Friday, October 30, 2009

Whitby in charge

Mike goes from strength to strength.

Not only is he now taking personal charge of the search to find somebody capable of running the vital regeneration department of the City Council, Mike is also leading on negotiating with the employees. To demonstrate his commitment to consulting with these public servants, Whitless decided that the best way to announce plans to shed 800 council jobs (on top of the thousands already planned to go under the cover of ‘Business Transformation’) was to announce it to the press first in the form of a softball interview on the Politics Show last weekend.

He even managed a dig at the government – if only Gordon and Alistair had been as prudent with the borrowing as Mike, then things would really be so much better. Just a reminder – Mike has doubled the debt to something north of £2 billion in five years, money which has been used to fund assorted Mike Whitby Memorial Vanity Projects and also to ensure that the council tax stays at an inflation-busting level (against a background of record increases in government grant, as well). The council looks set for an overspend of £40 million – or more – this year and seems incapable of producing up to date financial figures. Then there are the little things like the £2.8 million overspend on building a poor and unreliable website that has managed to cost an additional £6 million in lost savings because of those delays and lack of functionality, with no apparent penalty against the contractor, who are now being lined up to take over other council services like planning. I’d hate to see things if Mike wasn’t being prudent.

Gordon and Alistair have been piling on the pounds to ensure that the country stays vaguely solvent following a catastrophic failure of the commercial banking system.

Paul Dale returned to the fray during the week, in a rather good article where he suggested that we should take an interest in the monthly scrutiny committee meeting led by Conservative councillor James Hutchings, who is

gradually exposing under-delivery of the local authority's ambitious business transformation programme... Coun Hutchings and his colleagues have spent more than a year attempting to wheedle out of business change director Glyn Evans precisely how these savings are to be made

I'm not surprised that Cllr Hutchings is having trouble. I've not had a straight answer to simple questions about how Business Transformation is actually supposed to deliver savings. As anyone who has had any involvement with trying to make savings in the business sector, that usually involves job losses, but the council has been working overtime to conceal that fact.

The Neighbourhood Offices are slated for closure as the process rolls forward and the council will simply pull out of providing services - scrapping the meals on wheels service is just the start of it. The plan has been to achieve this through natural staff wastage, rather than compulsory redundancy, but this is proving hard to achieve - perhaps the economic downturn is reducing the natural outflow of staff a little. Whitby has another solution
"We will be looking at the use of agency staff so we can control the number of people we employ”
Hang on a sec, Mike. Agency staff have the advantage for an employer of being available when required and equally disposable. However, this benefit comes at a cost – they are typically rather more expensive than those in direct employment. A number of departments have seen experienced staff slide off to become contract workers because the pay is better and the pressure is less.

The problem is that the forecast savings from the BT programme simply aren't being generated - but they have been included in annual budgets, so that departments have to fill the gap if the savings don't materialise as planned and that just means quick solutions, which translates into more job cuts.

I have a suspicion that the Business Transformation programme is being run by a particular sort of wizard with a penchant for smoke, mirrors and a bit of glib talk, but getting by on promises of a better future - as long as you don't ask how we get there or query why we appear to be heading in the wrong direction.

Friday quiz - Lib Dem or BNP?

If none of you are aware there is a proposal to build 17 flats to be used for people with "issues" , mainly homeless people , this could well include, peadophiles, convicted rapists, drug adicts and alcoholics etc this is to be built on the old Dan O'Connel Pub site right opposite East Park Nursery, Infants and Juniors plus the surrounding old people living in the area, several shops owners have said if it goes ahead they will not be renewing there leases has its causes a demtremental effect when the gyspies are there so this would be huge!...

A meeting was held on the 8th October and out of there own mouths they said they cannot garrantee that there will not be any peadophiles etc living opposite the school...

Also just to clarify no one as as problem if its to be used for people with disabilities, learning difficulites or old people and even women running away from abusive relationships but this group of people was not even mentioned it was more focused on the rougher end of the scale reguarding hostels and like i said to them without generalising the majoirty of people that live in hostels tend to be hyped up on heroin or drinking tennant's super at 8 in the morning! i personally dont want to be threatened or harrassed by such at 9 in the morning when i have a my 3 yrd old in the pram and my elder two with me!

(sic) (sick)
Is this piece of bile posing as a Facebook campaign run by
  • a - the BNP or
  • b - a Liberal Democrat council candidate?

Surprisingly, this shameful bit of populist bigotry is on a Facebook group co-administered by one Daniel Patrick Friel, who is also - amazingly enough - the Liberal Democrat candidate for East Park ward in Wolverhampton. I don't think he wrote it himself - the text on his website is slightly more literate - but he is still one of the two admins and must share responsibility for what is written on the site.

Unusually, this sees me allying with mild-mannered PragueTory who revealed the link on The Stirrer.

Local campaigns on planning issues - even on matters like this - are perfectly acceptable, but the tone used in that particular campaign is grossly offensive. The title says it all

No to the building of Halfway Houses for Scumbags opposite East Park School

In a typical Liberal Democrat commitment to free speech and democratic engagement, they close with

Also if your part of the PC Brigade please don't bother joining or posting saying they have the right to second chances and they have human rights and spouting this group is out of order etc.. your posts and yourself will be removed and blocked from the group!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

£14 million reasons to Be Birmingham

Sparkbrook Liberal Democrat city councillor Jerry Evans, who described the transfer of WNF money to social services as a “smash and grab raid” on people out of work... Coun Evans added: “This is the sort of ludicrous proposal we might expect from Be Birmingham.”
That 'smash and grab' raid on the Working Neighbourhoods pot of gold to backfill a £14 million pound hole in the Social Services budget was orchestrated by the well-known local firm of dodgy geezers, Birmingham City Council, who comprise the largest power bloc on the board of Be Birmingham. So, if Jerry (a councillor in Springfield, last time I checked) wants to discuss this 'ludicrous' proposal, then he might wish to raise that with the Chair of Be Birmingham, Lib Dem councillor and deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, Paul Tilsley, who works closely with the BCC chief executive, Stephen Hughes, also a board member of Be Birmingham. If that fails, he can always talk to Lib Dem Cllrs Ayoub Khan or Martin Mullaney, who share Sharon Lea, a Be Birmingham board member, as their lead officer. Cllr Khan is also the alternate board member if Paul is otherwise engaged. Failing that, a quick word with Lib Dem Cllr Sue Anderson, who has as her departmental lead officer another Be Birmingham board member, Peter Hay. Birmingham City council also provides Elaine Elkington and Tony Howell from their directorates to sit on the board, making up the six BCC members. The Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore also sits on the board – the Post claims as an observer, but I thought that he had voting rights.

Essentially, Be Birmingham is a creature of the City Council, with very little independent thought or scrutiny of its activities.

It has also gone rather further than a 'proposal' - a proposal that I suspect originated within BCC rather than within Be Birmingham as a handy way to backfill just one of the many budgetary gaps.

The money was never intended to be spent entirely on job creation programmes, as the original briefing note states

The programme is targeted not only at getting people into employment but addressing some of the problems that people experience in the most deprived areas
I can see that there might be value for neighbourhoods in tackling graffiti, but I struggle to understand just how spending money on social services fits into that context. Be Birmingham has been tasked to spend, spend, spend until the £115 million allocation has been exhausted prior to 2011, but has only managed to put £2.5 million into actually tackling unemployment out of the £57.9 million earmarked, as this budget breakdown shows

  • £57.9 million - To tackle worklessness including the constituency and neighbourhood employment and skills plans
  • £3 million - City Housing Partnership - Low cost loans, benefit check & advocacy service to vulnerable households
  • £3 million - Birmingham Health & Wellbeing Partnership - Reducing obesity rates and improving the wellbeing of older people
  • £3 million - Safer Birmingham Partnership - Junior youth inclusion projects
  • £3 million - Children and Young People Partnership - Supporting families and people at risk of worklessness
  • £3 million - Cultural Partnership - Volunteering & connecting city centre resources to neighbourhoods
  • £3 million - Birmingham Environmental Partnership - Anti graffiti action & street champions programmes
  • £3 million - Neighbourhood management in disadvantaged areas of the city
  • £6 million - Social capital/enterprise investment - Supporting third sector organisations deliver more effectively in disadvantaged neighbourhoods
  • £12.6 million - Local infrastructure support - Supporting constituencies to facilitate local working
  • £6.6 million - Be Birmingham partnership support - Supporting partnership working and developing the LAA
No mention there of spending £14 million shoring up Social Services and if it has been taken from the worklessness tranche of funding, then it is an even deeper bite of the funding available that should have gone to help people back into work, not sort out financial problems for an incompetent council.

No wonder that Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Perry Barr, called it 'an absolute disgrace.' One of the problems with the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund was that it was used as a local slush fund for politicians pet causes and projects. Putting it into a broader framework was supposed to resolve that, but all it appears to have done in this case is put the cash straight into the hands of the council.

But Cllr Evans needs to remember - as do many Liberal Democrats - that are responsible for the City Council and that means taking the rap when it all goes pear-shaped.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

BNP Councillor Quits Shock

Another BNP councillor has decided to quit his council seat.

Darren Hayward, elected to Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council in 2008 for the Camp Hill ward, is rumoured to have jumped before he was forcibly removed from his position for the schoolboy error of not turning up to council meetings.

The by election will be on December 10th.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ahhh, diddums.

"That was not a genuine Question Time, that was a lynch mob"

No, Nick. It wasn't. Lynch mobs kill people - the 'non-violent' KKK know how they work. Ask David Duke the next time you meet him. Griffin's whinging about how unfair Question Time was.

You were in front of a cross section of the British people, not an interviewer who is used to playing the game with proper politicians, not a bunch of your feeble-minded fascists and fantasists. For once, you were exposed and thoroughly bested by the British people - how much did that hurt you - the man who claims to speak for us? Even worse, a black immigrant woman destroyed you with dignity, disdain and pity. Dimbleby was on top form - the head teacher speaking quietly to a disruptive pupil and explaining just how much you have disappointed him.
Clearly you thought that you had scored points off Jack Straw by pointing out that his father - a conscientious objector - had been imprisoned for refusing to fight in the Second World War, while yours served in the RAF. Quite how that justifies your position or detracts from that of Jack isn't clear. You looked a twat - 'my dad's bigger than your dad' may work in the playground, but not in the field of politics. I do hope your father's proud that his son is so widely loathed. While we're talking about fathers, remember that David Dimbleby's father was present at Belsen just after liberation, so he saw just how 'Adolf went a bit too far.' And you wonder why he jumped down your throat for grinning like a loon?
Ah yes - the nervous giggling - I have never seen somebody so intimidated by being on a current affairs show as you, somebody who professes to be a politician. Scared were we? If you don't like the heat, stay out of the kitchen. You were pathetic and ridiculous.

So stop whinging that you were stitched-up and that the whole programme was a set-up. What did you expect to be the main subject of the programme on the first occasion that the leader of a deeply divisive and controversial political party is allowed to appear? Of course you were challenged - there's so much about you to question. You just refused to answer so many of them - declining an offer of immunity from the Secretary of State for Justice to allow you to explain your beliefs (past or present) about the Holocaust by making vague and unfounded excuses about being prevented by the law.

Your lies were exposed and you looked a fool trying to claim misquotation or even just flat out denying what you said on video. Yup - this is the video that Dimbles was talking about yesterday, with Chairman Griffin at an 'American Friends of the BNP' meeting, promising that his true nature will out just as soon as the BNP have control of the British media - then the real racial fun can start. You claimed that you were just trying to get through to people to convert them from David Duke's evil ways - but that was a fund-raising gig, wasn't it? You were after their money - so you either told them the truth about what you and your nasty friends want or you lied to get money out of them, telling them what you know they want to hear.
"The British National Party isn't about selling out its ideas - which are your ideas too"
How bad do you have to be for the staunchly-right wing Daily Express to run this kind of headline? Even the Daily Mail - still reeling from the Jan Moir gaybashing article last week, gave you a spanking on the front page. Although, given that it is the Daily Mail, that weekly column could still be offered to you.
Still, we know that your fellow-travellers and nutjobs will believe the lie that you triumphed and showed everyone the one true way. But then they've believed your lies in the past. I'm sure that some more will cleave to you because of your status last night as the victim, having virtually everyone in the room ganging up on you, but I hope that a few more will see your incompetence and bigotry for what it is.
However - here's the fear that I have.
Somewhere, there might just be a future leader of the BNP who is being very clever about moving up the ranks - he or she won't be making inflammatory statements in public or private meetings and won't have the baggage that Griffin does. Maybe I'm worrying too much about that - would it even be possible for someone to rise to the top of the BNP without leaving a trail of Holocaust denial and casual racism behind them?
Cassetteboy has a different view of the Griffin performance - summing it up in about a minute.

The £65 dress that wasn’t or how M&S spun and came unstitched.

As those who have met me will fully understand, fashion isn’t something that normally grabs my attention, so the fact that Samantha Cameron ‘dressed down’ in a credit-crunch friendly £65 dress from Marks and Spencer, rather than her more accustomed designer wear, rather passed me by. It appears that this was something of a minor sensation, as it showed how down to earth and ordinary she was and how they could demonstrate that “we’re all in this together.”

The Mirror then revealed that Sam hadn’t exactly walked into her local branch and bought it off the peg, but as M&S had sold out of this particular dress – originally fetchingly modeled by Myleene Klass, Mrs Cameron had done what any other discerning shopper would do and placed a phone call to the manager. I say the manager, but I actually mean Sir Stuart Rose, the boss of M&S. Sir Stuart demonstrated the customer service skills for which M&S are supposedly famous and launched a search throughout the land for THAT dress. In a herculean effort, all 600 stores were combed, to no avail. Just as all seemed lost, one was found in a drawer, but it was a size 14 and Sam is a svelte size 10. Clearly this was unacceptable, so the in-house M&S tailor set to work modifying the dress to fit. My northern comrade, Chris Paul, claims that this could mean that the dress actually had a supplier cost of £40,000, but that seems a little steep to me.

Today, The Times uncovered the real story and it seems that somebody was spinning a line to cover the original spin. It appears that the romantic story above wasn’t quite the truth. The search did draw a blank, but M&S went back to the original supplier to have them hand-make a one-off copy. This was then supplied to Mrs Cameron at staff discount rates – 20% off – for just £57. M&S still made on the deal – quite apart from the free advertising – as they didn’t pay the supplier for this special order, even though it had cost this supplier £150 to produce it. They didn’t even offer an acknowledgement or thanks for the work involved. Such has been the demand for the dress, that M&S are considering making a very similar outfit in a slightly different colour – but to add insult to injury, the order won’t be placed with this helpful supplier, as the company was removed from the supplier list earlier this year. I’m sure that Dave and Sam will be glad to hear that the firm has survived losing the M&S deal and now has an exclusive deal with John Lewis to supply a range of clothing.

Such was the concern that the truth might leak out, one of M&S senior executives, Kate Bostock, called Amanda Marshall Ltd to try to arrange a cover-up
“I want to know, plainly — are you going to the press? Because Stuart and I are very concerned…. I’m sure there’s something we can do for you.”

In a further example of how heavily managed the Cameroon image is, Sam started out the week as a size 10, but the buyer searching for a dress was after a size 12. Was the original spinner just trying to sooth Mrs Cameron’s ego or is this an example of celebrity numerical adjustment? You know what I mean - in the same way that several (usually female) celebrities seem to get younger every year, or at least stay the same age.

Sam isn't the only one with an eye for a bargain - it seems that the £3500 Richard James suit that adorned David during his conference speech was his for the knockdown price of £1185. Should that difference be declared as a donation?

While there was no reward for the supply chain, executive bonuses remain top priority, as - in other news - Sir Stuart Rose is apparently being lined up as one of the next generation of Conservative peers to be ennobled as one of Cameron’s first prime ministerial acts (probably only just before they get around to scrapping the Human Rights Act and allowing hunting again). Him and the high priestess of bubbling house prices, Kirstie Allsopp.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sorry, Jack.

My apologies to Jack Straw. I wasn't sure he was up to the job of taking on Griffin. After what I've seen so far, he's done a fine job in putting the intellectual boot into Nick - although his answers on immigration drifted somewhat. Top marks to Chris Huhne and Sayeeda Warsi for equally strong performances. Bonnie Greer has so far managed to put up with sitting next to Griffin, with the disdain just dripping from her - particularly when Griffin claimed that he only associated with a leader of a non-violent KKK group - but some of her comments were the most withering of the night.

Is there a man more 'misquoted' than poor old Nick Griffin? Some gems from tonight:

"Skin colour is irrelevant"

"David Duke was a leader of a totally non-violent Ku Klux Klan"

"I'm not a Nazi and never have been"

"The BBC is part of an ultra-leftist establishment"

Nick is not coming out of this very well at all. Even Dimbleby is armed with embarrassing quotes and Griffin simply isn't able to get away with spouting his well-planned lies without being challenged. He was unconvincing and shifty, with forced laughter as he was repeatedly skewered by the other members of the panel and the vast majority of the audience. He may feel that he leads a victimised racial group, but he can be in no doubt that he is part of a minority.

I have been on the fence over whether Griffin should be challenged in this way or not - whether other parties should share a platform with him. I understand the UAF view that publicising the BNP has a documented influence on racist attacks and I also understand that this seems to equate their platform of racial thuggery with the legitimate platforms of the other parties.

The problem for me is that some people have already levelled that playing field in their own minds - that's why there are BNP councillors and now two MEPs. People feel that they can vote BNP. We can't tackle that by ignoring them - they are an unpleasant reality. The only way that democratic politicians should deal with him and his ilk is engaging on the issues and taking them on. We have to have faith in our respective platforms - regardless of political colour - and stand firm against these nutjobs. Perhaps I'm just an idealistic liberal (note the small 'l') at heart, but democratic politicians have to take on these people with the the tools of democracy - reasoned argument to challenge their prejudices and lies.

I respect those who think otherwise - I understand the positions of Peter Hain, John Hemming and Salma Yaqoob, who have all called for tonight's programme to be stopped. In truth, I don't know if I'm right, but I do know that decades of ignoring the extremists hasn't stopped them winning elections. I also don't think that we silence the nutters by removing from them 'the oxygen of publicity' - censorship has a habit of being self-defeating.

My experience in taking on the BNP at the grassroots level - getting under the smooth veneer of Griffin - is that they flourish where there is nobody to vocalise local issues in opposition to the dominant local party. Wherever you have political dominance by one party, there must be opposition by another legitimate political party to provide an alternative voice - I've seen that myself in my own ward.

In the end, perhaps we need to have faith in the fundamental decency of the majority of the British electorate. The racists will always vote for a far-right party - they have nowhere else to go, but the BNP rely on the disgruntled vote. Tell these people that giving a protest vote to the BNP is just encouraging a band of thugs, liars and racists. Offer these people a real alternative - a party that listens, understands and explains in language not dependent upon blaming another race or culture and those voters will not support the BNP.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poking the lions' den

Cameron's having a go at his own party again, with this threat to impose all women shortlists on constituencies. Quite how that marries up with their plans for open primaries hasn't been clarified, but it has certainly annoyed many grassroots Conservatives who value what they perceive to be a meritocracy.

Don Paskini tells a story of Irving Kristol, one of the leading lights of the American right.
The talk turned to Irving's son, William Kristol, then Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.
With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of
affirmative action. 'I oppose it,’ Irving replied. ‘It subverts meritocracy.’

Cameron, of course, had the help of an unknown hand from Buckingham Palace, who rang Conservative Central Office to provide an unbidden, but highly influential reference.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nothing British about the BNP

Certainly not.

Even though this new campaign appears to have a number of Tories leading it, you can't argue with the main thrust of their argument.

The BNP have wrapped themselves in the Union flag to a degree quite unlike any other party. Just as the flag of St George has unwelcome associations with far-right groups, the BNP also want to acquire the Union flag as part of the symbology. Part of that means that they also want to try to embed themselves into key historical events in this nation's history - like the Second World War.

Then, Britain did stand as the last outpost of sanity in Europe, against a continent dominated and subjugated by a fascist ideology. The BNP featured a Spitfire - an iconic symbol of the Battle of Britain - in their campaign material. Ironically, of course, the Spitfire chosen was flown by a Polish expatriate pilot who was serving in the RAF as a means to get back at the loathed Nazi invaders. During the Battle of Britain, 303 Polish Squadron was the deadliest Hurricane-equipped unit in the Royal Air Force and the pilots were renowned for their courage and sheer determination to take down German aircraft by any means.

The greater irony is that while the BNP claim to celebrate the heroes who served this country, they can still find time to send their party officers across to Germany to speak at a rally run by a neo-Nazi group that particularly celebrates Hitler's onetime deputy, Rudolf Hess. As their sort were interned during the war, you have to ask yourself - whose side would Griffin and co have been on?

Because it wouldn't have been ours.

Nick hasn't forgotten the war - oh no. He threatens the senior officers who spoke against the misappropriation of our military history with war crime
"Those Tory generals who today attacked the British National Party should remember that at the Nuremburg Trials, the politicians and generals accused of waging illegal aggressive wars were all charged - and hanged - together"
He pulled back on that later in the day, deciding that those sort of threats were just his little joke. He just can't help himself, old Nick. He's just that kind of guy - a smile, a song and a racially offensive taunt.

Griffin is still wearing his little poppy emblem, despite repeated requests by the British Legion not to politicise the logo. He claims that he will take it off when the Legion launches a campaign to give injured servicemen in Selly Oak hospital free access to TV. We're used to having BNP officials lie - Barnbrook invented murders to suit his political agenda and Griffin has done the same. Why let petty things like facts get in the way of his opinions?

A spokeswoman said the patient welfare fund at the hospital paid for TV cards for the soldiers, who were given a £10 card every three days. She said pay-as-you-go internet access was also provided to military patients on request. "If a military patient has any reason to pay for TV cards or [internet access] out of their own pocket, they are reimbursed," she said.

But, if Griffin can deny the Holocaust - as he did a decade ago - then a simple little lie about wounded servicemen in a Birmingham hospital isn't stretching his belief too far.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Degenerate regeneration

Don’t panic!

Stay calm - Whitless has got everything under control!

Even though the departure of Clive Dutton was signaled back in July and even though this is a vital role leading up the regeneration effort in Birmingham and even though we need world-class leadership in that role more than any time during the past decade, there is still no sign of movement on the replacement front. Mike Whitby has had to take personal charge of this – he’s rewriting the recruitment advertisement as we speak.

This raises a number of questions.

Firstly – why hasn’t a proper recruitment firm been engaged to locate a replacement? At this level in the private sector, headhunters would be employed to find the best candidate. Properly handled, the investment in their time and effort would pay dividends further down the line.

Secondly – why do we have a cabinet member for regeneration at all? Poor old Cllr Summerfield can’t have much of a department to run, given that he isn’t allowed anywhere near the big projects, which are closely controlled by Whitby to ensure that the credit goes to the right person. Why isn’t Nev writing the advert?

Thirdly – why has it taken three months to even get to the phase of clearing the advertising copy? Unless the candidate is currently unemployed – which is unlikely – they will have to manage their notice period. Jobs of this calibre typically have a three to six month notice period, so even if an appointment was made today, the new director would not be in post until the end of January at the earliest. If the whole process is not to be hurried, I doubt we’ll see a new director sitting in that office before the start of the new financial year and it might well take a full year to sort out. Of course, that will save some of the generous salary provision, but the regeneration department will be left rudderless until then and the regeneration work in this City – vital at any time, but crucial with the economy as it is, will be affected.

But, I hear you cry, Steven Hughes is looking after it while he runs the council as chief executive. Has he really nothing better to do than run a major department as well?

If this is how they operate the small directorate management team, you can understand why the wheels have fallen off elsewhere.


Always good to see the Tories reverting to type.

One of the first acts of the new Conservative government (may the saints preserve us from such an event) will be to devote government time to repealing the ban on hunting with dogs.

Nick Herbert, their shadow environment minister, criticises the Labour government for sticking to a manifesto promise to ban hunting because it took up 700 hours of parliamentary time and required the use of the Parliament Act to force it through a House of Lords that decided to block the will of the elected house and of the British people, even though convention dictated that it should not block a manifesto promise from the government.

The unspeakable are in full cry again.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dave dithers over debate

Only a few weeks ago, Dave was accusing Gordon of dithering over whether to face him in a televised debate.
"People want more than the brief exchange of questions they get at Wednesday lunchtime. They want to see the leaders of the main political parties talking in detail about the issues that matter to them, setting out the policies on offer, and opening themselves up to public scrutiny"

Now, it seems that it is Dave who is frit. Gordon and Nick Clegg are happy to do a series of debates, but Cameron only wants one. He certainly doesn't want a debate on the economy where Vince Cable and Alistair Darling can chew Gideon Osborne into so many chunky kibbles and spit out what's left - because they will. The Torygraph tries to spin it as all the leaders squabbling, but the main body of the story reveals that it is Dave who is now putting up the barriers, scared that detailed examination of the policies might break through the thin veneer on top to reveal the yawning emptiness beneath, threatening the Conservative victory.

Soundbites won't be enough, Dave. Let's see some substance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lies and truth

Who made the poorest poorer? Who left youth unemployment higher? Who made
inequality greater? No, not the wicked Tories. You, Labour: you're the ones that did this to our society. So don't you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative party to fight for the poorest who you have let down...

However, if you read this report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, you find that while there is a superficial layer of truth, the statements from Dave should have been hedged about with caveats.

They also make the points
that direct tax and benefit changes made by the previous Conservative governments acted to increase income inequality, whereas those made by since 1997-98 have benefitted the poor by more than the rich....
although the performance of the last Conservative government is not necessarily a guide to a potential future administration, the record on youth unemployment was no better, and on poverty and inequality considerably worse, in the Thatcher and Major administrations than under Blair and Brown

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Parlez-vous francais?

Apparently, the Taxpayers' Alliance - that self-appointed guardian of public spending - has a director who is so closely involved with British tax affairs that he lives in a farmhouse in the Loire and hasn't paid a penny to the HMRC in three decades. This means that he even missed the tax-slashing antics of the last Conservative admininstration.

Three years ago, I dug through the published records of the TPA and uncovered their very close links to the Midlands Industrial Council, but there is another group keeping tabs on this shadowy group - The Other TaxPayers' Alliance - and they are trying to identify how this group is funded to carry out dubious research and get it into the press with a fake veneer of independence. This is a very opaque organisation which is making the maximum use of public information in pursuit of a particular political agenda - a Tory one.

I consider this group to be nothing less than a front organisation for the Conservative Party and John Prescott is exactly right to be calling for the BBC - and other media organisations - to issue a health warning when the TPA is described on air.

Interesting, isn't it, how many non-UK taxpayers seem to feel some right to intervene in UK politics, demanding their choice of representation for our taxation?

Aside from the TPA, chief amongst them is Lord Ashcroft, whose current tax status remains unclear, but who maintains tight control over the campaigns operation at Conservative Party HQ. Is it right that the man who wants to be our next PM is likely to be deeply in hock to a foreign resident?

And don't forget Guido Fawkes, who paddles in the sewers of British politics and peddles his brand of propaganda and abuse from the safety of the Irish Republic.

They all seem to push an agenda of small government and slashed taxes - fine for them, as they won't need the public services that this will affect. This group of individuals has an impact on British politics massively in excess of anything that they have a right to expect and much of what they do is done under the banner of non-partisan activity.

The Sun always shines on TV

The Ashes will return to terrestrial TV in 2013, as the government intends to restore them to the list of 'Crown Jewel' events, accepting the results of an independent review.

This is absolutely the right decision - they should never have been removed from the listings in the first place. While this will cost the ECB some money, the additional coverage of the sport will be welcomed. 7 million viewers saw the 2005 Oval Test match end in a draw, while only a peak of 2 million saw this year's climactic event.

One in the eye for Sky, there.

I'm sure that this has nothing whatsoever to do with Murdoch's shift to supporting Cameron.

No. Not at all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Good Friend of the Conservative Party

So said William Hague when writing to a Tory MEP about Michal Kaminski, the right-wing Polish MEP who leads the new European Conservatives and Reformers grouping in the European parliament.

Iain Dale tracked down Michal Kaminski and interviewed him for Total Politics about claims of anti-semitism and homophobia. Naturally, Kaminski denies it, but Craig Murray tells a story from his life as a diplomat in Poland in the mid 1990s.

When Alexander Kasniewski defeated Lech Walesa to become President of Poland in 1995, Kaminski was one of the right wing activists involved in lobbying the media to publish stories stating that Kwasniewski's grandmother was Jewish. That accusation became the focal point of the entire election campaign. The Kwasniewski camp felt unable to reply that the ethnicity of Kwasniewski's grandmother was immaterial; in fact, they went to great lengths to produce documents and witnesses to show that she was not Jewish. That fact is crucial to an understanding of the depth of anti-semitism in Poland. Even Kwasniewski felt unable to face it down electorally
Supporting Kaminski for a Vice-Presidential post within the Parliament was the price for his party's co-operation with the Conservatives in forming a new right-wing grouping in the Parliament after they left the European People's Party centre-right group. This in itself came about because Cameron rashly promised the exit in his campaign to win the Tory leadership and to buy Euro-sceptic support. All of that has put the Conservatives in bed with a rather dubious bunch of right wingers, rather than the mainstream. It was too high a price to pay for the Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who decided to stand against Kaminski and was promptly expelled from the Conservative Party - even though he actually won the election and now serves as an independent Vice-President, leaving the new Tory political grouping as the only one without a Vice-President to representative. It is this sort of sure-footed incompetence that can only bode well for this putative Conservative government of ours - and as McMillan-Scott explains, it was a result of lobbying by the ubiquitous Daniel Hannan, lobbying that had been rejected by three previous Conservative leaders.
But according to Hannan, one reason the Tory MEPs left the EPP Group was because David Cameron felt "it is wrong for Conservatives to say one thing in Britain and do another in Brussels". Yet this is exactly what is happening now with these antisemitic, homophobic, racist links.

McMillan-Scott quotes a Polish newspaper on Kaminski - that he

is not officially and completely an antisemite or homophobic, but at some point he recognised that these things can help him politically

indicating that the views that he has espoused may have been just window-dressing to take advantage of the conservative views of Catholic Poles.

Despite his protestations of innocence, the leader of their grouping in the European Parliament was denied an official platform at the party conference, being restricted to a fringe event - you don't think that the Tories are afraid that Kaminski's views might be a little too 'old-school' for the fragile new image of the party?

Last night there were signs that links with Europe's right were hitting the Tories' standing with voters. Support for Cameron's party has plummeted among the gay community, according to a new poll. A survey by found that only 22% of respondents would vote Tory if there was a general election tomorrow compared to 39% in June. Most of the voters who deserted the Conservatives moved over to Labour, the poll of 600 subscribers found.

That's a yes, then.

The Observer has been digging away at Kaminski and his party and adds

senior members of Kaminski's Law and Justice party have made openly homophobic comments including comparing homosexuality to a disease and bestiality. Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, the former Law and Justice prime minister, was reported in 2005 as saying that homosexuality was "unnatural" and believed that if a person "tries to infect others with their homosexuality, then the state must intervene in this violation of freedom". A year later, he added that he "did not want homosexuals to teach in public schools" and that he "would not want a gay cabinet member in your government"

It is entirely possible that Kaminski isn't homophobic - but he certainly knows people who are. Curiously, although Kaminski reasserts his opposition to gay adoption and never explains why - he just mumbles about it being a sensitive issue.

Interestingly for someone who serves in the European Parliament on the same benches as the confirmedly anti-Lisbon Tories, Kaminski disagrees with Iain Dale's views:

ID: What about the democratic side of the EU, because they basically blackmailed Ireland into supporting the Lisbon Treaty. You’ve been quoted as being fully in favour of the Lisbon Treaty.
MK: Not fully in favour.
ID: You think it should go through?
MK: I worked with the president who signed the treaty. I am not satisfied with Lisbon at all, but it was in my opinion a huge step forward, if you take into account that the Lisbon Treaty replaced the European Constitution.
ID: They’re basically identical though.
MK: No, it’s not identical.

But haven't the Tories been telling us for years that the Treaty is a direct match for the Constitution?

When not even their friends believe it, why should we?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Public sector opinion

Tom Reynolds writes one of the great blogs, telling it like it is at the very front line of emergency medical care. So when he writes, people should listen.
Dear prospective Conservative government.
Please fuck off you bunch of evil shitbags - all your expenses claiming, chauffeur-driven, second home owning membership should be ashamed of yourself.
Work longer, get paid less?
True, this doesn't compare to the plans of the past where you wanted to tattoo HIV positive people and put them in concentration camps but what sort of effect do you think this will have on the recruitment and retention of public sector workers?

But then - perhaps that's the idea! Increase natural wastage to save on redundancies (granted that the best and the brightest will be the first out the door to take the private sector shilling).

Tom we're all in this together. If you and five million other public sector workers have to take a real terms pay cut, that's worth it. Without your very real sacrifice, how else is Gideon going to be able to back up that promised £1 billion tax cut for 3000 families? Obviously, taking tax breaks away from millions of middle-income families will help, as will making sure that we all have to work longer, but you need to face up to your obligation to bear your share of the pain.

Didn't you get the memo, Chris?

'I hope that this isn't a political gimmick. We've seen too many appointments in this government of external people where it's all been about Gordon Brown's PR.... I'm always suspicious of the government's motives when it does something like this.'

After some re-education, Grayling changed his tune about Richard Dannatt's impending elevation to Tory advisor

'I thought this was a government appointment, I'm delighted that it's a Conservative appointment... bringing in people like him... is really good news'

Meet Terry. Out of context.

I play hardball with the media. One way is to meet them and have it out across the table. If that doesn't work we withhold advertising budgets, or use the press complaints process. I liken the relationship to that of the schoolyard bully. You don't get a bully to stop by negotiation; you knock them down first and then you're on equal terms.

Terry Brownbill, late of The Super Soaraway Sun, now advising Birmingham City Council on media relations. (Hat tip to The Stirrer).

Apparently, the quote was 'taken out of context.'

That's always a believable defence.

This is the same 'media expert' who didn't think that Adrian Goldberg (editor of The Stirrer) or Channel Four News (by some distance the best evening news programme on British TV) qualified as media eligible for entry to the briefing on the scrutiny committee report that slammed Birmingham Social Services on Monday.

The decision was also taken to exclude elected members and two local MPs, which is entirely unacceptable behaviour - although Lib Dem John Hemming now claims to have had a separate briefing from council officers.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Broken Britain? We don't say that.

'We don't talk about Broken Britain'

David Cameron - BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, 8:21am, 6 October 2009

Oh. Really?

'To fix broken Britain we shall start at school'
David Cameron - September 2007

'all on the rise in Labour's Broken Britain'
David Cameron - January 5 2009

'Nothing seems to antagonise the politicians of the left more than Conservatives talking about progressive politics and Broken Britain'
Chris Grayling - August 25 2009

'we can no longer afford to ignore the implications of Broken Britain'
Grant Shapps - September 1 2009

'create the responsible society and fix broken Britain'

David Cameron - Foreword to 'Repair - Social Reform' October 2 2008

Something smells bad

District Judge Quentin Purdy said Clement had "fragrantly and arrogantly" abused public money

Boris really should be more careful with his choice of senior staff. How many has he had to discard so far? It looks like a revolving door should be fitted to their offices.
  • Ray Lewis - resigned after an investigation was launched into financial irregularities and behaviour towards others
  • Tim Parker - resigned after it was decided that he held too many positions for an unelected official
  • James McGrath - sacked chief political advisor who suggested that older Afro-Caribbean residents should go back to the Caribbean if they were unhappy living in a Tory controlled city
  • David Ross - resigned as Olympics advisor after it was revealed that he had used £160 million worth of Carphone Warehouse shares to guarantee personal loans

Starting to look a lot like carelessness, Boris.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Another glance of the future

These 'New Conservatives' have really been knocking back the strong stuff produced by the neo-Cons across the pond, haven't they?

We've had the massive injection of funds from Milord Ashcroft (exactly WHERE does he pay taxes or have his place of residence?) into target constituencies where the candidate promises to follow Ashcroft's party line. He's now bought the previously non-aligned Politics Home website and the slightly more partisan Conservative Home. Purchasing the former caused an exodus of the non-Tory contributors dismayed at the new ownership and now gives the Tories control of a couple of internet powerhouses.

We've had their plans to impose political influence on the police, demonstrated by Boris' dismissal of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and their triumphalism at taking control - although the police are fighting back. The plans for elected sheriffs would just make things much, much worse and any dedicated fan of The Wire is well aware of the effects of a politicised police service - although that's not the lesson Chris Grayling wants you to take from the programme.

Last week, we saw them demanding more Tories at the BBC. Jeremy Hunt, their shadow culture secretary threatened

I wish they would go and actively look for some Conservatives to be part of their news-gathering team

And to ensure balance, let's make sure that we have some Lib Dems and find a BNP member or two as well. Isn't putting Boris on Eastenders enough? That's exactly the recipe required to ensure that the BBC maintains an excellent record of independence. Quite how the BBC is supposed to recruit more Tories without compromising equalities legislation isn't fully explained. Needless to say, Jezza quickly reversed his comment, but the seed has been laid about the future of British Broadcasting.

Are we about to face another burst of Tory whinging about supposed BBC bias? Norman Tebbit made a speciality of that during the 80s and we know that the right in the US make great play of the bias of the 'liberal media' over there, although the evidence is that there is no such bias at all. Indeed, the network that trumpets itself as 'fair and balanced' is Fox News, which has proven to be neither.

So will this lot actually be as controlling as Thatcher?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

EU turn if you want to

As Bob Piper points out, Cameron is trying to wriggle out of his little problem over Europe.
Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM, a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations.
David Cameron - 2007
If the Lisbon Treaty is not yet in force at the time of the next general election we will suspend ratification, hold a referendum and campaign for a No vote
David Cameron - 2009

I think the British people deserve a say on it. I think it would be right for such a debate to be held

I don’t want to say anything or do anything now that would undermine or prejudice what is happening in other countries, where they are still debating
David Cameron - 4 October 2009
Bob is exactly right - Cameron will continue the Conservative grind towards a federal Europe. We had no vote over Maastricht - which was an infinitely more Euro-federalist treaty than Lisbon - and no referendum over the Single European Act. The referendum has only been offered by Cameron as a sop to the anti-European nuts who make up a large chunk of the Conservative Party, but in the hope that everything would be cut and dried by the time the election came round - despite the fact that a poll for The Daily Politics showed that 80% of Tory councillors wanted an unequivocal commitment to a referendum in any circumstances.

Make no mistake, Europe is still a hugely dangerous issue for the Conservatives. Although the views of the membership and the elected wing of the party have shifted so much that Ken Clarke is firmly in the minority, the leadership grasp that to oppose European integration in any practical sense would generate massive opposition from the business community. A referendum would be quite interesting, as it could feasibly see the Liberal Democrats, Labour and most of the private sector economic drivers line up against the Conservatives and their 'little Englander' stance. The reality of the referendum movement isn't anything to do with the Lisbon treaty, it is more about withdrawal from the institution as a whole.

Recovery in sight? Possibly.

Banking sector liquidity has been shored up, public capital has been injected into weak banks, and troubled assets have been insured against further large losses. At the same time, economic activity is being supported by unprecedented monetary policy easing and sizable discretionary fiscal stimulus.

These aggressive policy measures have helped avert a systemic breakdown in the financial sector. Simultaneously, the flexible exchange rate has acted as a shock absorber, depreciating early in the crisis and shifting demand toward domestic production. There are now tentative signs that economic activity is stabilizing and confidence returning.

The United Kingdom faces many challenges on its road to recovery. However, if the authorities continue to handle the crisis successfully, ensure a return to a sustainable fiscal path, and use the current momentum to implement wide-ranging reforms in the regulation and supervision of the financial system, the foundations would be laid for a return to steady growth.

Not a statement from the Chancellor, but from the International Monetary Fund.

There's a lot that could derail recovery yet and we are by no means out of the woods, but good to see that others recognise the effectiveness of Labour's response to the economic crisis. It is hard to explain just how serious things became in the autumn of 2008. I've been told by a reliable source that the banks were seriously considering shutting down the ATM networks to reduce the outflow of cash, such was their concern about being left drained. Drastic measures were required and difficult decisions had to be taken. The Tories suggested that the best course of action was to do nothing, but the evidence so far is that this would have been a disastrous approach and that their proposals so far could slam the brakes onto the nascent recovery if they win the next election.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

It won't be the Sun wot won it.

I thought that Gordon's speech this week was pretty good. His opening assault on the Conservatives by listing the successes of the Labour government - our greatest hits - drew an instinctive standing ovation from the delegates in the hall. I think that it was probably in the wrong part of the speech - it should have been closer to the end, leading up to promises to continue to make the right choices, no matter how difficult they are. He majored on 'choice' and 'change' which are the battleground words for the election. Labour have to remind the electorate relentlessly that voting Conservative should be an informed choice, so that voters are aware of the potential costs - hence the segment where he put forward questions that voters should ask the Conservatives.

If you’re a family that’s feeling the pinch – don’t take it from me – just ask them the question. If you care about me, why is your first priority to give a 200 thousand pound tax giveaway to each of the 3,000 wealthiest estates? And if you’re one of the millions of Britons who loves our NHS– don’t take it from me – just ask them the question. If you care about us, why would you scrap the right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks? And if you’re worried about crime – don’t take it from me – just ask them the question. Why would you cut the Home Office budget by the equivalent of 3,500 police officers this year alone and then make it harder for them to catch the most violent criminals using DNA evidence? And if you care about a proud Britain – don’t take it from me – just ask them the question. Why would you put this country’s prosperity and power at risk by placing Britain at the fringe of Europe rather than at its heart?

All fair questions to ask and ones that we should keep challenging the Conservatives over. Change is also an important one, but one that plays to the Tory advantage. They currently have the lead on that simply because they aren't the Labour party and they are, for the first time in over a decade, really putting up a fight.

There was some policy in there, but the key aim of the speech was to lay down some clear dividing lines between the Tories and Labour and this it did. It won't win an election, but it was a solid piece of work from a man who clearly finds the performance required in these set-pieces something of a strain. At heart, he's a serious bloke who puts the job first and doesn't really get into these pieces of political theatre. It did the job of reinvigorating the party faithful who attended, but I don't see it as an election-winner. Any hope of election victory will have to be founded on long term hard graft, but we certainly start as underdogs, to say the least.

The speech was overshadowed by the pre-meditated decision by News International for the Sun to come out for the Tories. Frankly, this can't have been anything of a surprise to anyone - the Sun have hardly been cheerleading for us recently and with pro-Tory pieces like this in the Guardian from Rupert Murdoch's economist-on-earth, Irwin Stelzer, it really isn't a shock. Announcing it on the evening of the speech was clearly calculated to destroy the positive coverage that this speech would otherwise have gathered and that was the effect that it duly provided. That will probably be the high point of the Sun's influence, although I suppose we can expect lots more knocking copy on the front page over the coming weeks, but that's only to be expected.

The reality is that the Sun won't make the political weather - and probably never has - it is just a follower. For every election since 1970, the paper has backed the winning party, but this is more because of a need for the paper to keep in with the government. Now, with circulation down under 3 million, the heyday of the red top print media has ended, although the online reach is still significant. Not only is there a need for the paper to remain relevant to the readership, so that the readers still identify with the paper as a reflection of their own views, there is also a corporate agenda behind this. Jeremy Hunt may proclaim otherwise, but electing a Tory government could be great business for News International and the Sky media arm in particular, as the Tories can be expected to apply pressure on the BBC to pull back from its category-killer role in certain areas of media, especially on-line. The past few weeks has seen a fairly steady stream of releases from the Tory's shadow culture secretary, all firing warning shots across the bows of Aunty Beeb. Wonder why that could be top of his agenda at the moment? And exactly why was the Conservative mayor of London shoe-horned into an appearance on Eastenders, when his Labour predecessor was excluded twice? Actually the most peculiar thing about Boris' visit to Walford was how poor the dialogue was and how uncomfortable he seemed on screen, even playing himself, which is a characterisation he's honed over a good few years. You may well ask why this appearance was scheduled for the conference season at all, when it could have fitted in over the summer?