Richard Willis's Blog

First for local news and first for comment

New BPIX Poll – Tory Lead Cut to 9%

There is a new BPIX poll reported in today’s Mail on Sunday which shows a Conservative lead cut to single figures:

            Conservative              39% (down 2%)

                                                                     Labour                       30% (no change) 

                                                                     Lib Dem                      18% (up 1%)

This is consistent with recent YouGov polls, which is hardly surprising as the fieldwork for BPIX polls is conducted by YouGov.

January 31, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Fishbourne Roman Palace

Yesterday afternoon I drove down to Sussex to see the famous Roman Palace at Fishbourne. For many years I had wanted to go and see the ruins of what is reported to be one of the most extensive and elaborate Roman palaces in this country. The remains were discovered in 1960 when a workman digging a trench for a water pipe unearthed large quantities of building debris and pottery. The local archaeological society was called in and during a series of excavations over several years an extensive complex was unearthed with fine mosaics and several stages of redevelopment.

These are not the first Roman remains found in the area. For several centuries Roman remains, including mosaics, had turned up in the area in and around Fishbourne, indicating that there was extensive Roman settlement outside of Chichester. The palace was begun in the first century and redesigned several times up to the late third century. There were even early mosaics found beneath other later, more elaborate mosaics. After the building suffered a fire and was abandoned, it was used as a quarry for the construction of other buildings in the area.

The remains are quite close to the surface and have therefore suffered extensive damage from historic ploughing. It also means that there is very little of the walls surviving. The north wing of the palace is the section on display beneath a modern structure designed to protect the mosaics from the weather. Most of the rest of the palace is either reburied or unexcavated.

To be honest I was slightly disappointed with what I saw. I have seen a good number of Romano British villas and mosaics and I expected something rather more spectacular. Undoubtedly the one mosaic (shown above) which remains in almost prefect condition is superb but the remaining mosaics are extensively damaged and quite unspectacular. I am glad that I have now seen the palace at Fishbourne but feel that the remains at Wroxeter in Shrewsbury are more spectacular.

January 31, 2010 Posted by | General Musings | 2 Comments

Second New YouGov Poll – Tory Lead Restored to 9%

There is a second YouGov poll in tomorrow’s Sunday People newspaper showing the Conservatives back at 40% and with a 9% lead:

            Conservative              40% (up 2%)

            Labour                       31% (no change) 

                                          Lib Dem                     18% (down 1%)

We are seeing some variety in the results given by pollsters at the moment. I have always found YouGov and ICM to be the most credible pollsters and will continue to base my assessment on their combined findings. The one pollster that is showing markedly different results at the moment is Angus Reid who are new to UK polling. It will be interesting to see how they fare in the coming General and Local elections.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 4 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Tory Lead Cut to 7%

There is a new YouGov poll reported overnight for today’s Daily Telegraph showing the Conservatives lead being cut to 7%:

            Conservative              38% (down 2%)

            Labour                       31% (no change) 

                                          Lib Dem                     19% (up 1%)

This poll will not bring cheer to Conservative HQ as YouGov is seen as one of the more credible pollsters. However, even this poll still shows the major parties within a couple of points of the current 40 / 30 / 18 average.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New MORI Poll – Tory Lead Cut to 8%

There is a new poll from Ipsos Mori published tonight which shows a reversal of last month’s huge jump in the Conservative lead:

            Conservative              40% (down 3%)

                                                        Labour                       32% (up 6%) 

                                                        Lib Dem                     16% (down 4%)

MORI is regularly very erratic, showing big swings in its monthly results. Last month the Conservatives were up 6%, now they are down 3%; last month Labour were down 5%, now they are up 5%; last month the Lib Dems were up 3%, now they are down 4%. What on earth will MORI tell us next month?

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New Angus Reid Poll – Tory Lead Solid at 16%

There is a second new poll this month from Angus Reid Strategies reported on PoliticalBetting.com which shows the Conservative lead solid at 16%:

            Conservative              40% (no change)

            Labour                       24% (no change) 

            Lib Dem                     19% (down 1%)

The minor parties are given as UKIP 5%, BNP 4%, Green 3%, SNP 2% and PC 1%.

According to Martin Baxter’s Electoral Calculus site this would put David Cameron into Downing street with a majority of 96 seats and see the Conservatives on 373, Labour on 198 and the Lib Dems dropping to 48 seats.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

City Status – The Benefits

As I highlighted in my previous article, on Tuesday night Reading Borough Council resolved to pursue a bid for City Status in 2012 with only the Lib Dems reversing their previous position and voting against the bid. There has been the usual and predictable misrepresentation of what was said and argued, by local Lib Dem bloggers who seem to think that they have struck some electoral seam of riches by opposing a city status bid that is to be entirely funded by business and other sponsors.

The Lib Dems also dismiss the suggestion that becoming a city could bring tangible benefits to Reading. They should listen to the Leader of Newport Council, a town which won City Status in 2002. In a very considered statement Cllr Matthew Evans said:

“Becoming a city has helped to raise our profile and I think the residents of Newport will have seen a great deal of good come from Newport achieving city status. It has given us more funding for regeneration projects to improve infrastructure, from highways to a new railway station, a city centre university campus and new schools to name but a few.”

“We have been able to build world-class facilities such as the Velodrome and as a result of this we have attracted Olympic athletes to train in the city. Businesses have seen it is a great place to invest in and realised that moving to Newport will be beneficial to them. It has attracted high-profile businesses such as Admiral, ONS, HM prison service, Yell.com, EADS, Wales and West Utilities.”

“It has also become a key centre for the public sector and a key location for government-headquartered departments outside London. It is believed Newport has the largest concentration of civil servant workers outside London.”

“Overall becoming a city has been beneficial to Newport, but it is not a magic wand. It is a slow process that hasn’t happened overnight and we still have plenty more work to do.”

Reading is a great place to live with many of the attributes of a city already. We already enjoy some of the assets that Newport has gained since its successful bid. However, gaining city status could give Reading that enhanced recognition that helps to bring new investment and secures its future as a successful centre for the next 100 years.

With no cost to the Council Tax-payers involved, what have we got to lose?

January 28, 2010 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

City Status and Sour Grapes

Last night’s Reading Borough Council meeting was unusual in many ways (more of that later) but in one respect it was business as usual – the Lib Dems made themselves a laughing stock. Minus their former leader Cllr Gareth Epps (who had a more important meeting to attend) they struggled to make much of an impact on the meeting.

We debated a series of largely non-contentious reports, most of which had already gone through various Council committees and consultation processes. However, the section at the end of the meeting when motions are debated is the time when most of the more heated debate takes place and Councillors have a chance to promote the causes they believe in.

My Conservative collegue Cllr Tim Harris proposed a motion to work with “Stonewall” to counter homophobic bullying in Reading’s school; the Mayor Cllr Fred Pugh proposed a motion to create a memorial to Trooper Fred Potts VC, Reading’s only Victoria Cross winner; and Council Leader Cllr Jo Lovelock proposed a motion to seek City Status for Reading in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year of 2012, which was seconded by Conservative leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty.

And what did the Lib Dems do? Apart from making some cheap shots on the homophobic bullying motion, their main passion was reserved for an attack on the City Status bid. Despite their Group having supported and participated in, bids in the past.

Previous City Status bids have been funded by the business sector who provided the resources and it was clearly stated that this would be the case again. My Group are very keen that this should in no way fall as an expense to the Council Tax-payer.

What some of the Lib Dems fail to understand is that while City Status will probably not greatly change the way that local people feel about Reading, it will have an impact in the wider world. There are many parts of the world where the differences between a town and a city are more pronounced than in the UK and when there are marginal decisions to be made by businesses as to where to focus new investment, being a city rather than a town will add a new prestige to Reading’s case. 

We are already the proud hosts of a prestigious University, a large and diverse population, a good range of shops and entertainment venues, and of course we are the unofficial “capital” of the Thames Valley region. We are located on two important waterways and we were listed as a Borough in the Domesday Book as far back as 1086 . The area that is considered to be part of “greater” Reading includes areas of Tilehurst that lie in the West Berkshire District, as well as the suburbs of Woodley and Earley in Wokingham Borough.

The Reading Lib Dems have once again demonstrated their ability to shoot themselves in the foot. Instead of seeking to boost Reading in the eyes of the world, they resorted to sniping and cat-calling and in the end they voted en-bloc against a bid for City Status. Just as they have shown no understanding of the proposals to redevelop Reading station and Station Hill, they have shown that they have no vision and no aspiration for Reading and possibly worst of all, no consistency.

There are many dividing lines in politics between each of the parties, usually based on principles soundly held but for the Lib Dems to have put themselves on the side of those who want to belittle Reading and hold back its progress is petty politics at its worst. It will be interesting to see if the Reading Lib Dems now seek to crawl onto the cross-party steering group that will be set up to oversee the bid process.

Yes we need a change of the political control of Reading but the Lib Dems will have to learn some grown-up politics if they want the people of Reading to entrust them with any part of this Borough’s future.

UPDATE: The Reading Chronicle has this report of the City Status bid debate. The Chronicle reporter captures what I thought I had heard i.e. the Lib Dem statement that the bid was “doomed to fail”. This comes at the same time as commentators are describing Reading as the favorite to win this time around.

January 27, 2010 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

The Living Rainforest

At the weekend I went to explore a place I have been meaning to visit for some time. The Living Rainforest near Newbury, Berkshire is housed in several linked nursery greenhouses. It is run by the Trust for Sustainable Living as an educational facility to further understanding of the rainforest and the many species of flora and fauna that they contain across the world. There are rare plants, birds and animals, some caged and some free to roam. I was relieved that the bird eating spider, the dwarf crocodile and the snakes seemed secure in their pens.

One of the displays I liked best was the pool with turtles and piranha related fish, which had a large glass screen enabling the public to watch them swimming together from a side view. The other I liked was the Toucan. These are amazing birds with lovely plumage and a huge coloured bill. All of the displays are clearly labelled and a simple guide is issued on arrival. There were a good number of people present, including many people children but there was no feeling of the place being too crowded.

The entry fee was £8.75 which I felt was reasonable and I was pleased to find that this was actually an annual entry fee, entitling me to come back at any time in the next 12 months (excluding Bank Holidays). I completed and returned the Gift Aid form I was handed which enables the trust to claim back the tax on the entry charge.

The Living Rainforest is a small but fascinating place to visit, just half an hour’s drive from Reading. I can highly recommend it to local people and I am sure that parents would find that their children had a great time as well.

January 26, 2010 Posted by | General Musings | 2 Comments

New ICM Poll – Lib Dems Close the Gap with Labour

There is a new ICM poll reported tonight for tomorrow’s Guardian which shows a slight increase in the Conservative lead to 11%. For the second ICM poll running Labour drop 1%:

            Conservative              40% (no change)

                                                  Labour                       29% (down 1%) 

                                                  Lib Dem                      21% (up 3%)

The Lib Dems will be most pleased to be up 3% in this poll and therefore within striking distance of Labour. Of the minor parties, the SNP and PC are on 4%, UKIP 2%, Greens 2% and BNP 1%.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Constituency Database Launched by Press Association

As we approach the General Election people are beginning to look in more detail at the individual constituencies and the relative party positions in each. It is made more complicated by the fact that there has been a boundary review that has created and abolished some constituencies whilst changing many more.

In order better to understand the starting point we need to look at what the results would have been if the last General Election had been fought on these new boundaries.

The Press Association has helped that understanding by launching a section on their website listing all of the new constituencies and detailing the notional results on the new boundaries. It is a basic but useful resource, giving information on all 650 seats across the United Kingdom. The information has been calculated by election experts Professors Rallings and Thrasher for the BBC, Sky and ITN.

Enjoy!

January 24, 2010 Posted by | National | Leave a comment

New ICM Poll of Marginals – Tory Majority of 38 Likely

There is a new ICM poll of the top 97 marginals, reported tonight for tomorrow’s News of the World, conducted in seats where Labour are currently the incumbent and the Conservatives second: 

            Conservative              40% (up 9.2% compared to 2005 GE)

                                                  Labour                       37% (down 7.4% compared to 2005 GE)

                                                  Lib Dem                      14% (down 3.8% compared t0 2005 GE)

As Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report notes, it is unfortunate that there is still no polling indicating how the Conservatives are performing in Lib Dem held seats where they are in second place. However, this poll does suggest that the Conservatives are on course for a comfortable overall majority around the same size that Margaret Thatcher achieved in 1979. That in itself would be a remarkable achievement for David Cameron when his starting point is so much worse than Thatcher’s was.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New ComRes Poll – Previous Tory 4% Jump Reversed

There is a new poll from Communicate Research reported tonight for tomorrow’s Sunday Mirror which reverses the Conservative 4% jump in the last ComRes poll:

            Conservative              38% (down 4%)

                                      Labour                      29% (no change) 

                                      Lib Dem                     19% (no change)

ComRes is proving a bit erratic at the moment as far as the Conservatives go. The previous 4% jump was at the expense of the “others” and the reversal is entirely to their benefit with no change to the Lib Dems or Labour. However, ComRes is still showing shares within 2% of the current polling averages of 40/30/18.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

Cutting the Burden of Council Tax

For many years the flagship Conservative councils of Wandsworth and Westminster have shown the way on providing excellent services with a very low level of Council Tax. These two have been been emulated by Councils like Hammersmith and Fulhan which have put cutting Council Tax amongst the highest priorities of the ruling Conservative team. Here in Reading we are used to paying the highest Council Tax in Berkshire and receiving very mediocre services in return. In a number of areas services delivered by the Council have been found by outside inspectors to be “inadequate”.

The essential problem seems to me to be that all too often Labour equates higher spending with better services. This view is clearly shared by most Lib Dems. This leads them to accuse Conservatives who argue for lower Council Tax of wanting to cut or damage frontline services. Clearly in some cases Councils DO make decisions to cut some frontline services in order to keep spending in check. However, one does not automatically flow from the other. As the best Conservative Councils have demonstrated, it is possible through good leadership and management, to keep spending down while providing excellent services to residents.

Today we learned that the Conservative controlled Berkshire Unitary Council of Windsor and Maidenhead will be proposing a 4% CUT in their level of Council Tax this year. This is despite a Labour Government which has for years channelled money from southern England to Labour supporting areas in the north of England.

Reading Conservatives have pledged to freeze Council Tax if we take office this May. Maybe we are not being ambitious enough! However, after years of Labour administration in Reading there are many problem areas that will need to be addressed and often changes to structures and procedures are initially more expensive before they begin to show a return in lower costs. The search for “efficiencies” which the Council began last year with the help of accountants Price Waterhouse Coopers (something which we proposed) is already showing the possibility of saving £7.1m per year – that is more than twice what would have been needed last year to freeze Council Tax in Reading.

There is clearly much scope within Reading’s budget to make savings without damaging frontline services. Our commitment to freeze Council Tax is therefore clearly achievable even without the rigour that a Conservative majority administration would bring to spending. If anyone doubts this just think of the £1m Labour wasted on the one-way IDR scheme, or the several millions spent on developing plans for a new set of Civic Offices. 

Some London Labour Councils have realised that continuous increases in Council Tax are not acceptable to the electorate and in this year of local elections in London are proposing a freeze. I wonder if Labour in Reading are thinking along similar lines in attempt to save the skins of some of their vulnerable Council seats. It will also be interesting to see how the high-tax-loving Lib Dems react. As predicted last year, 2010 promises to be politically fascinating both in Council elections and the General Election.

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Local, National | 5 Comments

A Reading Labour Councillor Blogs

I am grateful to a reader who has messaged me to point out that I had overooked a seminal event in Reading politics. I and others had been critical of the ruling Labour Group, because while several Conservative and Lib Dem Councillors maintain blogs, to date not a single Labour Councillor had managed to do so. Indeed Labour MP Martin Salter has expressed the view that we are “sad and lonely individuals who should get out more”.

You can therefore imagine my surprise to learn that Reading Borough Council has a Labour Councillor who blogs – and a Lead Councillor at that. So let me extend a welcome to Cllr John Ennis, Labour’s Lead Councillor for Children’s Services who has been blogging since before Christmas. So far he has only managed five articles but it is a good start. I have also added a link to John’s blog on my local list of bloggers.

Welcome John and I hope you keep it up as the sole elected Labour blogger in Reading (or have I missed anyone else?).

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Local | 4 Comments