The news is just coming through that the UKIP MEP Marta Andreasen has defected to the Conservatives. Andreasen is known internationally for being a whistle blower over corruption in the EU. She was a major recruit for UKIP and added hugely to the credibility of their candidates list and was the sole female MEP for the party. She follows former UKIP leadership candidate David Campbell-Bannerman who joined the Conservatives in 2011.
Marta Andreasen said joining the Conservative Party was not a decision that she took lightly. In a letter delivered to UKIP leader Nigel Farage on Friday, she accused him of treating any views other than his own with contempt. Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said he was “delighted” to welcome her to the Conservative party. He said, “She brings a wealth of experience – and a dedication to fight for what’s best for the British people in Europe”.
Marta represents the South of England in the European Parliament and will be a very welcome boost to the Conservative team. No doubt she will be spending a lot of time in Eastleigh in the next week or so, hammering home the message that a vote for UKIP would allow the Euro-fanatic Lib Dems win the seat, and that only Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings can ensure a Eurosceptic represents the constituency.
- Public sector net borrowing was -£11.4 billion (a repayment) in January 2013; this is a £5.0 billion higher net repayment than in January 2012, when net borrowing was -£6.4 billion (a repayment).
- Public sector current budget surplus was £14.9 billion in January 2013; this is a £5.1 billion higher surplus than in January 2012, when there was a surplus of £9.8 billion.
- For the period April 2012 to January 2013, public sector net borrowing (excluding the capital payment recorded as part of the Royal Mail Pension Plan transfer in April 2012) was £93.8 billion; this is £1.5 billion higher net borrowing than in the same period the previous year, when net borrowing was £92.3 billion.
- January 2013 public sector net borrowing and public sector current budget figures include the first cash transfer from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund to Government of £3.8 billion, which took place on 7 January 2013.
- Public sector net debt was £1,162.8 billion at the end of January 2013, equivalent to 73.8% of gross domestic product (GDP).
- In 2011/12, public sector net borrowing was £121.0 billion; this is £5.0 billion lower than the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasted net borrowing for 2011/12 of £126.0 billion.
- Figures in this bulletin include for the first time the impact on the public sector finances of the reclassification of Northern Rock Asset Management (NRAM) and Bradford & Bingley to central government.
There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times newspaper showing a slight increase in Labour’s lead:
Conservative 32% (no change)
Labour 43% (up 2%)
Lib Dem 12% (up 1%)
UKIP 9% (no change)
This poll is quite different from the ComRes poll published yesterday. YouGov are showing much higher Labour and Lib Dem vote shares and lower UKIP. YouGov has a better track record than the more recent ComRes and I would therefore give more credence to YouGov at this stage.
Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 10 February.
There is a new ComRes online poll published in tomorrow’s Independent on Sunday which shows the Labour lead down to just 5% and UKIP up, compared to last month (changes are against last month’s online poll) but there is a change in methodology which helps UKIP and other minor parties:
Conservative 31% (down 2%)
Labour 36% (down 3%)
Lib Dem 8% (down 3%)
UKIP 14% (up 4%)
In further findings there is a big shift in economic trust in the Conservatives’ favour:
I trust David Cameron and George Osborne to make the right decisions about the economy:
Agree 27% (+2) Disagree 51% (-4) Net agree -24% (+6)
I trust Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to make the right decisions about the economy:
Agree 20% (-1) Disagree 55% (+3) Net agree -35% (-4)
Change since December
I have stopped eating meat ready meals as a result of the reports of horsemeat in British food:
Women (35%) are more likely than men (27%) to say they have stopped eating ready meals.
Agree: 31% Disagree: 58%
I have stopped eating meat altogether as a result of the reports of horsemeat in British food:
Agree: 7% Disagree: 87%
All meat imports should be banned until we can be sure of their origin:
Agree: 53% Disagree: 33%
The Government has responded well to the findings of horsemeat in ready meals:
Agree: 44% Disagree: 30%
It would be a positive step for the Catholic church if they chose an African as their next Pope:
Agree: 33% Disagree: 19% Don’t know: 48%
The Catholic church is a force for good in the world:
Agree: 22% Disagree: 45% Don’t know: 32%
Methodology: ComRes interviewed 2,002 GB adults online 13 – 14 February 2013. 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.
For the second time in recent years, Mr Wilson has stepped in to stop funding to the centre being either withdrawn or reduced. This funding arrives in the nick of time as the centre was due to run out of resources by the end of March this year. Alana House in South Street, central Reading provides support to some 300 women from across Reading and West Berkshire who are at risk of offending. With a small team of five staff and volunteers, the centre works with a number of local agencies such as the NHS and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to provide a one-stop-shop of help and support.
This good news follows on from a politically motivated attack on Mr Wilson from the newly selected Reading East Labour candidate, who made a fool of himself by failing to check his facts or even visit the centre in the ward he was elected to represent.
The confirmation of further funding to keep the centre running until March 2014, came shortly before the visit of Helen Grant MP, Minister for Victims and the Courts at The Ministry of Justice, to Alana House. On 7th February Mrs Grant went to see for herself the vital work that Alana House does for women who are experiencing problems or whose life circumstances and behaviour have been shown to them at risk of offending. The centre has been successfully helping women since it opened in 2009 and provides the courts with an alternative to custodial sentences in order to help vulnerable women tackle their problems.
Helen Grant’s visit followed intense behind the scenes and public lobbying by the Reading East MP, including raising the matter on the floor of the House on 18 December 2012. The funding that Rob has helped secure means that Alana House can continue to go on to help many more women in the future and continue the good work that it does in Reading.
Rob said: “This is good news, I have fought extremely hard to continue funding for Alana House and today we achieved a great result for the centre and for the women who turn to them in their time of need. I am extremely grateful to the minister for listening and for coming to see the service on the ground for herself. Nobody can doubt my commitment to Alana House having saved its funding under two consecutive Governments. But it’s time for someone to give it some honest advice and some tough love and I suppose that, as a friend, it falls to me. I’m not sure it will get straight advice anywhere else.”
“It is now important that Alana House uses the time and space that this funding has given them to increase its own funding streams. It cannot go on having a hand to mouth existence and running the risk of almost closing as it has again. With the best will in the world public money is very tight and public money is unlikely to continue to cover the bulk of its costs. Now the issue for Alana House is to get out there and work with potential donors to give it a financially secure future. I am happy to assist. I know that many associated with Alana House are very disappointed by the negative and unhelpful attitude that the local Labour Party has taken. At a time when it could have worked with us to secure the funding, it simply carped and seemed to want me to fail. That is very sad to see in a political Party.”
Jan Fishwick, Chief Executive of PACT, the organisation that runs Alana House, said: “We are delighted to announce that Alana House services have received full funding for 2013/14 courtesy of Thames Valley Probation and J P Getty charitable trust. We are very grateful to all involved in achieving this outcome and we will continue to work hard to ensure we can continue to support the 300 vulnerable women that rely on this service for many more years. We are pleased that Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, raised awareness of the need to continue funding Alana House services in Parliament, and arranged for Helen Grant the Minister for Justice to visit Alana House last week in order to see first-hand the holistic approach we take in order to address a wide variety of complex issues in order to help transform the lives of hundreds of local women.”
Conservative Group finance spokesman, Cllr David Stevens, said; “At Westminster and in Reading Labour still fail to grasp the seriousness of the dire financial situation they have caused. They really think that borrowing more, taxing more and spending more will save the day. Only Conservatives fully realise how much has to be done to rebalance the public finances. The coalition at Westminster is making progress but it will be a long and painful haul. Meanwhile we have to protect an aging population and find school places for Reading’s children. When will Labour acknowledge their responsibility for creating the crisis in the public finances?”
Group Leader Cllr Tim Harris said, “It is disappointing, but unsurprising, that Labour controlled Reading Borough Council revert to raising Council Tax. They invariably express their concern about pensioners and the low paid, but then hit them with more taxes. In levying this additional tax, Labour has chosen to reject a grant from the Government worth £700,000. Instead they land local residents with an additional bill of £1.2M. Was it not possible to find any other savings in the council’s budget?”
It is interesting to note that whilst many people are suffering pay freezes or having to find additional part time work, the Council’s wage bill is forecast to rise by almost £1M next year. After paying off one chief executive with an extremely generous severance cheque they now employ a new one on a salary and benefits worth around that paid to the Prime Minister.
It is also worth noting that until the Conservative-led coalitions took control at Westminster and in Reading and introduced a Council Tax freeze, local taxes in Reading rose by more than inflation year on year, making it the most expensive Unitary authority precept in Berkshire.
There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian tomorrow showing Labour regaining a more significant lead with a 3% gain and the Conservatives down 4%:
Conservative 29% (down 4%)
Labour 41% (up 3%)
Lib Dem 13% (down 2%)
UKIP 9% (up 3%)
The Labour lead is the biggest – and the Conservative vote-share the smallest – in the polling series since May 2003, during the brief political bounce for Tony Blair which came between the felling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad and first stirrings of civil war in Iraq and arguments about dodgy dossiers.
As I continually remind readers, ICM is considered the “Gold Standard” amongst polling aficionados. However, a note of caution is always warranted where there are bigger changes. ICM is usually a poll which shows small changes month on month and therefore we should wait to see whether the trend in this poll is repeated in other polls
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,001 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 8-10 February 2013. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.
The Vatican has surprised the world by announcing that Pope Benedict is to resign with effect from 28 February. He is the first Pope to resign his office since 1415.
There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times newspaper showing an essentially unchanged position with the Labour lead still in single figures:
Conservative 32% (down 1%)
Labour 41% (no change)
Lib Dem 11% (no change)
UKIP 9% (no change)
We seem to have settled into a pretty consistent position with Labour being about 8-10% ahead and the Lib Dems narrowly ahead of UKIP.
There is also a Survation telephone poll in the Mail today of Eastleigh voting intentions but the sample is just 500 and it has a margin of error of around 4%, more than the alleged Lib Dem lead. All we can say at this stage is that the Lib Dems and Conservatives are neck and neck. The real position will only become clearer once the campaign gets underway.
Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 8 February.
At last week’s Audit and Governance Scrutiny Committee during discussion of the Strategic Risk Register I quizzed Council Emergency Planning Officers over the testing of fire alarms in Council owned properties and the conduct of regular fire drills. Under pressure Officers admitted that not all properties had been tested regularly and not all fire drills had been conducted as required by legislation.
The report highlighted that the residual risks around the maintenance of the fabric of Council premises had increased, mainly as a result of a recent case of Legionella. However, my questioning highlighted that essential fire prevention measures have not been properly conducted in some buildings. Management action was stated to be underway to address the problem but Officers seemed reluctant to commit to a timescale or to state what action would be taken if proper checks and drills were not conducted in future.
I will be asking further questions to keep up the pressure to ensure that all Council properties are properly managed and that employees, residents and other visitors are never put at risk by a failure to carry out mandated safety procedures.
There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sun newspaper showing the Conservatives cutting Labour’s lead to 8%:
Conservative 33% (up 3%)
Labour 41% (down 4%)
Lib Dem 11% (no change)
UKIP 9% (no change)
This suggests that the poll earlier in the week showing Labour with a 15% lead was an outlier.
Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 4 February.
Peppard ward Conservative Councillors Jane Stanford-Beale and Richard Willis are pressing for urgent action to repair dangerous deep pot-holes in the Budgens’ Precinct car park in Emmer Green.The car park is privately owned, and managed on behalf of the shop keepers by Wolfe Property Services Ltd, a London-based management company. In August 2011 Cllr Richard Willis wrote to Wolfe to ask them to take action to deal with the poor state of the car park. Wolfe responded with a planning application (12/00351/FUL) to replace the paving slabs in front of the shops with Tarmac, and to properly resurface a large part of the car park. This was approved by the Council but unfortunately proved unaffordable for many of the smaller shops, some of which are struggling to remain in business (“Blockbusters” is currently in the process of closing down).
In summer 2012 some repairs were undertaken to fill the existing pot-holes but new cracks developed over the winter and these have now developed into a massive hole around 6 inches deep and several smaller growing pot-holes. With recent wet weather it is impossible to see how deep the holes are and there is a real risk of a cyclist coming to serious harm or a driver suffering serious damage to their vehicle.
Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale said, “I have recently written to Wolfe Property Services to point out the dangers being caused by the growing pot-holes and calling on them to take urgent action to make the car park safe. I am also contacting the head offices of the national chains like Budgens and Lloyds Pharmacy to urge them to use their larger resources to ensure that the car park is repaired. They have a duty of care to their customers and other car park users.”
Both Jane and I are determined to get urgent action on this. I have discussed the state of the car park with some of the shopkeepers this month and understand that they are now pressing Wolfe to undertake smaller scale emergency repairs to the pot-holes. It is important that whatever happens, the cost of repairs does not drive the smaller shops out of business, but the car park must be made safe as soon as possible for the public to use.
I am pleased to report that the House of Commons voted in favour of equal marriage rights for gay couples by 400 in favour to 175 against.
Reading West MP Alok Sharma voted in favour of the bill.
Reading East MP Rob Wilson abstained.
Following the vote, Alok said: “I have huge respect for the passionate and genuinely held views of those who oppose this legislation. They stem from profound and deeply held beliefs, often founded in religion. However, I have always been consistent in my view. We already have civil partnerships for same sex couples who enjoy many of the same rights as married couples. And therefore the introduction of same sex marriage will not, in my view, represent a major revolution in the law.”
Alok continued: “The key for me was to confirm that the Bill has the safeguards to ensure that no religious institution can be forced, against its wishes, to marry any same sex, or indeed heterosexual, couples. I believe the Bill contains those safeguards and that is an assurance I have also received from Ministers.”
Alok concluded: “I also do not believe that there can be a successful challenge to these safeguards in Europe. Religious freedom is guaranteed and enshrined under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Court has recently confirmed that same-sex marriage is a matter for each individual state to decide upon. Interestingly Spain, which is a predominantly Catholic country, introduced same-sex marriage in 2005 and has not seen a single challenge in Europe.”
Today the House of Commons will vote on whether to allow same sex couples to enjoy equal rights to civil marriage as straight couples. There has been much wailing and protesting, mainly from church groups who have conducted a well organised letter writing campaign to Members of Parliament. Some will undoubtedly be concerned at this apparent outburst of anger among normally docile constituents but they should also be mindful of opinion polls which consistently show significant majority support for same sex marriage.
Many MPs have already publicly declared their voting intention with pro’s and anti’s in each of the three major parties. Only the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland seems to be united against the plans. The Conservative Party (as the name implies) has a higher percentage of anti’s than the other major parties but Prime Minister David Cameron is a strong supporter as is a significant majority of senior Conservative Cabinet members and Government members. The main body of Conservative anti’s is on the backbenches. More surprising is a significant minority of Labour anti’s and one or two Lib Dem MPs.
In my view the State should not maintain a position that two adults of the same sex who love eachother may not marry. Marriage has evolved over the centuries and in the twenty first century it is time to extend the right to civil marriage to gay couples. I perfectly understand that some religious groups want to have safeguards which ensure that they should not be forced to conduct same sex marriages in their places of worship if they object on doctrinal grounds. However, those religious organisations that wish to conduct same sex marriages should be permitted to do so.
This is a matter of conscience for MPs and therefore the Whips have been held heck as MPs decide how to vote according to their own consciences. The Parliamentary maths indicates that the measure will pass with a substantial majority even if Scottish and Welsh MPs abstain. If I had been elected in 2005 when I stood for Parliament I would vote in favour of equal marriage tomorrow. I have also spoken to my local MP Rob Wilson to urge him to support the measure. I hope that a majority of Conservative MPs will come down in favour and that those who cannot do so accept defeat with good grace. In a few years same sex marriage will be the accepted norm and no-one will understand the fears and scares being expressed by some in this debate.
David Cameron has this one spot on and his leadership will stand him in good stead at the next election!
Conservative 30% (down 4%)
Labour 45% (up 4%)
Lib Dem 11% (down 1%)
UKIP 9% (up 1%)
This is a marked change from the YouGov poll on Sunday and as with any big change a note of caution is recommended until we have seen other polls to see whether this is a trend or an outlier.
Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 3 February.