Sunday, September 27, 2009

Question time for the BNP

22 October will see the BNP Fuhrer, Nick Griffin, pop up on Question Time for the first time and Labour are putting Jack Straw up against him.

I'm in two minds over this. On the one hand, we've had a policy for a while of refusing to share a platform with the BNP as there is no point in giving them the oxygen of publicity. The logic goes that the BNP can only win as a result of this appearance - the detail of the argument doesn't matter to their supporters and fellow travellers. This marks their entry to the mainstream and by agreeing to debate with them, we only help them.

The counter to that is that the BNP have councillors, they now have two elected MEPs and that means that they can no longer be written off as cranks and nutcases. While it is true that Griffin and Brons only won because the Labour vote stayed at home, the fact remains that they are no elected members. Ignoring them, marginalising them only confirms their status as victims and makes them more intriguing to the voter, curious as to why this party is being ignored. It also feeds their own story of the 'Old Gang' of the three other parties working to keep this 'voice of the people' out and we know how much the BNP like playing up their victimhood.

Frazer Nelson has some interesting thoughts on this, following his appearance this week. I'm disappointed that we've put Straw up for this, as I don't think he'll be as effective as someone like Jon Cruddas. We need someone who understands the BNP on the ground and can connect with their audience to put a different point of view across to them. Jack Straw is unquestionably a big hitter, but he'll need to be very direct and tackle the issues without simply relying on calling Griffin and his party members racist thugs. Cruddas would have a different and, I think, a better approach - more of a streetfighter than Straw's patrician.

Nelson suggests David Davies from the Tories, which would be a good foil for Cruddas, as both are on the fringes of the front bench, but neither currently have a senior role, so it wouldn't look like Griffin was worth a cabinet-level opponent. If we are going to have Straw, then let's have Hague from the Tories, as he's a fine, highly intelligent and witty debater.

As for the Lib Dems, can I suggest Vince Cable or Charles Kennedy? Both are competent, respected and popular. All that then leaves is a fifth seat for the non-party speaker. Shami Chakrabarti would be an interesting choice, as she is reasoned, extremely bright and capable of fighting her own corner.

It could be a very interesting programme.

Economically illiterate or just irresponsible?

Osborne's planned cuts could cost us a generation of the unemployed.

Professor David Blanchflower used to advise the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. He is currently a professor of economics at Dartmouth College in the US. He is, by any measure, an economic expert.

So, when he says that
The time for cutting public spending is not now, not next year and not the year after... Unemployment is going to continue to rise this year and may keep on rising. If spending cuts are made too early and the monetary and fiscal stimuli are withdrawn, unemployment could easily reach four million. If large numbers of public sector workers, perhaps as many as a million, are made redundant and there are substantial cuts in public spending in 2010, as proposed by some in the Conservative Party, five million unemployed or more is not inconceivable. They could be our lost generation.

Anyone else remember the early 1980s and Thatcherism's powerful medicine - not unlike weedkiller in its effects? Osborne is completely bereft of ideas and so incompetent, he's planning to revive that, as it worked so well last time.
It is not hard to work out that, with unemployment rising fast, it isn't the right time to cut public sector jobs, wages or public spending for that matter. Mr Osborne, I really don't know which economists are advising you on this brilliant strategy to increase unemployment, but feel free to give me a call. Unemployment makes voters unhappy.

Not that this will bother the Tories - they've never been afraid of making others unemployed. They've got their family money to see them through.

As Mandy put it
Frankly, those who advocate this course are either economically illiterate, or irresponsible, or both. We all recognise that the next few years are going to bring real constraints. I have no more time than you do for airy-fairy wish-list politics. But neither do I have any time for shallow analysis, short term headline grabbing or Bullingdon Club economics.

Three more reasons why Osborne is not intellectually fit to be Chancellor.

BNP attend neo-Nazi rally shocker

The BNP are often accused of being closet Nazis and they get really annoyed at this.

Odd that. Here's a picture of their now-deceased founder. He's the one on the left - or should that be slightly less right. Despite an increasing resemblance, that's not a picture of Nick Griffin on the wall.

So, given the frequent denials of the BNP leadership, the last place you'd ever expect to see a BNP official would be a neo-Nazi rally, yes? I mean, popping over to a fascist conference in Italy is one thing for these conflicted nationalists, but actually attending a neo-Nazi rally? Never.

Whoops. Here's the Midlands BNP organiser Mike Bell in the sunshine in Possneck, Germany in August attending a rock festival organised by the NPD. Perhaps he was just dropping by for a pint and a hot dog - sustenance on a hot day.

Oh. Seems he's brought a small delegation with him, to judge by their natty range of BNP-branded clothing. Still, it might just be a quick, passing visit.

Not looking good so far, is it?

Nope, this is Mike Bell topping the bill as a guest speaker at the German NPD's annual 'Fest der Volker' Celebration of the People is a closeish translation, although that doesn't really carry the full meaning of 'Volk.'

The NPD's own report provides some details of the event. It is in German and my translation skills are not what they were two decades hence when I completed my German A-Level, but I managed to glean something. The festival attracted an audience of around 500, hundreds of counter-demonstrators and around 700 police officers.

Unser Feind ist der Kapitalismus - Unsere Lösung Nationaler Sozialismus!
Our Enemy is Capitalism - Our Solution National Socialism

und der letzte Beitrag des Tages kam von BNP-Aktivist Mike Bell.
The last speech of the day came from BNP activist Mike Bell

Really - neo-Nazis should steer clear of putting 'solutions' to anything, as those words have a particular ring to them. That also seems a pretty clear confirmation that this bunch are indeed rather to the right of the centre. If you have any lingering doubts, look at the banner bedecking the stage and compare and contrast with this recruitment poster.

Striking similarity, wouldn't you say? So what about the organisers?

The NPD is the National Democratic Party of Germany and has been under constant investigation by the German government for being a threat to the constitution - these nutjobs worship Rudolf Hess as a martyr to the cause, so you can understand the concern. The German agency tasked with protecting the constitution comments on the NPD thus
The aggressive agitation of the NPD unabashedly aims towards the abolition of parliamentary democracy and the democratic constitutional state, although the use of violence is currently still officially rejected for tactical reasons. Statements of the NPD document an essential affinity with National Socialism; its agitation is racist, antisemitic, revisionist, and intends to disparage the democratic and lawful order of the constitution.

They wished Obama well for his presidency, announcing that he was elected by a 'Jewish-Negro alliance' and was out to destroy the white identity of the US.

Germany still maintains very strict laws about displaying anything relating to the Nazis - not a great surprise, to be honest. So when one of their local leaders - Jurgen Rieger - wore a Nazi uniform to be driven around in a Nazi staff car bedecked with Nazi propaganda, he ended up being prosecuted for this minor transgression. Rieger is now out to try to create a museum to the Nazi 'Strength through Joy' movement which extended Nazi Party control to leisure and travel in the pre-war years. He's also been blocked from using a rural hotel to start a training camp for young wannabe Nazis - German police had to storm the building after gunshots were reported. Jurgen is reported to be a great admirer of Oswald Mosley.

On 'The Stirrer,' Mike Bell tried to defend himself. He claimed that he hadn't seen a single Nazi while he was in Germany. This is true - he saw around 500 when he stood up on the stage, representing the BNP to a bunch of fascists. Next time Nick Griffin and his acolytes nauseate everyone by wrapping themselves in the Union flag and drawing upon memories of the Second World War, can someone ask them what side they would have been on in 1939? Allied or Nazi?

You can always be judged by the friends that you choose to keep.

The BNP are liars shock

In Barking and Dagenham alone three weeks ago, there was a murder of a young girl. We don’t know who’s done it, her girlfriend was attacked inside an educational institute. Again, two weeks ago there was another attack by knives on the streets of Barking and Dagenham where two people were murdered.
So said BNP member of the GLA, Richard Barnbrook. If you don't believe me, have a glance at his video.

Unfortunately, the police report that there were no serious attacks of this sort in the three weeks prior to this report being posted on Youtube and elsewhere.

Barnbrook's defence was that his dyslexia and the loud background noise had led him to make what he described as 'unintentional inaccuracies,' but what you and I would describe less charitably as 'lies.'

Richard Barnbrook has now been suspended for one month as a Barking councillor, required to apologise to the GLA and will be sent for 'ethics training,' as he appears to think that this is a county to the north and east of London. Obviously, if he were to develop any signs of behaving ethically, he'd be required to resign from the BNP.

You will recall that this is the man who thought his 'art' video was not in the least bit homoerotic, even though it included
long scenes of men undressing and fondling each other, full-frontal nudity and a naked man apparently performing a sex act on another. There are also repeated scenes of flagellation in which a group of semi-naked men apparently whip a fourth semi-naked man senseless to the ground

and classic lines like
"Open-mouthed, I shall dream of altar boys."
Ahem. Nothing remotely suspect there. No. As Richard himself put it,

"It was an art film, end of story. It was not a bloody porn film,"
No. Of course not.

Just as oddly, Barnbrook sees no philosophical inconsistency for his demand that a Barking and Dagenham clergyman keeps out of the political issue of knife crime in the local community, but there's no reason why Barnbrook cannot jump into a debate in Germany about the siting of a mosque.

Anyway, back to Richard's more recent relationship with the truth. Details of the investigation are telling.
Mr Barnbrook said that he did not believe that he misled people as murders are happening. He was provided with a letter... from the Metropolitan Police Service in Barking and Dagenham which showed that there had been no murders in the period that he had asserted that there were and that the number of murders in [the area] were decreasing. Mr Barnbrook said that he did not trust the police figures... and had different figures which he would supply to the investigators. However, the evidence provided by Mr Barnbrook did not verify this.

Whoops. He carried on, though. Once he had sight of the draft report prepared by the investigators, he changed his story and said that
it had not been his intention to mislead anyone and the inaccuracies were unintentional.

Unfortunately for Richard and his web of deceit, he'd been clear with the investigators that
he knew that the statements were incorrect.

Trying to duck and dive when responding to the draft report, he decided that he hadn't actually meant murders...

he actually meant to say attempted murders and that this was not picked up in the editing of the recording. However, Councillor Rush in her response to the draft report provided new evidence from the Metropolitan Police to show that there had been no serious incidents in that period at all, which included anyone on life support. Mr Barnbrook in his meeting with investigators said that he knew at the time of the statement that they were on life support, and said in his response to the draft report that they were attempted murders.
Is it any surprise that he was found to have brought his office into disrepute?

Apparently, Nick Griffin wasn't too happy when the news reached his bunker.

Yes, I know that it is yet another Downfall parody. It just somehow seems right. (Hat tip to Andy Goff on The Stirrer)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I was driven to release the information - all the way to the bank

The story of MPs abusing the expenses system had to get out - I've no problem with seeing those who ripped off the taxpayer named and shamed, regardless of party, and I expect to see them removed by the party or the electorate.

However, I can't help but think that the story of the worker employed to redact the details from the receipts and claims isn't quite as clear an example of somebody wielding the sword of truth as he would like to make out.
The people who were working on redacting the MPs’ expenses were people who were proud to be British, and they were saddened by what they saw... Everyone in that room was of the same mind. This was our money and these were our employees, effectively, but no one could hold them to account... Pretty much everyone working in that room was being paid a pittance to do their job.

Which is why he then had the original data disc hawked around the media until someone was prepared to cough up for it. This servant of public interest held onto the information, keeping the cleansing sunshine away from the festering boil of data until £110,000 was forthcoming - although it is my understanding that a larger sum was originally sought.
Meanwhile the MPs were being well paid and claiming a fortune on their expenses, yet what have they done for us in the last 10 years? That was why I leaked the information: because the British public deserves better.
And here is the kicker. This public servant is bothered about the Labour government - why else would he make the statement about the past ten years? He knew that this information was going to prove most damaging to the government of the day, regardless of the colour of the politics of the offending MPs. And, incidentally, if the story is true, then enough information has been given out to ensure that the source can be identified - and that person isn't protected by legislation on whistle-blowing either.

I'm disappointed that our parliamentary system has been dragged through the mud, but the MPs have only themselves to blame for it - although I do think the Telegraph has made a few mountains out some relatively puny molehills on a few occasions. This information should have been released and those involved deserve everything they get, but for the source to claim that this was solely about the public good and getting better kit for soldiers, when it seems that a key aim was milking the information for a large pile of cash and party political gain makes the leaker guilty of the same hypocritical cant as some of the MPs involved.

Nobody comes out of this looking good.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Down, down, deeper and down

And so the pit of debt deepens.

So far, the Council have admitted that the forecast overspend is currently running at some £26 million - which is only a verbal report on the situation up until the end of July. As that was over £6 million worse than at the end of May, continued progress in that vein would suggest that at the half year point, the shortfall should be somewhere over £32 million. The major problem is that the £42 million of 'efficiency savings' upon which this year's budget was predicated has failed to be delivered in anything like the expected amount. In fact, around £30 million of those savings look like they'll miss the boat for 2009/10. Cllr Alden, a man well versed in the control of public funds - although as a tax specialist, he tends to try to find ways of minimising what the government can extract from the wealthy - wanted to sue the vastly overpaid consultants who are supposed to be locating and delivering these savings.

What is even more peculiar is that the new Voyager system was supposed to allow instant access to the current state of the accounts, but the only figures made available to the councillors date from July. Even more oddly, there isn't anything on the agenda for the next Cabinet meeting on Monday, when you would think that this would be high profile, especially as the whole 'prudential borrowing' scam appears to be reaching the end of the line of credit.

Now, either Voyager isn't working as promised or somebody isn't telling the whole truth. Either way, things look gloomy.

So, how do you think that the council proposes to resolve this shortfall?

A - Sacking the senior management team who have so evidently failed to deliver

B - Dumping Crapita and the overpaid consultants

C - Make long-serving, loyal workers redundant and cut services to Birmingham residents

Anyone prepared to bet on A or B being the preferred option?

Thought not.

Tory Cllr James Hutchings told The Stirrer that
Obviously certain jobs will be lost but the aim is to improve services. That is more important that cost savings.

But don't worry, council serfs, the management and elected members will share your pain. They will forgo their biscuits at meetings. Always leading from the front, our brave lads.

"Nobody told us"

You would think that perhaps the Lib Dem front bench would be most riled about abandoning plans to scrap tuition fees or perhaps imposing the costs of means testing on the child benefit system.

But no, they were more concerned about the 'mansions' tax,' which was described as 'complete codswallop' by an unnamed MP. It appears that Julia Goldsworthy, the spokeswoman for communities and local government - who would be expected to be at the centre of any such policy discussion - only found about the policy when it was announced on the Today programme. So much for the praise that she and other leading Lib Dem women got from the platform yesterday by Cleggy. She wasn't alone - other spokespeople have been annoyed at having new policies dumped entirely unannounced on their doorsteps. Apparently, Vince has had this tax idea up his sleeve for years, but has never had backing for it, until the moment that Clegg couldn't think of anything to grab the headlines and told him to go for it.

Steve Webb, the work and pensions spokesman (I couldn't pick him out of a line-up, but never mind, you don't become a Lib Dem for fame) criticised Cleggy's gloom
If Martin Luther King had been a Liberal Democrat he'd have made a speech called I Have a Nightmare; if Barack Obama had been a Lib Dem he'd have written
a book called the Audacity of Gloom

adding that the party did not need a strategy that
alienated every group in society by floating a raft of policies, many of which would not end up as party policy

The Federal Policy Committee, which will write the next fantasy manifesto has a majority of members already committed to opposing some of Clegg's proposals, so his biggest challenge over the coming weeks and months isn't to convince the public to vote Liberal, but to convince his party colleagues to back him.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh, the ignominy

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Over a third of British voters haven't even heard of Nick Clegg. Even worse for the prospects of those Lib Dem MPs in the south and south east, 40% of 2005 Lib Dem voters think that Cameron would make the better PM, compared to just 33% backing Cleggy. And no matter how much he plays to the Tory gallery, promising them a veritable orgy of cuts
"cuts that are savage and bold"

he knows that the savage cuts are likely to affect his MPs facing that rising blue tide.

However, he also knows that there are potential opportunities to take Labour seats by enlisting Tory voters to vote LibDem as a tactical vote, so the calculation might be that the losses to the Tories will be offset by gains from Labour and these tilts to the right are worth the effort - even if the party isn't happy. The danger, of course, is that by tilting too far, you narrow the gap to make the differences between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats entirely insignificant, a gap that has narrowed so far that Clegg felt that he had to attack the Tories, rejecting a call for co-operation and calling Cameron a 'conman' and a 'phoney.' Correct, of course, but if the gap is really so small, Clegg has to wonder why people should vote for the Tory-wannabes rather than the real thing.

The Liberal Democrats are the Tesco Value Conservative Party.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shock news - Lib Dems play dirty

Apparently, the Guardian has found out that the Liberal Democrats don't play nicely in election campaigns.

I was stunned by this, I can tell you.

The image is gloomy: what may once have been a pleasant wooded park blighted by a large pile of rubbish. Untethered dogs roam in front of three caravans and vehicles are parked carelessly on the grass.

I mean - using a contentious image for cheap local political purposes? Surely not the Liberal Democrats? Actually, it wasn't Birmingham's own brand of Lib Dems, but the ones in Highbury East in Islington and the offending picture has now been removed from their website. The article remains, which continues to paint as serious policy what appears to have been a (poor) joke on the part of a Labour councillor. Across the country, it seems that Liberal Democrats have made much political hay out of proposed or rumoured traveller sites -
A headline on one local party's website in Berkshire calls Travellers and Gypsies who arrived in the area "unwelcome guests" in a headline. The same site brands the appearance of another group as an "incursion". In Leicestershire a plan to create more sites is heralded as a "bombshell" and "madness".
While the LibDems are supposed to be committed to localism, this hardly ties in with their own Policy Paper dating from 2003, which notes
'There is a need for an additional 1,000 to 2,000 sites [for travellers], plus an extra 2,500 transit or stopping pitches, over the next five years’

and a traveller's website adds

The Liberal Democrats at a national level have supported the Government’s accommodation proposals... Some politicians at a local and national level, however, have not been so sympathetic

Candy Sheridan, a Liberal Democrat councillor in North Norfolk and from an Irish travelling family herself, explains
'I sit on a planning committee and whenever the word Gypsy or traveller comes in, you get hundreds of people coming to public meetings and everybody is goaded up to say no to planning permission.... Councillors who have signed up to creating new sites have lost their seats. What you have to do is take the responsibility away from local politicians.'

Meanwhile, over in Chippenham, the gypsies aren't under attack from the Liberal Democrats, but they are taking pot shots at the Tory parliamentary candidate, where their leaflets refer to 'the Conservatives' Devon farmer.' On the one hand, this is an absolutely accurate statement, as Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is indeed both a Conservative and a farmer in Devon, so highlighting his 'outsider' status is an entirely legitimate tactic, but he is also black, so even more of an outsider in a community where ethnic minorities as a whole make up around 2.5% of the population, less than a third of the national average.
'Their strategy is: foreigner, outsider. It's not exactly racist, but ...'

Intentionally or otherwise - and I'd like to hope that it is an accident - using that particular tactic certainly blows a dog whistle for those who want to hear it.

I did like the honest opinion of the Lib Dems in Cornwall, where one of the opposition candidates was described in a Focus leaflet as a 'greasy-haired twat.' Far better to get the opinions out in the open, I think.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Welcome to a little bit of your future.

The Birmingham Post revealed this week that those careful guardians of the public finances, the Conservative Party, have colluded with their lovely friends the Liberal Democrats to double Birmingham's debt in just five years. This amazing achievement saw the Regressive Partnership widen a £1.2 billion hole into a whopping £2.4 billion - and it is forecast to climb to £3 billion. That amounts to a £2000 debt for every single taxpayer and could see the cost of servicing that debt leap 1500% - adding £31 to every council tax bill within two years.

Even their own finance committee chair, James Hutchings, has described this as unsustainable. The Post offers comparisons with other major cities in England.
council debt in Manchester works out at just under £1,500 per head, in Nottingham it is less than £1,000 and just over £500 in Bristol and Sheffield.

Whitless - the figurehead for a number of vanity projects that seem destined to further increase the council debt - seems to want to shift some blame onto the Liberal Democrats, as he has to keep them on side and provide the pork for their pet projects. That said, precious little of the manifesto promises of the Liberal Democrats in 2004 have been delivered, so I can't see how he can justify that stance. Indeed, the Post slams him
the council leader’s almost messianic desire to back the biggest and grandest spending projects will always call into question his claim to be the overlord of fiscal responsibility

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg decided to speak his brains in an exclusive interview with the Post. He was quite clear that it wasn't the Lib Dem's fault. Oh no. Oddly, it wasn't the Tories either. No - the real villains in building this debt mountain is the former Labour admininstration.
The administration in Birmingham inherited an absolute mess from the outgoing Labour administration, which had blown a huge amount of money on schemes which weren’t really relevant to people’s front-line needs so it has been a real job to turn that around.

Utter cobblers. The additional £1.2 billion (and climbing) council debt has not arisen because of Labour, but solely as a result of the current administration. To say anything else after five years of rocketing debt - set against a background of generous, above-inflation increases in the government grant - goes well beyond being disingenous.

Labour left office in 2004 without ever having seen the benefit of those grant increases and having coped through over a decade of a Tory government pathologically and ideologically opposed to local government outside the control of the national system. Labour also never had the opportunity to use 'prudential borrowing.' The Tories have used it to fund Whitless' ambition, but have also relied on it to cover the costs of their headline grabbing 1.9% council tax increases, relying on the bubble of the property market to fill the coffers further. Now that nobody wants to buy the plots of land that the council is desperate to sell, the chickens are coming home to roost. To hide from that fact is political cowardice of the highest order.

Clegg offers an answer, though, and it is fiendishly simple. Just cut the salaries of every council employee earning over £100k a year by 25%. Let's just put aside the reality of taking an axe to salaries - quite apart from having to get the turkeys in charge to vote for that particular element of Christmas lunch. In Birmingham, eleven council employees earn over £100k a year. Scrapping their posts completely wouldn't get to £2 million, let alone fill up the £2.4 billion debt hole.

But that isn't the only bad news. It seems that the council is currently heading for an overspend this year in excess of £20 million - the exact figure isn't clear, but can be expected to exceed this by some distance. That translates to a 10% rise in council tax just to cover that overspend cost. Given that Stephen Hughes, the chief executive, has just realised that pulling out of national pay negotiations this year is pretty much impossible, thus dashing a cunning plan to save £11 million originally budgeted for a pay rise, the odds are that the real figure is north of £30 million.

Wait, I hear you cry - what about Business Transformation, the great saviour of the council budget? Well, we'd best not talk about that either. It seems that of the £40 million of savings due to be mystically realised this financial year, some £30 million are unlikely to materialise.

Ah well, they'll just have to pass round the axe and find some more business efficiencies, won't they? Anyone fancy closing a couple of libraries?

Don't forget that the Tories want you to look at local government as an example of how they plan to run the country.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A new line in political interviewing

One line in the Decca Aitkenhead interview with Zac (or Frank) Goldsmith intrigued me yesterday - and was a cause for a little concern.

Zac is, of course, another one of that coven of well-educated scions of wealth - he's got £300 million kicking around in his inheritance fund - and he's decided that he wants to have a go at politics and naturally feels drawn towards the Conservatives. So far, so normal. The curious paragraph is actually omitted from the internet version. She's just plugging his new book and adds that
Presumably he hopes that it will generate more interest than the longstanding rumours of extra-marital indiscretions involving a young Rothschild - the sister of his sister-in-law - a subject about which I am expressly forbidden to ask.
It is that last phrase that bothers me - 'forbidden to ask'. I can quite understand that Zac wouldn't want that personal dirty washing laundered in public and I can certainly agree that it probably isn't relevant to the campaign, but I am a little concerned about a journalist, providing free coverage across four pages in a serious newspaper (and one that should sell well amongst the target voters of Richmond Park) is limited in what she can ask.

Limiting interviews is universal amongst celebrities - they will be called upon to publicise their latest film or a book that they've had written for them, but the cringing interviewers will be given a stern talking to in advance by a PR person who will explain the precise limits of the interview. Should the journalist attempt to stray off-piste - perhaps by discussing the celeb's drink/drugs hell, then the interview will be terminated forthwith and that journalist faces being banned from other future engagements with the artiste and potentially a kicking from his or her editor. There are rules of engagement with celebrities, you see - and it is to Decca Aitkenhead's credit that she explains the imposed limit in this case, because we usually aren't told about the terms and conditions.

But that's for celebs, not for those who purport to be serious politicians. I don't think that politicians have the same rights to 'forbid' discussion in advance, because I wonder where it might stop. While it is not unreasonable to say that his marital situation is a private matter, what might be the next subject to be put on the banned list? Surely it is the job of the good journalist to ask those questions that the politician would rather were not asked?

Hell, maybe I'm just too naiive.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A bit more catching up

Stories I covered earlier....

If you remember, John Hemming was threatened with legal action by a developer over an allegation in a Lib Dem leaflet distributed across most of Yardley (but delivered to my home with the offending paragraph rewritten).

John claimed that an attempt had been made to gag him, but has caved in and issued an unreserved apology on his blog instead. Whether that is sufficient or whether a further apology will be forthcoming in the next Liberal Democrat leaflet isn't yet clear.


A bit of catching up

For various personal reasons, I've not had the time over the past months to devote to blogging or to practical politics in Birmingham, but circumstances are in the process of changing and I'm hoping to have a bit more time to put into things. So there's some catching up to do.

I've only just noticed this great new initiative by the City Council for which I think they deserve genuine praise - so top marks to Martin Mullaney and the Leisure Services team for making swimming pools and gyms free to all Birmingham residents on production of a (free) Leisure Card. This only applies to off-peak hours, but it is a great move and I hope that it is properly publicised and well-supported by residents.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to point out that funding comes from the Primary Care Trusts and thus direct from the (Labour) government.
Initial modelling suggests that the 18 month scheme may directly prevent up to 175 premature deaths, while 1,620 cases of hypertension may also be prevented. Over an 18 month period the recorded number of adults participating in physically active recreation and sports at least three times each week will rise from 17 per cent to 23 per cent - this equates to some 23,500 people.The scheme will also ensure that over an 18 month period Birmingham will move from being in the lowest quartile of local authorities in terms of a physically active population, to the top quartile.

What do you mean 'off the record'?

In the Naked Gun movie, Leslie Nielsen pops off to the loo and forgets that he has a live radio mic attached to his lapel, so broadcasting his performance to dignitaries and members of the press assembled for a briefing.

The lesson from that was that you treat every microphone and camera as live. Something that a Republican state assemblyman from the fine state of California - indeed the man who represents Yorba Linda, Tricky Dicky Nixon's old stomping ground - should have remembered. Michael Duvall had a fine record on family values, which was thoroughly broken when he revealed his predilection for liaisons with not one but two lobbyists and how much he enjoyed spanking one of them. This news came when he was discussing his extra-marital fun with a fellow-committee member, unfortunately for him in front of a live microphone.

Oh - he was also vice-chair (make up your own jokes there) of the "utilities committee" which was considering state legislation forcing energy suppliers to generate more using renewable sources. It is reported that one of the women was a lobbyist on behalf of the power industry.

Michael Duvall has now resigned with immediate effect.

The kind of news that Midlands Today doesn't bring you...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Indigestible soundbites do not make a coherent policy

Cutting the costs of Parliament, cutting back on ministerial cars and salaries, while scrapping the subsidised restaurants in the Palace of Westminster may make for good headlines, but they really don't add up to serious proposals for cutting public spending.

There are some key questions raised about Cameron's news-grabbing non-announcement. I don't see anything wrong with supporting MPs with £10,000 per annum to produce non-party political leaflets or websites to communicate with their electors, but removing it is aimed squarely at parties without the current magnetic ability of the Conservatives to attract funding. I know of one key Conservative target in Birmingham that has had over £20,000 pumped into it from Tory HQ in one year. Despite what people believe, Labour hasn't got anything like that much cash flowing into constituency parties - and neither have the Liberal Democrats (multi-millionaires like John Hemming notwithstanding).

Incidentally, as the Guardian revealed that you could - pre-summer recess - sit down for pea and mint soup followed by steak and kidney pie for £3.45 at the Terrace restaurant, can anyone else explain how the aforementioned Liberal Democrat MP justified £400 a month in food expenses?

Nigel Griffiths makes a sound point when he reminds us that it isn't just the members who eat there
"What about the thousands of staff who work and eat here too?"

There are always unintended consequences of policy changes and I doubt that Cameron has given a thought to those who aren't quite as wealthy as the Tory frontbench.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

An end to election nights?

Apparently, 40-80% of local authorities are considering counting the votes at the next general election on the day after the poll.

Now this obviously makes absolute sense in terms of having sufficient people, refreshed and rested, ready to deliver the result in a business-like manner.

But I can't help but think that this will destroy the nature of the event. We'll have results dribbling in during the working day, rather than having people staying awake into the wee small hours to get an idea of the colour of the next government. Many people with no other interest in politics will stay up to see the results come in, something that will be denied to those who have to work the next day.

For those of us who are more involved and actually get to be at the 'sharp' end at the count, there is something very exciting about the rush of adrenalin that keeps you on your feet throughout the night, the desperate seeking of information about other parts of the country (believe me, the count is the last place to be if you want to have any kind of overview), the thrill of the results being announced and the wild rumours flying around throughout the night. And then you stumble out into the night air - or more likely into the glow of the sun rising over the City and whether you are off for a quick celebration, a drowning of sorrows or just dragging your exhausted body back to bed, you know that you've been involved in the making of a little bit of history.

Delaying things until the cold light of the next day will drain away all that immediacy, the excitement and even some of the passion.

Maybe I'm imbuing this with more than it deserves and perhaps it only really appeals to the political anoraks, but I don't want to see electoral counts delayed. Get the results as fast as you can - news is always best served hot.

Friday, September 04, 2009

"We are the masters now"

Another day, another gaffe by one of Boris' deputy mayors.

Kit Malthouse has claimed that he and Boris have their hands on the tiller directing the Metropolitan police. Sources say that in private, the Tories go even further and
"say they run the Met and that its management team is under their control"

The enforced resignation of Sir Ian Blair last year demonstrates that they are prepared to use their muscle to evict senior officers who don't match up to whatever their political masters want. I find this deeply disturbing - we are lucky in this country not to have a politicised police force and Sir Paul Stephenson interrupted his holiday to defend himself and his service
I do not want anyone to be under the misapprehension that the Metropolitan
police service is under the operational control of any political party

It is rumoured that he plans to make a speech opposing political control of the police and the much respected Sir Hugh Orde, president of ACPO and formerly in charge of the PSNI, threw his weight behind police independence
If people seriously think some form of elected individual is better placed to oversee policing I am interested to see the details of how that is going to work. Every professional bone in my body tells me that it is a bad idea that could drive a coach and horses through the current model of accountability

And he's right. The Tory plans for elected sheriffs are just plain daft, for that very reason. It is right that politicians hold the police to account through police committees, but I think it very unwise to allow the level of political influence - by any party - that the Conservatives seem to have proposed. If London is truly being looked at as a model of local government, then this is a deeply disturbing one.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

BNP to change membership policy?

Afraid of being 'bled white' by the courts, Nick Griffin seems to be plotting changes to the membership rules of the BNP. Why he should be quite so scared of being bled white, when that's his plan for the future of our country isn't quite clear.

I for one look forward to the hordes of Afro-Caribbeans and Pakistani members flocking to the BNP to demand an end to immigration and repatriation of all non-native 'aliens' in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, this has kicked off a debate with the two-fingered nutjobs on Stormfront, most of whom seem to think that this heralds the death of the BNP, but a few who are dreaming up ways to allow 'ethnics' to join and bore them to death or victimise them and expel them if they look at anyone a bit funny.

He's definitely gone soft, old Nick. Only a few weeks ago, he was railing against illegal immigration into the EU and posing a suitable Solution.
But the only measure... which is going to stop immigration and stop large numbers of sub-Saharan Africans dying on the way to get over here is to get very tough... Frankly, they need to sink several of those boats. Anyone coming up with measures like that we'll support...

Meanwhile, a BNP candidate in this year's European elections has been convicted of failing to provide a breath specimen after he was stopped by the police in East London at 11:15pm for driving without lights. Robert Bailey claimed in court that this was all part of
conspiracy against me, my party and the indigenous people of this country
His brief had to resort to claiming that his client may suffer from a personality disorder leading to paranoia. Well, I'm surprised.