Thursday, 31 July 2008

Sorry Tom, but I'm a liberal and I don't like banning things

Fresh from Julia Goldsworthy's support for illiberal curbs on the freedom of law abiding young people, I have today received an email from Tom Brake asking for my support for a facebook group seeking to ban the sale of cannabis seeds.

The debate about drug legalisation is a worthy one. I take a particular view on it but I understand why others take a different view and am happy to debate with them. (However, I would have thought that an MP would have contemplated the Party's own policy on this before setting out on this course).

However, what riled me about Tom's email were these words:

"I am campaigning to close a shop in my constituency, which has opened close to a local primary school and is selling drug paraphernalia and cannabis seed. A law change is required to overcome this loophole in the law. Please support the campaign. Tom".

I think it is wrong that a Lib Dem MP is campaigning to close this store unless it is guilty of consistent breaches of the law. To the best of my knowledge it isn't.

If they are selling 'drug paraphernalia' (presumably pipes and papers) then so be it. Selling them is not illegal and much of Camden Market does the same. Ditto the sale of hemp seed. I'm not so naive as to think that people who shop there will be wanting to weave their own help cloth, but so what if the shop is selling stuff wanted by cannabis users. Are we really going to ban the sale of chocolate bars and muffins simply because they might be craved by people with the munchies? Roll ups will be banned because people might use the rizlas for a joint.

And as for the siting of the shop near a school - are they really going to invite the hassle caused by selling to primary school aged children? Do we ban off-licences and tobacco sales near schools? Not in my experience. I doubt very much that the primary school age pupils spend a lot of time in the shop but, if they do, then it is for parents and teachers to suggest that they shouldn't. If the shop wants to set its own age limit for customers then that is up to them as an additional step.

Liberals should not be trying to ban things - even if it makes us popular with some of our residents. So I'm sorry Tom., but I won't be supporting your Facebook Group.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Naughty Tories caught trying to rig newspaper poll

Oops, the Conservatives have been caught trying to rig a local Western Morning News online poll about David Cameron's leadership qualities.

Sam Coates has the full story.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Why should I guarantee your mortgage?

The latest wheeze from the banks and building societies is that we taxpayers should shoulder the risk of the mortgage market because of the credit crunch. I'm with Vince Cable in thinking that this is a totally inappropriate use of taxpayers' money.

I totally agree that the credit crunch is hurting people. In particular older people facing high energy bills and low earners who need to use their cars who are faced with high petrol prices. The people who are being hurt less are those who have mortages at rates they knew (or anticipated) when they took out the loans and get a place to live into the bargain. That their properties are no longer rising in value at 15% per year and cannot be remortgaged and the resultant cash splurged is not my fault or concern.

We all know what can happen with the housing market. As recently as the early nineties we had falling prices and negative equity. Surely no one can have thought that the rising market was guaranteed for ever more and they will have invested in this knowledge.

Now the banks and building societies are saying that they don't feel confident investing in the mortgage applications of people who, just a year ago, would have sailed through. And so they are asking the Government to guarantee the loans. If the loan succeeds then the banks will take the profits. If it fails then the taxpayers will shoulder the burden.

There are likely to be people genuinely hurt in this. First time buyers (possibly including me) may well find it much harder to get onto the housing ladder. But it's not me that the banks are most wanting to help out. Instead, they want to help their re-mortgagers who want to release the equity in their properties which have increased so much in value since they took out their original loan. So I'm not going to be taken in by the bleating of the lenders that it is actually the little people who will suffer.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

George Carey: visionary free thinker or bigot?

As a number of others have commented, the article by Lord Carey in the News of the World today is utterly repugnant.

I hold no brief for Max Mosley, but what he gets up to in private with consenting adults is his own business.

To quote the former Archbishop:

"Unspeakable and indecent behaviour, whether in public or in private, is no longer significant under this ruling."

and

"Max Mosley claimed that what consenting adults do with each other behind closed doors — however depraved, brutal and repugnant — is both private and harmless. I think that is deplorable. And I believe most people would ridicule his claim."

Carey clearly seems to have a hang up about any sort of sexual practice that is not 'normal' and feels that it is the right of the papers to publicise such behaviour and for people like him to tut-tut about it in handsomely rewarded columns in those same newspapers.

So who is to decide what is 'normal'. I have no doubt that Lord Carey would quite like the job for himself.

(Presumably pictures of women with no clothes on is considered normal according to the Carey test).

In the interests of completeness therefore - and purely because Carey has decided that he has the right to dictate on such matters - I think we have the right to be told by Carey what he considers normal, what his experience of each and every one of those activities is and whether he has engaged in any 'unnormal' sexual practices.

And is it really the case that Carey wants to see the News of the World (and all the other papers) devoting even more space to exposing the bedroom antics of the rich and famous - or even just ordinary joes.

And presumably he is quite happy that the News of the World carries vast numbers of ads for sex lines and other sex based services in its pages each and every week. (If he doesn't approve, that would make him, ooh, a hypocrite).

Friday, 25 July 2008

Brown to cancel holiday?

Here's a prediction. I think Gordon Brown is going to cancel his holiday with the family in Southwold (or only join them for a token day trip).

Just like last year when he only spent a few hours away from his desk before rushing back to deal with foot and mouth (remember those heady days when he seemed to do things well?), I predict that he won't be able to face leaving the office in the aftermath of Glasgow East.

Of course, exactly what he needs to do is get away and relax a bit. But I don't think he will for three reasons:

- He will believe that it will look bad to the voters;
- He will worry that his colleagues will be plotting behind his back;
- He will genuinely think that he can manage his way out of the crisis.

So remember, you heard it here first.

Glasgow East - the terrible twins are at it again

After every by-election, they say the same thing. And we get taken in, believing that they might just get better. But we are, of course, cruelly disappointed. To see such a bunch of losers wasting tax-payers' money.

Gordon Brown and the Government?
The BBC?

Actually, both.

After every election humiliation, the Government says that it will listen, learn and reflect on the message being sent to it by the voters. We heard it after Ken lost in London, after they lost Crewe and Nantwich, after they humiliatingly lost their deposit in Henley and again this morning after Glasgow.

But what has actually changed as a result of these election disasters for Labour? They may have had a U-turn on the 10p tax rate and on fuel duty, but those were actually election bribes delivered before polling. Nothing concrete has changed that I can see following the results.

Before each contest we also hear that a bad result will spell the end of Gordon Brown. Contests such as Eastbourne 1990 are mentioned. But he hangs on. It seems that no one in Labour is prepared to stick the knife in or to take on the job knowing that they will lose the election. Even the Jack Straw kamikaze act mooted in the papers recently doesn't seem to be coming off. Maybe the unions and activists meeting in Warwick will have more balls than the MPs.

But what of the Beeb?

Well, their by-election coverage was abysmal yet again last night. I won't bore you with the full list of reasons but...

It's all very well having John Curtice there as the elections expert. But it would help if someone involved in the programme had the first clue about electoral procedure instead of the inane crap we were given about recounts. Let's face it, elected politicians in general, and politicians from safe seats (as most of those on screen were) in particular, don't have a clue about the mechanics of elections and certainly not about recounts.

And why is the Beeb so suckered with the Labour spin machine?

Iain Dale has already noted John 'taxi-loving' Pienaar's comment: "Looks like the nationalists won by 400 votes, that's a lot less than they were hoping for."

But the whole discussion about all the voters for the Socialist Curran actually being people wanting to vote for the Labour Curran made me really hacked off. It was clearly based on a Labour briefing and was taken uber-seriously by the Beeb resulting in a full 20 minute debate. If Labour were worried about this problem (and I'm yet to be convinced it was much of a problem) then perhaps they shouldn't have picked a candidate called Curran knowing that the Socialists already had a candidate with that name who would appear higher on the ballot paper. Let's remember that Labour chose their candidate at the very last minute after the first 23 choices demonstrated that they had a clue what would happen and refused the stand.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Rather bizarre apologies

The story below is causing a few problems for some new readers.

I checked my traffic levels this evening to find that today is my best day ever (albeit this is not a site that gets huge traffic). Curious I thought. After all, the two posts have been quirky rather than the sort of thing my readers (mainly political) go for.

So I checked the referers list to find that the traffic all seems to be coming from Google. And in particular, to people searching for information on the number 16 bus.

So apologies to those of you who came here looking for details of how to get from Cricklewood to Victoria. This is probably a better site for your needs.

I, Number 16 bus shelter, do take thee, Tulula does the Hula from Hawaii, to be my lawful wedded wife...

This story from the Beeb has made me chuckle. It seems that parents in New Zealand have been calling their children all sorts of weird and wonderful names.

The name that brought it to a head was the aforementioned 'Tulula does the hula from Hawaii'. The nine year old girl was so embarrassed that she refused to tell anyone her name and wanted simply to be called 'K'. So from Bob Geldof to emo in a single bound.

Other names which have been rejected include:

Yeah Detroit; Stallion; Twisty Poi; Keenan Got Lucy; Sex Fruit; Fat Boy; Cinderella Beauty Blossom; Fish and Chips (twins)

But names which were allowed include:

Violence; Number 16 Bus Shelter; Midnight Chardonnay; Benson and Hedges (twins)

I quite liked 'Yeah Detroit' as a name. For a band, obviously.

UPDATE: One of the commenters on the BBC story has a name that has had me giggling a few minutes now. Step forward Mr (I presume) Egnorwiddle Waldstrom

Hats off to Giles Coren

If Guido is right about this being genuine then I'm full of admiration for Giles Coren. I mean, who but the truly brave would risk the wrath of sub-editors for generations to come. Having worked in magazines and newspapers off and on, I know that the subs at the Times will be itching to get their revenge. I'll be on the look out for acrostics.

Incidentally, I read the piece in question when it was published and I thought it would be funnier with the addition of the 'a' in the final sentence.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Save North Cornwall Post Offices meeting

North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson has arranged a series of meetings over the next two days for local people to question the Post Office and Post Watch about plans to close 22 post office services in North Cornwall including 11 in and around Launceston.

The meeting was well attended given the short notice and the difficult timing (the Post Office people wanted it at 5.30). This was particularly the case with people from the village of Altarnun who had previously been subjected to a mobile service so awful that a new service was provided in the village hall with a community shop.

I have to say that the Post Office people did not inspire confidence. One kept silent throughout and the other kept reiterating what had happened in his part of the world - Northern Ireland. During the course of the meeting he kept on reiterating that their ideal solution for Altarnun is a partner facility (ie a post office counter in another shop). The only trouble is that the only other shop in the village is a butchers which cannot be used.

He also claimed that Post Office had walked the entire area around threatened offices yet all his comments seemed to show that they knew nothing of the local area.

One of the problems with the current mobile service operated out of Tavistock and serving many villages around Launceston is that the card reader in the van does not work and so people cannot use it to pay bills or to withdraw pensions and so on. So, not surprisingly, people do not use it as it doesn't provide the service they need. Despite this failing on their part, they are still basing proposals to wothdraw this mobile service on the lack of footfall in the van.

The consultation period itself is a big issue. Despite a Cabinet agreement that it should be for three months, Post Office Ltd have decreed that it be for just 6 weeks over the tourist season. They are asking not for objections but for proposals for alternative arrangements. How are people meant to come up with these in such a limited time (especially when they won't give financial details to judge whether an alternative might be viable).

This was a deeply frustrating meeting which seemed to convince most people that the 'proposals' are in fact a foregone conclusion and that Post Office Ltd are no prepared to consider alternatives.

Pics: Dan Rogerson with the Altarnun protestors before the meeting; Dan looks unimpressed by the man from Northern Ireland; A woman from Altarnun makes her point silently; A resident at the meeting; Dan summing up.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Can David Davis actually read?

Well of course he can, but I was moved to ask because he clearly can't follow a simple instruction from his party leader (and I'm not talking about 'Do not resign your seat and fight an ego-centric by-election').

Today, the Conservatives have published a list of the expenses claimed by their frontbenchers for the three month period just before Davis resigned. His expenses are therefore listed. One of the categories included was a tick box on whether any staff are family members. If so, the MP is asked to give their salary to within a 10k band (from this we learned that many Tory front benchers pay their wives up to 40k per year).

David Davis employs his wife Doreen and so he correctly ticked the family member box. However, in the box for her salary, he has written N/A (for not applicable).

Yes, it is a very petty thought. But this sort of cock up routinely costs ordinary people £100 fine from the revenue department. I am surprised, given the prominence given to this issue by the Tories (oppo day debate and everything) that they couldn't make sure their document was right before they launched it.

Oh my god, my mother's on Facebook

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

22 post offices to go in North Cornwall - 11 in Lanson area

The Government has today announced which post office services it wants to close in the North Cornwall area. Shockingly, there are 22 planned for cuts. Of these, 11 will be in the Launceston area.

The branch at Newport in Launceston will close completely. The Post Office at Tregadillett will close and be replaced with a mobile service. The services for Coads Green, Yeolmbridge, Lawhitton, North Petherwin, Egloskerry and Altarnun will also be cut as will many more used by local people.

Since Labour took office in 1997, 4000 Post Office Branches have been closed. Before that, the Conservatives closed 3500.

Many of these services are all that remains of a thriving village life. The Post Office at Altarnun is housed in the village hall following a previous round of cuts. Further closures will cause severe hardship for many people living in rural communities - especially those without cars who will have to rely on very infrequent bus services.

Even the urban branch proposed for closure - at Newport - will cause significant difficulties for many people. Launceston is built on a very steep hill and the Newport branch serves the half of town situated at the bottom of the hill. For anyone with mobility problems, the journey to the main office in town will be a daunting task.

Laughably, one of the options being proposed by the Government is an 'on demand' service. If enough people ring up to ask for a mobile post office then one will come along. Just how do they expect that to work and how can people who need a post office possibly rely on such a service?

Dan Rogerson and the Liberal Democrats are leading the campaign to save these branches. Dan has organised meetings in the centre of the three major areas affected - Bude, Launceston and Wadebridge - for later this month to rally support for the campaign. In addition, the Lib Dems are organising petitions and letter writing campaigns to seek to persuade the Government that local people need these services. To some this may seem like a lost cause. But such campaigns have saved post office branches in other parts of the country and we won't give up hope.

The picture shows local councillors Adam Paynter, Mike Nicholls and Jackie Ellis-Martin with North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson outside the threatened branch at Newport.

Monday, 14 July 2008

A silly con on the paying public

Whilst I've been working the past few days I have been listening to the cricket on Test Match Special. Today, disappointingly but predictably, the match has petered out into a draw thanks to the flat pitch. But what has just happened has made me extremely disappointed and will no doubt have frustrated the paying spectators even more.

At ten to five, South Africa declared their second innings having done a deal with England to call the match off as a draw. Paying punters were therefore robbed of over an hour of play because the players could not be bothered.

What was most scandalous is that, whilst playing conditions allow for a match to be called off as a draw at 5pm, the captains colluded to avoid another 10 minutes of play through the declaration.

Any fan reading the scorecard in future years would be amazed to find that, with the potential for an hour's play in the test and South Africa only 47 ahead, the England captain should concede a draw. Now I know full well that Graeme Smith would not have declared if there were any danger that England would play on, but I still feel that fans have been cheated of play - even of only 10 minutes worth.

So I would like the cricket law makers to introduce a rule that no captain may refuse to chase a potentially winnable position.

The MCC should also hang their heads in shame. The play this afternoon has been desultory with England failing to make much effort to chase an improbable win. The nadir came with the decision not to have Anderson or Sidebottom bowl with the second new ball but to give it to Collingwood and Panesar instead. According to the commentary, this is most probably due to the immediacy of the second test which starts at Headingly at the end of this week.

If back to back tests are going to result in the first of these being such a non-event then it is a policy that should be abandoned immediately. I can't see why we have such a timetable in any case. When England won the Ashes, they did so in a final test which ended in mid September. This year, we will have had 7 test matches which will finish by mid August. Why on earth finish so early when it will clearly result in some matches not being played out properly.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

David Davis

Yesterday I posted about David Davis on the basis of a quote in a piece by Martin Wainwright in the Guardian. Martin has now admitted he made an error with the quote and a retraction appears in today's paper.

He wrote to LDV:

Just to alert you asap to the fact that the quote attributed to David Davis by me about the LIb Dems ‘funking it’ was my fault - putting you in with Labour in a rush - and we are running a correction. Sorry, age and haste. The Correct quote is on the Guardian audio material on the website. The draft correction I’ve just sent reads:

In a piece on the Haltemprice and Howden by-election published on July 9, we wrongly quoted the Conservative candidate David Davis as saying that the Liberal Democrats had ‘funked’ the poll. He has always made it clear that he is grateful for the Liberal Democrats’ support for his views on the 42 day detention and related civil liberties issues. The mistake was made in transcription of the related audio report which carried his actual comments, and we apologise for that.

I am happy to delete the post, apologise to Mr Davis and withdraw the comments in it.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Why Julia Goldsworthy is wrong to support the Cornish curfew

I was very disappointed this morning to read in the Western Morning News (and to have seen on tonight's BBC News at 10) that we are to see a curfew in part of Redruth over the summer months. It will apply to under 16s who will not be allowed on the streets after 9pm.

What makes this news even more annoying is that the Western Morning News report and the subsequent BBC News Online coverage reports Lib Dem MP Julia Goldsworthy as being in favour of the scheme.

I believe that it is totally wrong to deprive innocent people of their liberty. It doesn't matter their age. Nor does it matter that this is a problem estate. Whilst I feel sorry for people who feel threatened by groups of young people, I don't think we should be punishing the young people.

According to the WMN report, Julia said:
"This is a very interesting experiment and I will be keeping a close eye on it.
"It should be trialled properly with a view to rolling it out to other trouble spots in the county if it gets results.
"While we must not demonise all young people, we have to acknowledge that youngsters don't have to commit crime or anti-social behaviour to be intimidating to residents. Simply hanging around on street corners can be enough of a threat.
I was happy to believe that Julia might have been misquoted and so got in touch straight away. Regrettably, it seems as though she stands behind much of what she said. Although she doesn't believe it should be rolled out across the county.

Apparently this is being done after widespread consultation - although not necessarily with the young people themselves. Apparently there will be extra facilities promised for young people - but there is no evidence that these are facilities that the young people themselves have asked for.

I have made clear to Julia my opposition to this scheme. Surely it would have been better to encourage dialogue between the young people and those residents who feel threatened without any good reason.

If there is crime or anti-social behaviour going on then the Police should be there to deal with it. If not, then we shouldn't be punishing young people for wanting to be outside on summer evenings (even if the weather hasn't been up to much recently).

Julia has stressed to me that she doesn't think that demonising young people is the solution. I agree. But supporting a scheme which allows for the forced removal from a public place of a person simply for being young does not seem to me the best way forward. If those fearful residents see young people being carted off by the Police then they will tend to believe that the young people concerned are guilty. To me, that is demonisation.

So come on Julia, ditch this illiberal and inhuman scheme and start a real dialogue between the different groups of residents of Redruth to see if some long term solutions can be found.

Harriet for PM - Not much to worry about

Harriet Harman stood in for Gordon Brown at PMQs today amid speculation about her plans to oust him.

To be honest, I don't think he is in much danger (at least from her). But the Tory plans seemed slightly double edged. They clearly see Brown and his troubles as an asset to them but, if he has to be replaced, they would love it to be Harriet rather than someone more competent.

So Hague offered help to the Government on legislation securing depositors funds in the event of a bank collapse. And Harriet replied by slamming the Tory record on the economy in the 1990s. It jarred massively. As it did when she suggested that Theresa May go and become a bishop, which was simply bizarre.

Then we had a couple of patsy read-out questions designed to allow Harriet to get her soundbites in.

Vince Cable asked about the housing crisis, reporting that house building companies are facing real difficulties. Harriet responded by downplaying the issue and saying that the best way to solve the economic crisis is not to talk about it.

Hague came back for his second set and this time didn't hold back. He had his soundbites on food waste - attacking the PM from his Chancellor days - and he ended up by wishing Harriet well in her campaign to be PM. She hardly gave a ringing endorsement of Brown and, instead of syaing that there is no vacancy, simply said that apparently every man in the UK will decide to flee the country.

Later on, St Ives MP Andrew George said that people wanting to get onto the housing ladder are subsidising second home owners thanks to the tax breaks offered to them. It's a serious problem in Cornwall where home costs for FIRST homes are roughly 10 times average earnings. According to Harriet, eco towns will be the answer.

One final question that stood out for me was from a Tory who simply offered his support for Harriet to replace Brown. Even for Harriet, this was easy-peasy. "He might be in Parliament to ask silly questions," she replied, "but we are in Government for the good of the country as a whole."

That really summed it up for me. The Tories don't know whether to patronise Harriet, treat her seriously or try to help her get rid of Brown. As it was, it was a mess and Harriet - who certainly didn't sparkle - was able to appear quite competent and yet, absolutely no danger to GB. She certainly didn't put on the bravura performance that would have spelled the end for Gordon. So the PM can sit back in his Japanese hotel and feel stronger as a result.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Conservative 'open primary' in Bournemouth descending into farce

Just a few days after David Cameron was in Bournemouth to speak at the LGA conference, the Conservative Party's open primary selection in Bournemouth has had to be abandoned amid much internal rancour and factionalising.

The seat is open following the decision by Sir John Butterfill to step down at the next election.

Officially, the decision by one of the two shortlisted candidates to accept Castle Point is the reason for the delay. It is said that the substitute candidate would be at a disadvantage in the contest.

However, posts on Conservative Home suggest that the local party is kicking and screaming because of the failure to shortlist the Leader and Deputy Leader of the local council.

It now appears that the process will recommence in September.

Many see the Bournemouth West seat as fairly safe for the Conservatives. But a number of factors suggest that it may not be a foregone conclusion. As well as this row, the new Tory administration on the Council put up the Leader's allowance by 34%, cabinet members' pay by 32% and council tax by 4.9%. In addition, boundary reorganisation sees a large number of voters from Annette Brooke's Mid Dorset and North Poole seat to Bournemouth West.

Perhaps Lib Dems in the town for conference in September will be putting in time to help out a seat which could become winnable.

Dave's morality tests - back to basics or cones hotline?

David Cameron made a speech in Glasgow yesterday which is written up in the Times as being a call for people to take more responsibility for their lives and to stop thinking opf themselves as victims.

I suspect that much of what he says is fair enough. But the question for me is how this effort will be judged a month or so from now. I tend to think of two of John Major's efforts as being the benchmarks in these matters. On the one hand, you have the cones hotline - a silly little idea that got blown up out of all proportion because there simply weren't any other ideas around at the time. On the other hand, there was back to basics, a fairly serious idea which got twisted by the media who used it to run sleaze stories about every Tory MP they could.

One section of Cameron's speech that amused me was this:
We as a society have been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people’s feelings, in order to avoid appearing judgemental, we have failed to say what needs to be said.
Try saying that in a William Hague accent. Is Cameron coming over all Yorkshire - 'I call a spade a spade'?

But what about Cameron's own past? He has famously refused to answer questions about his life before he entered politics and, specifically, about rumours that he used cocaine. How does that square with his demand for moral authority? In the light of his new 'tell it like it is' conversion, will he tell us what happened and condemn his own past behaviour?

And I can bet that his meetings with fellow MPs will be fun:

'Oi, Gray, how dare you dump your wife when she had cancer and run off with your secretary. That's disgraceful behaviour and has no part in a morally absolute Tory Party.'

'Look Wintertons, your shenanigans with the allowances system, whilst technically within the rules, bring shame upon us all. I am asking the Queen to strip you of your knighthood.'

'Osborne, that tie is horrible. Take it off.'

Monday, 7 July 2008

How to bore a five year old

Shakespeare has both great stories and fantastic writing. And if you see some of the best actors performing it, either on the stage or film, then it is truly magical.*

I was lucky enough to have a superb English teacher for O level called Watson Weeks who was also a Shakespearean actor. He brought the plays alive for me as never before. I also had a number of truly dreadful English teachers who bored me rigid and almost killed off any liking for literature and drama.

That's why I'm hugely sceptical about the Government plans for teaching original language Shakespeare for children as young as five. As the person from the English teachers association says:
"It's all down to the approach. You can bore people of any age with the wrong approach and you can enthuse people of any age with the correct one."
So hooray for the one in five kids (at most) who have a great English teacher.

* note - does not include Keanu Reeves

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Amazingly, I don't think Cameron has done anything wrong this time

The Sunday Mirror is claiming that David Cameron is mired in sleaze over free flights given to him by a charity boss. I'm all in favour of the newspapers investigating misdeeds, but I don't think there is (or should be) one here.

As far as I can gather, Cameron and his family were flown by this businessman/charity boss to a meeting where the businessman/charity boss pitched his idea. Then they were flown home again.

Politics is meant to be about ideas. Cameron and the Tories are clearly desperate for new ideas and so it is perfectly reasonable for them to meet with people who might be able to help. The fact that the boss provided the means of transport and that this was a private plane seems unimportant.

To complicate things slightly, the boss has also given donations (properly registered) to the Tories previously. Unless some link between these donations and promises to take specific action once in Government can be proven, then again this is a red herring.

In other sleaze news, George Osborne is said to have accepted money for giving a speech when internal Tory rules prohibit this. To be clear, no law was broken. There are calls for him to pay the money back. Again, I'm on his side. If no law has been broken then he should be free to do what he wants. The public might view him as an untrustworthy money-grabber who cannot abide by his own party's rules, and they have every right to judge him appropriately, but it is not a matter on which other party MPs should be commenting.

It is quite clear that the media is continuing on its witch hunt of MPs over sleaze and expenses. Fair enough. But they should be sticking to those matters where there really is sleaze and not trying to pretend that internal and trivial matters are worthy of the same banner headlines.

There are more than enough meaty stories to go around at the moment. The Ray Lewis saga appears to show that Boris is slapdash in his decision making. The expenses vote shows that there are a lot of MPs who are happy to trough it. I know that all newspaper editors always want new angles, but please refrain from making them up.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Labour in meltdown?

It seems that Labour activists in Glasgow are desparate to avoid being picked as the fall guy for the Glasgow East by-election. All the front runners said no when they were telephoned by Gordon Brown over the last few days and even one of those who had reluctantly agreed to be considered seems to have had second thoughts and simply not turned up to the hustings.

(Of course, in the Lib Dems the best way to get yourself elected to a position you don't want is to not turn up to the meeting).

So yesterday's selection meeting was abandoned and another round of arm-twisting begins for the right to defend a 13,500 majority. Stephen Purcell, Labour Leader of the City Council, is being thrust back into the frame despite having refused before.

If they're not careful they might not manage to find a candidate by the time nominations close on Wednesday.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Mixed blessings for Pringles

Pringles, the popular tube based snack, has been declared to be 'not a crisp' by a court. The makers, Proctor and Gamble, had gone to court because potato crisps, unlike most food, are subject to VAT.

According to the BBC report:
The manufacturer had insisted that their best-selling product was not similar to potato crisps, because of their "mouth melt" taste, "uniform colour" and "regular shape" which "is not found in nature".
The good news for P&G is that they won and so they will save millions of pounds in VAT (customers may also see the benefit).

The bad news is that they are officially now 'unnatural' products.

Doesn't this remind you of the bit in Yes Minister when the Eurocrats are trying to redefine British sausages as high fat offal tubes?

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Clegg's turn

Nick Clegg has just finished speaking to the LGA conference. Chris Rennard has emailed members about the contents of the speech but it set out a major vision of what devolution and decentralisation really means for our party.

Nick attacked the failure of Labour to deliver on promised devolution and the Tories for not really understanding what it means (at least in terms of not having any concrete policies to put their words into action).
He reiterated support for fairer local taxation - local income tax - for proper decentralisation and for reviewing how services such as the police can be made properly accountable locally.


He finished by asking councils to think about how they can devolve power to local neighbourhoods - citing Kingston and other Lib Dem run authorities which have taken real steps in this regard.

Cameron at LGA conference

David Cameron took his turn in front of the councillors at the LGA conference this morning.

His speech was well received but he then faced problems during questions when he disagreed with Boris Johnson over the merits of regional assemblies (one likes them if they are elected, the other hates them in all events).

He also managed annoy some audience members by dismissing one question out of hand claiming it was being asked purely for press release purposes.

Nick Clegg is on in a bit.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Boris: I'm a pre-masticating anorak

Boris Johnson came to speak at the Local Government Association conference today and was, well, Boris.

He did manage to describe himself as an anorak.

And claimed to be in favour of pre-masticating policy - whatever that means.