Friday, 20 March 2009

The 'Shadow Minister for Cornwall' clearly doesn't believe in ending fuel poverty

David Heath's Bill to end fuel poverty had its second reading in the House of Commons today. It fell because not enough MPs were there to support it. Although four Cornish Lib Dem MPs were there to back it, the Conservative self-named 'Shadow Minister for Cornwall', Mark Prisk, was absent. Is fuel poverty not something that Cornish Conservatives or their mouthpiece support?

It's not as if there was a Conservative whip in opposition to the Bill. Although Private Member's Bills are not whipped officially, there is often an unofficial whip and Labour had something of this sort as two of their whips were the only ones to vote in opposition. But not the Tories. Several Conservative MPs had the guts to vote in favour of this Bill, but why not Mr Prisk?

Clearly any Conservative statements about fuel poverty in Cornwall in the run up to June's elections will have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Google Streetview - not quite

Oh how the Government must love Google's Streetview. It's one of the biggest invasions of privacy we've yet seen in the UK and we're all playing with it! Gordon Brown couldn't have wished for a softer introduction to database Britain.

Ah, say Google. We've taken out such identifying details as faces and numberplates because of our very clever software. So there's nothing to worry about.


Not quite - as a quick play indicates.

Here's a fairly clear number plate

and here's another

And what about faces?

The BBC reports a number of images have had to be blanked out because they show home interiors, people being arrested and even a man entering a sex shop. And people are emailing in to say they have recognised themselves.

So I'm guessing that there's still some work to do before that particular promise can be taken at face value.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Canvassing in Launceston Central

Dan Rogerson and I were out knocking on doors on the Ridgegrove Estate this afternoon to find out what residents there want from the new Council.

Top of the list is something for the kids to do. There is far too much of a problem with young people kicking balls around in the street and breaking windows and also more anti-social behaviour caused by boredom. There is a very obvious need for more spaces for kids to play without the risk of breaking things and more activities - both structured and unstructured - to help keep them out of trouble. I'll be pressing Cornwall Council to take some action here although it is unlikely to be solved immediately.

Other residents are concerned about the lack of response from North Cornwall DC to their complaints about broken fences and so on. I'll write to the Councils (both NCDC and Cornwall) to press them for swifter response times to problems.

There is also the problem of overflowing bins. The communal bins are emptied on a Tuesday but are overflowing by Sunday. Bigger bins might solve the problem but will be fairly unsightly so I'm pressing NCDC (and Cornwall) for twice weekly collection on the estate as well as regular litter picking tidy ups.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Cheltenham Day 4 preview

The kids lead us off on the final day and there are huge tips out there for Alan King's Walkon. Currently trading at around 5/1 it seems bound to get shorter. But the Triumph Hurdle is a bit of a lottery. The horses are too young to have any sort of consistency. Like young teenagers, their bodies are changing all the time and they can have more off days than most. So I'd recommend not taking it too seriously and seeking an outsider to have a small amount of each way on. For me Art Sleuth fits this bill this year.

A case could be made for about ten of them in the County Hurdle. I'd love it if Dave's Dream could win the bonus on offer to any hirse winning this and last Saturday's Imperial Gold Cup. Although he's still ahead of the handicapper and that wasn't the toughest race, this may be too soon and this will be much harder. I prefer Raise Your Heart or Sunnyhill Boy but I'm going to steer clear of anything other than a tiny bet.

The third is the staying Novices hurdle, now called the Albert Bartlett. The Irish have dominated in this sort of event this festival and I'm sure they will win it again. Alpha Ridge will lead them out and blow away Pride of Dulcote which I think is the strongest of the home team. Whether Alpha Ridge can hold on is another matter. I'd take Browns Baily to be challenging up the hill and may just take it.

The Gold Cup is truly fascinating. No previous winner has ever come back to win having lost the title in between. If you're going to win it has to be back to back. So that would rule out Kauto Star. Except. Except it doesn't because Kauto Star is truly exceptional. Last year's winner, Denman has had so many problems that it is amazing he is here at all. In his only run this season he was humiliated. Winning jockey Tom Scudamore even turned round and waved at the reigning champ as he crossed the line. Only the most optimistic will think Denman can do anything this time. Neptune Collonges is a great horse but I will oppose it and take Madison du Berlais as the main danger.

This is going to be one of the so called 'bad' Gold Cups with a hatful of horses still in with a shout on the run in. Apparently it's only ever 'good' if one horse wins by a mile or there's just a pair battling it out ahead of the rest. I don't buy that theory at all. Sure, there's no real stand out horse head and shoulders above the rest. But there are a large number of very strong competitors which will blow away the chaff - the likes of Snoopy Loopy and Knowhere.
My picks:

1st Kauto Star
2nd Madison du Berlais
3rd Neptune Collonges

The next race is run over exactly the same course and distance but for just 10% of the cash. It's the Foxhunters and there's tons of dross in there. I watched Southwestern at a recent Point to Point and the horse really disappointed. I'm not sure it's got a chance here but would love it for Jeremy Scott if I was wrong. I reckon Royal Auclair is in with a good shout. And if that's the case then it must be a poor event. I certainly won't be betting.

Th next is named after the incredible trainer Martin Pipe and my pick is the incredible Little Shilling. He's sitting on a six timer and is fresh having been off the course since December. True, the wins were all at gaff tracks, but here is a horse that has shot up the handicap but still has room to improve further. The big danger for me is Penn da Benn.

The lucky last, the Grand Annual, is a two mile handicap chase. Lorient Express is another with a good winning streak but I'm going to take JP to win yet another and I'll pick Clew Bay Cove of his three entries.

Which will I take seriously? I might have a pound each way on Art Sleuth. Browns Baily and Clew Bay Cove will also have a couple of quid on them. Little Shilling and Kauto Star might get slightly more.

But the main lesson for tomorrow is to watch and enjoy. It'll be another 361 days until we can do this again.

Cheltenham - Day 3 review

Oh what a good job that I stayed away from the bookies today. I'd already said that it would be a very light day, but in the end I couldn't rouse myself to make the trip. The only two horses I felt keen to back were too short in the market to be worthwhile. And in the end neither could win in any case.

Voy por Ustedes threw away the Ryanair Chase with poor jumping.

Kasbah Bliss was a long way behind the front two and madly disappointing.

Exmoor Ranger fell three out when in contention. There was a poor seventh for Don't Push It and Alexander the Great was brought down in the last.

The only couple of bright spots were Punchestowns being narrowly denied in a storming end to the World Hurdle and Notable D'Estruval coming a creditable third in the fifth race.

Still, I did better than Steve, and we live to fight another day. Tomorrow sees the final day of the festival, the Gold Cup and surely the return to the top spot of Kauto Star. I'll ponder it overnight and post my tips tomorrow morning.

The pleasures of flying Ryanair

Regular readers of this blog will know my delightful feelings on Ryanair. My uncle has sent this rather apt version of their safety card.

Cheltenham Day 3 predictions

In the first it looks too difficult to call. Exmoor Ranger is my tip from the homegrowns, but the Irish raiders will probably have a stranglehold on the race.

The second is another lottery but J P McManus should probably win it with one of hs four. I'd go for the favourite - Don't Push It - although there has been a strong tip for Buena Vista.

In the Ryanair Chase Voy Por Ustedes is going to hack up having sidestepped the return against Master Minded yesterday. It won't be much of a price, but it will win.

In the World Hurdle there are only two in it for me - unfortunately they are the top two in the market. Kasbah Bliss came up against the superb Inglis Drever and his mad maid last year and was the best horse not to win at the festival. Since then he has made great strides and so will start close to odds on. If you fancy some value then Punchestowns is worth a nibble.

In the fifth Notable D'estruval could well triumph for the Irish.

In the last it may well be Poker de Sivola for most people but I'm going to have a little on Alexander the Great. Not because of the name you understand. Oh no.

Overall it'll be a light day. It's too tempting to lump on to Kasbah Bliss and Voy por Ustedes but Cheltenham should be about fun and watching the best racing in the world.

Cheltenham Day 2 report

A sort of break even day on Wednesday. The fantastic Master Minded hacked up at unbackable odds but wasn't the stunner of last year - mind you, that was magnificent. The race lost something with Big Zeb falling.

We had a nice winner with Miguel D'Haguenet in the second at 7/2 early (went off at 5/2).

And then Ski Sunday obliged with a 20/1 second place after my each way recommendation.

So that meant a fractional loss on the day but the money still in hand to have a go at day 3...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Cheltenham - love it

Back from Harrogate and straight into the Cheltenham Festival - highlight of the jump racing calendar.

My mate Steve is Deputy Features Editor at the Racing Post (he even has a blog) and we compared notes before the start of racing today. My tips were: Go Native in the first, Tartak in the Arkle, Millennium Royale in the Wm Hill Trophy, Katchit in the Champion Hurdle and Quevega in the last. I refuse to think about the cross country as it is a stupid race in which horses always seem to take the wrong course and, in any case, JP McManus would win.

Steve's tips were Go Native, Planet Of Sound, Nenuphar Collonges, Ashkazar, L'Ami, and Quevega and he stamped the word certainty all over that last one.

What happened - well we both had two winners. And they were the same horses. Go Native won just in the first at 12/1 and Quevega romped up in the last at 2/1 although he was at 5/2 before racing.

For the record, I had a couple of quid each on Go Native, Tartak and Millennium Royale, doubled Katchit with Quevega for £2 and had £10 on Quevega on its own. Result was a profit of £43 for the day. Which I like.

Steve will put his thoughts up on his blog no doubt by tomorrow morning. I am sure he will be waxing lyrical about Ashley Brook - his favourite horse - and how even now it could overcome Master Minded to win the Champion Chase. Except it can't. MM will storm it. That's why the second best horse in the race - Voy por Ustedes - isn't even running and will go for the Ryanair chase on Thursday instead.

My tips:

1.30 - Forest Leaves at about 8/1
2.05 - Mikael D’Haguenet at 7/2
2.40 - Gone to Lunch (who I photographed for the Racing Post a few months ago) at 13/2
3.20 - don't bother having a bet. Just watch Master Minded romp clear at the shortest odds this side of Christmas
4.00 - Ambobo at 12/1
4.40 - Nothing stands out, but Ski Sunday might be worth each way at 20/1
5.15 - Whatever you bet on, it'll be an Irish winner, so why not Shinrock Paddy at 14/1

Conference Rally - in pictures

Howard Dean - in photos

Howard Dean was busy at conference.

Not only did he make his set piece speech from the conference podium, but he was also busy on the reception circuit, meeting donors, candidates and campaigners.

Saturday at Conference

Saturday's highlight was, of course, Howard Dean who I'll cover in a later post. But the biggest debate was over faith schools as part of the wider education paper.

I missed the start of the debate but was in time to hear Tim Farron speak up in favour of retaining faith schools and David Laws attempt to steer a delicate path between the competing arguments.

Later on we had Vince the Invincible. He laid off the usual jokes - probably for the best, he'll come a cropper some time - but scored serious hits on both Tories and Labour.

Then it was time for the usual photo op with Nick and his team finalising his speech. Pity the room they chose for the event was so small and un-photogenic.

Earlier, Nick had joined local MP Phil Willis for a trip into town to meet former Woolworth's employees outside the deserted former store. Fortunately, the three women Nick met have all found new jobs since Woolies closed.

One thing struck me about the media coverage of this meeting. The BBC did a vox pop with people in the street. Did they recognise Nick? Apart from the people who thought the reporter was asking about the BBC cameraman, the problem for the BBC was that more than half the public actually did identify Nick. Not that this was the result in the broadcast.

Sunday at conference

I'm afraid I didn't make it out of bed too early on Sunday, but ventured into the hall in time to see the presidential handover from Simon Hughes - denied the chance to speak! - to Ros Scott.

Ros went on to hand out the membership awards to my mate Gareth Epps and the Reading party (largest increase) and to Leeds East (largest percentage increase).

Then it was on to the appeal and Phil Willis giving his last speech at a conference in his home town. Unfortunately I failed to get Tim Farron's paper aeroplane on film...

Bob Somper got his two minutes of annual glory for his sterling efforts with the Christmas Draw as he handed over a cheque to Phil.

And then it was on to Nick's speech - see below.

Nick's speech in words and pictures

You can find the text of Nick's speech here.

Nick Clegg laid the blame for Britain's economic crisis and political malaise squarely at the door of both Labour and the Conservatives, in his keynote speech to the party spring conference in Harrogate:

"A never-ending cycle of red-blue, blue-red government has got us into this mess - it is never going to get us out."

He said now was the time to try something new:

"Now is the time to think big.

"If you want better, choose different.

"Choose the Liberal Democrats."

Nick made a stinging attack on the Labour Government for having let people down:

"Labour is like a spent match. There's nothing left.

"You remember how hopeful people felt in 1997?

"Remember the promise of a better future?

"Don't you feel the disappointment?

"An economy in tatters. A country more unequal than before. An illegal war, our government implicated in torture and rendition. Our environment poisoned. Our privacy invaded, our freedom curtailed.

"If you believe, like I do, in progress.

"If you feel let down by Labour, and see that the Conservatives will never be a party of change.

"Turn to the Liberal Democrats.

"We carry the torch of progress now."

Much of the speech was devoted to the state of the economy and what the Liberal Democrats would do to turn things round:

"At least 3 million unemployed by the end of the year. That's devastating.

"Let me be clear. We will do everything possible to help.

"Everything to protect jobs, keeping viable businesses going.

"Everything to make sure being made redundant does not mean you lose everything.

"And everything to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, to get people back out to work as soon as possible."

Nick told conference that the government has borrowed twelve and a half billion pounds to finance this year's VAT giveaway:

"That money alone could have created nearly 100,000 new jobs.

"And laid the foundations, quite literally, for a new green economy."

Nick said the party should be proud of their progressive policies and enduring liberal values:

"Let us say it loud and clear.

"We are the only party who will put money into people's pockets with fair tax cuts.

"The only party to offer universal childcare and smaller classes in our primary schools.

"The only party who would use Gordon Brown's wasted billions to create thousands of jobs today by investing in homes, hospitals, schools and public transport to build the green economy of tomorrow.

"The only party that will rebuild the jobs, homes and hopes this recession has destroyed."

Monday, 9 March 2009

Spring Conference - or the Howie and Vince show

Back from Harrogate and almost recovered.

Two characters were all over the conference - Howard Dean and Vince Cable.

Nick Clegg (not completely sold on the haircut) made a brilliant speech yesterday lunchtime and will have gained a lot from the event, but he was overshadowed by his deputy and the man with the scream.

Dean was with the conference for 24 hours during which he packed in meetings with bloggers, with candidates, with donors, with campaigns staff, with Clegg, with Lib Dem News and with the conference floor. I seem to have taken more pics of him than of anyone else there. I have to say that I wasn't that impressed by the set piece speech. But I was more than impressed by the talks he gave to each of the smaller groups and the Q&As he insisted on having with each group. He said a lot about technical campaigning and about message and seemed to pass on lots of stuff that should help the Lib Dems. He seriously thought that the Party could win the next election (I'm not sure that the most overwrought 12 year old Clegg-idoliser necessarily feels the same) and explained how this could happen. Even if it doesn't, he left a lot of people feeling good.

And I got a nice pic with him.

The other omnipresent was Vince. Not so much in person as in spirit. During the rally everyone referred to him. Throughout the hall debates and the fringe everyone seemed to feel that by invoking his name they could assume a little of his current celeb status.

I'm sure that Vince is a sage enough head to know that fortune and fame do not last and the press will eventually be itching to knock him down again. But it is genuinely good for Lib Dems while it lasts.

And that includes Nick. He isn't overshadowed by his Deputy. He actually seems relaxed about the whole Vince thing and gave genuine plaudits during his speech. He believes that for the Party to succeed we cannot be a one man band and having Vince seen as a guru (even if temporarily) can only be good.