There is a new poll from Communicate Research reported tonight for tomorrow’s Independent which shows the Conservative lead cut to 10% and the Lib Dems making progress:
Conservative 37% (down 2%)
Labour 27% (up 2%)
Lib Dem 20% (up 3%)
There is now some consistency across pollsters with the Conservative being under 40% and Labour slightly up. Having said that, a few years ago Conservatives would have been delighted to be 10% ahead of Labour.
Tonight on the X Factor Lloyd Daniels was voted off by the public vote, leaving just four contestants for the final stages of the contest. I think that Lloyd was the right one to go tonight, as he was undoubtedly the weakest singer in what is meant to be a singing contest.
However, I am delighted with the final four and would rank them in the following order:
Joe has been consistently good every single week and is my favourite to win the contest. This was one of his best performances but with Joe it is very hard to single out one performance.
Stacey does not have the voice of Alexandra Burke or Leona Lewis but she is growing each week and has the most infectious and humble personality.
Danyl has had a rollercoaster ride through the competition, criticised for being cocky before he ended up in the bottom two and seemed to have lost his confidence. The new Danyl we have seen in the last couple of weeks has a less cocky manner and now has more likeability. He is a serious contender to win.
Olly is the one of the final four that has grown the most through the show. I was not convinced he should be in the top 12 but he is a worthy semi-finalist.
The one person who should not have gone out so early was Lucy Jones. She was one of my early tips to do well but the judges failed to save her a few weeks ago and the travesty that was John and Edwards were allowed to continue for several more weeks. Still that was the public vote!
This is hilarious:
There is a new national poll from YouGov reported tonight for the Telegraph which shows a reduced Conservative lead of 10%:
Conservative 39% (down 2%)
Labour 29% (up 2%)
Lib Dem 19% (up 1%)
Despite these national results a separate poll of marginals in the north of England shows a big 8% swing from Labour to Conservative. The poll in 32 northern marginal seats has the Conservatives leading with 42% to Labour’s 36%. This would see large numbers of Labour seats falling to the Conservatives and dash Lib Dem hopes of big gains from Labour in the North to compensate for expected southern losses to the Conservatives.
The two elements of the poll suggest that the Conservatives are performing better in their target seats than nationwide which could suggest a big Conservative overall majority.
Figures showing that the UK Armed Forces are currently just under 98 per cent of their full time trained strength requirement have been released today by the MOD. This is up from 96.8 per cent a year ago and shows a continued upward trend in both recruitment and retention.
As at 1 October 2009, the full time trained strength of the UK Armed Forces was 174, 890 against a target of 178,490. This comprises 170,050 UK Regular Forces, 1,320 full time reserve service personnel and 3,520 Gurkhas.
The statistics show that the number of people leaving the trained strength of the UK Regular Forces in the 12 months to 30 September 2009 has fallen by 21.9 per cent compared with the same period a year ago. Overall, the number of people leaving is at its lowest in five years.
A total of 24,230 new recruits have joined the UK Regular Forces in the 12 months to 30 September 2009, an increase of 12.6 per cent (2,720 people) compared to the previous 12 months. The number of people joining the Armed Forces is at its highest point since the 12 months to 31 March 2002.
Since 1 October 2008, the proportion of females in the UK Regular Forces has risen from 12.0 per cent to 12.1 per cent for officers and from 8.9 per cent to 9.0 per cent for other ranks. The percentage of UK Regular Forces from ethnic minority backgrounds continues to rise; at 1 October 2009 ethnic minorities accounted for 6.6 per cent of UK Regular Forces compared to 6.3 per cent at the same point last year.
These figures show that there were 18,270 untrained personnel (not including officers) at 1 October 2009, up from 15,540 at the same point last year. The number of untrained officers was up from 3,060 to 3,230 in the same period.
All figures and percentages exclude the Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment and Reservists mobilised for service.
Today the new Supreme Court gave an eagerly anticipated ruling on whether or not the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) had the authority to rule on bank penalty charges. The Supreme Court was set up on 1 October 2009 to replace the historic legal role of the House of Lords as the final court of appeal in the English legal system.
The essence of the case was that the OFT had sought legal clarification on its powers to decide whether charges imposed by banks for unauthorised over-drafts were fair. Banks had charged between £25 and £40 when customers in some cases went as little as a few pounds over their agreed overdraft limit. The OFT argued that this did not reflect the true cost to the bank and that customers deserved at least a partial refund of such charges. Millions of customers (of which I am one) had lodged claims against the banks to recover these charges, amounting to several billion pounds claimed.
The High Court and the Court of Appeal previously ruled in favour of the OFT, leading many customers to be hopeful of a refund of hundreds or even thousands of pounds. The Supreme Court was widely expected to follow suit and endorse the ruling of these senior courts that the banks should be made to pay out but in a surprise decision announced today they completely reversed the position ruled in the lower courts. The Supreme Court also refused the right of further appeal to the European Court of Justice.
I share the disappointment of many people who have had their claims frozen for several years while the legal process was underway. No doubt there will be some who chose to take up individual court actions against the banks but these are now unlikely to succeed. It also remains to be seen whether individual banks will chose to make offers of settlement to those customers that have complained.
Either way, the Supreme Court will be seen as having come down on the side of the much hated bankers and against the rights of consumer groups and customers. Its credibility has not been enhanced by this decision.
There is a new poll from the new UK pollster Angus Reid Strategies reported tonight for Political Betting which shows a huge Conservative lead of 17% and Labour and the Lib Dems within a percentage point of each other:
Conservative 39% (up 1%)
Labour 22% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 21% (up 1%)
Obviously this is hugely different from the MORI poll published yesterday but as I indicated at the time, the MORI poll was somewhat dated and has a pattern of erratic changes. It should also be considered that this poll could be as “rogue” as the MORI poll with each at the opposite extreme as far as Labour share and Conservative lead go.
With John and Edward voted out of the X-Factor, tonight the Conservative Party have launched a new poster campaign across London. It is rather unfair on two Irish boys who can’t really sing or dance to be compared to two clowns who have led Britain into its worst economic catastrophe since the war but that’s show business!
As we move closer to the General Election the shape of the likely Conservative Government’s defence policy is becoming clearer. Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox has already set out his intention to hold a comprehensive defence review to look at the structure and composition of our armed forces. However, even before that reports, a number of key planks of the Conservative approach are now clear.
At the Manchester Conservative party conference Liam Fox stated his intention to cut the number of MOD Civil Servants. At around 88,000, the total is very high compared to an Army of 100,000 and an Air Force of 40,000. However, the review will need to look at exactly where these cuts should fall. There are many MOD Civil Servants doing essential jobs that used to be done by service men and women, and for much less pay.
The area that could easily stand some cuts is in the Ministry of Defence itself. The armed forces are in my opinion heavily over-staffed at the top. The Army has HQ Land, the Navy has HQ Fleet and the Air Force has Air Command. Each of these directs and runs their respective service with suitably high-ranked officers and senior civilian staffs. Then we also have the Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood which oversees current operations in a tri-service environment. On top of these four Headquarters we have the Ministry of Defence itself, in many cases duplicating functions of the individual service commands. One of the Ministry’s functions is to support Ministers with direct advice and public relations but there is often tension between similar staffs in the Ministry and the individual service command headquarters.
I suggest that the MOD itself should be radically slimmed down and many of its functions devolved down to the service headquarters. There is no reason why the individual services cannot provide advice and guidance to Ministers through a much smaller central MOD staff. There may also be a few cases where the individual services should lose some staff and control to the MOD, such as in contracts, accounting and training. We simply cannot afford to have so many people behind desks when we are short of front-line manpower.
The second area where the Conservatives have been clear is in the announcement this week that the 25,000 strong British military presence in Germany would be ended. In the short term this could increase costs to the defence budget as facilities and accommodation have to be found or constructed in the UK, but it could save money in the longer term. Britain would also have to find training areas for the elements of the Army that are currently able to train on the German plains.
Liam Fox has also confirmed that he would wish to replace the aging Trident strategic nuclear missile system (right) and that will require major investment in the next 5-10 years. I think that that is the wrong decision and I fear that there will have to be further cuts in the Royal Navy’s already shrunken surface fleet in order to pay for it. I would prefer to see us nuclear arm some of the cruise missiles that we have on our hunter killer submarines and thereby downgrade our nuclear weapons programme.
The next Government will have to be radical and whilst in the current economic climate there may not be more money for defence, in my view it should avoid cutting the defence budget. One of the most damaging proposals to come out of the Government in recent weeks was the decision to cut the TA’s training budget in order to save a measly £20m. This has now been reversed under pressure from all sides but the salami slicing approach to defence cannot continue.
A defence review must seek to extract more front line bang for every Pound spent. Withdrawing from Germany, cutting the headquarters overhead and possibly restructuring some elements of the armed services will be essential. If we don’t do that we will find ourselves cutting major defence projects after we have invested millions or billions and selling some of the equipment that only last year was deemed essential. That could see us selling one of the planned two new aircraft carriers and having to depend on the French at times for maritime air cover. Such a prospect should send shivers down the spine of any patriotic naval strategist.
There are no easy choices but a Conservative government must ensure that our armed forces are properly funded for the tasks they are being asked to undertake. A strategic defence review must also ensure that the impact of further cuts on our influence in the world, are properly evaluated. A nation’s world influence is often measured by the size of its economy but the size and effectiveness of its armed forces are also a key factor, as well as its willingness to use them. If Britain wishes to avoid losing even more influence and prestige the Government must provide the funds to support armed forces that have worldwide reach and world-class equipment.
Defence is often seen as an easy cut but the consequences are only apparent when British territory or interests are threatened. We should not forget the lessons of the 1930’s, the Falklands conflict or the two Iraq wars. Maintenance of effective armed forces is a sensible insurance policy in an increasingly unstable 21st Century.
There is a newly reported poll from Ipsos Mori in tomorrow’s Observer which shows a dramatically cut Conservative lead of just 6%:
Conservative 37% (down 6%)
Labour 31% (up 5%)
Lib Dem 17% (down 2%)
This is a boost for Labour but there are several significant caveats. MORI has often been very erratic and found big swings from month to month, which is why I have always taken it far less seriously than YouGov or ICM. Secondly, this is now an “old” poll. Fieldwork was completed last Sunday, in the immediate aftermath of Labour’s by-election win in Glasgow and for some reason it has been held back for a week.
For those reasons I would take this poll with a big bag of salt, unless its findings are confirmed by other more reliable pollsters with more recent findings.
News this morning that another in a long line of Black and Minority Ethnic Councillors has defected to the Conservative Party, this time on Calderdale Council. His move takes the hung Council to 21 Conservatives, 15 Lib Dem, 8 Labour, 5 Independents, 1 BNP, 1 Eng Dem .
Cllr Zafar Iqbal-Din was accused of money laundering but was investigated and charges were dropped. The allegations revolved around a loan he made to a friend to buy a property. At the time that the charges were made Cllr Iqbal-Din was suspended from the Labour Group and became an independent but he has now decided to join the Conservatives.
I am sure that we will get some statement from Cllr Iqbal-Din about his reasons soon.
Undoubtedly one of the hottest topics in local politics in recent years has been the whole subject of Transport. I am in the fortunate position of holding the portfolio for the Conservatives locally and and am very aware of the concerns many Reading people have about the way the Labour Council has sought to lead us. A couple of years ago Labour proposed to make the IDR into a one-way ring-road anti-clockwise around the town centre. Conservatives stood out strongly against this plan and when others told us the fight was lost we made it a central plank of our 2007 local election campaign. We were rewarded with 7 extra Council seats from both Labour and the Lib Dems and the crazy one-way IDR plan was dropped.
In 2008 we set out our vision for transport in Reading in a 42 page Transport manifesto which was supplemented by a 37 page Cycling Strategy. As a Group we have continued to press the Council to achieve as many of our plans as possible. We advocated a renewed Council Cycling Strategy, a Staff Cycle to Work Scheme, a Cycle Forum, introduction of the Bikeability scheme in schools, better signage of a new network of premier cycle routes. All of these have been, or are in the process of being achieved.
We pledged that we would retain ownership of Reading Buses and we supported the introduction of branded premier bus routes. However, we questioned the assumptions behind the decision to introduce bio-ethanol fuelled buses. Sadly we have seen recently that the bio-ethanol buses have been found to be far more expensive to run than was promised and they are now to be converted over to run on diesel at further cost. Labour claimed considerable credit for the introduction of what they called “green buses” and they must therefore now be prepared to take the flak for not having thoroughly checked out the exalted claims made for them.
Local Conservatives have a vision for transport in Reading and we will once again spell it out in detail prior to next year’s local elections. We will support public transport and environmentally friendly modes such as cycling and walking but not by penalising the car user. We believe that by providing the right facilities people can be persuaded to use the bus and bicycle rather than forced to do so. Labour seems to prefer to make life as difficult as possible for the car user, forgetting that for some it is still their only realistic means of transport.
We will review some of the major traffic-lighted junction schemes that have been introduced and where possible return them to roundabouts, which allow traffic to flow. We will investigate new schemes that by-pass congested parts of the town and provide better alternative routes for all road users. A Conservative Council will tackle congestion more effectively ensuring that there is never a need to introduce Congestion Charging for local people.
Under a Conservative Council we will always seek to be at the forefront of transport planning and innovation, learning from other local authorities and other countries. We want a Reading where all forms of transport can move around freely with the minimum of congestion and pollution.
Labour has run Reading since 1983. Next May there is the chance for a change of control and a change of direction for Reading’s transport. I very much hope that Reading people will seize that chance.
The Telegraph reports this morning that as a result of the expenses scandal three sitting Labour MPs face prosecution. Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine all face prosecution when police pass files to the Crown Prosecution Service in January. With them will be files on two Labour Peers, Baroness Uddin and Lord Clarke of Hampstead, as well as Conservative Peer Lord Hanningfield. The CPS will decide whether the cases warrant prosecution and if ultimately found guilty they could face a maximum of ten years in prison.
Morley and Chaytor claimed tens of thousands of pounds for mortgages that no longer existed, while Devine claimed against a fictitious company. The Peers’ claims involve dubious subsistence claims in Hanningfield and Uddin’s cases amounting to over £100,000 each. The police are understood to have dropped investigations into Labour MPs Shahid Malik and Tony McNulty. However HM Revenue and Customs are reported to be investigating a total of 27 MPs.
There will be many MPs shifting uncomfortably on the green benches before they embark on their Christmas and New Year break and the timing could hardly be worse for Gordon Brown. It means that he could face several Labour MPs undergoing prosecution in the run up to the General Election. Polls have shown the public blame Labour more than any other party for the expenses scandal and feel that Brown has handled it less well than David Cameron. Having five out of six potential prosecutions being Labour politicians will only serve to underline that impression.
The biggest and most powerful attack submarine ever built for the Royal Navy – Astute – took to the seas this weekend. Astute set sail from Barrow-in-Furness to start her first set of sea trials and is now heading to her homeport of Faslane on the Clyde in Scotland.
Measuring nearly one hundred metres from bow to stern, Astute is longer than ten London buses. When fully stored, she will displace 7,800 tonnes of sea water, equivalent to 65 blue whales.
The Astute submarine has the latest stealth technology, a world-beating sonar system and is armed with 38 torpedoes and missiles – more than any previous Royal Navy submarine. She will be able to circumnavigate the entire globe while submerged and advanced nuclear technology means that she will never need to be refuelled.
Astute is expected to arrive in Faslane later this week and will now begin a set of sea trials ahead of her full acceptance with the Royal Navy next year.
There is a new poll from ICM reported for tomorrow’s Guardian which shows a reduced Conservative lead of 13%:
Conservative 42% (no change)
Labour 29% (up 4%)
Lib Dem 19% (down 2%)
This is a significant improvement in the Labour share but it comes partly at Lib Dem expense. Conservatives will be very happy to have retained a healthy 42% share and a lead consistent with other recent polls.
NB: The Guardian’s changes are with their monthly poll. The ones I have shown are with the last ICM poll at the end of October.