Friday, January 26, 2007
Hang on - don't the Tories believe in privatisation? Haven't the Whitby acolytes, led by Paul Tilsley in his incarnation as deputy leader and chair of the Property Committee, been running around the City like estate agents on speed, pricing up and selling off council assets?
Indeed they have.
Is it all to fund another of Whitless' hare-brained, ill-considered ideas?
Thursday, January 25, 2007
To recap, Labour had plans for a new Library of Birmingham to replace the crumbling concrete monstrosity of the Central Library. Those plans were ready to progress to a full business case to support a PFI application, but when Whitless and Hemming did their dirty deal in 2004, that was trodden underfoot as the Tories swept the Council House clean of the Labour plans that they didn't like. Back in 2005, after much consideration, the grand idea was vomited forth by the massed brains of the Tory/LibDem leadership.
Despite a report by outside advisors that recommended a single-site option, the council decided that users would be best served by splitting the functions across two, widely-separated sites. They submitted a cobbled-together bid for PFI credits which was, unsurprisingly laughed out of contention. Back then, I predicted that we wouldn't see any work on the new library this decade - while the historic archives stored under the sewage pipes in the Central Library continue to be put at risk. I even noted that successful library bids for PFI funding all seemed to share the connection of being single-sites.
So, imagine how surprised I wasn't to see the headline in the Post this week announcing that Whitless is about to make yet another policy U-turn and scrap the idea of a split site library.
So, for all his posturing about how little Labour did to advance the library plan (apart from the international design competition, buying the land and preparing to bid for money), Whitby has added another three years' delay to the whole process. In fact, he's added far more, because we are really back to square one - no site, no plans and no chance of getting the money to build it.
Somebody, please. Sort out this waste of political space.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Yes, two Liberal Democrats on Burnley council chose to support a leading light of the fascist party for a representative appointment. But rather than run away and hide in the hope that the electorate might forget their treachery, Cllr Jones comes out fighting and finds an excuse - they were only trying to stop Labour over-representation on Padiham Life (which is a non-political organisation). As it goes, the BNP councillor was defeated by other members present, but that's merely good fortune.
DURING a meeting of the full council on December 13th, councillors had to elect a representative of the council to the board of Padiham Life. Previously the council representative was a Lib-Dem member, who resigned on the basis of a possible conflict of interest with their position on the council Executive. A totally valid reason supported by all members of the council.
Surprisingly, the Lib-Dems did not put forward a non-Executive member as an alternative for the position and the council was asked to choose between Cllr Gauton (Labour) and Cllr Wilkinson (BNP).
Despite repeated public statements that the Lib-Dems would never work with the BNP, or support BNP representatives gaining senior positions on decision-making bodies, two Lib-Dem members of the council voted for the BNP candidate to become a board member of Padiham Life. The Lib-Dem members who voted for Cllr Wilkinson being Cllrs Jones and Sumner.
The Lib Dems are, by their very name, liberal-minded and democratic. We vote how we think the needs of the people are best-served.
At the full council meeting on December 13th, a position came up for renewal.. on the board of Padiham Life, which comes under the Small Towns Initiative and backed by the North West Regional Development Association to the tune of £1m. When it came to the vote, there was a choice of only two candidates – Sharon Wilkinson, BNP... and Linda Gauton, Labour. Cllr Wilkinson is quite passionate about her ward members and was indeed shown in the Express recently supporting old people who had received threatening notices from the town council for not recycling properly. As the spokesman for her party she speaks up regularly for what she feels is right. To my mind, she is actively doing her job for the people who voted for her. Cllr Gauton, on the other hand, is a person who I have yet to hear speak up at full council this year.
Given these facts and that Padiham Life is over represented by Labour, this would have helped to restore a balance and would have given Padiham people the best person for the post.
For a 'liberal-minded' party, that's a disgrace and to then attempt to dress it up as an attempt to redress Labour over-representation is shallow politics of the worst kind. Remember that the BNP hold on to their thin veneer of democratic involvement when their quietly-held aim is position themselves ready to take over when society crashes following an economic depression. I fully expect most LDs to be equally concerned that two of their elected members considered a fascist worth supporting.
Hat tip to Simon, one of my regular visitors. Actually, I'd already spotted this late last night and didn't have the energy or time to add it.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Weasel words from the PM Official Spokesman don't fill me with faith that the right decision will be forthcoming, not from a government that has done so much to reform the law over sexuality equality. To turn away now would be to lose our confidence.
"This is not a straightforward black-and-white issue. This is an issue where there are sensitivities on all sides and we have to respect those but equally find a way through."
Actually, I think it is straightforward. I don't care what your religion says -if it goes against basic human rights or even basic decency, then those human rights take precedence over your beliefs. If the Cardinal can't adapt his agencies to comply with the law of the land, then it will be his decision to close them and will rest on his conscience. I hope that the people who work for those agencies and who do such good work are able to continue with different organisations, but the Cardinal can't hold the democratic system accountable for the official bigotry of the Catholic Church.
But then, this is the man whose judgement as a bishop allowed him to relocate a priest accused of abusing children. The man was later convicted for a string of offences against children. The bishop agreed a financial compensation settlement with the family of at least one of the victims, but even then, he insisted on a gagging clause in the deal. Estimates of the numbers of gay men in the priesthood fluctuate between 10% and have even gone as high as 50% and it seems certain that it attracts a disproportionate number of gay men as a vocation.
The law has to treat everyone equally - including you, Cardinal. If you don't like it, go to the Vatican where the Church can decide all the laws it likes. And if Ruth Kelly can't grasp that, then Antonia is right - Ruth needs to consider whether she should be in a leadership position on equality issues.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Sadly, Tony Ward passed away recently. As is usual, condolences were offered at the meeting of the full council and the Suttons remained silent in tribute to their former colleague, unprepared to say a few words in memory of a man who had rendered service to his ward and his City.
Oddly enough, though, at the subsequent Ward Committee, when local voters were present, that reticence disappeared and Margaret decided that a minute's silence would be appropriate. Even more curious was that she didn't feel she had to do this following the death of another Kings Norton councillor who had been trying to start a farmers' market - a concept opposed by the Suttons until they smelt votes in the idea.
Perhaps he wasn't local enough.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you.
But - I have to say something nice about Cllr Hemming.
He's been running a campaign to expose some of the injustices perpetrated on parents by misguided social workers and others in the name of child protection. While I accept that they have an appallingly difficult job to do and have to deal with situations that you or I might not be able to manage, sometimes their behaviour oversteps the boundaries of what is reasonable. While there is clearly a personal issue behind this, Cllr Hemming has picked up the wider issue as a genuine problem and is running a little campaign that typifies the work of a number of backbench MPs from all parties. Nice work, John.
I'd written all of the above before I saw the latest post on his blog, which is the fairly reprehensible statement that the increase in the number of white babies being taken into care is down to the fact that
this will help the government to hit their targets in increasing the percentage of children in care that are adoptedHang on a sec. He is suggesting that social services departments are intentionally taking children into care to increase the pool of children that are more easily placed with adoptive families. 82% of children taken into care across the UK are white. Black and mixed race children are excessively represented in the numbers of looked after children (black and mixed race children make up 16% of children in care, but only 8% of all children). The figures I have suggest a 13% increase in the number of babies (under 1) being taken into care between 2001 and 2005, but don't forget that 40% of children taken into care are adolescents (10-15).
The government national target is to increase the numbers of those adopted from 2700 in 1999 by 50%. Figures for 2005, indicate that a 40% increase has been achieved nationally -an increase that could not be down to an increase in the number of white babies being taken into care and then given for adoption. In fact, the number of babies being adopted hasn't changed much in a decade. In 1996, 253 were adopted and in 2004, 252. Approximately 4/5% of adoptions overall involve babies. The big increase has been in toddlers - 1-4 years of age - which has seen an increase from 1598 in 1996 to 2606 in 2004. As it takes some time for adoption to be processed, it is perhaps rather likely that a baby could be removed from its family and then finally adopted as a toddler, but the increase in available babies cannot account for the total increase in toddler/pre-school adoption.
This is a hugely difficult area and one in which I don't claim any expertise, but that is all the more reason for people to try to have reasoned and evidenced debates. Frankly, to suggest that social workers are kidnapping children to boost their performance figures is both unpleasant and statistically unlikely. It may heat up the discussion, but it adds no light to the problems of troubled families and youngsters.
Stick to the genuine issues and avoid this kind of unsupported statement, Councillor.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
They aren't reopening the issue as to whether the LDs carried out sufficient checks on the permissibility of the donation at the time - that's closed and resolved. The Commission is of the view that the officers of the party acted in good faith at the time.
It is not clear to the Commission that 5th Avenue Partners Ltd was carrying on business in the UK at the time the donations were made. If not, then the donations were impermissible...
Impermissible donations have to be handed over. No ifs or buts - even if the party was beyond reproach. The investigation into this part of the saga is on hold pending further discussions with the City of London Police over the status of 5th Avenue.
It really isn't over. No matter what the Lib Dems say.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
To my knowledge, no Labour candidates have yet been selected across the City. That said, Liam is in possession of a seat which has had no significant changes in the boundaries. To deselect an MP requires sufficient demands from members to trigger a ballot of all members. If the MP loses that ballot, then a full selection process is started. It is very rare for that to happen. A group of members with their own agenda tried to get Roger Godsiff deselected in 2005, but that attempt failed after a ballot of the membership. So, barring a seismic shift in the membership or any further decisions to stand down, most of the seats in Birmingham are sorted.
Monday, January 15, 2007
A while back, Guido was a bit of fun - a source of gossip and even a little political debate. In recent months, I've noticed that it has declined to being little more than a home for the right-wing, spittle-flecked green ink brigade.
I've noticed a similar descent in the comments trail of Iain Dale's site as well, which I find disappointing, as it drives away those who might actually want to contribute to debate rather than just sling mud and you end up with a comments section populated entirely by right wingnuts.
With things like Tory TV (Doughty St is leavened by a handful of non-Tory contributors, but is still funded by Conservatives) I can't help but wonder if this is just an attempt by the US-inspired right in the UK to try to create a political virtual environment operating in an entirely different dimension to the rest of us - inventing their own reality.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Alan, not Andrew, Blumenthal has jumped ship to Farage's merry band of men.
Alan/Andrew isn't quite the nonentity that Iain claims. He is a scion of a prominent local Tory family - numbering two Lord Mayors amongst his relatives, was thoroughly thrashed by Richard Burden in Northfield in 1997 and spent a number of years as a leading Tory councillor - during which he tried to get NWA to change their set during a 1990 performance (something about 'Fuck tha Police' appears to have raised his hackles). That's probably the only time I'll ever namecheck that group on this blog and I never thought I would.
Granted, Alan/Andrew isn't what you would call high profile - he's tried and failed to get back on to the council in recent years - but there is still some local news value in this story in a city where David Cameron has been particularly interested in courting the local Tory vote. Don't forget that not so long ago, Birmingham had a raft of Tory MPs, but the parliamentary vote has been in freefall for over a decade.
UKIP could be a problem for Cameron. When Blair started to lead the Labour Party to the centre ground, there were some naysayers, but they had to stick with the party, because there was nowhere else to go - the SWP being capable of fighting like cats in a sack over the minutiae of left-wing politics, but offering nothing like a cohesive platform or, more importantly, political presence. Respect has arisen out of an unholy alliance between the extreme left and certain Muslim groups, who have put aside their differences in the name of opposing Blair. What happens to the Gorgeous George Appreciation Society when Blair finally goes and when British troops complete their withdrawal from Iraq is going to be interesting. Will the cracks in that relationship finally prove too much?
While Cameron is trying to drag the Tories to the middle ground, he is aware that the party supporters have a choice. While Nigel Farage has been to the Ian Paisley school of public speaking - even on the radio, his voice seems to be turned up to 11 - he does have some political force behind him in his motley crew of MEPs and councillors. There is a degree of legitimacy in UKIP absent from the SWP and similar groups and a lot less stigma attached to those who change allegiance.
Cameron is risking his hopes on a belief that Tory supporters have had so much of Labour that they will back anything with a blue rosette without looking too deeply at whatever policies he agrees to show us. Blair knew that Labour supporters had no credible alternative, but that doesn't look to be the case for the Tories. Cameron's success will hinge upon him capturing great chunks of the swing vote without losing too many of the old guard traditionalists to apathy or UKIP.
So, the news of Lynne Jones' decision to stand down as a Labour MP only reached my ears on Friday afternoon and now is the first chance I've had to write about it. Ah well, good to let the mainstream media break a story for once.
This does simplify selections for Birmingham a lot. Roger Godsiff will now walk easily into Hall Green (frankly it was never a serious competition between him and Lynne, anyway). Steve McCabe gets the new Selly Oak and the remainder - Gisela Stuart in Edgbaston, Richard Burden in Northfield, Khalid Mahmood in Perry Barr and Sion Simon keeps hold of Erdington - are set, barring any other shock decisions. There are three other seats still to choose candidates - Sutton Coldfield will probably stick by the redoubtable Rob Pocock, who loves to niggle away at the Tories. John Hemming awaits his fate at the hands of a yet-to-be selected Labour candidate - the selection process hasn't even started in Yardley. The only other outstanding business is in Ladywood, which can be expected to attract a lot of interest as a safe Labour seat and restricted to an all-woman shortlist.
Lynne's departure will be a loss - she's renowned for her independence of mind and for driving Labour's hierarchy to distraction. A bit of that is always helpful to keep perspective on things.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Well done to the Daily Mail for exposing the rank hypocrisy of a cabinet minister by deciding to do the right thing by her child instead of sacrificing their future for her career prospects. You really can't win if you are a woman in the Mail - you are supposed to have a high-flying career, but you are berated if you can't also be a perfect mum.
Five Live Drive were trying to push the Chief Whip as to why Ruth Kelly hadn't insisted that the LEA pay for the place, if it was so key to her child's education. It isn't unusual for LEAs to fund private placements for children on a case-by-case basis - Tim Brighouse was reminded that when he ran the Education Department in Birmingham, £60,000 was spent on one child - and I believe some £500 million is spent this way across the country to obtain specialist provision that the state cannot deliver. Of course, if she had pushed the LEA to financially support the move, then the headline would have been even more damaging - 'Taxpayers fund Labour Minister's Private Schooling.' The fact that she has plans to return her child to the state sector for secondary schooling and intends her other children to remain in state education indicates that she is as committed to that principle as everyone else in the party.
I don't blame Ruth Kelly for making that choice, just as I don't criticise those who use private medicine. As long as they contribute towards the public sector through their taxes, I'm happy for them to spend their excess cash as they see fit.
I don't want to take away peoples' rights to choose a private hospital or school.
What I want is for them not to need to make that choice in the first place, because the quality of the public system is so high. A good education isn't a privilege, it is a right that should be available to all.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Friday, January 05, 2007
The Hack understands that Ken Axford has now resigned as candidate in Kings Norton over differences with the sitting councillors - the upwardly-mobile husband and wife team of Geoff and Margaret Sutton.
Monday, January 01, 2007
Simone Clarke said of the BNP manifesto
'I am not too proud to say that a lot of it went over my head...'You aren't kidding.
'She protested that it is "really silly" to point to her partner's non-English origins, adding: "It is not about removing foreigners. It's about border controls.'Perhaps she didn't read the 2005 manifesto deeply enough. Lines like
To ensure that we do not become a minority in our own homeland, and that the native British peoples of our islands retain their culture and identity, we call for an immediate halt to all further immigration... and the introduction of a system of voluntary resettlement
might give her a clue that there is a subtext to the BNP's stated aims. Failing that, reading some of the comments made by senior BNP members in some of their less guarded moments should suggest that she's not thought this through. Who could forget Sharon Ebanks' plaintive lonely hearts ad for her son
'Looking for a female who is racially aware, if you've ever been out with an ethnic, please dont respond'Or 'Steve Freedom' - better known as Simon Smith,
What i mean is,the people who say we (the bnp ) are watering our views down and selling out,don’t understand the need for this slight manoeuvre from our goals and public mindset. When they do,they will understand. You will never convince the public six million did’nt perish untill we are in power. Our people need to be steered back with a sensible and carefull approach,one devoid of hate.If the public hated like we do,Black and Asian ghettos would not existThis is the kind of view he had in mind.
99 times out of a 100 when talking about Negroes or people from Pakistan , I’m quite happy to speak of them as "Negroes" or "Pakistanis". For the common or garden nigger or paki I think that’s fine…. But for people like this, they are Niggers and Pakis with a capital N and P... For any Blacks reading this stick to your own bloody women, as ugly as they are !
So, is she stupid or just in denial about the BNP's true aims? You decide.
Looking back at last year, I forecast the demise of Chuckles Kennedy - although I got his successor hugely wrong and predicted somebody called Oaten would be in charge. How wrong can you be? I predicted that Blair would hang on into 2007 and that Birmingham council wouldn't change hands in May. So, that's three out of four.
But first - what kind of year has it been?
For the Tories - not bad. They've sustained a decent lead in the polls - although not sufficient to be sure of getting a majority if an election were called tomorrow. Cameron's honeymoon continues as he holds back on policy. He's still facing whinging from inside the party that he's failing to reach out to the traditional right of the party - Iain Dale was on the radio this weekend calling again for a Tory manifesto to promise that by the end of an electoral cycle, tax bills will have dropped.
It seems clear that this will become the leading policy of the next election campaign and it will be dressed up as being in the interest of ordinary folk like you and me. Cameron is trying to play it that the Tories are the party of ordinary people.
Council tax and utility bills keep going up and it's becoming harder for families to make ends meet.Now, I find it hard to take that seriously - not least because I can remember the 1980s when the Tories were the party of the unemployed. Nobody worked harder than them to create the millions of unemployed men and women, laying waste to vast swathes of this country's industry, so you will excuse me if I believe that any attempt by the Conservatives to grab that particular piecel of moral high ground is actually rather offensive. Kerron Cross reminds us of the Tory opposition to the minimum wage and the tax credit system, which has put more money into the pockets of some of the poorest in our society.
Then we come to Cameron himself, a man described by a Sun journalist as a 'poisonous, slippery individual'. Jeff Randall wrote that he wouldn't trust him
'with my daughter's pocket money... To describe Cameron's approach to corporate PR as unhelpful and evasive overstates by a widish margin the clarity and plain-speaking that he brought to the job of being Michael Green's mouthpiece... In my experience, Cameron never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative, which probably makes him perfectly suited for the role he now seeks: the next Tony Blair.'I'm not sure the country wants another Blair, to be honest. Cameron will keep playing the mood music that he thinks we want to hear, but could be caught on the hop by a potential snap election. People will want to see more than just spin, Dave.
Remember, whenever you hear him or his equally blithering idiot sidekick Gideon Osborne (I still have a screengrab of a (possibly) libellous post from Praguetory about the incompetent Osborne's university past) chuntering on about ordinary people, think about the thousand jobs lost at ITV when Cameron was on the board of Carlton overseeing the billion-pound loss that was ITV Digital. Or that 'man of the people' Dave is just an Old Etonian Oxbridge graduate married to an heiress. His economic genius extends to advising Norman 'Threshers' Lamont around the Black Wednesday disaster. You might also remember that whatever the spin at the top, there are still huge problems at lower levels in the Tory Party. The A List has served the purpose of highlighting the 'New Tory' party, but has failed in convincing the membership that the chosen ones are actually the best and the brightest in the party.
Now to the LibDems. Lord help us. What a year they've had. Stabbing Charlie in the back and front at once; running a leadership election campaign where my personal choice John Hemming fell by the wayside, Mark Oaten ended up in the shit, Simon Hughes was dragged out of the closet, Chris Huhne emerged as the boring choice and they ended up with the near death experience of Ming Campbell. They proved as effective as always when it comes to by-election campaigning - winning in Gordon Brown's back yard and pushing the Tories to the limit in Bromley. They've still got that dodgy £2 million donation hovering over their heads, you know...
And then there's Lembit. There's always Lembit. Loyal to the end, our Lembit - if something of a jinx on leaders. Opik the ogler, they call him now.
On to Labour. Hellfire. Despite a barely-disguised leadership campaign spooling up in the background, despite a disastrous and unneccessary war in Iraq, despite having to face up to allegations about the sale of honours and being £28 million in debt, we're still in there. The economy is holding up well and while the Tories are ahead in the polls, the overall situation seems sufficiently fluid to give some hope for the next election. Everything this year has been overshadowed by the leadership issue, as everyone counts down the days until Tony hands in his notice.
Locally, the May election results weren't too bad for Labour - the vote largely held up for Labour, although four seats were lost, two came home as well. Given the poor run up to the election and the much-forecasted meltdown, it wasn't a bad result overall. Sadly, as predicted, Labour failed to regain control of the council - that's still probably a few years away - and the result was a miraculous continuation of the Regressive Partnership between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories.
Over 2006, the city failed to move very far forwards as it missed out on the shortlisting for a supercasino licence, had the Power Report slam their housing policy, continued their incompetent management of the library project, maintained a leadership cabal entirely unrepresentative of the multi-ethnic makeup of our city (and saw another LibDem councillor resign and allege racism), failed to support a small project celebrating the Welsh valley communities sacrificed to ensure fresh water for Birmingham, took regular kickings from business luminaries like Digby Jones, breached the duty of care that they owe to their employees, failed to move the recycling agenda forward enough, increased the average waiting time for housing adaptations for the elderly and disabled to eighteen months, saw the social services department's progress marked down as 'uncertain' and ended up the year having a spat about how green they aren't (while finding the cash to buy a new car for Whitless and refurbish his office). To end the year, they put up some big screens in the chamber so the poor unfortunate public could see their elected representatives in all their glory.
And for the blog, the high point was unquestionably the frontpage splash in the Birmingham Post (thanks due really to The Daily) and the subsequent appearance on Midlands Today. Hell, it is nice to be recognised by the mainstream boys from time to time. I'm also a little proud about unearthing some of the nastier poison emanating from the brain of the former member of the BNP, Ms Sharon Ebanks, a search inspired by Unity. Along the way, I dug up some stuff on the Midlands Industrial Council and the close links with another Tory front organisation, the Taxpayers' Alliance.
Anyway, to the predictions.
Gordon to move into No 10 unopposed. I really can't see any likely opponents appearing on the horizon - I doubt that John McDonnell will get the 44 nominations required to stand and the only serious counter to Gordon would have to be a big-name cabinet minister, with only Dr John Reid looking a likely lad. Even he may have to bow to the Brown steamroller and accept that any challenge would be futile. Predictions for the deputy post are more fluid. I'm leaning towards Cruddas myself, but I suspect Alan Johnson will get it - but there will be a real contest. I'll also predict that the end of year opinion polls will show a slight Brown lead over Cameron - still making any election tight, but much more winnable.
Tony to resign sooner than we expect. Will he make it to the ten years? I'm not certain. Really - I think the party would like him gone before the May elections and he might just feel inclined to do them the service, but it has to be soon. Here's the radical prediction - no charges to follow from the investigation into party funding, although I expect rules to be tightened and new proposals for some state match-funding to follow.
While Ming the Useless will continue his leadership of the Liberal Democrats (health permitting) and they will continue to perform effectively in by-elections, like Guido, I suspect that a couple of LD MPs may decide to jump ship to the Tories. I'm also backing the idea that Lembit might yet give us some more mileage in terms of his private life and I think that it is unlikely he will end the year on the front bench. The LDs will come under increasing pressure in the polls as former Tory voters return to their natural home.
Cameron will gradually rack back on the A List and we'll see more of their desire to cut taxes and services - although never phrased in quite such a direct manner. He will find himself under pressure from the right of the party and will have to give them something to calm their nerves, but he's not going anywhere. The Tories think that he's the boy to lead them back to power and they'll stand by him through virtually anything if there remains a possibility of winning the next election.
Locally, the Regressive Partnership will boldly go nowhere as usual. Short of a miracle, Labour won't regain power in May, but I expect them to hold on to what they've got. I'm also predicting a drop in the Lib Dem vote as Tories return to the fold.
Any thoughts, folks?
Happy New Year to everyone, regardless of political persuasion. Except Littlejohn, obviously.