There is a new ComRes poll published in tomorrow’s Independent which shows the Labour lead over the Conservatives further narrowing to just 4%:
Conservative 35% (down 1%)
Labour 39% (down 3%)
Lib Dem 12% (up 1%)
Labour is ahead of the Tories among the bottom DE social group (by 45 to 30 per cent); among the C2 skilled manual workers (by 44 to 33 per cent) and the C1 lower middle class (by 38 to 33 per cent). However, the Tories enjoy a big lead (by 41 to 33 per cent) among the top AB group.
Although Labour is ahead in every other region, it trails the Tories by 46 to 29 per cent in the South East, which includes London. There is also a divide between the young and the old. Labour is ahead among voters between the ages of 18 and 54. It is neck and neck with the Tories among 55-64 year-olds but David Cameron’s party has a big lead (50 to 30 per cent) among those aged 65 and over.
Although last year’s slump in Liberal Democrat support appears to have bottomed out, only half (50 per cent) of those who voted for Nick Clegg’s party at last year’s election say they would do so now, while 29 per cent say they would back Labour.
ComRes telephoned 1,007 GB adults on 25-27 February 2011.
Two more sets off traffic lights will be switched off over the next fortnight as Reading Borough Council’s major review of traffic signals across the town continues. Today (February 28), the traffic lights at Gosbrook Road, junction with Westfield Road, were switched off. The pedestrian crossing has been retained to aid pedestrians crossing the road.
From the following week – Monday March 7 – the traffic lights at the Meadway, junction with Combe Road, will also be removed. Again the pedestrian crossing will remain in place. And on Monday March 14, works will begin to remove the hated ‘build-out’ on London Road, at the junction with Eldon Road.
Earlier this year I ordered a major review of traffic light controlled junctions. Reading Borough Council asked residents to participate in the wholesale review, gauging opinion on which junctions flow well and those where improvements could be made. 28 junctions were proposed by the public for removing or changing the lights. 20 junctions across town were identified by Officers where it may be possible safely to introduce changes – or even remove traffic lights altogether – in order to speed up journey times.
The traffic lights at Jackson’s Corner, on the Kings Road junction with Duke Street and High Street, were switched off late last year following a detailed safety audit, as part of the Council’s on-going commitment to remove delays for motorists wherever possible.
The work at Gosbrook Road, the Meadway and London Road, continues the process of implementing changes. Further improvements as a part of the traffic signal review will be reported to a meetings of the Transport Management Advisory Panel on 17th March.
Transport officers will now continue the process of looking into key factors, like casualty information and limitations due to the size and make-up of junctions, before further changes are made at the remaining recommended junctions.
‘The programme of reviewing and removing unnecessary traffic lights is proceeding well. Each junction has to undergo an exhaustive safety review before changes are made but I am pleased that more lights have now been cleared to come out. The removal of the hated ‘build out’ at the London Road/Eldon Road junction will help to increase the capacity along London Road which should improve traffic flows. Further junctions will be announced in the near future.
Reading has seen significant changes in development over the past decade which have seen traffic patterns alter considerably. Significant new developments have created varying demands on the town’s road network and research shows there has been a significant increase in the use of public transport, walking and cycling. Work has confirmed that traffic patterns have changed and some key junctions would operate more effectively if they were revised. The junctions that have been recognised to date are mainly traffic signalised junctions.
There is a new YouGov poll published in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives static at just 4%:
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 20 February.
On Tuesday night Reading Borough Council met to conduct its usual business and debate the first Conservative / Lib Dem budget, after more than 20 years of Labour control. The meeting began with a one minute silence in memory of Cllr Jim Hanley when all Councillors united in paying respects to a much loved member of the Council.
We then received petitions and answered questions from the public and Councillors. Despite the importance of the occasion there was not a single question from a member of the Labour Group! Questions are a time when backbenchers of all parties can ask for information on Council policies and actions and hold the administration to account. When we were in Opposition we spent a considerable time trying to winkle information out of Labour and Council questions are a good way of doing it, especially as you have a supplementary for which the Lead Councillor does not have advance notice. There were several questions from and about the Reading Council for Racial Equality’s funding which were fielded well by my colleague Cllr Jeanette Skeats.
Once questions had finished we moved on to debate the Budget and the setting of the Council Tax for 2011/12. My colleague Cllr David Stevens gave a tour de force pointing out that under Labour the Council Tax rose inexorably every year, usually by substantially more than inflation. He also noted that if all of Labour’s spending pledges and opposition to cuts and efficiencies were added up then Labour would have to increase Council Tax by 30%!
Despite the difficult financial hand dealt to us by the Government, local Conservatives and Lib Dems were determined to deliver the Council Tax freeze we had promised in our Coalition document; a freeze which Labour said couldn’t be done and which they had failed to ever deliver despite the much more generous financial settlements they received when they were in office nationally. During that time of bountiful funding they had also managed to rack up the Council’s debt from £41m in 2001 to £200m in 2010!
Several measures were essential to achieve the freeze. First of all when we took control we ensured strict financial control to prevent the massive in-year over-spends which so characterised Labour’s years. We knew that times would be tough this year and by prudent management we ended the year under-spent by £400k. This is £400k which does not have to be found now when times are harder. Secondly, we began our budget review almost as soon as we took over. We have spent months considering ways of delivering services more efficiently, and whether some services should be delivered by the Council at all. We also considered ways that additional funds could be raised in order to protect frontline services from cuts.
I was very open when we introduced Pay and Display in the town centre (in 198 bays) that this was a way of raising additional funds. As it was a new scheme for Reading Officers were very cautious with their estimate of the funds it could raise but I am very pleased that it is raising considerably more than expected, which has allowed us to take off the overnight charges and make some other parking concessions elsewhere. I was also keen that we should be fair to motorists, which is why short-term Council car park (around 8,000 spaces) charges were frozen last month, and many long term charges cut, in sharp contrast to Labour’s 15% average increase imposed last year.
The rest of the Budget was also carefully crafted and in fact delivers a spending increase over the 2010/11 budget of £1.5m. There is £912k extra for people with Learning Disabilities, £836k extra for Older People’s Services, £250k extra for people with mental health problems, £416k extra for children and families. We also increased the amount of money going to the Voluntary Sector and have restructured the way that much of the money is allocated. For many groups they will now have to apply for funding and submit a case supporting their application. This means that groups like the RCRE will no longer automatically receive one of their block grants and will have to apply with others. RCRE will however continue to receive a large grant for their Alafia project and free office accommodation from the Council. Others like Readibus who provide a well regarded transport service for the elderly and disabled have had their grant completely protected for a further year. The Council has also for the first time provided a substantial grant to the Nepalese/Gurkha community; a community which has done so much for this country and were sadly neglected by Labour.
There is much more I could say about the detail of the budget but will have to save for another posting. Back to the debate in the chamber we were expecting that Labour would move a shadow budget, giving details of how they would have done things differently. This is difficult to do in opposition but Labour have only recently lost office and therefore still have a large amount of experience on their benches. With Officer help they could have moved a budget and pointed out the cuts that they would have made in contrast to ours. However, they didn’t. Instead they moved three rather woolly amendments which clearly had not been well thought through.
We know that Labour spent very little time on these because just last Thursday the Labour Group Leader emailed her amendment and description of tactics to the whole of the Conservative/ Lib Dem Cabinet! In her email it was notable that there was not one mention of the people of Reading, rather she was concerned about her Group’s political position and the “bind” they would be in if any of their amendments were accepted. We saved her that embarrassment by voting down Labour’s amendments as they were either vague and un-costed or simply inaccurate. The fourth amendment came from the Council’s only Green Party Councillor, who wanted to take money out of the small grants pot and give it to RCRE. At least his motion was coherent and costed but it was not one that the Coalition could support. An unusual aspect of the budget debate was that despite all the Greens’ noise about “cuts”, their one Councillor abstained on almost every vote. When he did vote he voted with Labour.
After the Budget was passed the Council turned to debate three motions. The first motion noted Cllr Swaine’s resignation from his role as Lead Councillor for the Environment and appointed Cllr Ricky Duveen to replace him. The second was a typically squalid motion from Labour calling on Cllr Swaine to resign from the Council over remarks he made on Twitter. The motion had no validity as the Council cannot force a Councillor to resign as a Councillor by resolution. Labour were merely moving it to try to score some petty political points against Cllr Swaine and the Coalition. Council Leader Cllr Andrew Cumpsty came well armed with a quotation from the Labour Leader who had defended one of her former colleagues in similar circumstances and was able to point out Labour’s hypocrisy on the matter. There were some very glum faces on the Labour benches at this point.
Finally, the Council debated a motion committing the Council to openness and transparency. After a sometimes fractious evening I had hoped that we would end on a more positive note. Cllrs Bayes and Cumpsty pointed out the administration’s decision to put all invoices over £500 on-line as one example of making the Council’s dealings more transparent to the public. Labour instantly moved an amendment which they said tried to enhance our motion but it contained several inaccuracies and so was voted down. The motion was eventually passed unamended and at around 1140pm the Council meeting closed.
There is a new Ipsos MORI/Reuters poll reported today showing no change, with Labour maintaining a 10% lead over the Conservatives:
Conservative 33% (no change)
Labour 43% (no change)
Lib Dem 13% (no change)
MORI find that the Yes to AV team have taken a 12% lead over the No’s, with 49% in favour of AV and 37% wanting to keep FPTP.
I have written before about the symbiotic link between the Labour Party and many of the biggest Trades Unions. Nationally the Labour Party has survived for years on the huge donations given to them by the biggest Unions. The Unions also provide facilities to many local Labour parties, fund their candidates and run poster campaigns against other parties.
Here in Reading we now know that under Labour, Council Tax Payers’ money was used to pay for three full-time staff for the local major Trades Unions. The cost of £1.4m over 12 years was exposed recently following the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition taking control of Reading Borough Council after 20+ years of Labour misrule.
Today’s figures for Party donations published by the Electoral Commission have revealed the shocking fact that 88% of Labour Party funds came from Trades Unions in the period October to December 2010.
Overall the Conservatives received the most money, £3.2m, Labour received £2.5m and the Lib Dems received £465,000. Individual donations to Labour have all but dried up leaving them even more heavily dependent on Trades Unions to service their debt interest.
Labour’s problems were further confirmed by the debts revealed as part of the same report. Labour has debts of £9.8m, the Conservatives £2.6m and the Lib Dems £481,000.
There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian showing a Labour lead of just 3% due to a 1% fall in Labour support:
Conservative 35% (no change)
Labour 38% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 18% (up 3%)
Conservatives will be delighted to be so close to Labour in this poll, despite what had seemed a widening gap between the tow parties. This is the highest score for the Lib Dems this year and they will be very pleased to appear to be continuing their polling recovery from the depths of just 8% achieved in some polls.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,008 adults aged 18 and above by telephone on 18-20 February 2011.
I have been following the debate around electoral reform with interest. Yesterday David Cameron explained why he would be urging the British people to vote to keep the existing First Past the Post system (FPTP) and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg set out his support for changing to the Alternative Vote (AV) system.
The two campaigns are cross-party and my party has given its membership an effective “free vote” to campaign on whichever side they wish, athough the national party machine will be arguing to keep FPTP. Almost all Conservatives I have heard from are supporting the “No” campaign and every Lib Dem I am aware of is supporting the “Yes” campaign. Labour seems to be divided between the current party leadership which is in the “Yes” camp and many former senior figures who are backing the “No” campaign.
The arguments advanced so far seem to me to be pretty simplistic, and sometimes very personalised. The “No” campaign argues that the current FPTP system is simple and understood, and that AV would lead to hung Parliaments and greater influence for minority extremist parties. They have also stated that a change would lead to (the currently unpopular) Nick Clegg being an almost constant “kingmaker”. The “Yes” campaign is keen to stress the “fairness” argument and emphasise that MPs would have to “work harder” in order to gain the second and subsequent preferences of more people.
So what is the Alternative Vote system and how does it differ from the current FPTP system? The main practical difference for voters is that instead of having to decide on a single preferred candidate or party, the voter would be asked to rank candidates in order of preference. This is not a complicated process; voters would simply place a “1” next to their number one candidate, a “2” next to their second preference and so on. At present floating voters often like aspects of several parties’ manifestos but can only express a single choice. AV would allow them to rank the candidates and parties according to their various policies. In the current climate it is likely that a lot of Conservatives and Lib Dems would vote for the other party as their second preference.
Those who argue that this would help extremist parties must think that there is a vein of untapped support amongst the public for such parties. Rather than ignore them, under AV the major parties would have to address issues that cause a minority to drift to the extremes of politics.
The second key difference between AV and FPTP is that to be elected a candidate has to achieve more than 50% support in their constituency. At present many MPs are elected with the support of 40% or less of those voting. Under AV, the bottom candidate would be eliminated and the second preferences of their supporters would be redistributed. This would continue until one candidate achieved more than half of the support of those who voted. The effect could be that candidates from major parties would seek to gain a wider mandate than just their core vote.
Most independent commentators consider that AV would make the election of extremist candidates far LESS likely as extremists would be unlikely to gain the support of 50% of the electorate. Under FPTP an extremist candidate could be elected with less than a third of votes cast.
It is worth stating that AV is most definately not a form of Proportional Representation (PR). It is likely that election outcomes would be no more proportional than under FPTP. I would also treat the many calculations emerging showing how seats may have changed hands last May, with a great deal of caution. We know that under FPTP many voters vote tactically against a certain party or are influenced by the suggestion that their first choice of party may be a “wasted vote”. These factors would not be eliminated by AV but would become less important as voters felt that their ability to express differing degrees of support for different parties was more important. Suggestions that AV would inevitably lead to more hung Parliaments are therefore merely speculation. Changing the voting system would almost certainly lead to some changes in voting patterns and therefore electoral outcomes.
The AV system is also used in many elections around the world. The Australians use it for elections to their House of Representatives; the Irish use it for Presidential elections; the USA uses it widely for Mayoral, City and district elections; within the UK MPs use it for electing Chairmen of Commons Select Committees; and many clubs and societies in the UK use AV for their internal elections.
A final plus for AV in my view is that it would retain single member constituencies. One of the disadvantages of most forms of PR is that they would entail multi-member constituencies, thus diluting the close relationship between an MP and their consituents. AV would protect this important link.
I have long thought that AV was a good system for use at Parliamentary elections and I have heard nothing from the “No” campaign to persuade me otherwise. Indeed I have been annoyed by the misleading statements made by some in the “No” campaign. Just this morning I received a “No” pack from Conservative Campaign HQ which includes the misleading statement “Under AV, other people’s votes can be counted multiple times while yours is only counted once”. This is simply untrue! A Conservative in Liverpool or most of Scotland may find that their preferred candidate is eliminated in the early rounds of counting and that their second or third preference vote is redistributed to their chosen candidate.
Taking all factors into account on 5th May I will be voting “Yes” to change our electoral system to one which ensures that a winning MP has the support of at least half of those voting and which allows me to rank candidates in order of my preference.
I have just been sent this excellent clip from our recent tree planting session along Richfield Avenue:
There is a new YouGov poll published in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives increasing slightly to 7%:
Many British ex-Gurkhas and their families choose to settle in the UK, and Reading – along with Aldershot and Farnborough – is believed to be one of the UK’s focal points for Nepalese migration. With the ex-Gurkha community successfully acquiring British settlement rights in a high profile campaign, there is expected to be an increase in the number of ex-Gurkhas and their families settling in the UK, and in Reading itself.
Following detailed discussions, the Borough Council and Nepalese Community Leaders in Reading are both keen to work closely together to ensure newcomers to the town are fully integrated, become socially and economically active and that they are able to understand life in the UK.
Reading Borough Council has therefore proposed £45,000 towards three linked projects which together will help to establish a community-led system of support for individuals recently arrived in the UK, and which will eventually help the Nepalese Community to help themselves.
Under the proposal, £25,000 would be passed to the Reading & District Citizens Advice Bureau to provide a series of information sessions in East Reading for Nepalese migrants. Individual advice appointments could be made where necessary and advice materials would be provided in Nepali.
The same pot of money will help fund a Community Advisors training programme, open to young members of the Nepalese Community aged 18 to 30, so that in the future the community can provide help and advice to newcomers themselves. A ‘community coaching’ programme would also be set up aimed at supporting and empowering Nepalese women who would then become community coaches in their own right.
A total of £16,100 will be directed towards Reading Voluntary Action to create the new post of Development Worker for the Nepalese Community. The worker will ensure community members are accessing services and help already available to them and also provide help with things like form filling and taking on an advocacy role with individuals where necessary.
The proposal is also for £3,900 to go directly to the Greater Reading Nepalese Community Association (GRNCA) to rent office space which will enable them establish a local base in East Reading. This could then used by the development worker and local volunteers to provide a focal point for the community, and to access the services they need and to provide a small meeting place.
Jeanette Skeats, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Communities, Voluntary Sector and Enterprise, said: ‘I am delighted that at a time when budgets are under considerable pressure, we are able to extend this key financial support to the Nepalese community here in Reading. The money will provide the necessary kick-start to help the community train up volunteers from within the Nepalese community, who will then be able to carry out this vital support work themselves in future years.’
Krishna Neupane, Vice-Chair of the GRNCA, said: ‘The number of Nepalese citizens living in the Reading area has reached close to five thousand recently. This number is made up of diverse cultural groups, including ex-Gurkhas and their dependants, highly skilled migrants and students. Integrating such a diverse group has been a big challenge which the Greater Nepalese Community Association has had many meetings about with Reading Borough Council officers and councillors.
‘On behalf of the GRNCA I would therefore like to extend our sincere gratitude to the Council for which will be a big help in achieving our aims. I would also like to appeal to all GRNCA members to work together to take part in the training and workshop sessions and to help establish GRNCA as a recognised local charity in Reading area delivering a maximum quality services to its members.’
Gyanraj Rai, spokesman for the Ex-Gurkhas in Reading, added: ‘The retired Gurkhas are very happy that Reading Borough Council has seen fit to find money to assist settling in Reading. The way the money is divided will allow the provision of a focal point for ex-Gurkhas, many who don’t have much English, to get advice where they have no experience of the protocol expected.’
There is a new ComRes poll published today in the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirrow which shows the Labour lead over the Conservatives cut to 6%:
Conservative 36% (up 2%)
Labour 42% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 11% (up 1%)
ComRes have shown their changes compared to the last monthly poll for the two Sunday papers (on 16 Jan) whereas I have compared to the most recent ComRes poll (31 Jan), which is the more usual practice. This poll is consistent with the Angus Reid poll on Friday which also showed a narrowing of the gap, whereas YouGov are continuing to show Labour increasing their lead.
ComRes telephoned 2,009 GB adults on 9-10 February 2011.
There is a new Angus Reid poll showing the Conservatives almost halving the gap which Labour had opened up in the last poll from the Canadian pollster:
I have been following with interest developments over the last week or so in Egypt. This evening comes the news that President Hosni Mubarak (aged 82) is to step down immediately and hand over power to the High Council of the Armed Forces. Mubarak has been in power in Egypt for over 30 years during which time a “state of emergency” has been a permanent feature. Until recent days Mubarak was believed to have been grooming his son to take over from him.
The protests in Egypt began following the successful uprising against the Presidency of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. Protests have also been seen in Jordan and Yemen but the main focus has been on Egypt which is much more significant nation than Tunisia. There is an upswell of people power in the Arab world, long a haven for long-serving autocrats. Undoubtedly there will be many Middle Eastern despots shuffling uncomfortably in their palaces tonight. Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and the Mullahs in Iran will be wondering if it is their turn next.
It is to be hoped that the Egyptian military will listen to the people and announce the holding of full and free elections later on this year to install a legitimate and stable civilian democratic government. The prize has to be a democratic revolution sweeping across the Arab world and wider Middle East. That would be good news for the West, good news for Israel, but most importantly good news for the Arab and other peoples of the region. My generation remembers well the remarkable events in central and eastern Europe when seemingly impregnable Communist regimes crumbled in a short space of time. The scenes from Egypt tonight are reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Ceaucescu regime in Romania.