Richard Willis's Blog

First for local news and first for comment

The Royal Wedding

What a fantastic day yesterday’s Royal wedding was! Over 1 million people crowded the streets of London from around the world and a reported 2 billion people watched on TV, making it the biggest TV event this century so far. Despite the efforts of a small number of grumpy republicans the magic of Monarchy was on full display and in its prime yesterday.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | International, National | 3 Comments

Royal Wedding of HRH Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton

Today is the day that hundreds of millions of people world-wide have been waiting for; the marriage of HRH Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton. This will be the biggest television event of the twenty first century with around 2 billion people expected to watch. As heir to the throne William represents the future of the Monarchy and there has therefore been more interest in this wedding than in any since the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981.

This morning the Queen has announced that the newly married couple will be granted the titles their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Earl and Countess of Strathearn, and Baron and Lady Carrickfergus.

As tens of thousands line the route of the Royal procession to Westminster Abbey, millions more will be switching on to watch on television. As a proud Royalist I will be watching the build up to the event as well as the wedding itself at 11.00am.

The armed forces will be playing a major role. William is currently serving as a pilot in the RAF and one surprise is that he is reported to have chosen to be married in the red uniform of the Irish Guards of which he was recently made honorary Colonel. Harry is reported to be wearing the blue tunic of the “Blues and Royals” of the Household Division.

The RAF will be playing an important part. Colleagues of mine from the Queen’s Colour Squadron of the RAF will be lining sections of the route, musicians from the Central Band of the RAF will be playing a specially composed fanfare after the signing of the marriage register. It is called “Valiant and Brave” and was composed by my colleague Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs. 32 (The Royal) Squadron will also be involved and there will be an RAF flypast over Buckingham Palace as the Royal couple appear for the now traditional kiss.

It has been good to see the enthusiasm with which amost the whole world has waited for this day and great to learn that republicanism in Australia has been on the wane recently. The Royal family is the glue which binds the British Commonwealth and the many nations of which the Queen remains Head of State. As the cameras and reporters pass down the Mall this morning is great to see people from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and also the USA who have travelled such long distances to be at the wedding. Long may republicans remain a small and unimportant minority in this country!

I wish William and Catherine a long, happy and successful life together.

April 29, 2011 Posted by | International, National | 1 Comment

Trade Union Funding

Alok Sharma MP

I was interested to see that Reading West MP Alok Sharma has submitted Freedom of Information requests to local authorities across the country to seek answers as to which use Council Tax payers funds to pay for full-time Trades Union officials. He has an interesting article on Conservative Home this morning which highlights the fact that of 429 Councils, 132 paid full-time Trades Union officials, costing £35m! Of the top 10 spenders, 9 are Labour controlled, and some large Labour authorities had failed to respond.

Here in Reading we know that over the last 12 years under Labour’s watch £1.4m has been spent on three full time Union officials; something that has been stopped by the Conservative led administration. Alok poses the interesting question as to whether Labour would re-instate this fund of their Trade Union buddies if they were to return to control in Reading. What he doesn’t point out is that some of those same Unions also donate to the Labour party locally and nationally.

“Nice work if you can get it” indeed!

April 28, 2011 Posted by | Local, National | 1 Comment

Reading Borough Council Candidates – A Full List

Several people have contacted me to ask for a full list of Reading Borough Council local election candidates.

As I blogged a couple of weeks ago there is a full slate from Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Greens, with an assortment of other ‘odd and sods’ but no UKIP or BNP.

The full list by ward is as follows:

            Abbey ward

            Conservative – Richard Nanté

            Labour – Mohammed Ayub*

            Lib Dem –Georgina Hughes

            Green – Vivienne Johnson

            “Common Sense” – Bob O’Neill

            Battle ward

            Conservative – Imran Ishtiaq

            Labour – Chris Maskell*

            Lib Dem – John Oakley

            Green – Alan Lockey

            “Common Sense” – Michael Diamond

            Roman Party. Ave! – Jean-Louis Pascual

            Caversham ward

            Conservative – Tom Stanway*

            Labour – Esther Walters

            Lib Dem – Jenny Woods

            Green – Jenny Lawrence

            Church ward

            Conservative – Geoff Poland

            Labour – Paul Woodward

            Lib Dem – Anthony Warrell

            Green – Jon Roberts

            “Common Sense” – Kim Maysh

            Katesgrove ward

            Conservative – Leo Lester

            Labour – Matt Rodda

            Lib Dem – Margaret McNeill

            Green – Kizzi Murtagh

            “Common Sense” – Luis Mendez

            Independent – Michael Turberville

            Kentwood ward

            Conservative – James Anderson

            Labour – Daya Pal Singh

            Lib Dem – Meri O’Connell

            Green – Kevin Jackson

            “Common Sense” – Matthew Plunkett

            Minster ward

            Conservative – Alanzo Seville

            Labour – Paul Gittings*

            Lib Dem – Julie Hopkins

            Green – Sunil Gandhi

            Norcot ward

            Conservative – Naz Bashir

            Labour – Graeme Hoskin*

            Lib Dem – Roy Perestrelo

            Green – David Patterson

            Park ward

            Conservative – Wazir Hussain*

            Labour – Richard MacKenzie

            Lib Dem – Hoyte Swager

            Green – Melanie Eastwood

            Peppard ward

            Conservative – Richard Willis*

            Labour – Dave Absolom

            Lib Dem – Maddi Adams

            Green – Kate Day

            Redlands ward

            Conservative – Ed Hopper

            Labour – Jan Gavin

            Lib Dem – Kirsten Bayes*

            Green – Mark Walker

            Southcote ward

            Conservative – Robert Vickers

            Labour – Pete Ruhemann*

            Lib Dem – David Warren

            Green – James Towell

            Thames ward

            Conservative – Jeanette Skeats*

            Labour – Duncan Bruce

            Lib Dem – Guy Penman

            Green – Danny McNamara

            Tilehurst ward

            Conservative – Sandra Vickers

            Labour – Rose Williams

            Lib Dem – Chris Harris*

            Green – Doug Cresswell

            Whitley ward

            Conservative – Mike Doyle

            Labour – Kelly Edwards

            Lib Dem – Jamie Wake

            Green – Keith Johnson

            “Common Sense” – Howard Thomas

*Incumbent seeking re-election

Italicised are candidates who stood in that ward last year

It is notable that the Conservatives are fielding their first black candidate in the marginal Minster ward. Alanzo Seville is a great guy and will be the first black councillor on Reading Borough Council if he is elected. Conservatives are standing 4 candidates from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, more than all of the other parties put together!

In Church ward the excellent Geoff Poland is a former Chairman of Reading Chamber of Commerce and brings a wealth of experience from the business world with him.

Wazir Hussain in Park ward is a first class community representative and I have been out door-knocking with him on many occasions during this campaign. What is noticeable is how many people know him and stop their cars to greet him or stop him in the street. I have known Wazir since 1995 when I first moved to Reading and I hope that he will be re-elected with a greatly increased majority (in 2007 it was just 7 votes!).

Imran Ishtiaq in Battle Ward is working very hard and seems to have Labour rattled. Oxford Road shops have many of his posters up in their windows and they seem to be spreading into some of the residential streets around the area. You can always tell when Labour are rattled as they ramp up their dirty tricks campaign and unfounded accusations of malpractice!

This year will be a very interesting year for election results. It is the first time ever that a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition is running both Reading and the UK, and it makes it all the more difficult to judge what the results will be. I urge all voters to think carefully whether they want Labour to return to control Reading and vote accordingly.

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Labour Just 5% Ahead

There is a new YouGov poll published in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives up slightly to 5%:

                Conservative 36% (down 1%)
                Labour 41% (no change)
                                                 Lib Dem 10% (up 1%)
   The Government’s approval rating has improved to -21% (33% approve and 54% disapprove).

Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 17 April.

April 26, 2011 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Reading Conservatives Launch Local Election Manifesto

Reading Conservatives have launched their local election manifesto for the 5th May elections with pledges to at least freeze Council Tax again next year and to investigate a discount for Reading’s pensioners. If Conservatives continue to lead the Council after the elections they will continue to remove unnecessary traffic lights, introduce a London-style cycle hire scheme and develop a network of voluntary “grit wardens” to tackle icy pavements in severe weather. More 20mph zones will be introduced where residents support them and powers will be pursued to allow the Council to tackle inconsiderate parking on pavements and cycle paths.

Conservatives will continue to prioritise support to the voluntary and community sector building on this year’s increase in funding. They pledge to work for the development of the “Abbey Quarter”, protecting and enhancing Reading’s historic and important Abbey ruins in the heart of the town. The manifesto promises to continue funding tree planting around the town and to invest in the Borough’s libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres. You can read the whole document here.

Conservative Leader and Leader of the Council, Cllr Andrew Cumpsty said, “This is an ambitious but realistic manifesto which sets out our key priorities for the town we love. The Manifesto highlights many important achievements in the eleven months that we have run the Council with our Liberal Democrat colleagues. After years of Labour waste and inefficiency we have plotted a new course with no increase in Council Tax, and measures to get spending and debt under control. Labour has offered no alternative in successive Council and Cabinet meetings and seems to be devoid of ideas. We know that if Labour were to ever gain control of the Council in the future we would see above inflation increases in Council Tax, the restoration of funding of trade union posts, more traffic lights and cuts in grants to many organisations in order to fund their favoured groups.”

I note that Labour have launched their manifesto today with lots of mood music but virtually no substance. More on this later!

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Local | 5 Comments

New Ipsos MORI Poll – Tories and Labour on 40% Each

There is a new Ipsos MORI/Reuters poll reported today showing a further jump in the Conservative share to a surprising 40% and level pegging with Labour who only two months ago enjoyed a 10% lead:

            Conservative              40% (up 3%)

                                                        Labour                       40% (down 1%)

                                                        Lib Dem                      9% (down 1%)

MORI tend to be more volatile than most other pollsters but this is a remarkable position for the Conservatives to be in and even if this poll is something of an outlier it is not dissimilar to the recent ICM poll showing Labour just 2% ahead.

Since Labour is usually well ahead of the Conservatives in Scotland and Wales, it suggests that they may be in for a disappointing night at the English local elections next month.

Ipsos MORI interviewed 1,000 adults aged 18+ between 15 and 17 April.

April 20, 2011 Posted by | Polls | 7 Comments

Good News for Reading People

Having seen some of the Labour leaflets being pushed through the doors of some areas of Reading and the doom and gloom they contain, I thought it would be worth highlighting some recent great news for local people:

£8m Investment in the Royal Berks Hospital

In fantastic news for local cancer suffers, £8,000,000 of equipment to tackle cancer is to be installed in our local hospital. According to local reports up to 1,200 additional patients will be able to be treated on two new machines which will deliver radiotherapy treatment. Having had several family members and several friends locally suffer from cancer I am delighted at what the BBC describes as the biggest investment in the cancer unit since it opened in 1989.

More Price Reductions for Bus Passengers

Following the success of several “£1 to town” deals, Reading Buses has announced that Caversham residents are to benefit from a new reduced ticket offer of a £3 day ticket. Since a single ticket usually costs £1.70 this represents a 40p saving on a return ticket within Caversham or to the town centre.

Crime Falls in Reading

Over the last year the level of crime in Reading has fallen significantly. There were around 2,800 fewer offences with rape, burglary and crimes of violence all down. Overall the figures showed a drop of 7.1% in all categories of crime. Vehicle crime fell by a huge 36% over the last year.

The next time that a Labour leaflet comes through your door or if you are troubled by a Labour canvasser do ask them why none of this good news features in their election campaign!

April 19, 2011 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

New ICM Poll – Labour Just 2% Ahead

There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian showing a tiny Labour lead of just 2%:

            Conservative              35% (down 2%)

            Labour                       37% (up 1%) 

                                                  Lib Dem                      15% (down 1%)

This is a small change on last months 1% Conservative lead but as I have observed before, for Labour to be just 2% ahead of the Conservatives is remarkable. Many of us who follow polls had expected a substantial Labour lead by now. In reality Labour are now between 2% and 6% ahead.

In other findings this poll finds the “No” campaign well ahead of the “Yes” supporters by 58% to 42% of those who have made up their minds and are certain to vote. Not included are the 23% who are still undecided.

ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,033 adults aged 18 and above by telephone on 15-17 April 2011.

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Polls | 5 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead Down to 4%

There is a new YouGov poll published in today’s Sunday Times newspaper showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives down to just 4%:

                Conservative 37% (up 1%)
                Labour 41% (down 1%)
                                                 Lib Dem 9% (down 1%)
   The Government’s approval rating is at -24% (30% approve and 54% disapprove). This very much confirms todays other poll by ComRes showing Labour unable to open up a significant lead. UK Polling Report has more info on today’s YouGov polls here.

Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 11 April.

April 17, 2011 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New ComRes Poll – Labour Lead Cut to 4%

There is a new ComRes poll published in tomorrow’s Independent on Sunday which shows the Labour lead over the Conservatives being cut to 4%:

              Conservative             35% (no change)

                                        Labour                      39% (down 2%)

                                        Lib Dem                    10% (down 3%)

Leader ratings

There are some disturbing findings for Labour and Ed Miliband in the leader findings. There are also some findings which should give the Coalition pause for thought. ComRes asked if people agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

Ed Miliband is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party.

        ______________ Dec      Jan       Now

Agree:                         17%      22%      24%

Disagree:                      32%      35%      38%

Don’t know:                  50%      43%      37%

Nick Clegg is turning out to be a good leader of the Liberal Democrats.

        ______________ Dec      Jan       Now

Agree:                         26%      28%      24%

Disagree:                      49%      49%      55%

Don’t know:                  25%      23%      21%

David Cameron is turning out to be a good Prime Minister.

        ______________ Dec      Jan       Now

Agree:                         38%      38%      37%

Disagree:                      41%      43%      46%

Don’t know:                  21%      19%      17%

The Coalition, one year on

Thinking back to the general election last year, I wish I had voted differently.

Agree: 16%

Disagree: 72%

Of 2010 Lib Dem voters, 37% wish they’d voted differently.

The coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats has probably worked out better than the Conservatives trying to go it alone.

Agree: 38%

Disagree: 37%

The coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats has probably worked out better than Labour and the Liberal Democrats trying to govern together.

Agree: 40%

Disagree: 36%

I am glad that Gordon Brown is no longer Prime Minister.

Agree: 64%

Disagree: 21%

More than one third of Labour voters (36%) are glad that Gordon Brown is no longer PM.

After nearly a year in government, the Coalition’s record is disappointing.

Agree: 56%

Disagree: 29%

Liberal Democrat voters (41%) are twice as likely as Conservative voters (20%) to say that the Coalition’s record is disappointing.

A Labour government under Ed Miliband would be better at protecting people’s jobs.

Agree: 32% (Jan 30%)

Disagree: 40% (Jan 38%)

Don’t know: 27% (Jan 32%)

The Liberal Democrats should pull out of the coalition if they don’t get the changes they want to the NHS reorganisation.

Agree: 41%

Disagree: 34%

The fact that David Cameron went to Eton makes it harder for him to be a good Prime Minister for the whole country.

Agree: 30%  (Dec 2009 20%)

Disagree: 52% (Dec 2009 70%)

Don’t know: 18% (Dec 2009 10%)

Defence policy

It is right for the UK to take military action against Colonel Gaddafi’s forces in Libya.

Agree: 41% (35% in March)

Disagree: 39% (43% in March)

The cuts in defence spending announced last year were smaller than in many other government departments, but they went too far and should be looked at again.

Agree: 55%

Disagree: 22%

ComRes interviewed 2,003 GB adults online on 13-15 April 2011

April 17, 2011 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Labour Becomes Desperate

It is always sad to see a once great party descend into lies and deceit during an election campaign. Reading Labour party has clearly realised that spin is not working because some of their leading lights have resorted to outright lies. Frankly I expected better of some of them.

The latest example is over the proposal to offer the option of a return to weekly bin collections for residents in some streets which are narrow and where there have been problems with missed bin collections. Council Officers were asked to draw up some criteria for consideration and then advise Cabinet as to which streets qualified and what could be afforded within the current budget. Para 4.9 of the Cabinet report sets out how this was done. They arrived at a list of 47 streets and almost 2,000 properties across a variety of wards but mainly in the town centre wards where streets are often narrow and crowded.

Paras 2.1 and 3.1 stress that the introduction of weekly collections would only be done “in consultation with residents” and the Lead Councillor made it very clear at Cabinet that he would only proceed if a “substantial majority” of residents indicated that they wanted this for their street.

Paras 4.2 and 4.3 highlight how when Labour was in charge of Reading they imposed “alternate weekly collections” on Reading, without any consultation at all. They then had to perform a partial U-turn in 2008 and allow some properties to revert to weekly collections with black bin bags, due to the problems experienced with their imposed fortnightly collection of household rubbish.

Do read the whole Cabinet report here and you will see whether what I am saying above is true. Then read the blog items of Labour activist Tony Jones here and Labour Battle Ward Councillor Chris Maskell here.

They claim that the Coalition has “decided to introduce the collection of rubbish in bags instead of bins in some streets” – NOT TRUE – the Coalition has decided to consult residents in some streets as to whether they want to revert to weekly collections.

They claim that there is “no consistency in the selection of streets listed” – NOT TRUE – the report details the criteria used to select the streets listed and clearly states that Officers applied the criteria and made recommendations in the report. Is Cllr Maskell suggesting that Council Officers have been arbitrary or have strayed into politics in their selection? Cllr Paul Gittings (Labour: Minster) certainly did at Cabinet when he stated that the wards in which streets were located were all “Tory target wards”.

As Para 4.3 of the Cabinet report notes, Labour introduced exactly this scheme with black bags in 2008 for Southampton Street, Oxford Road, Basingstoke Road and London Road; something that Cllr Maskell and Tony Jones fail to acknowledge. In their faux outrage they have also contradicted Labour leader Cllr Jo Lovelock who at Cabinet seemed to be bidding for MORE streets to be included in the policy.

I have no problem with robust debate and argument but surely it should be based on fact and not so transparently untrue. It seems that the nearer we get to polling day on 5th May the further Labour in Reading depart from the facts. Could it be that with the polls failing to indicate them opening up a decent lead and with the public response on the doorstep still blaming them for the mess that the Coalition is having to clear up, that Labour have decided that no scare is too outrageous and no lie is too unpalatable for Labour in Reading.

Tony Jones is clearly keen to earn his way back into the affections of the local Labour Party after rejecting the party a couple of years ago. However, I do expect better from Chris Maskell. He is usually a decent guy but on this issue he is descending into the gutter of politics!

April 14, 2011 Posted by | Local | 5 Comments

BREAKING NEWS – Unemployment Falls

Comentators have been surprised today by the news that UK unemployment fell by 17,000 in the three months to the end of February. The number of people in employment also rose by 143,000 suggesting that, as the Government hoped, the private sector is taking up the slack as public sector jobs are lost.

This follows yesterday’s news that inflation (as measured by the CPI) fell back sharply to 4% from 4.4%, easing fears that interest rates may have to rise in the next few months.

It is notable that despite Labour’s doom and gloom the British people are getting on with getting the economy back on its feet and taking the necessary deficit reduction measures in their stride. It will be interesting to see if Ed Balls hides from the TV cameras today as he usually does when there is good economic news.

April 13, 2011 Posted by | National | 1 Comment

“Front Office” – Three Month Update

At the beginning of this year I published stats for individual Councillors’ use of the Council’s “Front Office” case logging system for the first eight months of the Council year from May to December 2010. You can see those stats here.

A single month’s stats may be some what unrepresentative and therefore I have waited for the first three months of 2011 to pass before publishing more figures:


                         Cllr Wazir Hussain (Park) – 72

                         Cllr Isobel Ballsdon (Thames) – 35

                         Cllr Richard Willis (Peppard) – 32

                         Cllr Tom Stanway (Caversham) – 27

                         Cllr Tom Steele (Kentwood) – 20

                         Cllr Mark Ralph (Peppard) – 17

                         Cllr Azam Janjua (Church) – 14

                         Cllr Andrew Cumpsty (Caversham) – 9

                         Cllr Jamie Chowdhary (Peppard) – 8

                         Cllr Jenny Rynn (Kentwood) – 7

                         Cllr Tim Harris (Church) – 5

                         Cllr Fred Pugh (Mapledurham) – 5

                         Cllr Emma Warman (Kentwood) – 4

                         Cllr Dave Luckett (Caversham) – 4

                         Cllr Jeanette Skeats (Thames) – 1

                         Cllr David Stevens (Thames) – 1

                        Cllr Mike Townend (Church) – 1

                         Lib Dem

                         Cllr Daisy Benson (Redlands) – 35

                         Cllr Gareth Epps (Katesgrove) – 17

                         Cllr Kirsten Bayes (Redlands) – 17

                         Cllr Rebecca Rye (Katesgrove) – 10

                         Cllr Chris Harris (Tilehurst) – 9

                         Cllr Ricky Duveen (Tilehurst) – 9

                         Cllr Peter Beard (Tilehurst) – 4

                         Cllr Glenn Goodall (Redlands) – 3                       

                         Cllr Warren Swaine (Katesgrove) – 1


                         Cllr John Ennis (Southcote) – 51

                         Cllr Pete Ruhemann (Southcote) – 49

                         Cllr Tony Page (Abbey) – 37

                         Cllr Jo Lovelock (Noroct) – 34

                         Cllr Rachel Eden (Whitley) – 33

                         Cllr Sarah Hacker (Battle) – 24

                         Cllr Deborah Edwards (Southcote) – 22

                         Cllr Paul Gittings (Minster) – 18

                         Cllr Mike Orton (Whitley) – 18

                         Cllr Bet Tickner (Abbey) – 17

                         Cllr Chris Maskell (Battle) – 16

                         Cllr John Hartley (Park) – 12

                         Cllr Gul Khan (Battle) – 10

                         Cllr Graeme Hoskin (Norcot) – 6

                         Cllr Marion Livingstone (Minster) – 5

                         Cllr Mohammed Ayub (Abbey) – 3

                         Cllr Peter Jones (Norcot) – 1

                         Cllr Deborah Watson (Minster) – 0 (NIL)


                         Cllr Rob White (Park) – 180

Again each party has a spread of activity levels based on this one measure. Rob White of the Greens tops the chart again and Labour’s Debbie Watson picks up the booby prize with a grand total of ZERO cases submitted.

As I have often stated this is just one measure of Councillor activity and it should be borne in mind that some wards generate less casework than others and there are more ways of serving our constituents than just entering (sometimes trivial) cases onto the Front Office system.

I hope that you find these stats of interest .

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

New Populus Poll – Tories Close Gap to 4%

There is a new Populus telephone poll in today’s Times which shows the Conservatives narrowing Labour’s lead to just 4%:

            Conservative              36% (up 1%)

            Labour                       40% (down 1%)

                                                           Lib Dem                      11% (no change)

As points out, Populus was one of the most accurate pollsters at last year’s General Election, alongside ICM whose most recent poll showed the Conservatives ahead. Labour must be deeply concerned at failing to open up much of a lead at a time when the Government should be at its most unpopular!

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment