Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LibDems still making promises they can't keep

Ayoub Khan, dismissed by the Aston electorate in May, is in the running to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Police & Crime Commissioner on Nov 15, assuming he wins the race to be nominated as their candidate. It is a race in which he is the sole entrant, so he's probably in with a reasonable chance.

His big policy announcement at last night's Birmingham Chamber of Commerce hustings meeting was that he will target the police to respond within five minutes of an emergency call.

Given the cuts imposed by the government that he supports, which will see almost 1200 police officers and over 100 PCSOs leave the service, this looks like a pipe dream at best. Especially as the service couldn't make the ten minute response target, so now works to a fifteen minute target.

Will officers be pushed to drive faster to incidents? Will all response vehicles be single crewed, ensuring that the initial response arrives on scene within the target time, but the officer then waits for backup to arrive before intervening?

Or is this just a vague promise from a candidate that will face a struggle to retain his deposit and knows that he will never have to keep it?

Clegg tells opponents to'Vote Labour'

There are a group of people - they are perfectly free to do this in a free democratic society - who like to throw stones from the sidelines, who like to be associated with causes where there’s never a difficult decision needs to be made, who don’t actually like parties being in government. And who always scream ‘betrayal’ when any party goes into government.  
“In other words, people who like protest but not the reality of power. 
“And I make no apology of saying to those people, we are not the party for you. If people want just protest politics, if they want a sort of ‘I don’t like the world let me get off” party, they’ve got one. It’s called the Labour Party.”
Frankly, this is beyond parody from the leader of a party that for decades has been the resting place for voters who want to cast a safe protest vote for a party that has resolutely avoided government. 
The Labour Party is a party of government. We had thirteen years in government nationally and we've just got back into government in Birmingham, ousting a failed Liberal Democrat/Tory administration. If you want to see the realities of power, look at local government trying to cope with Clegg's cronies in power nationally. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Handy facts on housing

Thanks to @joehalewood for digging these facts out - they are relevant to ongoing debates over housing and housing costs and I make no apology for lifting his blog post wholesale:

The COntinuous REcording (CORE) statistics for 2011/12 have just been released on the CLG website and make interesting reading

Did you know?
  • Average social rent is £76 per week or £329 per calendar month?
  • Average HA rent is £81 per week and £351 per month
  • Average ‘affordable rent’ is £110 per week and £477 per month
  • Average market rent is £163 per week and £706 per month
  • 20.88% of social housing tenants are unemployed
  • 29.48% of social housing tenants are EMPLOYED! – So there are 3 employed social housing tenants to every 2 unemployed!!
  • 94% of social housing tenants are UK Nationals (Less than 1% of all the housing in the UK is social housing given to foreigners)
  • Only 35% of ‘affordable rent’ tenancies are new build – 65% are not!
  • Shapps ‘affordable rent’ panacea has seen just 1592 of his planned 170,000 units built (0.93% of his target and so 99.07% to go!!)
The cost figures above make startling reading as they reveal :
  • Market rent is 114% higher than social rent;
  • Market rent is 101% higher than housing association rent;
  • Affordable (sic) rent’ is an increase of 45% to social rent level

Monday, September 24, 2012

Back to the future with Matt Bennett

Our Tory candidate for West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner put a leaflet out in Birmingham Ladywood which includes his priorities for policing.

Apart from noting that he doesn't promise to protect core policing from creeping privatisation, protect our neighbourhood police teams or our police community support officers, he does promise to introduce a contract with the public.

I can support that element of his programme. Indeed, it is a Labour policy, as the last government created something called the Policing Pledge, which laid down exactly what you can expect from the police.

One of this government's first acts was to abolish the Policing Pledge, which Theresa May announced on the 29 June 2010. Back then, she said:
I know that some officers like the policing pledge, and some, I’m sure, like the comfort of knowing they’ve ticked boxes. But targets don’t fight crime; targets hinder the fight against crime
So, according to his own Home Secretary, the Tory candidate for the police commissioner post will be hindering the fight against crime. Why does he know better than his own Home Secretary?

It isn't his fault - it's his background.

Boris Johnson thinks that people who swear at police officers should expect to be arrested. David Cameron thinks that they can be Chief Whip. I agree with Boris.

It is also a classic example of how not to handle a story. It started out so well - Mitchell apologised promptly on Friday night as the story broke. If he had left it at that, the story would have died a death over the weekend and would have been nothing more than a footnote that Labour would have rolled out occasionally to beat the Tories over being toffs. His error was to move past a simple apology and deny the specific words used - without explaining what he did say that now necessitated an apology. His non-statement this morning, dragging live OB crews to the door of the Cabinet Office for him to repeat on camera exactly what he said last week, has merely fuelled the fire. At the start, I didn't think it would be an event that could precipitate a resignation, but now, I'm not so sure.

BBC Radio WM have been trying to find a Tory MP to defend their local colleague and Chief Whip, but nobody has been prepared to put their head above the parapet. They initially had agreement from Richard Shepherd, MP for Aldridge Brownhills to come on, but he's now unavailable. Even the Tory candidate for Police & Crime Commissioner is too busy to comment on air, as he has non-political stuff to do today - although he has been engaged in a long twitter exchange with Cllr Bob Jones, the Labour candidate, this morning. It looks very much like Mitchell has been cut loose by his colleagues. Even Nick Clegg, interviewed on BBC Radio 4's agenda-setting Today programme a few minutes after Mitchell's non-apologetic apology this morning, offered only the most lukewarm of support.

Mitchell has essentially accused two armed police officers, trusted to guard the gates of Downing Street and other high value targets around London, of lying. Their notebooks - a contemporaneous record that would be relied on to support evidence in court - record the words used prior to him being asked to desist and warned of arrest, at which point he apparently calmed down.
"Open this gate. I'm the Chief Whip. I'm telling you - I'm the Chief Whip and I'm coming through these gates... Best you learn your fucking place.... you don't run this fucking government... you're fucking plebs"
The officers took notes of the exchange to cover themselves as they were clearly aware that this was not likely to be the end of the matter. As a professor of classics pointed out on the Today programme this morning, this is not an insult that the police would be likely to make up, although it is exactly the sort of phrasing someone with Andrew Mitchell's background would be likely to use. (Another classicist writes here). While I'm perfectly well aware that police officers have been known to collude and lie, I struggle to find a reason for them to do it here. Starting a fight with a VIP is not likely to end well for the officers involved. If there is a further witness out there - perhaps a tourist with a video camera - then the situation could change for Mr Mitchell.

On a practical level, as Alistair Campbell points out, being nice to people is much easier and actually brings benefits. When you need rules bent a little to help you with a problem like a forgotten pass, being courteous will pay dividends. More importantly, the officers on the gate represent us all - we empower members of the public to police us by consent. Insult them and you insult us all. Alistair Campbell also points out that
If there is one group of people you don’t want offside during an election, it’s the cops, or the teachers, or the nurses, or the doctors, or the public. Every time the government alienates someone working for them, the ripples fan out, and eventually they meet other ripples, which become a flood.
On the one hand, this could be seen as an outburst of bad temper by a senior government official, but I would argue that it is indicative of a nastier attitude. The Cabinet is populated by people with a sense of entitlement - many have had extraordinarily gilded lives, with paths smoothed from top end public schools through to top universities and thence onwards to well-paid jobs and political advancement and moving in circles of those who have similarly 'made it.' It shouldn't come as a surprise that they find it hard to relate to others that they perceive to be of lesser status or value. The problem is that Cameron has been trying to conceal this for years - he's notoriously sensitive about being tagged as an out of touch toff, despite the unerring accuracy of this definition. Outbursts like Andrew Mitchell's play exactly into that increasingly popular view of Cameron's government cronies.

The appalling media handling isn't really the story. Mitchell has revealed the inner thinking of this government. Mitchell isn't the exception - his foul-mouthed insults have confirmed exactly what the senior levels of this government think of all of public servants and, by extension, those of us not fortunate enough to have been born into the ruling class. It is a view drenched in class warfare, something for which the Tories and their useful idiots regularly criticise those of us on the left. Seems like they need to remove the plank from their own eyes.

Know your place, plebs. And mind how you go, now. Evening all.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Out of step - almost out of time

David Laws is backing the man who has just put him back into government and tells us that every LibDem MP is in the frame for their decision to sign a pledge that they knew was undeliverable - even under a Liberal Democrat majority government.
"Every Liberal Democrat MP has a collective responsibility - this was a decision by all of us"
Clearly, John "Maverick" Hemming hasn't got the memo. On BBC WM this morning, he refused to join in the orgy of apologising:
"I'm not apologising.... I supported it because I thought it was the right thing to do.. I worry about those who harp on about student debt this, student debt the other... if you look at what they actually pay, it's very fair"
Of course, Calamity Clegg wasn't apologising for the policy either - he was apologising for making a promise that his party couldn't keep.

If you recall, John said that it was in everyone's interest for people to lose their jobs.

Less than 1000 days left until the next election....

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Never apologise, never explain.

Some more free political advice for Nick.

Reminding the electorate of a pledge that you freely made and then abandoned isn't great politics. The apology isn't about the policy, the apology is for making the pledge in the first place. All you have done is remind people of exactly why they deserted your party in the first place. They aren't going to come back.

This has reopened a whole can of worms about why your party made a pledge to support a policy that you knew at the time to be unaffordable. It was a publicity stunt, pure and simple.
"I shouldn't have committed to a policy that was so expensive when there was no money around" 
Danny Alexander told Clegg in March 2010 that the policy was unaffordable and Vince Cable is known to have opposed the stunt, but every LibDem MP signed up to a very clear promise that most of them were promptly to break.

As an aside, it is interesting that Clegg uses 'we' throughout much of the piece, but apologises in the first person for committing to the policy.

Here's Nick in happier times, promising to keep his promises.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hemming - still not banned... (UPDATED)

John Hemming's gripes about being "banned" from last week's meeting with the Prime Minister continue to rumble on, with a short piece in the Birmingham Mail today.

Let's deal with the facts. All Birmingham MPs were invited to this meeting regardless of party affiliation - including John Hemming and Andrew Mitchell - by an email sent to their parliamentary addresses. Quite reasonably, the delegation wanted to agree the approach for the meeting, given that they only had 30 minutes with the PM right after PMQs last week, so two pre-meeting briefings were planned. One of these was in Birmingham and a second was in an office in Portcullis House (the parliamentary office block across the road from the Palace of Westminster) about 90 minutes prior to the meeting with Cameron, with MPs asked to attend one or the other.

There was ample opportunity for John Hemming to attend. He was not banned. As Jon Walker points out in his article, as the meeting was held in the Commons, not No 10, there was nothing to prevent John - as an MP with a pass - simply turning up, which Khalid Mahmood did.

The ever-imaginative Martin Mullaney points out that Birmingham "ratepayers" covered the cost - which they did. I wonder if a business meeting with the PM, compares well with more than £4000 spent by the City Council, of which he was a Cabinet member, on the drinks reception on the Commons terrace earlier this year?

According to Jon Walker, Cameron seemed impressed enough
"I thought what was very promising was that you saw all the parties working together, you saw the council and the MPs working together, you saw the private sector involved."
That's probably an outcome that we can all support.

I've been given a little bit of extra information in terms of the timeline. The original plan was that the meeting would only include members of the business community and all three parties on Birmingham Council (that wished to participate). MPs were not originally included. It is at this point, during the last week of August, when the email exchange to which Martin refers took place. Subsequently, a decision was taken to open the meeting to all of Birmingham's MPs, at which point the invitation was sent out at the end of August.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Hemming feels all left out

Apparently John Hemming is upset that he wasn't allowed to join the key players of Team Birmingham in meeting the Prime Minister yesterday. His representative on earth, ex-Cllr Martin Mullaney has put up a posting on his blog showing that, contrary to claims, there was a spare seat that John Hemming could have occupied.

This rather misses the key point that it isn't about the seating plan. Indeed, the reply rejecting John's kind offer to join the delegation (which already included Cllr Paul Tilsley, lately deputy leader of the City Council from the Lib Dems and Cllr Randall Brew, a senior Tory councillor) didn't say that it did:
"As we only have half an hour, we are having to be extremely firm with numbers"
If you only have 30 minutes, then you worry more about being able to fit in all those who wish to speak rather than finding them all seats.

The delegation didn't include Andrew Mitchell or Roger Godsiff either, so John can't feel too left out. He was invited to a pre and post-meeting briefing (he couldn't make the pre-meeting), so won't be out of the loop in terms of discussions. Talking about 'banning' is just exaggeration and scaremongering.

There may also be a cross-party view that the presence of Mr Hemming might not have proved particularly helpful to the aim of the meeting. I couldn't possibly comment on that.

Besides, some of us think that John is already occupying one seat too many and we'd like Birmingham Yardley back.