Richard Willis's Blog

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Gary McKinnon – This is Not Justice

gary-mckinnon2About 8 years ago a sufferer of Asperger’s Syndrome began a process of systematic hacking into US Government computer systems in order to feed his obsession with aliens. He believed that the US was hiding evidence of alien life and he was determined to prove that it existed. He is a self-confessed computer nerd and he used his expertise to by-pass supposedly foolproof security measures on highly sensitive US Government systems.

As testament to his harmless intent he even left messages on the systems he hacked, pointing out the weakness of their security. However, on one he indulged the conspiracist’s fantasy that the 9/11 attack was an inside job. He became obsessed by his search and lost his job and girlfriend in the process. He was eventually traced because when attempting to download a picture of what he believed to be a spacecraft he used his own email address.

Now aged 43 Gary McKinnon is facing extradition under terrorism legislation to the US to face trial and a likely prison sentence. He has fought the extradition request through the courts but today heard that his plea to the High Court had been refused. Lawyers now have just 28 days to get the decision reversed.

Many politicians have spoken out against extraditing McKinnon. Conservative Leader David Cameron today said “I am deeply saddened and disappointed with this decision. Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to face trial. If he has questions to answer, there is a clear argument to be made that he should answer them in a British court. This case raises serious questions about the workings of the Extradition Act, which should be reviewed.” However, some, like Reading West MP Martin Salter, first stated their support for Gary and then voted with the Government in the House of Commons, earning the title of “spineless” from campaigners and the Daily Mail. 

It cannot be right to use terrorism legislation to extradite someone like McKinnon to the US. That is not the purpose for which it was passed into law and the Government should be standing up and saying so. There is no doubt that McKinnon is guilty of hacking and his actions have cost the US Government many hundreds of thousands of Dollars in investigation and repair work. However, he is clearly not a terrorist and bears the US people and government no apparent ill-will. I agree with those who have said that he should stand trial in the UK and pay the penalty for his actions but with the support network around him of his family and friends. Extradition, even to a friendly country like the US, should be the very last resort and not the first and it should be reserved for the most serious of cases.

Our British civil liberties should not so easily be tossed aside at the behest of a foreign power.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | International | 4 Comments

Battle Ward Labour Selection – Keeping it in the Family

labour1Last night in the Civic Offices the great and the not so good of the Reading Labour Party were meeting to select their candidate for Battle Ward. The lucky(?) winner will be seeking to wrest the seat from (now) Independent Councillor Tony Jones who defected from Labour after the 2008 local elections.

I was in a meeting in a Committee Room opposite and it was fascinating to see old Labour stalwarts like Christine Borgars and Trish Thomas, as well as several current Councillors coming and going.

Hot off the press my source tells me that Battle Labour Councillor Chris Maskell’s daughter was selected last night after trying for selection in a number of wards. Chris toyed with joining Tony Jones to form an Independent Group before being leant on to change his mind.  Miss Maskell will have a tough time against Cllr Tony Jones who is well known and popular but it is nice to know that Labour are keeping it in the family.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Local | 11 Comments

BREAKING NEWS – Sir Bobby Robson has Died

Bobby RobsonSadly I have learnedthat former England football manager Sir Bobby Robson has died. He was fighting cancer and died aged 76.

He was best known for his spell as England manager during which time he attracted some (in my view) undeserved flak. He also managed Fulham, Ipswich, Newcastle and Barcelona amongst others.

He set up the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation for the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospital Trust which to date has raised over £1.6m.

He was widely regarded as a gentleman in a game that has more than its fair share who could be described less generously.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | National | 3 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Tory Lead at 14%

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There is a new YouGov poll reported tonight for tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph which shows a slight fall back in the Conservative lead to 14%:

            Conservative              41% (up 1%)

            Labour                       27% (up 2%) 

            Lib Dem                      18% (down 2%) 

All the changes are within the margin of error and this poll is consistent with other recent polls.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Double Lib Dem Trouble

I am grateful to correspondents who have sent me information about two more Lib Dems falling short of the high standards they so often demand from others.

Shirley BrownThe first is Councillor Shirley Brown (left), a Bristol Councillor, who was suspended for one month by the authority’s standards committee last month for using an offensive remark about an Asian Conservative, Councillor Jethwa. Cllr Brown described Cllr Jethwa as a “coconut”. That is a new term to me but apparently it means a person who has sold out on their culture, being black/brown on the outside but white in the middle.

Cllr Brown apologised but is now seeking leave to appeal against the suspension. Bristol was the one bright spot for the Lib Dems in last month’s local elections, when they gained 4 seats to take control of the Council, whilst at the same time losing control of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset County Councils. Cllr Brown’s suspension reduces the Lib Dem’s slender majority on the Council to just 1 vote.

I think she should be grateful that she has gotten off so lightly. Had it been a Conservative making a similar remark you can be sure that the Lib Dems would have been screaming for their instant dismissal by the Group Leader, David Cameron and anyone else they could think of.

ayoub khan -LIBThe second Lib Dem Councillor is rather more senior than Cllr Brown. He is Cllr Ayoub Khan (left) from Birmingham. As well as being a Councillor he is also the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Clare Short’s seat off Birmingham Ladywood. He was found by a QC in an electoral court to have fabricated a smear against a Labour opponent. Cllr Khan has appealed against the decision through successive courts but has lost every time, culminating in a ruling by two High Court judges against an application for a judicial review.

Cllr Khan is a member of the Cabinet in Birmingham which is run by a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition. Now that he has exhausted all levels of appeal and the original finding stands, I hope and expect that the Leader of Council will remove Khan from his Cabinet portfolio of Local Services and Community Safety.

The cut and thrust of politics can at times be unpalatable to some but someone who has been convicted of smearing a political opponent should not continue to hold senior office in any party or Council. It will be interesting to see what action, if any, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg takes against the disgraced Cllr Khan and whether he remains a Parliamentary Candidate for the Lib Dems.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | National | 16 Comments

Mandelson for PM – I Don’t Think So!

mandelsonIn case you missed it, there is a bizarre story doing the rounds that Gordon Brown will be replaced as Labour leader and Prime Minister by Peter Mandelson in advance of the next General Election.

In order for this to happen, a whole series of other things would have to happen first: 

1.    Gordon Brown has to leave office in order to create a vacancy. That could either be by choice or by his party forcing him out. I think it highly unlikely that Brown would go of his own volition and Labour does not have a history of forcing out incumbent leaders.

2.    In order for Peter Mandelson to be a contender he would have to be in the House of Commons rather than the Lords as he is now. That would mean him resigning from the Lords and fighting a by-election to get into the Commons. At present Life Peers cannot resign their seats in the Lords, although legislation will shortly be passed to enable this. A seat would then have to be found for him to contest. Unless it was an ultra-safe Labour seat there would be no guarantee of him winning the by-election – just witness the results in Norwich North and Crewe & Nantwich.

3.    If both of the above conditions were fulfilled Mandelson would then have to find nominees in order to stand, raise funds for a campaign, gain Union backing and support from the grass-roots membership, not to mention the support of sufficient Labour MPs to win the ballot. Whilst I don’t doubt he could raise the funds and find sufficient nominees, I seriously doubt that he would find many Union backers or a large enough coterie of MPs to elect him leader.

If anyone seriously believes that all of these things will happen they need their head examined. Peter Mandelson may have earned some respect within the Labour Party in recent months following his return to Government but he is still loathed by swathes of the Parliamentary Party and the wider membership. My Labour contact almost choked when I suggested to him that PM might become PM, then he laughed.

Does anyone also believe that Peter Mandelson would be a credible leader in the eyes of the electorate? He is seen as the master of spin and the dark arts of politics. He is also fanatically pro-EU. He comes with a huge amount of baggage that would be used against him mercilessly by the press and other parties.

July and August are traditionally the silly season in British politics when the most outlandish stories gain currency before they are quietly forgotten as the Party Conference season gets underway. I think this is one of those silly season stories.

I would certainly not rule out a challenge to Gordon Brown before the year is out but my sense is that Labour are resigned to defeat and will stumble on to the next election with Gordon Brown as leader. Most of the rest of the stories we will see between now and then are more about positioning for the expected post-election leadership contest, when the remaining rump of Labour MPs will jockey for the future direction of the movement.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | National | 13 Comments

Cllr Richard Stainthorp – An Apology Required?

richardstainthorpA week ago today I posted an article about Cllr Richard Stainthorp’s refusal to sign a road-safety petition. This was based on impeccable information that I checked. However, this morning I received the following email from Cllr Stainthorp (cut and pasted as received):

Cllr Willis
 
As a result of a phone call from the Reading Post it has come to my attention that there is an article concerning myself on your blog. The article concerns the petition regarding the junction at Oakley Road and Kidmore Road. You state ‘the organisers knoocked
(sic) on a particular door in Oakley Road. It was the Caversham home of one Councillor Richard Stainthorp …. He refused to sign’.
 
This highly damaging statement is untrue and I demand that you remove the article from your blog and publish an apology stating that there was no truth in what you said. At no time have I answered the door to anyone asking that I sign a petition regarding road safety at the Oakley Road/Kidmore Road junction. If you would care to check with the organisers of the petition you will find that I have signed it. I did this on Tuesday 21st July at the Caversham Fopod
(sic) and Wine Convenience Store.
 
The reason I can be so specific about the date is that on the previous daay
(sic) I was attending the Caversham Primary School Year Six production and on my way in (and running fine on time) was approached by Cllr Ballsden (sic) who asked me to sign the petition. As someone who likes to read things carefully before putting their name to them and I was short of time I declineed (sic) at that time. The next day with more time available I went to the store, checked the wording and having no problem with its aims, signed it.
 
I consider the allegation made by you to be untrue, embarassing
(sic) and damaging to my reputation. I therefore require you to remove it from your blog and print a prominent retraction stating that what you said was untrue, that I have signed the petition, agree with its aims and that you apologise to me for any embarassment (sic) caused. Prior to publishing this retraction I would ask that you send a copy to me so that I can confirm that I am satisfied with its content.
 
Please respond to this email within 48 hours. If a satisfactory public apology is forthcoming I will not feel the need to take the matter further.
 
Cllr Richard Stainthorp

It should be noted that Cllr Stainthorp is a teacher and therefore the 7 spelling mistakes and typos in the email are somewhat concerning. “Embarrassing” and “embarrassment” should have TWO “r’s”!

Now let us turn to the facts and Cllr Stainthorp’s assertions. I have rechecked what happened with my source and several things are clear: 

 1.    A petition organiser did knock at the door of Cllr Stainthorp’s home and it was answered by an adult female (presumably Cllr Stainthorp’s wife Sue, who is a former Labour Cllr). She refused to sign the petition. I originally omitted that information as Sue is no longer an elected member.

2.    Cllr Stainthorp’s main argument appears to be that he was “running fine on time” and was therefore unable to read the petition and digest its 68 words before deciding whether to sign.  Again I have checked and this is completely untrue. Many witnesses can attest that when Cllr Stainthorp was approached to sign outside Caversham Primary School he took one of the petition boards and stood reading the short wording for many minutes (in fact my correspondent suggests it was about nine minutes). During that time many parents passed him, signed the petition and entered the school in good time for the Year Six Production. One in particular (a fellow governor) even commented that he should sign. He took so long reading the petition that in the end one of the mothers asked for the board back so that they could use it to get more signatures. When asked if he had signed he said “no”.  

3.    Cllr Stainthorp invites me to check with the organisers of the petition (which I have done), as he asserts that he signed it on 21st July. I have replied to him saying I am happy to take his word on that but I am told that the petition has been checked and his name was not found amongst the signatures that were handed to the Council on 21St July. It is of course possible that he signed a later sheet and this is now being checked.

I stand by my previous article but am happy to take Cllr Stainthorp’s word that he subsequently signed the petition in the store. I will therefore not be removing the original article or offering Cllr Stainthorp an apology.

What is “embarrassing and damaging” to his reputation as a teacher is Cllr Stainthorp’s inability to spell and remove typos from his work before pressing send. It is also worthy of note that Cllr Stainthorp has not even sought to counter the other elements of my article that he has not held a single ward surgery in the last 14 months and had submitted just 6 “Acolaid” requests in the last 12 months.

What a shame that such a worthy cause as this road-safety petition has been besmirched by Cllr Stainthorp’s curmudgeonly attitude and his attempts to deflect the poor publicity that has resulted for him from it.

July 29, 2009 Posted by | Local | 8 Comments

New ComRes Poll – Tory Lead Jumps to 18%

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There is a new ComRes poll reported tonight in tomorrow’s Independent which shows a big jump in the Conservative lead to 18% at the expense of the Lib Dems who fall back 4%:

            Conservative              42% (up 4%)

            Labour                       24% (up 1%) 

            Lib Dem                      18% (down 4%) 

Conservatives will be delighted to be back over 40% with ComRes which has had them in the 30’s for some time. It will also be reassuring that the Conservative share equals the Labour and Lib Dem shares added together. The Independent suggests that if this poll were to be replicated at a General Election the David Cameron would have more than a 150 seat majority.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

Safeguarding Local Children

rbc-hex1I don’t usually reproduce Reading Borough Council press releases but it is interesting to note that the Reading Local Safeguarding Children Board has appointed Stephen Barber as its new independent Chair, a post he will take up on August 1.

Local safeguarding children boards were set up across the country to help all organisations in a local area to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people. The Reading Safeguarding Children Board is made up of organisations and professionals from across the borough including Reading Borough Council, the police, the probation service, the health service, Connexions and the voluntary sector.

Reading Borough Council worked with West Berkshire and Wokingham Borough Councils to secure the appointment of Stephen as a single chairperson for all three local safeguarding children boards to ensure a consistent approach to child protection policies and procedures and to avoid duplication of work for those partners who sit on all boards across the west of Berkshire.

Stephen spent nearly 30 years working in children’s social care in several London Boroughs before retiring in 2000. Since then, he has been an inspector for joint area reviews into children’s services and is currently a safeguarding children’s advisor for the Diocese of Oxford advising on cases where children may be at risk and dealing with any allegations made.

Stephen is also a member of the registration and conduct committee for the General Social Care Council, which judges cases where social workers are alleged to have breached professional guidelines. He has also held a number of positions at various voluntary bodies including Oxford Brookes University, Making Children Count project, Oxfordshire Council for Voluntary Children’s Service, Parents and Children Together (Reading) and Hampshire and Thames Valley Circles of Support and Accountability.

The Reading Safeguarding Children Board is responsible for developing a wide range of policies and procedures that govern how organisations in the borough work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The board monitors and evaluates the effectiveness of the work carried out by organisations around safeguarding practice and advising on how they can improve.

It also has the role of listening to the voices of children and young people and their families and ensuring their views are represented in the work of the safeguarding children board.

Speaking on his appointment, Stephen said: “I am looking forward to making my contribution to protecting children by chairing the safeguarding boards from an independent position. I intend to take a fresh look at how we do things, see where we can improve, and help put improvements in place.”

Cllr Jamie Chowdhary, Conservative lead for Children’s Services said “I welcome the new chair as a much needed addition to tackle the worrying under-performance that Children’s services in Reading have exhibited in recent audits. We need to do everything possible to ensure that the quality of this service is dramatically improved and thereafter remains consistently high in order to afford the best possible protection for our children”

I am sure that we can all join to welcome Stephen to his new post and hope that he is successful in ensuring that everything possible is done to keep children safe in Reading, Wokingham and West Berkshire.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Local | Leave a comment

New YouGov Poll – Tory Lead at 15%

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There was a new YouGov poll reported yesterday in the Sunday People which shows a reversal of the previous increase in the Conservative lead and the best figure for the Lib Dems from YouGov for some time:

            Conservative              40% (down 2%)

            Labour                       25% (no change) 

            Lib Dem                      20% (up 2%) 

The poll was conducted before the results of the Norwich North by-election were announced.

Hat tip: UK Polling Report

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Polls | 3 Comments

Hovercraft – 50th Anniversary

Hovercraft2Few people I have spoken to realise that this weekend was the 50th Anniversary of one of the greatest British inventions of the 20th Century – the hovercraft. As with so many British inventions we have failed fully to capitalise on its potential.

Sir Christopher Cockerell was the inventor of the hovercraft, in a shed, in a boatyard, in Norfolk. He tested his theories using a hair-dryer and tin cans and found his working hypothesis to have potential, but the idea took some years to develop, and he was forced to sell personal possessions in order to finance his research. By 1955, he had built a working model from balsa wood and had taken out his first patent. Cockerel found it impossible to interest the private sector in developing his idea, as both the aircraft and the boat-building industries saw it as lying outside their core business. He therefore approached the British Government with a view to interesting them in possible defence applications. This led to Cockerel being introduced to the NRDC (National Research Development Corporation). In the autumn of 1958, the NRDC placed an order with Saunders Roe for the first full-scale Hovercraft.

For a while it was kept top secret, as the government wanted to explore the military potential but in June 1959, the SRN-1 was finally unveiled to the world’s press, at the Saunders Roe boatyard at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The SRN-1 made its maiden voyage on 11 June 1959, and crossed the Channel from Calais to Dover five weeks later on 25 July. A commercial service was also later launched across the River Dee in 1962.

From the late 1960s until 2000 two larger hovercraft, the Princess Anne and the Princess Margaret, regularly carried passengers and cars across the Channel, at record speeds. The service was axed after it became uneconomic due to competition from the newly opened Channel Tunnel. The only remaining passenger hovercraft in the UK now work between Portsmouth and Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

Despite the lack of demand for passenger-carrying hovercraft in the UK, a number of British firms continue to manufacture the craft to meet demand from other countries, such as Indonesia and India. Swamps, deserts, mudflats and river deltas are perfect territory for the hovercraft. One British company, Griffon Hoverwork, boasts that more than half the operational hovercraft in the world were made at its factories on the Solent. The UK has sold more commercial hovercraft than any other country in the world and the UK leads the world in design, manufacture and operation of hovercraft.

One spin-off of Sir Christopher Cockerell’s invention has been the hover mower. Like its counterpart, it works on the principle of a cushion of air. The leading brand, Flymo, has a 40% share of the British lawnmower market.  Although gardeners in the UK have adopted the hover technology in their millions, very few of the mowers are exported. Flymo is owned by a Swedish company, but the mowers are still built in County Durham, where the factory supports hundreds of jobs.

Having grown up on the south coast, I remember seeing hovercraft and being amazed by their flexibility and ability to operate equally well on land and sea. Sadly they are a much rarer sight nowadays but many nations use them militarily and the US Navy and Marine Corps have taken to hovercraft as the perfect amphibious landing craft and they operate LCAC’s (Landing Craft Air Cushion) in their thousands.

It is good to know that another British invention has been adapted for use around the world and that at least some are still made in the UK supporting British jobs and the British economy.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | National | 2 Comments

Be a Buddy

Old LadyPoliticians are often criticised for “taking from the system” and “being in it for themselves”, so it is nice to be able to report a Conservative initiative that should make a real difference to the lives of many older people in Reading who live alone.

The plan is a voluntary scheme pilot in Peppard ward to link up single, older people with someone of similar age and gender. Each person will commit to contact the other person once a week to ensure there are no concerns regarding ‘Safety and Security’ or ‘Health and Wellbeing’.  If a Buddy doesn’t call on the specified day, their Buddy can call them to check everything is alright.  Each participant receives advice on questions to ask and a process to follow if concerns are raised. The scheme is backed by Thames Valley Police, Reading Borough Council’s Community Care Department and Peppard Ward Neighbourhood Watch Coordinators.

At the launch, care was taken to emphasise that this is not a ‘nosy neighbours charter’ and that if either party feels that it is not working, they can speak to their Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator about finding another buddy, or opt out completely. 

The scheme is the brainchild of Peppard Conservative Councillor Mark Ralph. Cllr Ralph said, “This system has been devised to provide a reciprocal ‘safety net’ between pairs of people, for their mutual benefit.  In the first instance, it will rely on Neighbourhood Watch Coordinators to identify the older people in their areas that might benefit but, as the scheme gathers momentum, I hope that people will approach their Coordinators, to express an interest.”

Cllr Tim Harris, Conservative Lead Spokesman for Community Care said, “The ‘Buddy Scheme’ is a really innovative idea which has the potential to enable some of our older residents to help each other to achieve a better quality of life.  I am sure this pilot will be a success and I look forward to using the lessons we will learn to roll out an even better Buddy Scheme in other parts of Reading.”

If this pilot takes off then it could spread across the Borough and become a real life enhancer for people who sometimes may have very limited contact with the rest of the community.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

The UK Economy Still in Freefall

Recession_1245046cOne of Labour’s most powerful criticisms of the Thatcher/Major governments was that they had presided over “boom and bust”. The loss of its reputation for economic competence after “Black Wednesday” was undoubtedly one of the main factors that contributed to the Conservative defeat in 1997 and Labour’s landslide. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown promised “no more boom and bust”.

Figures released yesterday show that the economy shrank by 5.6% on an annualised basis to the middle of 2009. This is the worst recession since the Great Depression in 1929/31 when the economy contracted by 5.8%.

GDP shrank by 0.8% in the second quarter of the year, when economists had predicted a fall of 0.3%. As I have stated before, the Chancellor’s forecasts were wildly optimistic, with a prediction of “just” a 3.5% contraction this year. The consequences for taxation revenue, benefit expenditure and thus the public sector deficit will be even more dire than we thought.

The Government needs urgently to get a grip on spending if the UK is not to lose its international “AAA” credit rating in the money markets. The consequences of the UK being rated alongside developing nations are too horrendous to contemplate but that is where we are headed.

Gordon Brown as Chancellor and Prime Minister has brought this nation to the brink of bankruptcy and in so doing risks throwing away the hard won economic benefits of the Thatcher and Major governments. He presided over a massive boom as Chancellor and has led us into the biggest bust for almost a century.  One of the reasons I became a Conservative was Labour’s previous record of economic catastrophe and the need for Conservative governments to clear up the mess. The need for a Conservative government is once again patently obvious to all but the ideologically blinded.

Here are just a few of the quotes that Labour might rather regret now:

“I want this to be the New Labour Government that ended Tory boom and bust forever.”

Tony Blair: 1997 Conference Speech

“Today, the Bank of England has agreed with me that, if we are to prevent the cycle of boom and bust, inflationary pressures in the economy, which the previous Government negligently failed to tackle, must be brought under control.”

Gordon Brown: July 1997

“I am satisfied that the new monetary policy arrangements will deliver long-term price stability, and prevent a return to the cycle of boom and bust.”

Gordon Brown: November 1997

“We will not return to the stop-go, boom-bust years which we saw under the Conservatives.”

Gordon Brown: April 1998

“The Government have put in place policies to deliver that objective and are determined to avoid a return to boom and bust.”

Gordon Brown: May 1998

“rigorous financial discipline that, together with monetary stability, ends once and for all the boom and bust that for 30 years has undermined stability “

Gordon Brown: June 1998

“Moreover, for decades we have been prone to far greater swings in the economic cycle than our continental counterparts. It has been boom and bust….Under this Government, there is an entirely new framework for economic management in place.”

Tony Blair: February 1999

“Indeed, Britain was set to repeat the old, familiar cycle of boom and bust. Since then, we have created and rigorously adhered to a new framework of modern economic management.”

Gordon Brown: November 1999

“On top of that, we have a healthy and stable economy and an end to the boom and bust that characterised the Tory years.”

Alistair Darling: January 2000

“We will not return to boom and bust.”

Gordon Brown: March 2001

“Labour economic stability has replaced Tory boom and bust.”

John Prescott : January 2005

“As I said, there are two approaches—first, a strong economy, stability and helping families or, secondly, the Tory cuts, the undermining of stability, and a return to the boom and bust of the 1990s.”

Alistair Darling: March 2005

“I have said before: no return to boom and bust.”

Gordon Brown: March 2006

“Boom and bust is a term that applied to the Conservative years and two of the worst recessions in history.”

Gordon Brown: December 2006 

July 25, 2009 Posted by | National | 4 Comments

Norwich North – An Analysis

Now that a few hours have passed since the sensational results in Norwich North were declared it is worth reflecting on the fortunes of each of the significant parties that contested the seat and what conclusions can be drawn.

Chloe Smith 2Conservative – Chloe Smith will enter Parliament as not only the youngest current MP (aged 27) but also the youngest ever Conservative woman to represent the party in the Commons. She grew up locally and attended a comprehensive school before graduating from York University. She is exactly the type of “new” Conservative face that David Cameron is keen to project and I have no doubt that she will play a prominent role in the run up to the next General Election, with appearances on Question Time and other frontline TV programmes.

The result was better for the Conservatives than many pundits predicted. Naturally CCHQ sought to lower expectations but even some Conservative colleagues contacted me to tell me that my prediction of a 5,000 to 8,000 majority was way over the top. Smith was always the favourite in this by election but she had an uphill struggle in many ways as a representative of one of the three big parties in a by election called as a result of the expenses scandal. Contrary to some assertions, Norwich North is not a core Conservative seat that was lost in the 1997 landslide. It remained Labour in all but the worst election results for Labour, resisting Margaret Thatcher’s appeal in 1979 and Heath’s in his 1970 victory. It is symbolic of Labour’s current predicament that it has been lost, and lost so badly.

Labour – the resignation of a popular sitting Labour MP over the way he was treated by his own party was never going to be the back-ground for an easy by-election campaign. However, revelations that the Labour candidate Chris Ostrowski was relatively recently a Conservative student who offered his services to the Conservative front bench would have done nothing to shore up the Labour core vote. His affliction with Swine flu in the latter stages of the campaign took him off the campaign trail and was seen as a metaphor for the Labour condition.

It is clear that the Labour hierarchy was resigned to defeat but the scale of their collapse and the consequent Conservative majority should set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street. The seat was way down the Conservative target list (around 162nd) and a similar collapse would wipe out many Government ministers including Chancellor Alastair Darling. There will be many very nervous Labour back-benchers tonight reflecting on their future or lack of it.

Dodgy Bar Chart - Norwich NorthLib Dem – the difficulties in finding a suitable candidate for the Lib Dems were well documented with April Pond (and her own personal moat) being selected after two others had refused the challenge. They fought a vigorous campaign and their usual cheer-leaders in the media and blogosphere were bullish about their chances of overtaking Labour and being the only challengers to the Conservatives.

Throughout the 1990’s and into the 2000’s the Lib Dems’ by-election campaign machine was feared by both of the major parties. Victories were won by the party from seemingly impossible third positions and huge swings were achieved. That machine appears clapped out and despite some of the dodgiest bar charts I have ever seen, including the final one which sought to show that “Lib Dems Overtake Labour”, the party saw their vote share and their actual vote fall. They came nowhere near their much vaunted aim of second place and despite all the difficulties the Labour campaign experienced the Lib Dems finished about 1,400 votes behind them. Only a few hundred votes separated them from UKIP and the ignominy of a fourth place.  

UKIP – this was the surprise of the campaign. No commentator I saw, or activist who had visited Norwich, predicted such a strong UKIP showing. As in the Euro elections, UKIP seem to have found an ability to campaign and get their vote out that has surprised many people including me. Glenn Tingle is ex-Army and had to endure the suggestion that he had previously been a member of the National Front. The UKIP vote rose 9.5% to almost 12% and they were in serious competition for third place with the Lib Dems.

Green – this was in many ways a dream situation for the Green Party. They had a strong local Council presence and selected one of their better known Councillors Robert Read as their candidate. The Greens do not have many strong local government bases but Norwich is one of them. In circumstances when many voters saw the three major parties as “all at it”, in claiming unwarranted expenses, the Greens might have expected at least to be challenging for second place. Their vote did rise 7.1% to 9.7% but to finish in fifth place must be bitterly disappointing to them.

Craig Murray – the former ambassador to Uzbekistan stood on an anti-sleaze ticket but failed to garner even 1,000 votes. Even on his own blog he admits that he “was rubbish”.

BNP – the BNP might have expected to do well following their Euro election success but they only managed a distant seventh place. Despite the anti-politician sentiment evident so often the people of Norwich North had no appetite for the extremists of the BNP.

So how did I do?

I predicted:

Turnout: 50-55% – it was in fact 46%. I was close but clearly more people chose to stay at home than I had anticipated.

Conservative Majority: 5,000-8,000 – it was 7,348. I think I can feel well satisfied that despite turnout being below my estimate, the Conservative majority was at the top of my range.

Placings: Lib Dems second, Labour third and Greens fourth with an improved share – completely wrong. I expected the Lib Dems to do much better and I hadn’t accounted for such a strong UKIP showing. The Greens did improve their share but not as much as I expected.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | National | 16 Comments

Norwich North – The Result – Conservative Gain

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The result for the Norwich North by-election has just been confirmed as a Conservative gain:

   Conservative 13,591 (39.5% up 6.3%)

   Labour 6,243 (18.1% down 26.7%)

   Lib Dem 4,809 (13.97% down 2.2%)

   UKIP 4,068 (11.8% up 9.45%)

   Green 3,350 (9.7% up 7.1%)

   Craig Murray   953

   BNP   941

   Holden   166

   Loony 144

   Fryatt    59

   Libertarian 36

   Baggs  23

The turnout was  45% and the swing was 16.5% Lab to Cons, resulting in a Conservative majority of 7,348.

This is a sensational result for the Conservatives (Norwich North was 162 on the party’s target list), maintaining the momentum gained in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. The Lib Dems will be bitterly disappointed to have come in third and labour relieved to have hung on to second place.

More comment later.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | National | 4 Comments