Monday, 31 May 2010
Mark Wallace: The abolition of Comprehensive Area Assessments is to be welcomed
Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers Alliance welcomes the abolition of Comprehensive Area Assessments.
ConservativeHome has broken a lot of surprising stories over the years. Here’s another one: I agree with the Local Government Association about something.
Shocking, isn’t it? I almost fell off my chair myself, and I’m sure the LGA will be no less surprised.
Fittingly, as the Coalition Government is all about bringing together unlikely bedfellows, it is one of their policies that has put both me and the LGA on the same page: the abolition of Comprehensive Area Assessments (CAAs).
I wrote here back in December when the CAAs were launched that they were a pointless, uninformative exercise. It’s nice to know that Eric Pickles not only reads ConHome but apparently agrees with my observation!
The Comprehensive Area Assessment was introduced to replace the old, failed star system of grading council performance.
The stars just didn’t work. The Audit Commission cost every council a fortune chasing up statistics and strategy documents, only to give them a relatively meaningless star grade that swiftly became devalued as almost every council got either 3 or 4 of the possible 4 stars.
Councils that local residents felt were overcharging and underperforming were able to rebut all criticism by pointing to an arbitrary grading of their work given by a distant quango.
Due to the obvious flaws in the star system, the Audit Commission and the Brown Government eventually gave in to public and town hall pressure and scrapped it.
Of course, it was never going to be that simple.
Having got rid of a bureaucratic, uninformative process that encouraged councils to jump through arbitrary hoops set by the Audit Commission rather than the people, and which then gave the public limited information that was far too broad, they replaced it with the CAAs – a system which took those very problems to a whole new level.
Instead of being ranked out of four stars, the CAA rated each council with either a red or a green flag, signifying whether they were “good” or not. Fairly obviously, this was even less precise than before.
While extending the depth of information gathered and the number of forms that needed to be filled out by council officers, the public got data in an even more limited resolution than previously.
For these reasons, both I and the LGA – as well as thousands of council officers – are happy to see the CAAs crumpled up and thrown in the Whitehall wastepaper basket where they belong.
The simple fact is that even when they were first launched, they were already obsolete.
Councils like Windsor & Maidenhead were producing detailed, real information about their spending and policy decisions. They were even publishing half-hourly readouts on their energy meters (saving 15% on their bills).
By the time the CAAs were launched in December 2009, W&M had already commissioned an online transparency tool to give unparalleled insight into what and how they do their work, and provide comparison with other councils nationally (you can see it here).
Essentially, by launching Comprehensive Area Assessments the Audit Commission had brought an Etch-a-Sketch to an iPad convention.
Their abolition – and the parallel policy of every council publishing all spending over £500 - heralds a real shift in local government’s priorities. Instead of running themselves ragged conforming to the often bizarre private expectations of a quango like the Audit Commission, now they will answer to the people in their local area.
When you think of it like that, it becomes clear that it was mad to move away from that principle in the first place.
He was referring of course to Conservative and Labour MPs. His own MPs were squeaky clean and hadn't done such terrible deeds. Indeed, Clegg's pitch was that the 'old' parties were riddled with sleaze in contrast to the clean upstanding behaviour of Lib Dem MPs.
Then we had the David Laws revelations and now we have revealed to us the activities of Mr Alexander which, if the Daily Telegraph story is correct, are some of the actions Mr Clegg spoke so disparagingly of in the television debate. People in glasshouses are well advised not to throw stones. What is Clegg going to do now? Having slagged off Labour and Tory MPs is he going to make an exception for Danny boy? And, what is Cameron going to do?
The expenses sleaze stench has been carried into the new House of Commons and it is ironic that it is emanating from the Liberal Democrats who made great play at the general election of their virtuousness, integrity, honesty and transparency.
Sunday, 30 May 2010
Clearly South Eastern are seeking to make the service from Charing Cross to Ashford unattractive in order to persuade passengers to use the more expensive high speed route.
Much slower, so now I will always take the car to Ashford and points beyond.
The government is proposing that there should be a directly elected commissioner which seems to me to be a very sensible proposal. Not only will it save money but it will bring in direct accountability to the electorate.
Currently members are appointed from magistrates and councillors, except for the 'independent members'.
To become an independent member you are required to fill in an application form which is then considered by an 'independent selection committee'. So far I have not found any information which sets out who appoints this committee, who sits on it and its terms of reference. If you get past this stage you are then interviewed by members of the KPA.
The sooner this process is swept away and democratic accountability is introduced the better.
Unsurprisingly the Chair of the KPA has come out against the government's proposals. Her main argument seems to be that the status quo is working well and by implication the lack of democratic accountability doesn't matter.
Nearly forgot: the chair of KPA is Ann Barnes.
Saturday, 29 May 2010
It is regrettable that Nick Clegg has remained silent for the last 24 hours. No statement of support. But of course it is what we should have expected. The whole Liberal Democrat election was run on a lie: that the Lib Dems were squeaky clean on the expenses issue. Now we know they are not: indeed one former Lib Dem MP, David Holmes, lost Chesterfield to Labour and had been embroiled in an expenses issue. Clegg attempted to gloss over that: wrongly claiming the MPs involved had volunteered the information - but it was only after the Daily Telegraph had identified them.
David Laws has paid the price for the stance the Liberal Democrats took at the election.
There is no suggestion that Laws was seeking to, or did gain any personal financial advantage from his actions, nor I assume did his partner as the rent charged seems to be at the going rate. This marks out this case from most of the other examples of grubby expenses wrongdoing which were about financial self-interest.
The motive behind Laws' actions was to protect himself and his partner from the nature of their relationship and sexuality becoming public knowledge.
It is likely that what has happened has not damaged the public purse and it is public funds which the rules are there to protect. For this reason I hope Laws stays in post.
The argument being put forward by Laws that he was not in a partnership looks tenuous. He had lived with his partner since 2001 and extended the mortgage on his house to help his partner acquire a new property. Attempts to distance the relationship from being a partnership run the risk of suggesting it was simply a sordid sex relationship.
The problem for Laws is that the Labour Party will make political capital from this if he stays in post. His stature in the Commons will be diminished as will the standing of the coalition parties.
The debate will focus on the cant and hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats who took the moral high ground at the general election characterizing the 'old' parties as riddled with sleaze. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. The Laws issue will haunt the Lib Dems and Clegg is particular.
Friday, 28 May 2010
Then all hell broke loose on the Internet as the Daily Telegraph published an article about Laws stating he had paid £40,000 of public money to his partner for accommodation. Laws response is that he will pay the money back. However his argument that his partner really isn't his partner within the expenses rules are those of a man squirming on a hook.
However it is important to note that there is no evidence that David Laws paid anything other than the market rate for the accommodation. The reason he gives for not taking action earlier to repay the money is that he wanted to protect his privacy concerning his sexuality. Unfortunately in so doing incomplete information was given by Laws to the Commons staff dealing with expenses.
It is unfortunate to put it mildly that one of the star performers of the new government has been caught up in the expenses quagmire. The quandary facing Clegg and Cameron is what to do next. Clegg fought the election on the grounds that the Liberal Democrats were squeaky clean on the expenses issue. Cameron sacked MPs for what might be considered piffling indiscretions when set against what Laws has done.
Difficult decisions. My view is that Laws should not have allowed himself to get into this position but, given the overall circumstances, he should NOT be hounded out. Whether his parliamentary colleagues, the press or public opinion will be as generous we shall see.
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Now Italy's government has agreed an austerity package. The trade unions have called a general strike. The spectres of economic and social upheaval hover over Europe.
Leave to one side for a moment the massive unemployment, poverty and misery that economic depression will bring: the problems of either deflation or rampant inflation. Or maybe stagflation?
Instead, focus on the dangers of political turmoil. Whether one is pro or anti -European Union is not the point. The issue is that the EU and the eurozone is the creation of political elites: not the will of the electorates of the countries. Whenever populations have voted against proposals for greater integration the democratically expressed view has been ignored by the Brussels bureaucracy. Soon, maybe very soon, it will be pay back time.
We live in dangerous times: political, social and economic unrest combined will be toxic, we will be in uncharted waters. Have the lessons of the 1920s and 30s been understood?
Add to all this worries about money supply in the USA which compounds the problems. A weak USA economy will not ride to Europe's rescue.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Monday, 24 May 2010
We could do with some good sporting news in the weeks ahead as austerity grips the nation and European economies try not to fall apart.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
So far, the Liberal Democrats have kept any internal tensions under wraps. But tensions exist between the former Liberal wing of the party, as represented by Clegg and the Social Democrat wing as represented by Cable. Will the current show of unity be maintained?
The Labour Party is engaged in another of its bouts of introspection as it spends the summer electing a new leader.
So, all the major parties have internal potentially divisive issues to contend with.
However, the real game is not being played in Westminster but in the capitals of Europe as the euro comes under intense pressure. Will the European political class sort out the shambles, or are we heading towards the disintegration of the euro and, as some are suggesting including Chancellor Merkel, the collapse of the EU? Doubtless there will be much sabre-rattling in the days and weeks ahead but there is a crisis now, which however it is resolved will damage the UK.
How the UK responds to problems in the EU may threaten the coalition government as Cameron is a euro-sceptic whereas Clegg is a europhile. Will the coalition find a response to the European issues which keeps the coalition in business? Are issues in mainland Europe going to redraw our political, social and economic landscape again?
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Yesterday I visited the cafe which is on London Road opposite the junction with Yew Tree Road. I was fortunate to meet Elaine Lawrence who is the chair of BLISS. Apart from being a cafe, the premises double up as a small shop, as a meeting place for young and old and also has rooms that are used for surgeries.
The BLISS cafe is an excellent example of what a small community group can achieve.
If you are passing call in: the food is good and the coffee, well I haven't tasted better at any of the coffee chains.
produce a 20 year strategy on transport infrastructure;
develop policies to better co-ordinate different forms of public transport;
procrastination on park & ride.
I have commented previously on Councillor Ransley's strange views on railway timetables. I trust he was not let near those who dreamed up the content of the Core Strategy the Inspector found unacceptable.
This week the Courier reported on the launch of the draft Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Transport Strategy, castigated by Councillor Brian Ransley as being bereft of research, scrutiny and costs. Councillor Ransley, along with Lib Dem councillor David Neve and Councillor Sean Holden, pressed for a document the three of them had produced entitled Streets Ahead to be included in the draft strategy. The Council demurred, in my opinion rightly. My research has not produced any evidence that any of the three has qualifications or expertise in transport issues. It is dangerous to give equivalence of status to reports produced by paid officers and elected members. By all means elected member should make decisions based on the professional evidence before them. However it is a rather different proposition to suggest that councillors should publish documents and then vote on them. A moments thought exposes the dangers of such an approach.
Friday, 21 May 2010
It all starts so well with a piece about the government post of our splendid MP, Greg Clark.
Unfortunately (for the Tories) after that it is downhill all the way.
According to the Courier the mayor became irate saying:
I have been told not to say anything political and I don't think you should either.
Further reaction to Revision Committee Report
May 8, 2010
A statement issued on behalf of the three members of the Catholic Group on General Synod who served on the Revision Committee for the draft legislation on the admission of women to the episcopate
We came to this part of the legislative process on the ordination of women to the episcopate in good faith. Our aim, in accepting membership of the Revision Committee, was to work on the legislation sent to that Committee by the General Synod, in partnership with the other committee members, so that (in a notable phrase of the Bishop of Norwich in the July 2008 debate) we might return legislation to the full Synod which offered a sense of joy to every member of the Church of England: joy for those who earnestly desire the admission of women to the episcopate; joy for those who, for reasons of conscience and theological conviction, are unable to assent to that proposed development.
We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of the Committee's work. Not only has there been no progress towards the desired outcome we have described above, but the provision for 'complementary bishops' - successors to the present-day Provincial Episcopal Visitors, popularly known as 'Flying Bishops' - has been swept away. The draft Measure as it now stands offers nothing but the prospect of local arrangements whereby a parish may ask - at the discretion of the Diocesan Synod - for the ministry, in certain very circumscribed areas, of a male bishop or priest rather than a female one. This discrimination on grounds of gender alone is precisely the opposite of what members of the Catholic Group have long argued for. It means that, for example, the ministry of a female priest can be avoided or declined; but that no reservations can be held about the ministry of a male priest who has been ordained by a female bishop. This clearly drives a coach and horses through any continuing sense that two views can be held with integrity in the Church of England about the sacramental ministry of women priests and bishops.
The draft legislation is deeply flawed in other respects; for example it removes the rights of lay people - hitherto enshrined in Resolution 'A' of the 1993 Measure - to require that all priestly ministry in a parish should be carried out by male priests. This is detail. Fundamentally, the draft legislation would render it virtually impossible for anyone to live the Christian life within the Church of England, who had conscientious objections about the ordination of women. Why does this matter? Not only because the ordination of women continues to be a contested development in the life of the universal Church, but also because Anglicans in general - and the Church of England in particular - have always insisted that no-one is to be penalised or marginalised for adhering to the traditional view about gender and the ordained ministry. Those who hold this view are not dissenters or reactionaries but - as the Lambeth Conference of all Anglican bishops has agreed - are loyal members of their church and deserve an honoured place in it.
While the situation has no doubt been in some ways a messy one, the Church of England has lived with a diversity of views on this issue since 1994. 'Traditionalists' have remained committed to the life of the national Church and have contributed - as they wish to continue to do - to its mission to all the people of England. But this legislation would cut off their life blood, and force them out from that same Church of England, to its great detriment. A narrower and more exclusive church would be the result.
We hope and pray that the House of Bishops, and the General Synod, will pause and think again. There must be a better way ahead, which will be good news for all in the Church of England.
X Martyn Beverley
Will we see soon a mass exodus from the Church of England? Is it likely that whole congregations will follow their priest on the road to Rome? Time will tell but in Anglo-Catholic parishes the vicarage, the church and, if there is one, the church school will remain with the Church of England. Very difficult decisions. The sad thing about this is the lack of compromise, which used to be the hallmark of the Church of England. A broad church has now become a battleground between sectarian interests
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Fast forward forty years. Now it is expected there will be a fully elected second chamber within a few years. Will an elected second chamber be a threat to the primacy of the House of Commons? No doubt it will as the current primacy rests on the fact that the Commons is elected and the Lords is appointed.
The most significant problem has been and continues to be the power of the executive to dominate proceedings in the House of Commons through the whips and party discipline. The threat of deselection can have a sobering effect on a potentially independently minded MP!
The proposal for primaries would go some way to overcoming the power of the whips and I welcome it for that reason alone. However the problem of the 'payroll vote' remains. MPs of the party forming the government should not be regarded as lobby fodder whose existence is simply to do the government's bidding. It is for this reason that I deplore the strategy of David Cameron to neuter the backbench 1922 Committee by pushing through a proposal that all Conservative MPs, payroll and backbench, be members of the committee.
The concept: let's be united as one party just doesn't wash. Government has to earn the respect and votes of backbenchers.
Lord Tebbit has suggested that backbenchers on the Tory side might like to form a 2010 Committee. An excellent proposal and one I hope the Liberal Democrat backbenchers take up as well. It is important to remember the constitutional position: it is the Queen in Parliament which legislates, not the executive through putting the frighteners on the legislators.
The letter states that: We are writing to reaffirm our key priorities for the voluntary sector...'
In fact the letter is virtually identical to a document released by the Conservative Party on 31st March 2010. (See my blog on this dated 31st March.)
I have been informed that the letter was distributed by the Government Office for the South East which I find very strange as it is a party political document.
Normally one would expect ministers to release policy statements through the government's press service and websites. Nowhere in the document is there a reference to the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition government.
The fact that this document has surfaced in the Third Sector now is also very strange. What worries me is that the distinction between political party documents and government documents has become blurred.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Unfortunately the penny change which should have been contained within the cellophane wrapping was absent. Cue for Rex to seek out a porter (that shows how long ago it was) and complain. Eventually Rex is ushered into the stationmasters' office whereupon it is explained that the railway hires out wall space to the vending company and therefore cannot accept responsibility for the missing penny.
Remember this happened before the advent of mobile telephones, the Internet and the like.
Rex writes to the vending machine company. The response Rex receives is that responsibility for placing the penny in the cellophane is that of the cigarette manufacturer. There follows protracted correspondence with the manufacturer.
One evening Rex is at home when there is a knock on the door. The manufacturer had sent a representative to meet Rex. He pointed out to Rex the cost of writing letters and that the manufacturer wished to secure closure.
The representative handed to Rex a packet containing two hundred cigarettes.
'A magnificent gesture' declares Rex.
Just as the representative is going out of the door Rex puts his hand out and says: 'By the way, can I have my penny please?'
One lunchtime I accompanied Rex to a very down market establishment. There was damp on the walls, dark brown nicotine stains, carpets which squelched underfoot and a sullen clientele.
The barmaid, of indeterminate age, had no truck with anything which today would be called customer service.
It was into this unpromising environment that Rex launched me. When addressing people he spoke loudly and made extravagant gestures. His opening remark went along the lines: 'Ah serving wench, a pint of bitter for myself and a bottle of Guinness for my esteemed colleague' whilst making an expansive gesture in my direction.
That livened up the clientele. I was a little worried when the barmaid placed Rex's pint in front of him with such a thump that some of the content spilt onto the bar. Rex was not done. In a stentorian voice he said: 'Serving wench, I wish to partake on one of your delicious meat and potato pies'.
The barmaid disappeared behind a heated glass case, the glass was virtually opaque with nicotine stains. 'May I have some brown sauce?' Rex enquired. A bottle of HP sauce was produced, at which juncture Rex tears out of the pub, only to return a few moments later carrying a bottle of Daddies sauce.
'If you require brown sauce it has to be Daddies' he intoned. The clientele by now was highly animated. I have never been more pleased to leave a pub in my life.
My efforts to avoid Rex next day failed and with much trepidation I accompanied him to the watering hole visited the previous day. When we arrived the clientele eyed us up. It was as though a variety act had arrived. Rex was straight in to his performance: 'Ah, serving wench etc'.
But then, a change from the previous day's script. 'I suppose you want a meat and potato pie? said the barmaid. Rex responded 'She remembers! What a delectable serving wench!'.
'And I suppose you want Daddies sauce?' she said.
'Joy unconfined. Indeed I do, it has to be Daddies!'
Throughout this exchange I noted the clientele looking on intently and I made a mental note of how near the door I was and who might bar my passage.
Then, it all happened very quickly. The barmaid stooped behind the bar and arose holding what looked like an open sweet jar filled with a brown substance. In the twinkling of an eye she emptied the contents over the pie and the mess sloshed across the bar hitting Rex in the midriff and pouring down his trousers. A huge cheer rose from the assembled clientele. I grabbed Rex and pulled him out of the pub. He didn't go back!
A few years later I was employed as a lecturer and one of my colleagues was a character: Rex Blaker. Rex unfortunately came to a premature end when he was killed in his home. Rex was well-known in some circles as a collector of George Formby's ukuleles. He had also a penchant for railway memorabilia.
It is this latter interest which takes me back to the Welcombe Hotel, a very grand place on a par with Gleneagles. The hotel was built by the Great Western Railway and was owned and managed by British Railways until sold off by Margaret Thatcher.
According to Rex, he was in the cocktail bar munching nuts and as the nuts disappeared the letters 'G W R' appeared on the silver tray from whence they came. The nuts were devoured and the tray slipped into Rex's briefcase. Naughty.
As he was leaving the hotel he was accosted by the cocktail waiter and frog-marched into the manager's office soon to be joined by the hotel's security manager. The tray was taken from the briefcase and displayed on the manager's desk. Then there was talk of calling the police.
At this juncture Rex piped up and said: 'Congratulations, you have passed the test I set you'.
'Test, what test?' was the puzzled response of the forces arrayed against Rex.
'Well gentlemen' replied Rex: 'It is heartening and reassuring to know that state employees still have a pride in their work and seek to protect public property. You have passed my test. I shall write to the Chairman of the British Railways Board commending each and every one of you on your devotion to duty'.
And with that Rex snapped shut his briefcase and marched out of the hotel.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
German concern has led to an almost unprecedented intervention in the nation's financial markets. It has banned 'naked' short selling of government bonds and shares in major financial institutions, ie selling without holding on loan the underlying security. Chaos in the markets is forecast.
It all has the makings of a slow motion crash - you know there is going to be a crash and see it unfold before you. I believe it is not 'if' but 'when' the crash at the crossroads occurs. What then?
In the UK the general election has been at the forefront of public interest and concern. What is happening in a far off country seems of little relevance. But it is, I have this sense of foreboding that Europe may be consumed by economic and financial flames just as damaging as the flames of seventy years ago.
Monday, 17 May 2010
I gather the smart money is on Bishop of Croydon, an area bishop within the Diocese of Southwark. My understanding is that he is not of the strong evangelical persuasion of the previous Bishop of Rochester.
Sunday, 16 May 2010
The location is a built up area, London Road is a very busy road and the bus stop is well-used. The planners objected to the proposal - let people stand in the rain, not a good idea if you are seeking to encourage the use of public transport. The reason the planners took this stance was that there were a few trees/bushes on private land close to the proposed siting of the bus stop.
The planners argument was destroyed by a Southborough councillor, Bruce Reynolds, who to much mirth, stated that he did not recognise the 'rural idyll' the planners were seeking to protect.
No doubt Yorkshiremen Eric Pickles and Greg Clark will not succumb to the ploys outlined in the memo.
Saturday, 15 May 2010
Personalisation of social care services begins with you, as an individual user of adult social care services, identifying what you want to achieve (your outcomes). It puts you at the heart of decisions about your care and promotes your independence, choice and control about how you live.
Norfolk County Council Adult Social Care Services will then work with you and, if you wish, your family, friends, carers and others to develop a plan of how you will be supported to achieve these outcomes. We will work out whether you are eligible for any public funding to help to pay for those services. We can also put you in touch with people who can provide the right services for you. This is different from the traditional way of delivering social care services, which has focused on the needs of groups of people rather than the individual.
Allied to Direct Payments and Personal Budgets this has made a significant change to the way users of adult social care services can manage their lives. There is a huge opportunity here for the voluntary sector to provide services Direct Payments' holders can purchase, as well as supporting carers. Here is an opportunity to roll back the state and put power into the hands of individuals.
Unfortunately, but understandably, many individuals and their carers are fearful of the responsibility cast upon them and the bureaucracy involved. There is the problem also that carers can focus more on securing respite than meeting the needs of the individual cared for.
Undoubtedly there are many challenges ahead for the new(ish) regime, but already there are examples of pioneering work. Recently I came across Stepping Stones where Direct payments have been used to open a cafe run by individuals in receipt of Direct Payments. Some of these individuals have secured NVQs. Stepping Stones illustrates that individuals in receipt of Direct Payments and their carers can lead fulfilling lives so long as there is collaboration with the statutory and voluntary sectors.
I hope this story is correct.
Having pressed for a credit union for Kent I am now directing my energies to establish a foodbank in the county. There is a substantial number of people living in poverty in Kent. The Labour government failed to make any significant inroads into the problem. What is needed are radical changes which attack the many causes of poverty, rather than dealing with the symptoms.
Having worked amongst some of the poorest people in Kent and East London I recognise that there is no easy or quick fix to the problems. Reducing poverty significantly will take years to achieve.
I have supported the work of the Centre for Social Justice for a few years and broadly agree with its recommendations on poverty issues. It will be fascinating to watch as the 'Right' of UK politics makes progress on issues the 'Left' has failed to address.
The problems in the eurozone and the clashes it has provoked between France and Germany have led to demands within the Commission that the EU should move quickly to fiscal union: and not just those countries in the eurozone.
Time for alarm bells to ring.
Two interesting articles:
Link 1 Link 2
Friday, 14 May 2010
Enforcement of the traffic regulations is non-existent. Surely it is not beyond the capability of the relevant statutory bodies to install a camera to record offenders and send out penalty notices?
In Ashford bollards have been installed to stop vehicles using Beaver Road as a rat-run. Buses and taxis are able to use the road as they have been fitted with devices which, when activated, lower the bollards. Why hasn't this been tried in Tunbridge Wells?
Thursday, 13 May 2010
Whilst the possibility of full blown proportional representation has subsided we may still get the Alternative Vote. It is difficult to assess how the last election would have worked out if AV had been in use. However AV will not favour small parties in relation to the number of seats they secure, but at least their votes will be redistributed.
Should the House of Lords be reformed and become a fully elected second chamber it will be interesting to see what election system is used. Assuming primacy remains with the House of Commons, it is conceivable that the voting system will be a form of PR. This will provide an opportunity for the currently smaller parties: UKIP, Green and BNP to win seats in the second chamber. It remains to be seen if this would have any significant affect on the composition of the three major parties. Already the Green Party is making overtures to disaffected Liberal Democrats and UKIP is likely to offer blandishments to the Right of the Conservative Party.
Would any realignments along these lines have a major effect on the main parties and elections to the House of Commons?
Some Tories stood as Conservative and Unionist candidates which was a throwback to the days of bitter debate concerning Independence for Ireland and the creation of the Irish Free State with Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom. There was a split within the Liberal Party and a group formed which became known as Liberal Unionists.
The other banner which some Conservatives stood under was that of: Conservative and National Liberal candidate. In the early 1930s the Liberal Party had been part of the National Government. The party split, some left the National Government, others remained. Those who remained were eventually assimilated after 1947 into the Conservative Party and it seemed rather strange to me that over twenty years and a world war later the tag Conservative and National Liberal should be used.
Now we have a coalition government will history repeat itself? Will some Liberal Democrats assert their independence of the coalition, leaving the rest to be assimiliated into a new coalition party? You may consider this unlikely, but the political sands have been shifting over the years.
When a group of Labour MPs left the party and formed the Social Democrat Party it didn't take long for the new party to ally itself with the Liberal Party and eventually a merger took place which is known to this day as the Liberal Democrats. Some Liberals decided to go it alone and retained the name Liberal Party.
The Labour Party in the 1980s was infiltrated by Militant. Militant was seen off by Neil Kinnock and John Smith and from this base New Labour was born. When Blair became Prime Minister it was suggested seriously that New Labour was a 'big tent' which many Liberals Democrats and Conservatives would wish to inhabit with New Labour. The Left and Right of British politics would be consigned to the edge of politics.
As we know it hasn't worked out that way, but one cannot but think that the new coalition is the 'big tent mark 2' in which many social democrat Labour politicians would be comfortable. But will this second 'big tent' be any more successful than the first? Unlikely, on account of the history, social make-up and collective conscience of the political parties. The Left would not wish to be cast adrift from Labour, nor would the Right wish to relinquish its stake in the Conservative Party. Self preservation will see to that.
However, there are two elephants in the room: electoral reform and House of Lords reform to which I shall return in a future blog.
The 1970s saw a see-saw between the Tories led by Edward Heath and Labour led by Harold Wilson until his unexpected resignation. James Callaghan led the country through the 'Winter of Discontent' and then was replaced Margaret Thatcher. Her arrival was greeted with a mixture of hysteria and fear, but she departed tearfully when deposed by her own party. Her replacement, John Major, won an election but then was driven out by a combination of a tired government, sleaze and splits within the Tory Party.
Major's replacement was New labour led by Tony Blair. Eventually Blair suffered the same fate as Margaret Thatcher, driven out of office by his own party. Blair's replacement, Gordon Brown, suffered the fate of John Major.
A pattern emerges. Parties take power which huge optimism and often massive majorities in Parliament, but time, divisive issues and sheer political exhaustion take their toll. The party in power runs out of energy. Will the parties in the new coalition go the same way? I expect so.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
The new incumbent, Philip Hammond, is the former shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. So, it could be a double whammy, a post holder with Treasury attitudes (cut or delay expenditure) and no experience of transport issues.
It will be interesting to see which rail schemes get the chop in the next few weeks.
It is a pity Lord Adonis could not be encouraged to change sides.
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
One risk harlots run is the clap. In political terms the LDs might have their own version of this illness, a hemorrhaging of members to the Labour Party from whence many came. Mind you if Ed Balls becomes Labour Leader what will they do then?
The lure of power ensnared the LDs into a coalition with the Tories. Far better to have only offered support on the Queen's Speech and the budget. That was on offer, but they demanded more. Clegg & Co overplayed their hand and the electoral consequences will be grave.
There is also within the Labour Party a deep seated antipathy to any electoral reform. The fear is that electoral reform would diminish the role of socialists within the Labour Party.
I have never subscribed to the mantra of a progressive majority. The phrase is meaningless.
So we await David Cameron. It is odd that whilst he has been called to the palace we don't know if he is to be leading a minority government, or has entered a coalition with the Lib Dems, or some other arrangement.
Strange times indeed.
Monday, 10 May 2010
The reality is:
- The Tories failed to gain an overall majority, indeed snatched defeat from the gaping jaws of victory. Dave is trying to rescue something, anything from this mess and therefore is prepared to do a deal with the Lib Dems. Remember, compromise = ignore manifesto commitments.
- Labour is trying to hang on by the fingernails having been given a thumping by the electorate. It is never easy to give up the aphrodisiac of power, so feverish efforts to find a way to stay in power. More compromise, more broken promises to the electorate.
- Like the harlot of old the Liberal Democrats are offering their favours to the highest bidder, the party which will compromise the most to secure Lib Dem support.
Not a pretty sight. Meanwhile the pound sinks: the electorate is ignored. It is a scandal. PR will mean this kind of behaviour becoming the norm as politicians play there stupid games and are imbued with their sense of importance. What a shower.
With Brown out of the way will it be full-steam ahead to a coalition which leaves the Tories out in the cold? Or will there be a Lib Dem/Tory coalition, or even a Tory minority government?
The Conservatives failed to achieve an overall majority and I really cannot see a Tory/Lib Dem coalition working without both parties going back on promises made in their manifestos. In my opinion it would be folly for the Conservatives to try and go it alone.
Personally I think the Labour Party, having created the economic mess we are in (through excessive public expenditure), should receive the opprobrium with which remedial measures will be met.
The events of the past few days will become common-place should a PR system is introduced. I have my doubts if one will, as many in the Labour ranks are oppose to PR.
Even if the measures announced in Brussels this evening work in the short-term the longer term consequences are difficult to forecast. I foresee a period of serious unrest in the summer.
Sunday, 9 May 2010
The fear is that speculators tomorrow will drive Spain and Portugal along the road trodden by Greece. If this happens, Ireland and Italy are next in the firing line and the UK will be close behind. Desperate attempts are being made in Brussels for EU countries (not just those in the eurozone) to agree a 500 billion euros guarantee fund to see off the speculators attacking Spain and Portugal. The next few hours will determine if a fund has been established and its effectiveness. Contagion is spreading. The 'rescue' of Greece has not stopped the problem of sovereign debt spreading.
The German government is coming under severe pressure from the electorate, as well it might given that some cities are almost bankrupt. Severe strains are being felt in France.
Will the euro survive? If it doesn't what chance of the EU surviving as individual states seek their own salvation?
And what of the UK? There are suggestions that the UK economy is growing more rapidly than the raw economic data suggests and that our position may not be as bad as Greece. But there is still an enormous sovereign debt and the UK economy cannot be insulated from the problems in Europe.
Dangerous times. A time to be fiddling about with the electoral system? Some of problems need a strong government now. Is Mr Clegg looking at the storm clouds over Europe?
During the election hype a report was issued by researchers at Sheffield University. Its conclusion is that one in five teenagers is practically unemployable after leaving school, lacking the English and mathematical skills required for everyday life. 22 per cent of 16-19 year olds were functionally innumerate whilst 17 per cent were illiterate.
A fifth of teenagers left school with very basic competence in maths which was 'clearly not enough to deal confidently with many of the mathematical challenges of contemporary life'. On literacy one of the author's of the report stated that the standard of literacy attained was 'less than the functional literacy needed to partake in employment, family life and citizenship'.
The conclusions of the research do not surprise me but two matters concern me:
1. What remedial action can be taken for those who have left school with such appalling lack of attainment?
2. How do we ensure children currently in education do not finish up in the same mess?
Now of course the Liberal Democrats, by far the most pro-EU party, will have a major say in the government of this county and will be pressing its pro-EU agenda on either the Conservative or Labour parties as the 'price' for its support.
A spectacular own goal for UKIP
It is not in Labour's own interest to stay in government
How would you view that prospect? With outrage or resignation?
Translate the above into the current political farce. You have paid your taxes, been through the election campaign, voted and seen the election results. Yet now you are being kept in the dark as the final steps are being taken to form a government. The only people involved in the discussions are the senior politicians, the civil service hierarchy and a few officers of the political parties. How do you feel about this? Are you outraged or resigned to the position?
Reading press reports it is noticeable that party activists are emphasising they should be consulted. But no concern for the view of the poor bloody infantry, the electorate.
Should PR become the voting system then the electorate will be pushed to one side. The political parties work out what is in their own best interests first with the interests of the electorate a very poor second.
Should PR become our electoral system such meetings will become the normative behaviour of our political elites.
It cannot be said too often: the consequence of PR is to transfer power from the ballot box to politicians. Deals will be struck between politicians, not with the electorate in manifesto commitments.
It won't take long for people to realise their powerlessness under PR. Then what will happen? Look at France as an example: street demonstrations, riots, strikes, civil disobedience.
Saturday, 8 May 2010
The second major problem is the way in which constituency boundaries are drawn. That the current boundaries favour Labour is what all the professional commentators have said for years.
Full blown PR would sweep away both these problems and there is a certain attractiveness in the idea of 'fairness'. There are however a number of potential disadvantages.
1. PR would give representation to parties such as the BNP. Is it a risk worth taking?
2. The current horse-trading taking place behind closed doors between the political parties would happen after each general election.
3. The power of the electorate through the ballot box to dismiss governments would be lost. Power would transfer to the political elites of the larger parties.
So whilst there may be the appearance of fairness in a PR system, the overall effect will be to transfer power from the people to a small group of politicians.
One way round this might be to move to a complete separation of the executive and the legislature by having an elected president as in France and the USA.
Click on the link to visit the charity's website.
Then the 18th July Big Lunch at the CORE football pitch in Tunbridge Wells could be just the ticket. Promises to be a great day. Click here for the link to the event's webpage
1623: In the first indication of how the Liberal Democrats are progressing with a deal with the Tories, Lib Dem negotiator David Laws says they "endorsed fully and completely" their leader's strategy. He spoke after a meeting of the party's cabinet and parliamentary members, but he wouldn't give a timetable for any deal nor details of negotiations.
The electorate did not decide collectively that there should be a hung parliament: it is the consequence of the results in individual seats.
This analysis is suspect. I doubt is there is a progressive majority. In many areas the Lib Dems encourage anti-Labour voters to vote Lib Dem as being the only way to keep Labour out. This encouragement is directed at people who would otherwise vote Conservative.
A classic example of this is Chesterfield (which ironically was won by Labour from the Lib Dems). Some years ago the Lib Dems replaced the Conservatives as the main opposition to Labour in Chesterfield. It is beyond the bounds of credibility to suggest that Tories in Chesterfield voting Lib Dem to keep Labour out should then be counted as part of the Labour/Lib Dem progressive majority.
I have seen no research into the breakdown of the Lib Dem vote. Clearly some people vote Lib Dem as they support the Party's policies, others because they have no stomach for the Tories or Labour. But how many vote Liberal Democrat as a tactical vote? One of the few benefits of PR is that there is every reason to vote for the Party you support as the more votes your Party receives the more seats it gains. There is no need, indeed no point in voting tactically.
My hunch is that a lot of Lib Dem votes are tactical votes. Should the Lib Dems lose these votes under a PR system the result could be worse for them than the current system. I acknowledge that other parties also are the beneficiaries of tactical voting, but I doubt if it is anywhere near to the extent of the Lib Dems.
Although there was no clear winner in Thursday's election the best performance came from the Tories. Labour suffered badly and the Lib Dems, despite all the hype, lost seats.
Mind you, I'm not at all sure the Tories should want to lead a coalition or form a minority government. As the Governor of the Bank of England has said, whichever party applies the fiscal medicine could find itself out of power for a decade.
There would a poetic justice in making Labour sort out the mess it created through years of unsustainable increases in public expenditure. If the Lib Dems want to share the opprobrium which will descend on the Labour Party when the 'cuts' are made, so be it.
Friday, 7 May 2010
In Kent the Labour Party has been wiped out at parliamentary level and has very few councillors at county and district levels.
Greg Clark, the Tory candidate in Tunbridge Wells received over 56% of the vote, whilst the Liberal Dozycrat stood still on 25%.. The Dozycrat candidate said: only a vote for David Hallas will bring real change for our area. Recent election results show that it is a close fight between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.
What eyewash, as I said at the time the election leaflet was delivered. The Lib Dozys won two seats from the Tories on the Borough Council. One was in Cranbrook: pay back time for the council offices issue?
Nationally the Conservatives and Liberal Dozycrats lost seats at local elections. In Lincoln the Tories won the parliamentary seat from Labour, but lost control of Lincoln council. The Lib Dozys lost control of Sheffield. It may be the case that when local elections are held on the same day as the general election the bigger turnout can change settled voting patterns in local elections.
Thursday, 6 May 2010
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
However Clegg has made it clear that the price for any Lib-Lab arrangement is that Brown must go. It is for Brown to recommend to the Queen whom she should send for to form a government. Labour MPs would undoubtedly want an election to decide the issue after the fiasco of the Brown 'coronation'.
Who would stand in as the stop-gap whilst the election was being held, who would the Queen be advised should be called to the Palace? Step forward Harriet Harperson, the current Deputy to Brown. She has declared already that she would not be a candidate in a Labour leadership election.
Or will we? If it is a 'hung' parliament doubtless tawdry deals will be struck out of sight of the electorate and we may have to wait until the House of Commons meets before anything is certain.
I have never known an election campaign where so many people are undecided as to whom to vote for on the eve of the election. It will be compulsive viewing when the election results start to come through to the television studios. Not to be missed.
The storm will hit the UK, as we have a worse debt position than Greece or Spain, unless steps are taken to swing the axe on public expenditure. The Labour and Dozycrat arguments about protecting the green shoots of recovery are hooey. Unless the cuts are made very soon the green shoots will be destroyed by a very hard frost. The myth the two parties peddle about the state of the UK's finances show neither is fit to govern.
The last thing we need is for future policy in the economic sphere to be influenced in any way by the Loony Libs.
Economic hardship is the nursery in which political extremism flourishes. Just the time then for the Lib Dems to propose a PR voting system which will give representation to the likes of the BNP.
Remember, remember, the Nazis in Germany gained power as a result of securing a parliamentary foothold through PR and gained votes by promising to end the economic depression in Germany.
Tomorrow evening and Friday morning I shall recline in my chair, liquid refreshment to hand, to watch the declarations and to hear the politicians' reasons for doing better/worse than expected. Election night television is on a par with the Last Night of the Proms and the Cup Final for 'must watch' television. It is the tradition to watch.
There are also local election results to mull over. Here in Tunbridge Wells it will be interesting to see if the Independent candidates make any headway, if Lorraine Braam (the former Dozycrat Leader of the Council) can take a seat off the Tories and if the current Dozycrat Leader hangs on to his seat against a Conservative opponent who was once a Dozycrat councillor.
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
It has become fashionable to 'knock' Christians. Yet it is Christian groups which day in and day out are meeting the needs of the hungry, meeting the needs of those the State has failed abysmally.
I have been undertaking research in Tunbridge Wells and so far I have information from 14 Christian organisations which provide food, free of charge, to those in need. All this food is either donated by Christians or purchased from food retailers by churches/organisations. Hundreds of people are helped but much more can, indeed must be done.
Today, I visited Maidstone and was impressed by the work the churches are doing in that town to alleviate hunger. The work of 'Food for Thought' which is part of Maidstone Christian Care is particularly noteworthy as it does receive food from commercial organisations.
It is important to understand that hunger is often the symptom of deeper or other problems: debt, family breakdown, unemployment, alcohol and/or drug addiction, homelessness...the list can be added to.
We must challenge statutory and voluntary organisations to mobilise to overcome food poverty. Will YOU join in the challenge?
Monday, 3 May 2010
At a time when there are to be massive cuts in public expenditure which will put added pressure on front-line charities the Church of England has permitted Church in Society to be dissolved.
The Church of England in Kent has lost the plot as far as social responsibility is concerned. William Temple, Robert Runcie and David Sheppard must be revolving in their graves at the speed of turbines.
Many years ago when I worked for the council in Coventry I received a telephone call. 'Vanessa Redgrave speaking' said the voice at the other end of the line. Pull the other one I thought, but no, it was Vanessa Redgrave and she wanted to visit me to discuss setting up a workshop for unemployed young people in Coventry, run by her Workers' Revolutionary Party.
A chat to my boss and the politicians and it was decided I meet Vanessa, but offer her nothing. So the day came. My colleagues didn't believe I was to be visited by such a star, but bang on time she arrived. I was surprised how tall she is.
She suggested we take lunch at a local pub. We did. The maddening thing was that nobody recognised her!
Today is garden landscaping day, but nothing on the scale of the changes expected in the political landscape on Thursday. Gardening in May is much like a general election: a time to cut out the dead wood and encourage new growth.
Sunday, 2 May 2010
Whatever else, election night on the tele will be fascinating. Some miserable, miserly local councils are not holding the count until Friday morning, so the final result may be doubt well into Friday afternoon.
Two matters in the past few days have exemplified clearly the problem some Christians have with homosexuality.
A cleric has written that homosexuals are 'not normal'. When challenged on this, his response was that homosexuals did not use their genitalia in the way it was meant to be used, by which I assume he meant procreation. I don't believe being opposed to contraception forms part of the teaching of his church and there was no answer to the question: is genitalia to be used solely for procreation? The Church of England and the Anglican Communion is riven in discord over the issue of how its teachings and rules should reflect the fact that there are many homosexual Christians. In the eyes of this writer the Christian teaching is simple: charity demands that we do not discriminate on any grounds.
The second matter relates to an article in today's Observer which claims that Philippa Stroud, a committed Christian, has said that homosexuality is an illness. Philippa is the Director of the Centre for Social Justice think-tank. She issued the following statement:
“I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However, it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that The Observer has suggested otherwise. I have spent 20 years working with disturbed people who society have turned their back on and are not often supported by state agencies; drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill and the homeless that I and my charitable friends in the public sector have tried to help over the years. The idea that I am prejudiced against gay people is both false and insulting.”
I take the statement at face value. The problem though is that many regard Christians as being homophobic simply because they are Christians. Indeed, many Christians are homophobic, not because they think it is an 'illness' or 'not natural', but as a consequence of a particular kind of biblical interpretation.
The General Election looks very close. Labour looks doomed, but will the Conservatives gain an overall majority? Some pundits are arguing that the momentum is with the Tories and that, come election day, the Labour vote will disintegrate and many voters will choose the Tories rather than the Liberal Dozycrats to avoid a hung parliament.
One opinion poll suggests that over 50% of the electorate do not want a hung parliament. All to play for in the next three days, but what should be noted is that many voters have already made their decision and used a postal ballot. No matter what happens in the next few days, they cannot change their minds. The fact that so many people now use postal ballots is one of the imponderables in trying to forecast the result of this election.
Of course we get the usual denials; well we would wouldn't we.
Saturday, 1 May 2010
A number of Anglo-Catholic bishops (that is bishops who are part of the Church of England) had a trip over to the Vatican to meet their brothers in the Roman Catholic Church. The meeting was secret: certainly the rest of the Church of England did not know. Furthermore the Archbishop of Westminster (Roman Catholic) didn't know either!
According to press reports, one of the concerns of Anglo-Catholics is that the Roman Catholic bishops in England are not happy with the Pope's plan for C of E clergy to become Roman Catholics whilst at the same time preserving some of elements which mark out Anglo-Catholics from Roman Catholics.
Anglo-Catholics are opposed to the ordination of women in particular and the general drift (some would say avalanche) towards 'liberalism' in the Church of England. However, there are some Anglo-Catholics who belong to an organisation called Affirming Catholicism which supports the proposals for women bishops and goes along with the liberal agenda.
The Liberals in the Church of England are opposed also by the strongly Protestant Evangelical wing of the Church, most of whom are opposed to women bishops and the liberal agenda.
In the past Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals have managed to put a brake on the more liberal elements in the Church, as witness the failure to bring the Methodists back into the Church from whence they came.
Should there be a massive departure to Rome by Anglo-Catholics I anticipate Evangelicals, led by an organisation named Reform, leaving the Church of England within a few years. The Liberals will have triumphed, but there won't be much of the Church of England left.
The rot set in in this part of Tunbridge Wells when the magistrates court was moved to Sevenoaks and the police station downgraded to part-time status. This was followed by the Council moving staff to the Gateway. Now the public are advised that: the town hall is closed to the public. Odd, isn't it, that the focal point for civic life is closed to the public. Town hall staff and councillors now live in a cocoon.
The staff at the Gateway remind me of call-centre staff. We are cut off from the decision makers. When I worked for a local authority when a person arrived at the city hall with a problem which a member of front-line staff could not resolve, he/she would be invited in to my office to discuss the issue.
Instead of improving services to the public, the Gateways in Kent have made matters worse, by reducing the public to the status of customers. 'Customers' is the word used by Kent County Council to describe individuals who visit Gateways. I am not a customer, I am a citizen and the Council is (or should be!) accountable to me as an elector. The Council is my servant: I am not the Council's customer.
I would not object if the Assembly Hall, the library & museum and the adult education centre were all swept away as each has many defects. However they would have to be replaced by purpose built premises which conform to present day needs/requirements. Can we trust the Council to achieve this? I have my doubts. When the Sherwood Community Centre was demolished, the replacement building, known as TN2, did not have internal design features which would enable the building to be used to its full potential. So, the omens are not good.