current strategy will not deliver the improvements required. It has developed a new 20 year draft strategy, but this presents options rather than a clear way forward. The adoption of the new strategy is behind schedule and the Council has not set out or agreed the required longer term investments.
Disturbingly, the report notes that some of the targets are too easy to achieve - soft targetting on education is likely to lead to a shortage of skilled workers.

Councillors tend to focus on neighbourhood and service delivery issues to the detriment of the Council's wider 'place shaping' and regional leadership roles. Some strategic partners are satisfied with the leadership provided by the Council, but too many are not. Many key partners have expressed negative views about the nature of their partnership with the Council.... the continuing weaknesses in some key partnerships are a barrier to further progress.
On another key local issue, transport, the report is again critical
the number of people using buses is falling and is failing to meet targets. Plans currently in place are unlikely to reverse the long term decline because they do not address the key reasons passengers choose not to use buses. Plans to extend the metro service are key to the longer term goal of reducing congestion, but are now behind schedule. This means that the key objective of reducing congestion is making limited progress.
While crime is falling - despite what the Tories and Lib Dems would have you believe, anti-social behaviour is a problem. Yet again,
key partners are concerned about the lack of an integrated approach to ASB and the approach within the Council itself is inconsistent. There is no overarching strategy for reducing ASB and this is a barrier to improving performance in this area. The systems used to record and track the progress of ASB cases are poor... The absence of overall strategy means that resources are not used effectively.
On the issues of drug and alcohol abuse, that high-level vision comes into play again.

There is however, no overarching strategy or implementation plan in place for tackling drug use, and as a result the Council is not benefiting to the maximum from its partnership working in this area and is not focussed on priorities... The lack of an overarching strategy reduces the opportunities for a more co-ordinated inter-agency and cross-council approach to alcohol misuse
Lozells slid into rioting back in 2005 and the indicated failures on diversity and equalities issues come to the fore again as

Some partners felt that the Council should have engaged the communities involved at an earlier stage, and that it has not dealt with the underlying community problems in the area. A community cohesion strategy was agreed by the Council in October 2006, but this was relatively late given many of the challenges facing Birmingham. The strategy was not widely circulated among partners for comment nor have the views of the local strategic partnerships been taken into account in developing it. The effectiveness of the strategy is impaired because communities have had little involvement in contributing to it, and are therefore less likely to be committed to delivering it.
There are clearly signalled problems with staff - the bosses feel that they are doing OK, but their employees feel that communication and consultation have deteriorated since 2004. Ominously, the trade unions report that contacts with senior figures are poor - which bodes well for the forthcoming changes in contracts in line with single status.

Housing development policy implementation remains an identified problem and one that can be laid at the door of the current administration. Forecasts indicate that Birmingham needs almost 16,000 affordable homes by 2009, yet fewer than 2000 have been provided and while there are further developments planned, the plans clearly don't meet the forecast need and there are no signs of progress.

The target for 35 per cent of new units being affordable is not adequately monitored...The impact is that many people in Birmingham will not have their housing needs met by a balanced housing market.

All in all, despite some strengths - notably in services to children and young people and some improvements in services to elderly people (although even there, a strategic plan seems lacking), there remain an awful lot of problems. Leisure and cultural services actually slides back in the star ratings.

Again and again, the council is slated for short-termism and a lack of strategic thought. While some services are improving on the ground, for there to be any hope of embedding that change into the culture of the council, real leadership is needed and it is sorely lacking at the top. But then, we already knew that. Unless things change significantly, there is a real chance that the next CPA will see Birmingham reduced to a one star authority.
The council has not been able to provide the leadership needed to take forward the corporate approach needed in such a diverse city.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Fact of the week

At a meeting on Saturday to discuss economic policy in the West Midlands, we had Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the health minister, turn up and he made the point that under the Conservatives' Patients' Charter, you were guaranteed treatment within 18 months.

Shortly, the investment and hard work in the NHS from Labour will mean that you will get treatment - from GP to consultant - in eighteen WEEKS.

Only last week, a friend told me that she had been to a hospital appointment and the consultant was most apologetic that the procedure had a waiting list. She was expecting to be told that she'd be seen in twelve months time, but he was sorry that it could take up to twelve weeks - but the hospital was laying on extra surgery at weekends to try and take care of the backlog. Things aren't perfect, but they are a damn sight better than they were.

Not a bad discussion session overall - even if it was over-populated by bloggers (at least three in the room to my knowledge)...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

What a Farage-o

It seems that UKIP have made a bit of a cock-up with their accounts. As Iain Dale reported a while ago, they were late submitting the returns and they've now been hoist by the good old standby of taking a donation from an impermissible donor. For a party populated by the bulldog breed of Colonel Blimp, they seem to be remarkably incompetent at basic administration.

It seems that one of their major donors - who has handed over something around a million quid to bankroll their plucky fight against the mighty European juggernaut (and to dip their own snouts into the Eurotrough) - forgot to register on the electoral roll. Naturally, UKIP have issued a bombastic statement blaming a minor clerical error, but revealing one interesting issue that raises a query about the whole story.
Mr Alan Bown, was not on the Electoral Register between December 2004 and January 2006. He was, however, on the register at his Kent address before this period and has also been on the register since January 2006. He was unaware that his name had been removed from the list during 2005... Had Mr Bown realised that his name had been removed from the electoral register, he could have completed the relevant form and immediately rendered himself a permissible donor.
Well, I might suggest that Mr Bown COULD have worked out that he wasn't on the electoral list when he went to vote UKIP in the General Election in May 2005. Being turned away at the polling station might have been a little clue. Unless one of their biggest donors and senior members didn't even bother to vote UKIP - which says a lot about his dedication to the cause.

However, it does raise the question of Michael Brown and the Liberal Democrats. Poor old UKIP look to face financial ruin, yet Ming and Co still hang on to the £2.4 million handed over by the convicted fraudster Michael Brown through his (non-trading) company. Why won't the Electoral Commission use their powers against the LDs and require the forfeiture of the money?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Greasy polls

Tony seems happy to make his farewell tour last longer than Frank Sinatra's and submitted himself to a hostile interrogation by John Humphrys on the Today Programme this morning. Not surprisingly, the chief element of his legacy, Iraq, loomed large in the discussions - even larger than Chris Eubanks' truck in Whitehall later on.

Gordon, meanwhile, awaits his moment. The ICM poll this week didn't make good breakfast reading on his birthday, as it indicated that Gordon would have a negative effect on Labour's electoral chances. I'm not convinced by that. Firstly, we've not seen what Gordon will do when he gets the top job. I'm fully expecting a flurry of proposals and policies in his first 100 days in office and that should give him control of the media agenda, given that the Tories can only oppose while Gordon proposes. While it is true that Gordon has been as much a part of the Labour machine as Tony - possibly even a greater influence in a practical way - I think that much of this government's current woes are associated in the public mind with Blair and his departure will lift some of that gloom. Whatever else Brown is, he isn't Tony and that's one of his strongest cards. Cameron, on the other hand, is trying his best to try to follow the Blair plan of campaign - I'm half expecting him to try to write Clause IV into the Tory rulebook.

Secondly, I don't think that the Tories believe it either. They've been hammering away at Brown for ages and that suggests to me that they believe him to be a genuine threat to their electoral chances. (Remember, incidentally, that Kinnock led Thatcher by this sort of margin for months before the '87 election). There will be a Brown-inspired bounce in the polls after his election and that will give him an edge over Cameron. Brown will have a chance to get things done and those first months will decide the result of the next election. Things are still finely balanced, but I am equally convinced that for the first time in years, the next general election will be a real fight to decide who will govern the country. Them or us.

The other question rattling around is about whether there will be a challenger to Brown at all. I have never thought that John McDonnell had a chance of collecting the 44 votes required to put up a challenge. While there will be a number of MPs prepared to back any candidate just to ensure that there is an election, not a coronation, I don't think that John is strong enough to pull the votes together. Michael Meacher is a different proposition and has a much better chance of collecting support, although his support for the Iraq war will dent his left-wing credentials (and his conspiracy theories over 9/11 are not good indicators, either). Michael is seen right in a screen test for the role of James Bond. However, I don't expect either of them to be in a position to seriously take on Gordon. Indeed, unless one of them pulls out, it is quite likely that neither will secure the 44 nominations required to get onto the starting grid. Tom Watson seems to think that's the case.

The threat might come from the Blairite wing, who seem to be set on something of a scorched earth policy. Their problem is that they don't seem to have a candidate with enough muscle. 'Dr' John seems to be unfit for purpose and otherwise engaged as a result of the ongoing Home Office kerfuffle and his has been the only name talked up sufficiently. David Milliband has been put forward, but he has stated that he isn't interested - although I'm sure that if there were a demand from members that he should stand, then he would feel duty-bound to do so. Ah, the sacrifices politicians make for their parties, eh? Even then, I'm not certain that he can stop the Brown steamroller.

In all honesty, despite the unwelcome present this week, I doubt very much that we'll be welcoming anyone other than Gordon Brown as our new PM in time for the autumn conference.

The deputy leadership is much more interesting. I'm leaning towards Jon Cruddas, because he has made rebuilding the party a key element of his campaign and that's something particularly dear to my heart. None of the others have come remotely close to inspiring me with their tone - although I do have hopes of Hilary Benn. Alan Johnson is a strong candidate and should attract Blairite support - perhaps he'll be the consolation prize for handing the top job to Brown.

As always in Labour, interesting times ahead.

Moron Limp Dumbs

Remember the Burnley Lib Dems who decided to support a BNP councillor in her attempt to get nominated to a position on a regeneration board? How could we forget?

Pickled Politics picked up the story in the Guardian yesterday which revealed that the pair had been suspended from the party following some rather choice comments.

The Liberal Democrat John Jones said
'She [Ms Wilkinson] is a good councillor. I can't afford to be biased against a certain party if they're doing the business for their ward members... most parties have their faiths, tenets and beliefs. They [the BNP] are to an extent extreme at the national level, but I think she speaks sense most of the time'
His colleague Jeff Sumner added that
'I voted for Sharon Wilkinson because I thought - and still do - that she was the right person for the job. Politics shouldn't come into it... I don't think she's a very racist person'

These two are early front runners in the contest to find the dumbest Lib Dem of the year - tough choice to make with so many candidates. The BNP are, if anything, even more racist at local level than at the national, where they try to modify their language to broaden their support and in the vague hope that we'll forget that they are a party packed with thugs, racists and convicted criminals, who see their one hope of gaining power in the breakdown of civil society.

When all this first broke, the Liberal Democrats rushed to issue the following statement of inaction:
After this incident the council group leader, Cllr Birtwistle, spoke to Cllrs Jones and Sumner and explained to them that this was conduct not becoming of an elected Liberal Democrat representative. They wholly accept that analysis and undertake that their votes will never be used again in such a way as to be open to any form of misrepresentation as support for the BNP. No further action was taken because they wholly and swiftly accepted that they had behaved wrongly.
Curiously, this may not have been the entire truth, as Cllr Jones later said
Bullshit. I vote the way I want to vote and as far as I'm concerned I'm an asset to the Liberal Democrats... We did have words about this, but I certainly wasn't told it was the party line and never to do it again. I wouldn't have agreed to it.
Cllr Sumner agreed

If the vote was again tonight, I would vote for Sharon again

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mullaney tagged

Not that I'd ever accuse the Liberal Democrats of inconsistency, but Martin Mullaney is surely cruising for a bruising from John Hemming (you remember, the Superstud MP of this parish).

Long term readers may recall a spat I had with him when he spoke his brains over a graffiti art project run as a diversionary project in Quinton in Birmingham. He accused Labour of funding the teaching of children to do graffiti and said that 'intuitively this seems wrong.'
'It just brings out the Victor Meldrew in me - I can't believe it... It is simply brain dead to teach them how to spray better graffiti.'

Now it seems that one of his own, the Lib Dem councillor and redoubtable anti-graffiti campaigner Martin Mullaney, is to start a similar project, with £1800 of funding from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and the backing of all three councillors in Moseley and Kings Heath. One of whom is Emily Cox.

Yes. THAT Emily Cox.

So, is Martin Mullaney brain dead?

I think we should be told.

Stirring up trouble

Predictably, the proposed all-woman shortlist in Ladywood is causing ructions in the local party - according to the Stirrer.

Couple of points - in the name of accuracy.

Candidates don't need to be on the parliamentary panel even to be selected - local parties can select somebody and then hope that the NEC approves them afterwards. The selection for Ladywood is likely to be in the autumn of this year - but timetables like that are notoriously fluid.

The candidate whose name confuses the Stirrer is Penny Barber, not Brook (she runs the Brook Advisory Centres in Birmingham, which explains his confusion). Penny did indeed stand in South Staffordshire in 2005, but not in the by-election which was caused by the death of the Liberal Democrat candidate during the general election campaign. She couldn't afford any more time off work and another candidate had to be found. Pedantic, I know, but I'm a political anorak - but that much you know already.

This does promise to be an interesting campaign for selection. It could get even more interesting if a get-out clause is found to allow an open selection, rather than the all-woman shortlist that the rules demand.

Youthful indiscretions

'Like many people I did things when I was young that I should not have done, and that I regret. But I do believe that politicians are entitled to a past that is private, and that remains private.'
That was Cameron's defence when it was claimed that he had smoked cannabis while at Eton. I still think that this has been a significant error on his part - he would have been far better advised to admit some youthful errors, accept that it was a mistake from which he had learned and wished to move onwards - perhaps as an example to other young people.

The story rumbles on a few years and the formerly drug-addled boy David is now amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford and falls in with a crowd of yobs who spend their spare time in violence, vomiting and vandalism. These days we'd slap them with ASBOs and they'd be facing the magistrates, or at the very least a segment on the Jeremy Kyle show.

But then, in David's world, things are different. In David's world, drugs are a little bit of fun for rich boys, where the worst that you can happen to you is that you end up copying out Latin text - not being shot in your bedroom. In David's world, Daddy's money will always buy you out of trouble when you and your equally rich mates trash someone's pub or restaurant - there won't be a record for criminal damage at the end of it. That's the Bullingdon Club, a group of upper-class tossers who 'love the sound of breaking glass.' In other spheres, Tories would demand that the thuggish members of such a group face long terms of imprisonment or the birch, but give them an Oxbridge degree and they are entirely suitable for rehabilitation as political leaders. In an article written after the club trashed a pub in Fyfield in 2004, the Oxford Student wrote (hat tip to Snowflake5):
A large part of the members’ motivation is the feudal idea that its quite alright to inflict damage on peasants’ property, provided one is able to pay for it. That’s why Alexander Fellowes, at the White Hart, tipped the waitress £200, on top of all of the members paying for the damage inflicted. Our source described the White Hart landowner as “unfair” for reporting the matter to the police and as having “no sense of humour”.
And they are still at it.

But the thing is, these stories about youthful excess have moved on from school to university. Is there a point when Cameron can no longer claim the defence of youthful high spirits?

It says a lot about Cameron - a man who is at home amongst Old Etonians (Bullingdon members are usually from that particular group) and has surrounded himself with them even in his current post. He belonged to a club that believed that money made them better people than you or I, that they are not bound by the standards of behaviour that affect the rest of us - that they are better human beings than the rest of the peasantry. Running the country is nothing more than his entitlement - it is what Eton trains boys to do and to expect. And that is an attitude I despise.

Roy Hattersley puts it well in the Guardian today.

The most offensive aspect of Cameron's Bullingdon years is that he and his cronies were bought out of trouble by their rich families. They flaunted the idea that people with money can get away with anything. In 1963, after Alec Douglas-Home had become prime minister, Harold Wilson expressed his surprise that "at a time when even the MCC had ended the distinction between professionals and amateurs, the Conservatives have chosen to be led by a gentleman rather than a player". Now, in an age when all the political parties claim to believe - for good or ill - in meritocracy, the Tories have chosen to be led by a man who was propelled onwards and upwards by family money.

The Labour party ought to make the Bullingdon picture a feature of its next election campaign. There are a number of Cameron photographs which, put together, would provide an entertaining leaflet. Each one could be captioned with one of the questions that opinion polls ask about politicians. Bicycling to the Commons, followed by a chauffeur-driven motorcar, would justify "Trustworthy?". Supporting Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday would precede the inquiry "Best at running the economy?". And the Bullingdon Club photograph? The question it provokes is obvious. "Understands ordinary people?"

Gird your loins, folks. Even as they try to ditch the old Tory knights of the shires, the upper classes are back and they want what is rightfully theirs. They've had to suffer prime ministers without the benefit of a public school and Oxbridge education and they've had enough.

Are we going to give in to 'em?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sir Bufton Tufton to be ejected

Apparently, the executive committee of the South Staffs Conservative Party have decided that they don't want Sir Patrick Cormack as their MP after the next election - when Sir Patrick could be knocking on the door of 70.

Now, this isn't over - Sir Patrick has the option of going to a vote of the whole membership or a full selection process, but Iain Dale has already launched a campaign to Save Sir Patrick. Shouldn't the local party be allowed to select their own candidate without interference from people outside the constituency?

But Iain isn't alone in his campaign to save a dinosaur - Nadine Dorries has thrown her support behind Sir Bufton Tufton and promised to campaign for him if he decides to stand as an independent. Now, I suspect that campaigning against an official candidate carries the same punishment in the Tory Party as it does over on our side and it isn't a stern talking to from the whips. More importantly, why would she choose to back somebody who can't retain support from his own members and is so consumed by his own self-importance that he puts himself before his party?

Mayoral Unmaking

One of my sources had nothing better to do on Valentines Day than go to the Evening Mail Mayoral Debate at the Council House.

He reports back that Ray Mallon was the best argument against an elected mayor that you could imagine.

Apparently Ray claimed to be both New Labour and a socialist.

Paul Staines is a hypocrite

Chicken Yoghurt

On Saturday last week, a Guardian article from 1986 was circulated amongst a group of bloggers which related to what Paul Staines, AKA Guido Fawkes, may or may not have got up to whilst a right-wing political activist at Hull University....
Shortly after, emails arrived from Paul Staines stating that he considered the publication of the article as defamatory. He demanded its removal from our blogs, stating he had a ‘retraction’ of the article which he would let us see. In a show of good faith, I removed the article from Chicken Yoghurt, as did the others from their blogs.

Paul Staines posted on his blog saying that the post that had appeared on Tom Watson’s blog (and only Tom Watson’s blog) was now gone and bragging that legal notices had been issued. You can no longer read that post because the next day (Monday), it was deleted.

You’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to why he might do that. I have
now seen the ‘retraction’ that Paul Staines referred to. I am unfortunately not
permitted to publish it. I am not allowed to print the ‘bane’ of the original 1986 article, nor am I allowed to print the ‘antidote’, a personal letter - written four years later - from the journalist who wrote the article, which Staines claims exonerates him. Read that again. The Guardian newspaper did not retract the article. That is why it is still available in the Lexis-Nexis database.

I will leave others to draw conclusions as to the behaviour of a person whose own blog is registered off-shore... in an attempt to avoid British libel laws...

Or the behaviour of a self-confessed libertarian drawing on the power of the state when threatened. Or the behaviour of a gossip-peddler happy to smear with innuendo and the help of anonymous commenters on his blog. Or the behaviour of a person who claims to have evidence exonerating him from allegations but refusing to allow that evidence to be published. Or why he chose to ’serve notice’ on four bloggers and not the Guardian.

Unity at the Ministry of Truth

So far as that ‘behind the scenes’ activity is concerned, the most pertinent events of this week concern an interview given by Staines to Sunny Hundal, which will appear on Pickled Politics in due course.

Sunny will, I’m sure, tell the full story as he sees it and deserves the credit for getting the ’scoop’ but what I prepared to say on the record that this interview was undertaken at Staines’s own request, that in requesting the interview he requested a ‘fair hearing’ and claimed that he would set the record straight and tell his side of the story and that Sunny, and the rest of us, took Staines at his words and accepted this ‘offer’ in good faith.

What we then discovered last night, after talking to Sunny, was that Staines’s side of the story amounted to nothing more than ‘Lawyer says no comment’ and that this was subsequently followed up by further threats of litigation including an assertion that he would seek a high court injunction to prevent publication of the 1986 article and the 1990 ‘retraction’ letter.

These folks put it far better than I can. See also The UK Today.

As I noted, the most curious thing about this whole saga is that Paul Staines hides behind the identity of Guido Fawkes and champions a libertarian agenda. He loves smearing politicians with his own brand of suggestion and salacious revelations, but when it comes down to his own past, he runs away and hides behind the lawyers, rather than offering his own explanation.

I doubt he'll ever read this, but with this behaviour, I'm reminded of Bill Hicks' line on those who do commercials...

you're off the artistic roll call, every word you say is suspect, you're a corporate whore and eh, end of story

No comments, by request.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Guido burnt at the stake

It seems that Guido Fawkes has a bit of a history as a young student with the Federation of Conservative Students. Those around in the 80s will remember that Norman Tebbit disbanded it in 1986 because it was too right wing. I can only think that for Norman to consider it too right wing, the FCS must have taken to parading in black shirts. Mind you, by the time I got to university, the resident Tory Society used to meet in one student's room. That was in the days when more than three in a room was considered to be an illegal party...

There can be no surprise about the extremism of Guido's political views. He's set himself up as anti-politician, but the true targets are only those on the left. He exists to set a right-wing agenda, surrounded by his fellow-travellers who want to create an echo chamber to set their own flavour of reality. Guido used to work for David Hart - one of shadowy advisors to Thatcher during the miners' strike - and the Committee for a Free Britain, a group with close links to the anti-immigration Monday Club.

The strangest thing about the posting from Pickled Politics is that Guido Fawkes, the man who is fearless in the face of libel lawyers and responds with 'bring it on' to warnings of potential action, protects himself by having his site hosted on a remote island. However, for the rest of us proles, he's happy to wave the threats around:

The reason no publication has re-printed this story is due to the fact that it was retracted over 400 words. You are on notice. Please remove immediately.

And on his own site
That was a step too far in Blogwars. Legal notices went out at 12.30.
Labels: m'learned friends

It is fine for him to fill the air with innuendo and insinuations and to hide from the lawyers, but when something is thrown back at him, Guido runs to the law. The hypocritical truth here is that Guido can't take it, but can dish it out.

UPDATE[Tim at Bloggerheads has given Guido the benefit of the doubt and held back on his posting until tomorrow. And Sunny's post has disappeared for the time being. Tomorrow should bring a dose of the truth, but the hypocrisy will still hang in the foetid air.]

Cameron inhaled

His failure to deny smoking cannabis at school seems to provide confirmation that Cameron has a bit of a past. Does it matter? Frankly, I doubt it. Some of the wilder Tories will doubtless regard this as further proof that the end of the world is a step closer, but I think at the moment they'd probably accept Cheech or Chong as their leader if there was a chance of winning.

I can't say it affects my view of Cameron. Rich kid smokes dope at school is hardly a shock story. It might even help his image with the younger voters.

That might shift if some stories were to come out from later in life - say university or his (brief) career in media (the destruction of ITV Digital).

What does Gideon Osborne think?

Unity puts in his fourpennorth here.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bad form

It is widely regarded as a breach of netiquette to try and out an anonymous blogger.

So, Brummietory - behave! And stop spamming my blog. Comments are fine - and are welcome. Spam will always be deleted.

I'm not going to make any comment on the names he listed in a recent post - not to confirm or deny any of them.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Training the Liberal Democrats

No, they don't use a whip and a chair and I do suspect that training Lib Dems is a little like herding cats, but Kerron Cross reveals an oft-suspected special course provided to LD campaigners:
This training taught the individual concerned about how to make "bar charts which are not to scale", and "always find statistics that show the Lib Dems in second place, even if the election results and councillor numbers don't reflect this"

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Grab a grand!

As has been widely rumoured, Birmingham City Council has paid some 6000 employees the sum of £1000 in an attempt to stem the likely flow of legal claims for back pay in the light of the move to single status (equal pay for equivalent jobs).
Employment lawyer Stefan Cross said the payments were unique in his experience and he was not clear whether they were lawful. “£1,000 without any obligations or commitments and no admission of liability? That's £6m of taxpayers' money straight into workers' accounts without any good reason. I'd be interested to see what the district auditor has to say about that.”

The story from LGCNet also reveals that the urban design department has already lost 14% of the staff from the urban design department - highly skilled people with experience that should transfer nicely to the private sector.

I don't think we've heard the last of this little story by a long way and I'm fully expecting serious disruption when the details are finally unveiled. It is going to get VERY messy.

[A hat tip to another esteemed blog reader who shall remain anonymous]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Spring merchant

During Tuesday's council meeting, there was an intriguing question about whether Whitby should have declared an interest in the Iraq debate - his company, Skeldings, manufactures assorted items of specialist metal products for military contracts, including springs for the Challenger II main battle tank. There's actually no legal reason why he should and I think you would be hard pushed to find someone who thought that this would influence Whitless' decisions.

However, he did choose to show his depth of military knowledge, though, by claiming that there are no Challenger IIs deployed to Iraq.

A minor point, Councillor, but the Ministry of Defence begs to differ. Currently forming part of the force reserve in-country is Egypt Squadron of the 2 Royal Tank Regiment, equipped with Challenger II MBTs (although they also perform patrol duties without their tanks as well). To my knowledge, Challenger IIs have been deployed from day one to Iraq.

Council of despair

My man in the cheap seats reports back on another council meeting that kicked off with a bad-tempered round of questions and an impressive display of pomposity and condescension by the Tory ruling group (aided as always by their ever-loyal mates on the Lib Dem benches).

Labour's Zoe Hopkins asked a perfectly sensible question to the Tory chair of Sutton Coldfield constituency committee, Peter Howard, about his views on the Respect agenda - bearing in mind that Birmingham has been given some extra cash out of a government pot to fund further development. His insulting response was to feign deafness, despite the microphones and the accompanying speakers fitted in the headrests of the benches - unless his problem was that he simply couldn't understand the question. Perhaps it had too many polysyllabic words in it - Alan Rudge did say that he only liked easy questions. The rest of the Tories giggled like prep school boys and the Lib Dems joined in a mass fit of coughing to try and drown out Zoe when she tried again. And again. She was trying to make a fair point - that the Tory MP for Sutton Coldfield had described Respect Zones as a 'gimmick', but the Tory council saw no problem in taking the money to fund the extension of this gimmickery.

Salma Yaqoob from Respect confirmed her status as a mature and effective performer in the council chamber with a very balanced question which supported the police for the way they handled the counter-terrorist raids last week. The police made genuine attempts to minimise damage to community relations that could obviously arise from arrests and raids focussed on a single community, but much of this was undone by briefings coming out of Whitehall that gave weight to unsupported rumours.

Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrat Paul Tilsley responded with an astroturf question to Whitless about the behaviour of the Labour Group and the Respect councillors at the last meeting. During that meeting, a motion calling for the withdrawal of British forces in Iraq was put. The Labour group moved to extend the time for debate, but the Liberal Democrats and Tories were bored and decided that the motion wasn't worth debating for any extended period - they would rather railroad through a cheap political point than actually discuss the substantive issue. Angry at this, the Labour Group walked out, accompanied by both Respect councillors. This time round, in another bad-tempered exchange, Tilsley accused Salma Yaqoob and Abdul Aziz of being 'lapdogs' of the government, which just shows how out of touch the man is. Of all the accusations I've heard Liberal Democrats make, that's one of the looniest. I can think of many words to describe Respect, but government lapdogs wouldn't even make the list. Cllr Yaqoob responded by calling Tilsley a hypocrite, which is rather mild.

With that, things moved on to more important business. John 'Slugger' Lines presented his second report as Cabinet Member for Housing, which highlighted some of the limited successes, but failed to mention the plans to abandon any semblance of local tenant control over housing. One of the more intriguing passages was a question raised by fellow right-winger Peter Douglas Osborn, a member who knows his constituents well. Following on from discussion of the government target for new homes in the region - brought about by demographic changes and a need to control spiralling house prices by putting more homes into the market - he raised the issue of the country 'not being consulted' over 'the inevitable overpopulation.' Now, some of us know that particular dog whistle and it isn't really about housing or our birth rate, but about immigration. Cllr Lines heard the call and responded with three stories about immigrants moving into flats and having the sheer brass neck to dare to bring their families and children with them from war torn countries. One even apparently had another child while living in this flat. The cheek of these people, eh?

We also had reports on licensing, planning and public protection -all pretty uncontroversial, although Captain Moped (aka Lib Dem Martin Mullaney - who has had a pile of rather unfair press lately, as he's tried to push a more sustainable transport agenda) did grab the stage to talk about his (admittedly effective) campaign against taggers and graffiti vandals in his ward. The debate on special schools was also remarkable for the cross-party consensus that the consultation process with parents should be open and frank.

Sadly, my reporter had another meeting to attend, so had to leave before the debate kicked off. He was particularly looking forward to Deirdre 'Senna' Alden and her motion (as originally phrased) calling on the Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police to
“This Council calls upon the Chief Constable of the West Midlands to consider designating to Police Community Support Officers in our region the power to ‘require names and addresses for anti-social behaviour and for road traffic offences’, according to the legislation introduced in 2005.”
Showing her usual grasp of the subject of crime, perhaps she should refer to the police themselves, who think that they've already got those powers:

What powers do PCSOs have? The powers available to PCSOs vary from force to force. In the West Midlands Police their powers are limited but, for example, they can: ... Require the name and address of anyone behaving anti-socially... Carry out road checks...

Do keep up, Deirdre. While individual Operational Command Unit bosses might decide to vary the powers, WMP have 'em.

[UPDATE: As you may see, the Blessed Deirdre has made a guest appearance on the blog, which has attracted more councillors than a mayoral banquet. She (or someone pretending to be her) dropped by to make a vaguely threatening comment that I should take down this post until I find the words that she actually used. Well, my correspondent from the cheap seats has checked the bundle of papers he got from the meeting and the motion is phrased as above in the agenda and there is no mention of it in the list of amendments. As my colleague wasn't present when the motion was actually moved, he can't vouch for what form of words were actually used. As I do strive for accuracy, I am of course, happy to accept Deirdre's word that the motion wasn't finally phrased as above, but it certainly started out that way. Why she wrote and signed a motion that was so wrongly worded in the first place is still a valid point. Nice to see you, Deirdre. Feel free to drop by any time and join in the fun. Oh look, she has a blog too.]

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Spun out to dry

You really have to laugh. Yesterday, Mike Whitless instructed an officer not to brief Sir Albert Bore on the latest series of reports from the Audit Commission. He did find time to brief the media, though. This broke a promise to keep the leader of the opposition up to speed with key council matters. In the council meeting today, Whitless blathered that he had promised to brief Sir Albert, but hadn't said when he'd arrange those briefings.

Sadly for Whitby and his minder from Central Office, James North, the whole thing backfired as the Post and Mail decided not to take the council-spun line entirely seriously. They made the mistake of actually reading the report, saw through what they were being fed and instead decided to sink their teeth into the flesh of Whitless and his cronies.
It was a desperate attempt to airbrush bad news. And it failed spectacularly... His plan was not just to accentuate the positive... but to ignore completely the negative aspects of the commission's corporate assessment report...
Now, it is true to say that there some good signs of improvement, but there are some major problems highlighted by the report - consistently in areas of leadership and particularity on diversity issues. Surely in a city like Birmingham, diversity has to be a key issue. To fail this part of the assessment with a damning comment like this is an indictment of the failure of this administration:

Collectively, political and managerial leadership has been ineffective in delivering a corporate approach to equality and diversity. In particular its approach to community cohesion has been slow and has not adequately engaged with communities and other key stakeholders.
That isn't the end of it though - there's plenty more to come.

The Council has high level aspirations but these are not sufficiently outcome focussed or consistently challenging.... The Council is still a long way from achieving its stated goal of excellence.... the Council does not have a clear view about what its aim of excellent services means in practice... The Council also does not yet provide adequate community leadership to address local and regional challenges.

There is also some lack of realism about the scale of the task faced in transforming some services, which have only recently begun performing adequately, into excellent services.

Communities beyond the city centre have yet to see consistent benefits from regeneration and performance has been weaker in developing the housing market, sustainable transport and waste management...

Improvement in the health of disadvantaged people has been slow. Approaches to promoting the independence of older people are weak.... The Council has no overarching strategy for meeting the needs of older people in Birmingham, and has no timescale for developing one.

You can't tell me that Whitless believes his own propaganda? Surely not.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Praguetory is a simpleton

Praguetory makes a list of Labour donors who he accuses of having collected peerages for no party work.

Almost every Labour donor has been thrown a gong - Loudmouth David Puttnam got his after £25,000 in Labour donations, Ruth Rendell after £15,000, Melvyn Bragg £32,500, Lord Waheed Alli - free films... I could go on... Blair said in December that the peerages awarded were "party peerages" (as few of the donors actually did any party work it would appear he has no defence against the cash for honours charge.
Ruth Rendell has been a member of the party for years - she helped the launch of Red Pepper in 1994 with Hilary Wainwright

And socialist, well yes, of course, it's not a fashionable word but I am very much of the Left.

David Puttnam has a similar record - he even took part in a 1992 election broadcast. Since he got his peerage, he's been a very active 'working' Labour peer. Both Melvyn Bragg and Waheed Alli have made no secret of their status as supporters of the Labour Party and have given money and, in the case of Lord Alli, practical support in terms of film-making. Their ennoblement was a demonstration of the change at the heart of the party and part of a desire to put new blood into the Lords. Lord Alli was the youngest peer and the first openly gay one. All of those listed by Praguetory enhance the Labour representation in the Upper House and provide strong voices for the party. Whatever else may be argued about them, they are high-profile, long-serving party supporters who have done well financially and want to financially support the party.

Even as the Tory commentators get all holier-than-thou over the whole thing, perhaps we should query some of those Tory peers?

How about Stanley Kalms - knighted by the Major administration and ennobled in 2004? He's been a major donor to the Tory party over decades, but we don't know how much. All we can say is that his donations since they were regulated exceed half a million quid - mostly before he got his peerage (after he'd served as Party Treasurer and helped to sort out their huge debts).

Or there's Conrad Black, who changed nationality to take up a seat on the Tory benches in the Lords (and is now trying to change back, because if he is convicted, Canada won't allow him back in). He ensured that the Telegraph maintained a firm right-wing stance and was rewarded with a peerage. He's now awaiting trial on fraud charges.

Then we have the Marquess of Salisbury - given a life peerage to match his hereditary one so that he could stay in the Lords - who has been on leave of absence since 2001 as he does not wish to declare his interests. He's one of the key figures behind the Stalbury Trust, which has donated £200,000 since 2001 and could have given up to a million pounds during the 1990s. He's also involved with a dining club that has donated £150,000 since 2001. Both organisations are reticent about their membership and the source of their funding - rather like the Midlands Industrial Council. Robert Edmiston had his nomination for a peerage blocked after he made a £2 million loan/donation to the Tory Party himself and ensured that other funds were channelled in the right direction. If we don't know who is giving the money, there's no way to ascertain what (if anything) those donors get in return - or what they expect. Well, actually we do, because membership of the MIC seems to buy you access to the leadership of the Tory Party.

Of course, if you are a LibDem donor, even if you hand over £2.4 million, you can't even translate that into a better quality of cell when you get sent down for fraud. [Hat tip to FibDems] Despite their record of jumping on bandwagons campaigning for prisoners across the globe, one of their own is quickly forgotten.

Anyone who has been reading this blog will be only too aware of my view that the PM should go and I'm in no way defending the sale of honours or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but the current behaviour of the press and some of the blogosphere is bordering on hysteria compared to what we actually know. No charges have been laid as yet, but the reporting of the case can only have prejudiced any chance of a conviction - something that any half-decent lawyer would be forced to argue on behalf of their client. Despite the views of other respected observers, like Paul Linford, my gut reaction is that the police won't have enough of a case to satisfy the CPS.

Conference 08

I can hardly wait!

Yes, in 2008, the Tory Party conference will be coming to Birmingham. It only took £2 million of council taxpayers' cash to fund it. Actually, I'm not that bothered about it - think of it as an investment to bring in the delegates. I'm thinking of opening a Stannah stairlift and Sanatogen concession stand at the conference. I should make a fortune.

Well, I suppose that they had to find a city 'oop north where they weren't completely wiped out. You and I both know that Birmingham isn't really in the north, but as they've appointed Alan Duncan (MP for Rutland) as their 'shadow cabinet' member for Newcastle and the North East, I think you get the idea of how limited their more northern roots are. Let's face it, the MP who represents one of the most rural seats in the country has so much in common with the Tynesiders.

I wonder if it will be as tightly choreographed as Dave's last outing in Brum, where the audience wasn't quite as racially mixed as Dave's minders thought it should be.

'As community leaders and residents took their seats in the church hall, 'Dave' Cameron's aides appeared to be attempting to mix them up – surely not to give a more integrated look to the politician's audience? One young white woman was asked to swap seats with a middle-aged man of Asian appearance. A slightly bemused-looking member of the audience, well-dressed and possibly a party worker or sympathiser, remarked: "I hate it when they do that – trying to make it look more integrated."
And they accuse Dave of being heavy on the spin, light on the policy. I don't know where they get that idea.