Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Reckless caution or moral hazard?

A new term has entered the political lexicon in recent days, describing the reluctance of banks to lend money at levels previously seen. Such "reckless caution" is said to be causing further economic problems by stunting consumer spending, one of the key drivers of the economy in the past decade, now replaced by the Government advancing its own spending programme in an effort to stimulate the economy. But is it reckless?

The banks get told on the one hand that theyve been stupid with their policy of lending to anyone and everyone at rates which were clearly unacceptable and yet when the banks take the action they believe to be right, that of removing the drip of credit to protect themselves for the future, they get criticised for it accused of endangering the economy. I disagree that such action is recklessly cautious. If the banks do not take the action they are doing will we ever learn the lessons that the banks have, that such lending is unsustainable and was based upon us borrowing against hopes of continuing growth?

Moral hazard is a key principle we must never forget in relation to this credit crunch. Banks do learn from their mistakes and are rightly arguing that the action they are taking will be of long term benefit to the country, even if such benefits arent noticed now, which is why I warn against heavy government interference as is to be promoted in the Queens Speech. Banks will never lend in that way again so such action by the Government is effectively pointless.

The principle of moral hazard applies to us as much as it applies to the banks. We are credit junkies and we need to learn that we helped cause this by taking the credit when it was offered and to now wean ourselves off, even if it takes longer to recover from the recession.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

No excuse for a witch-hunt

With a number of inquiries underway to work out how to avoid a repeat of the horrific Baby P case and the recent case in Brighton on the news, a warning will be made today by the Chairwoman of the LGA about the risk of causing damage to the system in an effort to improve it.

“If we don’t work hard to maintain an objective and balanced approach, we’ll find the numbers of children entering care rising sharply, with some children who are objectively better off staying with their families unable, any longer, to do so, as the system becomes unreasonably risk-averse."

This is a key problem with the reaction to this case. Its understandable that the argument will be made that the problem with Baby P was that he wasnt taken into care soon enough and that lead to his death and therefore more children should be taken into care thereby stopping any future cases like this. Of course such an argument assumes the very worst of the parents and the very best of the care system. As Newsnight reported last week and will be reporting again in the coming months, care leavers have a whole range of situations and not many of them come out of the system ready for the wider world. Higher rates of mental illness, criminality and poor educational qualifications therefore leading to a restriction on their ability to find work are well known trends related to this.

While its easy to say "put those who might be at risk in care", there are serious issues with that. Is the care system able to take them? Will we not run the risk of overburdening social workers who are already being used as scapegoats for the Baby P case, when they will be criticised whatever happens? They get accused of either breaking up families or keeping children in abusive families. Its an incredibly hard decision to make for a social worker as to what to recommend unless its obvious which course to take. They make decisions that will affect the people involved for the rest of their lives and I for one applaud them for the work they do. They dont get given the credit they are due.

Does the care system have the capacity to provide an environment for them which is both safe but allows them to prepare for the future when they inevitably leave the system? Do we have the foster carers and interested prospective adoptive parents or will they spend their time effectively in limbo stuck in some care home? Placing a child into the care system means removing them from an entire family.

Its absolutely essential we not make a knee jerk reaction while the issue is hot then forget about the issue amongst the economic crisis. We are at serious risk of causing more problems than we solve and the lives of so many vulnerable children are at risk here and we must be wary of overreacting.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Economists criticise Government economic plans

The debate over how to bring economic recovery continues with a letter to the Sunday Telegraph signed by 16 leading economists with the following :

"SIR - Further to your interview with Alistair Darling (October 19), we would like to dissent from the attempt to use a public works programme to spend the country's way out of recession. It is misguided for the government to believe that it knows how much specific sectors of the economy need to shrink and which will shrink "too rapidly" in a recession. Thus the government cannot know how to use an expansion in expenditure that would not risk seriously misallocating resources.
Furthermore, public expenditure has already risen very rapidly in recent years, and a further large rise would take the role of the State in many parts of the economy to such a dominant position that it would stunt the private sector's recovery once recession is past.

Occasional economic slowdowns are natural and necessary features of a market economy. Insofar as they are to be managed at all, the best tool is monetary and not fiscal policy. It is inevitable that government expenditure and debt naturally rise in a recession but planned rises in government spending are misguided and discredited as a tool of economic management.

If it is believed that this recession has features that demand more active fiscal policy, which is highly disputable, taxes should be cut. This would allow the market to determine which parts of the economy shrink and which flourish to replace them."

The Chair of the Commons Finance Committee John McFall has argued for tax cuts saying "There is a need for a focused approach, to reduce the tax burden of the lowest paid working people. Now is the time for further reform of tax allowances to take millions of low-paid people out of income tax altogether, and benefit many millions more basic-rate taxpayers."

One of the main features of this downturn is that it has been caused by easy credit and loose spending by not only the people (easy credit kept the economy ticking over through consumer expenditure) but also by the Government when it spent so profligantly. We all had a hand in this and the Government must not try to spend its way out of this.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

TDC China Gateway vote

The always excellent ThanetOnline has a breakdown of which way the Thanet District Councillors voted on the recent decision to grant planning consent for the China Gateway development. If you dont know which Councillors are yours, check here.

Ministers abandon 42 days after Lords humiliation

As reported yesterday the Government were under tremendous pressure about what to do with the Counter Terrorism Bill if it were as expected defeated by the House of Lords. We got our answer after the Lords voted with a massive 191 vote majority against the Counter Terrorism Bill last night with a raft of prominent Labour Lords revolting against the party line.

Jacqui Smith made a statement to the Commons soon after the vote saying that the 42 day proposal will be removed from the Bill and will be set aside in a separate Bill to be introduced "should the worst happen". This brings back memories of the Patriot Act in the US, where no one read the Bill when it went through Congress but shoved it through at a time of national emergency because the political imperative forced them to do so. Parliamentarians must be wary of this tactic and the Government should just bury it and move on avoiding this underhand manner of enacting bad legislation which wouldnt pass otherwise.

In other Lords news, the Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas) Bill [HL] received its Third Reading and will now move to the Commons for discussion. The Bill is a very simple one, the amendment of the current Immigration rules to allow former Gurkhas indefinite leave to enter and remain in the UK whenever they were discharged. I hope our local MPs will support the Bill in its passage through the Commons.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Counter-Terrorism Bill Lords vote today

Today is big for Brown for reasons other than the bailout of the banks. The Counter-Terrorism Bill comes before the Lords and is expected to be rejected heavily. That will lead to the process restarting with the Commons and Lords voting a second time. Should the Lords refuse a second time, Brown could invoke the Parliament Act to force the Bill onto the statute books. The BBC has reported that is unlikely and if Brown had any sense he would abandon the Bill if today it falls. He wont get it through without the Parliament Act as thats been used too many times by Labour.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


Yesterday in the Commons, Roger Gale spoke about unemployment and other associated problems in Thanet such as looked after children. He spoke out against the proposed closure of the Whitstable JobCentre as it will put extra pressure upon the Herne Bay branch and attacked the legislation surrounding empty property rates, an issue highlighted in the past by Laura Sandys:

"As the Minister knows, Thanet has suffered historically from the highest levels of unemployment and social deprivation in the south-east—among the highest levels in the country. The reasons are not hard to find. Thanet has suffered from an enormous amount of immigration. During the 1980s, the immigration came from around the United Kingdom in what was known as the “dole on sea” syndrome: the unemployed came to the seaside to live on the dole in hotels and guest houses, and Thanet took more than its fair share. That contributed to its unemployed base."

"Thanet has also been the dumping ground for cared-for children from London boroughs and, shamefully, from some of the home counties as well. Those young people have grown up. Very many of them have been damaged and found it extremely hard to find employment of any kind, so we are used to unemployment in Thanet."

It is clear as day that we are in recession, with retail and manufacturing already proven to be shrinking. The credit crunch isnt finished at all despite the package announced yesterday and there is a lot more pain to come. The Government must take a wider view rather than concentrating solely on the banking crisis, which while important in itself, is not the only problem. Unemployment will inevitably increase and the Government must recognise that more must be done to lessen the pain of that. The point about children in care is a pertinent one as these are people who require state support as a pre-requisite rather than it being a voluntary option they take up.

Friday, 3 October 2008


David Cameron made a significant speech the other day at the Conservative Conference where he spoke for over an hour on a range of subjects. It was well delivered but one point really grates. He commented on political philosophies and in particular libertarianism saying "But freedom can too easily turn into the idea that we all have the right to do whatever we want, regardless of the effect on others. That is libertarian, not Conservative - and it is certainly not me".

Libertarianism is not that. While there are a number of forms of libertarianism around, as there are with say socialism or liberalism, the one he was rejecting is right wing libertarianism where people should be free to live their lives as they wish, so long as they do not interfere with the ability of anyone else to be free. Libertarianism exists on the point of voluntary choices and that coercion, whether individual or state backed, is wholly contrary to this belief. Being a libertarian doesnt mean that I do whatever I want and to hell with you lot. Thats anarchism. David Cameron is being wholly disingenuous about this and while its understandable why he does this, he really does need to engage brain before speaking like he did. The public may not care too much, but to the core Tory vote it will matter as its a matter of belief. This is even worse since he derides libertarianism even though he said a while back that he was an "instinctive libertarian" and at Conference preached so much libertarian thought about government getting off peoples backs and allowing the people to be free.

Libertarianism isnt a free for all. It is based upon individual responsibility and real financial prudence. Cameron's efforts to triangulate himself between the hardcore socialists and the extreme anarchists to appear moderate is a bad strategy and misrepresents those he rejects of his own party.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Gateway Grumble

Why is it that when you need a member of staff to help with a computer problem upstairs at the Thanet Gateway/Margate Library, theres never one around? This has been a problem for a while now. It doesnt affect me usually since Im a dab hand with computers, but for others who are using the Gateway for looking for a job or a course on the internet they need help sometimes.

Could the Council please consider employing another member of staff for the upstairs to help specifically with IT? I know theres a member of staff sometimes, but once on a Thursday really isnt enough.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Wheelie bins coming to Cliftonville West

A bunch of leaflets from the Council came through my letterbox in the past few days, including one about wheelie bins. It seems that Cliftonville West's turn has come for them and they shall be arriving in September/October with the new service to start in November.

Cliftonville West is a difficult case with regards to this since a lot of the properties are terraced. I understand that Eastcliff has similar problems as Ward Cllr David Green has commented in the past. I was quite happy with the blue recycling bags and black normal waste system that we have at the moment and dont really see the point in changing now.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Dane Park

An awful lot has changed at Dane Park with a new playground, a hard court and some work currently being done to the Cecil Square end of the park to open up the view. The fountain has become a giant flowerpot (above) and has recently been given a makeover.

What do you think about the look of Dane Park now? Do you have any suggestions for further improvements?

Monday, 4 August 2008

MIchael Gove and lads mags

A little moan to start the week is about the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Children, Schools and Families, Michael Gove who is to do a speech about lads mags and the "hedonism" connected with it.

"I believe we need to ask tough questions about the instant-hit hedonism celebrated by the modern men's magazines targeted at younger males. Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available. We should ask those who make profits out of revelling in, or encouraging, selfish irresponsibility among young men what they think they're doing."

While I see what he says, it would be nice for him to at least once in this Parliament to speak out on the issue of children in care, an issue he would have direct responsibility for were the Conservatives to win the next election. It annoys me greatly that an issue of such importance does not get any airing in public.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Victoria Traffic Lights Part II

Now that Kent Highways have removed their equipment, local residents are left with the finished Victoria Traffic Lights. The works were designed to improve traffic flows and make it easier for pedestrians to get around the junction without risking safety. Has that been acheived?

Well, yes and no. For sure adjusting the traffic light system to create a three step traffic flow system has sped up the traffic flows and there seem to be less tailbacks generally, with one exception where traffic builds up going from Westwood Cross though nobody expected that tailback to be solved.

However, cars are still perfectly able to turn right off (upper) College Road onto Ramsgate Road, something which has caused an awful lot of trouble for pedestrians and led to a raft of near misses. Only by sheer luck has worse been avoided. Where the traffic flows have been adjusted at Beatrice Road, there are now effectively two differently moving lanes to be crossed in one go. It means that traffic turning left and going straight ahead goes first then immediately after they stop, the cars turning right from the same road go. This can catch pedestrians off balance and caught me out yesterday. Ive already heard complaints about this.

While a proper pedestrian crossing has been made at the Victoria Pub-Victoria Parade crossing, there is not one for those going from the pub to Andrew and Jills. This is a key crossing for school pupils and has been a dangerous crossing for many years, especially since the Victoria Pub sits on a blind corner.

I and many local residents were under the impression that islands were to be placed on the two main crossing points across Ramsgate Road in order to make it easier for pedestrians to cross it safely. These have not appeared and I wonder why such an impression was put around if they werent to appear. In my honest opinion I do not believe that local concerns have been dealt with properly and that however easy it might be for traffic flows, safety for pedestrians must be put in balance and that has not happened with these works. I believe more work will need to be conducted to make this junction safer.

Friday, 25 July 2008

SNP in shock win in Glasgow East

In another by-election loss, this time in formerly safe as houses Glasgow East, Labour was beaten by 365 votes by the SNP last night in a healthy 42% turnout. The by-election was called by the resignation (officially on health grounds but there are questions over his expenses) of David Marshall. The swing was a stonking 22.54%. The Conservatives came third with the Lib Dems trailing in fourth.
Labour desperately needed to win this by-election just to hold steady so this is a serious blow. The result seems to be more a case of the SNP being liked rather than Labour being hated. Next for Gordon Brown is a chat with the Unions who will want promises in exchange for financial support. Labour is mired in debt and a General Election campaign simply cant be financed right now. He needs the Unions and yet he cant give them everything as itll be another blow to his authority after a raft of u-turns and changed decisions over taxation and public finances.
And with a long summer recess, the talking backstage will only grow...

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Purnell the Policy Pincher

The Government has been leaking over the past weekend its new welfare policy and has finally released them which aim to ensure that those claiming benefits are actually those who need them. With so many claiming benefits for disability without being disabled, and with large numbers just too bone idle to get a job, there is plenty of people to target. The policy sounds pretty good and theres one reason why it does. Because the Conservatives announced the very same policy back in January. The entire policy is lifted almost verbatim from the Conservative policy document "Work for Welfare". Its strange that the Government announces such policies because when the Conservatives published the policy, Labour attacked it as uncosted and unworkable...

James Purnell, Secretary for Work and Pensions, is lauded by some analysts to be a potential Prime Minister, though seeing how quickly David Miliband's light was snuffed out when he started making moves, Purnell may not have long to promote himself. The problem is that Labour has a history of stealing Tory policies, then screwing up the implementation.

If all Labour can do is steal Tory policies, then is might as well go and call the next election now. This Labour Government is finished.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Nash Road, Margate

The above is the Coffin Corner end of Nash Road, which appears to have a serious problem with the school run traffic and with some parking overnight on it. Local residents have brought the issue up with me recently saying how terrible it looks compared to the rest of the road. Lister Road had a similar problem with hospital users and with a small fence put up stopped it. Perhaps that could be used again?

On another local issue, is Manyweather looking to apply again for planning consent to build on the disused railway? I understand consent was refused in October last year and the time before that it was resoundedly thrown out despite support from former Cllr Charlie Young but I spotted a Manyweather van on site last week, so perhaps they are going yet again. Interesting to see the site has been cleared up a bit.

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Passing of Prudence

According to the press and confirmed by the Treasury, talks are underway to reform the fundamental fiscal rules to allow more government borrowing. At the moment public finances are stretched an awful lot and are in serious risk of breaking the rules altogether (it can be argued that these rules have already been broken, and I would agree, but strictly speaking they havent).

The Government seems to ignore the fact that it is simply spending too much money. Its spending binge in the last handful of years has been paid for by the surplus of years before that and then by borrowing even though the clouds were coming in. Allowing itself another line of credit is going to lead to a further weakening of public finances because at some point, that borrowing will have to be paid for and itll have to come out of future tax receipts for example. The coming Pre Budget report is going to be even more important now. The Government must realise that borrowing so much money to fund such profligance is irresponsible and tighten its own belts before asking for more.

Right to Know

As part of the Conservative response to the expenses mess, David Cameron ordered all Conservative MPs to declare their spending. These declarations were made public this week. Roger Gale's expenses declaration can be found here (page 13).

Stephen Ladyman has declared his expenses on his website here.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Victoria Traffic Lights

Following Tony Flaig's comments on Kent Highways I think now is the time to have a good old moan about the traffic lights round where I work, namely the Victoria Road Traffic Lights and the work Kent Highways has been doing.

The Victoria Traffic Lights have had some serious problems with pedestrian safety and confusion over traffic flows being the key. Traffic regularly ignored the signs saying that you cant turn right when coming down College Road onto Ramsgate Road, meaning that cars turn right while pedestrians are crossing, leading to a number of near misses and only through sheer luck has there not been any run downs.

The plans indicated that there would be a number of improvements installed such as more islands to allow safe crossing and a MOVA traffic light system that would be able to adjust its traffic settings as it learns the traffic flows. All laudible for sure. Unfortunately it seems that problems have been found during the works and delays have appeared. So serious have the problems been that a dozen Highways workers descended on the junction on Sunday morning last week to get the work moving again. Rumours are that someone gave a metaphorical boot up the backside of some workers.

Poor laying on the pavement has meant that there could well be some complaints in the future by one business which appears to have had part of its forecourt tarmaced over and drains seem to have had the same treatment. More recently a pedestrian island has appeared between the already existing island outside the former Victoria Dry Cleaners and the non-shop corner. This seems to be a mistake on first glances because I dont recall there ever being any particular safety issues with those crossings, save those that the pedestrians made for themselves by risking an early crossing. It seems to me that maybe Highways has made a terrible mistake and put a crossing where its not needed. I understand that islands were to be placed between the non shop corner and the Victoria Parade and between the Victoria Pub and the former Golden Carp Fish Bar. They were the crossings that were required most but have not yet appeared. The temporary traffic lights have also been poorly placed leading to safety issues at key crossing points for pedestrians.

Local residents have been very patient indeed waiting for these works and hope that this will come out. But Kent Highways really needs to consider its scheduling of works so that the work gets done efficiently and properly. I know its not easy for those carrying out the works and I sympathise with them, but it needs doing and it needs doing properly.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Jacqui Smith U-turn over knife crime

Looks like an attempt to grab the public mood over knife crime has gone belly up. Jacqui Smith had been trailing through the past weekend sending those caught with knives to A and E units to see stab victims to show them what they have done. It was made pretty clear this was an idea that was strongly considered and not just blue skies thinking. In fact she was on Sky News confirming that was her view. Yet yesterday in Parliament she denied she ever proposed such an idea. Its bad enough that she along with her Ministerial colleagues frequently leak policy to the press before they come to Parliament, despite Gordon Brown having claimed a year ago that this would not happen under his Premiership, but to leak it and confirm on TV then to deny in Parliament ever doing it is misleading Parliament.

This is an example of soundboarding which Labour does a lot, where it leaks to the press and if the media generally go along with it, it goes in the policy document. If its panned, its out and theyve lost little public face. In this case, it was panned. She had two chances to restate her point and she flat out agreed with the media both times over the policy. To blame it for reporting something she later confirms catagorically seems rather silly. Its another U-turn that turned into a triple somersault and landing on the roof for Brown's Government.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Bribing electorates...

A White Paper (pdf) from the Department for Communities has a bunch of ideas cobbled together to "pass power into the hands of local communities. We want to generate vibrant local democracy in every part of the country, and to give real control over local decisions and services to a wider pool of active citizens.". A couple of thoughts.

1. "We will introduce a right of appeal where a community’s proposal for a local council is denied by the local authority." So senior Councils have no proper right to refuse. The Government clearly wants as many Councils as far down as possible with the idea being that itll give more representation and better governance. What itll actually lead to is a bureaucratic spaghetti bolognese leading to confusion and waste of public resources. In local government, less is more.

2. "We will give councils the power to provide modest incentives for voting – perhaps an entry into a prize draw – as a way of engaging people.". If people dont want to vote, then they dont want to vote. The idea that there should be a prize draw for those who choose to exercise the right to vote is disgusting. Its a low level bribe.

3. The Widdicombe rules should remain and local Labour should come out and say that they disagree with Hazel Blears. Council officers should never be councillors. THey must remain distinct roles.

A lot of the plans here will require more public spending, unless this is another example of the Government ordering Councils to do more with less... Public spending must be severely restrained in this difficult economic climate and the idea that we should spend money on incentives to encourage the public to vote or to have more advisors is not the right way to use such scarce resources.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


In the press last week and the local news last night it was reported the marketing of a Red Bull type drink called Cocaine, which is 3 and a half times stronger than Red Bull and will appear on the market soon.

I feel awkward about the sale of Red Bull to young people so this Cocaine really worries me. If Red Bull can affect a person like me, than its going to affect small children even more. I strongly believe its a dangerous thing to sell such drinks to young children and that traders in Thanet need to consider the safety of those who are buying the products. While there is no law banning or restricting the sale of Red Bull for example, a voluntary restriction to over 16s would ensure that the very young do not get hold of it and potentially risk their health. It has been banned abroad because of such health dangers.

Shops may prefer not to follow my advice and thats their choice, but should something bad happen soon after the kids drink that stuff, then they can expect to be held accountable for it. Traders must be wary of the goods they sell.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Margate Gateway and Privacy

I use the Thanet Gateway/Margate Library every day and know as well as anyone about how its changed since it was rejigged.

There is a serious lack of privacy for those with personal matters to deal with. Anyone can overhear the conversations of people talking about Council Tax or Housing Benefit and the person being served must feel awkward talking about their problems in full view divulging very sensitive information about themselves. The waiting space is again in public view just round the corner from the front door leading to some surely feeling as if theyve done something wrong, left to wait in public judgement like some petty criminal. This is wholly unfair.

The whole point of the reshuffle was so make it easier for those with problems with the Council to be served, but to my mind it has only served to cram it in a Library which has since become more noisy (uncontrollable children not being watched properly) and used more like a Jobcentre.

I strongly urge the Council to review this set up and if necessary close the building to re-organise it to ensure more privacy for those with Council matters. I say this having initially backed the idea of these changes as long as it worked. However this has not happened.

Mad World

The Daily Mail has written about a National Children's Bureau report on Young People and Racism, where it says that young children who dislike foreign food are racist and that they must be specifically condemned. Anyone who objects to this is also racist apparently. The NCB receives about £12million a year in public funding. I say we abolish the NCB and put the funding into paying the police their proper pay. The NCB were behind the smacking ban.

This is exactly the reason why I abhor this equality nonsense. Its overblown guff that punishes people for being normal. Babies cannot be racist. Because of people such as the NCB there must be equality reviews and risk assessments for all, creating non jobs.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Finance Bill votes

Stephen Ladyman has spoken of how retrospective green taxation isnt fair on the motorist as there is no way to avoid such penalties saying "a 'green' tax that you cannot avoid by changing your behaviour is not a 'green' tax, it's just a tax. in future, changes to excise duty aimed at encouraging people to drive cleaner cars should never bite on vehicles already on the road but always to new vehicles." He was quoted in PMQs with the first sentence. The final vote a while back The final votes on the Finance Bill putting into the law some of the things he spoke out against were held last night. If he really mean what he had said he would have voted against the Government plans and in favour of the relevant Tory amendments such as New Clause 3.

Instead he voted in favour of the Government every single time last night and against the Tory amendments, reinforcing the image that he will speak out against his Government in public to please his local voters and get a few headlines but when it comes to the crunch, wont have the cahones to even abstain from the things he has spoken out against. Of course he hopes no one notices and that it'll pass, particularly past Spring 2010. As with the Counter-Terrorism Bill he has spoken out against the plans and yet voted in favour of the legislation without a single abstention to his name.

As has been said before, Stephen Ladyman has only rebelled on the most exceptional of occasions, an unquestioning yes-man for Labour. And for what? Does he expect to be "appropriately rewarded"?

Thursday, 19 June 2008

No Means No

I dont really enjoy discussing Europe, mostly because the debate that ensues is so entirely predictable. However the current situation regarding the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty demands comment.

"The Treaty shall be ratified by the High Contracting Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Government of the Italian Republic. This Treaty shall enter into force on 1 January 2009, provided that all the instruments of ratification have been deposited, or failing that, on the first day of the month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last signatory State to take this step." (Treaty of Lisbon)

The above being accurate, why on earth is it that ratification is still going ahead in the other countries? It is clear from the above that the Treaty cannot come into force now as Ireland has basically vetoed the Treaty. Irrelevant of the pros and cons of the Treaty itself or of the reasons why they voted the way they did, the Irish voted No dealing a lethal blow to the Treaty and the EU coming up with alternate ways of getting the provisions of the rejected Treaty in through the back door is nothing less than a slap to the face of the voters.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Dear Alistair...

Everyone hates getting spam. Letters you dont want which waste your time and their money, and the only people benefitting being the recycling lobby. Annual inflation has gone up by 3.3% and as it is now 1% above the target of 2%, the Governor of the Bank of England must write a letter to Alistair Darling about it to explain what is to be done to control price rises. Gordon Brown received one in April last year. It is expected there will be a couple of more these. Annual inflation has increased by 0.8% in the last two months alone.

Its a difficult situation because with with house prices falling the BoE has been under pressure to cut interest rates, but balanced against that is the danger of higher inflation leading to a worse impact on the wider economy. They have to wait for the worst to pass inflation wise first before they cut rates. In the meantime theres political damage for the Government.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Local sights

1. Do the police do walks through Dane Park as part of their beats? Last night (around 9.15pm) 4 children were messing about at the redone up playground (not the former tennis court) and sitting on the basketball hoops after climbing up the frame and swearing like troopers at each other. The hoops remain but thats only because they werent heavy enough to dislodge them

2. What were the 19 changes the Council reportedly made to the traffic works at the Victoria Traffic Lights and how late on were they made? It has been said that there will be islands placed between the Victoria Parade and the opposite houses and between the Victoria Pub and Andrew and Jills. Are the islands still to go ahead? It has been quoted that the works will be finished by the end of July. My maths isnt that good but even I can work out that when the second set of dated signs went up, the works were seemingly two weeks behind schedule. Are the works really due to finish by the end of July or is this the time they wish they will finish by? The works are causing serious traffic problems and with the temporary traffic lights moved further away from the junction it's highly unsafe for pedestrians. The temporary traffic lights also run for far longer than before leading to large build ups in traffic.

3. Another sign of trouble on Margate Seafront with the Clock Tower Newsagents up for sale.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

42 days passes

So as everyone knows by now, the Government won the vote on Counter Terrorism by a majority of 9, all of which are Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party MPs.

Roger Gale voted no on all votes whilst Stephen Ladyman voted in favour on all votes.

As Ive said before, the Bill is wrong for a number of reasons. The most important reason to me against the Bill is how Parliament is to be used, in effect acting like a court does, but the judges being made up of the very people who voted the law through. The legislature should never be in this proximity to the judiciary and that is a serious breach of the rule of the separation of powers. The weaker the split between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, the worse it is. They must be distinct from each other to avoid abuse of such powers.

UPDATE David Davis has resigned as Shadow Home Secretary and MP to force a by-election on the issue of 42 days and against the attack on civil liberties that has occured under Labour. He will be fighting as an Independent, without the backing of CCHQ but with the support of his Association. The man's got balls and I applaud him. He is a good man and will hopefully win the by-election.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Six Thanet schools facing closure

Six Thanet schools are part of a Government drive to improve low GCSE scores. St Georges, Hartsdown, Charles Dickens, Hereson, King Ethelberts and the Marlowe Academy score below 30% % 5 A*-C GCSEs and so will have to come up with an rescue plan within 50 days. The 638 schools will have 3 years to meet the 30% target.

My understanding is that schools with low GCSE scores would already be trying to work out what needs to be done well before such an ultimatum is given. Any competent Governing Body would already have started the process of an Improvement Plan in light of their results. They are already under tremendous bureaucratic pressure and this will only intensify this further. The Marlowe Academy is in a rather difficult situation since it has little choice but to do as best as it can without any certainty that it can possibly meet the Government targets. There are a raft of reasons why a school may be having trouble meeting the Government targets and as we can see with the Marlowe, its extremely difficult to shake off the problems. Given the Marlowe Academy is still settling in, its rather harsh to already judge it as failing and to threaten it with closure.

This seems to be a bit of a desperate attempt to look like they are doing something, without any serious consideration of the underlying problems.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

42 days slammed

The Joint Human Rights Parliamentary Select Committee has reported back its findings on the 42 days plans by the Government and gives nothing less than a damning report. It slams the proposed 42 day pre-charge detention saying "we remain firmly of the view that the Government has not made out its case for changing the law to extend the maximum period of precharge detention to 42 days. Our clear recommendation therefore remains the deletion of the relevant provisions from the Bill, as we recommended in our last report."

The report is about as bad as it can get, smashing the Governments proposals to pieces with extremely little for the Government to grab in its defense. Of course the Government will flat out ignore the report as it has done before and bulldose it through Parliament. The report criticises the safeguards pledged by the Government and states clearly that it is in breach of Article 5 of the ECHR (right to liberty). It also criticises the use of Parliament in the process of extending the period of precharge detention, as of course the courts would have to restrict what Parliament would hear.

As Ive said before, this is an appalling piece of legislation which will lead to a number of defeats in the courts straight off the bat. My legal background isnt particularly strong but I know enough about the law to know this Bill would be a nightmare to defend in the courts. I know that Roger Gale will vote against the plans and rightly so. I hope Stephen Ladyman will do the right thing and join him in the No Lobby. I dont expect he will, but I hope he will see through the smoke and mirrors of Jacqui Smith's new safeguards and reject this Bill. After being quoted by Cameron at PMQs yesterday, Stephen Ladyman's list of allies has shrunk somewhat and he should revert to sticking up for the people he serves. Gordon Brown wont save him now.

Saturday, 31 May 2008


One of the key messages Labour has pushed in recent times is that it is a "listening government" and that it "understands" public concerns, especially since the 10p tax mess.

To my mind there are 4 levels of political communication between the Government of the day and the people it serves:

  1. Hearing- receiving information but no action taken in response.
  2. Acknowledging - receiving information. Incorrect action taken in response.
  3. Listening - receiving information and taking correct action in response.
  4. Understanding - anticipating immediate concerns and acting correctly to deal with them.

Communication levels are directly linked to trust, albeit with trust being a longer term reflection of communication levels. If a Government cannot communicate and respond to concerns correctly, it cannot be trusted, therefore affecting their electoral prospects in the future.

The issue of the 10p tax band is a textbook example of the above in practice. I believe the 10p tax furore will be seen in the future as the critical moment when the facade of Understanding was smashed and replaced with Acknowledging. When the change was initially announced, adverse reaction was received but was deemed not serious enough to take action (Hearing). When the reaction got particularly loud in this Spring, only then did the Government take action. In my opinion the action is in effect a deferal of the problem because come April next year, the compensation as it exists now, will no longer apply, typical of Acknowledging rather than Listening. Were the Government to find permanent compensation for those who lost out it would be Listening. It would not mean the Government would retain trust but it would do the most to make up for the initial mistake of not Understanding. Such a breach of a key tenet of Labour philosophy (a pledge of Understanding the concerns of the working poor and the volunerable) shows a breakdown of communication and as polls since have shown, as drop in levels of trust.

Consultations and reveiews do not necessarily mean high levels of communication. As with the previous example, if correct action is not taken, it is an example of Acknowledging, not Listening. Frequent use of such methods of communication will lead to lower levels of communication as it would exhibit lack of Understanding and initiative.

While Oppositions cannot take action as Governments do, they still have to respond and the appropriateness of their responses can be judged according to the same scale. They are measured on the communication levels through polls and elections and with the Conservatives riding high at present, it can be infered that communication levels are good. That is not to say that the Conservatives have avoided low levels of communication. The internal policy debate over Grammar Schools hurt their rating on communication by confusing the public and showing disunity to the public, something which is noted and in itself forms part of the judgement the public make at election time.

Whoever can communicate their ideas and approach best and exhibit Understanding will form the next Government.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Crewe goes blue

It had been expected for some time after the problems Labour have made for themselves and the rest of the country and indeed it came to fruition, with Crewe and Nantwich being won by the Conservatives with a 17% swing from Labour to the Conservatives, reversing Labours previously safe 7000 vote majority. Given that Crewe and Nantwich was the 165th target seat for the Conservatives, Im sure there are 164 MPs feeling a little more under the weather, including South Thanet's Stephen Ladyman, with a tiny majority of 664. Apparently Labour is "solidly behind" Brown. I bet they are...all wielding knives.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Abortion changes through the back door

One of the most controversial issues in politics and a very topical one at present in the Westminster village (and Eastenders too) is that of abortion. A campaign is fighting to lower the limit for abortion to 20 weeks led by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries.

Firstly I disagree wholly with the manner in which the issue was brought up. The issue has been tagged onto the consideration of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (a controversial Bill in its own right) even though there are no clauses that directly change the law on abortion. Such a Trojan Horse tactic demeans the issue. Any changes made to the abortion law should be made through a separate Bill after full consideration of both Houses of Parliament and plenty of pre-legislative scrutiny. The issue is far too important to just tag on like this.

The basis of my view on abortion is essentially that it is the woman’s choice to make. I have no right to dictate if and when a woman can have an abortion as I will never have to make such a decision. However any changes to be made to abortion law would have to be made purely on the basis of substantial empirical evidence. Photographs of babies moving in the womb in my opinion aren’t good enough. I understand that DVDs of foetuses post abortion have been sent out to those seen as pro-abortion, a disgusting thing to do. Emotion must be removed from the debate. We need to follow the evidence. If such evidence exists showing the survival rates of premature births then there surely would be a case for a change to the limit. At present I am not persuaded that such a change is necessary. Those who support abortion aren’t child murderers with no understanding of the pain the foetuses suffer and those who are against abortion aren’t necessarily religious nutters stuck in the medieval ages forcing wayward parents to take children to full term as punishment for the sin of procreation. The woman making the choice very often will suffer psychological scarring and the decision to have an abortion will change their lives forever.

I propose just one amendment to bring the legislation up to date that surely couldn’t be that disagreeable. Those with minor disabilities such as cleft palate or hair lip can be aborted as late as 39 weeks at present. It seems strange that the rules should be completely different for those who have slight, almost cosmetic problems which surgery can routinely solve, whilst normal babies have tighter restrictions. I propose that the limit on abortion for those with minor disabilities should be brought into line with that of the normal abortion limit. It is a shame that David Cameron does not agree and has spoken publicly saying he believes that abortion should continue to be allowed for those with minor disabilities up to 39 weeks whilst favouring a cut of the normal limit to 21 or 22 weeks.

Abortion isn’t an issue that can treated lightly and I’m sure that the senior politicians who have publicly commented on the issue do not treat it as such. Any change that occurs must happen on the basis of evidence, not emotion, and should take as long as necessary to be done properly. Rushing to change abortion law will lead to a horrible situation that no one wants.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Drafting for salvation

Yesterday Gordon Brown announced the draft legislation programme, in essence the Government’s proposed legislation for the next Parliamentary session that will be kicked off with the Queen’s Speech in November. Last year the draft legislation programme was announced in July. It is a bag of the last remaining scraps that could be cobbled together. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…

The Government has pushed this forward deliberately to attempt to build up some good momentum after the disaster of recent weeks and to try and save the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. We are so far away from November Brown could easily have delayed this by a few months without any harm being done to the programme or slowdown in public involvement in the process. It could have something to do with a critical report from the Parliamentary Select Committee for Public Appointments out yesterday, which said “It is not appropriate that Prime Ministers should be able to alter the structure of the civil service departments on a whim, and we do not understand why they should ever need to do so”. There was a radical change in the structure of Government departments when Brown came to power and done against a lot of frustration at the lack of scrutiny over such plans.

As with every Queen’s Speech under Labour, there is a raft of legislation to go before Parliament in this coming session. If this draft programme becomes the programme proper, as it probably will, there will be Whip driven processes restricting the length of time Bills can be debated and scrutinised for, leading for poorly written and inadequate legislation which will have to be revisited at a later date, taking more time away from holding members of the Government of the day to account for their policies or spending more time scrutinising the legislation that requires more time. Given that one such bill is designed to replace 10 pieces of immigration legislation, surely lesser issues can be put off to allow further debate on that and some of the other key pieces of legislation? Another Bill, the Equality Bill, will act to allow ‘equality of opportunity’ (a concept I will come back to in more detail at a later time) and to tackle discrimination in the workplace.

More legislation doesn’t mean better legislation. It means the complete opposite. As we’ve seen from the various defeats the Government has had in the courts over issues of immigration and terrorism, the Government needs to realise that by allowing more scrutiny of Bills going through Parliament, the law can be improved over and above what the Government itself wants. Just because the Opposition proposes an amendment, it doesn’t automatically make it a bad idea.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Once a con, always a con

Yesterday saw a volte-face by Brown and Darling as they increased the personal tax allowance by £600 to alleviate the problems caused by Gordon Brown’s last Budget as Chancellor. Alistair Darling has said that economics allows such a set of changes. Don’t be fooled for one second.

This was a wholly political move. A by-election in Crewe and Nantwich is coming just days away and Labour is facing defeat. Frank Field had a lot of support in his campaign to find compensation for the 10p losers, with the threat of losing its Finance Bill, which would lead to political crisis. Darling had already said that compensation would be explained at the Pre-Budget Report, but that’s not for months so the timing of this is obviously political, not that the Government will admit it. This is the same Government who said that the 10p band abolition wasn’t that bad and that no one was losing out (even Stephen Ladyman played that line).

The package is to cost £2.7 billion and paid for through increasing borrowing, which will lead to borrowing forecasts going out of the window. Labour has said for over a decade that it would borrow only to invest. This mini Budget will mean that rule is obliterated as this borrowing is not to invest as the rule intended. Labour has enjoyed deriding Conservative proposals on changes to taxes and government spending as being irresponsible or unfunded upfront changes. With the changes announced yesterday, Labour no longer has the right to accuse the Conservatives of making unfunded tax cuts and trying to make political capital out of it.

Labour has found a short-term response to a more long-term problem. Out of a Budget of over £550 billion, the Chancellor couldn’t find the money to redirect to the increase to the personal tax allowance, an increase which will count for this financial year only. Come next year the personal tax allowance will be cut back, leading to increased tax bills for all. This is a one year con by the Government, the same trick pulled off with the one year Council Tax rebate for pensioners before the General Election of 2005.

As I’ve proposed before, a radical cut back on the waste in Government spending would allow for a solid and permanent reduction in taxation on the working poor, without damaging frontline public services. But did Darling want to go anywhere near that strategy? Of course not. The strategy utilised by Labour through this apparent giveaway is to distract the public from its anger over the initial policy in order to get some stability. But in doing so, they’ve just bottled up more trouble for next year. The public know they can’t trust Labour and that there is always small print to watch out for, as ever Labour doesn’t let down on that regard.

This story has one moral. Don’t Trust Labour.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Doubting direct democracy

As part of the post election analysis, a number of senior Labour figures have commented in the papers. Hazel Blears is one such Cabinet Minister, coming up with some ideas for getting back on track in last weekends papers.

She preaches the mantra of direct democracy and ideas related to it like holding cabinet meetings in community centres and talking to the people. Such a series of ideas are silly since for one they aren’t genuinely meant.

I’m rather sceptical about direct democracy. I can understand the arguments in favour of mayors, but I disagree that having elected police commissioners will be of significant benefit to the community. Yes, it’ll mean that the winner of the election can be held to account against their promises, but unless there is full turnout, or at least a majority turnout, the commissioner will be selected by a very small number of people. Furthermore, the police commissioner will be spending more time doing public relations rather than dealing with crime. The police already get involved with communities, for example in nearby Salmestone Ward through PACT. Surely the point of a police force is to police communities, rather than constantly having to explain itself. As long as the selection procedure is rigorous, what is the point of a directly elected police commissioner? There is also the risk of having too many elections for too many things.

Hazel Blears talks about the use of petitions and how action can be in effect forced upon local authorities and even Parliament if enough signatures are received. The idea could have some going for it but on the other hand it could lead to some atrocious legislation coming before Parliament. I don’t agree with a recall mechanism for MPs, as proposed by Blears where for example if say 20% of the electorate agree, an MP can be forced to be re-elected, a situation which would mean highly marginal seats would be in constant election time.

Holding cabinet meetings outside of Downing Street is a non-starter and will never see the light of day. I’m certain the idea has already been dismissed by Gordon Brown. It would be a security nightmare and the public should have nothing to do with it. It’s an impossible gesture.

As for greater openness with the public and listening to what the public have to say, I don’t trust them for a second. They’ve been in Government for 11 years and they didn’t need to talk to the public to realise that abolishing the 10p band was a seriously bad idea. If power gets passed down, it gets passed down with conditions and restrictions upon the use of such powers, under the pretence of ensuring that abuse of such powers do not occur. Passing down power very often doesn’t actually happen.

I don’t think the problem is one of not listening, as the Government has had a ream of inquiries, white papers, consultations, the Big Conversation, green papers, Commissions etc while in office. Their problem is one of competent action. They talk so much about radical action to deal with serious problems, but the implementation is often so shoddy, it spoils the point of taking action in the first place.


Frank Field is one of a handful of Labour MPs I pay attention to, others being Gisela Stuart (spoke very eloquently on Europe earlier this year), John McFall (Labour Chair of Treasury Committee who took no prisoners over the Northern Rock collapse) and the late Gwyneth Dunwoody. He has been the key Labour MP pressing for compensation over the 10p band and he is the only reason open revolt hasn’t occurred, having held back the angry MPs before the local elections from ripping down the doors at 10 Downing Street. He talks a lot of sense and honestly believed Brown was being genuine about compensation and has rightly spoken out against any breach of the promise. If Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling fail to find adequate compensation, a case could be made for a vote of no confidence, this issue being at the heart of Labour thinking.

So what does Brown do? Try to ensure that this compensation is as comprehensive and reaches as many people as possible and to keep in touch with MPs to ensure that they do not lose faith, or alternatively send out an underling to attack Frank Field as a loner and to doubt whether his “intentions were honourable” regarding the campaign? Yes readers, he went for option number 2 as Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears attacked Frank Field. Normally such attacks by them pass without trouble, but this attack could lead to serious problems because Frank Field is respected by backbenchers. Calling Frank Field a loner over an issue like compensation for those losing out from the abolition of 10p band could bounce back badly since he isn’t the only one unhappy on the issue. Discipline in the Labour Party cannot and must not be established through ganging up on those with differing views. That leads to dictatorship of the Party and to certain defeat at the next General Election, should Brown make it. It’ll keep Labour out of Government for over a decade. Frank Field is a good man and doesnt deserve this treatment.

UPDATE: This morning Alistair Darling briefed the Cabinet on some of the compensation plans. As Ive said before, I am very sceptical that the compensation offered wouold be good enough. Itll lead to more people joining the Governments welfare state and having to go to HMRC like Oliver Twist.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Counting thrice

As I’ve commented before, further discussion of the Mayoral Ball incident isn’t necessary as the Standards Board had decided to take no further action. It implied that the parties concerned should sort it out between themselves, as grown ups do.

Both sides have had their fill over this incident, which I remind readers, occurred over a year ago, and I assumed that after the open letters from Cllrs Hart and Watkins which made serious separate unsubstantiated allegations about Cllr Ezekiel, that would be it and normality could be restored with Labour returning back to looking at the issues facing Thanet residents. Last nights Annual Council Meeting proved I was wrong.

Cllr David Green led a Labour challenge to Cllr Ezekiel’s re-election as Leader of the Council on the basis of his behaviour at the said incident. If the challenge was made on the basis of policy, of if Cllr Ezekiel's behaviour was sufficiently bad for the Standards Board to recommend action should be taken against him, I might be minded to agree with Cllr Green. Unfortunately this was not the case. He had to be interrupted at one point by the Chairman of the Council and reminded that the incident was a matter for the Standards Board who had come to a final decision.

If Cllr Clark for example feels so seriously about Cllr Ezekiel’s behaviour that he is unsatisfied by the decision by the Standards Board he should launch a lawsuit for defamation of character. Since this does not seem to be forthcoming, I hope Cllr Clark will speak to his colleagues and try to persuade them to back down their campaign. Cllr Green does not appear to have been involved in the incident at the time and when challenging Cllr Ezekiel’s re-election last night seemed rather reluctant about doing so, perhaps as if he didn’t really want to do it. I’ve not known Cllr Green to be reluctant before so such behaviour is highly unusual.

Some may consider my comments in the past on this issue an example of my Tory bias, a view I do not agree with. Cllr Ezekiel’s behaviour, if what the Standards Board has said is accurate, was unprofessional and shouldn’t have happened. I don’t consider it cause for the sack though. He had an election three weeks later and was re-elected. Does Cllr David Green disagree with the decision of the voters of Cliftonville East? A sincere apology is good enough for me. If there is a repeat of this, then further action could be justified.

There have been three attempts to revisit the incident since the Standards Board made their final decisions, three attempts too many. Labour, while making these moves, have ignored the issues mattering to Thanet residents, showing that their priorities are askew. I would like to see Labour explain what their alternative plans for regeneration and tourism in Margate are or how their financial proposals add up. They proposed a 2.1% council tax increase, obviously funded by cutting the staff budget by 10%, which indeed would raise more money than needed for the Council Tax cut itself, but since the £2.3m would not just suddenly appear out of thin air, Id like to know when the council tax shortage would be paid off and how the cutting of staff would be dealt with. How would housing policy be different under Labour?

Id like to see a positive local Labour, with ideas on how to improve Thanet, without any pretence to gaining political advantage, or being cynical about it and just criticising ad nauseum without a coherent strategy. I say this as serious advice to local Labour. Stick to the core issues, ignore peripheral ones, show the residents what Labour stands for and how it would improve Thanet. Move on from the distractions of some time ago and get back on track.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Catching a break

If Gordon Brown thought that an announcement on cannabis will blow off the press and MPs wanting to continue its highlighting of Labour screw ups, it seems to be failing. New Labour architect Peter Mandelson has come out saying that scrapping the band was “a very big mistake”. Along with this the Mail has been fanning the flames over reform of abortion laws (I personally disagree that an issue as serious as abortion reform should be tagged onto the current HFE Bill which some are trying to) and Labour’s Scottish leader Wendy Alexander (International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander’s sister) tactical mistake in calling the SNP’s bluff over a referendum on independence. Newsnight also had a story last night about poor security at airports and how foreign workers do not require a CRB check to work airside (the relevant Minister did not like having to answer the questions). Labour’s only saving grace has been making the right call on cannabis, a decision they should never have made.

The SNP bluff was a strange situation because Wendy Alexander has operated completely independently of the rest of the Party and caught everyone off guard making an apparent U-turn on Labour’s previous refusal to support a referendum without even asking Gordon Brown for support. She made it very clear that she would now support a referendum immediately to sort the issue out, arguing that the SNP is delaying its pledge to hold a referendum, even though the delay will be till 2011, so still within the current Scottish Parliamentary term. She has clearly tried to jump the gun to pin the SNP down on anything to gain some initiative, but has been caught and knocked back badly. This is not the first time she’s been in trouble, having been caught taking an illegal Party donation. Brown did not give her his full support on the referendum issue so it seems she has some explaining to do. Furthermore, he seemed to have a different view on what she said to what everyone else seems to have heard

David Miliband desperately tried to avoid talking about his obvious leadership ambitions on Newsnight, even though he’s been doing speeches outside his own brief, a clear signal of intention. He cowered back into his seat and got very defensive. If he isn’t harbouring ambitions to be the next Labour leader then I’m Brad Pitt…

Monday, 5 May 2008

Reviewing reviews

While the public were out voting on Thursday and giving the Government a pounding at the ballot box for the abolition of the 10p tax rate, Ivan Lewis (Minister for Health) published a list of 7 Common Core Principles to Support Self Care. Apparently “The principles aim to help health and social care services enable people to have better control over and responsibility for their own health and well-being, working in partnership with health and social care professionals. The Common Core Principles are intended to support self care in its broadest sense by helping staff across health and social care develop the skills needed to provide people with access to appropriate training, information and support networks. They are aimed at, but not limited to, staff supporting individuals living with a long term condition or with complex needs”.

The 7 principles are:
* Ensure individuals are able to make informed choices to manage their self care needs
* Communicate effectively to enable individuals to assess their needs, and develop and gain confidence to self care
* Support and enable individuals to access appropriate information to manage their self care needs
* Support and enable individuals to develop skills in self care
* Support and enable individuals to use technology to support self care
* Advise individuals how to access support networks and participate in the planning, development and evaluation of services
* Support and enable risk management and risk taking to maximise independence and choice

So, the Government spent all that time, holding a consultation and doing the White Paper and their final list is the above?! This is an example of the waste which occured regularly in all departments. Is it really the case that social care workers at present don’t take the interests of the patients as the core issue and dont communicate effectively with the patients to let them know what choices they have? Was this consultation really necessary? Reviews like the above just waste time and resources and distract those on the frontline from doing their jobs. The list could have been rustled up pretty quickly by anyone with common sense.

This is symptomatic of a bigger problem for the Government inherent in its core thinking. It tries to do everything for everyone and in doing so becomes a controlling State. The Government protests that it is an enabling or empowering one which acts to help the most disadvantaged and most needy, but the Government is very slow to trust professionals, thus these reviews and this governing by committee style which leads to very slow action. While Im not advocating a return to sofa Government, there are times for reviews and there are times for action. The above example is perhaps a minor one but it’s a case in point on this.

Of course Governments should listen to public reaction, which it gets through its support base in the Party and press commentary which plays a key role as opinion leaders, but the first role of a Government is to act on the basis of its key principles and policies as set out in their manifestos or other documents. This dithering and delays before taking even common sense decisions just damages the Government.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Taxing alternatives

A short while ago I posted an article proposing a solution to the abolition of the 10p tax rate of abolishing tax credits and investing all savings into boosting the personal tax allowance substantially. Cllr David Green has proposed his own alternative solution to the abolition of the 10p rate, through a 7p increase on the 40p upper income tax band and giving the personal tax allowance a modest increase, or alternatively a lesser increase on the upper income tax band and an increase on capital gains tax.

The key flaw is that it is the ideologist rather than the more sensible and thoughtful part in Cllr David Green driving the policy, retaining high spending and high taxation, aimed directly at the ‘rich’, whose crime has been simply to have more money than the ‘poor’. Why should the Government punish those earning over £36,000 simply for earning a fair salary? I suspect he is falling into the same trap as Brown did by abolishing the 10p rate in the first place. He thought it’d be OK because of tax credits without having the foresight that there were so many who do not and cannot claim them. Taxing the rich is as ever a blunt instrument that will bludgeon everyone in that tax band, not just those City bosses who make up a tiny proportion of that section of Britain. He argues that the tax increase “won’t much damage the wider economy”, an argument that given the current financial climate could be seen to be optimistic. Lower incomes will get their tax relief but will have to spend that on paying off their own domestic bills or the credit cards such is the high cost of living. Those on higher incomes may well be able to cough up the taxes but they will have the same problems as those on lower incomes. It also ignores the economic rule known as the Laffer Curve where above a certain level, kicking up taxes can actually lead to lower tax revenues. Everyone is finding it hard, not just the poor and it is wrong to ignore those on middle earnings.

A key issue ignored is that of high levels of spending requiring such high taxation in the first place. We need effective public services and they need to be funded by the taxpayer, but that investment must be targeted where it is needed, rather than sprayed everywhere without consideration of the potential damage being caused by such profligacy. The Government plans on spending £618 billion of taxpayer’s money on the various departments in this financial year, with an eye wateringly high £169 billion on social protection. That’s over 27% of all Government spending going on benefits and other such spending and the equivalent of spending on defence, education, transport, housing and the environment combined. A radical spending review and sensible cutting back on the fat in public spending could lead to tens of billions freed up to allow changes to reinvigorate the economy. Furthermore, such changes can be made without hurting frontline public services.

Where is the ambition? An increase to the personal tax allowance of £1200 will undo some of the damage caused by Labour and will pay off some of the money the Treasury has stealthily taken from them through fiscal drag but effectively its just putting things the way they were and for some it will take a long time to get full recompense. In the meantime, Labour has blown the extra tax revenue already and has moved onto eating heavily into borrowing.

Cllr Green’s idea is based upon a flawed and outdated political concept and does nothing to tackle the frittering away of billions of taxpayers money by this Government. Back to the drawing board

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Count to 10...

The Standard Board has spoken and made its decisions. Those who entered into that process need to stop seeking alternative restitution and move on. By posting open letters on the local blogs, they seem to be making the point that they were never going to trust to the Board and that they were always going to go for this unsavoury manner of getting their own back which indicates a lack of respect to the institutions that they involve themselves with. The open letters (which make some rather serious allegations of their own not discussed by the Board) is the first black mark against Labour on this issue, who should have plenty on their plate already trying to regain their losses from last year and holding the Council to account. I for one would like to know how they would improve Thanet.

I don’t care who started it. It must end now. I’ll be thoroughly disappointed if any Councillor tries making a smart arse remark about this pathetic incident, one that has received far more attention than it deserves. Some closer to the action on this one may well think I’ve no clue what I’m talking about and will ignore me as is their choice. However, as anyone who has ever gone for public office and seen the sharp end will know, once an incident has gotten to this point, to push further undermines the initial argument and just erodes your position. Best to be the first to pull from the fire and to receive small injuries, than to ignore advice to do so and burn yourself irreparably.

So the question is, who is going to be adult about it and move on?

Monday, 28 April 2008

Tories in Sunshine?

With Labour stumbling from crisis to crisis, attention is turning to the Conservatives with many pointing out the key weakness of a lack of narrative or sense of purpose about what they want to do. Its definitely not their only problem though.

Firstly they have a problem with policies. Not so much that they don’t have any, because they actually have a number of them. Their problem is that they need to communicate them clearer to the public so that the voters know straight away the aims of the Conservatives. Political anoraks like me know the policies but I would bet the average person in a pub couldn’t name 5 specific policies. Thought needs to be given to the policies as a package, which they seemed to be doing through the idea of social responsibility. However that idea seems to have been dumbed down in favour of the horribly clunky phrase “post-bureaucratic age”.

Disappointingly in some areas of policy there has been no announcement of the existence of a Conservative policy at all, for example looked after children is shadowed by Michael Gove who has never mentioned the issue in Parliament and has not brought the issue up with his team in order to discuss the Conservative position. I understand there is a review on the issue but if its anything like its report on social workers some time ago, there wont be a lot of coverage of it or discussion at any point afterwards.

Secondly, they lack depth in numbers of frontbenchers good enough to be able to be effective Cabinet Ministers. This has become very plain to see with those pushed to appear on TV and has also been evident in exchanges in Parliament. Cameron understandably doesn’t want to have to reshuffle his team but too few are on top of their briefs and have been very quiet outside of Parliament leading to very high ‘Don’t Know’ figures in ConservativeHome.com surveys.

There seems to be a distinct lack of drive and energy. While Labour looks like it is losing the will to lead the country, the Conservatives don’t seem to be gunning for it, seemingly happy to wait. Tortoise tactics may well work, but given how quickly the political tide can turn, the Conservatives really need to seize the moment and explain to the public why they should give their support. Being not Labour really isn’t enough.

Self-inflicted crises still occur, from the grammar school policy farce, arguments over tax to the leadership’s policy of undermining of local Associations through preferring equality over meritocracy with regards to MEP and Parliamentary candidate selection. Cameron and Osborne’s attack on Brown and Darling over the 10p tax rate faltered when the response came “So what would you do?” helping Brown avoid a case of happy slapping at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. This is linked to the first problem. The Conservatives have had plenty of time to consider what they would do and to come up with a solid package of their own in response, but it seems at present they are more than happy to complain and shout about how bad it is but with pledged tax cuts for those who would be impacted by IHT (a number falling due to the house price falls) and those with shares, the message about helping the poor is compromised.

The chances of a Conservative victory at the next General Election are certainly on the up but there are serious questions of credibility as a Government-in-waiting hanging over them.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Time Flies...

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of moving to Cliftonville. It’s certainly been a change of scene but the community has been far more friendly and welcoming than I expected. One of the things that showed that despite the unsightly appearance of parts of Cliftonville, generally the area was nice and the people well meaning, was sitting on the steps of the house currently being rebuilt on the corner of Surrey Road with a tenant of the Leslie Hotel, drinking beer and chatting about the area.

A consultation is doing the rounds regarding development in Cliftonville. Anyone who hasn’t already done so, please give your views to TDC. The consultation can be found pretty easily on the Council website. It seems a pretty solid report, though aspects of it could be improved. Given the serious issues Cliftonville faces, I would prefer it if a tighter line was taken for the time being.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Double Whammy

The arguments over the 10p income tax band continue with Brown begging Labour MPs to hold firm. You know when it’s serious when Denis McShane (former Europe Minister and Labour hardcore loyalist) is in front of TV cameras to fly the flag for Brown. It looks bad inside the Commons Chamber and it looks bad outside it.

“Fiscal drag” is an issue linked to this. In short, it’s where increases in wages are greater than increases in the personal tax allowance. The personal tax allowance is automatically linked to the Government’s preferred inflation figure (around 2.5%). Wages have increased by somewhere closer to 4%. Due to this imbalance, many peoples incomes will increase above the personal tax allowance limit and will end up paying tax for the first time, or will end up paying more in tax, even though they are working the same number of hours. The National Minimum Wage is a case in point, having increased way above inflation since its creation.

The brilliant thing as far as the Treasury is concerned is that it gets more tax revenue without having to actively tax for it and therefore having to point out how and why the public is suddenly paying more tax, leading to such outrage as we are seeing from many low paid workers and Labour MPs. It’s part of the reason why the problems with the wider public finances has held back as long as it has. The bad thing is that the Government forgot that the economic cycle cannot be abolished. At some point there has to be a downturn and the Government needs to have sound finances to ensure they can ride it out. Their high spending has left public finances in a less than pristine state, particularly dangerous if the downturn is delayed.

The Government has realised this but only as the credit crunch slammed into the American housing market and has found itself rushing to restrain public sector workers wage increases, with multi-year deals at a mid-2% increase. The Unions though aren’t happy, giving the Government another problem since Labour needs the Unions onside in light of a General Election in the next two years.

Fiscal drag has been of enormous benefit to the Treasury, giving it billions of pounds it could have used to balance the books. Removing the 10p band simply makes the problem of fiscal drag worse by beating the low paid again.

Stephen Ladyman MP has commented on the “fuss” saying “it is wrong that even this small group should be worse off” and that he will be bringing his concerns of this group to the Chancellor. Will he explain why he didn’t bring these concerns up before and instead voted in favour of the changes without question when they came through Parliament last year?

Monday, 21 April 2008

Budget Blowback

The big news story this past weekend is surely the angst of Labour MPs directed at Gordon Brown over the abolition of the 10p starter income tax band. 6 Parliamentary aides have expressed serious anxiety at the change (one of which has to be persuaded by Brown not to resign over the issue) and even David Blunkett has spoken out. Brown is said to be angry that this flared up while he was in America, as if public objection to Government policy should only be shown while he is in the country. Downing Street has made it clear there are no concessions to be given such as increased tax credits despite (Treasury busybody) Angela Eagle’s comments to “watch this space”. Chancellor of the Exchequer Darling has said that he cannot re-write the Budget but that in future budgets it might be possible, which for me doesn’t exactly sound like reassurance for those who lose out as a result of the changes.

The thinking behind the policy is that it pays for a tax cut for Middle England who get a 2p cut in their income tax. It also gets the added benefit of giving the pensioners a one time only increase on their winter fuel payments. Unfortunately it has the side effect of doubling tax on the lowest paid. The Government has argued that the band abolition isn’t that bad since those who lose out immediately can offset it with tax credits. All fine and dandy you’d think. Well that would be true, if you are in a position to claim them. Not everyone earning below a certain level of income can claim them. People like me for example. I have no children and work less than 30 hours a week, therefore I don’t qualify.

I don’t consider myself a burden upon the country. If anything the Government must surely make a profit on me since I barely use public services. Ive used health services twice in the last 5 years and both times were blood donations. I do not rely on welfare of any kind and I follow the rules, however stupid they may well appear and yet I have to pay double income tax so that the middle earners can keep more of their money. What gives?

There is an easy solution to this, which has been around for sometime, recommended by Lord Forsyth in a report for the Conservatives a couple of years ago and which is sensible, cutting back heavily on administration and streamlining the tax system hugely. Abolish tax credits and kick the personal tax allowance up substantially, immediately removing the poor from the tax system. There is little logic in demanding more tax revenue from the poor, only to give it back to them in the form of tax credits, which many who can claim do not. Just cut out the middle man and let the poor keep their own money. Economically, increasing taxation at the present economic situation isn’t sound since it will slow public spending, one of the constants that has kept the economy afloat when other economies have stuttered worse.

The abolition of the 10p band is completely against Labour’s principle of helping the poor and I hope local Labour will come out and admit that the changes will leave many poor residents out of pocket. Preaching about tax credits and the national minimum wage is using the two schemes as a smokescreen and is a terrible way to treat the public who deserve honesty at this time.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Gwyneth Dunwoody

Last night Gwyneth Dunwoody, Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich, died aged 77. She was Chair of the Commons Select Committee for Transport and entered Parliament in 1966.

It’s a terrible loss to Parliament. Even I as a small 'c' conservative blogger recognise her honesty in debate irrelevant of her own Party’s line and will miss her speeches. Her speech from the debate on scheduling of the Commons ratification of the Lisbon Treaty only a few months ago was one of the best speeches Ive ever seen. She spoke brilliantly about the changes that had happened to Parliament over the years and how what might appear to be side issues or trivialities, can actually be really important and that the processes of Parliament should not be undermined. I don’t usually have much time for Labour MPs, but for her I always paid attention.

There aren’t many MPs in Parliament like her, putting people before Party. She will be missed.

Monday, 14 April 2008

42 Days Later

In the News of the World the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith spoke out at the threat terrorism makes towards Britain and in effect asking for parliamentary support for the Counter Terrorism Bill currently before the Commons. The most contentious clause enables suspects to be held for 42 days without charge, well above any other comparable country and above the current 28 day limit brought in not that long ago.

Given recent court cases which have gone against the Government with regards to control orders and pre-charge detention (Lotfi Raissi’s life was torn apart and he was physically attacked and yet he was completely innocent of all accusations), you’d think that the Government would ensure that the legislation was watertight. Sadly it appears they will just bulldoze it through without amendment. This Government has a long and undistinguished history of this.

Lets be in no doubt, if there is a substantial case for such powers the opposition would be far lesser, but as the Second Reading of the Bill showed, the case is very small indeed with key players outside of the Westminster village rejecting the need for such powers. The Director of Public Prosecutions, who would have to approve the 42 day detention order, has been on record to say that there isn’t really a case for it. As David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary has said, “if the 28-day point is reached, and a policeman has a reasonable suspicion and expects to find the evidence in the 42-day period that the right hon. Lady wants, he can charge”. There is no explanation as to where the 42 days power has come from. Why 42?

The Government has assured MPs that Parliament will have to approve each 42 day extension, within 30 days of a request. That’s not much of an assurance if Parliament must meet at some point during that 30 day period, while someone languishes in a cell, without a charge to their name and that Parliament will not be privy to the full details of the case (understandable really, but its still a farce). An extension can be granted upon “reasonable suspicion”. So no proper evidence of a crime, just a thought that maybe the person has done something illegal? The burden of proof is far too low and available to abuse. Parliament having to deal with such a process would also mean the divide between the legislature and the judiciary being broken. This provision is a worrying idea which destroys key parts of our unwritten constitution and will allow abuse by the Governing party.

A part of the Government’s case has been the argument known as the “Armageddon Defence”, that is if Armageddon is to come surely we need all powers at hand just in case we need them. Which is why the Government has the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Its bringing up an extreme example to justify heavy actions. A desperate attempt to get support that is more of a sixth form debating tactic rather than parliamentary debating.

It has been a complaint long held by many brilliant MPs on both sides of the Commons that legislative scrutiny has rescinded in the past decade. When the Government get the First reading done, they already have the schedule for the progress of the Bill prepared so that they know exactly when the Bill will be debated and when the guillotine drops on them. The process leads to bad legislation.

As I have outlined, parts of this Bill will have a dramatic impact on this country and all with good intentions, but as anyone will point out, some of the worst horrors on the planet have been done with good intentions borne in mind.