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The Scottish National Party Fractures

Just a couple of years ago the Scottish National Party (SNP) was riding high in the polls and it seemed that party leader Alex Salmond could do no wrong. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament the SNP even won a majority, which in a PR system is quite an achievement. Salmond began to press the UK government for a referendum on Scottish independence from the rest of the UK and in the last few weeks achieved an agreement on a poll in 2014 with a single “yes” or “no” question.

However, suddenly it has all started to go wrong for the Nationalists. A wave of resignations from the party has rocked it to its roots and are poised to deprive Salmond of his hard won majority in the Scottish Parliament. The root cause for most of this discontent is the repositioning of the party from one to the left of Labour, to a more centrist and less threatening party of Social Democracy. Under Salmond the SNP has abandoned its intent to become a republic, abandon the Pound Sterling and leave NATO. It is the latter change which appears to have caused the most angst amongst the old left wing of the SNP. The SNP has long been a Unilateralist party committed to abandoning nuclear weapons and withdrawal from NATO which is underpinned by the US nuclear defence guarantee.

Since the party narrowly voted to change its policy and remain in NATO if Scotland were to vote for independence many party members have resigned in protest. Unfortunately for Salmond and the SNP some of them are elected politicians. Two MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquart have resigned the SNP whip and reports suggest that more are soon to follow. One high profile Councillor Frances McGlinchy resigned from the party last week. She is the wife of MSP John Wilson and he is rumoured to be about to follow her out of the party. If he does, the SNP will lose its majority.

Salmond’s problems mounted further when it appeared that he had been misleading party members and the media over advice he said he had received over whether an independent Scotland could remain in the EU or would have to reapply for membership. On a number of occasions Salmond gave the impression that he had sought and received legal advice that Scotland would automatically remain in the EU as it was a “successor state to the UK”. He has now been forced to admit that no such advice has been received. Indeed the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso has stated that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for membership. A decision on which the remaining UK would have a veto! Salmond’s alleged lies have cause another senior resignation from the party. Adil Bhatti, a former SNP national council member, has left accusing Salmond of lying.

There is a long way to go until the referendum in 2014 but the once seemingly invincible Alex Salmond is now looking very fallible. If the SNP can now stem the flow of resignations and unite behind the independence case then they may put this episode behind them but Salmond is now damaged goods in the eyes of many party members and a divided party rarely wins any election.

All those of us who want to see the UK remain a United Kingdom should hope that the SNP has now passed its peak of popularity and that the people of Scotland vote clearly not to divide this island.

October 30, 2012 Posted by | National | 6 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead at 7%

There is a new YouGov poll for today’s Sunday Times newspaper which shows Labour’s lead holding at 7% in line with other recebt polls showing a narrowing of the Labour lead:

                   Conservative               35% (up 1%)

                   Labour                         42% (up 1%)

                                                     Lib Dem                          9% (up 1%)

                                                     UKIP                                7% (down 3%)

This poll supports the suggestion that Labour’s lead is fragile and is now in the 6-10% range rather than the 10%+ leads we had become used to earlier this year. The poll also finds a big increase in the number of people saying the government is managing the economy well (up 5%).

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

October 28, 2012 Posted by | Polls | | 3 Comments

The UK Economy Rebounds Strongly

Today came the news which some of us expected but many had hoped for. The economy grew in the second quarter of the financial year by a whopping 1%. On an annualised basis this is more than 4% which compares incredibly well to the other major western economies. Of course GDP figures can be revised down as well as up but even some downward revision would still leave a significant boost to the UK economy. I still expect in time the so-called double-dip recession to be revised away and if that does happen economists will look back somewhat differently on the last year’s economic record and the falling unemployment.

Even the normally negative BBC was very upbeat about the growth numbers today. The one group which didn’t seem to share in the delight was the Labour front bench. The bunch of economic illiterates which comprise the Labour Treasury team were slow to comment but when they did could not bring themselves to welcome the news or congratulate the government. Instead they thrashed around to try to put a negative spin on the news and suggest that the 1% growth was somehow a sign of a weak economy. The economy is certainly not out of the woods yet but the green shoots of recovery are sprouting strongly. I just hope that the frost emanating from the Eurozone does not damage the recovery.

If the recovery is maintained strongly it will have a beneficial impact on the levels of tax receipts and therefore the borrowing and debt levels. It would also give the Chancellor a little more flexibility on spending and/or taxation levels. That can only be a good thing for public sector infrastructure investment and the level of tax on hard pressed families. I believe that we have turned the corner and are on the road out of the recession leading to lower deficits and a more sustainable balance between the public and private sectors. This is great news for the country and for the government as “Plan A” is seen by the public to be working. It is bad news for a Labour party which caused much of the deficit and has built their subsequent economic case around criticising everything the government does.

There will undoubtedly be further bumps in the road but today’s news is much better than predicted by most economic pundits and bodes well for the next few quarters. George Osborne will enter the next public spending round and Budget preparation with a spring in his step.

October 25, 2012 Posted by | National | 7 Comments

New Populus Poll – Labour Lead Slashed to 5%

There is a new Populus poll in tomorrow’s Times which shows the Conservatives slashing Labour’s lead to just 5%:

      Conservative              35% (up 5%)

      Labour                        40% (down 5%)

                                                           Lib Dem                        9% (down 1%)

                                                           UKIP                             TBC

The poll detail also shows Cameron and Osborne boosting their lead for economic competence over Balls and Miliband from 4% to 15%.

This poll suggests a significant Conference boost for David Cameron and the Conservatives but we need to see whether this is borne out in other polls.

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New ICM Poll – Labour Lead Drops to 8%

There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian tomorrow showing Labour’s lead dropping to 8%:

         Conservative              33% (up 2%)

         Labour                        41% (no change)

                                                    Lib Dem                      14% (no change)

                                                    UKIP                              5%

ICM is the most respected pollster according to a recent vote of readers of Political Betting.

ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 19-22 October 2012. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Polls | | 1 Comment

BREAKING NEWS: Reading Labour Selects East and West Shortlists

I have just heard that the short lists for Labour’s candidates for the East and West Parliamentary seats at the next election are:

East
Cllr Richard Davies – newly elected Caversham ward Councillor
Angela Pober – Slough Labour Party
Cllr Matt Rodda – Katesgrove ward Councillor and former candidate for Surrey East in 2010
Cllr James Walsh – Slough Borough Councillor
Cllr Paul Woodward – Church ward Councillor

West
Cllr Victoria Groulef – Wycombe Councillor and Group Leader
Christine Quigley
Debbie Watson – former Minster ward Councillor

October 21, 2012 Posted by | Local | 5 Comments

Good Economic News Bodes Well for the Conservatives

This has been a good week for the Government. Not that you would know it for all the froth in the media at present! But on the things that really matter it has been one piece of good news after another. Inflation fell again to just 2.2%; unemployment fell to 7.9%; those in work rose to a record high; borrowing came in under expectations and earlier borrowing figures were revised down significantly. The remaining economic piece of the jigsaw is the quarterly growth figure and this is expected to be good news as well.

If we are in a double-dip recession (and it is still a big “if”) it is quite different from others the UK has experienced since WW2. Then we saw unemployment growing during the downturn and sometimes what was characterised as a “jobless recovery”. This seems to be quite the reverse. Unemployment has continued to fall quarter on quarter, against all expectations. When the Conservative-led Coalition took office the Chancellor predicted that the private sector would absorb the job losses in the public sector. Labour and the Trades Unions scoffed but this is precisely what has happened. It may also be one of the factors which has ensured that Conservative support has held up pretty well while the Labour team has failed to make further headway after gaining an early 10% straight from the Lib Dems.

It will be interesting to see what happens to party support as growth returns to the economy, tax receipts rise and the Chancellor has more room for a few sweeteners for the bitter medicine of austerity. Whilst there is currently a lot of focus on froth such as “Pleb-gate” and whether or not George Osborne should have purchased a first class ticket before he boarded, none of that will matter much when most people come to vote in a couple of years. Just think back to Blair’s years when the Ecclestone, Mandelson and other scandals filled the papers day after day only to see the government re-elected with big majorities. Labour only lost when they had a Prime Minister who lacked credibility and a recession which partly resulted from Labour’s actions in office.

Ed Miliband has been Labour leader for long enough for most people to decide whether they like and trust him and he is still usually polling behind David Cameron on most measures of leadership, economic credibility and whether he looks like a Prime Minister. His credibility has not been helped by refusing to back a single cut in spending presented to the House of Commons whilst at the same time hinting that he would follow government spending plans. Yesterday he looked lost as he repeated his non-specific message of the need for cuts at the “Anti Austerity” rally in London. As he addressed an anti-cuts rally of assorted Trades Unionists, Greens, CND, and Socialist Workers Party supporters he looked like a rabbit in the headlights as he was booed and jeered by the people he might have expected would be his natural supporters.

The resignation of Andrew Mitchell as Chief Whip has lanced that boil, although I deeply regret that he will be seen as caving to the very personal and political campaign run by the Police Federation. The government now must focus on what is important to the British people and ensure that it does not get sidetracked. The deportation of Abu Hamza and the prevention of Gary McKinnon’s deportation were important achievements and there are some very important decisions coming soon on the EU. The Conservatives in the government have the chance to get back on the front foot and demonstrate that we are in tune with the attitudes and feelings of the public (unlike Labour). However, the key decisions lay with George Osborne in the next public spending round and next year’s Budget. The party and the government cannot afford another shambles like we saw last March.

Whilst the economic signs are now looking good and I firmly believe that we are on the road to a stronger recovery, I also believe that the so-called double dip recession will in time be revised away by the ONS. However, the current saving grace for the Conservatives is the sheer uselessness of the two Ed’s. Neither Miliband or Balls have persuaded the public of their credibility, despite Miliband’s better than expected speech at his recent Conference, and they are both a significant drag on their party’s ratings. The Conservatives in Parliament cannot rely on this alone and must make much more effort to project an air of competence and purpose. If they are successful, and if the Lib Dems can stage a limited recovery in the polls, Labour’s lead will evaporate like the morning dew in the face of the sun.

In the meantime I am sure readers will enjoy seeing Ed Miliband being shouted down at the rally on Saturday:

October 21, 2012 Posted by | National | 6 Comments

New ComRes Poll – Labour’s Lead Increases to 8%

There is a new ComRes online poll published in tomorrow’s Independent on Sunday which shows the Labour lead growing to 8%, back to where it was before conference season:

           Conservative            33% (down 2%)

                                        Labour                      41% (up 2%)

                                        Lib Dem                    10% (no change)

                                        UKIP                            9% (up 1%)

In further findings:

Of those who voted Conservative in the 2010 general election, 10% now say that they would vote UKIP.

Ed Miliband’s leadership approval rating has improved – now 29% say that he is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party, the highest since we began asking this in December 2010.

In light of his conference speech, a greater proportion say they see Labour as more of a “one nation” party (33%); than say the same of the Conservatives (25%).

Most people (63%) do not expect the economy to return to good health for at least five years.

Leadership

David Cameron is turning out to be a good prime minister:
Agree 29% (+2 since August 2012)
Disagree 50% (-4)
Net Agree -21 (+6)

Ed Miliband is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party:
Agree 29% (+4 since August 2012)
Disagree 40% (-5)
Net Agree -11 (+9)

Nick Clegg is turning out to be a good leader of the Liberal Democrats:
Agree 18% (-2 since August 2012)
Disagree 56% (+1)
Net Agree -38 (-3)

The fact that David Cameron went to Eton makes it harder for him to be a good Prime Minister for the whole country:
Agree 38% (+4 since July)
Disagree 42% (-2)

Those in social grades DE are the most likely social grades to agree (44%). Only 13% of Conservative voters agree.

The fact that Ed Miliband went to a comprehensive school means that he is more likely to be in touch with the concerns of most people:
Agree  37%
Disagree  45%

Even 13% of Conservative voters agree.

The Economy

I trust David Cameron and George Osborne to make the right decisions about the economy:
Agree 26% (+1 since August 2012)
Disagree 51% (-3)
Net Agree -25 (+4)

I trust Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to make the right decisions about the economy:
Agree 24% (+4 since August 2012)
Disagree 49% (-3)
Net Agree -25 (+7)

I expect the economy will start showing signs of improvement soon:
Agree 30% (+7 since November 2011)
Disagree 48% (-7)

I do not expect the economy to return to good health for at least five years:
Agree 63%
Disagree 17%

Women (66%) are more pessimistic than men (59%) about the future of the economy. Half (52%) of Conservative voters do not expect the economy to return to good health for at least five years, as do 71% of Labour voters and 61% of Liberal Democrat voters.

I plan to spend less on Christmas this year than last year:
Agree 55% (-6 since November 2011)
Disagree 26% (no change)

Women are more likely than men to agree (58% vs. 52% respectively). Those aged 35-54 are the most likely age group to agree (61%).

It is more important to keep young people in work than it is to reduce government borrowing:
Agree  56%
Disagree  19%

Of Conservative voters, 36% agree, compared with 77% of Labour voters, and 62% of Liberal Democrat voters.

A Labour government under Ed Miliband would be better at protecting people’s jobs:
Agree 31% (no change since July 2012)
Disagree 41% (-1)

24% of Labour voters say they ‘don’t know’.

In most cases I have sympathy for people going on strike against public spending cuts:
Agree 46% (-2 since November 2011)
Disagree 38% (no change)

“One Nation”

Labour is more of a “one nation” party than the Conservatives:
Agree  33%
Disagree  36%
Don’t know  30%

The Conservatives are more of a “one nation” party than Labour:
Agree  25%
Disagree  45%
Don’t know  31%

(The statement is reversed because “disagree” includes people who think there is no difference.)

Europe

The UK has nothing to fear from leaving the European Union:
Agree  43%
Disagree  29 %
Don’t know  29%

Half (52%) of Conservative voters agree, but a quarter (25%) of them disagree. Labour voters are evenly divided: 34% agree, 35% disagree.

Methodology: ComRes interviewed 2,010 GB adults online 17 – 18 October 2012. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk.

October 20, 2012 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead Halves to 7%

There is a new YouGov poll for today’s Sun newspaper which shows Labour’s lead halving to 7% following the Conference season:

                   Conservative               34% (up 3%)

                   Labour                         41% (down 4%)

                                                     Lib Dem                          8% (no change)

                                                     UKIP                              10% (up 2%)

This poll suggests that the boost Labour enjoyed following Milibands “One Nation” speech has not lasted. We will have to see in the next few polls whether Cameron’s speech has had any real effect. This poll suggests that none of the Conferences have made any difference. The Lib Dems will not be happy to be in fourth place once again behind UKIP.

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

October 11, 2012 Posted by | Polls | | 2 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead Jumps to 14%

There is a new YouGov poll for today’s Sunday Times newspaper which shows Labour’s lead jumping to 14% following their Conference:

                   Conservative               31% (down 4%)

                   Labour                         45% (up 5%)

                                                     Lib Dem                          8% (down 2%)

                                                     UKIP                               8% (up 1%)

As I will keep reminding readers, Party Conference season is a time when polls can show unusual fluctuations and I would not take any poll too seriously until all the major parties have completed their conferences. Anthony Wells has a piece here.

Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 30 Sep.

October 7, 2012 Posted by | Polls | | 7 Comments

Miliband Fails to Convince

Much has been written about Ed Miliband’s Leader’s speech yesterday at the Labour Party conference and to that extent it succeeded. Attracting the attention of a fickle media and the commentariat is not an easy feat these days when Party Conferences have effectively been neutered and where rows or ideological debates are largely a thing of the past. But did Ed miliband actually say anything worthy of such enthusiasm?

It is worth stating that he started with pretty low expectations. Several opinion polls had showed a narrowing of the Labour lead and almost all polls show him trailing David Cameron badly as a potential Prime Minister and on economic credibility. He has also earned a reputation as wooden and simply not up to the job. So it was against this back drop that he strode out onto a stage with no notes, no obvious autocue and with a Tory blue background.

I know from personal experience that it is much easier to give a convincing speech when you are not tied to a script but it is also harder to maintain a clear and logical line of argument. To do this for over an hour without obvious slip up or loss of thread was undoubtedly an achievement, albeit others, such as David Cameron, have done this before. The delivery therefore was effective, and to some extent surprisingly so, but what of the content?

For a speech to be great it has to be more than windy rhetoric. It must have a substance which stands up to scrutiny and strikes a chord with the people outside of the Conference hall. The one element of the speech which seems to have attracted most comment is Miliband’s audacious move to define his party as a “One Nation” party. The move was a bold one but it is not new. Back in 1995 Tony Blair sought to do exactly the same thing. In fact many of the themes in Miliband’s speech were a direct lift from Tony Blair’s speech“…we must move beyond the sterile battle between public and private sector to a sensible modern partnership between the two.”  This is exactly what Miliband was saying in interviews this morning, despite his opposition to such a partnership in the largest parts of the public sector, namely the NHS and education.

The originator of the concept of “one nation” was former Prime Minister and Conservative Party founder Benjamin Disraeli in his novel “Sybil”. He highlighted the social divisions in Victorian Britain and the need for the wealthy to help the working poor. He was a reformer who modernised the Conservative Party to appeal to the newly enfranchised electorate but he was also a man who believed in protecting and expanding the British Empire whilst curtailing the ability of rival nations to challenge British hegemony. I wonder if Miliband has actually read “Sybil” or knows much about Disraeli and his beliefs. Boris Johnson summed it up well in 2010 when he said:  “I’m a one-nation Tory. There is a duty on the part of the rich to the poor and to the needy, but you are not going to help people express that duty and satisfy it if you punish them fiscally so viciously that they leave this city and this country.”

Disraeli did not attack the wealthy, he sought to harness their efforts to the benefit of the nation. Miliband by contrast tried to define himself by attacks on “millionaires” and false claims that “millionaires” were receiving a “cheque for £42,000 from the government”. This is palpable rubbish! Millionaires may have assets which amount to more than £1m but it does not follow that they have taxable income of £1m per year. It is also a straightforward fact that when the top rate of tax drops to 45% next year it will be higher than for all of Labour’s 13 years in office, apart from the last couple of months. Miliband also ignored the fact that the Coalition’s raising of the tax free allowance for the lowest earners and freezing the point at which the higher rate of 40% kicks in helps the poorest and raises more from higher earners.

Miliband’s line that he would break up the banks is equally disingenuous. Under the last Government banks were allowed to merge and take over rivals to create huge banking groups which were too big to fail. The regulatory system was also emasculated under Gordon Brown. If Miliband and Balls (who were key members of Brown’s team) want to reverse the process now they will have huge difficulties. For a start many banks are now international organisations which could move their head offices and registrations in order to avoid any unwelcome new regulations. The Labour Party also should consider whether it is advisable to undermine the value of the banks which are majority owned by the UK state.

There was one clear pledge from Miliband which was to repeal the NHS Reform Bill. He did not say whether he simply wanted to turn the clock back or whether he has a vision of a new structure and way of doing things. After criticising a “top down” reform he proposes yet another if Labour were to win the next election.

So Miliband’s speech consisted of attacks on “millionaires”, Etonians, bankers and anyone who doesn’t share his view of the world. Not very “one nation”! There was no reaching out to the kind of aspirant voters which Labour needs to win in the south of England and no explanation of how a Labour government would reconcile its opposition to every Coalition “cut” and its desire to spend more of our money on almost everything else. The insidious message underneath the rhetoric was one of class war and the politics of envy. Already under the scrutiny of interviews today Miliband and his colleagues have been unable to explain what the rhetoric means in practice. On the Today programme this morning even the usually mild mannered Evan Davies was moved to audible derision at Miliband’s attempts to avoid answering any question of substance!

In summary it was an effective performance but more reminiscent of Neil Kinnock than Tony Blair. It reminded me of one of the fashionable manufactured pop bands, better than expected, superficially attractive and crowd pleasing but unlikely to survive the test of time. Not so much One Nation as One Direction!

October 3, 2012 Posted by | National | 6 Comments

Reading East MP Calls for Independent Enquiry into Jimmy Savile and BBC Conduct

I am indebted to Guido Fawkes who has blogged the fact that Rob Wilson MP has written to the Chairman of the BBC Trust Lord Patten to call for an independent investigation into the reports that Sir Jimmy Savile abused young girls on BBC premises. He also calls for the report to identify whether any of the BBC management of the day were aware of the allegations and covered them up.

I understand that Guido may have more tomorrow and if so I will update this posting.

October 2, 2012 Posted by | Local, National | 3 Comments

New ComRes Poll – Swing from Labour to Lib Dem Cuts Lead to 3%

There is a new ComRes telephone poll published in tomorrow’s Independent which shows the Labour lead down from 7% last month to just 3% now:

           Conservative            35% (no change)

                                        Labour                      38% (down 4%)

                                        Lib Dem                    15% (up 3%)

                                        UKIP                            4%

The Labour lead of 3% is within the margin of error and is a blow to Labour gathered at their conference. They have seen their lead in this monthly poll fall from 11% to 7% to just 3% now. The usual note of caution should be applied that during conference season polls can fluctuate and it may be that Labour are suffering from a boost to the Lib Dems who enjoyed additional publicity from their conference last week.

In further findings:

Only two out of 10 people believe that Ed Miliband has what it takes to be a good Prime Minister, while almost twice as many think that David Cameron has. Labour also trails the Conservatives on economic trust. Asked whether they trust Mr Cameron and George Osborne to make the right decisions about the economy, 30 per cent agree and 62 per cent disagree. Meanwhile, 24 per cent say they trust Mr Miliband and Ed Balls, while 64 per cent do not.

Asked whether Mr Miliband has what it takes to be a good prime minister, 22 per cent agree and 63 per cent disagree. For Mr Cameron, the figures are 39 per cent and 52 per cent respectively.

Methodology: ComRes interviewed 1,010 GB adults by telephone 28-30 September 2012. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk.

October 1, 2012 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Reading’s Tree Strategy

Conservative Councillors work hard planting trees

Tonight at the ruling Labour Group’s Cabinet meeting I was pleased to speak in support of a report on the tree strategy. As regular readers will recall, this is something which I feel passionately about. Indeed the strategy was the first item I took to the full Council in the year of the Conservative-led Coalition’s year of control. Despite the very difficult economic situation we faced I managed to protect the tree planting budget from cuts for that year and the next.The strategy focusses on planting trees in areas of town which have sparse cover, and replacing trees which have to be felled due to disease and other necessity. The funds allocated by the Council are relatively small and therefore the strategy depended heavily on support from groups like Trees for Cities, the town’s network of Tree Wardens, which I set up, and the willingness of local residents to chip in financially to support the planting of trees in their neighbourhood. The report to Cabinet tonight had examples of all of these key partnerships.

One thing which shone through the report was a plea from the authors for the administration to provide funds for future years to support the strategy and continue planting trees. I was pleased to add my voice to this call and offered to work with the administration in supporting such future funding. I also welcomed the plans to plant more trees in and around Peppard ward. Trees will be planted in Brooklyn Drive, Courtenay Drive, Burnham Rise, All Hallows Road and in the Henley Road Crematorium. A lot of trees have been lost through necessary felling but this partnership work will go a long way to replace these. The same is true in some of the town centre wards.

I did highlight that a key piece of information was missing from the report, namely the number of trees which have been lost. Without this information it is impossible to tell whether we are making progress towards increasing the tree canopy, or moving backwards. To his credit, Cllr Page accepted this point and asked Council officers to make it clearer in future reports which trees are simply replacements and which are net increases. However, I will also continue to press for news of trees felled with no replacement to understand the true picture.

I urge Reading residents to lobby ward Councillors for more trees and for the tree planting budget to be protected next year as the Coalition did and if possible, increased!

Read the Cabinet Report at Agenda Item 15 here.

October 1, 2012 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment