Further humiliation has been heaped on the tottering Labour minority administration of Reading Borough Council with the news that one of their key Cabinet members has been kicked off a council advisory body. As reported on this blog last month, Labour’s Education Lead Councillor, John Hartley failed to attend three successive meetings of the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) without having the good manners to at least send his apologies.
What is notable is the response of the acting Chairman of SACRE, Rabbi Zvi Solomons, who said “It is very disappointing that someone who is responsible for enhancing the cohesion and mutual understanding in schools can’t be bothered to turn up. Some councillors have the attitude towards religion and religious education that they don’t take it as seriously as they should.”
Cllr Hartley attracted controversy earlier this year when he misled Councillors about the Council’s participation in gay rights group Stonewall’s “Education Champions Programme” when discussing the problem of homophobic bullying. He has since contacted Conservative Councillor Tim Harris to offer an unreserved apology for his reply and the associated attack on Cllr Harris’s motives and research.
There is a new poll from Communicate Research reported tonight for tomorrow’s Independent newspaper which shows the Conservative lead increasing to 7% due to a 2% fall in Labour’s rating:
Conservative 37% (no change)
Labour 30% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 20% (up 1%)
Some 50 per cent of people think it would be unthinkable to elect Gordon Brown as Prime Minister for the next five years, while 44 per cent disagree. But 51 per cent say they personally feel no enthusiasm for the Conservative Party, with 42 per cent disagreeing with this statement.
ComRes telephoned 1001 GB adults between 26th and 28th March 2010. Data were weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
Conservative 38% (up 1%)
Labour 28% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 16% (up 1%)
Conservatives will be delighted with the first double digit lead in some while, which puts them back into overall majority territory.
There is also a ComRes poll tonight. The numbers are embargoed until 10pm but I can say that it is also good news for the Conservatives.
I was interested to read the Sunday Express story yesterday regarding Labour MP Anne Moffat’s threat to sue her own party over claims that she was driven out of the party through systematic bullying. Moffat claims that she was constantly harrassed and intimidated by party officials who wanted her out. Eventually she was deselected by the local party amid claims of sexual relationships with other MPs and some questionable expenses claims.
The story caught my eye because it is so redolent of the account given by former Reading East Labour MP, Jane Griffiths, of her experiences with the Reading Labour Party, leading to her eventual deselection. There are many similarities including the alleged misuse of party office by Labour Party officials and the apparent bullying that resulted.
To an outsider this could all seem just a personality clash or exaggerated claims. However, those of us who have encountered the Reading Labour Party at its worst know exactly what some of them are capable of. In the 2008 local elections two Conservative candidates were the subject of disgraceful personal attacks and smears. One made the local news when the current Labour Leader of the Council abused her position to make unsubstantiated allegations in the Council chamber. Allegations that she said were so serious that they would bar the person from ever being alone with a woman or vulnerable person; so serious that Labour never reported them to the Police; and so serious that Labour have since taken no further action when threatened with one of the country’s top libel lawyers. Fortunately both victims of Labour’s personal attacks were elected.
We should also not forget the Damian McBride scandal, when someone at the heart of 10 Downing Street was found to be planning a disgusting smear campaign of lies and inuendo against a number of Conservative MPs. Gordon Brown was eventually forced to accept McBride’s resignation but McBride was unusual for the crassness of his activities and the fact that he was caught out. When even the Prime Minister is alleged to bully junior members of his staff and take out his frustrations on inanimate objects, is it any wonder that his senior staff think that such behaviour is acceptable?
Having personally seen how Labour can operate and the depths they can plumb to try to gain electoral advantage, I am inclined to believe both Anne Moffat and Jane Griffiths. For what ever reason Jane Griffiths did not take legal action against Reading Labour Party but she clearly even now feels the pain of her experiences very deeply. If Anne Moffat does take action against her own party it will be interesting to see the outcome. It is a characteristic of bullies that they tend to run for cover when someone stands up to them, who they cannot bully into submission.
As we get closer to a general election, Labour’s carefully manicured image is falling apart. It is time for a change of government and as people see that Labour’s time is up I believe that more such stories will come out.
Today’s News of the World newspaper has announced its decision to switch from backing Labour to back David Cameron’s Conservative Party. This follows the decision of the Sun last year to switch to the Conservatives. The News of the World is the biggest selling Sunday newspaper and therefore its decision is significant.
The paper says today “it’s time for change and time for hope”. It backed Labour in the last three General Elections, having previously backed the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher. It also says that “David Cameron and the Tory party must be given a chance”.
Newspapers do not win or lose elections for parties on their own but they do help to set the tone in the run up to and during an election campaign. It is looking likely that Labour will only retain the support of the Mirror Group of papers, with the Guardian and Independent flirting with the Lib Dems and possibily joining The Times in declining to endorse any specific party. Almost all other newspapers will be backing the Conservatives.
There is a new BPIX poll reported in today’s Mail on Sunday which shows the Conservative lead increasing from the previous 2% to a more credible 7%:
Conservative 37% (up 1%)
Labour 30% (down 4%)
Lib Dem 20% (up 2%)
Possibly of more significance is the finding that the Conservatives have re-established a 14% lead among women, a group that had been less supportive in recent polls. This poll also suggests that the budget has damaged Labour and that the Conservatives are seen as the party most likely to be best to deal with the economic crisis.
When asked which car they saw Brown and Cameron as, voters chose a Jaguar for Cameron and a Robin Reliant for Brown!
BPIX fieldwork is conducted for it by YouGov although it does not publish its methodology or register with the British Polling Council.
Conservative 37% (down 1%)
Labour 32% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 19% (no change)
The changes shown above are compared to the previous Sunday Times poll.
Conservative 39% (up 1%)
Labour 31% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 19% (no change)
Conservatives will be pleased to almost be back to 40% after a series of problems for Gordon Brown in the last week or so. It is also the first suggestion that the Budget may have not been well received.
Reading West Conservative candidate Alok Sharma has launched a new campaign video as we get closer to the inevitable 6th May election date. It is a high quality production which focusses on the campaigns Alok has been involved in and the people he has helped, rather than being a party diatribe. Its professionalism contrasts sharply with his Labour opponent’s previous appearance on YouTube.
Watch Alok here:
One of the more interesting tasks of being a Councillor is the responsibilities outside of the Council itself. As I have blogged before, I sit on the Local Liaison Committee (LLC) of the Atomic Weapons Establishment based at Aldermaston and Burghfield. The majority of members of the liaison committee are members of the surrounding Parish Councils. However, there are a small number of Borough level Councillors and Reading has two nominees. We are appointed to represent Reading people and their interests in respect of the two establishments. I do that by meeting with and reporting back to one or two local interest group representatives. Unfortunately the second RBC nominee is Whitley Labour Councillor Jim Hanley. In his year as an RBC appointee he has not managed to attend a single meeting of the Liaison Committee.
The most recent meeting of the LLC was yesterday (Thursday 25 March) at AWE Aldermaston. We received a series of reports and then had a questions session with representatives of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.
January was a good month with a very low level of injuries and accidents on site but February had seen a marked rise in minor injury and accidents. Management put this down to people taking extra care during the period of heavy snow and then being a bit complacent when the snow melted. More worryingly AWE had received a warning letter from the Environment Agency (EA) in February resulting from an elevated pH reading at its outfall into Burghfield Brook. The readings have since returned to the normal range.
Also of some concern was a report on Radioactivity in Food and the Environment (RIFE) which identified elevated levels of Gamma radiation on the banks of the Thames at Pangbourne and Mapledurham. AWE management explained that whilst elevated these were within normal tolerances and were not necessarily emanating from AWE. A number of industrial and medical sources used radioactive material and could be the source. Nothing in the RIFE report proved a link to AWE. Worthy of note was that the EA had issued a positive audit response to AWE’s Site Waste Management Plan.
The site had suffered larger than usual protests on 15 February and at one point all gates to the site had been briefly blocked. Discussions were ongoing with Thames Valley Police to ensure that in the event of future protests one or more key gates would be kept open by Police.
We received a briefing on the new “Pegasus” building project and how an enclave was to be created to allow workers easier site access without compromising security for the working part of the rest of the site. Up to 1,000 construction workers were expected to be involved in the project at its peak.
A planning submission was expected to be sent to West Berkshire Council at the end of May for the new “Hydrus” hydro-dynamics building. It would be built on an area 14,000 square metres. Meetings had been held with English Heritage due to the fact that the new building would be not far from the Manor House and some changes had been made at English Heritage’s suggestion. The building would have 8 lightning protection towers that would be 40m high. However, very little would be visible from the Manor House.
At the end of the meeting one of the Parish Councillors asked whether there was any news about MoD plans to use existing nuclear sites to store nuclear waste and therefore whether waste would be stored at either of the AWE sites. We were told that an assessment was still underway and that LLC members would be updated once a decision was made. Clearly many people may have concerns if this was to be the case.
If any readers have any questions about AWE or this meeting report, let me know and I will endeavour to answer.
There is a new poll for Reuters from Ipsos Mori published tonight of some of the more difficult Labour held marginal seats on the Tories target list. This poll is of 56 seats requiring a 5% to 9% swing for the Tories to win:
Lib Dem 11%
As with other recent polls this suggests that Conservatives are doing better in the marginals than nationally. In this case while Labour has a 4% lead in these seats it has to be remembered that these are some of the harder marginals to win. The seats surveyed would be from target number 88 onwards.
Abbey – Andrew Waters
Andrew Waters is a local businessman and former police officer who has lived in Reading for the past 11 years with his wife and two young sons. Andrew believes that more could be done about retaining a sense of community for local residents, and ensuring people can live in a safe, clean environment.
Andrew is already working hard for the residents of Abbey Ward and has run campaigns to re-open the Jolly Anglers pub, to clean-up the Kennet canal, and to increase police action against drug dealing and antisocial behaviour.
Battle – Ali Asghar
Ali has been living in Berkshire for well over 38 years, the last eight of which have been in Reading where he runs a local taxi firm. He was our candidate in Battle Ward in 2008. Ali wants to win for the Conservatives in Battle so that he can help fix Labour’s failures. He believes that Battle and Reading needs a change from Labour and it is the Conservatives alone who now speak for the people of Reading and offer a common sense and practical vision for the future.
Caversham – Andrew Cumpsty
Andrew Cumpsty is Leader of the Conservative Group and lives in the centre of Caversham where he has served as a Councillor for six years. He has held monthly surgeries since his election in 2004. Andrew is campaigning for better value for money council services and a higher quality of their delivery for all Reading residents.
As well as being Chairman of his own company, Andrew is a director of two Reading charities. He also enjoys going to the Hexagon and swimming.
Church – Tim Harris
Tim Harris was elected as Councillor for Church ward in May 2007 and is the Conservative Lead Spokesman on Community Care. Tim has lived in South Reading for many years, and is a keen triathlete having represented Great Britain in the World Long Distance Triathlon Championships.
As a local resident, Tim is keen to improve transport, recycling, and get better value for money council services for all residents in the local community. He has a passion for fairness and getting things done.
Katesgrove – Emily Fraser
Emily is currently studying for a Masters degree in Meteorology at the University of Reading. She takes a keen interest in climate change and was recently invited to speak at the Copenhagen UN Climate negotiations in December 2009. Emily is committed to changing the UK and its government for the better. She is passionate about local issues and improving the wellbeing and lifestyle of all those living and working in Katesgrove. She is keen to support local residents to get better quality council services.
Emily’s other interests include charity work, volunteering at local schools and events, and cleaning up the local environment.
Kentwood – Jenny Rynn
Jenny was born in Tilehurst and went to Alfred Sutton Girls School in Reading. She then went to live in South Africa for 6 years and on her return settled back into living in Reading. She has lived in Kentwood for 21 years. Jenny works for a large accountancy firm in Reading and has been your Kentwood councillor for the last four years which, she says, has been a very rewarding role.
Minster – Simon Bazley
Having first moved to Reading in 2000, Simon has previously been a local election candidate in 2004 and he currently works as a software engineer in the centre of Reading. Simon has a particular interest in planning issues and has been involved in the Bath Road Reservoir campaign. He is keen to reduce the amount of poor quality development in Reading and to work to ensure, that through the planning system, we get development that is right for Reading, not just needless urban sprawl.
Simon also has an interest in the general efficiency and fairness of the council.
Norcot – Nazia Bashir
Nazia has lived in Reading most of her life, graduated with a LLB Law Degree and a Diploma in Law in Legal Practice. At present she is working for a local firm as well as being involved in voluntary work for the local community. Nazia first got involved in politics at University, and would like to make a real difference to the quality of people’s daily lives. She enjoys working with local residents to help solve some of the problems that they may have and support the needs of the local community.
Nazia is a dedicated, committed and hard working individual who will make a tremendous difference to her ward.
Park – John Walker
John has lived in Reading since 1997. He is married and has two children, both of whom were born in Reading and attend local schools. Interested in community issues for many years, John’s first involvement in campaigning was with schools admissions policy issues in 2004 when he successfully fought to end first preference selection for entry to primary schools.
He is a long-time supporter of several charities including the RSPB, the Campaign for Real Ale, the local Wildlife Trust and he is also involved with Beavers and Cubs.
Peppard – Mark Ralph
Mark Ralph was first elected as a Councillor for Peppard Ward in 2004 and is Conservative Lead Spokesman for Education and Lifelong Learning. He has lived in Caversham with his family since 1991 and has been a Governor at Micklands Primary School since 2003.
Mark has campaigned hard to protect public transport, health and social services for older residents. He has also worked closely with Caversham police to reduce graffiti and anti-social behaviour.
Mark is committed to tackling building over-development and traffic concerns, and to lowering Council Tax.
Redlands – Leo Lester
Leo Lester first moved to the area in 2004 to study at Reading University. In 2006 he joined a local company and now works in Thames Valley Business Park. Leo is very concerned about the environment, crime, education, and helping local communities and is actively campaigning for change. Leo has worked with Crimestoppers to tackle crime on the university campus. He cycles to work and wants to see improvements made to the poor state of Reading’s roads.
He has been a Governor at Phoenix College since 2005 and has been a volunteer instructor at a Sea Cadet Unit for many years.
Southcote – Robert Vickers
Robert Vickers has been married for 38 years, to Sandra (who is our candidate in Tilehurst Ward); they have four children and three grandchildren. He has lived in Reading all his life and has lived in Southcote ward for nearly 16 years. Rob works for a local housing association and is the GMB union shop steward. This role has given Rob experience of standing up for and representing his colleagues and developing sensible solutions.
Having expertise in the building trade, Rob believes he can bring a common sense and practical approach to the work of Reading Borough Council and give him an informed understanding of planning, building and infrastructure. He also has a great interest in the environment and keeping open spaces.
Thames – David Stevens
David Stevens has served as a Councillor in Thames Ward for the last 6 years and is Conservative Lead Spokesman on Corporate Affairs and Finance for the Conservative group. He is also Chairman of the Council’s Corporate, Community and External Affairs Scrutiny Panel. David lives with his wife and three children in Reading and commutes daily to London. He is passionate about getting value-for-money services for residents, investing in good quality schools and keeping the neighbourhood safe and clean for the community.
Tilehurst – Sandra Vickers
Sandra has lived in Reading all her life and has been married for 38 years to Robert (who is standing in Southcote Ward.) They have four children and three grandchildren. When the children were young she helped out at their schools by doing fundraising, listening to the children read and cook, helping on outings and anything else where parents were needed. She has worked in two local schools as a secretary and dinner lady.
Sandra has spent most of her life in Tilehurst and wants to get more involved in the policies and changes being made not only in that area but in Reading as a whole. She is passionate about all local issues including education, elderly health care and preserving open spaces for our children to play in.
Whitley – James Anderson
James is a local man, having grown up and attended schools in Reading. His working life has largely been sales based, specifically with Mann Countrywide Estate Agents and, more recently, with Global Radio, owners of the HEART Radio Group. Currently, he works in the building sector. James is actively involved with helping young people in Whitley, and across the town, through the voluntary community work he has been doing with Lighthouse Kidz Church. Currently he runs ‘The Gap’ community youth club in Whitley as well as managing a local football team.
With strong links in the local community, James has a real understanding of the change Whitley needs.
Conservative 35% (down 1%)
Labour 28% (no change)
Lib Dem 17% (down 1%)
For some reason Harris continues to show very high figures for the minor parties. This week “others” are on an incredible 20%!
There is a new YouGov poll in tonight’s London Evening Standard newspaper showing voting intentions across the capital. Changes shown are compared to the 2005 election result in London:
Conservative 40% (up 8%)
Labour 31% (down 8%)
Lib Dem 18% (down 4%)
This suggests an even bigger swing than the London-wide poll reported earlier this month, which would lead to significant gains from both Labour and the Lib Dems.
I have been following the latest news of Labour sleaze allegations with growing incredulity. Tonight Channel 4 broadcast the heavily trailed documentary in which several senior Labour former Ministers stated their price to an undercover reporter. Steven Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon reportedly asked for £3-5,000 per day for lobbying the Government on behalf of various causes. Byers was particularly full of his own importance with claims of past success in lobbying Ministers and getting policy changed.
Interestingly as soon as the story broke Byers denied almost everything he was recorded as having said to the undercover reporter. So he is either lying now or was lying to the reporter. Simples! The Government Ministers he claimed to have lobbied also denied that Byers had ever had any influence on their decisions, although curiously, the outcome of the decisions Byers described were accurate.
It was around a year ago that Labour was mired in a series of sleaze allegations around “Smeargate” and an operation based in Downing Street to smear political opponents. The new allegations do not implicate 10 Downing Street and ironically seem to mainly involve some of Gordon Brown’s arch internal opponents. Hewitt and Hoon were the two organisers of the new year botched coup to remove Gordon Brown as Labour Leader and Prime Minister. It is no surprise therefore that tonight the three (Hoon, Hewitt and Byers) have had the Labour Whip suspended. Despite the damage that this does to Labour just weeks before a General Election, Brown can be forgiven a wry smile at the fate of those who sought so ineptly to remove him from office.
Once again Tony Blair’s promises that Labour would bring a “new politics” and be “whiter than white” have been shown up for the hot air that they were then and now. It will be very interesting to see what impact tonight’s revelations have on the polls. If the impression of a sleazy government on its last legs sticks, it will contribute to a defeat of the order of 1997 for Labour come 6th May.
UPDATE: A fourth Labour MP has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party. Luton South MP Margaret Moran has become the latest to lose the Whip.