Sunday, April 27, 2008

Please - stop Boris

Hat tip to Bob Piper for picking up on this fine video from the Stop Boris campaign.

Even more interesting is the path of the polls listed on UK Polling Report. Bob has pointed out the the money is moving away from Boris on Political Betting and if you look at the polls, the current has turned there as well. YouGov has been polling for the Evening Standard and even at the start of April, was showing a 13 point first preference lead for Boris over Ken - which translated into a 12 point second preference win. More recently, this has declined to a 7% first preference lead and other polls - mruk/Sunday Times and Ipsos MORI/Unison give Ken a lead of 1-3% on first preference and a 2-4% win on the key second preferences.

How on earth have the Tories managed to throw away such a lead?

Boris's PR team worked hard to keep him on a short leash - to an almost subterranean level prior to the campaign proper kicking off - well aware of his propensity to make mistakes. In direct debate, he has shown himself to be significantly weaker than Livingstone and relying on his admitted puppyish charms. Since the campaign started, though, Johnson has to be out and about and he's fallen over again and again. On a new generation of Routemasters, he forecast that this would cost £8 million, only for this figure to be shown to be some £100 million short of the true cost. Boris stuck to his guns in interviews, but then told a member of the public that he agreed with higher figure.

While London is a peculiar electoral beast, much heavier on personality politics than the national scene, this isn't good news for the Tories. To have their candidate so utterly undermined over the course of the campaign - despite the vitriol-fuelled support of the capital's main newspaper, The Evening Standard which has dedicated itself to the destruction of Ken, and now additional backing from The Sun, does not bode well for the national campaign which is expected to major on the joys of Cameron. But then, just as Boris has faltered under pressure, when Cameron gets questioned on the detail, he looks a lot less competent.

But here's a thought for the pot. While the Tories want to win in London, would they also be peculiarly happy with a narrow loss? The fact is that every time Boris makes a mistake - and by God, he'd make them - or misspeaks, that will be national news and will damage the Conservative Party across the country. A close defeat shows that the Tories can compete with Labour - even over a man with a huge personality cult in London, but doesn't expose them to the frailities and incompetencies of the Boris cannon rolling about the gundeck.

We'll see on Thursday. But in the meantime, back to my own campaign....

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Council-sponsored fascism

Top marks and a tip of a well-turned-out bowler hat to Pete at West Brom Blogger for his revelation that the band in a Sandwell St George's Day parade is, well, a far-right group whose former leader served time for gun-running to the 'loyalists' in Northern Ireland. Pete's pointed out before that the BNP have hijacked the parade to spread their particular brand of English exclusivity - the Fuehrer Nick Griffin even turned up one year and applauded the 'lack of Asians' in the 'ethnically English' parade.

I have no problem with celebrating St George's Day - I just believe that we should celebrate England in all its glorious forms and ethnic origins. Your colour or your religion don't define whether you're English - nor does the 'cricket test.' If you sign up

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Muffle the trumpets

Never again will we hear the story of Lionel Blair pulling off Twelve Angry Men....

If you've never heard the tradition that is the incomprehensible panel game, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, then you've missed something in your life. His entirely deadpan delivery of devastating lines made the show what it was and he was one of the few men to understand the intricacies of Mornington Crescent. Samantha will be inconsolable and I'm sure even the lesser-spotted Sven will shed a tear.

From Eton, via the beaches at Salerno to a fixture of Radios 2 and 4 and even a Radiohead album, Humph turned down a knighthood and rarely has one been more deserved. He brought music and laughter to our lives - a charm that crossed generations in our family.

Humph - thanks for all the laughter.

Boris is a thundering idiot

This week's Question Time replicated recent meetings between the three big candidates - Ken looks calm and statesmanlike, Boris disarmingly aggressive and apparently incompetent and Brian just plain irrelevant (I do feel sorry for Brian Paddick - he's going to be crushed beneath the Boris & Ken steamrollers and his only relevance is the destination of the second preference votes). I genuinely cannot understand how on earth anyone could not vote for Ken in the face of the buffoon that is Boris. Being mayor of London is not about chairing a half-hour comedy panel show once in a while - it is the biggest elected role in the country and an opportunity to do good or ill for 10 million people.

An example of Boris' inherent incomprehension of how things actually work is his belief that he'll negotiate a no-strike deal with the RMT. Now, short of stuffing their pockets with so much cash that the staff of the London Underground can't fit through the doors anymore, there is precisely no chance of Boris being able to dazzle them with enough charm to get them to abandon the ultimate weapon of any worker - withdrawal of labour. It really won't happen - not least because the RMT has drifted a long way to the left. Boris even accused Ken of defeatism over the issue because the Labour Party is funded by the RMT. First off, Ken's being realistic. Secondly, the Labour Party expelled the RMT back in 2004 because they didn't necessarily want to support Labour candidates.

The man really has no idea.

It would be a disaster for London and for the country for Boris to win on May 1.

Aston mud slinging

If you are in any doubt about the probity or propriety of your actions, you should ask yourself the question, ‘What would a reasonable observer think?’
Electoral Commission, s21 Guidance for Candidates & Agents 2008

Things are hotting up in Aston, the focus of legal action on a number of occasions in recent years. Following the embarrassment of the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member (information correct at time of going to press) Cllr (ditto) Ayoub Khan, when his support for failed candidate Saeed Aehmed ended in ignominy as a judge slammed his behaviour, things have contrived to slide further downhill.

Last week, Cllr Khan waited until fifteen minutes before the closing time to submit a few hundred voter applications and some new postal vote applications. Nothing wrong with that - all perfectly legal - but there has been a local protocol signed which advises that such documents should be submitted to the Elections Office within 48 hours of being received by a political activist, in conformance with the Electoral Commissions code of conduct, where s14 says the following:
If you are given a completed application form, you should forward it directly and without delay to the local Electoral Registration Officer.

Unfortunately, rumour has it that some of the applications delivered by Cllr Khan were not delivered 'without delay,' but may have lain somewhere for several weeks. I have heard tell that some may even date from January or February - but that's to be confirmed. Needless to say, there's a good excuse - Ayoub has been housebound for a fortnight with flu and he was the only person with a key to get access to the Lib Dem campaign office. If he's the only one they trust with the key, what ARE the rest of them like? The cynics point out that late submission might be an attempt to discourage close scrutiny of the applications.

The latest twist to this story is that it has been revealed that despite his excuse
"I had been very ill with 'flu for two weeks"

Cllr Khan managed to drag himself from his sickbed to attend a lunch with key members of the Somali community - many of whom are Dutch citizens and thus entitled to vote in local and European elections, hence Cllr Khan's eagerness to sign them up. He managed to get to this apparently long-standing engagement just four days before he was able to get those application forms down to the Elections Office. Now, I would consider ensuring that people are enfranchised a key function, so I would not want anything to get in the way of that happening - least of all putting it second to getting a good lunch.

Unsurprisingly, John Hemming has been swift to criticise - the elections office. You see, this only came to light because one of the staff in the office made a mistake and rang the Labour Party regional organiser, rather than dialling the Liberal Democrat. He was in a meeting, so they left a brief message to explain the concerns and didn't realise that they'd called the wrong person until later. John's been supportive of this highly-pressured member of staff, accusing them of Labour bias and has pointed out that they are open to prosecution - not that he wants to wield the axe, of course. He's continued his kind words for City Council employees by claiming that polling station staff have been campaigning for Labour,
I think it is important in the light of what happened that we have a proper inquiry into staff in the elections office campaigning for the Labour Party.... The elections office has for a number of years had people who have been working for the Labour Party. We have Labour activists running polling stations, this is Mugabe territory
although he's now backtracked and says that it only applies to three or four cases in previous elections. As there are 300 or more polling stations, that's hardly endemic - although clearly, independence is expected and bias shouldn't be permitted, even in less than 1% of the cases. Very dramatic, I'm sure, but entirely baseless. John's outbursts are becoming increasingly off the wall and embarrassing to the Liberal Democrats and to our City.

Rumours have it that the Tories have had enough and if the voters in Aston don't solve the problem, Cllr Khan will have to step away from the Cabinet table.

John has struck back with a photograph of a Labour councillor apparently entering the house of a voter who has a postal vote. This was taken on Tuesday, after the first batch of postal votes was sent out on Monday, although it isn't known if the voter had received the ballot paper as a second batch was sent out on Tuesday. Labour activists have all been briefed to not do this and any breach of that policy can have serious consequences for the individual concerned in terms of the party, although it is not illegal and not against the Electoral Commission guidelines.

I fear that more legal action is certain over Aston after the election.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lembit pops the question. Again.

Apparently, Lembit Opik - my favourite Lib Dem MP - is engaged again, this time to one, or possibly both, of the Cheeky Girls (that's enough to make me consider joining UKIP). Let's hope it works out better than his last relationship.
Lembit Opik was a drunken, tight-fisted, shambolic show-off with hideous clothes. He said he was psychic and that asteroids will destroy Earth. No wonder he told me, 'You mark my words. I'll end up in No. 10'...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Electoral Purdah

Most of us are familiar with the concept of 'Budget Purdah,' when the Chancellor of the Exchequer refrains from comment on economic issues in the run-up to his budget. There's another kind - that of 'Election Purdah.'

According to the the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity,

The period between the notice of an election and the election itself should preclude proactive publicity in all its forms of candidates and other politicians involved directly in the election. Publicity should not deal with controversial issues or report views, proposals or recommendations in such a way that identifies them with individual members or groups of members.
I raise this, because Martin Mullaney's scrutiny committee gave the green light to the A34 Red Route through Springfield. This has been opposed by many traders along the Stratford Road, running through Cllr Jerry Evans' ward. Cllr Evans is up for election this year and also has the luck to serve on Cllr Mullaney's scrutiny committee. He was also the author of a 'minority' report addendum to the main scrutiny report, the only voice amongst the all-party committee calling for

Now, I quite like Martin and Jerry, but this is a little naughty.

Martin, in his defence, says that
No Code has been breached here for the following reasons: 1) The Council has done NO publicity on this report. I've done it by giving a copy of the report to the press. 2) This is not a 'decision', it merely Committee business and purely advisory.

If Martin, as Chair of the Scrutiny Committee (nominally a council, rather than a party political appointment) has given this report to the press, then that qualifies as proactive publicity - it isn't a response to a question, it is putting the report out there. Furthermore, the code explicitly covers 'recommendations' - which this report certainly is. Martin continues,
all I can say is that the Scrutiny Committee officers were happy that this report did not breach the election purda law. I didn't put any pressure on them to alter their process. They followed Committee process and the Senior Officer in charge of Scrutiny was kept fully involved throughout that process.

Well, the officers seem to think that this is perfectly fine, but I'm still not convinced.

Don't get me wrong - this isn't a huge issue and I'm not so exercised that I'm about to go bleating to Mirza Ahmad (the Chief Legal Officer), but I do think that the Lib Dems haven't covered themselves in glory over the past week - John Hemming is STILL trying to defend Saeed Aehmed and the soon-to-be-defeated Cllr Ayoub Khan, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bright Sparks

On The Stirrer, John Hemming innocently asks if it is proper for the Respect candidate in Sparkbrook to be a council employee - as it has been rumoured. A good rule in politics is never to ask a question unless you are sure of the answer.

My sources suggest that the gentleman in question has handed in his resignation, but the rules state that you have to have served your 30 days notice AND cleared the council payroll by the time nominations closed - which takes a further 30 days. His consent to nomination form includes paragraphs confirming that he is a valid candidate.

Just to explain for civilians - you cannot stand for a council that employs you, although you can run for a different council. A Birmingham City Council employee could run for Solihull council. Anyone can run for parliamentary or European election - with an exception. The exception would be a politically restricted post - a council employee of significant seniority is prohibited from holding posts within a political party or running for any election. That's a complex piece of legislation simplified, but you get the general idea.

Now, here's the clever bit. John Hemming knows the rules exceptionally well and knew about this some weeks ago.

Leaving it until now means that the candidate has a choice. He can withdraw before Wednesday, but Respect can't nominate a replacement as nominations closed last Friday, leaving a run off in Sparkbrook between the Lib Dems, Labour and Talib Hussain (the former Bond baddie, turned Liberal, turned Independent). I know other parties are standing, but I'm not going to bet the ranch on the BNP, the Tories or the Greens coming through the gap and winning.

The alternative is even more entertaining - say the candidate decides to tough it out and goes into the poll and IS ineligible. He doesn't have to win, he just has to get enough votes to potentially make a difference to the result. In that case, the patented John Hemming Acme Election Petition Generator will whirr into action and produce a legal document. When this gets to the election commissioner, he - or she - can not only void the election but can also demand that the party fielding the ineligible candidate covers the costs of the rerun.

Anyone know how deep George Galloway's pockets are? We could be about to find out.


Latest story here on the Birmingham Post.

The candidate in question has stated that he left the council formally on the 23 March, having given notice in January. It has also been suggested that this is yet another Lib Dem smear tactic and I appear to have landed in the middle as a co-conspirator according to Paul Dale in the Post. Anyone who has read this blog for any period of time will know just how big a load of cobblers that idea is. My sources could be wrong and I may have made a genuine error in my understanding of the law - I'm not a lawyer (although I know a few). Anyway, as with all internet postings, your mileage may vary.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Lieberal Deceit in Aston

If Cllr Ayoub Khan has any sense of honour, he will announce that he will stand down from the council and will not contest the elections on May 1. If the Liberals have any sense of justice, Saeed Aehmed will never again be allowed to contest an election on their ticket.

The outcome of the Aston election petition is another stain on the reputation of Birmingham - a stain created by Liberal desperation to hang on to council seats by fair means or foul, even if it means inventing a court case. In doing so, they have contrived to waste half a million pounds of public money on what is little more than a vanity prosecution. The election commissioner, Timothy Straker QC, slammed both of the Liberals for
an unwarranted attempt was made by Mr Aehmed and Mr Ayoub Khan to suggest that Mr Afzal was seeking illegitimately to influence the pursuit of the case

and has reported them to the High Court. The whole case has now been reported to the DPP and to the police.

Amazingly, Cllr Khan - a barrister - claimed that witnesses had been intimidated by Cllr Afzal, but rather than reporting it to the police or even raising it at the start of the trial, he decided to wait almost two weeks before mentioning it - a decision that astonished the commissioner.
The petitioner [Saeed Aehmed] and Mr Ayoub Khan used “unrelated and peripheral events against the First Respondent [Mr Afzal]. This included a scurrilous and unwarranted allegation that he was involved in witness intimidation.

Further, Cllr Khan provided further evidence that was dismissed by the commissioner as
clearly no more than an unsupported and unsubstantiated assertion directed against Mr Afzal

Furthermore, speaking about council hopeful Saeed Aehmed - he of the name change, the commissioner damned him
I have formed a very poor impression of the Petitioner as a witness. In my judgement, having seen him in the witness box and observed him through the trial, I do not consider that I should believe any of his evidence.... unless it is either entirely uncontroversial or independently corroborated

From the Birmingham Post
Describing Mr Aehmed as a "very poor witness", Mr Straker said no medical evidence had been produced in court to substantiate his disability grant or his claim that for several months in 1993 he was drifiting in and out of consciousness. A series of boxes ticked on one of the forms indicated that Mr Aehmed had difficulty in going outside, moving around, taking a bath, climbing the stairs, sitting down and using the toilet. Mr Straker said: "It was being recorded that the Petitioner was, effectively, helpless. This, I consider, was never the position. "If matters were so bad why do the medical records not record such as the position? How is it that the Petitioner now appears healthy with there being credible evidence that at all material times he was an active man anxious to play a role in community affairs?"

Mr Aehmed claims that the NHS have lost the records.

And the dog ate his homework.

We deserve better than this. Resignations are called for - Tilsley can't stand by and say that thre is no reason Ayoub Khan cannot be a candidate. John Hemming's crusade against electoral malpractice doesn't include criticising his colleagues in Birmingham, for some reason. His normally vocal site is silent on the issue so far, although he was swift to demand the expulsion of Labour members accused of electoral malpractice. Tilsley - and the power behind the throne Hemming - want to allow an internal inquiry to sweep things under the carpet. They've had a very public enquiry conducted at our expense - what else is there that could be said?

Even the Post - normally sympathetic - is firing both barrels at the Liberals. Marc Reeves said
My paper will demand the resignation of Aston Lib Dem councillor Ayoub Khan, the cabinet member for local services, because - simply - we've had enough of this city's reputation being dragged through the mud.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A new SuperStud Liberal

Yesterday was April 1st and I was taken in by the story that Nick Clegg, who is apparently still the leader of the Liberal Democrats, against all the odds, has had up to 30 lovers.

Clearly we have an arms race amongst the Liberal Democrat MPs.

As we all know, our local self-styled SuperStud MP, John Hemming, has a wife to keep track of his liaisons and she claimed that he had 26 notches on his bedpost.

If John is ever to challenge for the top spot again, he needs to raise his game.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Be upstanding in Kingstanding

Another hot off the press story from the northern wilds of Kingstanding.

Regular readers will remember that last week, Cllr Cath Grundy decided to stand down when her term as councillor in Kingstanding ended this May.

Local sources have told me that she will now be the candidate again after all.