Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ayo Gurkhali!

I don't do this often, but I'm pleased that parliament has voted to support the right of Gurkha soldiers to remain in the UK. Labour did the right thing in allowing those who had served after 1997 to remain in this country, but that didn't go far enough. The changes announced last week only came after a long, expensive and unnecessary legal campaign and they didn't go far enough - the terms even seemed insulting to generations of brave young men who have left their villages to provide loyal service to a far-off country in battles around the globe. We should count ourselves lucky that these men chose to serve in our armed forces and their sacrifice is best served by offering them decent terms to take up residence in this country.

We owe them that, at least.

The government got this one wrong and parliament has forced a correction.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

'Slasher' Anderson to strike again?

Cllr Anderson may be about to come in for yet another kicking in the media, if rumours are to be believed about plans to close a third of the council-operated day care facilities for adults with learning difficulties in an desperate and ill-considered attempt to make short-term cost savings without real thought for the effect on service users.

More will come to light on this story...

Free(bie) South Africa!

So David Cameron was another one who took the Strategy Network International shilling, was he?

SNI was a front organisation for the apartheid regime in South Africa, supported by various mining, finance and defence interests in Southern Africa and specialised in inviting MPs and others on all-first-class expenses paid trips to the tribal homelands, where then South African government saw fit to dump black people.

Others known to have been involved with SNI include MPs Neil Hamilton and Michael Colvin, who both got into trouble for not declaring paid 'consultancies' with that organisation. Derek Laud, later to gain notoriety as a contestant on Big Brother, went along with Dave. Which must have been fun for both of them. Laud is infamous for his membership of the extremely right-wing Tory group, the Monday Club (which at one point called for repatriation to become party policy).

This revelation doesn't indicate racism on Cameron's part - I just think it shows extraordinarily bad judgement on his part, to take advantage of a freebie holiday without considering that it was being paid for by a lobbying group close to (at the very least) the vile apartheid government. Of course, the PM at the time was known to be opposed to sanctions against the regime and Cameron has now apologised for the policy that he and his party had at the time.

Just another misjudgement from Dave on his path to the top.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

£20 million - not out

But hey, at least the elderly folks can rest easily, knowing that their cash will be going to a good cause after Whitless rubberstamped a £20 million investment in Edgbaston cricket ground and then disappeared off to the ballet in London together with the cabinet member for leisure services to avoid being questioned over it by his elected colleagues.

The scrutiny committee took umbrage at this high-handed treatment of their call-in of this decision and immediately ruled it to be a 'no ball', forcing the Cabinet to think again. A far more serious threat to the great Edgbaston Giveaway came from the planning committee, which blocked the £32 million proposals and sent the Bears back to the drawing board.

No wonder Lynne Jones has proposed that the £20 million could be better spent on funding new council houses for the people of Birmingham sat on the everlasting waiting list.

"I warn you not to grow old" - Part II

After suggesting to local residents that they might like to pay £584 extra a year for a privatised frozen meals on wheels service, Cllr Sue Anderson now thinks that those elderly people who contribute towards the cost of their council care homes should also pay a little more.

People with physical disabilities UP 26% to £600 per week from £475
People with learning disabilities UP 30% to £800 per week from £617
People with mental health needs UP 12% to £550 per week from £492
Older people with no special needs UP 7% to £525 per week from £490

And if you are an adult that happens to have more than £24,000 in savings, don't even think about short-stay residential care - that will set you back £525, up an eyewatering 350% from the current £146 per week.

These are massive increases in costs and will hit about 2000 people - over half of the residents in the council's care. Far more will be hit by the thumping increases in prices of meals or snacks in the day care centres, which have rocketed by 15%-40% as they aim to set prices comparable with eating in a restaurant or hotel.

And Cllr Anderson thinks this is fair and reasonable.

In almost the same breath, she has told the private sector providers who offer care facilities where the council foots the bill that they can expect to receive a whopping 1% increase in their payments this year - just 49p a day more for a single room. Unsurprisingly, many of them are reconsidering their relationship with the council.

We've seen charges rise across the City - wherever the Tory/Liberal Regressive Partnership can milk the service user, they've been happy to slap on these stealth taxes. The cost of dying in Birmingham is the highest in the West Midlands, as cemetary charges have been quietly hiked over the past few years.

Yet, you wonder if these increases are actually a plan to drive business away from the council and into the private sector. We know that owing to an unfortunate collapse in the property market, the planned construction of new elderly people's villages in Birmingham has been scrapped, even though existing homes are still earmarked for closure. Perhaps the plan is to encourage those users who do currently contribute towards their care to move outside the council system, so reducing the need for the council to provide care for them.

Everyone's a winner.

Apart from the elderly residents.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mr Toad Gets His Way

Hands up if you're stunned by the decision from Cllr Len 'The Motorist's Friend' Gregory to permanently remove the bus lanes from the Tyburn Road.


Me neither.

When those lanes were suspended, in one of the first vandalistic acts of this Tory council, it led to a 15% drop in bus use and an 11% reduction in punctuality on buses using that route (not surprising, really). As it happens, I think that putting a permanent bus lane in on that route was a mistake - a better option would have been a peak-time only lane, as used elsewhere in the City quite effectively. But when that was proposed last year by Labour's Cllr Kath Hartley and supported by Lib Dem Cllr Martin Mullaney (currently enjoying an enforced month on the political sidelines), who also happens to chair the Transportation Scrutiny Committee, it was ignored by the Cabinet Member for Cars.

The best news is that removing the evidence of the bus lanes is going to set us back a cool £250,000 (or possibly more). Shame that Len can't find a few more quid to put right the crumbling state of Birmingham's roads - the £4 million announced a few weeks ago won't touch the sides of the potholes and cracks across our City.

Oddly, though, Birmingham Council will continue to give some car users priority access to the A47 Spine Road. This road suffers from much less peak hour congestion and allows cars with more than one occupant to use the dedicated lane during peak hours. The Tory/Lib Dem council view seems to be, that if you are able to afford a car, then you clearly deserve priority over common bus users.

Perhaps they are merely channelling their heroine, one Margaret Hilda Thatcher, who claimed in the 70s that
'nothing must stand in the way of the great car economy'
and then in 1986, that
'a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure'
Shame they've not moved on. One of their dinosaurs, of course, is the legend that is Tory Cllr Keith Barton, who knows better than the mass of scientific opinion - claiming that we can't predict the weather three days ahead, let alone forecast longer-term change, or the Tory scientific powerhouse Cllr Len Clark, who has accused the Liberal Left of inventing climate change for political gain.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Progressive blogging

I'd like to thank Derek Draper for the contribution that he's made to Labour. That increased Tory lead demonstrates how effective his blogging skills have been. Top marks Derek. Really. You can stop helping now.

On the up side, theres an interesting statement by a group of progressive bloggers on the Liberal Conspiracy site, proposing what is almost a charter for leftish blogging. I don't claim that I'll always manage to adhere to the ideals, but they are a starting point. If only Derek had been given a copy of this.

Bear defecates in woods shock

In a shock move, the BNP has admitted that its membership includes "oddballs", "Walter Mitty characters", "compulsive liars" and "born troublemakers."

Actually, we knew that already, but it is nice to have it confirmed from the very heart of the beast. Also good to know that the party hierarchy - such as it is - has such a high opinion of the membership. Curiously, the handbook also adds that

"the BNP does not allow members or units to run websites or blogs... which give the impression of being official BNP operations"

This is odd, because there is an intermittent blog called the Birmingham Patriot (sic), which includes pictures of BNP events and publicises their publications and their local leaders, including Simon Darby, who tops the West Midlands BNP list for this June's European elections. Yet the BNP's South Birmingham organiser, one Mike Bell, admitted on The Stirrer that
the whole site is new to me (and i appear on it too).I can't therefore deny or confirm if it is an officia Bnp site or not.

Obviously, the site should disappear forthwith, as official BNP policy is as it does not allow them to run such sites, members should instead disguise their true allegiance and
set up political sites which appear to be totally independent of any political party, including ours

Why? Because these
apparently independent sites exposing the wrongdoings and failings of the old parties and making subtly favourable reference to the BNP, will be much more attractive and convincing to the wider public than sites which are clearly ours

Well, we wouldn't want people to get any idea of the truth about the BNP, now would we?

Meanwhile, Simon has been off to Italy to hob nob with fellow fascists, including an Italian MEP with a conviction for associating with members of the fascist terror group that blew up Bologna railway station in 1980 - still the biggest postwar terror attack in Europe. A member of the BNP associating with thugs and terrorists? Home away from home.

Simon gets around a bit, for when he's not running around the West Midlands spreading hate in a truck or chatting with fascists, he found time to meet up with 'Nasty' Nick Griffin to take advantage of the weekend's St George's Day parade in Sandwell, demonstrating that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and taking maximum political advantage of a non-political event.

Incidentally, in a rare move on my part, I commend to you to the BNP website at the moment, where you have the opportunity to bid for a hand drawn portrait of Nick Griffin (I kid you not) that not even the Franklin Mint would dare to sell (if they were interested in starting a line in fascist memorabilia). Currently under offer at just £228, it would make an ideal addition to any dartboard.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Has Draper quit yet?

Because he should.

Considering using allegations about the mental health of an opponent's wife leaves the line of decency miles behind. Similarly, whether or not David Cameron may have had a sexually transmitted disease during his student days is entirely a matter for him. I'm not sure about the allegations regarding two Tory MPs having a fling - that would only be a relevant issue if hypocrisy came into play. The Gideon Osborne pictures would add to the general entertainment of the nation, but I'm not sure that they would enhance the Labour case very much. (If, of course, any of this is true in any way at all).

The strongest storyline is alleging that a Tory MP is advancing his partner's business interests through use of Commons facilities without declaring the connection. That's fair game and of public interest - if it can be evidenced.

Frankly, guys, if this is going to be the main push of the election campaign, then we might as well start planning for opposition, because we'll deserve no better.

We've got good arguments to make on policy issues, but wading through the same sewers as Guido Fawkes - who proclaims his loathing of all politicians, but is comfortably settled on a pro-Tory agenda - isn't the place we should be and it isn't the place that the public want their politicians to be. If you start throwing crap around, don't be surprised it some of it sticks to you and the people decide that none of you are up to the job.

Draper wasn't elected as the leader of the Labour blogosphere, nor did he assume that 'leadership' as a result of being better than the rest - there are plenty who write better than he does, some of whom appear in the list of bloggers to the right of this article.

We certainly need to sharpen up our online approach, but if the top echelons of the party think that Draper and this childish behaviour is the answer, then I would suggest that they have yet to fully understand the question.

Time to move on, Derek.

Let's start getting it right.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mr Pot, meet Mr Kettle

Now, I'm not going to defend smears as a political weapon - we should be able to put a better case to the electorate rather than just relying on negative campaigning (which is of dubious value, to say the least). A candidate's personal life is only relevant if it highlights hypocrisy, illegality or they put it into the firing line themselves.

For example, many of my readers will remember the fun I had with John Hemming's complicated lovelife just after the last general election. I had heard rumours of something like that in the weeks prior to the election, but I only went with the story once the man himself had put it into the public arena. If someone told me that Sir Bufton Tufton, the famous MP for Anytown - who had publicly railed against the evils of homosexuality - was actually a regular on the gay scene and rarely seen without a young man on his arm, then I would consider that a hypocrisy worthy of revelation. If Sir Bufton was breaking the law, then that would be reasonable - as long as I could evidence the claims and defend myself against the inevitable libel action. As an example, I don't think that the publication of Max Mosley's sexual predilections advanced the cause of human knowledge or can remotely be justified under either of those two latter tests.

Now, I don't know what the allegations made by Damian McBride were and I'm not going to defend any nasty little smears and lies, even about our opposition - not even Nadine Dorries, no matter how much I dislike her and her views. I don't know if they were pushed to Derek Draper, who appears to have become the voice of the Labour blogosphere (I didn't vote for him) for leaking and wider publication or if they were just passed on as a bit of canteen gossip. I'd certainly condemn any smears or revelations of private lives that did not meet my key tests of hypocrisy or illegality. I think that McBride had to go - either by falling on his sword or by dismissal for what has to be a gross breach of the government IT use policy.

However, to have Paul Staines - Guido Fawkes - setting himself up as some sort of judge and jury on smearing politicians REALLY sticks in my throat. He's allowed and encouraged grossly abusive and offensive comments about (predominantly) Labour politicians on his site for years - Tim Ireland over at Bloggerheads makes the point most effectively, as usual.
Any outrage you hear from Paul Staines and his followers is bound to be fabricated, as they've quietly tolerated repeated smears on the website and elsewhere for years.
Staines' bot-like dittoheads can be relied upon to roll out the usual range of cobblers about Labour in adulatory support of the bile that Staines spews out against those not in full support of his particular libertarian agenda. And now this man is taking the high moral ground about obscenity and rumour?

And, a minor point - how DID Staines get his grubby little fingers on the emails?

We don't need to paddle in the same sewers as Guido and his ilk - leave them to it.