Last night I watched the grand finale of Britain’s Got Talent, the ITV successor to the old format like “New Faces”. 10 acts were competing for the prize from the bizarre “Stavros Flatly”, through the dubious “2 Grand”, to real talent like Julian Smith on his Saxophone, Susan Boyle, and a variety of dance acts.
Susan Boyle has undoubtedly received the most coverage and hype, probably because her eventual performance was so unexpected from such an unkempt initial appearance. However, dance acts like “Flawless” were simply amazing in the heats and my earlier article about the show tipped them as serious contenders.
I didn’t see all of the heats and semi-finals and therefore a few of the acts last night were new to me. However, one act stood out as quite brilliant and that was the dance group “Diversity”. Their choreography was imaginative and their execution was perfect. I felt that they should win and that Julian Smith and Susan Boyle would be runners up. Unusually for me in shows like this, I was right!
Now they will be performing in front of the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance and it will be a better show for their presence.
Watch their performance below and see what you think.
There is a sensational new ICM poll tonight for tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph which shows Labour falling into third place in Westminster voting intentions:
Conservative 40% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 25% (up 5%)
Labour 22% (down 6%)
For the Euro Elections the voting intentions are:
Conservative 29% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 20% (up 2%)
Labour 17% (down 7%)
Greens 11% (up 2%)
UKIP 10% (no change)
BNP 5% (up 4%)
These are markedly different numbers from yesterday’s Populus poll putting UKIP in FIFTH place rather than second. Both polls cannot be right!
The Westminster voting intentions are absolutely appalling for Labour and would lead to a massive 102 seat majority for the Conservatives according to Electoral Calculus. The question now must surely be whether Gordon Brown can and will lead Labour into a General Election because the polls suggest that the party is heading for disaster and just 161 seats on these numbers.
After a period with no polls, tonight I hear of a new Populus poll for The Times. For Westminster voting it shows the Conservatives up and Labour down to just 21%. The Lib Dems are down 2% after falling 5% in the last Populus poll. Changes are compared to the most recent Populus poll for ITV:
Conservative 41% (up 2%)
Labour 21% (down 6%)
Lib Dem 15% (down 2%)
However, a different picture emerges for the Euro Elections next Thursday. The changes are compared to last month:
Conservative 30% (down 4%)
UKIP 19% (up 13%)
Labour 16% (down 9%)
Lib Dem 12% (down 8%)
Greens 10% (up 5%)
BNP 5% (up 3%)
On these ratings Labour is facing humiliation and the BNP would be likely to get their first seat in the North West.
I ask the question because this must be one of the least visible campaigns I have ever seen. I have been out on a number of occasions door knocking in my ward and others in Reading and am constantly told that I am the only canvasser people have seen.
There is also an incredible lack of literature coming through my door. A couple of weeks ago I had a poor quality letter from the Lib Dem PPC in Reading East; I have had a Conservative election address, the MPs Parliamentary Report; and a hand delivered leaflet from UKIP.
Bearing in mind that all parties have the right to a free postal delivery in the Euro elections and that there is less than a week to go, I am amazed that that is all I have received. Nothing from Labour, Greens, or the myriad of other parties standing.
There is also a lack of posters around Reading for any party. UKIP have several large billboards in key sites and I have seen a few Conservative posters in houses and on the odd main road. No posters for Labour and none for the Lib Dems at all.
We have no local elections in Reading this year and there is usually less interest in the Euro elections but I would be interested to know what other people have received and seen around the country. Please let me know in the comments section below.
Today three more MPs announced that they would not be standing again at the next General Election, whenever Gordon Brown has the courage to call it. The feeding frenzy that has been kept stoked up by the daily drip feed of revelations in the Daily Telegraph has now claimed the scalps of 11 Members of Parliament, including the Speaker.
This is revolutionary stuff. I cannot think of any other single occasion in modern British history where so many MPs have been forced to retire against their will, other than at a General Election. It seems likely that more will follow.
Undoubtedly some have deserved it but many have not. Few tears will have been shed for a Speaker who was widely seen as incompetent and some of the crass claims by backbenchers of all parties deserve opprobrium. However, MPs who have sought advice from the House authorities and followed it should not in my view lose their jobs.
The power that is currently in the hands of the Daily Telegraph is deeply worrying. Many years ago a friend of mine in politics hit the front pages of the newspapers over a family member who had an embarrassing past. What was a revelation for me, was how inaccurate much of the reporting was, and the worst offender was the Daily Telegraph. I stopped buying it at that point. A number of MPs have claimed that the reporting of their claims have been inaccurate. Allowing for the fact that some are bound to use this as a defence I still think that an independent third party should adjudicate and publish its results. The public would then have a fairer indication of the rights and wrongs of what happened.
I realise that this view may not be popular with some but if we want to protect and preserve our democracy and not see it ultimately replaced by a system that is much less benign we need to tread carefully. Reform – yes; punish those with an eye for the main chance – by all means; even sack those that broke the rules; but it is important to keep a sense of perspective.
We are currently experiencing a political revolution and the public mood is febrile. In the current economic downturn any suggestion that public servants are lining their own pockets is bound to provoke outrage. However, it is important to remember that those who have been accused of greed are still a small minority of MPs. It cannot be right to drag the reputation of Parliament further along the gutter by sensationalising more allowances claims. The Parliamentary authorities should now publish all MPs expenses and spike the Telegraph’s guns. That should be swiftly followed by interim measures to limit claims for second homes along the lines that David Cameron has set out. When Sir Christopher Kelly then publishes his report, it should be debated in the House of Commons and its recommendations implemented without delay.
Suggestions that now is the time to change the electoral system is just hot air. It is the rules that govern MPs expenses that are at fault and not the system that chooses the MPs. Does anyone really believe – even now – that British politics is more corrupt than Italian, French or most other EU nations’ politics?
Next Thursday will probably prove to be one of the biggest protest vote opportunities in recent history. It will be interesting to see how people use their votes. I fear that the BNP will benefit in some areas and the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru may also do well in others. The real test will be whether the Conservatives and Lib Dems will benefit from some of that disillusion which usually hits any governing party more than opposition parties. From the people I have spoken to on the doorstep there is a real anger but also an appetite for change.
UPDATE: Iain Dale has this thoughtful comment.
I have previously posted about the revival that the Scottish Conservative Party is experiencing under the able leadership of Annabel Goldie, after years as the fourth party of Scotland (in terms of Westminster seats). Now it seems that a revival may go hand in hand with a Labour meltdown.
The Scotsman newspaper today has a series of articles highlighting Labour’s difficulties north of the border, speculating that Chancellor Alastair Darling could lose his seat. Even Labour sources seem to be conceding that this is now a real possibility thanks to a combined squeeze from a buoyant Scottish National Party and a Scottish Conservative revival.
A rolling poll of Scottish Westminster voting intentions suggests as follows (seats in brackets):
SNP 31.25% (13; up 7)
Labour 29.5% (31; down 10)
Conservative 20.5% (6; up 5)
Lib Dem 13.5% (9; down 2)
One factor that could damage Conservative recovery in Scotland is the proposal from David Cameron to cut the number of MPs at Westminster. The likely result of larger constituencies north of the border could damage Conservative chances as their support is more thinly spread, unlike Lib Dem and SNP support which tends to be more concentrated in some areas. However, the cut in MPs numbers is likely to take at least two elections to implement. It obviously won’t affect the next General Election and it would be likely that a further election would occur before the changes took effect. By that time the Conservatives could be riding high in Scotland!
Tonight the Daily Telegraph has sensational news that more than 40 Government Ministers, including nine Cabinet Ministers, have acted contrary to specific advice from HMRC in offsetting the cost of accountancy advice against their tax liabilities. HMRC has issued a statement to the Telegraph contradicting what some Ministers have been stating that they were exempt from normal tax rules.
Dozens of Ministers now face an investigation into their tax affairs. In case anyone seeks to suggest that I somehow being biased, the Telegraph confirms that it believes that senior Conservatives are not believed to have offset their accountancy costs in this way. It seems to be a peculiarly Labour scam.
If this story stands up (and I have no reason to believe that it won’t) it looks VERY bad for Labour. Working within lax expenses rules is one thing but to be seen to be fiddling your tax returns at the heart of Government is appalling. It is highly unusual for HMRC to issue such a public statement, especially when it is considered that it answers to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Each Minister will now be under pressure to pay back the tax they saved by this apparently illegal offset.
Following my previous article on the Reading Post’s plans I was contacted by a representative of their editorial department to brief me on their full plans. However, I was asked not to reveal the details until today. So now I can bring you an exclusive!
The essence of what I wrote previously is correct but there is more to it and the Post team are very excited about their plans. The intention is that both editions will be more “up-market” and even the free paper on Friday will not have a “throwaway” feel about it. As I stated before, Wednesday will be the main sold edition with all the usual property and other supplement, totalling about 180 pages.
The Friday edition of around 72 pages will be known as “GetReading”, after the website title and will be fully interactive with the website. It will also be sold in newsagents for 40p as well as being delivered free across Reading. The Post believes it is the first case of a website spawning its own newspaper. I am told it will have “lots of news, comprehensive Royals pre-match coverage, 2 pages of letters, features, what’s on for the weekend and it will be on sale all weekend, probably until the Tuesday of the following week”.
The announcement was originally scheduled for tomorrow but has been brought forward to later today. I look forward to seeing the redesigned paper and very much hope that it secures the future of the Post. It is healthy to have some competition amongst the local printed media.
To date the Daily Telegraph’s running expose on MPs expenses has focussed on claims related to MPs’ second homes. MPs of all parties have been shown to have claimed for items that most people struggle to afford on their normal salaries and there has been a growing sense of public outrage that the system has been seriously abused. In a way it doesn’t matter that most claims revealed so far have been within the scope of the existing rules, an impression has been created of a political class feathering their own nests.
Today the Daily Telegraph seems to be moving on from claims for second homes to look at MPs’ expenses for the running of their offices. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is again in the firing line today. According to the Telegraph she claimed on her office expenses to buy her husband a top of the range i-phone and then claimed both her and her husband’s phone bill on her allowances.
More surprisingly though is the news that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling and nine of his Cabinet colleagues claimed for advice on how to complete their tax returns. As the Telegraph points out, most individuals are not even allowed to offset the cost of using an accountant to fill in their tax-returns as a business expense.
Meanwhile Iain Dale reports that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is facing embarrassment over his party’s decision to accept £2.4m from someone who has since been convicted for fraud. The Lib Dems face the possibility that they may have to pay back all or part of the donation in the run up to a General Election.
Last night I went to see the new film based on Dan Brown’s book “Angels and Demons”. It is the sequel to the “Da Vinci Code” and set in Vatican City and Rome. Its plot revolves around the theft of a container of anti-matter from the Hadron collider in Cerne, Switzerland by a resurgent “Illuminati” and its planned use to destroy Vatican City and the Roman Catholic Church in revenge for their persecution in the 17th Century. On the death of the Pope four Cardinals are kidnapped and the plan is that they will be killed one at a time on each hour running up to the final detonation of the anti-matter under the Vatican.
Prof Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called in from the US by the Vatican police to interpret the intentions of the Illuminati and to help stop them. All through the plot the College of Cardinals are meeting in Conclave to elect a new Pope, while four of their number are missing and being killed one by one.
Hanks races around Rome from church to church looking for the ancient clues left by the Illuminati as to the location of their secret church where it is believe the anti-matter is being held. Needless to say he averts disaster but there is a good final twist to the story which I won’t reveal for those who have yet to see the film.
A major part in the film is played by Ewan McGregor as the Pope’s Chamberlain. He holds the decision making power of the Pope until a successor is elected by the College of Cardinals.
It is an action packed film that doubles up as a tour guide to some of the key points of interest in Rome. There are one or two quite graphic scenes and the usual mix of cars racing against the clock to reach the next clue in the sequence. Interestingly the Vatican refused permission to film within the Vatican City, so all of the scenes in St Peter’s Square and elsewhere in the Vatican were filmed by people posing as tourists and then brought together so that a digital reproduction could be created. All in all they have done a grand job and the film hangs together very well. Overall I would say that it is a better film than the “Da Vinci Code”.
It has been confirmed that Bracknell MP Andrew MacKay is to step down at the next General Election. According to statement issued today his decision comes following a conversation with David Cameron this morning.
Andrew has been an excellent MP for Bracknell and I consider it a shame that he has found himself in this position. However, his position was untenable in the current climate. There will now be some keen competition for his Bracknell seat, which in normal circumstances would be considered safe.
I very much hope that his wife and Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride will not be forced out as well.
This week I received a Reading Borough Council press release announcing that agreement has been reached between the Council and the local Muslim community on a 125 year lease on land on the corner of Wokingham Road and Green Road on which they can build a mosque. Those with good memories will recall that a similar announcement was made last spring at a packed meeting in the Pakistan Community Centre, at which I was present. In fact Labour seem to have made similar announcements on an annual basis for the last few years, usually a few weeks before elections are due. There are no local elections this year but – oh look – we have European elections coming up on 4 June!
The press release describes how the lease will enable the local Muslim community to raise the funds to build the new facility which “will include a prayer house, washing facilities, smaller prayer houses, a library, a conference room, classrooms for male and female students, a meeting centre for older people and parking”. It also describes the concept for the finished building as being “classical in design with a silver dome in the centre”.
This all sounds wonderful but completely ignores the fact that the local Muslim community has the shell of a mosque sitting unfinished on Oxford Road. Building began and got as far as the metal girder framework of the building before the money ran out. It has been sitting as an unfinished skeleton structure for well over a year now with no sign of work recommencing. It also ignores the fact that the Green Road site does not have the room for all that the Council claims for it without it being a multi-storey structure. There also remain questions as to whether the Muslim community wants this. What they want and need is a mosque for prayer, for the hundreds of faithful that currently spill onto the streets at Alexandra Road.
Assuming that this announcement is not another cynical pre-election ploy by Reading’s Labour Group, how is the money to be found for the new amazing sounding Green Road mosque, when they cannot finish the one on Oxford Road? If anyone has any answers I would be interested to know.
The press release goes on to say that the existing Alexandra Road mosque will be sold off for private housing and the proceeds divided with the South Street mosque. Anyone who knows anything about mosques and the Muslim community knows that once a site has been used as a mosque it can and will never voluntarily be returned to its previous use. It is holy ground, sanctified by the prayers of the faithful and must forever remain in Muslim use. The press release’s statement that the site will be turned over to much needed residential use is therefore whistling in the wind.
The leadership of the Muslim community has been bullied by the local Labour Party into agreeing to anything in order to get their cherished new mosque. The elders know that parts of the agreement they are being pressed to sign are undeliverable and a dangerous gulf is opening up between those that acknowledge this and those that prefer to stick their head in the sand. Labour like to talk a lot about “community cohesion” but they themselves are creating severe strains within the Reading Muslim population.
If it is right (as I believe it is) to allow the development of a purpose built mosque in East Reading then the Borough Council should make the land available without unrealistic strings attached. Let the community then raise the funds they need to build their mosque certain in the knowledge that the whole community is behind the project.
Who knows, maybe then Labour will be able to have another photo opportunity next April when the foundations are laid, just before the 2010 local elections.
Political Betting has news of a new ICM poll on voting intentions at the Euro elections on 4th June. It shows a big fall for UKIP and the BNP, while the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour are up to varying degrees:
Conservative 30% (up 4%)
Labour 24% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 18% (up 3%)
UKIP 10% (down 6%)
Green 9% (up 3%)
SNP/Plaid Cymru 4% (up 2%)
BNP 1% (down 4%)
Whilst it is gratifying to see UKIP and the BNP down so much, somehow this poll doesn’t ring true. As Mike Smithson suggests in his article, turnout is likely to be very low on 4 June and this could be to Labour’s detriment as other party’s supporters will be keen to vote to show their displeasure with the Government. South East Conservative MEP (and YouTube celebrity) Dan Hannan argues the same in the Telegraph today.
Political Betting has news of a new Populus poll for ITV. It shows the Conservatives unchanged and Labour up 1%. However the striking change is that the Lib Dems are down 5% from the last Populus poll:
Conservative 39% (no change)
Labour 27% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 17% (down 5%)
Of the minor parties, UKIP are on 6% and the BNP and SNP on 4% each. The Greens are on 2% and Plaid Cymru just 1%. Again the Conservatives are just under 40% but the 12% lead would be enough to give them a decent majority of 52 seats according to “Electoral Calculus”.
Tonight Reading Borough Council met for its Annual Meeting and to elect a new Mayor. Cllr Peter Beard (below right) handed over the reins to his deputy over the past year, Cllr Fred Pugh (left). Fred has had a long and distinguished record on Reading Borough Council for over 30 years. He represented in turn Caversham, Thames and now Mapledurham wards at various points in his time on the Council.
Fred has in the past made no secret of his desire to be Mayor, which was for a long time blocked by the ruling Labour Group. Now that the political arithmetic has changed they have had little choice but to accept two successive nominations from the opposition parties. Cllr Peter Beard (Lib Dem) has been a friendly and distinguished Mayor in a year of the difficulties of a hung Council and he now makes way for Fred Pugh; the first Conservative Mayor in many years. Cllr Gul Khan (Labour) was elected as his deputy tonight.
The Mayor Making is held in the grandeur of the old Town Hall and is usually a ceremonial event with party politics set to one side for the evening. By convention Mayoral nominations are agreed in advance between the parties and any politicking is done in normal Council meetings (although this was breached last year when Labour proposed an alternative to Fred as deputy Mayor which was voted down). This year new Lib Dem leader Cllr Kirsten Bayes broke with convention. She moved an amendment to block part of a procedural motion that would confirm Labour as a minority administration with Conservatives and Lib Dems holding all of the scrutiny chairs. The effect, if passed, would have been to have left Reading with no administration.
Now I would LOVE to see the back of a Labour run Reading Council but the Lib Dems failed to approach to us prior to the meeting to seek to form an alternative administration, either with or without them. Had they done so I would imagine that we may have been able to find some common ground. However, to have left the Council completely without an administration tonight would have been irresponsible in the extreme.
Whether we like it or not the electorate have left Labour as the largest party and in the absence of any agreement between two other parties to form a new administration they therefore form the administration. I hope that in May 2010 the electorate will chose to make the Conservative Group the largest party and I would expect then to form the administration. The Lib Dems did not help their own case by apparent confusion in voting when their amendment was rejected. Some voted for the original motion and the rest abstained. Noticeably missing from their number tonight was former Group Leader Cllr Gareth Epps, so they were reduced to just 7 Councillors.
The Lib Dem group’s antics did not detract from what was a grand spectacle as the Mayor and deputy Mayor were in their (respective) scarlet and navy blue robes. The Conservative Group traditionally robe in the plainer Councillors navy blue robes with black trim and carry our bicorn hats. Labour never robe; preferring instead a corsage of a red rose. The Lib Dems used to robe but tonight instead sported a yellow corsage.
I have no doubt that Fred will be an excellent Mayor accompanied by his wife Jean as Mayoress. Few in local politics have the sense of public service that Fred embodies and I know that he will thoroughly enjoy being Reading’s “first citizen”.
He deserves it.