Thursday, 26 February 2009

Sir Fred - just what did the Government know?

It appears that somebody hasn't been telling the whole truth about Sir Fred Goodwin's pension.

The Government has protested all day that they only found out about Sir Fred's pension arrangements last week. They go on to say that they will do what they can to stop him claiming the full amount.

From what has emerged in the media to date, it seems that Sir Fred's pension was agreed back in October when the Government told RBS that they were unhappy with his performance and he would have to go if a bail out were to be contemplated. So the board agreed to let him retire at 50 with £650,000 a year in pension.

But it seems as though this might not be the whole story. You see Paul Myners, the newly enobled Labour minister (who went to the same school as me), seems to have been told about the pension arrangements way back when.

So what did Myners know and when?

Monday, 23 February 2009

Congratulations Nick and Miriam

Welcome to the world Miguel, third son of Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Ashcroft under investigation for Tory donations

The BBC has confirmed newspaper reports that Lord Ashcroft is being investigated by the Electoral Commission over his donations to the Conservative Party.

Isn't it about time that Iain Dale started demanding that the party repay all the money to the donor?

Friday, 20 February 2009

Arise the BNP

John Hemming, as ever, appraises us of the results of last night's by-elections. Congratulations are due to the Duwayne Brooks, Jennie Clutten and the Lewisham team for winning a double handed by-election to hold two seats in Downham. For those who don't know, the Lewisham Party has been going from strength to strength in recent years (in fact, since I stepped down as Chair, although that cannot be the reason of course) and would be a good bet to take over control in next year's London council elections.

But the real message from the results must be the success of the BNP. In Lewisham they got 10% of the vote from a standing start. We lost 10% and the other parties traded marginally. Easy to suggest that this is 10% transferring direct from Lib Dem to BNP and of course that isn't always the case, but there will have been a large chunk who did just that.

In NW Leicestershire, the BNP came third with 28% from a standing start. The Lib Dem came 4th losing 19% of the previous vote. Without being on the ground, it is impossible to say what the causes were but I would suspect that we didn't run a hugely active campaign there.

And in Sevenoaks the BNP came from nothing to win with 42% of the vote as Dale notes. This was gained from UKIP and Labour as the Tories held steady and no Lib Dem stood this time or last.

So why are the BNP winning so many votes (if not more than the occasional seat)? In my opinion they are certainly picking up the 'against all' votes that may previously have come to the Lib Dems or Greens. These tend to be people who feel it is their duty to vote but are so hacked off with the Government and whoever is running their local council that they are not going to vote for any of the 'established' parties. They may deliberately vote for an outside party to give them a kick up the backside. In the past this was usually the Lib Dems. Now it isn't. Why? Clearly a thesis could be written here, but fundamentally we have stopped being against things and are all too often part of the establishment. This is understandable if we hold power - but it is still possible to campaign in favour of changes even if we sit behind the biggest desks at the town hall. And we can and must campaign against the Government - even in Council polls.

What is less understandable is where we are in opposition but still act as apologists for the administration. Let's face it - why should anyone vote for us if we fail to offer a real alternative.

The BNP are also learning (to a small degree) about campaigning. Whatever us political hacks think about them and their policies, the image they portray to voters is as a group sticking up for them - not racists, but on the side of local families. There's not a lot of depth to that message, but then not many people (including not many of their voters) want to see the BNP running anything. They just want change and they see the BNP as a way of delivering that.

So how to approach the BNP?

There is the Labour version which basically says you should march and demonstrate against the very prospect of the BNP standing in your area. Don't engage them and certainly don't debate them. Just get people to vote 'against the BNP'. In my opinion this is a stupid way of proceeding - particularly for Lib Dems. I hate the BNP but they are a legal party who have the right to express their opinions. If we debate with them then we will show them up to be vacuous fools. If we don't then, at a stroke, we dismiss all those who vote or consider voting for them as not worthy of our time either.

And the Labour line tends to obscure the regular election campaigning so that the only choice to the BNP becomes the established party - and that usually ain't us.

In his interview with Dale for Total Politics, Dave the Bin Man has his own take saying that the BNP are an excrescence. Once again, saying that a party is shit implies that anyone who considers voting for them is shit too. Thank you very much for your adult politics Mr Cameron. I think this is Cameron trying to avoid any Labour smear of him being soft on 'the racist/facist BNP'. So he feels the need to deride them in his opening breath.

But having got that over with, Cameron at least recognises that the best way to beat the BNP is to campaign against them. He says:

"the way to defeat it is to campaign actively on the ground. Pavement politics.
People turn to extreme parties if they think they have been forgotten by the
mainstream parties. That doesn't mean running towards issues they are
campaigning on, it means running towards the people that they are talking to and
showing you are listening to their concerns, taking up their issues and working
for them. You have to show that no part of the country, no part of your
constituency, no ward, that no housing estate is forgotten. That's the key
thing. Eric Pickles is an expert on this and has helped teach me this lesson"

In many cases the Lib Dems could do well to heed Cameron's advice (except the bit about Eric Pickles, obviously)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Jacqui Smith - so that's where all the Nunhead Police had gone

Paul Waugh blogs the news that Home Sec Jacqui Smith is being investigated by the Commons Standards Commissioner about what is her first and what is her second home. It turns out that she stays in London with her sister who lives in Nunhead.

I used to live in Nunhead and suffered a fair amount of crime:

- We suffered a burglary during which more than £12,000 of camera and computer equipment was stolen. No Police Officer came to investigate - only a forensics person who took one look and announced that there was nothing they could do;

- A person I was living with was threatened with rape - Police did nothing;

- I was the victim of an attempted mugging during which I was threatened with a rock. Police came to talk to me... and then did nothing despite being given pretty good descriptions;

- Our neighbour set fire to our house. The Police arrived and claimed there was little they could do. We had to suggest that they view the CCTV on the pub opposite which turned out to show him clearly. They searched his flat and failed to find him despite the fact he was hiding there at the time. It was left to us to keep watch and call them again when he ventured out.

I do understand that some senior politicians warrant full-time protection, but it's more than a bit galling to see the difference in service that different residents of the same small part of London get.

I'm very glad that have moved back to Cornwall now.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Cornwall set for real terms Council Tax cut

Cornwall County Council, in its last budget before the new Unitary Authority is established, has managed to set a Council tax rate that will mean a real terms cut for most people. They deserve to be congratulated for this achievement whilst protecting all front-line services.

The headline Council Tax rate will see a rise of 2.6% on average - well below the 3% inflation rate announced today - and that means that most people will see a cut in real terms. When you compare the figure with other councils around the country - of all political persuasions - you find that the Cornwall rate will be well below average.

I say most people will see only a small rise because the process of creating a Unitary Authority requires the equalisation of council tax levels across the County. Where previously we had six district councils, each setting their own tax rate, there will now be a single rate. So people in Penwith - which had the lowest previous rate - will have a larger rise than people in Kerrier - previously the highest rate. In my part of the County tax rises will be around the headline 2.6% level.

I'm slightly disappointed by the local BBC headline 'Tax increases for super council' which seems to imply real terms rises and fails to give any of the context within the body of the story. Hopefully taxpayers will understand more of the achievement when they get their bills.

Overall the new Authority will result in long term cost savings for local tax payers. The task for the councillors on the new body will be to make these savings apparent in tax bills sooner rather than later without compromising services.

I'd also like to give a big hand to the Conservatives (yes, really) who ignored their national Party Leader's demand to set a nil increase and instead voted for this measure. They realised that, whilst nobody likes paying more tax, a small increase was needed in order to prevent service cuts.

Perhaps David Cameron will learn that whilst he is the sort of person who wants to cut what he pays in Council Tax so he can afford more £92 kitchen bins, people in the real world have to think of what is best for all of us and don't want to see vital provisions like schools and social services slashed for a cheap headline.

Monday, 16 February 2009

'The Hunt for Red October' exposed as fake

Ever read the book 'The Hunt for Red October' by Tom Clancy? Remember all the details about how submarine sonar operators can track their enemies over hundreds of miles and pick up enough clues to tell precisely which boat they are listening to? (the film is slightly less tortuous on this point but comes to the same conclusion).

Well, those submarines from the UK and France seem to have proved that this is a complete myth. The couldn't even hear another sub well enough to avoid smacking into each other. No caterpillar drives were in operation (we assume), just standard missile boats going about their daily business.

Instead of the high tech world of Clancy, it instead brings to mind that scene in 'Das Boot' when the two German U-boats find themselves within a few hundred yards of each other by mistake when they should be patrolling completely different stretches of the Atlantic.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Our Navy- it's a commercial business, don't ya know

Anyone who saw the last series of Top Gear will remember the test of the new Ford Fiesta. During the piece Jeremy Clarkson 'tested' how good the car was at joining in with a naval assault on a beach. The car was pictured driving along the shore with military personnel, landing craft, Lynx helicopters, the lot.

Someone asked the military how much this event cost to stage. They replied by detailing the equipment and personnel involved but claimed that the exercise was a scheduled one and so there was not additional cost involved in fitting in with the filming.

The funny thing is that they claim that the actual cost should remain secret because it is 'commercially confidential'.

As far as I am aware, we only have one Royal Navy and their position as 'Defenders of our Nation (Sea Division)' is not really under threat from a rival bid by another country. So how on earth can they claim that this information is commercially confidential?

Labour List - have they forgotten something?

The hyperactive Derek Draper has certainly been busy with his Labour List project. They haven't got any readers yet, but I'm sure they will come.

The only trouble is that they seem to have forgotten something quite crucial.

A month or so ago when Labour List started appearing on our screens, Draper confided that this was a soft launch designed to iron out any failings. Indeed, the screen proudly announced it as being in Beta at top left.

Fair enough many of us thought. Let's wait for the official launch on February 12th when the all-singing and dancing version would appear.

And so, yesterday morning Draper held a breakfast for Labour bloggers to launch the site.

It must have been a damn good breakfast - the sort with endless bucks fizz. It must have stretched into a long, lazy lunch. And possibly even into the sort of drunken dinner when you know you had a good time but can't really remember any of the details.

I bet Draper woke up this morning feeling really happy with himself for his great new venture. But there will have been something nagging at the back of his mind. Something really important that he forgot to do.

Don't worry Derek, it'll come to you eventually....


It still talks about the launch being yesterday and being in Beta mode until then.

The world stops at Bristol... part 2

Tonight sees the last ever ITV local news bulletin broadcast from Plymouth. In a fit of rationalisation, ITV has decided that the news for the whole of the South West should now come from Bristol.

For all its problems, Westcountry TV saw fit to produce decent local news broadcasts and had sub-regional studios in towns around the region, each of which would produce a 7-10 minute slot for the local news programme each day. It was truly local news.

I'm not going to condemn the new programme until it starts on Monday. But the messages are all in the wrong direction.

The world stops at Bristol... part 1

There are those in the far South West who quite enjoy the fact that we are not in the middle of the country (there wouldn't be any beaches, for one thing). But increasingly it appears that England is drawing in on itself and abandoning the remoter areas.

Take yesterday's announcement about new trains for example. Lovely shiny new trains are being bought from a British consortium for two of the most important lines in the country and 12,000 jobs are being created in the process.

Except that, as we all know, this isn't true.

First, the consortium is basically Japanese and the trains themselves will be made in Japan.

Second, the number of jobs being created is only 500.

And third, the lines that will run the new trains are not the East Coast Mainline and the Great Western line. The East Coast Mainline bit is true enough. But the Great Western Line has two branches - the section from Paddington to South Wales and the section from Paddington to Penzance. Only one of these is getting the new trains and it isn't the bit that comes to Cornwall. The new rolling stock won't make it any further South West than Bristol.

Lib Dem MP Matthew Taylor has been kicking up a fuss about this and there may be some hope of getting things changed. Previous plans to halt the mainline at Plymouth have been successfully fought off (albeit that about half the trains stop at Plymouth) and the sleeper service has been saved.

Regional Minister Ben Bradshaw has said the plans will mean services to our part of the world will 'improve'. I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Wiki-gate - Is this the most pathetic spat imaginable

As Dr Pack has blogged, the Tories do seem to be utterly pathetic in the behaviour in what I shall christen 'Wiki-gate'.

So Gordon Brown may or may not have got it wrong when he said that Titian was 90 when he died. In the great scheme of things, it doesn't matter. Nobody really knows when he was born and so no one can declare with total accuracy how old he was when he died.

So what possessed Cameron to make an issue of it at PMQs?

Having done so, Central Office suddenly discovered that Cameron's statement didn't stand up when you looked at the world's number one fact checker - Wikipedia. Cameron might actually have been right. But you could be certain that the first place journalists would look to check would be Wikipedia. So SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE. And a wonderfully naive Central Office staffer acting totally alone (Tories are great fans of the Warren Commission) took it upon him or herself to change Wikipedia.

It's just that they never really understood how Wikipedia works and that their alterations would be tracked straight back to them with date, time and IP address helpfully provided.

Incidentally, it looks as though another Tory fan based in Sutton also decided to alter the entry to help Dave and so the combined effort was to shorten Titian's life by 8 years. Welcome to the world of Benjamin Button - Titian is a man who gets younger by the second.

So for all that Cameron got a schoolboy debating point out of the issue, Central Office got an afternoon of grief and embarrassment.

I do notice that Iain Dale has failed to address this issue on his blog. Given his love of challenging Lib Dem Voice whenever there is minutely embarrassing story for the Lib Dems, it would be nice to hear his take on this one.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Lanson in the snow

We have had snow in Lanson as just about the whole of the country has.

Whilst driving up and down the County is proving difficult on the main roads and treacherous on the back roads, it seems to have encouraged lots of people go out and get a breath of fresh air.

The town wasn't exactly teeming, but there were still plenty of people around, including lots of young people with the day off school who had dug sleds out of the loft.

Most of the businesses in town are open as normal. Unfortunately for the chap outside the library, that wasn't one of them. Someone seems to have taken a lot of effort to build a very decent snowman however.

The most popular venue was the Castle. The building itself must have seen these sort of conditions before, of course. But there were plenty of people who hadn't and they were determined to make the most of the conditions.

The view down into Newport was very good. The amount of snow on the rooves seems to indicate that people have got their loft insulation in order.