Richard Willis's Blog

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Sanity is Restored to the Cabinet Ranking List

One of the many disgraceful things about the last Labour government was the low ranking that was given to the Defence Secretary in the Cabinet pecking order. When Bob Ainsworth was appointed he was given a lowly ranking of 21 out of 23 Cabinet members, the lowest ever position for a Defence Secretary, and at a time when conflict was ongoing in Afghanistan.

The Cabinet rankings for David Cameron’s new Cabinet have now been published and they restore more traditional rankings for Cabinet members, with Defence Secretary Liam Fox receiving a senior position at number 7 (up 14 places). Philip Hammond at Transport, another area in which I have a close interest, is up 8 places at 14, up from second from the bottom in Gordon Brown’s heirarchy.

Former Conservative leader William Hague takes third place in the list behind Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and one place ahead of Chancellor George Osborne. This is the first time that the Foreign Secretary has been ranked ahead of the Chancellor but reflects the fact that Hague is Cameron’s Conservative Party deputy in all but name. Former leader Iain Duncan-Smith as Work and Pensions Secretary is up 9 places and ranked at 9.

Those dropping down the pecking order include Environment (down 7), International Development (down 7), Business (down 5) and Leader of the House of Lords (down 7). Business Secretary Vince Cable’s lower ranking is more a reflection of the relative exalted ranking that Peter Mandelson enjoyed in the post, as deputy to Gordon Brown.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | National | 2 Comments

BREAKING NEWS – David Laws Has Resigned from the Cabinet

Just a couple of weeks into the life of the new coalition government the first resignation from the Cabinet has been reported. The irony is that the cause was the issue that so dominated the last Labour government, namely that of sleaze. The Daily Telegraph which exposed so many MPs and Ministers of all parties ran an expose that Lib Dem MP David Laws had been claiming public money which he had paid to his partner in rent, against Parliamentary rules. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury Laws was the man responsible for the allocation of public money and therefore the allegations were doubly damaging.

Laws is very much on the right of his own party and is one of the Lib Dem MPs that is popular on the Conservative benches. His stock rose even further when he set out the arguments for cutting the deficit in the House of Commons and made mincemeat of Shadow Chancellor Alastair Darling in the process. He was seen as a rising star of the coalition government and one who had usurped Vince Cable’s reputation for economic wisdom.

The loss of Laws from the Treasury team is a severe blow to the new government but his swift action in repaying the money in question, referring himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and his resignation should allow him to return to the front benches in due course. Undoubtedly he committed an error in judgement but as Iain Dale has highlighted if he were seeking to profit from the public purse he could have claimed far more money from other ruses used by other MPs.

I have the highest regard for David Laws and have long thought that in earlier times he would have found a warm welcome in the Conservative Party. Now he must return to the back benches for a time but I am sure he will be back in due course. The time he spends in exile will probably depend to a large extent on the findings of the Parliamentary Standards  Commissioner.

Tonight both the government and the Lib Dems have lost a man of stature and wisdom.

UPDATE: Danny Alexander has replaced Laws in the Treasury and Michael Moore will be Secretary of State for Scotland.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | National | 14 Comments

Thirsk & Malton Delivers a Resounding Tory Win

When the General Election results were rolling in during the early hours of Friday 7 May one constituency was missing. Thirsk and Malton was not declared with the other seats due to the fact that the UKIP candidate unfortunately died during the campaign and therefore could not be replaced. As a result the vote in Thirsk and Malton had to be postponed.

The seat is a new one created by the Boundary Commission during the last review and therefore the 2005 “result” shown is notional. The notional 2005 result was of a sizeable Conservative majority, with Labour in second place and the Lib Dems in third. This time a Conservative victory was never in doubt but the unusual circumstances of a delayed poll and having it immediately following £6.2bn of cuts in public spending could have led to an upset in different circumstances. The campaign was at times bitter with the Conservatives and Lib Dem candidates trading blows over their respective expenses claims. However, the results declared were unsurprising, with the Lib Dems overtaking Labour, who slumped badly losing 10% of their vote share in the process.

The turnout was over 50% and there was a 5.5% swing from Labour to the Conservatives. Ann MacIntosh MP therefore joins her colleagues in the Commons as the 307th Conservative MP elected at the 2010 General Election.

The full results were as follows:

    Conservative – 20,167 (52.9%)

    Lib Dem – 8,886 (23.3%)

    Labour – 5,169 (13.5%)

    UKIP – 2,502 (6.6%)

    Liberal – 1,418

May 28, 2010 Posted by | National | Leave a comment

New Combat Uniform for British Forces in Afghanistan

British troops in Afghanistan are sporting a new look this spring as their uniform changes for the first time in over 40 years.

Photographs issued by the MOD show Service personnel on the frontline wearing uniform in a new Multi Terrain Pattern camouflage. It has been designed to work across the range of terrains to reflect the diverse landscape that our troops encounter on patrol in Helmand Province. This is part of MOD’s ongoing programme of work to provide the best possible equipment and support to the front line.

Soldiers that deployed to Afghanistan in April, including members of the Royal Dragoon Guards, were the first to be issued with the new uniform. It will be issued to all military personnel by 2012.

The new camouflage was trialled in laboratory tests and field evaluations. This included aerial and scientific photography to provide the right colours and brightness to make the new camouflage pattern. Computer modelling was used to represent the Green Zone, deserts and mixed environments in Afghanistan.

Colonel Stephen James, Project Team Leader for Defence Equipment and Support Clothing Team, who was responsible for delivering the new pattern to operations, said: “This is the first time since 1968 that we have introduced a new pattern to UK Forces. We have presented the new designs to the US Department of Defense and following our recommendations, the US Army are about to adopt the same technology for their uniform in Afghanistan.”

May 27, 2010 Posted by | Defence | 1 Comment

A New Era Dawns for Reading Borough

Following the announcement of a Conservative / Lib Dem coalition to run Reading a lot of hard work has continued to finalise the terms of the agreement and the Cabinet that will form the administration.

It is the first time in 27 years that Labour has not formed the administration in Reading and therefore we approached the task with enthusiasm and energy, and a positive attitude.

The number of Cabinet posts has been cut to nine and the Special Responsibility Allowances have all been cut by 10%. With the Lib Dems having a total of 9 Councillors and the Conservatives 17, it was agreed that the Cabinet posts should be allocated on a 1:2 ratio.

The new Cabinet is therefore:

   Leader of the Council – Cllr Andrew Cumpsty (Cons)

   Deputy Leader of the Council – Cllr Kirsten Bayes (Lib Dem)

   Finance & Service Improvement – Cllr David Stevens (Cons)

   Communities, Voluntary Sector, Economic Development & Performance – Cllr Mike Townend (Cons)

   Culture & Sport – Cllr Tom Stanway (Cons)

   Education & Children’s Services – Cllr Mark Ralph (Cons)

   Environment & Sustainability – Cllr Warren Swaine (Lib Dem)

   Community Care, Housing & Health – Cllr Daisy Benson (Lib Dem)

   Strategic Planning & Transport – Cllr Richard Willis (Cons)

The following Chairmen of Committees were appointed:

   Licensing – Cllr Jeanette Skeats (Cons) / Vice Chmn – Cllr Glenn Goodall (Lib Dem)

   Planning – Cllr Isobel Ballsdon (Cons) / Vice Chmn – Cllr Kirsten Bayes (Lib Dem)

   Personnel – Cllr Kirsten Bayes (Lib Dem) / Vice Chmn – Cllr Tom Steele (Cons)

   Standards – Mr J Hicks / Vice Chmn – Cllr Peter Beard (Lib Dem)

In addition I was very pleased to see Cllr Jenny Rynn nominated as Deputy Mayor and therefore will normally be Mayor next year. The Mayor for this year will be Labour’s Cllr Gul Khan.

Labour were pretty subdued tonight, although they pulled the futile gesture of calling for a recorded vote on the unopposed nomination of Cllr Andrew Cumpsty as Leader of the Council. Unsurprisingly they were defeated on the vote. It was an early lesson for some of the powerlessness of opposition.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | Local | 22 Comments

New ICM Poll – Tories 7% Ahead of Labour

There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian which confirms the post election pattern of Labour re-asserting themselves strongly in second place and the Lib Dems well behind Labour:

            Conservative              39% (up 1%)

                                                  Labour                       32% (down 1%) 

                                                  Lib Dem                      21% (no change) 

Changes are compared to the Sunday Telegraph ICM poll a week ago.

May 24, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

The Axe Begins to Fall on Labour’s Waste

Today the Treasury has announced where the intial tranche of £6.2bn of savings will be made. Health, Defence and International Development have been protected but some other departments face some big cuts in their budgets.

The new Government has been keen to stress that front-line services will not be affected and schools and SureStart have also been identified for protection from cuts. This gives the lie to the many Labour scares during the election campaign that there were Conservative “plans to scrap SureStart”.

Child Trust Funds will be cut and there will be a recruitment freeze in the Civil Service. A number of quangos and IT projects will be scrapped as promised.

The savings by department are:

Department of Transport – £683m

Communities and Local Government – £780m

Local Government DEL – £405m

Business – £836m

Home Office – £367m

Department for Education – £670m

Ministry of Justice £325m

Law Officers Department – £18m

Foreign Office – £55m

Energy and Climate Change – £85m

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – £162m

Culture, Media and Sport – £88m

Department for Work and Pensions – £535m

Chancellor’s Departments – £451m

Cabinet Office – £79m

Devolved administrations – £704m

May 24, 2010 Posted by | National | 1 Comment

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Now that the election is out of the way something resembling normal life can resume. Last night I went to see the new film “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”at the Vue Cinema Reading. I wasn’t sure what to expect and hadn’t read any reviews before seeing the film. In summary it could be characterised as Indiana Jones meets “Troy” with a heavy dose of comedy thrown in.

The film is an offshoot from two existing video games and revolves around the life of Dastan, an orphan in the sixth century Persian Empire who is adopted by the King after seeing him react with bravery to a street incident. Fifteen years later Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is part of an invasion of a holy city ruled by the beautiful Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and he takes possession of a magical dagger through which the sands of time can run reversing time.

When the King is murdered, suspicion falls on Prince Dastan and he is then hunted throughout the empire as he seeks to uncover the truth and prevent the dagger falling into the wrong hands. He is forced to work with Princess Tamina who is constantly seeking to recover the magical dagger from him and return it herself to safety in the holy city. During their travels they encouter Sheik Amar, a comedic character who runs ostrich races and hates all taxes.

The film contains plenty of action and fight scenes, especially when Dastan encounters the deadly Hassansins (assassins) and there was no point throughout the 1 hour 55 minutes where I lost concentration or looked at my watch. The plot is well woven but occasionally the script is slightly weaker. Casting is excellent and Jake Gyllenhaal maintains a credible British accent. As you would expect Ben Kingsley as Prince Nizam is first class and as the film unfolds plays a larger role than his initial part as the King’s brother would imply.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend it to anyone who likes the action-adventure fantasy genre.

May 23, 2010 Posted by | General Musings | Leave a comment

Votes Cast in Reading Local Elections

There has been some debate today on the Reading Post website about the recent local election results in Reading, so I thought it would be worth posting the actual votes cast across the borough of Reading. For many years I have kept tables of local election results by ward in Reading, which come in very useful when looking at trends.

Of course there were major boundary changes in some wards in 2004 but the overall votes shares for the borough as a whole are a useful indicator.

   Total votes cast in Reading Borough local elections by Party 2010 were:

           Conservative – 23,449 (35.1%)

           Labour – 20,773 (31.1%)

           Lib Dem – 17,128 (25.7%)

           Green – 4,457 (6.7%)

           UKIP – 428 (0.6%)

           Others – 510 (0.8%)

This is the fourth set of local elections in a row when the Conservatives have topped the poll across Reading and yet Labour remains (just) the largest party. At over 23,000 votes it is also the largest number of votes cast for the Conservatives in any local election since my records began in 1983. Labour continued their slow decline in vote share, which has been pretty consistent over the last ten years. The Lib Dems saw a big jump in their vote share this year but still failed to quite reach the levels they attained in 2002 and 2003.

May 20, 2010 Posted by | Local | 9 Comments

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to Provide New Leadership for Reading

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups on Reading Borough Council today announced that they are finalising an agreement with each other to form a majority administration to run Reading Borough Council.

At the recent local elections over 60% of the votes cast were for the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. Following the example of the two parties in national government, the two council groups embarked on a process of negotiation that resulted in this agreement to work together.

The agreement to work as a coalition is driven by a shared desire to deliver change and improve services.  A key objective of the coalition administration will be to put the council finances on a firm footing after many years of Labour mismanagement.

There is undoubtedly an appetite for change in Reading and this year, as in the previous three local elections, the Conservatives achieved the most votes across Reading Borough. By agreeing to work together with the Liberal Democrats I very much hope that we can deliver some much needed change for the people of Reading. At the local elections our number one pledge was a freeze in Council Tax and I am sure that most people in Reading will welcome some relief from the seeming constant increases under Labour.

A coalition will bring its own stresses and tensions but with goodwill from both sides it can be made to work for the benefit of the whole town.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

YouGov Poll – Labour Up and Lib Dems Down

Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report has spotted a YouGov poll that was in last weekend’s Sunday Times:

            Conservative              37% (up 2%)

            Labour                       34% (up 6%)

                                          Lib Dem                     21% (down 7%)

Changes shown are compared to the final pre-election YouGov poll and confirms Labour up significantly at Lib Dem expense.

As Anthony says “Prime Ministerial approval ratings for David Cameron and Deputy PM approval ratings for Nick Clegg were both pretty much as you’d expect in a honeymoon period: good net positives (+36 for Cameron and +32 for Clegg), but with high levels of don’t knows for both (40% in each case) as people haven’t really had much time to judge yet. Other questions on the coalition were pretty much in line with the findings we’ve seen elsewhere – people are broadly positive, but don’t expect it to last 5 years.”

May 18, 2010 Posted by | Polls | 3 Comments

New Routemaster Buses Revealed

Boris Johnson has delivered on another one of his manifesto pledges by unveiling an updated version of the much loved Routemaster bus. Boris made a point of pledging to scrap Ken Livingstone’s “bendy buses” which have suffered some unfortunate accidents and were not popular with other road users or even bus passengers. Despite the age of the Routemaster design it was popular with most bus passengers and campaigns were fought to keep them in service.

The new Routemaster bus will have two doors, as well as an open platform allowing passengers to get on and off wherever they want. The bus will be 40 per cent more fuel efficient than existing diesel double-deckers. Boris’s office says it will have two staircases and be manufactured from lightweight materials and glass to produce a “light and airy feel inside”. However, critics have slated the rumoured cost of the new design and we will have to wait at least 18 months before any arrive on the streets of London.

After some of the recent disasters in Reading Buses procurement of eco-buses I believe we should watch London Transport’s experience with the new Routemaster carefully before even considering the possibility of introducing them to Reading.

May 18, 2010 Posted by | National | 4 Comments

New ICM Poll – Tories and Labour Up at Lib Dem Expense

The first post-election ICM poll in today’s Sunday Telegraph confirms the ComRes poll which shows the Lib Dems losing support to Labour:

            Conservative              38% (up 2%)

                                                  Labour                       33% (up 5%) 

                                                  Lib Dem                      21% (down 5%) 

As with ComRes I have shown changes from the final election ICM poll.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New ComRes Poll – Labour Gain at Lib Dem Expense

The first post-election ComRes poll has been published in today’s Independent on Sunday and shows the Lib Dems leaching support to Labour (compared to the last ComRes poll):

               Conservative            38% (up 1%)

                                        Labour                      34% (up 6%)

                                        Lib Dem                    21% (down 7%) 

Some .organisations have given the change compared to the General Election result but this is misleading in my view. The only valid comparison is with the previous ComRes poll.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

The Next Generation of Space Vehicles – X-37B

With President Obama reportedly scaling back some of NASA’s more ambitious plans I was interested to read reports that a new generation of unmanned space vehicles is already in production for the US Air Force (USAF). For some time rumours have swirled around so-called “top secret” space planes or space bombers and there is no doubt that America’s rivals will be taking a keen interest in such stories.

The space shuttle programme is nearing its end and there is no obvious similar successor in the pipeline to service the International Space Station. The US however, has a long record of developing futuristic aircraft in secret and maintaining that secret for considerable periods of time. The stealth fighter (F117) and stealth bomber (B-2) were examples of this. It is therefore perfectly possibly that a range of new space and air vehicles are currently in development.

The reports of the X-37 project suggest that it is unmanned and capable of acting as a substitute for the space shuttle as well as carrying various weapons systems into space. Now run by the USAF it has developed into the X-37B and a test flight blast off from Cape Canaveral at the end of last month. Details of the mission and the fit of the X-37B remain classified but I would be interested to hear from any reader who can provide links to other up to date information on developing new generation space vehicles.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Defence, International | 2 Comments