I am currently on holiday in Gran Canaria, thoroughly enjoying not having to commute to London every day and then rush back for at least one Council meeting in the evening. Not counting the Conservative Party Conference this is the first holiday I have had this year!
We took the train from Reading to catch our flight from Gatwick airport. The holiday was booked through Thomas Cook, who I have used before and always found to be very reasonably priced and very helpful. The aircraft was Lithuanian registered but the cabin crew were all British. Apart from a 20 minute delay departing, flight was uneventful. We had not booked meals but there were snacks and drinks sold from the trolley.
Arriving in Las Palmas the reps were there to meet us and ensure that we found the coach to our apartment in Playa del Ingles. We had opted for self catering apartments in a secure area with our own pool. Once we settled in we headed out to find some of the night life. In Gran Canaria every night seems to be a weekend and so we did not have to look very far. Despite it being midnight most restaurants were open as well as all of the bars. We found the Yumbo Centre, which is one of the most lively centres in Playa del Ingles, and had a bite to eat.
Since that first night we have enjoyed late nights, lazy mornings and lots of sun! Imagine a hot late June/July day in England and that would be how it feels, with temperatures around 26C. We have been to the beach as well as the pool at the apartment and had several siestas! We have also visited a couple of the drag bars in the Yumbo Centre. They are hilarious and serve a good range of cocktails. No one can touch a drag queen for dry, bitchy humour.
I will be back in the UK next Monday just in time for the next round of Council meetings and the remembrance period. However, in the meantime I am going to relax and get a tan. See you all next week!
Apologies for the belated news of the defection of Cllr Morel Benard from the Labour Group on Luton Council to the Conservatives. A reader messaged me to point out that I had missed this one which was covered on Conservative Home!
Cllr Benard defected to the Conservatives two weeks ago after being deselected by the local Labour Party (although she still appears on this list of Labour Cllrs). She had served last year as Deputy Mayor of Luton and represents Saints Ward which still has two other Labour Councillors.
Benard’s defection makes the balance of the groups on the Council: 25 Labour, 17 Liberal Democrat, 6 Conservative
There is a new ICM poll in today’s News of the World showing the Conservatives maintaining a 4% lead over Labour but now touching the statistically important 40% mark:
Conservative 40% (up 2%)
Labour 36% (up 2%)
Lib Dem 16% (down 2%)
ICM and YouGov are considered by most polling analysts to be the “Gold standard” of opinion polling and therefore it is interesting to see them converge as far as the Labour and Conservative shares are concerned. However, there is still a difference between them over the Lib Dem share.
The Labour Party suffered a humiliating defeat last night in the Tower Hamlets election for a new executive Mayor. The official Labour Party candidate Helal Abbas was comprehensively defeated by an Independent candidate Cllr Lutfur Rahman who had been kicked out of the Labour party just one month ago.
Cllr Rahman was endorsed by George Galloway’s Respect Party and during the campaign was also backed by Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone. The calls for Livingstone to be disciplined and to lose his candidature, which had begun before the result was known, are likely to be given greater impetus following the declaration of the result.
Rahman is alleged to have connections with the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) and a Channel 4 Dispatches programme earlier this year suggested that the IFE had helped him become the Labour leader of Tower Hamlets council, a position from which he was ousted in May.
Rahman will now have control of a budget of over £1 billion for the next four years and will be mayor of the east London borough during the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The full results were:
Lutfur Rahman (Independent) 23,283 - 51.76%
Helal Abbas (Labour) 11,254
Neil King (Conservative) 5,348
John Griffiths (Lib Dem) 2,800
Alan Duffell (Green Party) 2,300
Last night Reading Borough Council met for the first time in several months as a full Council. We had a full agenda with a wide range of public and Councillor questions, several reports and a number of motions. You can see the full agenda here.
There were several major items that dominated the evening and the political discussion. The first one of significance was the issue of the Maiden Erlegh school catchment area. Maiden Erlegh is a Wokingham Borough school to which many parents in east Reading curently send their children. Wokingham have launched a consultation on the catchment areas and Reading residents are understandably concerned at the possibility that they may lose the right to send their children to the local school which happens to be over the Borough border. This fear has been ruthlessly exploited by the Labour party.
A motion was moved by Park ward Councillor Jon Hartley which inaccurately referred to “Wokingham plans to exclude children from attending their local secondary school ”. Apart from the fact that Wokingham have no such plans, it is also the case that the reason that so many Reading parents hve to send their children out of the Borough is Labour’s failure over many years to provide sufficient spaces in Reading schools. We are therefore now potentially at the mercy of another authority IF they decide to change the admissions criteria. Cllr Hartley was aided and abetted by former Labour Councillor Richard McKenzie who asked a question, stating his view that the Council should be threatening Wokingham with legal action, despite the fact that this is only a consultation and no decisions have been taken. In the debate on Cllr Hartley’s motion I made the point that you do not respond to a neighbour by threatening legal action as the first course of action, especially if you are asking them to take a decision that is of benefit to us but no benefit to them!
The Conservative / Lib Dem administration position is that all options will be considered in order to protect the parents’ rights to send their children to Maiden Erlegh but before threatening legal action we want to respond to Wokingham’s consultation with constructive suggestions as to the outcome of the review. Only if WBC take a decision that is not in the interests of our residents will we pursue “the nuclear option” of legal action.
Throughout the debate McKenzie was in the public gallery occasionally shouting comments and seeking to interupt the debate, contrary to procedures of which he is well aware. The Labour nominated Mayor failed to take any action to prevent the disruptions from the gallery, preferring instead to criticise Councillors who were frustrated at his chairing of the meeting and lack of action. Absurdly both Hartley and Mckenzie claimed that they were not seeking to politicise the issue and criticised the administration for doing so. They chose to ignore the fact that they both misrepresented the real position and sought to enflame the fears of local residents. That is pretty despicable politics. It is also sad that they seem to have suckered Cllr Rob White of the Green party into supporting them. He seconded the Labour motion and spoke to support much of what Cllr Hartley had said. By contract Conservative Park ward Councillor Wazir Hussain spoke passionately in support of the parents and their rights but supported the administration approach to getting the right solution from Wokingham.
After the meeting I am informed that McKenzie verbally abused a woman in the public gallery who is the wife of a Wokingham Councillor. I am also told that he was abusive and threatening to a female Councillor and then sexually suggestive! Jane Griffiths has an account on her blog which I am happy to confirm I have seen confirmed by other evidence, some directly from those involved last night. The same McKenzie also complained about Cllr Swaine tweeting on his account during the meeting and yet was seen taking photos of the Council meeting, contrary to the rules. You can read McKenzie’s side of the story here.
I feel sorry for the parents in the gallery who have had their campaign hijacked by Cllr Hartley and Mr McKenzie. All Councillors want to see parents retain the right to send children to Maiden Erlegh school but we disagree as to tactics.
We did not only discuss school catchment areas. We had a series of questions a couple of which were for me to answer. Cllr John Ennis tabled a rather silly question: “Does the Lead Councillor for Strategic Planning and Transport admit that his continual rejoicing of the Lib Dems’ collapsing support in the polls on his blog suggests that he expects the ConDem coalition to end sooner rather than later, and that he does not support the coalition with the Lib Dems?” This question got the answer it deserved when I simply replied: “No”. As I hoped, Cllr Ennis took the bait with a supplementary question which then allowed me to attack his trivial and inaccurate statement and point out that Labour really had a lot to learn. I read from a document I was given which was a record of a session in the summer when Labour had to have a training session on how to be an effective opposition. I will blog more on this soon but suffice to say Labour looked stunned and were silent while the coalition enjoyed a quiet chuckle. We had a long time to learn the art of opposition and I suspect that Labour will have a long time yet to master the art, especially if Cllr Hartley and Mr McKenzie’s performances are anything to go by.
One other item worth noting was the motion moved by Cllr Andrew Cumpsty accepting Cllr Mike Townend’s resignation from the Cabinet due to the pressures of work and the appointment of Cllr Jeanette Skeats to replace him. Mike has been a superb Cabinet colleague for the last few months and he has brought a broad base of business experience to the table as well as a passion for the needs of voluntary groups in the town. He will be missed. However, I do know that Jeanette will do an excellent job as well. We are very fortunate to have so many people of high calibre in the two coalition parties.
There is a a new Ipsos MORI poll published by Reuters showing the Conservatives resuming their lead over Labour after last month’s poll showed the two parties tied:
Conservative 39% (up 2%)
Labour 36% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 14% (down 1%)
Ahead of tomorrow’s Comprehensive Spending Review the poll shows that almost two in five Britons (38 percent) believe the Conservatives have the best economic policies compared to a quarter who prefer Labour’s stance.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,009 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 15-17 Oct 2010. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
Conservative 41% (down 2%)
Labour 39% (up 3%)
Lib Dem 12% (no change)
The Government’s approval rating has also slipped with a net -2% rating (40% approve – 42% disapprove). With the Comprehensive Spending Review about to be announced on Wednesday I would be surprised if the Conservative share and the Government approval rating did not fall further allowing Labour to take a more steady lead.
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 12 October.
There has been a huge amount of speculation in recent weeks over the wrangling between the MOD and the Treasury around the degree to which the armed forces are to be cut in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Defence is always seen as an easy target by the Treasury and this spending round is no different. With the bizarre decision by my party’s leadership to ring-fence health and international development, the axe would inevitably fall more heavily on other areas, completely ignoring the fact that Defence spending has fallen sharply as a percentage of GDP since the end of the Cold War. This is at the same time as money has been shovelled in huge quantities at the NHS, education and welfare benefits.
The capability of our armed forces is greatly reduced from the 1980′s and 1990′s and the numbers of boots we can deploy on the ground have diminished as cuts to the Army and the TA have bitten. The Royal Navy has barely enough ships to defend our sea lanes and overseas territories, and as a consequence our international influence has been reduced. The RAF, which was 92,000 when I joined it, now stands at around 40,000 personnel, and a succession of bases have closed as it has retreated from whole areas of the country. More people now work at Heathrow than are in the RAF.
The financial mess in the nation’s account and the MOD procurement budget left by the last Labour government always meant that difficult decisions would have to be taken. The last government wanted the easy “win” of announcing equipment purchases without providing the funding to back them up. They acted like a spendaholic with an unlimited credit card. However, the additional cuts demanded by the Treasury presented Liam Fox as incoming Defence Secretary with a series of impossible choices. He has fought a valiant and sometimes very public battle to protect the armed forces but 7% cuts are no victory. All he has achieved is to minimise the damage to our national interest. An incoming Conservative government should have been maintaining or increasing defence expenditure but unfortunately there are very few MPs that understand the importance of defence and seemingly none in the current Treasury team. Essentially defence expenditure is our insurance premium in an uncertain and dangerous world and it currently comprises less than 3% of our national expenditure, leaving 97% for health, education, welfare and other areas. We have a NATO commitment not to spend less than 2% on defence, a commitment which the Government has pointedly refused to reiterate over the last week.
If the reports are to be believed (and it is a big “if”) the Royal Navy is to lose many of its frigates and destroyers in order to keep the two giant aircraft carriers. The amphibious force is also believed to be under threat. There are contradictory reports about whether the joint RAF/RN Harrier force will be scrapped. If the fleet is to be protected away from UK waters it is vital that the aircraft carriers are built and that they have effective jets to fly from them. It is also essential to have a fleet of escorts both to protect them and also patrol waters in the Caribbean, South Atlantic, Middle East and anywhere else that British shipping is threatened by pirates or rogue states.
(Click to enlarge)
In all the debate I have heard nothing about cutting the vast numbers of top ranking officers in the armed forces. There are far too many “starred” officers in the three services for the size of our forces. In my view they could and should be cut by 50% across the board. The number of headquarters also should be closely examined. Do we really need FIVE major headquarters for the armed forces. We maintain separate structure for the MOD, PJHQ (Permanent Joint HQ), Air Command, Fleet and Land. Many of their functions could be combined whilst retaining single service operational commands. We also maintain lots of agencies headed by senior officers many of which are of questionable utility. I would take the axe to Defence Estates and devolve control of buildings and land to individual unit commanders whilst maintaining a small oversight function within the MOD.
The focus instead seems to be on cutting civil servants who often conduct support roles at far less cost than a trained service person. No doubt there are savings to be had among civil service posts within the MOD itself, and Liam Fox has talked of 25% cuts, but major cuts in unit based civil servants will only lead to more tasks falling onto hard-pressed uniformed staff.
So far I have heard no reports of the reserve forces. If regular service personnel are to be cut one cost-effective solution would be to make more use of reservists. This is a path that the MOD has been following over the last 20 years and further cuts in regular staff could be mitigated by expanding the cadre of full and part-time reservists. Reservists are much less expensive than their regular equivalents, however, they are sometimes difficult to train and mobilise effectively. There are reports that a large percentage of the TA is effectively undeployable and this will need to be addressed. Full-time reservists (of which I am one) serve alongside their regular counterparts but are paid up to 15% less and have limited entitlement to expensive benefits such as housing and travel costs.
On Tuesday the results of the Strategic Defence and Security Review will be announced but I understand that much of the detail will only follow later on. What is clear is that there will be cuts in Britain’s frontline military capability with the Navy and the RAF suffering particularly heavily; ships will be cut and aircraft scrapped. Those cuts will damage our standing with allies and undermine our credibility with enemies and the bulk of the blame should fall squarely with the Labour government which left such a mess.
As the Daily Telegraph correspondent rightly states, the real test will be when the next direct threat emerges. In the 1920′s and 1930′s Britain cut its armed forces to the bone and only just managed to re-arm in time to see off Hitler and his threatened invasion. These cuts will take the armed forces back to a position analogous to the 1930′s. My hope is that as the economy recovers and the deficit is reduced the Government will be able to return defence spending to a level consistent with our international responsibilities and national interests. Only time will tell.
Conservative 40% (up 1%)
Labour 34% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 14% (down 1%)
In further findings ComRes highlights Labour’s failure to connect with the British people despite the difficult messages that the Coalition is seeking to communicate. Despite support for criticisms of the Coalition’s economic policy the top Labour team are trusted by only 23% compared to 45% who trust David Cameron and George Osborne :
Putting your allegiance aside, who do you trust most to steer Britain’s economy through the current downturn?
David Cameron and George Osborne 45%
Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson 23%
Don’t know 33%
The Coalition Government understands the interests of the wealthy better than the interests of ordinary people;
Don’t know 21%
· This is bad news for the Coalition partners half of social group C2 (50%) and DE (53%) agree and only one quarter of each group disagrees
· Also disturbing for the Coalition will be the news that one in four Tory voters (24%) agrees, as do 45% of current Lib Dems and a massive 52% of people who voted Lib Dem in May
It is fair that students should pay more for their university education even though their parents’ generation didn’t;
Don’t know 15%
· Unsurprisingly there is a strong pattern by age here, with 18-24 year olds the most likely to disagree (64%) and those aged 65+ most likely to agree (47%)
· Half of current LD voters (48%) and 57% of May LD voters do not think it fair
· Two thirds of Labour voters (66%) disagree that students should pay more, compared to 36% of Conservative voters who disagree; 52% of Tory voters agree
Welfare benefit cuts will hit hardest the poorest, elderly and most vulnerable in society;
Don’t know 15%
· The expectations of people in lower income groups are pretty pessimistic on this measure: 67% of DEs agree with it, compared to only 52% of ABs
· Over half of current LD voters (56%) think the welfare cuts will hit the these groups, as do 64% of people who voted LD in May
The top rate of income tax at 50p in the pound on earnings over £150,000 a year should be raised to 60p in the pound;
Don’t know 17%
· There is an interesting trend by age: older people are far more likely than younger people to agree – 30% of 18-24s agree, rising to 69% of 55-64s and 68% among those aged 65+
· AB voters are almost as supportive as DEs (57% and 60% agree respectively)
· Half of Tory voters agree, as do 53% of LDs and 67% of Labour voters
The loss of hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs is a price worth paying to reduce the deficit;
Don’t know 23%
· Men (36%) are more likely to agree than women (23%)
· There is a strong party divergence: 55% of Tory voters agree but only 10% of Labour voters and 30% of LDs; 49% of LDs disagree – as do 58% of people who voted LD in May
I expect that the public spending cuts to be announced next week will be fair;
Don’t know 26%
· DEs the gloomiest of all – 22% agree with the statement compared with 53% who do not
· Six in ten Conservative voters (60%) expect the cuts to be fair, while just a third of Lib Dem supports (32%) and one in ten Labour supporters (10%) agree
ComRes interviewed 2,009 GB adults on line between 13 and 15 October
Conservative 43% (no change)
Labour 36% (down 3%)
Lib Dem 12% (up 1%)
Now that the party season is behind us the polls should begin to settle into a more stable position. Both coalition parties have something to cheer in this poll. The Conservative lead has become more substantial as Labour has fallen back and the Lib Dems are up a notch to 12%. This will be a grave disappointment to Labour who will have been hoping for a boost from the election of their new leader and Shadow Cabinet. Perhaps the British people are not impressed with a Labour leader who owes his election to the Trades Unions rather than his membership or MPs.
The Government’s approval rating has also improved with a net 4% approving (43% approve – 39% disapprove).
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 6 October.
This made me chuckle. I hope it does the same for you:
There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph showing the Conservatives regaining a lead over Labour following the last Guardian ICM poll at the end of last month which had Labour ahead:
Conservative 38% (up 3%)
Labour 34% (down 3%)
Lib Dem 18% (no change)
Asked which party leader is “most likely to understand the financial situation of you and your family” Mr Cameron comes top with 29 per cent, ahead of Mr Miliband on 24 per cent and Mr Clegg on 15 per cent.
Now that all three parties have had the benefit (or otherwise) of their party conferences, and Labour have had the extra coverage coming from their Shadow Cabinet elections, we should start to see the polls settle down. The Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October may of course have an impact as well.
The Labour Shadow Cabinet election results have been announced tonight.
We were not supposed to know the actual votes cast but helpfully MP Barry Gardiner has blown that plan apart by tweeting the numbers of votes cast for each candidate:
Yvette Cooper (232)
John Healy (192)
Ed Balls (179)
Angela Eagle (165)
Andy Burnham (165)
Alan Johnson (163)
Douglas Alexander (160)
Jim Murphy (160)
Tessa Jowell (152)
Caroline Flint (139)
John Denham (129)
Hilary Benn (128)
Sadiq Khan (128)
Mary Creah (119)
Ann McKechin (117)
Maria Eagle (107)
Meg Hillier (106)
Ivan Lewis (104)
Liam Byrne (100)
Those who missed out include Peter Hain, Tory defector Shaun Woodward, Ben Bradshaw, Stephen Timms and leadership contestant Diane Abbott. Speculation tonight is that Yvette Cooper, who topped the poll, will beat husband Ed Balls to the Chancellorship he has long coveted.
Conservative 43% (up 4%)
Labour 39% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 11% (down 1%)
Polls are often volatile during the party conference season and any conclusions should wait a week or two until the boosts from individual party coverage during their respective conferences have passed.
The Government’s approval rating has also turned positive with a net 3% approving (43% approve – 40% disapprove).
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 27 September.
This year’s Conservative conference comes from the heart of the country in the Birmingham International Conference Centre. A huge number of delegates made the journey from the four corners of the UK to attend the first conference joined by a Conservative Prime Minister for 14 years. The delegates I have met are in very good heart and seem very supportive of the coalition with the Lib Dems. I have yet to meet any of those who the media seem to focus on, who are supposedly annoyed with David Cameron or resenting the coalition.
I have yet to attend any of the sessions in the main hall, which these days are pretty sterile and uninteresting. Instead I have focussed on a range of fringe meetings which is where the real mood of the conference can be sensed. It was at a Transport for London meeting that I had the opportunity to meet with Theresa Villiers (Transport Minister) and lobby her for the £15m in Regional Funding Allocation that we need to complete the Reading Station upgrade, and also for Crossrail to come to Reading. Understandably she would not commit to anything but the points were made.
It has also been good to meet friends that I tend to only see once a year at conference and to catch up with friends who are now newly elected MPs or Council Leaders. One noticeable feature is the sheer number of exhibitors this year. Every nook and cranny of the area outside the main hall is packed with everything from the Royal Mail stand; stands for the Conservative Friends of Poland, Turkey and Azerbaijan; and a big commercial area including M&S, Asda, Tesco and smaller retail outlets. I chuckled at the “Beer and Sandwiches” stall which is labelled “Red Ed’s”, alluding of course to the Trade Union votes which enabled Ed Miliband to beat his older brother for the Labour leadership.
There have not been that many announcements so far, reflecting the fact that we are all awaiting the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in a couple of weeks time. However, yesterday’s announcement that Child Benefit will no longer be paid to higher rate tax-payers has undoubtedly rattled a few cages. In these straightened times, I do not see how the Government could justify paying benefits to higher-rate tax-payers when it is cutting them from those less afluent but it is a brave government that takes money away from many of its key supporters.
Tomorrow afternoon David Cameron makes his key-note speech and I will need to be there early to catch a seat, for what will undoubtedly be a packed hall. It will be interesting if he has any big announcements up his sleeve. Whatever he says I am sure that most delegates will depart happy, simply for the fact that so many new Conservative MPs and new Ministers have been present and that we have, at long last, a Conservative Prime Minister. I am not sure that the audience next year will be so unconditionally supportive!
UPDATE: I managed to get into the main hall for David Cameron’s speech. As with previous years the stewards were turning people away and saying the hall was full but I managed, with some colleagues, to get high up in the main hall to watch the speech live. It was not Cameron’s most exciting speech but it was well received by the delegates. He manages to combine the seriousness needed from a Prime Minister with a little levity and a healthy dose of personal humanity. Provided that the CSR does not deliver any unwelcome surprises I think most Conservatives will be very happy with the Government that David Cameron is leading. If what I hear is true, that Defence is to be spared major budget cuts (less than 10% over 5 years being suggested) then I will also be happy.