Friday, 22 February 2008

I was struck by this commentary on the Northern Rock crisis by Steve Richards. Some of the criticism sounds awfully familar. Last night on Andrew Neils politics show we were invited to consider the analysis that Vince had done so well on Northern Rock because he had said what he would do in power whilst Osborne was just thinking how he could embarass the government. Anyway back the Richards:

“Yet the Conservatives' credibility is being tested too. They began by supporting the Government. Subsequently they condemned Mr Brown and Mr Darling and warned against nationalisation without coming up with a clear alternative. Yesterday the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, attacked the Government for not taking the decision to nationalise earlier while making clear he still opposed this particular course. Mr Osborne is getting good at having his cake and eating it, but this is not a sequence that suggests the Conservatives value consistency and coherence over opportunism.”

letter from the lga

A very nice letter landed on my desk this morning. It was from the chair of the Local Government Association Sir Simon Milton. He was congratulating us for 'the very considerable improvement that your council has made in the last year..' Now there are lots of people who think that the Comprehensive Performance Assessment is a load of baloney. This view was trenchantly expressed by Tony Greaves earlier this week. No surprise there.
I cannot see that you can run a multi million pound organisation successfully unless you have some clear way of examining your progress and learning the lessons. The CPA is so far from ideal that it is easy to attack but some performance management is important.It is fashionable to suggest that the new Local Area Agreements are an improvement. I fear that our room for manoeuvre will still be significantly restrained and the government whims will still carry too much weight. If we are to serve our local population better then we need to raise and control more of our own resources.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Were we all at the same meeting

Cllr Maureen Fearn chairs the Southport area committee and commands widespread respect for her no nonsense style. It is therefore a little amazing to see some less experienced folk question her judgement-not a thing I would do lightly. Had there been any inappropriate behaviour Cllr Fearn would have slapped down the offenders and they would have known they had been slapped down. Maureen has no fear and does no favours on such matters. If you are out of order friend or for she acts.

It is also interesting that coverage of the area committee written at the time made no mention of Maureen's allegedly poor judgement.Sadly I think that what we are witnessing is an orchestrated attempt to distract us from holding the Tory leadership to account. They have spent the last year in vicious and vindictive in fighting. First former Mayor Cllr Wendy Jones, got deselected. Her crime appears to have been that she ventured that the parliamentary candidate wasn't up to the job. Les Byrom got knifed in a surprise ambush and toppled as leader. Then came the attack on a respected local man and former Mayor-David Pearson-his crimes are well documented and include having a loud voice. The Parry Porter leadership swept all before them. It seems that no dissent would be tolerated. It was widely felt that the real target was Sir Ron Watson. They acted ruthlessly and with little regard for the hurt caused to the individuals they turned on.

Anyway all the sound and fury and really unpleasant name calling of the last few days started with our failed attempt to get Mrs Porter to answer a simple question. Why did she vote to spend £600 000 on top bureaucrats’ jobs even after the chief exec had recommended that they were axed from the budget.She promised an answer at the Area Committee. Well she said she would tell everyone at the full council. She didn't. She was silent again on the issue at the next area committee and seemed genuinely offended when my colleagues invited her to make good promise.For completeness and to show that Cllr Porter can get away with pretending she doesn't know what we are talking about I reproduce the letter that Cllr Shaw wrote to her:


Birkdale Ward

14 January 2008

Dear Brenda
You and I both attended, as observers, last Wednesday’s Scrutiny and Review Committee meeting which looked at the Chief Executive’s proposals on slimming down the senior management structure. I have to say I was very concerned that the Conservative members voted to support a Labour move which will cost local Council Tax-payers £1 million over the next two years.You were absent from the December Cabinet meeting. However you will be aware that at that meeting some Cabinet members did not support the sensible and financially-prudent proposals about the future senior management structure of the Council, although they were carried on the casting vote of the Liberal Democrat Chair of the Cabinet. I have been disappointed, that, to date, the Conservative Group on Sefton Council, in which you hold a position of leadership, has not supported the full slimming down of the bureaucracy as proposed in the report which went to Cabinet in early October. Now this matter is returning to Cabinet this Thursday.The key issue here was put clearly in a briefing note prepared for last Wednesday’s Scrutiny and Review Committee meeting. Referring to the many (less well paid) jobs recently transferred in the fields of council housing and social care, it said:“In simple terms if you lose 1000 direct employees and nearly £2.5 income it seemed reasonable to scale down management.”People often say about local authorities: “too many Chiefs, not enough Indians.” This is sometimes far too simplistic. However I hope you will agree that it is incumbent upon those who do not seize, with open arms, the opportunity to slim down the senior Council bureaucracy to explain why they are willing to waste these enormous sums of Council Tax-payers’ money.Your absence from the December Cabinet meeting means that you have not previously voted on this issue (setting aside the full Council vote which was subsequently declared to be illegal). Accordingly, the issue of a “U-Turn” would not arise in your case. Putting it bluntly, while I would welcome any influence you can exert on your two Conservative colleagues in the Cabinet in voting for prudent financial management, your vote alone can swing the decision.We are clearly not talking about trivial sums of money here and I very much hope you are willing to put the interests of those you represent above the party whip. Please think what good could be done with £1 million, or how much a saving of this amount would allow Sefton’s Council Tax to be cut

Yours sincerely



P.S. The figure of £1 million over two years is arrived at as follows:

Year 1Annual employment cost of 3 senior post which Labour wish to “save” £300,000

Projected cost of early retirement package of Chief Executive/Recruitment Consultants/increased pay of replacement Chief Executive £350,000

Year 2Annual employment cost of 3 senior post which Labour wish to “save” £300,000

Contingency £50,000---------------

TOTAL OVER 2 YEARS £1,000,000

Liberal England: Dancing with Vince Cable

It's worth a visit to read of the cult of Vince Cable which apparently is mushrooming on Facebook and the like. The link to Michael White's \rticle is also recommended

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Vince get under chancellors skin

Vince has got the Chancellor and the chief Secretary to the treasury wobbling. Now we have seen the details of the nationalisation package it is clear that there are issues about a Jersey registered company which has had many of the best mortgages transferred to it by Northern Rock. Vince (and to a lesser extent Ken Clarke) has picked this up and is closely questioning the two members of the government. His language has been direct and so far the answers have been less than convincing. There is even a threat that we might vote against the measure in the Lords if some clarity is not achieved. This is real hard ball politics. It is our job to hold members of the executive to account even if the find it uncongenial or worse. Those who can't cope are soon on their way. The full story from the BBC

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The ICM poll makes good reading, I think. The Tories have failed to get away and establish a clear lead over Labour and stands still at 37% well below the 40+% they need to establish an election winning margin. Clearly amongst key voters there is no belief that the Tories are economically competent. Lib Dem are up to 21% which is encouraging if not earth shattering. I think that we will get a general election boost and local election results also give more cause for hope.

It is amazing that we should be embarking on 2008 at 21% a strengthened front bench: Vince Cable, Huhne, Clegg, Ming and Kennedy are all well known and effective performers and others -Ed Davey , Susan Krammer, Sarah Teather, Steve Webb etc breaking into the media.


Early results from the parliamentary elections in Pakistan indicate sweeping gains by several opposition parties, notably the PPP of the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N). President Musharraf has said he will abide by the results and so far opposition fears of widespread vote-rigging seem unfounded. Voter turnout was below 40 per cent, however, partly because many electors were afraid to go to the polls, given the violence in the run-up to the elections, but also because many people understandably regard most politicians in Pakistan as corrupt. As the PPP and the PML (N) can’t stand each other, it is hard to see them working together in a ruling coalition altho' if there is to be a stable non military governmentthey need to find a way.
Today we have seen an offer of coalition from the PPP(there leader Benazir's husband pictured), if Nawaz Sharif's party go along they will have an overall majority in the parliament. If they can muster a 2/3rds majority they can get rid of 'President' Musharraf. His election last year was widely thought to be a sham and was boycotted by large sections of the elctorate. It will be interesting to see whether they will then restore the judges that the President removed last year for fear they might declare his election unconstitutional
The BBC website carries a report looking at Washington's view of the elections. This is crucial as Bush's adoption of the undemocratic military dictator as an partner in the so called war on terror has concerned many. A stable democratic government would be a much better base to tackle the important challenges in Pakistan. I have copied the article in full:
'Although the American people are more focused on their nation's own presidential race, Washington's interest in - and concern about - Pakistan's elections can perhaps be gauged by the number of high-ranking military and intelligence officials it has despatched to Islamabad in recent weeks.
Among them were the top military officer in the US, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm Michael Mullen, CIA Director Michael Hayden and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

Adm Michael Mullen was among top US officials recently in Pakistan
The stakes for the US in Monday's election are high: the US has backed President Pervez Musharraf since an alliance was forged in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and it views Pakistan as a vital ally in the self-declared war on terror and fight against al-Qaeda.
The political unrest linked to Mr Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule last year and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has dealt a blow to Washington's strategy in the region - the restoration of democracy in Pakistan in order to offer an alternative path, away from militancy and extremism.
The US is now looking to the elections to stabilise what it is all too aware is a nuclear-armed nation and ensure that Islamabad's collaboration in the fight against terror - to support which Washington has given more than $10bn in aid to Pakistan - continues.
But there is perhaps a sense of frustration in Washington about the limitations as to what the US can do to make that happen.
Richard Boucher, Assistant US Secretary of State, told the national security and foreign affairs panel of the US House of Representatives late last month that "if history was any guide", some fraud was to be expected in Pakistan's elections.
However, he urged Congressmen not to give up on the idea that a new leadership could emerge from "a legitimate process" and said US embassy teams were doing what they could to monitor voting.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress she was concerned about the potential for election violence and voting irregularities.
But, she added: "I believe that the Pakistani leadership understands that they have to have an election that inspires confidence in the Pakistani people that this is a step forward for democracy."

Islamists accuse the US of attacks in Pakistan
At the same time, the US will be aware that it needs to tread sensitively given strong currents of anti-Americanism in Pakistani public opinion.
A Pew Global Attitudes survey published in December found that only 15% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the US.
And, while most Pakistanis support the idea of free and fair elections, more than half believe the US only supports democracy when it serves Washington's interest.
As for what outcome Washington may hope to see, observers suggest a sweeping win for Mrs Bhutto's PPP party, as opposed to that of Mr Musharraf, might be welcome because it would reinforce the perception that elections were free and fair.
That might act to stabilise the country, leaving the military freer to focus on the "war on terror" - and, observers add, the Bush administration would prefer to work with a PPP prime minister than with one from the opposition Nawaz Sharif camp. '

Benazir Bhutto has a new book out finished just before she was killed. Called Reconciliation, it outlines her vision for avoiding the so-called 'clash of civilisations' between the Muslim world and the West. She suggests a new Marshall Plan for Western engagement in poverty in Muslim nations. Deprivation and extremism go hand in hand, she writes. She also warns that Pakistan is a 'tinderbox' with a resurgence of Taliban strength within the country. Some may dismiss her policies as idealistic and unworkable but unless someone can persuade the western world to engage with muslim countries with the type of committment displayed in the post war reconstruction of Europe the future for all of us is bleak.

Among the most important passages of the book is the discussion on Islam. She presents a very different vision of that faith from the characture belovbed by some of our press. For that alone the book-still only available in hardback-is worth reading.

Monday, 18 February 2008

BBC bias ?

It is not an original thought I know, but Newsnight managed to carry two major domestic political stories; Northern Rock and the Iraq dodgy dossier. These are two issues on which the Tories have not made the running. Even now it is hard to fathom precisely what the Tory would do on Norhern Rock, their only policy would appear to be to keep repeating 'nationalisation' and 'old 1970's style Labour'. We had an extended clip of David Cameron and the studio discussion after had the Tory spokesman. There was not a glimpse of Vince Cable despite the fact that he has been the most impressive and intellectually coherent spokesman on the issue.

Next came Iraq. Once again we got the Tory Haig. Now unless I've missed something the Tories -excluding some honourable exceptions-supported the war. In fact to recall some of the enthusiastic support Tories offered and the hard time some of they gave Kennedy I am fairly convinced they would have supported the war with or without a dossier. The one major party who opposed the war was the Lib Dems but no Ming or Micheal Moore or Clegg just more Tories

Vince strikes again

Vince Cable was at it again to day-showing that he is the real opposition to the government on economic issues. George Osbourne is distinctly light weight beside hime espescially over the big issues like Northern rock. Follow the link to read Vince on the need to deal with tax breaks for super rich residents

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Litter bins

New Litter bins in Birkdale. Top left (unless that is the formatting changes when I save this post)is at the foot of the stairs over to Hillside Station. This is a favourite dog walking spot through the 'pine woods' and a major r5oute to school for Birkdale Boys and Greenbank.
Top right is outside the Sandon Crown another favourite haunt of school children and finally bottom left is next the the bus terminus for the No15 on Clive Rd. All of these have been requested by local residents and since their erection have been well used.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Birkdale water colour

I got stopped in the street by a very polite man who asked me about the water colour of the sand dunes hanging in the Town Hall that I mentioned in connection with the poem The Birkdale Nightingale. Here is a rather poor photo of it spoilt by the reflection from the window. I shall try again. For the record I spoke with the journalist who wrote the article on the award winning poetry book and he confirmed that he was not responsible for the headline.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Hillside Rd lamps

As a councillor people contact you about all manner of issues. Usually thet are readily dealt with-a street light out, a pothole here, an uncollected bin there, an unrebded open space etc. These are usally easily sorted and the council comes along and does the remedial work. Some issues are more complex and demanding-neighbour disputes, anti social behavior, the planning department, issues at schools, problems with cronically ill elderly residents... A couple of years ago I had a gent who was involved in the Portland Down experiments when he was a service man in the 50's. But I have never has so much hassle over two lamp standards before. The saga began last year when a resident contacted me by email about two lamp standards that had been lest unpainted when all the others in the street had been given a fresh lick of paint in the corporate colours of the old Southport County Borough. I contacted the department and was promised that it would be sorted. Several emails later from the department and her and still no paint! So now I've taken a photo and forwarded it the department. The lady herself was quite laid back and assumes that as the open golf is coming later this year then they will get done sometime soon.


Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Candleford and the Archbishop's dilemma

Watching the television adaptation of Lark Rise in Candleford on Sunday night I was struck by relevance of the plot to Rowan William’s dilemma. The plot in brief was that the devoutly Christian postman was being required to work on the Sabbath. He was clearly offended by this and the local postmistress had accommodated his honest objection. The Inspector arrived and insisted that there should be one law for all and that the poor man had to work on the Sabbath.
It is important in a pluralist society to agree how much room there is to uphold honestly held convictions. In that context I was saddened, if not surprised, to see Williams’s predecessor join the throng of disapproval. I’d have thought that if could not agree his best plan would have been to keep his mouth shut. If we are driven to the position when there is one rule for then Carey and his followers who have flooded the airwaves this week( see a Liberal England) might well find that a majority of citizen may feel it appropriate that the C of E should not have an opt out of the equality legislation when it comes to the employment of gay clergy

From our sports reporter

A guest blog from David Sumner recalling events at a recent Southport Area Committee. For accuracy it should be noted that David Pearson did not attend this meeting.

By our sports editor
Southport F. C. 14 Tories 0

The scene…Southport Town Hall
The event….Southport Area Committee

'Trust in Yellow' promoting Southport Football Club had asked the Area Committee to help in paying for directional signs for away visitors to Haig Avenue.
The Tories went straight into defence with the fact that all their money was to be spent on other things. Lib Dems attacked with the importance of backing our local football club. All the play was at the Tory end with them defending their “no help for Southport FC”. A tight battle was fought in one ward were the two Lib Dems out played the Tory in a magnificent display. The final outcome to this battle was a Lib Dem Victory 14 – 0. The Tory Manger cried foul but she was ruled off-side by the Ref. The true winners of this epic battle was Southport Football Club.

Friday, 8 February 2008

4 star rating for Sefton

Now let us not get carried away. There has been some very good work done in Sefton over the last 3/4 years on performance management and we have undoubtedly impoved. That is not the same thing as saying we are getting it all right. We quite clearly are not. Nevertheless we ought to congratulate all the staff involved, this is a real achievement and any attempt to rubbish it would be wrong.
One of the key items that the full report picks out is the progress over the major services review and the impact that should have on cost reductions and efficency. We all know more could have been and should have been achieved there. We will have passed the Rubicorn when all parties vote for the final deal. I think this is now probable but I still wait to see the vote.

It must also be said that the things being measured here might not accord exactly with the expectation of our citizens. They are still New Labour's targets. We have not fully taken control of the process . I am keen to get a much more robust and challenging focus on sustainabilty. Across local government and central government I do not believe that the urgency and high importance of this issue has been comprehended. In that context Nick Clegg and Steve Webb have produced some important ideas the other day Nevertheless let us enjoy our moment of praise, better this than being a one star authority. And of course I should say that I am cabinet member for performance. The report below was given to the council this week:

Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council Score 2007
Sefton has been judged as a council that is improving well and demonstrating a 4 star overall performance.

Sefton's scorecard was published on the 7 February 2008 to include the 2007 direction of travel assessment. The published score for 2007 and stated that this is a council whose direction of travel is improving well and demonstrating a 4 star overall performance.

The Audit Commission reached this overall rating by looking at:
What progress Sefton Council has made in the last year – direction of travel
How Sefton Council manages its finances and provides value for money – use of resources
How Sefton Council's main services perform – service performance
How Sefton Council is run – corporate assessment

The following summary has been provided to support the 2007 direction of travel assessment:

Sefton Council is improving well. It continues to improve services in its priority areas and is improving at a faster rate than the majority of other councils. The local environment is cleaner and recycling is improving. Outcomes for children and young people are good, multi agency support for looked after children and care leavers is effective and partnership work to tackle bullying has delivered results. Pupils generally achieve good results in school exams and marks have improved in deprived areas of the borough. Services for older people continue to improve. The Council performs well in helping older people to live at home. Crime is reducing and crime levels are below average. However there is more to do to reduce the fear of crime in the borough. The Council is making good progress in increasing its knowledge of local communities and ensuring that services respond to those needs. The Council achieves good value for money with services that are below average cost. It is planning effectively for the future and a major service review designed to reduce costs and improve services is progressing well.
Audit Commission National Report 2007
The Audit commission has stated that the majority of councils are delivering a high level of services to local people, with four out of five offering a 3 or 4 star standard, according to the 2007 Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) results published today. Most councils are not only achieving a high standard in their administration, but are also improving their services, with three-quarters rated as improving well or strongly.

Two councils jumped two stars: Lambeth and Stoke-on-Trent, which was last year's lowest achieving council. Others have demonstrated the continuous improvements that councils can make, even when starting from a low base, with Bedfordshire, Hackney and Sefton improving their star rating in each year of CPA - The Harder Test. View the scores and analysis report.

Float like a butterfly sting like a bee

In sport there is nothing finer than to see a skilful player thread their way drew a defence and score. Hours of preparation combined with nature’s gifts combine to create a pleasing and effective player. The sight of George Best in full flight outwitting the defence with grace and speed homing in the goal or Barry John who having practiced and practiced receiving the pass from the scrum half having a burst of speed and a shimmy slicing through a leaden footed three quarter line to score a try, these are great moments of sport.
Every so often there comes upon the scene a second rate striker who has neither the skill nor grace of a Barry John and has not devoted themselves to hours of unglamorous preparation. They have practiced the goal scoring celebration routine; they love the applause and the adoration of the crowd, but they simply are not out of the top draw.
It is then that the defender steps up to do his work because for every striker there is a centre half, for every fly half a full back and for every seeker and bludger. Their skills are admired by true aficionados of the game, their skills admired and valued by the discerning observer. It is true that this is no immediately obvious to those newly introduced to the sport they look for the more obvious gratification provided by the showy antics of the front player. But with experience and dedication they come to appreciated that it is only by overcoming the challenges of an organised defence that there is any real satisfaction or achievement in scoring a goal. As we see on our TV’s every week it is the second rate striker lacking in skill and proper preparation who lands up on the floor appealing to the ref whining: ‘it’s unfair, the full back tackled me’
Now one doesn’t need to be an advocate of the Tommy Smith, or Chopper Harris or Norman Hunter school of defending to grow impatient with the prima donnas who keep whinging to the ref. The great players relish the challenge of taking on skilful defender, they now that it improves their game, it puts them on their metal and reveals their true character.
Sometimes the poor manager, left in the lurch by a departing prima donna, or a striker with a an irreversibly broken leg, constrained by being an unfashionable team with a poor reputation and desperate to make a replacement, reaches down to the lower divisions hoping to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The tractor boy slugger's ego is heavily massaged to make him believe he can achieve great things. The press are promised a messianic advance which they pass on to the public. But, as the weeks and months go by, with the team performing more poorly than ever, the list of excuses which the manager can produce becomes exhausted. Likewise, the press who have promoted the striker as the new Eusabio become frustrated at having to try yet again to blag the readers with 'the Empress' new clothes.

It is yet another Saturday. The striker is once more on his back in no-man's land, legs flailing in the air and screaming to the ref while the ball has travelled fifty metres in the 'wrong' direction'. The manager harrangues the 'fourth official' at the sidelines and is asked to take himself to the stand. The fans trickle from the stadium

As so often in sport it is so in life.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Birkdale Nightingale poet wins award

Now I have written admiringly about John Siddle's journalism but on this occaision I think he has got the tone wrong. He, or the sub editor , have given this story a negative spin when in truth it is a stonking success. So well done Jean, I've never met you-unless I've knocked on your door at an election-but in our imaginations you have given form and substance to our lanscape. I shall go to Broadhurst's and Saturday and buy your book. Anyway here is John's report:

Southport poet Jean Sprackland misses out on prestigious Costa prize
Feb 6 2008

by John Siddle, Midweek Visiter

A SOUTHPORT poet has narrowly missed out on winning the country’s most celebrated literary prize.
Jean Sprackland reached the final shortlist for the Costa Book of the Year for her Southport-inspired collection, Tilt, but was beaten by Scottish author, AL Kennedy.
At a lavish ceremony in London, Jean was awarded the Costa Poetry Award for her book. which judges described as “taut, powerful poems”.
But she failed to scoop the overall prize when pitted against five other category winners.
Jean said: “I absolutely didn’t expect to win. It’s very unusual for the winner of the poetry award to win the main prize.

“The ceremony was very grand and glamorous, certainly nothing I’m used to. I must have had about 300 photographs taken of me during the course of the evening!”
Formerly known as The Whitbread Prize, the award recognises the most enjoyable book of the last year by writers based in the UK and Ireland. Previous winners include Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.
The glittering night at The Intercontinental Hotel in London was attended by around 500 people, including eminent literary figures.
Jean added: “There were a few famous faces, and it was slightly scary when I had to go on stage to collect my award, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I took my son and daughter with me, and they had a fantastic time. It’s something you never forget.”
Jean plans to take time off from writing poetry, but is considering a non-fiction book on Southport’s coastline.

Tories in hand brake U turn on wheelie bin

Tories in handbrake u-turn

After months of scare mongering and campaigning for an end to the wheelie bin collection regime the Tories quietly signalled their retreat. It was Cllr Barber who when confronted with the facts accepted that the option that the Tories were pedalling was not on. The full report on the £7million the Tories wanted to waste! is here.

Of all the embarassing cock-ups the Tories have suffered this is the most humiliating. Within weeks of approving the new system they were out campaigning against it. Leaflets were produced that in the same campaign supported and oppossed the system. We will produce all these leaflets. Those published during the Manor Ward by election are particularly damaging.

There seems to be a theory amongst some Tories that is ok to vote for a proposition and then pretend to all and sundry that you are going represent pockets of opposition to the very policies you have agreeed.They are unreliable partners. Imagine this was not politics but personal relationships.What would you think of someone who told you the agreed with you and agreed with what you are going to do. These things may be difficult for both of you. Then you find the very people who agreed those decisions walk out the door and start slagging off the proposition they have just agreed with. Talk about flipping and flopping.

The best bit was Les Byrom who has led the charge against wheelie bins he was up on his feet trying to distract everyone from the uncomfortable fact that his party has signed up for the second year running to the alternative weekly collection in the budget process. Every red herring he could think of was thrown into the debate. But the simple truth remained that the Tories have done a wheelie U turn

Farnboro Rd/Halasll Rd

I raised the problem of traffic around Farnborough Rd school with the police this evening. This follows on from a meeting that the headteacher has held with the police. There a couple big issues, traffic moving and parking in Farnboro Rd and obstruction of drives in Halsall Rd. We look forward to enforcement

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Chief Constable in Southport

On Friday night we are getting a visit from the Chief Constable who is coming to patrol the night time economy. It is good to see him but I'm not so sure how typical things will be now everyone knows he is coming

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Soutport Area Committee

Poor Brenda, the minutes of the last meeting clearly show that having 'bottled' her chance to explain why she was willing squander a few hundred thousand pounds, she undertook to explain at the full council the next day. Come the full council there was not a word from Brenda. She is not a women greatly acquainted with silence but some how weeks later she still has not come up with a coherent explanation.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Social policy and the vampire bat

There are fashions in political ideas. I was transported back more than three decades in my mind when I heard David Willets -Tory front bencher-talking about Mutual Aid on Start the Week (Radio 4). He did not call it Mutual Aid but for all practical purposes that is what he was describing. He was particularly taken with the behaviour of the Vampire bat which having sucked blood shares his surplus with other vampire bats. Co-operation as a response to outside threats is well documented in biology. Ever since Darwin- and the more enthusiastic advocates of competition/natural selection and nature being red in tooth and claw- there have been others principally Kropotkin (pictured) who have pointed out that one survival strategy in nature is mutual aid. This debate is current with Richard Hawkins playing the part of a latter day Darwin.
It is interesting to see a Tory who after having embraced the cruder and more brutal aspects of a market economy now talks about need for community cohesion and draws on the ideas of the liberal/libertarian left. It certainly blew the mind of fellow Start the Week guest novelist Peter Carey.
The Liberal history group ran a series articles in the spring and summer last year looking specifically at Kropotkin's influences on the New Liberals at the turn of the last century. In particular his theories of Mutual Aid and their impact on such key Liberal thinkers as L.T.Hobhouse and J.A.Hobson.
Half a century later the Young Liberals took him up again. I well remember a poster which had emblazoned upon it in bright pink a quote allegedly from Kropotkin's essay 'Appeal to the Young'. In 1975 as Political Vice Chair of NLYL I edited a series of pamphlets and Kropotkin's 'Appeal to the Young' was one of them-along with essays by Jo Grimond, Michael Meadowcroft and Henry Thoreau (Michael always said that the authors sounded like a firm of shady solicitors). Sadly during editing I noticed that the quote on the poster was no where to be found in the essay.
At about the same time a new edition of Kropotkin's Factories Field and Workshops was published with foreword by Colin Ward. This was his great 'green' manifesto with ideas on economic and environmental sustainability which influenced Ebenezer Howard and the town and country planning movement and the development of garden suburbs like Letchworth. On reflection I think that the 'green' ideas Kropotkin advanced -a century before they entered mainstream political debate which were more influential on my generation than were his ideas on mutual aid. Had I got round to it that would have been the substance of a letter to the Liberal History Journal.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Jo Grimond's last election speach?

Thinking of Congleton General Elections brought to mind Jo Grimond's unscheduled visit. I never got the full story but as much as pieced together was as follows.
Jo was persuaded to come down from Orkney late on in the campaign. I think he was meant to be speaking in Hazel Grove but some how the wires got crossed and Viv Bingham(former President of the party) met him by chance at Manchester airport. There was no meeting at Hazel Grove that night and there was a frantic ring around 'target' seats to see where he could be best deployed.
It didn't take long for us to say yes-to this day I cannot fathom the logic of those who turned him down. The word was soon out the Jo was coming and disbelieving activists arrived from all corners of the constituency each clutching a pamphlet or book of Jo's for signiture. I was a great night and really cheered everyone up. We always claimed it as Jo's last election appearance.
The meeting was a bit of a damp squib. I was speaking to the NFU in a pub. Anyway Jo was brilliant.

Snout-gate Winterton in trough?

Tory MP Lady Winterton having been sacked twice from the shadow cabinet, the last time for telling a vile racist joke has now got herself in hot water over her expenses -she appears to be claiming rent on a property she already owns-she has transferred the ownership to a trust. Those really cleaning up are her children-shades of Mr Conway.

I was particularly drawn to this story having fought her in two general elections.-1987 & 1991 when I polled over 18,000 votes on both occaisions. More of this story can be found in Edward Pearce's book 'Election Rides' Faber and Faber 1991,which chronicled one of my campaigns. I remember discussing the election results with Chris Davis, we both had similar results and he pointed out that I had the consolation of a chapter in Pearce's book. A few months later he had the consolation of a by-election and then a safe seat as an MEP.

Anyone I always found her to be the worst of Tories. Her voting record shows her opposition to transparent working in parliament. She put out press releases opposing gay rights-voting against civil partnership and a raft of other civil rights measures. She was 'hyper' about lesbians getting families. She visited South Africa in the days of apartheid and in the view of many gave succour to the white regime- hence I found nobody who was surprised that she was telling racist jokes.
She played the grande dame well-despite coming from a family of miners. She had a compliant local media. She only held one public meeting I am aware of, and her husband reportedly shouted at some of the teachers present! She always boycotted the Churches election meeting and never appeared on a platform with other candidates.

Now she has been caught acting in a way that many will consider reprehensible. She may have avoided breaking the letter of the law but does anyone seriously believe that the MP's housing allowance is a way of making a massive deferred payment to your children? She loved to pose a s a tough law and order Tory..

But the truth of the matter is that she will not think she has done anything wrong. Her husband will stoutly defend her. How nice it would be if she was contrite and said sorry and paid back the money. I saw nothing in her character that makes me think she will. I would like to be wrong.
The outcome of all these revelations will be to reduce public respect for MPs. We need clear rules that are audited. The norms of good recruitment and equal opportunities should apply to MPs.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Another red faced Tory

MPs face tougher rules as Commons expels Conway

Derek Conway has "concluded that it is time to step down"
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor and James MacintyreFriday,

1 February 2008

MPs are likely to be able to carry on employing members of their families at the taxpayers' expense in spite of the scandal over the disgraced Tory MP Derek Conway, who was expelled from the Commons for 10 days yesterday.
House of Commons rules are expected to be tightened to require MPs to declare payments on a public register if they employ spouses or children on their expenses, which many do. Spot checks could also be introduced, after Downing Street said the idea was "interesting".
However, sources for Gordon Brown and David Cameron, the Tory leader, made it clear they would not support a move to ban MPs from employing members of their families.
Mr Conway, who announced he was quitting Parliament at the next election, was suspended yesterday for "misusing" parliamentary funds by employing his sons, Henry and Freddie, for £32,000 and £45,163 as research assistants without any evidence that they did any work.
It also emerged he had paid an intimate friend of Henry Conway, Michel Pratte, as a researcher but had only paid his full-time secretary £15,300 a year for working in his constituency office in Old Bexley and Sidcup.
Mr Conway was accused by the former Labour minister Frank Field of "embezzlement" but the police are unlikely to mount a criminal investigation.
But Scotland Yard confirmed that it has received a letter asking for an inquiry into whether fraud had been committed from Duncan Borrowman, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mr Conway's seat.
Walking out of his mansion flat in central London, Mr Conway tried to play down the affair, emphasising that Mr Pratte was not a relative and saying of his sons : "Young people will be young people ... They have a right to a social life."
Last night the former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke said of Mr Conway: "In any other walk of life he would be sacked."
There are many issues raised by this story. I would never dream of employing my wife or a member of my family without declaring an interest and withdrawing from the selection process. There are undoubtedly lots of advantages for those who are away from home a lot in having family around them, but that is true of many business men, consultants and trainers and most organisations would not bend the rules.
Personally I would rather that the normal recruitment process happened. A clear job description etc and a competitive interview or other selection process.
One of the nastier bits in all this is the treatment of his constituency secretary who was paid less than the family. She actually did a proper job. There should be a rate for the job and no upgrades for family. In westminster this may all be acceptable but outside it looks rotton. Thank goodness Norman Baker has spoken clearly. I cannot see why proper employment practices cannot be a condition of receiveing the Whip. We do not need to wait for Parliament to act.


Sentenced to death: Afghan who dared to read about women's rights

By Kim Sengupta Thursday, 31 January 2008

A young man, a student of journalism, is sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet. The sentence is then upheld by the country's rulers. This is Afghanistan – not in Taliban times but six years after "liberation" and under the democratic rule of the West's ally Hamid Karzai.
The fate of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening concern about erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan. He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.
Mr Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him and he was arrested, tried by religious judges without – say his friends and family – being allowed legal representation and sentenced to death.
The Independent is launching a campaign today to secure justice for Mr Kambaksh. The UN, human rights groups, journalists' organisations and Western diplomats have urged Mr Karzai's government to intervene and free him. But the Afghan Senate passed a motion yesterday confirming the death sentence.

Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "It is clear that this case has nothing to do with blasphemy and everything to do with prejudice. Afghanistan is sliding back towards the bad old days where women were subjugated and journalists persecuted. We have invested far too much in Afghanistan to allow freedom and democracy to falter. If this sentence is carried through, it will raise major questions about the country's future."

You can find the Petition here.