Saturday, 29 November 2008

Remember Sarah Tisdall?

Isn't it nice to hear the Tories defend the leaking of information and the use of that information to hold the Government to account. To listen to David Cameron it sounds as if anything short of the 'nuclear codes' is fair game. So unlike our own dear Tory leader in Sefton. How times have changed.

In Britain the tradition of leaking ‘secret documents’ in the public interest is an old and in many cases an honourable one. Churchill in his wilderness years had a Foreign Office mole who fed him all sorts much to the intense anger of the Conservative Government of Halifax and Chamberlain. Gordon Brown had a fun time with the fag end of the last Tory administration with leaked documents.

I remember a junior civil servant, Sarah Tisdale who embarrassed the Conservative Government (and Hestletine in particular) in 1983 by leaking documents. It was held in court the the information she leaked did not compromise national security but the Guardian was forced to release the documents and to this day the then editor Peter Preston says he feels guilty about the incident

The Tories pursued this young women and she got a six month jail sentence not because she leaked sensitive documents but because 'if she was capable of leaking those documents what else might she leak?'! Damian Green should ponder on these things. One of the Tory Law officers at the time was Sir Ian Percival MP for Southport

The Young Liberals went on to elect her as an honorary Vice President which no doubt soften the blow of being sacked, prosecuted and imprisoned under the Official Secrets Act. If my memory serves me correctly I was the returning officer that year.

For many years members had subverted the processes by electing surreal candidates. I well remember the success that Aileen Simpkin’s Landlady’s cat enjoyed over a number of years-she went on to be a senior civil servant (Aileen, not the cat). So it was agreed that we would tighten up the rules about nominating Vice Presidents and I had to tell the conference that nominations would only be accepted for candidates that were ‘real human and alive’ Regrettably that did not solve the problem as I was called to rule whether the ‘wart on Clement Freud’s left buttock’ qualified. It was decided that it did not-despite the protestation of one lass who claimed to be an eye witness.

All this happened in the days before the Freedom of Information Act when government’s routinely covered up things just because they were embarrassing. Sadly the version of Freedom of Information enacted by New Labour was predictably pusillanimous and the practice of getting around the act is alive and well in local and central government. Clement Freud did energetically promote a far superior version of the Act as a Private Member’s Bill, sadly it failed.

There was another famous leak about the same time -Clive Ponting. He leaked stuff about the sinking of the Belgrano in the Falklands War much to Thatcher's fury. Amazing -despite the firm direction of the Judge- the jury acquitted him. He expected to go to goal instead he wrote a book and became a minor celebrity. I remember attending some reception or other at the time when he was the guest. Dr Owen was also there (this was the time of the Alliance). What ever words came out of his mouth it seemed to me his body language shouted louder that he was most uncomfortable-confirmation if ever we needed it that he was an unreliable partner.

Yesterday, it is reported that, nine anti terrorist police officers raided the home and offices of Damian Green the Tory Immigration spokesman. I hold no brief for the immigration policy adopted by Green. He clearly has a mole of his own in the civil service who has alerted him to much embarrassing ammunition. None of it threats national security.

Nick Clegg deals with the wider issues in an article this Sunday. Let us hope that Green and his mole are dealt with better than they dealt with the young clerk Sarah Tidsdall when they were in power.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Last night I went to see the Everyman’s production of King Lear. I shall not bore you with a review suffice to say that the play is an awful warning about the consequences when politics break down.
Last night Pete Postlethwaite gave a powerful and convincing performance of a deranged man and got a standing ovation-which when you consider that the play finished after 11 o’clock and all the bus pass holders were panicking about getting home -was a measure of how good the performance was.

Now I don’t want to press the analogy too far but I did get to pondering whether Sefton was about to enter an ungovernable phase. I’m not suggesting the abdicating King will go mad or that the failure to divide the power between the three legitimate parties would result in war and bloodshed (in last nights production we had video images of battles projected and commandos with sub machine guns stalking the theatre) but just as Regan and Gonderil ganged up against their sister Cordelia, I did wonder whether Labour and Tories would make common cause at the cabinet this morning. (I’ll allow you decide which is Regan (now there’s a name to conjure with), who helped gauge out the Earl of Gloucester’s eyes because she thought he had leaked some information)

To put the matter in context I should say that the big issue before us at present is the setting of the council tax. In truth there is very little room for manoeuvre. The government has declared that they will ‘cap’ council tax rises at 5%. (Yes this is the Labour Party that ranted and raved about the last Tory Government capping local government spending). Now if we break that down a bit we know that the bodies like the police, fire, waste disposal etc have already agree to rises equal to about 2%, which means Sefton cannot agree to spending which would result in a rise of more than 3%. Broadly, with good will, that is achievable. The question is whether there is goodwill.

Last year the three parties on our council had reviewed the departments’ proposals for savings and jointly agreed a fair number. Indeed by November we had gone over the matter three times and made substantial progress on each occasion. I am not suggesting that we all agreed on everything, we did not. Much of the ill will that exists in the council today stems from our group’s decision to support a proposal from the Chief Exec to cull a number of senior posts.
This suggestion arose because the council had agreed to establish a separate company-New Direction-to be a Social Services provider and set up a Housing Association-One Vision-to look after our housing stock. These were unanimous decisions of the council. It followed that these two independent bodies were no tied in to using the councils central services-lawyers, HR, estates etc and may well seek them elsewhere for less money. The situation was compounded because the councils ‘vision’ document Sefton 2010 had gone on to propose seeking partners to deliver a range of council services including finance and technical services. The council has adopted that policy-again unanimously. The consequence of those policies is that we needed to slim down further the central bureaucracy of the council.

I now come to the point where WW3 broke out. Normally you can rely on a good Tory to cut bureaucrats jobs-especially when the Chief Exec is telling them that the posts are superfluous. In fact the usual problem is restraining them cutting posts too enthusiastically. Not on this occasion. This led to an ugly council meeting when the Labour and Tories thought they had made the Chief Exec redundant (equivalent to gauging out Gloucester’s eyes?). When after much legal too-ing and fro-ing the whole thing was deemed illegal Labour and Tories ganged up to prevent the reduction of high paid staff. There was much bad blood and many accusations of information being leaked to the media. In fact a quiet and calm consideration of the situation would have quickly revealed that most of the information was already in the public domain and the rest could easily be deduced by anyone with an ounce experience. In truth, from our side if we were to have leaked a document the key one we would have chosen would have been the QC’s opinion about the illegality of the Labour and Tory joint decision to make the CEO redundant. It is dynamite revealing as it does the full depth of their incompetence and several other things I am constrained in writing about.

Now I am not surprised at Bootle Labour party taking that decision. Unlike the Labour government and Labour controlled councils who regularly recognize the economic reality and make people redundant when the need for their jobs disappears, our lot cling longingly to the Labour mantra from the years of their national irrelevance; ‘no redundancies here’.

The big question is; why did the Tories go along with Labour? We have never had an explanation. Cllr Porter promised us one but it never materialized. We found that strange as she usually finds no difficulty getting her views into print. Maybe they are embarrassed? The most popular suggestion is that the Tory leadership makes decisions on the basis of personality-who they like or who they don’t like. It is beyond me and I’ve never been offered a rational explanation.

Anyway back to the budget process this year. Labour has not engaged. Their Leader Peter Dowd will deny that with all the bluster and annoyance that he can muster. But the facts remain he has the same opportunity as everyone else to seek briefings from officers. He has received the same paper work. He maybe personally unavailable but he has colleagues who, one assumes, have the confidence of the Labour group. Then today we had an amazing performance which fooled no one. He picked on individual savings and tried to explain why it wouldn’t work. Please bear in mind that way are doing he easy bit at present. These are not ‘tough cuts’ like the one being proposed by the Labour Party in the Wirral or Salford. The funny bit-and we all tried not to laugh- was when he tried to justify his reluctance to engage by drawing our attention to that particular budget line which he claimed could not be implemented until it had been subjected to consultation. Yes, but unless we have a proposal how do we meaningfully consult? The truth was starkly obvious. The budget decisions required to limit the council tax rise to the level demanded by the Labour Government frightens the Bootle Labour councillors. How on earth are they going to cope next year when their government has made it clear that they expect the council tax rise to be ‘substantially’ lower than this year?

Anyway we did not become ungovernable today. Common sense prevailed and the Tories and us signed up for a number of ‘uncontroversial’ savings. I think at this time with the credit crunch and a recession frightening many people-especially many elderly folk living on fixed incomes- we have a responsibility to keep the tax as low as we credibly can. If we can do that without the political carnage so graphically portrayed in the final scene of last night’s King Lear, we will have done well.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

I doubt the penguins will notice

There are several issues about the reaction to the economic mess we are in which I keep noticing. Firstly the manifest failure to make investment in 'green industries' a key plank of recovery and secondly Polly Toynbe.

Let us get rid of Ms Toynbe first. What an escape we had when her rump-the continuing SDP-refused to join the new merged party. I've often thought that amongst the very many good days work that Chris Rennard has done his efforts in the Bootle by election which finally finished them off (coming behind the Monster Raving Loony Party) must be amongst the most satisfying.

She has purred and coo-ed over Gordon Brown's economic package seemingly bewitched by the introduction of a higher rate of tax. It doesn't matter to her that most folk earning over£150k can well afford the sort of accountant that can ensure that their income avoids that tax (Vince has explain that point several times. But them none as deaf as those that are besotted. This tax package is not a redistributive one in substance it is just dressed up that way and she is duped. The money raised by the new higher rate-even if you accept the Treasury's optimistic estimate is piffling irrelevant. If you want to redistribute wealth-and it is one of the key failures of the Blair/Brown era that they haven't there are far easier ways of doing it. Instead the likes of Toynbe and Brown delight in the complicated dignity stripping rouses like the tax credits.They have cost mega bucks to administer and they have been administered chaotically. Lots of people-especially pensioners have failed to claim. their problem is that they think folk ought to be grateful to the State and fit in with any daft plan that they dream up for someone elses good.

The second and more substantial issue is the failure to look to investment in green technologies as a key part of the recovery plan. I am not alone in identifying that especially at it appears that it is to form a central part of Obama's approach. Marl Lynas wrote a piece in the Guardian this morning and although I would not agree with every bit of its 'direction of travel' (as the Audit Commission delights to say) is correct.
This would have been the moment to invest in environmentally friendly transport, high speed trains, doing up the rail infra structure(Burcough Curves etc) introducing electric cars with on street servicing etc. All we get is a pathetic 'up to 200 new carriages' compare that with £700billion on roads.

As Lynas remarks:

'There's also some capital spending on energy efficiency – but here the striking thing is just how unimaginative and anaemic the current targets are. An enormous 60,000 houses will get better insulation. We need to be talking levels of ambition to orders of magnitude greater than this – with 24m households in the UK, the government is only going to be making 0.25% of them more efficient. I doubt the penguins will notice.'

Leader's anger.......

I got an email from our Leader on Sefton Council yesterday. Normally if you were to say that a politician was angry folk would shrug their shoulders and think 'so what'. This is different. Tony 'doesn't do anger' He is one of those gifted individuals who can go into a room where everyone is at each others throats and calmly emerge having got everyone to agree and amazingly they have all landed up agreeing with him. That is why he is the best Leader for Sefton Council. He will no doubt upset those who like a more blood thirsty style of politics and it is clear that at least one local journalist has failed to appreciate his talents but most people-paid staff and members at Sefton- have recognised how lucky we are.

I hope that puts the following-the email I got from Tony- in context:

'Rarely, do I get hot under the collar about political issues but to see the pathetic response of the yar boo Tories to our national and indeed international financial crisis makes my blood boil. How come when Vince Cable can speak common sense on the crisis day in day out the Tory leadership can mutter little more than incomprehensible nonsense? The fact that Vince has predicted virtually every turn in this crisis and has gained considerable independent support in the process shows how feeble the Tories have become.

The last major crisis that we faced was going to Tony Blair's War in Iraq. All the Tories could do then was whimper in the background and vote for war whilst Ming Campbell stood up for the truth.

Politics can at times be rather dishonourable but at least we can say that our leaders have the courage to speak the truth at times when decent leadership or indeed opposition is in short supply'

This is the BBC package Tony was referring to:
Cable derides 'fig leaf' tax cuts

The government's plans to boost the economy by cutting VAT and to raise taxes on high earners are a "very limited, fig leaf", says Vince Cable.
The Lib Dem Treasury spokesman said he failed to see how a temporary reduction in VAT from 17.5% to 15% would give the economy a "major stimulus".
Full story here

Talbot Hotel Annual Dinner

Thanks to Sue Maquire for some more pictures from the successful Dinner organised by Pat Sumner and her team. Click on the label 'Talbot' below for more.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Sefton CAB and debt

I noticed this article and thought that it fits in with concerns many of us have been having especially over social housing and the painfully slow reponse from governement.

'Citizens Advice Sefton has seen a sharp increase in the number of people seeking help for problems of poverty, housing insecurity and debt.

Over the six months from April to September 2008, 4,034 people asked Citizen’s Advice Sefton for help with 10,960 problems. 64% of these problems were concerned with just two of the sixteen categories of problem the CAB can help with: debt and welfare benefits. There has been a discernable increase in the number of people seeking help to deal with creditors seeking charging orders, statutory demands and orders for sale. Charging orders for debts of over £5,000 put people at real risk of homelessness as these debts accrue 8% statutory interest which eats away at equity in the home at the same time that property values are falling.
Pauline Killen, Chief Executive of Sefton Citizens Advice, says: “In the present economic climate we have noted that there is a worrying trend for creditors to try to obtain a County Court Judgment swiftly followed by a Charging Order. In some circumstances a Charging Order can carry contractual interest, for example if interest runs on the underlying judgment. This can result in a relatively low debt mounting up with the Charging Order and spiralling to a large debt. Once a Charging Order has been obtained, the creditor can ask for an Order for Sale and repossess the home. Our experience shows that most people do not realise that unsecured credit, if unpaid, can be converted through the courts to secured credit, ultimately putting their homes at risk. It is essential to get advice regarding debt at an early stage, so that court action can be averted or subsequently defended.”

In the past six months, Citizens Advice Sefton has noted a 33% increase in problems related to rent arrears with housing associations and a 77% increase in problems related to rent arrears with private landlords. There has been an 87% rise in advice related to County Court and High Court proceedings, and a 50% increase in problems with mortgages and secured loans. Bankruptcy applications dealt with by the Citizens Advice Legal Help Unit have increased by 63% over the past 12 months. The unit has also seen the level of housing debt increase by 87% and the level of priority debt increase by 50%.

Enquiries about separation and divorce increased by 85% over the same six month period. It is perhaps worth considering how many of these enquiries are related to the stresses caused by the problems of housing insecurity, poverty and debt.

To speak to Citizens Advice Sefton, telephone (0151) 928 2029 or visit

article from Sefton CVS Bulletin

Pensioners and the economy

Southport has one of the highest concentrations of pensioners in any constituency and so I thought a comment on the bits of the crisis budget that effects older people was appropriate. Here’s Lib Dem Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Jenny Willott:

'The Chancellor’s pledges to pensioners is a repeat. It was originally promised that pension credit would rise to £130 as long ago as 2007. Pensioners have known about this rise for two years and are now being told to wait another five months. The announcement on the increase of the basic state pensions was deceptive to say the least. The Government promised to increase it by inflation four years ago.

“Alistair Darling’s ‘grand gesture’ is insulting to pensioners. It offers nothing extra today, just what they were already expecting. Pensioners have been hit the hardest by the spiralling cost of food and fuel - they must feel very let down today.”

Richard Hickox

News today that Richard Hickox a champion of English Choral music has died aged 60.

There was a period in the early 90's when I was spokesman on Arts on Cheshire County Council. This period coincided with the 900th anniversary of the Cathedral. We received various requests to help fund the celebrations. I must admit I was less than enthusiastic when the Dean suggested that the county council should buy new chairs for the cathedral. I soon got to the point when I was prepared to walk away from the whole project. It was that at that point the 'arts officer' sidled up to me for a confidential word. What he had in mind was that the County Council should commission a work for the Chester festival which would receive it's first performance at the cathedral. He explained that he knew John Taverner was composing a work for which he was looking for a commission. This was early in Taverner's 'Orthodox' phase and soon after he had released his 'Protecting Veil ' the sales of which outstripped all other classical music for some time.

I was very interested and the proposal was worked up. The politics were quite complex. The left of the Labour Party wanted nothing to do with a religious work and the Tories wanted to hear the work before they decided if they were to pay for it! (The Tories were an odd mix of new 'Thatcherite' estate agent types and some formidable censorious women) I had a little trouble with one of my colleagues Bill Leathwood, a staunch Methodist, who wanted to know whether this would be something that the choirs of Cheshire could sing. Eventually a coalition was put together and the worked performed in 1992 at the cathedral and then a week later at the Proms.

I went to the small 'after show' party at the Grosvenor Hotel in Chester and met John Taverner and Richard Hickox who conducted the work. I took my brother along who spent most of the evening talking to the soprano Patrica Rosario. The CD is still available. I know that for both of us (and everyone else who I spoke to who attended the performance that evening) we were profoundly moved and above all other performances I have been to it is the one that stands out in my memory.

Crisis Budget

You are much better off reading Vince about this than me

Monday, 24 November 2008

Sir Gawain

Simon Armitage's modern translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight adapted for the stage is coming to Southport's Art Centre in the new year.

I read this earlier this year after it had featured on a Radio 4 book programme. A colleague at work is a real fan and when she was poorly we bought her his new book. I was amazed to see reproduced a letter to the young Armiatge from Richard Wainwright. Richard was the Liberal MP for the Colne Valley where Armaitage grew up and like the good MP Richard was he had written him a letter on his 18th birhday. I'm not sure how Richard -a Methodist lay preacher-would have reacted to how the letter was used. Apparently Armiatge used it as an ID to get into pubs!

I had great respect for Richard, he chaired the Party's National Policy Committee when I was a member. I served under four different chairs; Wainwright, John Pardoe, Alan Beith and Clement Freud. Richard turned out to speak for me in Southport in the run up to the 1983 General Election, he volunteered to do so again when I stood in Congelton. When I was Chair of Radical Youth for Europe Richard helped with a grant from the Rowntree Trust.

I remember after the 1991 General Election discussing things with Chris Davies ((now our MEP). Chris had fought Littleborough and Saddleworth( essentially Richard's old seat) and our results were very similar. Chris, of course, went on to win a by election but that was all in the future. At the time he seemed to think that I had come off better as I had a chapter in Edward Pearce's book 'Election Rides'. Richard joined the conversation and made some very shrewd observations about the election.

I discovered an article by his son-a Guardian journalist-which tells how Richard opened his home to a family of refugees from Uganda. I knew nothing about this action by Richard but I well remember the Labour and Tory parties response to the crisis. It was shameful.
More about Richard here:

For a while in the early 80's a lass who escaped from Uganda worked with me Christine Kiboke Musoke . If my memory serves me well her father was a supporter of Milton Obote and when Amin came to power(another UK foreign policy cock up) they had to leave quickly. Years later Christine needed a passport to replace the rather hastily compiled documents she had used to get out of Uganda and she was greatly assisted by a young solicitor who is now an eminent Southport legal bigwig

More unacceptable Tory behavior?

Chris Davies, a hard working MEP who is open about his expenses, has revealed more of the Tories wretched behavior:

'Yet again a North West Conservative MEP is in the news because of doubts over his use of parliamentary expenses.
This time it's David Sumberg, who was elected to serve the region in 1999 but who has since that date never lived anywhere other than in London.
The story immediately below has just appeared in The Sunday Times, but it stems from a letter I wrote to newspapers across the region last week (also below) in which I challenged David Sumberg to tell his constituents whether he had been claiming his full staff allowance for the past 10 years and, if so, what he had been doing with it.
Given the weaknesses within the parliamentary rules I think it possible for an MEP with no personal code of ethics, and no desire to use the money to promote their political and parliamentary work, to have added as much as £1.5 million to their family income over 10 years as compared to those of us who have actually used the money in full to pay for a hard working team of staff.This kind of practice has got to be stopped. It demeans the reputation of all of us in politics. It is an insult to the people we represent.
If you feel as strongly as I do about these matters then read the information below and put your views in a letter to your local paper.
With regards
Chris Davies MEP *********************************************************
MEP has no office in constituency but still claims £40,000 expenses**Sunday Times, November 23, 2008* ********************************************************
By Nicola Smith One of Britain's least active MEPs has been receiving more than £40,000 a year for office expenses despite having no office in his constituency. David Sumberg, a Conservative MEP for the North West of England, has already declared he pays £54,000 a year for secretarial support from his wife. Since the current European parliament was elected in 2004, Sumberg has made just two set-piece speeches and 12 one-minute "explanations of votes". He has tabled five questions and sits on a committee but has not written any of its reports or tabled any resolutions.
"If there was a competition for laziest MEP in Britain I don't doubt he would make the shortlist," said Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP who also represents the North West. Sumberg, 67, who is standing down at elections next year, is entitled to a staff allowance, currently EUR203,000 (£171,000) a year, from which his wife Carolyn is paid. He is also entitled to a £40,800 general expenditure allowance for office costs and travel, and £242 a day for hotels and food on top of his £61,820 salary. In April, he declared he paid Carolyn £54,000 a year. He said this weekend this fell to £30,000-£39,999 from September 2008.
Until last Friday, his website gave a wrong constituency office number. A woman who answered suggested calling North West Conservative Campaigns Centre, where an official said: "We don't see him that often." Sumberg said: "The North West office acts as a forwarding address. In common with many other MEPs, I have office facilities in my house." Sumberg declined to say if any of the £40,800 was used for his home in Kentish Town, north London, 200 miles from the region he represents. If it was, this would break no rules. He added: "There is no requirement for an MEP to maintain an office in the constituency." Parliamentary rules say the £40,800 is for use in an MEP's home country for "office management and running costs".
Sumberg's decision not to maintain an office in the northwest was described as an "insult" to voters by Davies, who added: "David Sumberg represents a region of 7 million people, bigger than 10 member states of the European Union. "Most people would expect an MEP in receipt of such generous expenses would maintain an office in a region of this importance." Sumberg last week declined to say if he had received the full staff allowance, out of which Carolyn was paid. He said she was "a fully qualified secretary, who holds a master's degree in applied translation studies". On his workload, he said: "It is not for me to comment on my effectiveness as an MEP." ***********************************************
Letter from Chris Davies sent to North West newspapers **(18 November 2008)
Dear Sir
Den Dover, a Conservative MEP for North West England, has been reported by the European Parliament to the anti-fraud office in Brussels after it was found that he had paid £758,000 over seven years to a company run by his wife and daughter.
The Parliament has demanded the return (initially) of £500,000, while the Conservative Party has withdrawn its whip and taken Mr Dover off its list of candidates. The sums involved are staggering.
Last February I revealed details of a secret auditors' report into malpractice over the use of money intended for the payment of MEPs' staff. Since then all the main British political parties have insisted on greater transparency. I hope this will mean that voters in the European elections next June can have confidence that all candidates are in future committed to high standards of financial probity.
I invite another one of our North West Conservative MEPs to make his position clear.David Sumberg was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 at the same time as myself. He has lived since then in London, which to my mind is an insult to the 7 million people he represents. His North West office address is merely that of Conservative HQ. He has made just one formal two-minute speech in the Parliament since 2004, and has tabled on his own initiative just three questions.
The total allowance available to every MEP for the employment of staff and the payment of office expenses has since 1999 well exceeded £1 million. Will David Sumberg tell us how much of this he has claimed, who he has employed, and where has been their place of work? He declares in the parliamentary register of interests that he employs someone to provide 'media services', yet his website shows that he has distributed only two press releases in the past three years. Maybe their job is to stop him being noticed!
Yours faithfully
Chris Davies
Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Lancs, yes thanks!

As a result of the Lib Dem initiative to forge closer links with Lancs CC and West Lancs District Council a meeting was held on Thursday. Pictured is the Sefton Lib Dem Council leader,Tony Robertson and his Lancs CC counterpart Hazel Harding. Here is Tony's report:
First meeting between Sefton, West Lancs and Lancshire County Councils finds common ground

The recent proposal put to Sefton Council's Cabinet by LibDem Deputy Leader Iain Brodie-Brown to start a serious discussion with Sefton's neighbouring Lancashire Local Authorities an initial meeting was held at Southport Town Hall on Thursday 20th November.
The meeting called by Sefton Chief Executive Graham Haywood was attended by the Chief Executives of all all three councils with Sefton and Lancashire providing Cabinet member level input.
Says Sefton Council Leader Tony Robertson "There was a wide measure of agreement to take forward further discussions to identify policy areas where collaborative working across the Sefton/Lancashire boundary candeliver real benefits for our communities. We discussed transport,health, housing and economic matters and the next stage will be to refine a clear agenda down to a few key issues that we will try todrive forward together
"Having been split from Lancashire in 1974 by local government reorganisation my firm view is that we can and should be rebuilding the lost links as so many issues that affect the West Lancshire area effect Sefton as well. You only have to look at the geography of Sefton to see that it is surrounded by Lancshire and what we do effects them and what they do effects us.
"I was delighted by the positive approach coming from both WestLancs and Lancashire County Councils and think that we can build a relationship that delivers real benefits to our residents.
"Top of my agenda was transport issues such as the much needed Ormskirk by-pass and the reconnection of the Burscough curves rail lines. Indeed, these two transport challanges sum up why we need to work more closely with our Lancashire neighbours as we have a clear common interest in trying to push them forward."I hope we have started a real relationship of trust and forward collaberative thinking.
It is scarcely necessary to remark that the Tories voted against this idea and demanded that their opposition was noted!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Dukes ward Coffee Morning

Saturday morning I went to a coffee morning for our colleagues in Dukes Ward. The event was well attended and Joan had produced the firat mince pies of the season-I some how think by the time we get to Dec 25th they will not be quite so welcome!

Afterwards many of us went afterwards to the Southport Kidney Fund fair at Lord St West where Joan Coleman presided. Joan is amazing. I have good reason to know how effective Joan is, she chaired Southport Liberal association in the early 1980's.During her involvement with the Kidney Fund they have raised their profile in the town and been effective lobbiests It was good to see such a good turn out at the fair.

Anyway back to Dukes Ward. For regular readers this is the epicentre of the bloody and fratricidal battle within the Conservative Party. Those wanting to know more should click on the 'label' Tory squabbles at the foot of the page. I warn you reading about the way they treat each other is not for the faint hearted!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Memo to Cllr Dowd

Dear Peter

One of the difficult things about setting a sensible budget in Sefton is the '1960's ' old Labour attitude you adopt every time there is a possibility of reducing the bureaucracy.' No job losses' you cry-even if the purpose for the job has disappeared. And so the hard pressed tax payer land up with a bigger bill than necessary. I suppose we should not be surprised. The Labour Party in Sefton has by far the smallest popular vote and is now marooned in Bootle and is not convincing challenging for any seats. Gone are the days when Labour showed signs of breaking out of their enclave. I thought it would be instructive to reflect on how Labour in power acts when faced with a budget crisis. We have evidence of how your beloved Labour Government behave-hundreds and hundreds of NHS staff including nurses have been made redundant and so clearly they don't have the same policy as you. Now we have news from Labour controlled Salford:

11,300 council staff in redundancy shock

Neal Keeling 18/11/2008

ALL 11,300 of Salford council's workforce have been invited to apply for voluntary redundancy as the city struggles with a £15m budget deficit. The council also plans to cut the wages of around 860 staff by up to £4,000.The pay cuts, which range from £50 to £4,000, are the result of a review to ensure the authority is not breaking equal pay rules.But 90 per cent of council staff will have an increase in their wages or they will stay the same.

Salford is the third Greater Manchester council to reveal its pay and grading review to establish new salary scales under legislation designed to provide equality in jobs where women were traditionally underpaid.Council leader John Merry said: "We have made strenuous efforts to minimise the number of people that will lose out. The unions have always accepted that there will be winners and losers."

Norman Owen, leader of Salford's Liberal Democrats, said: "The negotiations over this have been going on for years. It is unfortunate the cuts should happen at the time of a credit crunch."The wage cuts will not be implemented until October, 2009.All workers have received letters inviting them to take voluntary redundancy as part of an efficiency drive recommended by consultants.In March this year, the M.E.N. revealed KMPG experts for audit, tax, and advisory services had been paid £158,000 to advise how the council could save money.


They suggested 279 jobs could be saved over the next three years in a review which identified ways of saving, which ranged from not filling vacant posts to reducing the number of newspapers delivered to the finance department.The council has adopted the plan - called Think Efficiency - and intends to save £20m over the next three years, and £12m a year after that.The reduction in jobs would be through voluntary redundancies and early retirements. The council insists there will be no impact on frontline services.


Coun Bill Hinds, the city's finance spokesman, said: "The council is responsible for spending council taxpayers' money efficiently, so we have taken a look at how things can be improved."We have identified real efficiencies. The intention is to deliver savings of £20m over the next three years and significant savings each year after that. "This is not about making savings to balance the books, it is a strategic review of how we can get better value from economies of scale."

Sadly we fear that you would rather sit on the side lines blustering and protesting against things that you know you would do if you were in power. I guess you also know that many of the things you hate most are done by councils at the behest of your government.
Your predicessor Dave Martin understood very clearly the need to be involved responsibilby in the budget process. He worked hard to protect his electors.

Budget shenanigans

I have held back on commenting on the council tax setting process in Sefton back I think that now is the time to bring readers up to date. Let us begin with the article in the Southport Visiter

I will comment on this later, but I draw your attention to the fact that someone has leaked the detailed figures. We have endured a lot of sanctimonious and unfounded criticism from Cllr Mrs Parry about confidential papers being 'leaked' She has made false accusations naming obviously innocent people. Now I wonder if she'll attack the leaker of these documents so roundly. I predict not. Mrs Parry is only worried about such things when the resulting publicity leaves her with a 'red face'.
Interestingly every journalist, politician and officer I have spoken to have all identified the same individual. Reading the article you may well be able to take an educated guess. I know that no Lib Dem was involved because the list in that form was only seen by two of us and we are both 'clean'. Ah well.

Anyway Tony has written to the Visiter with the following reply:

Dear Sir,

I was just a little taken aback by the comments of the Conservative and Labour Party Leaders on Sefton Council regarding the need for the Council to make £5m+ budget savings.Anyone who knows me realises that I always work to find a common way forward, I am in no way 'difficult to work with'. Neither do I bounce things on the other political parties.

With regard to the budget I have since the first Leaders’ meeting with Sefton Finance Director, some weeks ago, made my views clear and have asked the other Leaders to comment on them. The aim of such an approach has been to find areas on common agreement in the budgetary process. The fact that I have not had much in terms of responses to date has been a little disappointing.
As for my 'throwing money down the drain on bureaucracy' I would remind the other parties that it was my Group who pushed for greater savings by reducing the number of senior officer posts last year. My agenda is a cost efficient Sefton Council that carefully uses every penny of Council tax payers money.
I am still determined to try to make progress no matter how difficult that may be politically. Every penny that we save now will make the need for greater savings in 2009 less likely. Please no dithering, let's get on with putting Sefton Council on a level footing without delay.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr. Tony Robertson
Lib Dem Leader of Sefton Council

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Southport Hospital tops compensation claims

NHS negligence bill spiralling - Lamb

The NHS paid out £13m more in clinical negligence cases last year than the year before, Government figures have revealed.
The figures, placed in the House of Commons Library, show a dramatic increase in each of the last five years.
Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb said:
“This is a massive challenge for the NHS.
“We are living in an increasingly litigious society. These payouts are taking money away from patient care.
“There must be a focus on establishing systems that keep patients safe and prevent negligence happening in the first place.
“The Government must re-examine the system to ensure that compensation goes to those who have genuinely suffered, but prevents the risk of a compensation bandwagon developing.”
Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust tops the list in our region with the biggest bill – and the biggest increase – (up from £2.5m to £4.02m),

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

'economical with the actualité'

Will the disgraced Southport Tory MEP who 'laundered' £.75m into a familiy company from his Euro expences find comfort in the remarks from Cllr Parry?

“I’m sure he’s not broken the law, but possibly been creative with his expenses.'' said Sefton Tory Leader Paula Parry.
Is it on a par with another out of touch Tory Alan Clark's infamous remark with his admission during the Matrix Churchill trial that he had been 'economical with the actualité' ?

Oh and just in case she denies saying it go here
And the person who deserves the praise for exposing this mess is Chris Davies

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Consequences of the War

Lord Bigham-the former Lord Chief Justice -has confirmed what most legal opinion has asserted for some time namely that the invasion of Iraq broke international law and that in effect the US & UK were little better than vigilantes. The BBC has the story.
A couple of thoughts -how do you hold politician to account when they break the law with such terrible consequences and why has this issue died down in the UK when it is still alive in the US.

Keynes wrote a devastating little book in the aftermath of WW1 -The Economic Consequences of the Peace. The Liberal Party 1928 'Yellow Book' the detailed economic programme that Lloyd George adopted under Keynes's influence contains a section on the Economic Consequences of the War. Observing the US Presidential election it is clear that the economic impact of the Iraq War was central to the political debate. In the UK the impact on funding that illegal War has scarcely been addressed and yet the cost in lives and equipment is staggering and has surely had an impact on our present predicament. Let us hope that any public enquiry that now results from Lord Bigham's pronouncement includes the economic as well as the legal and 'intelligence' issues.

Annual Dinner Talbot Hotel Southport

Pat Sumner and her team deserve great praise for all their efforts organising the Annual Dinner on Saturday the turn out was magnificent and everyone I spoke to had a great time. I understand from Dave Sumner that the collection for Children in Need went well. Our speaker apart from reviewing the last 50years also analysed the challenges that now confront us and gave some good advice. Judging by all the conversations that were going on after the event I think he achieved his goal of making us think about how we approach the next 18 months campaigning.

One or two things must be acknowledged from the beginning. Firstly you could be faced with a candidate like Sarah Palin but without the intellect or her grasp of foreign affairs and still loose. Equally, as Sir Ron Watson observed recently, there are some people who sit by the windows waiting for a passing bandwagon to jump on, sort Poujardism without the restraint of principle and if you are faced with one of those you may still loose. So let us accept what the Hebrew Bible says that ‘the race is not to the swift nor yet the battle to the brave....but that time and chance happeneth to all things’

I think that there is much common ground in how we should approach the task. The big issue in politics is-and almost always is-the economy. For the first time in 70years Lib Dems are ‘in front of the curve’ on this the main issue. The man in the Daily Telegraph summed it up:
‘Mr Cable is having a good war. Unlike just about everyone else, he has the ability to see what is coming next, and other commanders are left struggling to explain why they are only saying now what Mr Cable pointed out some time ago.’

It is rare for us to be holding the Ace of Trumps and we must make as much of it as we can. The polls always show that people would vote for us if they thought we might win. That is not a problem for us in Southport we have won 4 out of the last 5 General Elections. All our campaigning has won us an electorate prepared to consider what we have to say.
Let us be clear we have been lucky with the choice of Tory candidates to date, neither Ronnie nor John have been faced with a highly credible candidate in this period. There has also been a very strong anti Tory mood across the country. The landscape is changing. The opposition is learning from the way we have campaigned. We have to keep ‘in front of the curve’ not just in policy but also in campaigning.

It is always a temptation when you are ‘close up’ in politics or indeed any other activity to imagine that the detail you are aware off is known to a wider audience. It is also a mistake to assume that the wider audience care. Nevertheless the caliber of candidates matters. It is of course true that the party label can effectively obscure candidate’s deficiencies. But a campaign should be like a refiner’s fire revealing the true worth of a candidate. Sarah Palin demonstrated that. The base vote was delighted they had someone who shared their gut instincts but it soon become apparent that the rest of the electorate wanted more than an ideological bedfellow. I remember listening to one US voter explaining how in the past she had voted Bush but she felt she had been let down and was choosing ‘competence’ over ‘faith’ this time.

There are candidates who are suited to a particular time. I guess many Lib Dems voted for Ming Campbell as leader in the belief that there was to be an early General Election and that therefore issues about his age would not come to the fore. After Brown delayed the Tory press mercilessly went after the issue of Ming’s age. It stands to reason that political parties of all stripes who were rushing to put someone in place for the expected Gen Election last year made similar calculations about candidates and as the time passes the candidates vulnerabilities becomes more obvious
Candidates can self destruct. They can become obsessed with minor issues that do not resonate with the electorate at large. In the media age if they can come across as cold, aloof or unfriendly that is a handicap. (I guess Gordon Brown’s failure to believably express empathy over babyP caused him real problem last week-more here .Tony Blair would have effectively dealt with that and Cameron would not have come back for more. Labour backbenchers would not have barracked the Tories because Blair would have set a tone which stopped it happening.)

We are no entering an election period- it could come in the Spring of 2009. There are no policy big surprises to come, our challenge is to put those messages across in a way that connects with the electorate. We have a good message and an electorate that is at least prepared to listen, We must stick to the central theme and not pander to noisy lobbies. For 90% of the electorate the economy is the main issue and 90% of our campaign should reflect.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Torygraph on Vince

No wonder George Osborne is in trouble

Southport Lib Dem AGM

Why does no one sit in the front row? I noticed it was the same when I went to the Remembrance Service at St John's in Birkdale last Sunday. Anyway Friday night saw the AGM of Southport Lib Dems and as well as the usual business of report backs from various people we had a policy motion. But first of all I would like to say a few word about Hilda Styles a stalwart of Kew Ward who died recently. Southport, altho not unique among local associations, is unusual for having a continuous history of activity and success which included the dark days for Liberalism in the 1950's. In fact Southport was one of the very few constituencies that managed a second place in that period when Sam Goldberg-the original 'Mr Southport' -fought a magnificent campaign in the 1959 General Election. Southport Liberals went on to control the council in the 1960's. I was privileged to know Sam's widow Madge then an elderly lady who was one of our delegates to the Llandudno Assembly during the period of the Alliance. I remember she insisted that I took her along to a CND meeting where she stunned everyone by her knowledge and the vigorous way she debated.

When I first became active in Southport Lib Dems getting on for 30 years ago there were many such members. One of them was Hilda. I was a the parliamentary candidate and a councillor in Kew Ward then. I knew that there were some who were none to happy about that and weren't slow to say so and said things that looking back were quite hurtful. Hilda was not one of them. She always turned out for meetings, social events and leaflet delivery and other campaigning. Hilda looked after her elderly Mother with great dedication but that committment did not stop her being involved. She had political views and voiced them. She was very kind to me and my family often popping round with things she thought 'might be useful'. A few of us went to the Guest House -including Fred Weavers and Mike Booth present day Kew councillors-after the meeting. We got to talking about Hilda and it transpired that she supported them in much the same way as she did me 25 years earlier including all the gifts of things that might be useful!

Antway John Pugh paid a handsome tribute to her and all those other like her who kept Liberalism alive in this place allowing our generation to build their work. Michael Braham's history of Southport Lib Dems tells anyone who is interested much more and is well worth reading-copies available from 35 Shakespeare St., Southport.

Anyway back to Friday night and policy. People may be forgiven for thinking that people join political parties in order to deliver leaflets. To the lay observer that does appear to be main activity. I'm always reassured by how genuinely interested our members and supporters are in politics. there may be so folk who enjoy delivering-I can't see it myself-but it is a means to an end! On Friday night we discussed the motion printed below and it was good to hear so many people talking about the issues after the meeting. It is too easy to assume that politics turns people off. In truth people who join political parties do so because of ideas and if we ever get to the point when that is not true things will go badly haywire

This Association congratulates Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and all Lib Dem MPs who have supported and promoted our party’s economic policy. In particular we welcome the pledge to reduce income tax for those on low and middle incomes by:
1. ending upper rate pensions relief - so the wealthy don’t get extra pension help from the tax man;
2. taxing capital gains at the same rates as income, so bankers and executives can’t get away with paying 18% tax while their cleaners pay 31%;
3. switching to green taxes to protect our environment;
4. tackling the scandal of corporate tax avoidance.
We resolve that this should form a central part of the Liberal Democrat campaign for Southport.

The Leader and Rosie

I hope our readers in Alaska have logged on for the second in our Dog Blog series as it features Roy Connell's dog Rosie. Roy points out to me that Harold Wilson (who was lucky to survive Michael Braham's challenge in 1974) had a dog named Paddy. Sadly I cannot trace a picture of him. David Lloyd George had a dog, this time I have a picture but no name. I am sure that one of Historians out there will trace it for me. I too remember the uproar when LBJ picked up his beagle by the ears claiming that the dog liked it. JFK who had the good sense to choose a Welsh Terrier was far too media savvy to upset the animal rights lobby. The final photo is Roy's Chocolate Labrador , he writes that it was :

'a ''retirement '' present from my lovely wife Beth in the hope of keeping me active , but (she the dog ) actually keeps me sane !!Your story of Politicians and their dogs was one that struck a note with me as I recalled a few moments from history , it was Harold Wilson that had a Labrador called 'Paddy ' that was brought to my attention in my very early days into politics , and then that awful picture of another President LBJ holding his dog up by the ears!! he would probably get impeached if that happened now! As you can see by one of the pictures Rosie networks in the very highest circles in Sefton , and I know Tony likes Labradors also.

Another little bit of Labrador interest was soon after Rosie had arrived than a very good friend past over to me an article by that well know newspaper columnist Chapman Pincher who was writing a story about his Chocolate Labby called Dido named not after the pop star but after the Queen who founded Carthage, the story was very moving as it was in the form of an obituary for the dog who he had for 12 years and had taught him how to live life to the full and what a privilege it was just being alive . He was so taken with this dog that he wrote books as if she was the author , titles such as 'One Dog and her man' and when Dido had her first litter a book entitled'' My Box of Chocolates'' he wrote others and I am luck to have been bought a couple of them they are for Dog lovers a great read . In ending I am reminded of Kipling's immortal words ''Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware of giving your heart to a dog to tear; is this because they give 'unconditional love'?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Southport 2 Kings Lynn 1

Having spent the morning delivering Richard Hands and I sneaked off to Haig Ave to see Soutport defeat King's Lynn. The crowd was about 900 and they saw Southport dominate the first half, the they went to sleep for most of the second half (the crowd and the players) up until the game got a little physical and then they woke up.
The crowd soon noticed that we had a female running the line on the KGV side. Apart from namiing her Melissa -who knows why?-she endure remarkably little barracking. Behind us one Dad-no doubt showing off to his primary school kid- started asking what she knew about football-well his son told him firmly that she was better than many of the men we'd seen and he should stop being sexist!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Vince wins top award

The Spectator awards this year are very interesting. You can read all about it here but the key bit about Vince is below:

We turn now to our penultimate award, the coveted title of Parliamentarian of the Year.
Our winner sprang to the lips of the judges almost instantly so clear and unanimous a choice was he.
His parliamentary rise in the past year has been in the words of one judge “nothing short of meteoric”, transforming him from the status of respected caretaker of a party in crisis to a level of national popularity of which most politicians can only dream.
As the first malevolent shoots of the economic crisis sprang from the soil, he always seemed a step ahead not only of the Government but of the Conservatives: incisive, dry, impeccably informed and – as it turns out – terribly prophetic.
On personal debt, Northern Rock, the loss of 25 million benefit claimants’ details, and the Labour Party’s funding travails he was always right on the money.
And in his quip last November that the Prime Minister had undergone a “transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean” he coined the best parliamentary line of the year.
He says that his ambition is to win Strictly Come Dancing. Until that day, he will have to make do with this honour.
The Parliamentarian of the Year is Vince Cable.

Birkdale Tories an their MEPs

Disgraced Southport Tory MEP-he of the dodgy £.75m -hails ,I'm informed, from Pilkington Rd and went to HGV.
How many former Birkdale Tory candidates can you indentify in these pictures? Sometimes in politics it is wise to sup with a very long spoon
It would be nice if our Tories were a little chasened by the disgraceful behavior of one of their number. We have endure -and so have many of their own backbencher- far too much criticism on the(false) basis we are all badly behaved. Well none of us have laundered hundreds of thousands of pounds. But as one Tory backbencher whispered to me a while ago 'if you have Mrs Bouquet as your role model you will always put appearances above substance'.

Southport Tory MEP and the missing £.75m

As if Southport Tories didn't have enough problems we now learn the full story of their MEP.
David Cameron yesterday expelled the Conservative party’s former chief whip in the European parliament after the Strasbourg authorities ruled that he had breached its rules and demanded that he pay back just over £500,000.
Den Dover, who resigned as chief whip in June over claims that he had siphoned off £758,000 of public money to family members through a company providing secretarial services over nine years, will face a fraud investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud body, Olaf. This has the power to ask police in Britain to carry out searches.
Full story here

Liverpool City of Culture

It was raining this lunch time so I took myself off to The Anglican Cathedral to look at a couple things connected with the Liverpool City of Culture.

Firstly there was Tracy Emin's installation in neon pink that few folk were looking at and then there were the Icon painters from Rumania around whom a large and interested crowd had gathered. Cristi Paslaru and Laurentiu Nechita are from Iasi, which is the capital city of Moldavia, they patiently explained their craft and the significance of the various bits of decoration. The exhibition lasts until Saturday and is called 'Beckoned to Heaven'

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Sefton Tories v NW Tories

I'm not sure who is a worse mess Sefton Tories or the NW Tories. Chris Davis the Lib Dem MEP for the NW has upset a lot of Tories with his campaign to clean up Euro expenses and the NW Tories have behaved in a a way that has forced the Tories to act . Chris's work to expose the excesses of the Tories deserves some praise it will be interesting to see if our local papers cover these issues after all these folk are Tory representatives for our town. The BBC covered this story and even a leading rightwing blogger covered it saying:

'Den Dover Euro Cash Laundered Into Tory Coffers +++
According to the Electoral Commission records, Den Dover's "service provider" company MP Holdings gave £1,200 to the North West Tories and printing worth £1,701 to the Chorley branch in 2004. Dover has personally given the party £57,000 since 2001.'

Hats off to Sir Ron

I've just been reviewing the statistics about activity on this Birkdale Focus blog this month. They are fascinating. We have one loyal reader in Alaska who logs on everytime Cllr Roy Connell is mentioned! Tony Robertson's pictures of trains have been downloaded by numerous people-but the most popular photo download is of David Tattersall talking to his opposite number the Environment Cabinet member from Rochdale (why?). But eclipsing them all as the most popular page (after the most current page) is this little sequence from the achieve, and judging from the IP addresses of those downloading the page there is a lot of interest from London. Looking back this has been the most popular page visited from the achieve in every month since I wrote it.

Clegg on the economy

I've just had an email from Nick Clegg's office about economic policy. There was a time when if a Liberal leader sent a public letter out it would be about constitutional reform or something. It is a sign of how far we have travelled that we are now concentrating on the 'main' issue and thanks to Vince Cable, Ming Campbell and Clegg we have adopted a clear and distinctive approach and stuck with it even when it wasn't fashionable.
Interestingly even the Spectator website has recognised this and it is certainly well worth a read. Clegg gave a major speech last night which seriously addressed the big issues that face us not just in Britain but throughout the world. You can find the speech in full here
I know some in our party have struggled with the commitment we gave to tax cuts under Ming. My gut reaction has always been supportive. I guess this is because I am convinced that the switch away from personal taxes to green tax is essential and it is one which for all his talk about Green issues Cameron is afraid to make that switch-which is possibly why we are having a lot less 'Green' talk from him. Secondly I approve because the tax proposals are redistributive. After Labour's major gaffe over the 10p tax band which hit the poor very hard and their total failure to make the most wealthy pay their fair share it is refreshing to have a clear policy which unashamedly seeks to improve the financial lot of low and middle income people. Finally anyone who has observed the vast sums that the Labour government has wasted knows that when individuals have to tighten their belts so must the state.
Here in Sefton how much has been wasted on re-organising the NHS and then re-re organising it? How much was wasted on the 'barking' proposals to re organise the Police Force? How much has been waste on IT schemes that have never performed ;the NHS one, ID cards etc all of which have spiralling costs. And sadly how gullible are the bureaucrats who always seem to support the latest hi tech scheme? As someone who has spent more time than is healthy looking at all the targets and all the attempted micro management of local government that New Labour has come up with, you can't help thinking that they've too much of our money if these things are a priority

Monday, 10 November 2008

At the Birkdale Beer and Bangers fundraiser Council Leader Tony Robertson told a rapt audience all about his trains.......... It was very kind of him to send some photos. The picture on the right is worth studying closely -especially at the names of the trains.