Saturday, March 31, 2007

Shouting down Dale and ringing the Bell

Sometimes, I almost feel sorry for Mike Whitby. He thought he'd have a nice quiet career as a Tory councillor, only to find himself propelled, behind the desk of the city leader - a role for which he finds himself singularly ill-prepared. And now, he finds that those nice people who used to attack the Labour city leadership have now turned on him. Poor old Mike. No wonder he lost it with David Bell (a senior journo with the Post and Mail) earlier in the week. Encouraged by his Tory Central Office minder, the red-socked James North, Mike's been spinning like mad ever since, claiming that it was simply a matter of him having to raise his voice to be heard above the loud music.
'And in a sign of rising tension at the Council House, Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) was involved in a blunt exchange of views about the [mayoral] petition at an awards dinner for Broad Street businesses earlier this week. The council leader verbally attacked a Mail journalist, accusing the paper of launching a personal campaign against him. The one-sided exchange, in full view of startled diners, lasted for about five minutes before Coun Whitby went back to his own table.'

Ah, diddums.
'Coun Ken Hardeman said: “Mike got a bit excited, that’s all. He was having a go but none of us had to take him away or shut him up. It was five minutes of Mike speaking forcefully. It was a pointed discussion but I can assure you there was no threatening behaviour. He just got a bit hot under the collar.” Friends of Coun Whitby say that dealing with the mayoral issue is beginning to impose a strain and take up more of the council leader’s time

Frankly, if it keeps Whitless and his cronies from doing any more damage, then more power to the Mail's elbow. The Mail editor was suitably dismissive, describing it as ‘nothing to write home about, nothing more than hot air.’ What else would you expect from Whitless?

I'm not supportive of the idea of an elected mayor for Birmingham, but I am angered at the complete failure of leadership by the Regressive Partnership of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. I say partnership, but I have yet to find much evidence of Lib Dem policies being enacted - it seems as one-sided an exchange as Whitby's verbal assault on Dale.

With Whitby in charge, is it any wonder that there is a demand for change and for real leadership for our City? The people will have their say, whether Whitby likes it or not.

This week's council meeting will probably reject the idea of combining a referendum with May's local elections - saving a huge pile of money - even though many councillors support the idea. Doubtless, the Liberal Democrats will vote loyally beside their Tory friends.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Not all bad news for Gordon

One of the most intelligent bloggers out there is Snowflake 5 - she is something of a collector of unconsidered trifles in the way she picks up on interesting details that others miss.

She's spotted an intriguing little fact about an otherwise depressing Populous poll. After ten years in the job, two thirds of those polled have a positive view of Gordon Brown's Chancellorship. When it comes to the accusations of Stalinism, then 39% reckon that he's just being tough and demonstrating his vision, with only a quarter thinking that he's behaved improperly. 25% also think that increasing taxes on large cars is wrong, while almost half thought he was right and another quarter thought that he should have gone further. Voters have clear views about Gordon and they aren't as negative as some polls would have you believe. As Snowflake 5 points out - a tough, strong PM with Tory leanings might just be enough to encourage that Conservative electoral apathy that has benefitted Labour for more than a decade.

Elsewhere, Don Paskini reminds us that Gordon has been a quietly redistributive Chancellor. For all the Tory accusations of subterfuge, this sleight of hand has been a trick worthy of a fine magician. The poorest 20% in society have seen income rise by 12%, funded by a 6% slice taken from the top ten percent. While this may have slowed the widening of the wealth gap and inequality, it hasn't stopped it - the rich are still getting richer.

Two bloggers well worth reading.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Switched Toff

Channel Four.

8pm.

Monday 26 March.

Set your VCRs, Sky + boxes or HD recorders and witness Peter Hitchens (the real one) taking Dishy Dave and his new principles apart.
Robin Harris, director of the Conservative Research Department under Mrs. Thatcher, who gave Cameron his first job, says: "I think that David Cameron is an out-and-out opportunist ... I don't believe that David Cameron believes anything." He reveals that Cameron obtained his first job with the help of a phone call to Conservative Central Office from a Royal Equerry at the palace.
And actually, it is all Iain Dale's fault.
It was not until September 2005, half-way through the leadership campaign, that Cameron began to push a modernizing agenda -and then only because he was facing defeat at the hands of David Davis.
Iain, you will recall, was Davis' campaign manager. [UPDATE: Iain has commented that he wasn't Basher's campaign manager, Andrew Mitchell held that particular poisoned chalice. So perhaps it wasn't all Iain's fault. E&OE as always.]

Wonderful choice to get Peter to deconstruct the Tory revival - he'll illustrate the deep concerns within the party about the political direction that Cameron is taking. However, I still maintain that the Tories are now so desperate for power that they will put up with virtually anything as long as it might lead to a majority.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Launching a sinking ship

Apparently the Minger hits town today to launch the Liberal Democrats' local election campaign. I know that you can hardly contain your excitement at that news.

According to the Birmingham Post, he's defended road pricing and said that trials have to be carried out - although he was quick to move on to more politically-fertile ground.

You will recall that I reminded you of this back in December

'Liberal Democrats believe road user pricing is essential... this issue requires robust political leadership if road user pricing is to be widely accepted in the UK. This is the challenge that the Liberal Democrats are willing to face...'

This arose because Liberal Democrat councillor Jon Hunt had submitted a petition against road pricing - one that he had started with his local colleagues. His defence on this blog was that
The thing is I'm a Liberal, not a green fascist. Your government and its agents appears to be going down the road of green stalinism...
This is the same party that acquiesced while Whitless and crew blew £350,000 on a study into the underground that came to the same conclusions as this blogger (who thought it out for free). This is the party that has been supine and silent as the Tories scrap bus lanes. Our roads continue to crumble and those promised bus marshals failed to materialise (like much of the Lib Dem 2004 Birmingham manifesto).

Look in the dictionary under the word inert and you will find a picture of the Birmingham Liberal Democrat group.

Where's (the) Wally?

Some while back, readers may recall that the Tories criticised Labour for using the council's newspaper, The Voice, as a political mouthpiece. Clearly, that wouldn't happen under the new Tory regime, which saw the freesheet rebranded as Backwards Forward.

The current issue includes no less than ten pictures of councillors. Of those, only one features opposition politicians and those two are the Respect 'group.' On no fewer than six occasions, Whitless can be seen leering out at the unwary reader, although there is a strange disparity between the age of the pictures used.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gordon's Alive!

Little Lord Fauntleroy is apparently an excellent shot, capable of dropping two deer in quick succession. With a few words yesterday, Gordon showed himself to be superior as he skewered the Tories' tax cutting agenda and entirely wrongfooted Cameron. He's really put them in an awkward position - do they troop through the lobbies to back the Chancellor or vote against a tax cut? Either way, they end up looking distinctly foolish. If they now demand further tax cuts, they will have to answer tough questions about what cuts will follow to public services.

Outside the headline-grabbing 2p cut - a glance at the red tops today saw broad support for Gordon - there was a decent rise in child benefit. On average, families with children will be £200 a year better off, with the poorest 20% being up to £350 a year better off. There's also an increase in the first year tax credit paid to single parents who return to work, providing additional support to that beleagured group. At the other end of life, pensioners will see their tax allowances rise - taking 600,000 over 65s out of the tax system. The one dark edge to this silver cloud was the effect on those without children and living on an income up to about £18,000, who will lose out. I hope that something can be done in terms of the personal allowances to minimise the effect of the loss of the 10p tax rate.

A question - who leaked the changes in corporation tax to the Tories? Why else would they roll out a policy of little interest to most voters - most people are interested in personal tax and very few outside the senior echelons of business take any interest in corporation tax, so this is an obscure little proposal to put out to the public unless they thought that they could possibly work some political gain from the whole thing. Clearly, they knew what was coming.

On the whole, while it won't set the world alight, Brown's last budget has shown that he's ready for the fight and Cameron won't have it easy when Gordon steps over to Number 10. Snowflake 5 reports that her collection of tame right wing voters were at worst, neutral about the budget and most expressed a grudging admiration for the Iron Chancellor.

Gideon Osborne appeared on the telly tonight to give his budget response. While his performance improved towards the end of the broadcast, he started out looking incredibly unsure of himself, very wooden and apparently having trouble coping with the autocue. All he really had to say was to accuse Gordon of conning the public and to promise something different from the Tories - not that he had any details to flesh out these bones.

Nice one Comrade Brown.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Scared?

Mike Ion comments on a story from the Sindie claiming that Michael Howard anointed Gideon Osborne as his chosen successor, according to a new book.
Mr Howard switched his support to Mr Osborne after becoming irritated by Mr Cameron's "squeamishness" during the 2005 election campaign. The former leader was also annoyed that Mr Cameron didn't want the job of Shadow Chancellor, preferring the easier option of Education spokesman.
The Mail on Sunday (not online) fleshed it out a bit more. Gideon was apparently all in favour of the Tories' play of immigration, believing it to be one of the strongest cards in their (limited) pack, while Ravey Davey C was a little concerned about it - to his credit.

However, Cameron apparently turned down the post of Shadow Chancellor as he was too scared of coming up against Gordon at the dispatch box. Bad luck, David.

I'll admit that I've had my doubts about Gordon. Not that he hasn't got the political depth, the intellect or the core skills to do the job. I'm sure that we'll find a flood of new initiatives in his first 100 days. Where I've had my doubts is about whether Gordon can deliver in selling those policies - he lacks the gloss of Blair's polished political performance. Perhaps that might even work to his advantage, as that lack of polish allows the passion to come through, especially on subjects like poverty - an issue that has run through Brown's political life like a continuous thread. Cameron can't compete, as he offers nothing but gloss and spin as we search in vain for definite policies.

He has been under such sustained attack because the Tories know how effective he could be against them. If he scares them that much, then we need him.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I'm not racist, some of my best friends are black bastards

I don't believe for a second that Patrick Mercer, the recently deposed shadow homeland security spokesman, is a closet member of the BNP or a devotee of Enoch Powell. What he is is a prime candidate for Upper Class Twit of the Year - a prize currently hotly contested by the Tory front bench. Predictably, a number of Tories have jumped to his defence, claiming that he's been sacked for telling the truth. The chair of his constituency association was wheeled out to announce that she was angry

'David Cameron has behaved precipitously. It's grossly unfair to take one remark out of context.'

Ken Clarke clearly hasn't read the interview

'There's nothing that Patrick said actually that was remotely offensive'

Cameron was exactly right to sack him and Mercer was offensive in some of the attitude he showed. Not for telling us that the canteen culture in the military doesn't like 'different,' but for sheer naivete and base ignorance. As Desmond Swayne put it

'What he did was create the impression that racism is somehow acceptable. It is always and everywhere a poison.'
As a leading example of the ignorance:

a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time - a far harder time than a black man, in fact.
Yes, because I'm sure my friends can recall the 'No Blacks, No Dogs, No Gingers' signs in the boarding house windows in London and Birmingham. We're coming up to the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, but I've yet to see much in the way of redheads enslaved. Apartheid wasn't all that much to do with hair colour, as I recall. That's before we even get on to the known attitudes towards black soldiers. The statement runs entirely counter to reality and demonstrates just how far out of touch some Tories are with society and ordinary people.

I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours
When later questioned in a BBC Radio interview, Mercer could only raise two examples of this.

Nirpal Dhaliwal writes about his own father's experience as a soldier in the early 70s and the destructive effect of such casual bullying

He will never forget his commanding officer calling him a 'black bastard' in front of the entire platoon. My dad had mistakenly stepped on a trailer while trying to climb into the back of a lorry. 'I was gutted,' he told me. 'I expected to hear that sort of thing from the regular soldiers, but not from an officer.' The officer had grossly insulted him and legitimised such insults among the men my father had to serve with.
Sunny over at Pickled Politics adds
My brother was an officer in the British Army until recently. He once told me the trick when marching, doing exercises or simply following orders was to be ‘the grey man’, i.e. blending into the background in the hope no one noticed your mistakes. Except if you were brown or black you stood out like a sore thumb and every mistake was remembered the next time. My brother also has a full beard and turban so blending in wasn’t so easy.

From his experience as an officer, Mercer should have understood the importance of leadership and rather than believing that men like Pvt Johnson Beharry VC should just accept being called a black bastard as one of life's trials, he should be demanding change and standing up for what is right. That's why Patrick Mercer deserved his sacking and, whisper it quietly, I think Cameron was right.

Juvenal applies his wit to the subject.

I never came across a piece of nastiness inside the Conservative Party that wasn’t based exclusively on Conservatism.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Silencing opposition


The Tories and the Liberal Democrat Regressive Partnership achieved what many thought impossible. They gagged Sir Albert Bore. There are some who wished that it could have been achieved during his marathon speech during the budget debate last week, but I digress.

For years, the opposition have been allowed a response to the Budget plans announced in the free council newspaper, but this week, the council wheeled out the lawyers and decided that Sir Albert and Salma Yacoub's submissions were both too political and promptly banned them. First rule of media management - nothing grabs the headlines like a ban. Curiously, the council lawyers saw nothing wrong in a headline announcing that the budget came from the 'Conservative-Liberal Democrat Progressive (sic) Partnership' or phrases like 'the Progressive Partnership continued to bring about immense change in the city....' (sadly, not for the better)

It was not always thus, as these pictures from The Voice in 2003 illustrate.
Nothing political in either page, I'm sure you'll agree.
Is there no end to Whitless' incompetence?

What the Tories don't want you to read

Sir Albert:

Again, the Labour Government has provided a financial settlement for local government and Birmingham which is exceptional. Free of the Tory government spending plans, since 1998 the Labour Government has provided each and every year a revenue support grant above inflation – unlike the many years of Conservative government which saw disastrous cuts in finance to local authorities, forcing local councils to introduce large rises in the council tax.

This year a Labour Government has provided Birmingham with an inflation-busting rise of 4.7 per cent, which means in real terms an additional £43.3 million for our schools and an extra £26.2 million for other services. The Labour group agreed with the proposal for a 1.9 per cent rise in council tax – which provides a further £5.11 million of new resources – but we wanted some of these additional monies diverted away from centrally held contingency funds and given to Constituency Committees. Local people are in the best place to decide how money should be spent locally. This Labour Group amendment was rejected by the Tory-Lib Dem administration.

In 2007-08 a Labour Government has again increased money to the most deprived areas of Birmingham through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) by giving Birmingham an extra £5 million. But we see a consistent theme emerging from the Tory-Lib Dem administration – taking from the most deprived areas of the city to give to the least deprived areas.

It is unacceptable that, this year, £0.92 million of NRF money was used to replace the council’s own funding of ward community chests, described as an efficiency saving. How much more of this will be happening in 2007-08? We will know the answer to this question over the months to come.

Birmingham and its Tory-Lib Dem leadership have been heavily criticised by the Audit Commission for their "weak" style of management and vision. This corresponds with a budget that hides cut-backs in service under the terminology of 'efficiency savings'. In the true meaning of this term, for example more efficient management and better use of resources, cuts do not occur. What is hidden in the detail of the budget are cuts to frontline services and rises in local charges such as those we have seen recently at our leisure centres.

Birmingham’s citizens have benefited significantly from a Labour Government. We have record numbers of police officers on our streets, alongside police community support officers. More nurses and doctors are employed in the NHS, with waiting times reduced massively in our hospitals. Britain really is working and it would be wrong to let the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats take the credit and, even worse, start wrecking it again.The Labour Group, when we led the council, gave free swimming to young people in Birmingham, launched warden schemes across this city and led the localised clean-up campaigns which we know have made a difference.Yes, we are supportive of an increase in spending on children’s and adults’ care services – in line with the changing demographics of this city. We are supportive of an increase in spending on schools – in line with the extra funding in the dedicated schools grant provided by a Labour Government.

This is a Budget which refuses to acknowledge the financial assistance provided by a Labour Government, without which the council tax increase would have been two, three or four times the 1.9 per cent accepted by the city council.


Salma Yaqoob

Birmingham is a first-rate city with second-rate leadership. It is not good enough. The ruling Tory-Lib Dem coalition talks about service delivery and boasts of "fiscal discipline" but they’ve failed the citizens of Birmingham in this budget. The budget shows "efficiency savings" of £42.7 million for 2007-08, £66.7 million for 2008-09 and £105.7 million for 2009-10. These ‘savings’ are really cuts in services we cannot afford.

On top of that, millions of pounds are being wasted on defending legal claims from tenants living in poor conditions, instead of spending those millions in repairing
council homes so that people can have a decent roof over their head. Time and again local residents have asked for better housing, education and street cleaning services, and yet this budget will do little to put these things right. Whilst many problems have been inherited because of twenty years of Labour misrule, the current leadership has to admit its failings. A record 79 per cent of councils have achieved three or four stars. Birmingham remains in the second division, with the 21 per cent of councils which achieved only one and two stars. Two-stars mean we are performing only at ‘minimum requirements’. The fact that this is claimed as some kind of achievement by the Tory and Lib Dems highlights their lack of vision and ambition.

But there is worse news. The prospects for improvement are not great. The inspectors have said 'the council has not been able to provide the leadership needed to take forward the corporate approach needed in such a diverse city'.
We are not harnessing the real potential of our great city – the youngest (sic) and one of the most diverse in Europe. Wealth may be flooding in to the flagship stores in the city centre, but how much of this reaches the deprived inner-city and outer-city neighbourhoods? This growing inequality threatens us all.

Birmingham needs a vision based on releasing the energy and talent of all our citizens. Respect wants to see a budget that commits us to real action on climate change; to delivering a living wage for all; quality homes for all; that tackles the scandal of poverty and inequality and one that values our children enough to give them hope for the future.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Going postal (again)

FibDems picks up on an interesting ploy by the Liberal Democrats to collect postal votes Liverpool by claiming that they are the approved route:

Jane Kennedy - Labour, Liverpool Wavertree: We have discovered in Liverpool a quite deliberate attempt by a Liberal Democrat councillor, Councillor Graham Hulme, who held his ward last year by only 13 votes, to mislead postal voters into believing that their postal vote had been cancelled and that the best way to get it back was to contact him personally.




So, here's an interestingly-worded leaflet from our yellow friends in Olton from only a few weeks back, stating that postal voters must re-register using forms from the council or the Lib Dems. All above board, I don't doubt, but does it send quite the right message?

Sitting on the Trident fence

Political Penguin picks up on a Lib Dem still claiming to be winning here over the Trident issue. (Hat tip to Bob Piper)

Colin Ross campaigned for the Lib Dems to scrap Trident - here's what he had to say about replacing Trident in any way - even the proposed policy from the Minger - who had to be wheeled out to ensure that the faithful would vote the right way.
The answer is simple - the answer is no. No to Trident, No to son of Trident and No to any so called Independent Nuclear Deterrent. I am opposed to the UK having any nuclear weapons. I understand some people are in favour - this half-way position surely annoys everyone. For me it is simply wrong and those in favour will see it as being weak.

So, what does he say now that the Lib Dems have voted to keep a nuclear weapons capability? Does he stand by his principles or does he do the usual trick?

The motion that passed is an improvement on our current position.

At the Shard End

Today wasn't the best day to be out and about campaigning on behalf of Ian Ward in Shard End. The wind was hurling the rain into the faces of the people who turned out to get the deliveries done, but we plodded on. Top marks also to the folks from UAF who were doing their job in tackling the BNP.

As always when deliveries are on the cards, I feel for the our postmen and women. So, join with me and the CWU and sign up to a petition that states

Delivering to the public is an important part of political engagement. We call for legislation to make it easier for voters to be engaged by requiring all letter boxes to be:

  • Located at a clear height
  • Easy to post through
  • Designed to allow leaflets to be posted without destroying them
  • Designed to protect people's hands when posting
  • Dog proof

In addition we call for doors to have the number clearly displayed and doorbells to be easy to find (with defunct doorbell buttons removed).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Afraid of your past, David?

Can anyone explain to me why a company would remove from circulation for 'commercial reasons' a picture of David Cameron and Boris Johnson in their expensively-tailored Bullingdon Club uniforms?

Surely this is the time to exploit that picture and maximise your returns? I'm sure the Labour Party would be delighted to buy out the copyright or perhaps one of those rich Tories might wish to save young Master David any further embarrassment.

The company denies being the subject of any pressure.

Nope, I'm not convinced either.

Fortunately, Newsnight has commissioned an artist's impression, so the effect of that picture isn't lost on the public.

Mayor or No Mayor

This is a bit of a departure for me. I know that this site has a small, but an interesting breadth of readership (MPs and councillors are over-represented, alongside mere mortals like me).

Here are two questions for you lot to answer. Does Birmingham need an elected mayor and why? Should we have a referendum on the issue?

Feel free to use the 'anonymous' identity to post comments if your position on the issue might cause embarrassment. I posted my views on the subject back in 2005. This isn't an opportunity to hurl abuse, but rather a chance to get a little genuine discussion going.

Come on then, let's be 'avin you.

Avoiding fallout

The Liberal Democrats descend upon Harrogate this weekend for their spring conference. Lucky Harrogate.

One of the items for debate are proposals to formalise the Liberal Democrats stance on replacing the Trident nuclear missile system. The policy paper can be found here and here's the agenda with the specific policy changes.

They reckon that reducing our nuclear capability by 50% would restart the global process of disarmament (touching, that faith in international human nature, isn't it?). The Lib Dems want to keep Trident in service beyond the planned date of retirement, which requires a service life extension programme to refurbish the boats between 2019 and 2026 to add five years to their lifespan (whether this is cost-effective is perhaps questionable). Unless world peace descends within the next decade, a replacement would probably be sourced but with a reduced capability to Trident. Aside from the question mark over extending service life, this an entirely valid policy option (there are others, of course).

So why are Lib Dem MPs trying to find ways of avoiding becoming entangled in this debate? Dave Radcliffe reveals that the Emperor Ming's office is ringing around trying to whip PPCs into attending as their elected brethren are ducking the issue. Could it be that the MPs don't want to be painted as either soft on defence or too pro-nuclear?

Playing the man and not the ball

For the past week or so, the ruling group City Council has been attempting to emulate Ron 'Chopper' Harris (only without the charm).

Last week, we had the report from the Audit Commission, which gave the council credit for continued progress in a number of areas, but slated them for poor work in the area of equalities and raised serious issues about the strategic vision possessed by the senior players.

Wise leaders would take the comments on board and learn from the report.

Mike Whitby doesn't fall into that group, unfortunately. He now claims that the CPA assessment team were aggressive in their questioning and that the outcome was affected by one of the experts, who was the former Labour leader of Kirklees council. Tilsley reckons that the CPA report doesn't match up to the report on childrens' services - which it doesn't, because the CPA covers more than just one (much-improved) element of the service that the council offers. Whitless is so fooled by his own propaganda that he thinks that Birmingham is on the verge of gaining a third star, when the reality suggests that unless significant improvements are made by the time of the next CPA, the City could subside to just one.

Following on from that, Mike decided that the best form of defence was to attack. He's accused Labour councillors of being 'buffoons' and launched a most ungentlemanly attack on Cllr Marj Bridle (the Tories are getting a reputation for attacking Labour women - Zoe Hopkins was on the end of it last time). Marj was described as a 'sad legacy' and Whitless used his skills as a sociologist to diagnose her as suffering from schizophrenia, delusion and amnesia. (I thought that was more a task for the psychologists amongst us, but I wouldn't want to disabuse Mickey of his own delusions). Now, I'm certain that this was just so much water off a duck's back to Marj - she's made of sterner stuff than that - but it is out of order to reduce political debate in the chamber to this level of personal abuse.

Naturally, Whitless has had to draw back from his abuse and has partially apologised for his outburst. That sort of comment has no place in the council chamber and is unworthy of a man who claims to lead the Birmingham local authority. I hope that he will make an apology at the next meeting.