I have written recently about UKIP’s problems in Lincolnshire and Worcester but am grateful to a reader who has sent me a link to a story of rows and resignations in Scotland. It seems that after allegations of dirty tricks within the local organisation, 6 out of 9 of the party’s Euro candidates, including Scottish Leader Lord Christopher Monckton and local Chairman Mike Scott-Hayward, have resigned from the Euro-slate just as the internal ballot papers were about to be issued. The debacle ended with London-based David Coburn winning the top slot on the UKIP Scottish Euro list after the National Executive Committee decided that the selection should proceed without 2/3rds of the original candidates. The Scottish Herald reports that UKIP in Scotland is “in turmoil”!
Trouble is also brewing for UKIP in Hampshire and Yorkshire. Two UKIP Councillors in Hampshire have already quit the party with rumours of more to follow while up in Yorkshire a young potential local Council by-election candidate is in trouble for speaking out over the antics of former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom.
Even though Paul Sykes has promised to push money into UKIPs national campaign if they don’t have the people on the ground and the credibility locally it will be to little effect. Just look at James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party!
Today former Labour Minister Denis MacShane pleaded guilty in court to fraudulently claiming almost £13,000 in Parliamentary expenses. The court had heard that the former Europe Minister had submitted 19 faked expenses claims from January 2005 to January 2008 against a company he owned, with invoices signed by MacShane using a false name, or “nom de plume” as he prefers to call it. Sentencing will take place on 19 December.
This brings to a close a case which has been ongoing since 2009 when the Commons began investigating his claims. A damning report by the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges found that MacShane “plainly intended to deceive” the Parliamentary expenses system. They also criticised his attempts to cover up the matter by failing to cooperate fully with the committee’s investigation. The cross-Party committee found that it was the “gravest case” to come before them and its Labour Chairman joined the criticism of MacShane’s actions. He then resigned his safe Labour seat of Rotherham a year ago forcing an expensive Parliamentary by-election.
MacShane’s admission of guilt brings to 6 the number of Labour MPs who have been found guilty of stealing money from the tax-payer:
Margaret Moran (Labour) – Luton South – £53,000 – Supervision Order (Prison was avoided due to her mental state)
Elliot Morley (Labour) - Glanford and Scunthorpe – £30,000 – 16 months in prison
Derek Chaytor (Labour) – Bury North – £18,000 – 18 months in prison
Eric Illsley (Labour) - Barnsley Central – £14,500 – 12 months in prison
Jim Devine (Labour) – Livingston – £9,000 – 16 months in prison
On 19 December we will learn what the Judge feels is a fair sentence for MacShane’s admitted fraud and theft. I suspect that a jail sentence will be awarded.
I wrote the other day about UKIP’s difficulties in Worcestershire where former MEP Mike Nattrass is forming a new anti-EU party with the support of a number of defecting key UKIP members. Now on the other side of England comes the news that UKIP is experiencing difficulties with a significant breakaway group of Councillors in Lincolnshire.
In one of the Counties where UKIP made the most progress in May this year five Councillors, including Group Leader Cllr Chris Pain, broke away to form a new Council group initially called “UKIP Lincolnshire” and then the “UK Independence Group”. If the five do not relent they face expulsion from the national party and would have to decide whether to sit as Independents or join Nattrass’s new party. I am sure that the local Conservative group would be interested in talking to them as well.
For a tiny party with fewer than 200 Councillors UKIP can ill afford to be losing so many so quickly after their election let alone the damage that this scale of infighting does to their reputation with the electorate. Still, UKIP has a long track record of electing MEPs only to lose many of them before the following election:
We have become used to UKIP MEPs and Councillors leaving the party once they discover its true nature but it is interesting to see that the latest divisions in Worcestershire have led to the launch of a new competitor party. The split is so severe in Worcestershire that the local paper has even described UKIP as being “in meltdown”!
Former UKIP West Midlands MEP Mike Nattrass quit the party a couple of months ago after he was not reselected by UKIP for next year’s Euro elections. After allegedly flirting with the English Democrats he has now decided to set up his own party. On his own he would probably not comprise much of a threat but he seems to have retained his popularity with UKIP activists as a number have decided to leave UKIP for the new party. Carl Humphries is a respected activist and former Worcester City Councillor and he has been joined by UKIP’s Worcester Branch Treasurer Jim Holtom and Branch Chairman Doug Ingram.
The new party is to be called “An Independence Party” and its logo will be an EU flag with “Out” emblazoned across it. The new party organisers have pledged that it will be a party run by its members and not dictated from the top down as UKIP is under leader Nigel Farage. It will be interesting to see what impact the new party has on UKIP but if the rumours are to be believed there are a number of other senior UKIP figures who are ready to leave and join Nattrass’s new party.
In Derby Cllr Lisa Higginbottom, a former Mayor of the City has resigned from the Labour party and will continue as an Independent. The resignation does not change Labour’s control of the city council but in view of her former position as first citizen it will be a blow to the Labour group. Derby has suffered from accusations of voting fraud and Cllr Higginbottom took the undoubtedly difficult decision to vote with the Conservatives and against her former colleagues for next year’s local elections to be supervised by the independent Electoral Commission.
Over in Bristol former Lead Councillor for Education Cllr David Pickup has also resigned from the Labour party. He has announced that he will not contest next year’s local elections but has refused to elaborate further on the reasons behind his decision. Bristol is a hung council with Labour as the largest party.
Further west in Cardiff two Labour Councillors have decided to resign their seats on the city council forcing by-elections. Cllr Luke Holland is resigning to move to London after receiving criticism for his poor attendance record. Cllr Phil Hawkins is resigning for “personal reasons” after standing for the leadership of his Group and losing. Both were only elected to the council last May! Whilst the Cardiff pair have not, to my knowledge, resigned from the party, having two unnecessary by-elections will not be welcomed by the party machine.
None of the parties enjoyed an ideal context for their conference. UKIP’s was completely overshadowed by the antics and subsequent resignation of Godfrey Bloom MEP. Since then at least two local Councillors have also resigned from the party. The Lib Dems struggled to get any great coverage reflecting their recent diminished status. The only policy which registered with me was their pledge to give free school meals to all under 8 year olds, a policy oddly targeted at the better off!
Labour’s conference was over-shadowed by the Damien McBride revelations which shone a light onto the bitter infighting and poisonous atmosphere which pervaded the last Labour government of which Ed Balls and Ed Miliband were such key members. However, Ed Miliband’s speech with its pledge to force energy companies to freeze gas and electricity prices (for just 20 months), the proposal that private land could be seized by the state if it is not built on, and an increase in the planned level of Corporation Tax did cut through. Miliband seemed quite happy to move the Labour party to the left and to claim the mantle of “Socialism”, something which was carefully avoided during Tony Blair’s tenure as leader.
The Conservative conference had its own distraction with the debate over the Daily Mail’s decision to attack Ed Miliband’s Marxist father as “The Man Who Hated Britain“. After many on the left celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s death earlier this year plus Guardian attacks on David Cameron’s father, it was somewhat rich for Labour people to bleat about the Mail’s article, especially since Ed Miliband repeatedly cites his father as a source of his political credo. The Mail, rightly, also gave Miliband Jnr a right of reply in their pages.
Despite the debate over the Mail article the Conservative conference, under the slogan “For Hardworking People“, produced a lot of substance. I was very much impressed by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s speech when he explained how he has tightened up on the discipline in prisons but spoke eloquently about the importance of training and rehabilitation of offenders and proper supervision when they are released. If he is successful this will not only reduce the level of reoffending but also save the tax-payers a lot of money. Home Secretary Theresa May announced that in future foreign criminals will be deported and have to submit any appeal from their home country. After 11 years and millions of Pounds spent before successfully deporting Abu Qatada this will be welcomed by many. Ministers also made it clear that a Conservative majority government would be likely to repeal Labour’s Human Rights Act.
Chancellor George Osborne announced a further planned freeze on fuel duty. The freeze to date has already meant that petrol prices at the pump are 13p per litre less than Labour’s plans. That is a real benefit to hard-working families and businesses. A further freeze will be welcomed by all who use a motor vehicle to move around or who buy good brought in by road. Hints were also dropped of tax cuts when they are affordable and David Cameron reiterated in his speech that Conservatives are instinctively a tax-cutting party. This would be a lot easier to achieve if the party had not committed itself to a £1,000 transferable married couples tax allowance for couples who do not have a higher rate tax payer in the household. The net effect will be a princely £200 per year for those affected and I think that the money could have been better used. But the proposal seems popular in initial polling.
The conference began with a tribute to Baroness Thatcher and culminated with a rousing speech from Prime Minister David Cameron. Interesting the only new policy which was floated in Cameron’s speech was a suggestion that in future under-25′s may lose their automatic right to housing benefit and job-seekers’ allowance. The Prime Minister pointed out that young people should be given opportunities for education, training or employment and a future government may remove benefits from those who refuse to “earn or learn”. Now that Labour has at long last announced some policies Cameron was able to take his gloves off and aim some blows at the Labour Party’s current policy stances as well as its awful economic record.
So what does all this mean for British politics? We will have to see what the public makes of the last couple of weeks of a pre-run of some of the 2015 General Election themes but I do know from some reliable sources that staff in Conservative Campaign HQ are rubbing their hands in glee at Labour’s move to the left. Senior Conservative campaign staff believed that Labour would plot a careful centrist path to the next General Election and are delighted that Miliband seems to want to re-fight the 1983 or 1987 election campaigns. Any short-term boost in the polls for Labour, they believe, will be more than wiped out as the reality of the consequences of Labour’s anti-business policies are hammered home over the next 18 months. Whatever your view of the conferences and the policies announced, there can be no doubt that there is now clear blue water between the Conservative and Labour parties. Labour has only been electorally successful in modern times when it has inhabited the centre-ground and reassured the wider electorate that it can be trusted to manage the economy. With the economic recovery gathering pace, despite Labour’s claims that the government’s policies had “choked off the recovery”, we are set for a continuing stream of economic good news as we approach 2015.
I decided not to go to conference this year but will aim to attend next year. The activists I have spoken to who attended this year’s Conservative conference left with a spring in their step. Many are new young members attending their first conference and their campaigning efforts will be vital to constituency associations across the country. However, the key to a successful conference is not the reaction of the activists but the response from the public. Only time will tell but I am surprised and delighted that we appear to be refighting the battle of the 1980s when Labour focussed on appealing to a dwindling left-wing core while a successful Conservative party delivered economic growth and electoral success!
Over the last few weeks the Spanish authorities have been ramping up the pressure on the British territory of Gibraltar. On the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar is a small territory of 2.6 square miles within the EU, and was ceded to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht (which also ceded Minorca to the British Crown). Gibraltar has therefore been British for 300 years this year. It is similar to the two small Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla which are enclaves within Morocco. Spain also holds onto to some uninhabited islands just off the coast of Morocco.
Spain has harassed Gibraltar for many years, the worst era being during the 50′s and 60′s under Franco’s Spanish dictatorship. Franco closed the border at times and at other times imposed restrictions on transit between Spain and Gibraltar. Franco died in 1975 and Spain later joined NATO and the EU, making them, supposedly, partners of the UK. In recent years relations had been improving to the benefit of communities on both sides of the border. However, the recent behaviour of the Spanish Government is very reminiscent of Franco’s era.
The recent dispute has been rumbling at a low level for some time. Spanish fisherman have long abused the waters around Gibraltar, leading to clashes with the small Royal Navy patrol boats based there. The Gibraltar government decided to create an artificial reef in their territorial waters in order to protect the marine life in the bay and make it more difficult for Spanish trawlers to operate there illegally. This has resulted in an increase in tensions and appears to be the trigger for Spain’s heightened harassment of people attempting to cross the border. The irony is that this has the biggest impact on Spanish citizens who earn their living in the British territory. They have also continued to invade British waters and illegally overfly the airspace. Spain is now threatening to impose tighter border controls and place restrictions on the use of Spanish airspace.
As Spain seeks to force the people of Gibraltar into submission they continue to assert their right to remain British subjects. In a referendum in 2002, on a 88% turnout, the 30,000 people of The Rock voted 98% to remain British and fewer than 2% voted to share sovereignty with Spain. There is no doubt whatsoever about the democratic wishes of the people. They are proud of their British citizenship and have no wish to become Spaniards.
To date the British Government in London has taken a conciliatory stance, seeking to placate the Spanish while not compromising on the essential issue of sovereignty. The Foreign Office has adopted its usual policy of seeking to underplay the tensions and seeks talks. All the while the Spanish have ramped up the pressure on Gibraltar and appears to have endorsed, or at least turned a blind eye to, the actions of the regional authorities. As the tension has risen this stance has become increasingly untenable and today David Cameron has stated his “serious concern” at the situation. Whilst this is welcome it will not stop the Spanish attempts to throttle the economic life out of Gibraltar. Only a resolute stance by the British Government will cause Spain to back off and restore the status quo ante.
Gibraltar used to be a big military base with a major Royal Navy and Royal Air Force presence. This has dwindled over the years and only a token presence remains. Spain appears to see this as an opportunity to ramp up their claim to the territory without consequences. This has the feeling of the run up to the Falklands Conflict in 1981-82. Whilst it is true that Spain is a member state of both the EU and NATO, David Cameron would be well advised to despatch a small contingent of Typhoon fast jets to Gibraltar alongside a Type 23 frigate and auxiliary. The Typhoons would ensure the integrity of Gibraltar’s airspace and the frigate would provide some much needed muscle to the small locally based RN contingent. Both elements would provide much needed deterrence against the stated threat of invasion from some reckless quarters. If the threat ramps up further a Type 45 destroyer could be despatched with its all round capability and excellent radar and anti-air coverage.
The fact that Spain holds similar enclaves in Morocco just highlights the rank hypocrisy of the Spanish and suggests that this is posturing designed to distract from the current economic disaster which is afflicting the country. It is time that Spain acted like a mature European democracy and recognised the democratically expressed wishes of Gibraltar’s people.
The new baby is third in line to the throne, behind Prince Charles and Prince William, and pushes Prince Harry into fourth place. All other members of the Royal family who are in line therefore also move a place further down. Prince Andrew, was once second in line to the throne behind his older brother Charles, is now shunted down to fifth place.
It is sometimes forgotten that Queen Elizabeth is Sovereign of no less than 30 nations and territories around the World. As well as the UK, the Queen is head of state of the 14 UK overseas territories and the 15 other independent nations who have retained the British Monarch: Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu. In addition, despite its switch to a Republic, the indigenous tribes of Fiji retain HM The Queen as their “Paramount Chief”.
The new baby also jumps into third in line to the throne of each of these territories and states.
Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!
A Midlands Labour Councillor has turned his back on Ed Miliband’s party and crossed the floor to join the Conservatives. Councillor David James, who was elected to represent the Abbey North ward in 2012, has decided to become a member of Daventry District Council’s ruling Conservative Group.
Councillors do change party from time to time but it is often related to local squabbles. In this case Cllr James cites Europe and the economy as his principal reasons. He also took a swipe at Ed Miliband’s leadership of the party on a day when polls show that most people don’t think that Miliband has what it takes to become Prime Minister.
He said, “I haven’t been happy with the Labour Party nationally since the general election. I believe the current leadership of the party and course it has embarked upon is somewhere I don’t want to go and I don’t believe it will be good for the country.”
Cllr James continued, “I am a euro sceptic and I believe there are only two parties that offer the UK a say on Europe and it boils down to who has the most realistic chance.”
Leader of Daventry District Council’s Conservative party, Cllr Chris Millar, said he was delighted to welcome Cllr James as a new member. He said, “David is a very good councillor who has plenty of common sense. He comes across as a nice, sensible guy with a lot to give. I am very happy to welcome him as a Conservative.”
The papers and news reports have been filled over the last few days with details of the civil war which seems to have broken out within the Labour movement. It has already led to allegations of the fixing of Labour Parliamentary candidate selections, a Shadow Cabinet resignation, a Police investigation, and suspensions of Labour party membership.
The core of the dispute relates to the influence of the Trades Unions within the Labour Party, and the influence of one union in particular, “Unite”. Unite is the Labour Party’s biggest single donor, providing over £3m a year to the central party and giving direct support to dozens of Labour MPs and candidates. However, the union leadership, having influenced the Labour leadership election to get Ed rather than David Miliband, has decided that it wants more control over who is selected to stand for Parliament at the next General Election.
The current dispute revolves around the selection for the constituency of Falkirk where the Labour MP Eric Joyce has resigned the Whip to become independent following several confrontations with other MPs and the police. Unite is accused of packing the selection process by signing up people as constituency Labour Party members who were asked if others could vote on their behalf the ‘right’ way in the choice of candidates. Labour has refused to publish the report of its internal investigation but has now belatedly handed the report to the police.
The whole saga is complicated by the fact that the candidate which Unite is seeking to have selected in Falkirk is the office manager of Labour’s General Election co-ordinator and Deputy Chairman Tom Watson MP. On Thursday Watson resigned from his post, plunging the Labour party into crisis and its General Election strategy into further confusion. Ed Miliband has sought to sound tough, condemning Unite’s tactics, but it has been known around Westminster and in the party that this has been the practice in a number of previous candidate selections. Indeed some in the Falkirk are reported to have raised concerns over Unite’s activities several moths ago.
Some close to Miliband have also hinted that the whole relationship of the party with the unions may be reviewed but this has been undermined by denials and revelations that Miliband sought to reassure Ken Livingstone that this was not the case. Senior Labour sources have accepted that Ed Miliband’s credibility is on the line and that he needs to show some leadership but Unite’s General Secretary Len McLusky has protested that Ed Miliband is being pushed around by the Conservatives and has demanded an independent inquiry into what he calls a “disgrace” and a “smear campaign” by the Labour party. He has stated that all “trust in Labour’s HQ has gone! Some have even suggested that Unite should withhold all or part of its contributions to Labour’s coffers. If this was to happen the party would be at risk of bankruptcy, so dependent is it on McLusky’s money! A shadow Labour Minister is reported as saying about Miliband that “He’s looking like the man who turned a blind eye to something bordering on
As the internal row continues to simmer Ed Miliband has failed to get a grip on his party and given further credence to the view that the trades unions have far too much influence on the Labour Party. 41 Parliamentary candidates have been identified as backed by Unite with a 42nd selected just today. Miliband is caught between a rock and a hard place. He cannot sever the link with the union because he is dependent on their cash but the impression that they not he really run the party is extremely damaging to Labour. It will be interesting to see how this pans out over the next few weeks. Will there be arrests? Will there be resignations from the party and more from the front bench? Will selections other than just Falkirk be investigated? Will the internal report into the Falkirk ballot-rigging allegations be published?
Ed Miliband has been made to look weak and his party corrupt. It will not end well for the Labour Party!
As I predicted several times the so-called “double-dip” recession has now been revised away by the Office for National Statistics. At the same time the depth of Labour’s 2008/09 recession has been increased from an initially estimated decline of 6.3% to a colossal 7.2% decline. Gordon Brown promised to abolish “boom and bust” but borrowed and spent to such a degree in the good times that when the inevitable bust came it was on a scale not seen in the UK since the Great Depression of the 1920′s and 1930′s. Is it any wonder that the recovery is proving so hard to generate?
A lot was made by Labour’s economic team of the “double-dip” when it was first reported. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls was all over the media condemning the Government’s “economic failure” and talking about a “recession made in Downing Street”. Unsurprisingly there has not been a peep out of any of them welcoming the fact that the ONS has now decided that the double-dip recession never happened. This means of course that the only recent recession was the one created by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor and presided over during his disastrous time as Prime Minister; a recession which has just been shown to be much, much deeper than was originally thought! Of course the misbehaviour of the bankers was a major contributing factor but it should not be forgotten that it was Gordon Brown’s lax regulatory regime, introduced in 1997, which allowed some bankers to act so outrageously.
Labour’s economic credibility took a significant knock from the 2008/09 recession but their block-headed refusal to support the Coalition’s efforts to tackle the deficit has been seen by the public as equally ideological and incompetent. As the economy shows signs of recovery and the performance since 2010 is revised upwards, Labour’s whole economic argument has been crumbling. Of course people don’t like seeing cut backs to planned programmes but they accept that the deficit has to be tackled. It is stretching credibility to its limits to think that the same Labour team who presided over the worst recession since the war could be the people to get us out of the economic hole we were in.
It is certainly true that times have been tough in recent years and not every decision taken by the Coalition has been right but the overall policy direction has been correct. Just as in 1980-81 when the then Conservative Government was very unpopular and derided by many so-called economic experts, but went on to win a convincing majority in 1983, now we see the economy turning the corner, and what was only ever a small Labour lead in the polls diminishing.
The fact that there was no double-dip recession is very important politically for the government, as this would undoubtedly have been a siren call of the Labour Party in the next General Election campaign. Instead the Government has been handed a get out of jail free card with the news not only that the double-dip never happened but that Labour’s recession was significantly worse than first thought. When it comes to who to trust with the British economy in 2015 Labour’s case just got a whole lot weaker!