Friday, April 27, 2007

Unfares please

While browsing, I found out that the appropriately named Tom Brake is slightly lacking in imagination. Here's his comment on the decline in bus use outside London (Feb 2006)

The Government’s policy of subsiding bus services, has actually led to fewer passengers getting on board.

However, the results are not uniformly bad. Bus use in many Liberal Democrat controlled areas, such as York and Cambridge are experiencing growth through effective partnerships with bus operators. If Alistair Darling genuinely wishes to see more people getting out of their cars and on to buses, he must give local areas much greater flexibility and freedom over bus services.

And then we roll time even further back to December 2005 and a National Audit Office report:

Labour's [sic] have comprehensively failed to meet their targets for increased bus use outside London.

The picture however is not uniformly bad, with bus use in Liberal Democrat controlled councils like York and Cambridge experiencing growth through effective partnerships with bus operators. If Alistair Darling genuinely wishes to see people out of cars and provide a safe, reliable and affordable public transport system, then he has to provide local areas with greater flexibility and freedom over bus services.

Mad, unoriginal or back in time?

Meanwhile, here's a thing about buses. Birmingham Friends of the Earth have been running a survey of the council candidates asking five questions to test their green credentials.

First up is
Q1 : Bus lanes: Do you agree that there should be more bus prioritisation lanes, including on the Tyburn Road?

Unsurprisingly, Paul Tilsley, the man with the personalised number plate (I kid you not), comes out against bus lanes and is backed by his colleague David Osborne. Curiously, though, Tory Cllr Timothy Huxtable is in favour of restoring the bus lanes on the Tyburn Road. Cllr Huxtable is, of course vice-chair of the Transportation and Street Services Scrutiny Committee. Perhaps he should have a quiet word with his colleague Len Gregory, the man who scrapped those very same bus lanes. He actually suspended them pending consultation, but that has been running for three years and a decision was due in January this year.

I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hemming and Reality

Cllr Hemming has an interesting relationship with reality.

To my post below, he adds a comment.

Aehmed is a known and correct (but not frequent) transliteration from the Arabic (remember his name is originally Arabic as are all Muslim names)...
Thanks for the educational bit about his name being of Arabic origin, John.

OK, in an entirely unscientific, but quick and dirty measure, I put Ahmed and Aehmed into Google. Ahmed returned 35 million results. Aehmed is so frequently used that Google found 10 occasions. 4 of those referred to the Liberal Democrat candidate for Aston. To call it an infrequent transliteration is something of an understatement.

Then we move on to Muhammed Afzal, who was accused of electoral fraud as a result of the 2004 election and is now standing again in Aston, after being cleared. John comments:

The disqualification was 12 months for being associated with General Corruption. The standard of proof for personal corruption was not deemed to be met (notwithstanding the identification by the police officer in the court room (BMI)). Hence Afzal's period of suspension was less than the others.
This deserves a little more scrutiny, as John appears to be trying to perpetuate an untruth.
Hey, let's ask the BBC for a comment...

Muhammed Afzal has been cleared of vote rigging allegations. A former Birmingham Labour Party councillor accused of being one of the ringleaders of a "widespread vote- rigging fraud" has cleared his name... the Court of Appeal quashed the findings of Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC on Tuesday
Not quite the lesser sentence that Cllr Hemming implies. If that isn't good enough for you, why not look at the full Appeal Court judgement of 26 May 2005?

42 - In summary, the Commissioner failed to ensure that Mr Afzal had a fair opportunity to deal with the case that the Commissioner concluded had been made out against him. This was a fundamental requirement of a fair trial... It is the principal reason why we decided that the Commissioner's findings against Mr Afzal could not stand.
Lord Justice Phillips also points out that the case against Mr Afzal stood on his presence at a warehouse where large numbers of postal votes were discovered. As his presence was not proved (and there were inconsistencies with the identification evidence - the WPC claimed she saw him, but a police note did not record his car as being present at the site). I don't intend to refight the case, but the fact stands that the

case against Mr Afzal stood or fell on the allegation that he was personally participating in the vote- rigging at the warehouse. The order that we made at the end of the hearing, quashing the findings against Mr Afzal, reflected this.

My emphasis added. No mention of a reduction in sentence and no suggestion of a twelve month ban. All this happened within a few weeks of the original judgement and Mr Afzal was allowed to vote in the General Election that followed soon thereafter. He was not disqualified for twelve months.

Of course, there are certain aspects of the case that the Appeal Court didn't review. In particular, the comments made by Richard Mawrey QC about Cllr Hemming:
...he was a dreadful witness. His evidence was largeley [sic] inadmissible hearsay. He possesses an inability to give a straigh [sic] answer to a straight question which would be the envy of a natonal [sic] politician appearing on the Today programme....
Cllr Hemming may wish to reconsider his comments.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Five Years Ago

Where were you?

Apparently, Labour's current candidate in Moseley, Bill Lees was posting a throwaway comment on a messageboard about mingers from Kings Heath. The Lib Dems, electronically aware as always, have found that Google searching reveals much. Guys - it was a single comment five years ago. If we were to go digging into the cyber backgrounds of some Lib Dem candidates and councillors, do you think that they'd have done anything to offend their voters online? The outraged resident quoted in The Stirrer is a former Lib Dem candidate and us politicians can do outrage on demand - especially if there's a journalist about willing to swallow our latest story.

Bill comments on the Stirrer message board

I had no recollection whatever of having said anything of the kind, but after a little investigation, I discovered that it is lifted from a message board that no longer exists, on a website that no longer exists, and was supposedly posted more than 5 years ago. The website in question, Eye on Moseley, was, as anyone who remembers it will recognise, in its entirety satirical in tone and intent. One of the things that it satirised was an alleged tendency of Moseley people to look down on their neighbours in King's Heath, and my recollection of the quote that Martin Mullaney and Ian Galloway have presumably been keeping stashed away somewhere is that it was part of a contribution to that particular strand of satire. An out-of-context quote from a fragment of cyber-space dug up from more than 5 years ago can in no way be said to be representative of my views....

The people of King's Heath should be and will be rather more concerned about the shameful way in which Liberal Democrat Councillors have actively colluded with their chums the Tories for the past 3 years in diverting cash away from areas like Moseley & King's Heath to well-off areas of Sutton Coldfield. Emily Cox must be worried indeed if she is prompting her colleagues to attempt smears such as this one.

Besides, if we're digging up skeletons about candidates, what about the lovely Emily's own (more recent) history?

Speaking of Mingers - for the Lib Dems are all loyal Mingers now, since dumping on Charlie K - here's another story from history. Five years ago, Naim Ahmed was a Labour candidate for the Aston ward in Birmingham and seemingly a safe bet to win a council seat. Then the party discovered some question marks over his receipt of disability grant money and dropped him like a hot potato. One election petition against the eventual Labour victor later - which was unceremoniously thrown out of court - and Naim Ahmed starts his waltz between parties in search of a seat. First he went to the PJP and then he joined the Liberal Democrats - ever the home of the opportunist. Now, he's resurfaced as their candidate in Aston this year and his determination to win is such that he's returned to the lawyers and had his name changed to ensure that his is the first name on the ballot paper - worth an extra few votes. In Australia, where voting is compulsory, being atop the paper is a bonus because of the 'donkey vote,' where people go in and vote for the first person on the paper just to discharge their legal duty.

Meet Saeed Aehmed, who denies that this is a cynical ploy

'It is not true that this is all a trick... I changed my name by deed poll more than a month ago and Saeed Aehmed is the proper spelling. It is the name I am always known by.'

Now we know that isn't true, don't we? Even the electoral roll doesn't agree with him.

Allegations of cheap tactics and mudslinging were denied by John Aardvark-Hemming.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have discovered that people who appear to have assented to the nomination of BNP candidates don't remember doing so. Remarkably, a black woman and a Muslim seem to have signed up to back a party actively opposed to their very existence in this country.

Whitby all around

The current issue of Forward is most disappointing. The Great Man only appears once and in a small picture - although it is the front page. Even Cllr Alan Rudge - the scourge of Single Status - manages to get the same picture in twice in the paper and Cllr Sue Anderson also gets in on the act. Some way behind the current average of 12 councillor pictures per issue, but perhaps there is a little sensitivity over the elections.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Another Tory Bully?

Cameron, Johnson - now Gideon Osborne has been exposed as a member of the unpleasant Bullingdon Club for rich yobs who deserve to be ASBO'd into history. (Tip of the hat to Bob and Snowflake 5)
Tories are trying to spin the disapproval in the Mail and elsewhere as class envy. Actually it is not. Nobody minds if someone is born rich. What they mind is rich people refusing to socialise with middle-class and poor people (Bullingdon for instance wouldn't have admitted Stephen Hawking as a member) and they mind rich people treating the poor and their property with disrespect.
Should we be quite so surprised?

I seem to recall disrespect for the poor and their property on a much larger scale when the Blessed Margaret held the reins of power.

More on Whitby

For those of you who cannot sate their desire for pictures of Mike Whitless by merely examining every page in the Birmingham council freeshite Backwards, we have an exciting new site promising us more pictures of Whitby than we ever thought possible.

Where's Whitby?


There's a serious point behind all this. Experienced observers will remember that the Tories used to accuse Labour of using The Voice (the earlier incarnation) as a channel for political propaganda. Indeed, they regularly used to promise to scrap the whole thing upon attaining office. Naturally, one of the first acts of the Regressive Partnership was to scrap The Voice. And sign a bigger contract for a replacement (a contract signed by one J Hemming Esq).

Recently, the paper has seemed more like a copy of Hello for Birmingham Tories - I'm half expecting to see a feature 'At Home with Mike Whitby.' If you look back to Issue 1 of Backwards, you will find not a single picture of a councillor of any persuasion (I exclude the one picture of the Lord Mayor, who happened to be a Labour councillor at the time, as that post is non-political). Even the Budget wrapper from 2005 is noticeably clear of political pictures. In fact, you have to wait until the inner pages of that edition to find a councillor's picture. Ironically, this is a single (large) picture of Sir Albert on the page devoted to a budget response (a page that didn't fall foul of the Chief Legal Officer's pen, despite a large, blatantly political headline).

We don't see Mike's decade-old picture until Issue 7, when it makes a brief appearance alongside an article about the Council Plan (an unintentional oxymoron, I'm sure). Councillors then remain invisible again until Issue 13, when Paul Tilsley puts in an appearance as the new deputy leader on both the front page - in glorious colour - and page four.

Issue 17 is a disaster area as the undynamic duo make appearances in the Tornado special colour supplement - the only thing more damaging to Birmingham in the past decade than the Regressive Partnership. A magnificent three colour pictures of Whitless, with Tilsley managing to shoehorn his way into each of them. The main paper is a poor relation, only getting a single picture of Whitless onto the front page.

Issue 18 gets two for the price of one, with Cllr John Alden, Cabinet member for leisure & sport joining his dear leader in a front page picture. Issues 19 and 20 are Whitby-free zones, with Sue Anderson and Paul Tilsley popping up on the covers to scare the natives as the sole councillors featured. Issue 21 gets a double-bill of Whitby, who pops up behind Ken Hardeman as well as his front-page picture.

Issue 24 celebrates the performance (sic) of the Lib Dem/Tory council and features no less than 17 councillor pictures - with four appearances by our man. Not to be left out, Len Gregory makes an appearance in Issue 26, reminding us all of the valuable role that he plays in the Tory target ward of Kings Norton as he personally paints all the light columns. Len's a regular in front of the camera lens, only just behind Paul for overall appearances. Fans have to make do with just a single picture of Mike in this issue, as he examines a photograph of a tornado. Issue 27 sees a return to more normal service as he sidles up behind a fellow Tory, Lord Coe, and gets a frontpage picture. Sadly, there are no pictures of Whitby signing autographs for confused children who were seeking a memento of a meeting with an Olympic champion, but found themselves getting a scrawl from an unknown Tory as well (hat tip to Bob Piper - and thanks for the undeservedly kind words). We also get to see Whitless wielding a shovel on the inside pages, as he buries the hopes of replacing the Central Library or doing anything to resolve the transport problems in the City.

To be fair, Issue 28 does see a small picture of a Labour Cabinet minister on the frontpage, but there's a veritable feast of councillor 'talent' on the inside pages, with three Tories, one Lib Dem and Whitby all getting their faces into print. With Issue 29, the Budget rolls round again and we get smothered with councillors - including two appearances for Sir Albert's mugshot, although Whitless manages two cover shots to compensate, as he is on the front of the Budget wrapper and the main body of the paper. He even gets into another picture as well to complete the hat-trick.

And thus it continues.

In fact, in an exclusive survey for this blog, a couple of facts stand out. From January until August 2005, councillors are shown only four times - an appearance rate of 0.25 per issue. From August 2005 (curiously coinciding with the appointment of Alistair Morton as director of communications) until January 2007, the rate increases to an average of 4 an issue. Since January, we have seen a whopping 12 pictures showing councillors in every issue of Forward - Issue 50 alone featured 20 pictures. In over two years, opposition councillors have been shown in pictures just 8 times, while Mike Whitby has clocked up no less than 54 appearances - half of those on the front page. 28% of all pictures with a councillor include Whitless, with 15% featuring Tilsley. In total, 64% of councillors pictured have been Tories and 32% Liberal Democrat - only slightly out of proportion in relation to the cabinet split - and just 4% from other parties.

Mirza Ahmed was swift to spike the Labour budget response as overly political. He should now act to stop the Tories and the Lib Dems using Backwards for their own ends on a fortnightly basis.

The only good thing about this flowering of councillor pictures is that my dartboard can now be kept properly refreshed.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Runners and Riders

Those of you interested will find a full list of parties and candidates for the May electoral round in Birmingham here. The list has the usual suspects from the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems, with the Greens and the BNP also managing to field a full slate. Respect puts eight candidates up for election and UKIP manage to find nine, with a handful of National Front, New Nationalist Party and independents on the lists. The Peoples Justice Party even put a candidate into the field, demonstrating that not all of their supporters agreed to the merger with the Liberal Democrats (the reverse is also true).

Fascists in Shard End will be particularly spoilt for choice in where they allocate their prejudices, as the BNP, the NNP (Sharon Ebanks' ego) and the NF are all fielding candidates. For those possessed of a slightly less droolingly rabid xenophobia, there's even a UKIP candidate.

So, they're off. (Barring any last minute withdrawals)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Normal service has been resumed...

Well, perhaps not normal. Blogging will be light until after the local elections - there are things more important than my keyboard.

I've not been dodging blogging for the past week - no matter what some of the commentators say. I've simply not had time to comment.

As far as John Tyrell's resignation and conversion to Socialist Labour goes, I respect anyone who chooses to leave the party over matters of principle. There have been difficult issues over the past decade or so - abandoning Clause IV, tuition fees and, especially, the Iraq War. Any of those could be enough for someone to leave the party - and people have done that.

It wasn't one of those big issues that caused John to leave. He's sent his membership card back over differences with the regional party over the selection of a council candidate in his ward. Not only that, but within hours of his resignation, he's standing for the Socialist Labour Party in his ward, in a move that could deprive the people of Handsworth Wood of a Labour councillor and split the vote to allow a Tory or a Lib Dem through the gap.

And that's something I'm sure he wouldn't want to see.