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Horror in Norway

The Kingdom of Norway is a small country in northern Europe, somewhat on the fringes of the continent. It has continually refused to submit to the EU monolith on its doorstep and has maintained a refreshing independence and level of prosperity that most of the rest of Europe can only envy. Norway benefits from significant oil and natural gas reserves in the North Sea and from not being a part of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. It is a member of NATO and has a population of just under 5m people.

Unlike nations such as the UK, Spain and Germany, Norway has no history of terrorism or dealing with its consequences. One can therefore only speculate at the shock of experiencing a major bomb going off in the centre of the capital Oslo and the massacre of so many young political activists on Utoya Island. It appears that the two attacks were meticulously planned and executed by a man with an extreme hatred of non-European immigrants and the politicians he considered responsible.  Anders Behring Breivik used his skills to kill 76 people last Friday and in so doing sense shock waves across Norway and around the world. Unusually he did not commit suicide or get shot and the Police captured him unharmed. It appears that he now hopes to become something of a rallying figure for the small minority who endorse his extreme views.

Norway has abolished the death penalty and therefore Breivik faces a long stay in prison at tax-payers’ expense. David Cameron has ordered an investigation into alleged links with UK extremist groups and it is sensible that this is done as soon as possible. By and large the UK has a good record of integrating different waves of immigration and it is important that those in UK who may have ideas of emulating Breivik are kept under close surveillance.

Sadly there will always be a tiny minority of people with extremist or insane views. In the UK we have experienced Dunblane and Hungerford but it is vital that their ability to fulfil their crazed purposes are restricted. Now our thoughts and prayers must be with the families and friends of those that were killed, and with the injured. They are the innocents and they deserve every support that the Norwegian state can provide.

July 26, 2011 Posted by | International | 2 Comments

New ComRes Poll – Labour Lead Increases to 6%

There is a new ComRes online poll published in tomorow’s Independent which shows the Conservatives dropping as the Lib Dems rise:

              Conservative             34% (down 2%)

                                        Labour                      40% (no change)

                                        Lib Dem                    13% (up 3%)

Changes shown are compared to last month’s online poll rather than the previous telephone poll.

ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1002 GB adults on July 22-24,  2011.  Data were weighted demographically and by past vote recall.

July 25, 2011 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New Ipsos MORI Poll – Tories Down But No Boost for Labour

There is a new Ipsos MORI/Reuters poll reported today showing the Conservatives dropping significantly but without any gain for  Labour:

            Conservative              32% (down 5%)

                                                        Labour                       39% (no change)

                                                        Lib Dem                      11% (no change)

This poll is interesting as it suggests no boost for Labour from recent events at News International. It is also out of line with other recent polls. As Anthony Wells observes on UK Polling Report: “One caveat about this though, it has a slightly odd sample. MORI’s sample contained significantly fewer people who said they voted Tory in 2010 than it usually does, in fact the weighted sample still had more people who claimed they voted Labour in 2010 than claimed they voted Tory.”

I suggest that this poll is an outlier and unless other polls confirm a trend it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Ipsos MORI interviewed 1,001 adults aged 18+ between 16 and 18 July.

July 20, 2011 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New ICM Poll – Tories Take the Lead as Lib Dems Surge!

There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian showing the Conservatives overtaking Labour to take the lead in the polls:

            Conservative              37% (no change)

                                                  Labour                       36% (down 3%) 

                                                  Lib Dem                      16% (up 4%)

This will be a huge blow to Ed Miliband and Labour after two weeks of bad coverage for David Cameron and a feeling that Miliband has performed better than he had been. It is also a boost for the Lib Dems.

ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,003 adults aged 18 and above by telephone on 15-17 July 2011.

July 18, 2011 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New ComRes Poll – Labour Take 4% Lead

There is a new ComRes online poll published in today’s Independent on Sunday which shows Labour improving its position slightly after last months big deterioration:

              Conservative             36% (down 1%)

                                        Labour                      40% (up 3%)

                                        Lib Dem                    10% (down 1%)

Changes shown are compared to last month’s online poll rather than the previous telephone poll.

In other findings:

All of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, the News of the World, The Sun, The Sunday Times and The Times, have been damaged by recent reports of illegal methods used to get stories
Agree: 81%
Disagree: 8%
Don’t know: 11%

·         There are some differences by age – 63% of 18-24 year olds agree, compared to 90% of 55-64 year olds.

As a result of reports of police officers being paid for information by newspapers, I trust the police less
Agree: 63%
Disagree: 22%
Don’t know: 15%

Directly-elected police chiefs would be more likely to ensure that corrupt officers were brought to justice
Agree: 40%
Disagree: 25%
Don’t know: 35%

·         46% of Conservative and 45% of Labour voters agree, compared to 34% of Lib Dem voters

Rupert Murdoch and his son James are fit and proper people to take full control of Sky TV
Agree: 7%
Disagree: 73%
Don’t know: 20%

Ed Miliband’s rating has improved from -27 to -14 points. David Cameron’s rating has fallen – even among Conservative voters.

Ed Miliband is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party.
                                   Dec      Jan       Apr      May      June     July
Agree:                         17%      22%      24%      22%     18%      27%
Disagree:                      32%      35%      38%    39%      45%     41%
Don’t know:                  50%      43%      37%     39%     37%      32%

·         52% of Labour voters agree (up from 41% last month)

Nick Clegg is turning out to be a good leader of the Liberal Democrats.
                                   Dec      Jan       Apr      May      June     July
Agree:                         26%      28%      24%      21%     20%      22%
Disagree:                      49%      49%      55%    56%      57%     53%
Don’t know:                  25%      23%      21%     24%     23%      25%

·         59% of Lib Dem voters agree (up from 52% last month)

David Cameron is turning out to be a good Prime Minister.
                                   Dec      Jan       Apr      May      June     July
Agree:                         38%      38%      37%      39%     37%      33%
Disagree:                      41%      43%      46%    43%      44%     45%
Don’t know:                  21%      19%      17%     18%     19%      22%

·         78% of Conservative voters agree (down from 84% last month)

Robust exchanges in the House of Commons are an important part of our democracy
Agree: 68%
Disagree: 12%
Don’t know: 20%

The Government is cutting public spending in a way that is fair to every section of society
                           Nov        Dec            Feb       June    July
Agree                   32%        30%           25%      25%     24%
Disagree              52%        53%            59%     60%      60%

·         56% of Conservative voters agree, compared to 10% of Labour and 26% of Lib Dem voters

I expect to be worse off personally as a result of the spending cuts
                           Nov        Dec            Feb       June    July
Agree                   65%        66%           69%      67%     67%
Disagree              16%        16%           16%      16%      16%

·         59% of Conservative voters agree, compared to 73% of Labour and 75% of Lib Dem voters

In most cases I have sympathy for people going on strike against public spending cuts.
                       May      July
Agree:             48%      51%
Disagree:          37%      38%
Don’t know:      15%      11%

·         73% of Labour voters agree, compared to 45% of Lib Dem voters and 23% of Conservatives.

It is right for the UK to take military action against Colonel Gaddafi’s forces in Libya
                       March   May      July
Agree:             35%      41%      33%
Disagree:          43%      39%      40%
Don’t know:      22%      20%      27%

·         42% of Conservative voters agree, compared to 32% of Labour voters.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead at 7%

There is a new YouGov poll published in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives increasing slightly to 7%:

                Conservative 36% (down 1%)
 
                Labour 43% (no change)
 
                                                 Lib Dem 9% (up 1%)
 
 The Government’s approval rating is at -26% (29% approve and 55% disapprove).YouGov has recently been showing higher Labour shares and leads than other major pollsters.

Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 7 July.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

Gordon Brown Cost the UK £10bn in Gold Sales

Gold prices hit a record high today of $1,580.70, meaning that Gordon Brown’s decision to sell off 400 tonnes of gold in 1999 at a twenty year low in the market has cost the nation over £10 billion. On 7 May 1999, Gordon Brown announced that he was planning to sell off 400 tonnes of gold at a 20-year low in the market – now nicknamed the “Brown Bottom” by gold traders. Gordon Brown sold off Britain’s gold for between $256 and $296 an ounce, raising $3.496bn (£2.343bn at the then exchange rate). Since then the gold price has gone up more than 5 times to $1,580.70 an ounce. If the gold had not been sold it would now be worth £12.6 billion, over five times the £2.3 billion originally raised.

Treasury documents released under a freedom of information request show that Ed Balls and Ed Miliband were both copied into correspondence on the gold sale while working as Special Advisers to Gordon Brown at the time of the sale. Ed Balls is cc-ed in to the correspondence on pages 5, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17 of the documents released under by the Treasury under an FOI request (link). Ed Miliband is also cc-ed on p. 14 of the releases. As the Times reported at the time ‘Key Treasury advisers including Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, who are both now senior Government ministers, were copied in to the correspondence’ (The Times, 1 April 2010).

The evidence is now overwhelming that Gordon Brown’s decision to sell off the nation’s gold reserves cost the country over £10 billion, equivalent to the cost of the 2012 Olympics or three brand new aircraft carriers.  Labour doubled the national debt and left the biggest deficit in peacetime history. Ed Miliband still can’t admit to Labour’s mistakes on the economy, but it is future generations who will be left paying for them.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | National | 10 Comments

Reading Council for Racial Equality is Found Guilty of Unfair Dismissal

Reading Council for Racial Equality (RCRE) has certainly not been winning any friends outside of the local Labour Party recently. When the previous Conservative-led administration decided to cut one of its grants and suggested that it justify its receipt of funds by submitting a bid with a business case, it launched a vitriolic campaign which included threats of legal action, accusations of racism, and a blatant politicisation of the annual Holocaust Memorial event at the Civic Offices.

Conservative and Lib Dem Councillors have long questioned the impartiality of RCRE and the value for money for the significant sums that the Council has granted it year on year. In the recent local elections prominent RCRE members campaigned publicly for the Labour party in key wards and did little in various forums to disguise their political affiliations. There have also been many suggestions that the internal management of the organisation left a lot to be desired, with cronyism and petty factionalism being a regular feature.

Rajinder Sophal

This has been highlighted by a press release I received today detailing a decision of the Employment Tribunal this week that RCRE director and former Labour Mayor of Reading, should pay a former employee the sum of £3,113.52 for unlawful deduction from his wages and breach of contract. Further Rajinder Sohpal has been ordered to pay £570 in compensation for unfair dismissal. The total amount that Mr Sohpal will have to pay Mr Siddharth Deva, the former employee, is £3,683.52.

The Tribunal’s reserved judgment is 16 pages long, and it is scathing in its criticism of the RCRE and of Mr Ejaz Elahi, the chair of RCRE and former chair of its so-called personnel subcommittee. The Tribunal stated that it was particularly concerned about Mr Elahi’s biased attitude towards Mr Deva. It took the view that Mr Elahi had failed to give Mr Deva a fair hearing.

The Tribunal unanimously decided that Mr Deva had been unfairly dismissed. It considered the RCRE’s disciplinary procedures excessively biased against Mr Deva, and the proceedings conducted in a very unfair and subjective manner.

The Tribunal also did not accept some of Mr Sohpal’s evidence and that of his witnesses, in particular the evidence provided by Ejaz Elahi. The Tribunal concluded that Mr Sohpal’s motivation to drive an employee’s grievance against Mr Deva in January 2010, which led ultimately to Mr. Deva’s dismissal after a protracted suspension, was linked to Mr Sohpal’s opposition to a number other unrelated issues. The Tribunal also did not accept some of the evidence of Mr. Harish Raichura, former chair of the RCRE.

This case sadly demonstrates just what a shameful organisation the RCRE is. It is not fit for purpose,” says Mr. Deva.

This is the organisation that Reading’s minority Labour administration decided to award a further grant of £60,000 to at Cabinet last night. Ironically one of the services that RCRE offers is help with employment tribunal hearings!

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Local | 4 Comments

The World is a Better Place Without the News of the World

Today saw the last ever publication of the News of the World, or as fellow journalists had come to know it “The News of the Screws”. Unlike some right-wing commentators like Matthew Parris, I don’t think this is a sad day. I also don’t but the argument that “innocent” current staff are paying for the sins of the past. The NOTW has made a speciality of exposing others’ “wrong doing”, so it is deliciously ironic that the paper has been brought down by its own misdeeds. To suggest that the NOTW is a paper full of excellent high quality journalists is laughable. It has made its name by exposing the personal pecadillos of people it considers to be public figures and the existing regulatory system has proved incapable of curtailing its activities.

The use of phone hacking to obtain stories is despicable and symptomatic of a media without proper regulation. Are we expected to believe that this only happened on NOTW and only in the years under current investigation? Two people I know personally were the subject of enquiries into their private lives by NOTW within the last two years relating to matters entirely in their private lives. They went through hell wondering whether their personal lives would be all over the next Sunday’s newspaper and their families humiliated.

As someone who comes from an essentially libertarian standpoint I do not want to see the press muzzled from conducting legitimate investigative journalism. However, I do want to see the end of the kind of scurrilous and sensationalist journalism in which NOTW specialised. Politicians should always know that journalists stand ready to expose corruption involving the misuse of public funds and favours. However, a royal, a footballer or a pop star having an affair should be no-one’s business except for those immediately involved. It is also interesting to note how the closer you are to a published news story the more you realise how inaccurate is so much of the reporting.

The time has come for the regulation of the media to be put on a statutory footing, with real powers to demand meaningful apologies and award compensation. It is also time for Rebecca Brooks to be replaced at News International. Until she is, there should be no question of the company taking over a further share of British Sky Broadcasting.

The world is a better place for the demise of NOTW but no-one should be under any illusions that the same practices are not used elsewhere. No doubt a new Sunday paper will emerge to take its place but when it does the checks and balances must exist to ensure that it is staffed by law abiding journalists intent on reporting news and not the private lives of famous or not so famous people.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | National | 5 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Labour’s Lead at 6%

There is a new YouGov poll published in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives increasing slightly to 6%:

                Conservative 37% (no change)
 
                Labour 43% (up 1%)
 
                                                 Lib Dem 8% (down 1%)
 
 The Government’s approval rating is at -25% (31% approve and 56% disapprove).YouGov has recently been showing higher Labour shares and leads than other major pollsters.

Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 5 June.

July 7, 2011 Posted by | Polls | 2 Comments

“Front Office” – Four Month Update

I have recently received the stats for Councillors’ case-work submitted through the “Front Office” system up to the end of April 2011. 

The main figures for the four months Jan-April 2011 are below, with the May 2010-April 2011 figures following in brackets:

Conservative

                         Cllr Wazir Hussain (Park) – 76 (102)

                         Cllr Richard Willis (Peppard) – 43 (88)

                         Cllr Isobel Ballsdon (Thames) – 37 (90)

                         Cllr Tom Stanway (Caversham) – 36 (81)

                         Cllr Tom Steele (Kentwood) – 25 (86)

                         Cllr Mark Ralph (Peppard) – 24 (56)

                         Cllr Azam Janjua (Church) – 16 (19)

                         Cllr Andrew Cumpsty (Caversham) – 16 (43)

                         Cllr Jamie Chowdhary (Peppard) – 9 (12)

                         Cllr Jenny Rynn (Kentwood) – 9 (20)

                         Cllr Tim Harris (Church) – 6 (23)

                         Cllr Dave Luckett (Caversham) – 5 (14)

                         Cllr Fred Pugh (Mapledurham) – 5 (12)

                         Cllr Emma Warman (Kentwood) – 5 (12)

                         Cllr Jeanette Skeats (Thames) – 1 (9)

                         Cllr David Stevens (Thames) – 1 (4)

                         Cllr Mike Townend (Church) – 1 (4)

                         Lib Dem

                         Cllr Daisy Benson (Redlands) – 46 (101)

                         Cllr Rebecca Rye (Katesgrove) – 36 (49)

                         Cllr Kirsten Bayes (Redlands) – 34 (72)

                         Cllr Gareth Epps (Katesgrove) – 23 (115)

                         Cllr Chris Harris (Tilehurst) – 12 (29)

                         Cllr Ricky Duveen (Tilehurst) – 11 (43)

                         Cllr Peter Beard (Tilehurst) – 9 (28)

                         Cllr Glenn Goodall (Redlands) – 3 (37)                      

                         Cllr Warren Swaine (Katesgrove) – 3 (13)

                         Labour

                         Cllr Pete Ruhemann (Southcote) – 67 (94)

                         Cllr John Ennis (Southcote) – 57 (135)

                         Cllr Jo Lovelock (Noroct) – 55 (99)

                         Cllr Tony Page (Abbey) – 47 (153)

                         Cllr Rachel Eden (Whitley) – 35 (111)

                         Cllr Paul Gittings (Minster) – 29 (49)

                         Cllr Sarah Hacker (Battle) – 29 (38)

                         Cllr Mike Orton (Whitley) – 24 (60)

                         Cllr Deborah Edwards (Southcote) – 23 (54)

                         Cllr Bet Tickner (Abbey) – 22 (71)

                         Cllr Chris Maskell (Battle) – 21 (29)

                         Cllr John Hartley (Park) – 18 (64)

                         Cllr Gul Khan (Battle) – 10 (38)

                         Cllr Marion Livingstone (Minster) – 9 (20)

                         Cllr Graeme Hoskin (Norcot) – 7 (16)

                         Cllr Mohammed Ayub (Abbey) – 3 (11)

                         Cllr Deborah Watson (Minster) – 2 (11)

                         Cllr Peter Jones (Norcot) – 1 (5)

                         Green

                         Cllr Rob White (Park) – 229 (696)

Once again each party has a spread of activity levels based on this one measure. It is ironic that some of the hardest working Councillors (such as Wazir Hussain and Kirsten Bayes) lost their seats in the May local elections!

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.

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment

A Great Holiday in Marmaris, Turkey – PART 1

I have just returned from a wonderful week’s holiday in Turkey. I had never been to Turkey before and ended up booking this holiday because it was cheap! The holiday was in the south western harbour town of Marmaris on the Mediterranean coast where daily temperatures are 30 degrees plus.

We booked through Thomas Cook, who I have always found to be very helpful and friendly. The flight was from London Gatwick to Dalaman airport in Turkey, arriving in the early hours of Sunday morning. It was a 90 minute coach journey from Dalaman to Marmaris and we stopped off at a very nice truck stop on the way where we got some tasty Turkish chicken wraps. The journey took us up into the mountains above Marmaris on some roads with very steep drops down one side. It was noticeable that Turkey seems to be investing a lot of money into widening and improving its major roads. Almost the entire journey was on roads that were in the process of being widened from single to dual carriageway, or had recently been resurfaced. The quality of  road surfaces was much better than in neighbouring Bulgaria, with the exception of the surface over bridges, which for some reason remain poor and very bumpy.

We arrived at the Club Atrium Apartments in the centre of Marmaris and got our heads down pretty much straight away. It was warm and breezy even at night and we left the door to the balcony open to get the fresh air. Within an hour or so that was proven to be a mistake when the local mosque broadcast a very loud call to prayer at about 4.30am! Somehow I didn’t imagine that in secular Turkey this would be a regular feature.

The following night we joined a tour of the local bars led by Thomas Cook holiday reps. The first one was on a boat which set off into the harbour with several hundred drunken teenagers on board. Once the boat returned to harbour we slipped away from the group and went for a more peaceful walk around the harbour bars and restaurants which almost hide the old town of Marmaris comprising many tiny narrow streets around the old castle. The annoying feature of the area is that every bar and restaurant has people at the front inviting customers into their premises. Every possible ruse is used to get the attention of passers-by, making it almost impossible to inspect a menu a prices without being pressured hard to enter. After a while we got used to it and developed a more easy ability to say “no thank you”.

On Wednesday we took a bus to Ephesus as part of a pre-booked excursion. The trip was three hours each way and involved heading up into the mountains and along the coast. We were accompanied by a genial Turkish tour guide who styled himself as “Moses” and proceeded to lecture us on the benefits of democracy over Communism and Fascism, as well as the history of Asia Minor from prehistory through the Romans and Byzantines to the modern Turkish Republic. He also touched on the perils of separatism, citing Sctland, Ireland and Wales as examples! We moved north away from the hot Mediterranean climate and into a more temperate zone where “Moses” explained that in winter there was snow and where citrus trees would not grow.

We arrived in Ephesus (“Efes” in Turkish) to park with hundreds of coaches in a huge car park. “Moses” led us through the entrance gates and down a tree-lined  avenue towards the ancient city. We arrived at a collonaded street which used to lead to the harbour of Ephesus, wher “Moses” explained that the original city of Ephesus was sited on a river mouth which silted up and became marshy necessitating the re-siting ofthe city further inland. Behind us was a colossal amphitheatre which has been calculated to seat at least 25,000 people. “Moses” explained that in Roman cities amphitheatres were designed to be able to seat 10% of the adult population.

The group was swiftly led up another marble paved street, though a triumphal arch, to the splendid facade of the Library of Celsus. This was the third largest library in the ancient world behind only Alexandria and Pergammon. The facade is the most commonly known image of Ephesus, standing two stories high and with many of its original carvings and statues still in place. We were then taken up another street and into a set of public latrines which would have sat around 30 men around a pool containing baby dolphins. They were next door to public baths and a series of temples to various deities. The ruins are spectacular but I was struck by the sheer quantity of beautifully carved stone and marble lying around, and the volume of broken pottery littering the ground. In some cases the archaeologists have reconstructed buildings from the plentiful remains and more are in the process of being reassembled.

The most striking remains for me were the terraced houses cut into the hillside off one of the main streets. A team of Austrian archaeologists have been excavating one large section of them for over 100 years and have discovered large houses, with marble and plaster lined walls and remains up to two stories high. I was stunned to see brightly painted rooms, marble and mosaic floors, and pillars all still in place. The whole area is covered over with a roofed structure and glass walkways have been contructed to allow visitors to see what is below as well as around the walkways. The terraced houses are subject to an additional 15 Turkish Lira which was well worth the entry cost. Most of our group did not bother with them but I am delighted that we did. The houses are of a standard which I imagine is only replicated in towns like Pompeii or Herculaneum in Italy.

I was so enjoying seeing the terraced houses that we lost track of time and had to almost run back to the coach where everyone was waiting for us in order to head back to Marmaris. There was no time to explore the amphitheatre or the rest of the site. I could have happily spent the rest of the day there!

I will post a further instalment on my holiday experiences shortly.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | General Musings | 4 Comments