Tuesday, 30 June 2009

LGA at Harrogate

The first thing that has struck me is the the dearth of Labour Councillors compared to past years. I remember the time when almost every second person you bumped into a little red spot on their badge. Today they seem more likely to be wearing a tee shirt proclaiming 'I'm backing the Fourth Option-Council Housing'. There is no sight of the young professionals from the South of England who used to make up a large portion of the Labour group. At breakfast I couldn't help but overhear three Labour Councillors from a Met council loudly discussing the agenda. 'Leader, is the Local Government Minister coming?' asked one (deferential these Old Labour people). 'Who the B***** H*** is the Minister this week' was the reply.

By contrast the Lib Dems are in good heart. Nationally we are about neck and neck with Labour for Councillors, but ours are walking tall and not whinging about their parliamentary leaders. At the group meeting Party President Ros Scott was the guest speaker and got a warm reception. The issue of MPs expenses came up and the way the parliamentary party acted. In large measure Lib Dem MPs have behaved pretty well. None have 'flipped houses', none have swapped designation of second homes in order to avoid tax or done any silly stuff around council tax. It follows that none have been taken outside and publicly shot to encourage the others. Nevertheless there was a widespread feeling that more could and should be done. Ros made clear that individual candidates were taking their own initiatives and there was no need for everyone to move at the pace of the slowest. I take this as a green light to take unilateral action and not wait for the House authorities. We all need to get on with it and not behave as if we wish it would go away.

Interestingly Ros made quite a sustained pitch about reviewing the constitutional structures which she described as daunting and of putting for new folk-and by implication biased to 'insiders'. I guess it is pretty hard to win an internal party election unless you are well known outside your own patch. She also felt we needed the capacity to make quicker decisions as many of our process can be 'drawn out'

I was equally interested in her assertion that as she went around the country she discovered a pent up demand for policy discussion. It is clear that she has done a lot of constituency visits. As she spoke she sounded a bit like an enthusiastic Mayor talking about how many engagement she had had-but it was clear that she has made good use of her opportunities to engage with ordinary members as well as enjoying her visits to Liberal International at its annual conference in Vancouver. Anyway she said people had joined a political party and then discovered that they had become members of a club dedicated to leaflet delivery. She has an initiative on the way called 'engage' or some such name designed to meet the demand. I wish her well. As an former member of the Policy committee(ten long year) and chair of a policy panel I always found that there were people in key places in local parties who did not welcome such ideas! I remember one old boy telling me that he had spent all his annual leave at the old Liberal Summer Schools as a young man. They produced acres of the best policy ever to issue out of a British Party but that in the period when the Summer Schools really flourished the electoral performance of the party went down the drain.

Looking forward we have Vince Cable speaking to the conference. As Cllr David Williams observed it will be interesting to compare and contrast his contribution to that of David Cameron who follows him. Vince has been saying some tough things about the pension rights of senior council and health service employees. As Steve Comer- another politician I was an undergraduate with-pointed out most council employees are not the beneficiaries of fat pensions, so it is a challenge not to allow it to be suggested that we are after the pension rights of the low paid. Personally I can't see why the message cannot be got across. I hope that as part of a bigger review of pensions we can come up with some radical suggestions. So many private sector firms are ditching their final salary schemes and that will impact on many people paid less then even council employees.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Bedford Park
The community payback scheme cleared many bags of litter and dog fouling they also will be removing the graffiti on the huts. Councillor Hands working with the Police and local community ask for this to be done. He said “ While others just whinge we got the job done, we are grateful for the help of the Police and Probation service who organise this system of wrong doers ‘paying back in their community’

John Pugh, Birkdale's MP, is pictured here with Vince Cable's and is part of his impressive Treasury Team.
One big reform that they have been promoting is a restructuring of the banks. Most people and businesses are interested in 'utility banking' that our High Street banks used to offer. These banks have now entered in what Vince has called 'casino' banking taking on high risk gambles. We need to separate these two functions. We, the taxpayers, can not be expected to bail out the 'casino' departments of our banks.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday Vince said:
'Tens of thousands of people are losing their jobs every week and there is no sign of an end to this industrial blood-letting. Thousands of companies are closing their doors because of the recession or because they cannot get credit from banks.
And at the centre of the crisis, the bankers are rubbing their hands with glee at the way MPs have given them the perfect cover to launch their next bonus offensive'
he continued
'Many firms are closing because of banks demanding extra security, fat fees or cutting credit limits. Since the Government's decisive intervention in October to prevent the financial system collapsing, it has drifted listlessly.
It has let the banks use taxpayers' money as if it were their own, and has been too weak or confused to give firm direction. But maintaining a flow of funding to sound British companies is what the banks are for.'

Birkdale Library

Our campaign to transform the Birkdale Library grounds has met with some success. Iain Brodie Browne has promoted a scheme that will completely clear and replant all the beds surrounding the building. Phase two of the scheme will seen a children's out door reading area created. Included in the splans are extra security.
iain told FOCUS :' we have stuck wwith this project for a liong time and now we have got in place enough money to start.

Lib Dem Councillors have been working hard to improve Birkdale Library. In recent years we have seen a new roof and the removal of the old 'prefab' office at the rear of the site and this year the building is being planted.
The full plans can be seen on the website: http://birkdalelibdems.org.uk in the 'download' section
photo by sarah Harding

The Lib Dem campaign to get the railways to invest in upgrading the line between here and Ormkirk continues. The bit of the line that need renewing is known as the Burscough Curves and would link us with Ormskirk and Preston. This is exactly the sort of infrastucure investment that should be carried out during a recession especially when there areo many building workers unemployed.
Birkdale's MEP Chris Davis is pictured with the petition launched by Lib Dem Davis Sumner. ou can sign it at the website: http://birkdalelibdems.org.uk

We were delighted to have got some extra 'planters' installed in Birkdale. Some have been well maintained others have not. Richard Hands decided that this matter must sorted once and for all and has had meetings with the council. All the tubs should be plannted up shortly. Please get in touch and let us know if there are any problems.

Two sites for building affordable homes in Birkdale have been left vacant. Iain Brodie Browne is urgently seeking a meeting with the Housing association that owns the site to ask them to get a move on.

Iain told Focus that the two sites one (pictured) in Upper Aughton Rd and the other behind the 'Tommy Moore' building were owned by Servite Housing. After sitting on the sites for years they have now transferred them to another Housing Association. This is not good enough. This is public money and we are in desperate need of affordable housing for rent, shared ownership and to buy.

Lib Dems councillors have been working hard to make sure that repairs to the roadway and pavements are carried out.
There is a long list of pot holes and and uneven pavements that have been repairs recently and they include some in Birkdale Village, Dover Rd, outside Robert Tear's butchers, Hillside Rd (again) and coming soon Sandon Rd.

'The Village-a classic shopping experience'

There is all party agreement for the wording of additional sign at Birkdale Railway Station. Iain Brodie Browne told FOCUS that the Lib Dems had looked at various suggestions and agreed on this one with our calleagues. Any help we can give to traders at this difficult time must be welcome

The Lib Dem Drive to plant more street trees in Birkdale had another boost recently. Lord Ronnie Fearn and Birkdale Councillor Iain Brodie Browne are seen with one of the trees in Liverpool Rd

Happy 80th birthday to our colleague Councillor Maureen Fearn. Her energy and her grasp of events makes her a real asset to the Council.

Clearing walls of graffiti has become a real issue in Birkdale. The Lib Dem team have reported a number of them .The one pictured is in the alleyway between Central Avenue and Liverpool Road. The 'Community pay-back' team will be dealing with these soon. Other sites we have reported include: Dover Rd, the alley way in Essex Rd through to Guildford Rd, and Abbey Gardens. Please let us know if there are others that need dealing with.

The Lib Dems have been backing the move to make Southport a Cycle Town. We do not kid ourselves that the extra money we secured to invest in Southport will overnight solve all the problems for cyclists, but things are definetly improving. This picture was taken at the launch of a new initiative to provide cycle hire for visiters. A similar scheme already exists for residents. More information is available here

Richard Hands has been working with local residents to improve Abbey Gardens. The 'Community pay-back' team have already done some work and are coming back to remove graffiti

The three Birkdale Councillors hold a surgery at 2pm on the first Saturday of every month in the library. No appointment is necessary. Our email adresses are on the right of this screen.

If you want to contact your MP, John Pugh, his office is at 33 Shakespeare Street or phone Southport 533555.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Southport Carnival

It is always good to see our colleagues entering into the spirit of events. The picture shows John Dodd who is the Lib Dem Councillor for Meols Ward (Crossens, Churctown and bits of Marshside) at yesterday's carnival.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Vince Cable and Preparing Britain's Economy

Vince Cable spoke in the House of Commons this week during the debate on 'Preparing Britain's Economy for the future'. His speech can be found here.

Southport MP John Pugh is part of the Lib Dem Treasury team and is picture her with Vince.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Southport and District Allotment Society (SADWAG) have written to me. The have secured a meeting with Cllr Ronnie Fearn the Cabinet Member for- amongst other things- allotments.

I wish them well. The growth in demand for allotments is enormous and far outstrips supply. Of course some of this enthusiasm will not be maintained, but I fancy that if the council took some steps then supply could be expanded and the drop out rate lowered.

I was at my allotment this evening picking blackcurrants and gooseberries. As I looked around I compared the site with how I first saw it more than a decade ago. In those early years there were many derelict plots. These were heavily overgrown often with brambles and deep rooted perennial weeds and often fly tipped. A very fit person may over a season have cleared such a plot and made it fit for purpose, but many- especially the elderly and women were put off. Gradually almost all the plots are in cultivation and there are well over 140.
One easy step would be to increase dramatically the number of half plots available. Sefton does have some but by and large they are still the traditional size of 7 rods long.
It may be hard to credit but the Liberal party brought down Lord Salisbury's government by moving an amendment to the Queen's Speech on allotments. Liberal kept up the pressure and just over 100 years ago the Liberal government brought in the key bit of Allotment leglislation.
Locally in Birkdale one man, Ebenezer Baxendale, exploited that legislation to force the hand of a reluctant Birkdale Council to open up an allotment sites. The first site was in Shaftesbury Avenue. You can read the account of his amazing campaign in the minutes of the old Birkdale Council which are in the Atkinson Library. I think his son is remembered on the local war memorial in St John's Church. He had emigrated to Canada but came back to serve in the war.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Proper constitutional arrangements for C21st

Parliament is struggling to make itself more powerful in an era when- post Blair and Thatcher -British politics has become more presidential. You could of course argue that the rot set in with Lloyd George and the 1916 Government, but I doubt he even dreamt of the untrammeled power now enjoyed by Brown. The British constitution has not effectively responded to this evaporation of power. A 'think piece' in the Independent this morning suggests that as long as the government is drawn from the Commons too many folk will be focused on a Ministerial career and thus act as a drag on a robust and independent Commons effectively holding the government to account.

This idea is clearly gaining ground. A few weeks ago David Starkey used a slot on the BBC to argue that Britain ought to opt for thorough going reform and introduce a proper separation of powers like the Americans. The Commons would then have a clear focus for its work and would inevitably become more effective.

Graham Allen the Labour MP for Nottingham (who I shared a flat with when we were both students studying politics in London in the early 1970s) has also argued the case. Allen has a good record as a constitutional reformer. It is a mark of how quickly things are moving that when he floated the idea of acknowledging we had a quasi presidential system and making the proper provisions to hold it to account he was mocked. Today folk are not so swift to mock as they struggle to rein in the executive and giving meaning to the role of an elected assembly.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Southport Womens Lib Dems

Last the Southport WLD group held their annual salmon and strawberries fundraiser. This year it was held at St Luke's Church Hall. Pat and David Sumner were in charge of the kitchen and everything went well. Cllr Carmel Preston is the new chair and did a first class job in getting new folk interested.
The Southport group was one of the very first in the country sometime back around 1885. They were fierce for female sufferage and for temperance. We are coming up to the centenary of the 1910 election when the women did not support the Lib candidated because he was soft on temperance. The dirty tricks used in that election by the Tories are legendary. In Southport we are going to mark the occasion and more details will be published soon.

photo by Nigel Ashton

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Labour in Crisis in Bootle?

Napoleon is meant to have asked whether his Generals were lucky. Well we in Sefton are lucky. First there was the squabbles and back biting in the Tory group. It is interesting how many Tories find the opportunity to tell me embarrassing facts about the behavior of their Leader. I'm sure they do so in the knowledge that I might blog their intelligence and thus annoy her. Added to that we have the Labour Party. Nationally the New Labour coalition is falling apart. Most of the Blairite membership departed long ago locally. What we are witnessing now is the good old fashion old Labour fight. There are some individuals who would be well suited to join the Lib Dems. The best of them have already joined us. The Bootle Times carries more news this week.

The man is back

Yesterday I opened the Independents and there was an article by Vince Cable. I came home from work did a few things(including some canvassing) and settled down to Newsnight and there he was again. This morning I woke to the Today programme and there he was again. At lunchtime I drove to a appointment with Radio 5 on and there he was again. Amazing. I've heard no other Lib Dem. This reliance on Vince is a little worrying. Clearly we have other economically literate front benchers; even if they are not on the Treasury team it must be right to try and get them shouldering the burden.
Anyway the substance of what he was saying is important. He has identified the weakness in the Governments response to the failure on banking regulation. Britain is the HQ of many of the banks that indulge in 'casino banking' and it must be right that the UK tax payer doesn't have to guarantee them. The government seems reluctant to break up the banks and only offer the tax payers guarantee to the utility banking sector.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Lib Dems ditch Trident

At last a major political party has announced that they would axe the trident programme and not replace it. The Disgruntled Radical has the full story

Dragon at Botanic Gardens

Every so often you come across something simple that the council has done which makes you think-that was a good idea. In Botanic Gardens there is a chain-saw sculpture of a dragon.The children at the local primary school were involved with the project-not wielding the chain-saw but writing a poem which be seen engraved along the tail. My children have outgrown regular visits to the park (for the time being) so I had missed the installation of this artwork. It, like the gardens are well worth a visit. My colleague Cllr John Dodd has launched a campaign to bring back the boats to the gardens which will improve still further the facilities. Personally I always like the Brass Bands on a Sunday afternoon.

Paul Larkin speaks to FOCUS

I had my first chance this evening to speak with Paul Larkin. Paul has joined the Lib Dem group on Sefton Council. I was very impressed not just by Paul's knowledge of the issues facing people in the Derby Ward of Bootle he represents but by his obvious dedication to improve the lives of people living in what is one of the poorest areas in Britain.
Paul's ward adjoins the northern boundary of Liverpool and our Lib Dem colleagues in County Ward-Paul Clark et al- are his closest neighbours. The Liberal Democrats are now established as the main opposition in the Bootle constituency with the Derby Ward being added to the long standing Victoria Ward which we also hold from Labour.
One striking thing about Paul was his keenest to look forward and not to dwell on the difficulties and frustrations he has faced in the Labour Party.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Speaker

The election of the Speaker has always been a private House of Commons event, but in the new spirit of openness it does seem appropriate that citizens should express their views to MPs. In many ways the job and role of the speaker has become a proxy for debate about reform of parliament.

I fully understand why MPs may want a secret ballot on these issues. We are told that they fear the power of the whips. I can also see a downside. MPs throughout the last couple of years have always voted to obstruct freedom of information and left to their own devices they may choose a Champion who sees things from their (private) point of view. There is no guarantee that the next Speaker will be a Roundhead. (I should hasten to add I do not fear such whimpishness from my own MP-nevertheless I have written to him)

We will know when the reform of parliament has worked when MPs stop arguing for a secret ballot and feel able to justify their choice in public. In the meantime I think we can ask them to set out in public the issues that that will influence his choice.

Reducing the power of the whips over select committee chair, and greater openness. I see Dr Pack over at Lib Dem Voice has listed three areas with which I agree

1. Voters have the right to know in detail about the money that is spent to support MPs and run Parliament, and in similar detail how the decisions to spend that money are settled upon.

2. Bills being considered must be published online in a much better way than they are now, as the Free Our Bills campaign has been suggesting for some time.

3. The Internet is not a threat to a renewal in our democracy, it is one of its best hopes. Parliament should appoint a senior officer with direct working experience of the power of the Internet who reports directly to the Speaker, and who will help Parliament adapt to a new era of transparency and effectiveness.

The list goes on but we need to get a clear signal asserting that Parliament has a real chance to clean up its act and break with the past of Ruritanian ritual and opt for a modern efficient parliament.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

More turmoil for Labour

More turmoil for Labour in Derby Ward Bootle. A reliable source tells me thatcouncillor Steve McGinnity, was last night de-selected! Linda Cluskey, wife of Cllr Kevin Cluskey, will be the new Labour candidate for Derby ward in 2010. Mrs Cluskey-old loyal Labour-has stood unsuccessfully in Ainsdale.

Friday, 12 June 2009

75 years ago at Farnborough Rd

I had a long chat with Frank Warner at the Farnborough Rd 75th birthday celebration. We talked about his time at the school and other things from bombs that fell in Southport to him being one of the first residents of Central Avenue.
Click on the title and you should hear the conversation.........

Farnborough Rd Schools 75th Birthday

A great day at Farnborough Rd Schools to celebrate their 75th birthday. All the staff and pupils entered into the spirit of the 1930s. The guests of honour were the former pupils who started on the first day-many of them carried their desks from the old St John's School in Sandon Rd. Frank Warner now a school governor raised the school flag.
Also present was John Pugh MP and the Mayor who was delighted by the whole occasion. He met Joyce Fann -46years a dinner lady at the school. Radio Dune provided the entertainment along with the Singers who were on top form.

Southport Cycle Tour Series

The cycling Tour Series came to Southport last night. It was a great success. Lord Street was closed and became a venue for this exciting race. ITV4 has the highlights tonight at 7pm. Southport's status as a Cycle Town goes from strength to strength.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Sefton Councillors allowances-Lib Dems cost you less

Every year councillors allowances are published. Unlike MPs they are set by an independent body. In the interest of transparency we have lodged the details on our website -link on the left. They can be found in the 'download' area.

The most interesting/surprising thing to me is that, on average, Conservative councillors are the highest paid on Sefton Council.
Last year, Conservative councillors were paid £2300 more on average than Liberal Democrats, £15,160 pa v. £12,860 pa. This equates to an extra 18%.
The main reason for this is that the members allowance system in Sefton is very generous to the smallest party, which happens to be the Conservatives. Virually all Conservatives (i.e. 15 out of 17) received a Special Responsibility Allowance - only the 2 Dukes Ward Conservatives, Cllrs Watson and Pearson, were denied SRA by their leader Cllr Paula Parry.
In contrast, 11 out of 27 Liberal Democrats did not receive any SRA.(Note: Lib Dem councillors Blackburn, Byrne and Sumner show as receiving small amounts of SRA of up to £175, but these have been ignored in arriving at the figure of 11 - this is because they are not really SRAs, but "per diem" payments for attending planning visits or licensing meetings)

Put another way, the average amount of Special Responsibility Allowance paid by political party (as derived from spreadsheet) was:
Conservative £6312
Labour £5647
Lib Dem £4048

Sefton Euro results

One could be driven mad by looking at all the various interpretation of the Euro results. There were clearly some bits of the NW region that did spectatularly well; Burnley, Stockport, Cumbria(especially Westmorland) etc.
Naturally we are interested in how well we did in Sefton. I think it is safe to draw a few conclusions:

Comparing the Sefton swing with the overall NW swing we note the following:

1. The Conservatives did RELATIVELY badly in Sefton; over 5 years they went up 1.5% across the region, but DOWN 1.3% in Sefton - a comparative under performance of 2.8%.

2. UKIP did RELATIVELY very well in Sefton; over 5 years they went up 3.7% across the region, but UP 8.8% in Sefton - a comparative over performance of more than 5%.

3. Lib Dems did RELATIVELY fairly well in Sefton; a comparative over performance of 1.3%.

4. Labour did RELATIVELY badly in Sefton; a comparative under performance of over 2%.

Few would contend that all parts of Sefton fought as hard as they could have done-in all party other than UKIP. Clearly the turn out was down a bit.

If you would like more details follow the link on the left to our new website . The spreadsheet is in the 'download' area.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Back to 1983

We are back to 1983. The New Labour coalition has fallen apart. Back when Michael Foot led the Labour Party and their vote collapsed to within grasp of the Liberal Alliance there was much said about the unelectabilty of Labour. It was widely held that a party based on Unions and working class votes could never command 40% of the vote. The changes that took place during the Thatcher and Blair years have further eroded the old Labour base. Union membership has continued to declined. The identifiable wider working class has shrunk. Public owned housing is diminished.

The magic of Blair was to take that old rump of the Labour Party and add to it a ‘progressive’ politics that appealed to Middle England. This was greatly resented by what it’s supporters called the ‘real’ Labour party. They had no truck to with the Blairite reforms to public services. They were not ’comfortable with the rich'. They were not happy with public private partnerships and said so. Civil Liberties were a bourgeoisie concern. Constitutional reform a distraction. In a number of seats it was possible to believe that 1983 was right course and to brand those who went along with Blair as traitors-even if it brought victory.

Bootle is one such Labour Party. They were unconcerned as they lost seats in ‘middle class’ places like Formby and Crosby. What business was it of theirs to be worrying about the concerns of such people? As there votes fell in council elections recording more third places they didn’t give a damn. They simply didn’t get the need to build a coalition that reached out beyond their comfort zone. No wonder they are comfortable with Brown. Not one of them saw the need to rebel over the Iraq War, but they are enthusiastic about defying their Government and supporting the unions over the Postal delivery changes. Identity cards, Asbos, detention without trial didn’t worry them. They are at heart convinced democratic centralist. It would not worry them for a nano second if they were returned to government on 20% of the vote. Once there they would have no qualm about using the state to impose their agenda on the 80% of the population. The idea of a decentralise participatory democracy is offensive as it diminish their capacity to achieve their plan.

We are back to where we were. The Labour Party has been chased out of middle England—as well a mainstream Wales and Scotland. As they gladly wish good bye to those who appeal beyond their ‘old Labour’ strongholds they are settling for opposition. Labour membership has dropped and most of those dropping off were those who signed up to the New Labour project. All that is left are the class of 1983.

I am always amused by those who rant on against coalition government. Never has it been more obvious that the Labour Party is a coalition. It is a coalition that is made in private and where the electorate have no influence.

It is instructive that when the Labour Party was forced to come up with a form of PR they came up with the Party list system. This gives the power to the Party to decide who gets a place on the list where they are elected. More proof of their top down centralising instincts. The electorate are not allowed the chance to choose between candidates from the same party-between a Hutton or a Skinner. Equally sadly because the system of PR they chose didn’t have a transferable vote the BNP got elected in the NW. If there had been transfers then the significant Green vote would certainly not have gone to the BNP!

collegiate cabinet government

When Thatcher was under siege after the Westlands affair there were great demands from her colleagues for her to adopt a more collegiate style of government; in fact a call for a return to cabinet government. She promised to change. So has Gordon Brown. She didn’t and he can’t .

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Delores Blears

Am I the only one who seeks a likeness between the bossy interfering Hazel Blears and the ever cheerful Delores Umbridge?

Some lessons from Sefton's Baby a

The Liverpool Daily Post has a story this morning following up on the death of 'baby a' in Sefton. For those not up to date with this story start here. Lib Dems have been calling for protocols to set out the duty to report and review such incidents. We are very unhappy with the situation which surrounded 'baby a' which seemed to us to be far too secretive and prevented us holding the council to account and ensuring that the appropriate lessons were learnt and the necessary changes enacted. You simply cannot perform your duty if you are kept in the dark.

This week new protocols have been suggested. They will be dealt with by an all party Overview and Scrutiny Committee chaired by my colleague Richard Hands. I am happy to leave the details to them but I will make couple of observations.

All reporting has to be done formally in writing to a proper meeting. No 'behind the hand' informal briefing in the corridors.

If there is a report arising from an incident the law says that a synopsis should be published. In Sefton's case although the letter of the law was obeyed I think that the spirit was not. The synopsis was tuck on an obscure website that few knew about and most couldn't find even after they were told out about it. All councillor need to be notified when the report is published not left to discover it.

Finally there is an issue about the full report. Clearly we need a procedure about who sees the full report and if it is published. In the case of Haringey the synopsis appears to have allowed the council to maintain that all was ok. When key folk-Lynne Featherstone, Michael Gove and Ed Balls read the full report they formed a very different view. Featherstone and Gove have since campaigned to have the full text released. In principle we should be prepared to publish a full report. Birmingham City Council (Tory/LibDem) have undertaken to do so in another case.

Two unelected Prime Ministers too many.................

If Brown falls and the Labour Party fixes it for Alan Johnson to be ushered in as the unity candidate without a meaningful challenge-by which I mean someone other than Dr Gibson -what will the public think? Two 'unelected' Prime Ministers in a row chosen without reference to the electorate. I know we are meant to have a parliamentary democracy -but the truth is the only real role of the House of Commons is to be an electoral college to elect a Prime Minister. Frankly they might as well go home after that and not bother with a second home under the existing system.

There was a lot of anger when Brown was elected as many thought he had no mandate. It would be worse still if it happened a second time. When I was listening to Radio 5 in the car this morning there were several folk on a phone in making the same point.How would the public feel if on top of that Mandelson became Foreign Secretary sitting in the House of Lords- unelected and unaccountable?

Back in the 70's I recall a conversation with Michael Stead who floated the idea that at a general Election there should also be a ballot for Prime Minister. I cannot recall the context but it was in the aftermath of the 1974 elections when we were besieged with questions about who we would 'put into power' if we held the balance. There was a feeling that a party stitch up would not be seen as right as the electorate would not have a say.

I recalled that conversation a few weeks back when David Starkey was floating a far more radical plan on the BBC. He was suggesting that we should go for a complete separation of powers like the USA. He advocated giving the House of Commons a much beefed up role with its own civil service properly holding the executive -not drawn from its members-to account. There is much to commend this idea- altho it does sound a bit like an elected Mayor!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Southport MEP no shame??????

The disgraced Southport man elected as a Tory MEP is in the news again. The Times this morning reports:

• Den Dover, who was expelled from the Conservative Party for gross misconduct
after claiming £500,000 in “unjustified expenses”, has a pension valued at
£235,000 and will receive a “transitional allowance” of £59,367.

All this shows the failure of Cameron's approach. The total disputed claim from the Southport Tory was over £700 000. Cameron took the whip from him. He has not repaid a penny. Now he is retiring with a platanum nest egg.

I guess that other Tories will do the same. They will pocket the cash and accept that the whip is withdrawn-after all what is the whip worth if you've retired.

What is the betting that the Wintertons will not repay the mega rip off ?

Monday, 1 June 2009

Please preserve us from another standards board.....................

Of all the ill considered, micro managing nonsenses that have oozed out of New Labour the Standards Board is amongst the most discredited. It attracts silly complaints. It focuses on trivia. Is often plain daft. I got cleared of a complaint. The board decided what I was accused of was not a breach. Okay. So why go on to declare that I was guilty of what I was accused of? Bizarre. Others have had far worse experiences.
It is clear that instead of all this bureaucracy what we need is transparency. MP's expenses have been cleaned up because of the Freedom of Information Act. Reform the electoral system so that there are no safe seats. The ballot box is the answer. Consultation, or the judgement of the great and the good are part of the same problem. Give the electorate the information and trust the people at the ballot box. Johnathon Calder makes a similar point across at Liberal England
One flaw in this is the quality of much local media. There is a major campaign on at present with falling circulation and advertising revenue to preserve local media. This campaign keeps asserting that local media is essential to democracy. In theory I agree. But my experience makes me pause. In Congleton Mrs Winterton-sacked by Michael Howard for telling racist jokes- was treated with kid gloves by some of the press. Her racist story did not come as a surprise. I remember equally odious husband trying to tell me a very similar 'joke' at a civic dinner. There was no proper scrutiny of her views or record. At elections she became almost invisible refusing the Churches invitations to meeting with the candidates. Instead she was treated like some grande dame and it would have been rude to challenge her. Her extreme right wing views were not examined but she could be assured of lots of a-political photos. Mrs Winterton buys a new car. Mrs Winterton smiles.
During the great march that took place to free Nelson Mandela her views on the apartheid regime scarcely got an airing. Her visits to South Africa were written up with little comment.
Her views on expences(and actions) -which have at last forced her to stand down-were well known. She was open about them in political circles. In the 90's some of the local media was part of the 'gentleman's club' and continued membership of it was more important to them than their role of scrutiny. It is no accident that the age of the internet has forced changes. Rules approved by the club are no substitute

What Bootle does today Stockport does tomorrow

More welcome news of Labour councillors crossing the floor in the NW

Whilst I've been away.....

A Bootle councillor has 'crossed the floor' to join us, the Lib Dems have crossed over Labour in the recent opinion polls and Cameron has allied himself with a bunch of extremely socially conservative catholics.
One at a time. Paul Larkin is a good guy. I was around when there was a steady stream of Labour switchers in the early 80's. Some like Shirley Williams, David Marquand etc were very welcome. Others were not. Indeed ridding ourselves of them became a precondition of forming a coherent party. If they had hung around we would not have had a clear position on the Iraq war and our campaign on Europe would have been compromised by their instinctive 'dock yard' nationalism.
Next the opinion polls which show that Labour are in third place. Again I was around last time this happened-indeed I was preparing to fight a General Election in Southport. So my advice is not to get too excited. Mind you on this occasion I feel a level of confidence in the party leadership that I did not have back then. Clegg and Cable are managing to keep us in the news and are providing a rallying point for those who want a reformed political system. A few months back i attended a NW Lib Dem summit of Lib Dem Leaders with Nick Clegg and Norman Baker. It was very forward looking and I was impressed how Lib Dems were leading the way on the economy. I fought my first General Election in Warrington in 1979. Clegg asked what the campaign was focused on. Constitutional reform I replied. There was a general agreement that it was not surprising that we didn't win. I agree. But the truth is until we complete the work of Reform-election of the House of Lords , strengthening the parliament against the executive, more freedom of information, devolution within England, electoral reform etc, we will not have a system of government fit for the 21st Century.
For those of you who have not discovered Mark Reckons excellent blog it is well work exploring his article on the result of a general election based on the Telegraph poll. Despite Labour being in third place when translated into seats they land up in second place as the official opposition with around a hundred more seats that the Lib Dems. People's dissolution with the system will only multiply if they vote for change and still get stuck with the old system.

Mark's earlier post showing that the safer the seat the stronger the chance of being embroiled in the expenses scandal also strengthens the case for reform/ Good to have a statistician on board.

As to Cameron's nasty new little friends Johnathon Fryer has written well about this. One hopeful signs about the Euro elections is that both he (Johnathon) and Chris Davis look like getting elected.