There is a new ComRes poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Independent which shows the Labour increasing their lead over the Conservatives to 9%:
Conservative 34% (down 2%)
Labour 43% (up 3%)
Lib Dem 10% (no change)
ComRes telephoned 1,002 GB adults on 28-30 January 2011.
Interestingly I read an article today on Political Betting which cites the Labour supporting head of YouGov, Peter Kellner, arguing that Labour should be doing much better than they are in most polls.
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 21 January.
Over the last day or so two readers of this blog have contacted me to tell me that Reading Labour Party have been given permission by their party’s National Executive to begin selecting a new Parliamentary candidate. However, it is bad news for one Naz Sarkar, the former candidate, as the party has decided to foist an all-woman shortlist on the local party. One of my correspondents is very unhappy about this. I would also imagine that certain male Reading Labour Councillors will be unhappy at being excluded from the process. One threw his hat into the ring last time.
It is better news for local female Councillors who may fancy their chances. Already I am told that Whitley Councillor Rachel Eden is being suggested by some to fly the Labour red flag at the next General Election.
I do think that all-women shortlists are profoundly unfair. Parties should not be allowed to discriminate in this way and I understand that some local Labour members will be complaining to their central party. I will be watching the selection process closely and will report any more news I may be told.
Conservative 33% (down 5%)
Labour 43% (up 4%)
Lib Dem 13% (up 2%)
MORI have a reputation for being notoriously volatile as indicated in this month’s poll compared to December.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,162 aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 21-24 Jan 2011.
When I posted a few days ago about Labour’s secret funding of Trade Union officials using £1.4m of Council Tax I expected some reaction and the usual personal attacks from Labour. It is typical of Reading Labour that rather than just defend a practice which they clearly think is acceptable, the leader of the Opposition, Cllr Jo Lovelock has attacked the messenger. Apparently I have “no credibility” and hold “far right” views. If Councillor Lovelock really thinks that it is “far right” to believe that Trades Unions (which can afford to fund expensive party political campaigns) should not be funded from Council Tax Payers’ money, then she has a lot to learn about public opinion.
It was also amazing to see that a story which I broke on 21 January is not just on the local TV and radio but was raised in Parliament yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions. It seems that my information that £1.4m was spent over 8 years was not the whole story – the total amount is probably more than £1.4m over a much longer period! However, to be fair, we have now assumed that the £1.4m was over 12 years. Still £1.4m and all funded from Council Tax at a time when Council Tax doubled under Labour.
Labour’s public defence of the payment also seems to have shifted in the last day. When I first blogged the story Labour commenters said that all that had happened was that Council Tax payers had funded some occasional time off for Union duties, which sounded bad but less unreasonable. Today it has been confirmed by the BBC and by a Labour activist on Twitter that in fact full time posts were funded for the NUT, Unite and Unison.
Labour claims that this was already “well known” and that I and others should have known as I was a member of the Local Joint Forum in the past. I have checked previous minutes and can confirm that this information was never revealed at any meeting I attended, or at others I have looked at. A colleague has been checking the last 8 years “Gold Papers” which are the Council’s Budget papers, and it was not mentioned there either.
Decent Council Tax paying residents have been contacting me and my colleagues to express their shock that at least £1.4m of Council Tax receipts were used by Labour to fund their Union colleagues, money that could have been spent on schools, roads, social service and housing.
Nationally last year Unite paid Labour £818,366 and Unison paid £396,515 (Source: Electoral Commission). The Reading Labour Party has received regular donations from Unions. In 2009 Unite gave Reading Labour Party £1,000, Unison gave them £1,500. In 2010 Unison gave £1,720, as recorded to date on the Electoral Commission website.
More to come……..!
Last night’s Reading Borough Council meeting was one of the most striking simply for the chaos that seemed to infuse the Labour benches. Rarely have I seen such an inept and clearly uncoordinated performance from the Labour opposition.
The meeting began with the usual session for petitions and questions from the public and Councillors. It was surprisingly subdued with little questioning from Labour of the Coalition’s plans and proposals. Mr Eric Hallet from Tilehurst submitted a petition to have a bus shelter installed where one had been removed under the contract that was implemented this summer. I responded and was happy to be able to agree it based on the level of assessed need from elderly people in the area.
There was a question from Sarah Griffin about planned celebrations for International Women’s Day on 8 March. Cllr Andrew Cumpsty detailed a series of events and exhibitions. Jan Gavin asked about the recently published audit opinion for 2009/10 and then tried to turn it into a political statement when her supplementary question asked Cllr Kirsten Bayes to retract the claim that Labour left Council finances in a mess. This allowed Cllr Bayes to highlight the high level of borrowing and the various financial issues that had come to light since the Coalition took control last May.
The first Councillor question was from Cllr Gareth Epps to me about the Shinfield Road scheme and Labour’s increasingly desperate attempts to distance themselves from their decision to impose the scheme which has caused such problems. This gave me the opportunity to highlight the steps I am taking to put the situation right and to call for an apology from Labour, which was not forthcoming. Cllr Rachel Eden decided to try to score some points by claiming that Conservative Councillors had never expressed any concerns over the scheme or called for changes. I was happy to put her straight, pointing out that almost every request for changes I and Church ward Councillors had requested had been brushed aside under the Labour administration.
Cllr Emma Warman asked about the recent “Your Money, Your Say” consultation which had enabled the public to have their say on priorities for spending and possible savings. This was responded to by Cllr Andrew Cumpsty who pointed out that this was the first consultation of its kind and explained how it had framed the Coalition’s approach to the impending budget.
Cllr Rob White asked a series of questions about food waste recycling, Maiden Erlegh, and the old toilet block in Palmer Park. His three questions were three more than the Labour Group managed to submit!
I then presented the Sites and Detailed Policies Document which has been the subject of a long public consultation and some revisions following changes to central Government. The most topical site in the document is undoubtedly the Bath Road Reservoir. I welcomed the recent inspector’s judgement which upheld the Council position of refusing Thames Water’s plans for 96 dwellings on the site. The Council mounted a robust defence alongside the very effective campaign run by local people and Alok Sharma MP. I proposed a strengthening of the document to specifically protect and respect the listed water tower and pointed out that the wording was to accept UP TO 80 dwellings. I stress the words “up to” as the Council agrees with residents that a development of fewer properties may well be more appropriate. Labour moved an amendment to ask for consultation with ward Councillors and my opposition counterpart. They also wanted some specific amendments. I was happy to agree the additional consultation element but proposed that their amendments be dealt with in this context. This was eventually agreed and the document passed for a final 12 week community involvement starting next month.
Item 9 on the Agenda was Cllr David Stevens moving a technical report which sets the Council Tax base for the next financial year. It also set the anticipated collection rate at 97.5%. This merely allows the level of Council Tax to be calculated and set at the next Council meeting in February.
Item 10 was more controversial. Cllr Daisy Benson moved a report which set the budget for the Housing Revenue Account for the next year. It included an average rent increase of 4.9% and a new service charge for cleaning of up to £1 per week and an increase in the existing lighting charge of 82p per week. Garage rent increases by 5.7%. After much bluster from Labour (who originally introduced separate service charges) the budget was approved.
Item 11 was the most fascinating. Cllr David Stevens introduced a report to set out the proposed savings in the budget which amount to £17.8m. This includes the saving from stopping the funding of Trade Union officials as highlighted in an earlier article I wrote. It was on this item that Labour’s credibility as a serious opposition began to nose-dive. After the report was presented they proposed an amendment which added a new paragraph asking the Chief Executive to investigate all measures to provide services to other public and private sector agencies. Since we are already doing this the Conservative and Lib Dem groups had no problem in accepting the amendment in the spirit of goodwill. Cllr Swaine spoke to highlight that this was already happening and was roundly attacked by Labour. I spoke to support Cllr Swaine and pointed out that despite their amendment, Labour had failed to do this when they were in power. I highlighted the increase in funding to the voluntary sector and my delight at the Readibus settlement which was completely uncut for another year. In a section which seems to have confused at least one Labour Councillor, I then attacked Labour’s misreporting of the facts in their leaflets. For years they have been inventing imaginary cuts and using that to scaremonger amongst the most vulnerable in society.At the last election I was told by residents that Labour canvassers said that they should vote Labour to stop us abolishing pensioners free bus passes, selling off Reading Buses, selling off Council houses etc etc.
Labour then seemed to get themselves thoroughly confused because once we voted to accept their amendment they then announced that they would vote against the amended motion. Even some of their backbenchers were looking at each other obviously confused. In the end Labour (plus Cllr Rob White – Green) voted against the motion but it passed with Conservative and Lib Dem support.
Item 12 was a report on relocating the Civic Offices. Since Conservatives forced Labour to abandon plans for a £50m new building the Council has been looking at using an existing office building together with more use of the old Town Hall. The report indicated that we would expect a minimum 2 year rent free period. This passed with all party support.
The final item on the main agenda was a report confirming the retirement of Mr John Painter and some changes in the senior management of the Council leading to budget savings. Mr Painter was roundly thanked by all parties for his long and distinguished service. However, as the report was about him, he was out of the Chamber at the time!
The final section of business was motions from Councillors. This is an opportunity for an active opposition to move topical motions and get their points across. The first motion was a procedural one accepting the resignation of Cllrs T Harris and Cllr Epps as policy advisors (non paid posts) due to work pressures and appointing Cllr Steele and Cllr Goodall as replacements for the rest of the Municipal year.
The second motion was moved by Cllr Bet Tickner and contained lots of words about Councillors maintaining high standards (which is already in the Council constitution and code of conduct) and then commiting the Council to maintain an independently chaired standards committee, ask it to recommend sanctions for Councillors who break the code, and write to the Sec of State and local MPs to inform them of the motion. After an uninspiring introduction from Cllr Tickner which referred to the Localism Bill, Cllr Cumpsty rose to point out that as the Localism Bill was still in the process of going through Parliament its final contents were yet to be confirmed. He also noted that the Council constitution stated that resolutions of this nature had to follow an officer report setting out all the implications and that therefore Cllr Tickner’s motion was unconstitutional. This was then confirmed by Mr Painter to be the case. After much protest from Labour the meeting ended.
So in summary Labour had nothing positive to say to the people of Reading about what they would do differently to the Coalition, they proposed one amendment that they then voted against, and moved a single motion that was unconstitutional!
Opposition is certainly difficult but Labour are clearly struggling to come to terms with the fact that they are no longer in power. They even had to have a lesson in how to be an opposition last summer, but it appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
It will be very interesting to see if they propose a full detailed opposition budget at the next Council meeting. Year on year they attacked us and the Lib Dems for not doing so. Consistency would therefore demand that they do. However, it was notable that Cllr Lovelock bemoaned the difficulties of Opposition and the fact that the opposition does not have the information of the governing party(ies).
There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian showing a Labour lead of 4% due to a 2% fall in Conservative support:
Conservative 35% (down 2%)
Labour 39% (no change)
Lib Dem 15% (up 2%)
The Lib Dems will be comforted to be staging a small recovery across results from various different pollsters.
Following previous news that under the new coalition administration the number of apprenticeships has doubled, comes the very welcome news that Reading is seen as one of the best placed “cities” to weather current economic difficulties.
The Centre for Cities 2011 report finds that Reading has the third highest wages of the 63 major towns and cities surveyed; only 7.7% are considered ‘low skilled’ and 37.9% are ‘high skilled’, putting us in the top ten on both measures; we are third best in the country for the percentage claiming Job Seekers Allowance with just 2.2% in November 2010; Reading also has the sixth highest employment rate with 76.2%; it is estimated to be one of the least affected (per capita) by cuts to welfare benefits.
Reading is picked out by the report as being one of the five best major towns and cities with potential for further growth, along with Aberdeen, Bristol, Leeds and Milton Keynes. Whilst we certainly cannot be complacent, there is great cause for optimism in this report for the people of Reading. Add to that spending (£800m+) on Reading Station, known plans for places like Station Hill and South Reading, which will bring jobs and investment, and the future is very positive for Reading’s economy. This should ensure that we remain the key cog in the economic engine of the South East of England, which is key to the whole of the UK.
There is a new YouGov poll published in today’s Sunday Times showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives narrowing to 4%:
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 19 January.
I have blogged before about what other people have been saying about Labour Party corruption. However, several people have asked me in recent weeks whether we as a new administration have uncovered any more questionable Labour spending decisions that have been hidden from the public. The short answer is that we certainly have and I am happy to share one of them now.
It is well known that Trades Unions are very strong in the local government part of the public sector and that they enjoy a special position in the affections of the Labour Party. Trades Unions provide the bulk of Labour Party funding and I have written about this in the past. Trades Unions also run their own political campaigns during General Elections, usually in support of Labour and opposed to a Conservative Government. Local readers may remember the trades union poster campaign last year on Reading bus shelters depicting an axe and headlined “Tory Cuts”. Such campaigns are very expensive and do not have to be declared as part of Labour’s election expenses. At present the Civic Offices are well covered with expensive glossy leaflets attacking the Government’s argument about the scale of the public debt left by Labour.
What Reading Council Tax payers may be shocked to learn is that for many years the Council under Labour control was paying for local Trades Union officials with our money. Over the last 12 years this has cost Reading people around £1.4m. This cannot be right and the new Conservative/Lib Dem administration of the Council has put a stop to this. Even long serving Conservative and Lib Dem Councillors have been shocked by the scale of public money involved and the fact that Labour secretly subsidised their union brothers and sisters. This was kept secret from the public and Opposition Councillors and it was never visible in the Council’s accounts which are published every year.
Whatever views may be held about Trades Unions funding the Labour Party it cannot be right for the Labour Party to channel scarce Council Tax receipts to fund the unions. If this was not a prejudicial interest what is?
UPDATE: Since I wrote my original article above several more facts have come to light. The total amount of the value of Council support to the Unions may be more than £1.4m and the period covered considerably more than the 8 years I originally wrote. To be fair therefore I have amended the article above to reflect the 12 year period since Reading became a Unitary authority in 1998 when the current “facilities agreement” with the Trades Unions came into force. That is when the funding of three full-time posts started.
Labour’s defence seems to revolve around two arguments. The first is that the agreement was not “secret” and should have been known by Conservative and Lib Dem Councillors. However, no one has been able to point to any meeting or occasion when the current ”facilities agreement” was made public since it was signed in 1998. Since every Lib Dem and all but one Conservative Councillor was elected since 1998 it is hardly surprising that no-one was aware of the funding of full time posts from Council Tax. At the very least the agreement should have been tabled annually for review at the Local Joint Forum on which I used to sit.
The second Labour argument is that by revealing this and attacking the fact that Conservative and Lib Dem Councillors were not made aware of it, I am somehow attacking the Council Officers. Let me be clear, I have always argued that politicians are responsible for what happens in the Council and I do not and never have blamed Council Officers for the actions of the previous administration. My criticism is of the Labour Party who ran Reading for more than 20 years and who have been heavily supported financially by the some of the same Trades Unions that have benefitted from the facilities agreement!
Finally, let me add that there is certainly a role for trades unions and the Council should make some allowance (through time off etc) for their legitimate activities but the umbilical link of many unions to the Labour Party means that they are not politically neutral and in my view full time posts to support union activity should be funded by union members and not from Council Tax.
The surprise news this afternoon that Alan Johnson has resigned as Shadow Chancellor for “personal reasons” has rocked Westminster and dominated the news bulletins. It should be remembered that former Slough postman Johnson was new leader Ed Miliband’s ‘last man standing’ choice for Shadow Chancellor. The choice was more dictated by who he didn’t want in the job than any positive preference. Milband didn’t want Ed Balls as his Shadow Chancellor as he was too closely associated with the Brown regime and he had made it clear that he opposed the Darling plans for deficit reduction. Miliband also feared that Balls would use the Shadow Treasury position as an alternative power base, exactly as Balls’ mentor Brown had done during the Blair years. However, he also couldn’t appoint Yvette Cooper (Mrs Ed Balls) to the position as that could be construed as too much of a slap in the face of Balls.
All of Miliband’s delicate balancing of his shadow team was blown apart when Johnson told him that he wanted to resign. According to reports Miliband begged him to stay but Johnson ignored his pleas. He was left in a position where he needed to bolster his front bench whatever the risks. Johnson, despite being personally popular, was not
seen as particularly sure-footed or knowledgeable about his brief. As a consequence Conservative Chancellor George Osborne has had a relatively easy ride and has been able to build his reputation with the City and the media. Miliband could not risk another light weight shadow to Osborne and has been forced to risk everything he feared just a few months ago by appointing Balls to the post he so obviously coveted.
This is a high risk strategy for Miliband. Blair’s political strength was sapped by his constant feud with Gordon Brown and they began as friends. The two Eds are not thought to have ever been politically close and both ran for the recent Labour leadership election during which they articulated markedly different economic approaches. Today Miliband went out of his way to state that Balls would be expected to follow the economic approach set out by Alan Johnson, an approach that he is known to have criticised. There will be much fun for George Osborne and his colleagues to dig out recent quotes from Balls and throw them back at him and his leader. Balls will no doubt give as good as he gets in the Commons and he is undoubtedly master of his brief but he is not as popular as Johnson and lacks the wit of some senior MPs on both sides. He is seen as having a rather high opinion of himself, something which doesn’t go down well with many of his colleagues. If he does trip up there are unlikely to be many to offer him a helping hand.
Balls’ wife Yvette Cooper has taken over as Shadow Home Secretary and Douglas Alexander is now Shadow Foreign Secretary.
As a result of his current weak position Miliband has reached for a short-term fix which could bring long-term problems within the Shadow Cabinet and Labour Party. It will be interesting to watch how Balls behaves both in the chamber of the Commons and how long it will be before stories of tensions within the Shadow Cabinet begin to seep out. Politics has just become more interesting on the Labour side!
UPDATE: It is being suggested here that a special adviser to Ed Balls may be behind the dishing of the dirt on Alan Johnson which led to his resignation. If so, it will look very bad that Balls is the one to have benefitted and may cause considerable resentment within the Parliamentary Labour Party.
UPDATE2: The Mail has a story of an affair between Johnson’s wife and his protection officer.
Tonight’s YouGov poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Sun newspaper shows Labour pulling ahead of the Conservatives:
The Government’s approval rating has deteriorated to -27%.
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 13 January.
Conservative 36% (up 2%)
Labour 40% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 10% (down 2%)
However, the underlying results are less good for Ed Miliband and Labour:
A Labour government under Ed Miliband would be better at protecting people’s jobs:
Don’t know: 32%
Only 13% of Lib Dem voters agree.
Ed Miliband is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour party:
Agree: 22% 17%
Disagree: 35% 32%
Don’t know: 43% 50%
Nick Clegg is turning out to be a good leader of the Liberal Democrats:
Agree: 28% 26%
Disagree: 49% 49%
Don’t know: 23% 25%
David Cameron is turning out to be a good Prime Minister:
Agree: 38% 38%
Disagree: 43% 41%
Don’t know: 19% 21%
The poll also included questions about the upcoming referendum on changing the voting system to AV:
ComRes asked the official question drafted by the Electoral Commission: At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?
Don’t know 34%
(Answers were weighted by likelihood to vote.)
A further question suggests that the Yes vote could increase: I could be persuaded to support changing the voting system in the forthcoming referendum in May when I have heard more about the arguments for and against
Don’t know: 21%
Among people who don’t know how they would vote in the referendum question above, 60% agree that they could be persuaded to vote ‘yes’ and only 7% disagree. If we add these potential supporters of AV to those who already do agree, the Yes vote climbs to 58%, assuming the No vote remains at 27%, and don’t knows decline to 15%.
ComRes interviewed 2,006 GB adults online 12-13 January 2011.
It has been a while since I or any local blogger has published stats for individual Councillors’ use of the Council’s “Front Office” case logging system. As I have said before, some Councillors use the system more than others but its use is encouraged. The previous list I published is here.
This list is for the 8 months from May to December (incl) and therefore all Councillors are pretty much on the same basis as most take the first week of May off in order to campaign:
Cllr Tom Steele (Kentwood) – 61
Cllr Isobel Ballsdon (Thames) – 53
Cllr Tom Stanway (Caversham) – 45
Cllr Richard Willis (Peppard) – 45
Cllr Mark Ralph (Peppard) – 32
Cllr Andrew Cumpsty (Caversham) – 27
Cllr Wazir Hussain (Park) – 26
Cllr Tim Harris (Church) – 17
Cllr Jenny Rynn (Kentwood) – 11
Cllr Dave Luckett (Caversham) – 9
Cllr Jeanette Skeats (Thames) – 8
Cllr Fred Pugh (Mapledurham) – 7
Cllr Emma Warman (Kentwood) – 7
Cllr David Stevens (Thames) – 3
Cllr Jamie Chowdhary (Peppard) - 3
Cllr Azam Janjua (Church) – 3
Cllr Mike Townend (Church) – 3
Cllr Gareth Epps (Katesgrove) – 92
Cllr Daisy Benson (Redlands) – 55
Cllr Kirsten Bayes (Redlands) – 38
Cllr Glenn Goodall (Redlands) – 34
Cllr Ricky Duveen (Tilehurst) – 32
Cllr Peter Beard (Tilehurst) – 19
Cllr Chris Harris (Tilehurst) – 17
Cllr Rebecca Rye (Katesgrove) – 13
Cllr Warren Swaine (Katesgrove) – 10
Cllr Tony Page (Abbey) – 106
Cllr John Ennis (Southcote) – 78
Cllr Rachel Eden (Whitley) – 76
Cllr Bet Tickner (Abbey) – 49
Cllr John Hartley (Park) – 46
Cllr Jo Lovelock (Noroct) – 44
Cllr Mike Orton (Whitley) – 33
Cllr Deborah Edwards (Southcote) – 31
Cllr Gul Khan (Battle) – 28
Cllr Pete Ruhemann (Southcote) – 27
Cllr Paul Gittings (Minster) – 20
Cllr Marion Livingstone (Minster) – 11
Cllr Sarah Hacker (Battle) – 9
Cllr Graeme Hoskin (Norcot) – 9
Cllr Deborah Watson (Minster) – 9
Cllr Mohammed Ayub (Abbey) – 8
Cllr Chris Maskell (Battle) – 8
Cllr Jim Hanley (Whitley) – 5
Cllr Peter Jones (Norcot) – 4
Cllr Rob White (Park) – 467
Again each party has a spread of activity levels based on this one measure but as I predicted Cllr Rob White (Green) has flown straight to the top of the table. Although what he actually does to submit so many enquiries one can only speculate. I still find that a high percentage of my correspondence with constituents goes nowhere near the Front Office system and is dealt with directly with the constituent or relevant Council Officer.
As I have often stated this is just one measure of Councillor activity and it should be borne in mind that some wards generate less casework than others and there are more ways of serving our constituents than just entering (sometimes trivial) cases onto the Front Office system.
Once again, enjoy these stats!
Tonight’s YouGov poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Sun newspaper show the Conservatives drawing level with Labour once again:
The Government’s approval rating has further improved slightly to -17% (34% approve and 51% disapprove).
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 11 January.