If I were a Labour supporter I'd be going for Hilary Benn or Alan Johnson. But Johnson may have his eye on the top job. As a Conservative I'd love it to be Ms Harman. Vote now in the new poll in the left hand column!
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
If I were a Labour supporter I'd be going for Hilary Benn or Alan Johnson. But Johnson may have his eye on the top job. As a Conservative I'd love it to be Ms Harman. Vote now in the new poll in the left hand column!
UPDATE Thur 10pm: Ben Abbotts (who is a reader of this blog) says the info on the Sevenoaks LibDem website about his wife teaching at a grammar school is wrong. I thought about editing it out of the original text, but then the comments would appear rather non sensical. Hope that clears it up, anyway!
During the last two years the Government has 'mispaid' four billion pounds of your money to people who had no entitlement to it. That's two pence of the standard rate of income tax. Gordon Brown will no doubt be proud of this and claim to be a latter day Robin Hood. And as for getting the money back, why is it that I suspect the Inland Revenue will be adopting a less than rigorous approach? Surely not because a majority of the six million people affected are Labour voters! Perish the thought, and wash my mouth out with soap. Another triumph for 'Red' Dawn Primarolo. And this woman is tipped to be in Gordon Brown's cabinet. You really couldn't make it up.
The only way publishers can give this discount is to concentrate their efforts on bestsellers and to put all their marketing resources behind comparatively few books. The publishing sector has reflected its bookselling counterpart and seen many smaller publishing houses gobbled up by the bigger ones, as they struggle to compete. In turn this has meant fewer books being publishing and a contraction in range. So although the consumer wins on cover price, it loses out on choice. Some independent booksellers don't even bother to sell Harry Potter books because Tesco is selling it more cheaply than the bookseller can buy it from the publisher. It's not uncommon to see small independent booksellers piling up their supermarket trollies down at Asda, looking slightly sheepish as they do so. This is because the publisher gives Asda a 60-65% discount, while the small bookseller will get 40% if he's lucky. And on top of that Asda is likely to sell the book as a loss leader.
Amazon offers a standard 30-40% discount on most non-academic titles, so it has been able to establish a dominant market position in online bookselling. It has been so successful that 80% of people who buy anything online, buy from Amazon at some point. So there's the background - now for the prediction. I foresee that within ten years the independent bookshop will have disappeared from our town centres, all bar a few retired individuals who have got money to throw down the drain. Even second hand bookshops are disappearing at a fair old rate, as most people now buy their used books through Abebooks. There's still nothing like rooting round a second hand bookstore and finding that book you've been looking for for years, but the internet has made it so much easier.
The joy of wandering round Waterstone's used to be that each one was different - the local manager was able to decide on buying. Now everything is decided by the centre and the local managers have little power to go their own way. Each store looks at the same and stocks the same books. And as we have read in the weekend press, to get a book displayed in a prominent position throughout their chain can cost a publisher upwards of £20,000. So the bestseller charts are entirely skewed by money changing hands between publisher and bookseller. W H Smith do the same. It is rare indeed for a book to break through that market barrier on its own merits. It can happen - East Shoots and Leaves by Lynn truss is the exception that proves the rule. Profile Books, Truss's publisher, would never have been able to fund a marketing campaign which a bestseller would normally require. But as I say, it's a great rarity for this to happen.
So will the consumer win in the long run? If you're a buyer of trade fiction, sports books or general literature then probably. Prices will remain low and the contraction in range won't affect you. But if you're into more esoteric, specialist books expect to find your choice diminished and the price to rise. And if you're someone who just likes to browse, you're likely to find your browsing range restricted to a choice of Waterstone's, Borders or W H Smith. A truly terrifying thought.
Some time ago I raved about the movie Green Street, which stars Elijah Wood and revolves around hooliganism at West Ham. In my Desert Island Discs posting a few days ago I chose a song from the soundtrack by Terence Jay called One Blood. I've just found the song on Youtube. Have a listen. I warn you now that the movie excerpt is very very violent - so violent in fact that I couldn't watch some of it. What a wuss. But the song is amazing. A bit like Mark Knopfler. Anyway, listen, rather than watch!
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
· Not to make ‘improper use’ of ODPM accommodation, furniture and workspace, especially during ‘official time’.
· Innuendo, leering, lewd comments, touching or deliberate brushing up against others is discouraged as it could lead to harassment claims.
· Alcohol is not permitted in many areas, and senior managers must ensure that office parties do not cause disruption.
· Not to allow staff, in their official capacity, to attend events organised by a political party.
· “It’s all about protecting people’s dignity at work”.
The Ministerial Code warns ministers that they must not seek to make their civil servants breach these terms and conditions of employment, and ministers must observe all the obligations of a ‘good employer’. Caroline Spelman MP, Shadow Minister for Communities & Local Government, said: “It comes as no surprise that a man who couldn’t even pay his own council tax bill can’t be bothered to read his own official handbook. This just shows that there seems to be one rule for Labour ministers living it up at taxpayers’ expense, and another for everyone else. Perhaps if John Prescott had read the rulebook, he wouldn’t be where he is now.”
“Ministers have a duty to... not to ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code... and a duty to observe the obligations of a good employer with regard to terms and conditions of those who serve them.”
USE OF OFFICE & FURNITURE
What was reported: “He would usually be going through his ministerial box. Things always started with us touching. It might have been me touching his arm, or him patting me on the back. We would kiss and things would go on from there. Sometimes it was behind the desk, but mainly we stood behind the open door. We were very lucky we were never caught as we never shut the door. I knew what we were doing was risky but we both got carried away” (Tracey Temple, cited in Daily Mail, 1 May 2006).
“Miss Temple also claimed in her diary that their mutual admiration steamed over in another historic setting, the Admiralty Board Room, which the DPM uses as a conference room... It has always been a room occupied by substantial men: the great table in its middle has a semi-circle cut out at one end, traditionally said to have been done to accommodate the girth of a particularly substantial First Lord of the Victorian era, George Ward Hunt” (Daily Telegraph, 1 May 2006).
Staff Handbook: “You must not make inappropriate use of official time, information and resources of the Office… Inappropriate use means any use of official times, information and resources which: (a) is illegal, improper and/or unethical, (b) impedes the business of the Office…. (c) in any way contravenes the Office’s equal opportunities policy… (e) deliberately causes harm to ODPM information and resources” (Part A, Personal Conduct, p.6-7).
“Official time, information and resources means all official time, services, materials and equipment provided for use on or relating to the official business of the Office and/or the Crown and (by way of illustration only) includes: … (k) accommodation, furniture and workspace, (l) public funds, (m) official time” (Part A, Personal Conduct, p.6-7).
“Where a civil servant believes he or she is being required to act in a way which is illegal, improper or unethical… he or she should report the matter in accordance with procedures” (Part A, Personal Conduct, p.45).
TREATMENT OF STAFF
What was reported: “New extracts from diaries kept by Tracey Temple disclose how Mr Prescott repeatedly made advances towards her, despite her attempts to rebuff him, and how he even flirted with her in front of Ministerial colleagues. She describes in detail how the Deputy Prime Minister was ‘eyeing her up’ when they met for the first time the day after Labour’s 2001 General Election victory. And just five days later she confessed she felt uncomfortable about the way Mr Prescott continually looked at her. The diary entries, published today in The Mail on Sunday, reveal how, after months of ogling, Mr Prescott attempted to force her on to the bed of his luxurious grace-and-favour London flat. She had gone there along with Joe Irvin, Mr Prescott’s then special adviser, as Mr Prescott was supposed to be working on a crucial speech to be delivered at the Labour Party conference. But as soon as Mr Irvin left, the Deputy Prime Minister made his move. The diaries detail how Mr Prescott intimately touched his £26,000 a-year secretary as they sat in the back of his chauffeur-driven Government Jaguar and how he enjoyed ‘dirty’ conversations while she sat at her Whitehall desk” (Mail on Sunday, 7 May 2006).
“Their affection shocked staff. One woman colleague said she had seen Tracey nuzzle Mr Prescott’s neck in the lift. She said she thought it was ‘inappropriate’. Mr Prescott later laughed off the incident as a bit of messing about. But three days later he was absolutely livid to find that office gossip claimed they were having an affair. He told people it was ‘none of their business’. And in the week afterwards he would regularly make a joke of who he got into a lift with at work in case he was accused of having an affair with them. Eleven days after the party Mr Prescott was still at odds with one aide because he was aware they had been discussing his relationship with Tracey and ‘causing him problems’.” (The Mirror, 27 April 2006).
Staff Handbook: “Sexual and racial harassment or abuse arises when someone is subjected against their will to unwanted verbal or sexual advances; made the target of embarrassing remarks jokes or names; confronted with offensive material or ostracised because of his or her race, sexuality or disability. Conduct failing within the category of ‘intentional harassment, alarm or distress’ as defined in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act will give rise to the commencement or internal disciplinary procedures and in serious cases could lead to criminal proceedings… Employer liability – in law an employer is responsible for the actions of all employees which occur in the course of their employment” (Part B, Working in the Office, p.25-26).
“Harassment can be a serious, traumatic and humiliating experience. It is particularly important to ensure that harassment does not occur in the workplace where the effects are likely to cause low morale, lack of confidence, anxiety and serious problems for individuals and teams. The Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are equal opportunity employers. They aim to ensure that all their staff are treated fairly and have equality of opportunity to develop their skills. Basically, it’s all about protecting people’s dignity at work… If our policy is to be more than just words, all staff need to acknowledge our responsibilities for preventing harassment, discriminations and victimisation within ODPM” (Part B, Harassment and discrimination in the workplace, p.1, emphasis added).
“Examples of cases upheld in the courts, and types of harassment defined in legislation include: … Innuendo… Mockery or lewd comments… Leering, lewd gestures… Offensive mannerism or style of communication… Touching or deliberate brushing up against others.” (Part B, Harassment and discrimination in the workplace, p.2).
CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL
What was reported: “John Prescott’s office sounded like a great place to work. Sometimes some of the staff would stay up drinking until 5.30am during the week then crash out at hotels” (Tracey Temple’s fiance, Barrie Williams, quoted in The Mirror, 27 April 2006).
“Her diaries give the impression that it was nothing unusual for Mr Prescott’s staff to get drunk at office parties, some attended by Mr Prescott himself, and turn up for work with raging hangovers” (Mail on Sunday, 30 April 2006).
Staff Handbook: “Alcohol is prohibited in some of the Office’s premises (see local instructions) and where there is no formal ban, line managers are expected to ensure that office parties do not cause disruption to the work of the office” (Part B, Office Policy on Alcohol, p.2).
INVOLVEMENT IN PARTY POLITICS
What was reported: “Miss Temple spent much of last year’s 2005 General Election campaign on Mr Prescott’s battle bus as he toured marginal seats” (Daily Mail, 27 April 2006).
Staff Handbook: “You must not attend in your official capacity a conference, seminar or other event convened by, or under the aegis of, a United Kingdom party political organisation” (Part B, Security & Confidentiality, p.17)
ONGOING FARCE… THE pantomime horse
Civil servants and local government officials described Prescott’s Department as unfocused, lacking leadership and comparable to a ‘pantomime horse’. The scathing verdict on the ODPM was revealed in a leaked MORI opinion poll of government officials and stakeholders. It depicted a department that is poorly managed, ‘out-gunned’ by other departments and suffering from ‘re-organisation fatigue’ (Sunday Times, 8 January 2006).
COMING LATER: Has Cornerstone gone to far in its criticism of the 'A' List?
Monday, May 29, 2006
A review of local government funding should not give councils the power to levy a hotel 'bed tax', the Liberal Democrats have said. The option is reported to be under consideration by Sir Michael Lyons, who is reviewing the future of local government finance. But the Lib Dems warned that such a move could be "disastrous" for the UK tourism sector. "We have got a problem and anything like a bed tax that would put people off from coming to this country would be a real disaster," culture spokesman Don Foster told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "In the UK, tourism is already the most heavily taxed, with the exception of Denmark, in Europe. "Tourists contribute £12bn to the UK economy. "When you think that VAT on tourist-related activities in this country is 17.5 per cent, whereas in the rest of Europe it is 8.5 per cent and in countries like France 5.5 per cent, these tourists use services, but they are certainly already paying for them."
Well, I agree with every word of that. The only trouble is that in 2002 the FibDems adopted the policy of imposing a hotel bed tax at their autumn conference. In fact, I believe it is still listed on their national website. At the time it was reported that "Liberal Democrats want to introduce a new charge on hotel bills to pay for their numerous rural spending commitments. They note that ‘the state of Florida has a strong state tourism association funded by a small sales tax on accommodation bills’ hence they would ‘help the local rural environment via a small levy added to accommodation bills’ (Liberal Democrats, Rural Futures, Policy Paper 52, August 2002, p. 29-30, ratified as Official Policy at Liberal Democrat Conference, September 2002).I remember raising this when I was candidate in North Norfolk. The response was: "Ah yes, it may be on our website but that doesn't mean we would do it." Plus ca change.
|Your Political Profile:|
|Overall: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal|
|Social Issues: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal|
|Personal Responsibility: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal|
|Fiscal Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal|
|Ethics: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal|
|Defense and Crime: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal|
This what a bit of a relief! Mind you, it is an American test so bear in mind their understanding of the term 'liberal' is a little different to ours.
Sir Menzies paid tribute to him, telling journalists: "Eric Forth was a friend of mine. He was born within a mile of where I was born. I deprecate any effort to begin electioneering under any circumstances in any by-election until the writ has been moved by the party with responsibility for doing so. If that were done, I disapprove, and I will make sure my disapproval is known."
Strange then, that the LibDem HQ in Bromley opened for business three days ago. The writ won't be moved until next week. To be fair to Ming, he probably meant until the funeral had been held. And as you know, I do like to be fair to Ming.
I have just listened to yet another Labour MP call for Prescott to go. But this time it was a member of the Government! Unless I am very much mistaken Stephen Pound is still a PPS. On Jeremy Vine's show he follwed Derek Wyatt and Christine McCafferty in calling on the DPM to go. He said: "People question why he's paid 130 grand to play croquet." I suspect Mr P will be getting a call from the Chief Whip. If not, why not?
From Iain Dale's Blackberry
Labour is bankrupt, barren and banal," said Sir Menzies Campbell on Friday - bold words from a man who was himself in the middle of delivering one of the more platitudinous political speeches of recent months. Billed as Sir Menzies' first major foray into domestic policy since the local elections, it spluttered on to the news on the back of a promise to cut parole for serious criminals and some cod-rightwingery about denying sex offenders the vote, but it delivered neither a coherent picture of the sort of liberalism Sir Menzies wants to develop, nor much new thinking. As piece of political positioning it was justifiable, responding to the (unfair) charge that the party cares more about the interests of those who commit crime than the people who suffer from it. But it was much too defensive as an opening foray, retreating from distinctive positions Liberal Democrats have taken in the past. One passage ran close to endorsing the government's policy of control orders. This lack of anything much to say, rather than his cheek-reddening performances at prime minister's questions, which he will surely overcome, is Sir Menzies' problem at the moment. Inside the party, he is turning out to be a good caretaker, tidying up the campaigns department, building links between the leader's office and MPs, and bringing on a new generation of able frontbench MPs. But he is proving much weaker as the public face of liberalism. His team point out, fairly enough, that Sir Menzies is still new to the job, establishing his team of advisers and waiting for policy commissions to report. They say that his slow start can be put down in part to his tricky inheritance from Charles Kennedy and they promise more action before the summer, including a new look at taxation and a personal manifesto, leading up to a bigger debate at the party's autumn conference. This will involve an assertion of social as well as economic liberalism. But neither was much on show in Friday's speech.
Liberal Democrats are not a carnivorous bunch and do not like chewing up their leaders. The rebellion against Charles Kennedy was an exception. But Sir Menzies does not look like a man who is enjoying his job, which is both difficult and (unlike David Cameron's) unpaid. The belief is growing that he will not want to stay on until the next election. His allies deny this absolutely, pointing to the temptation of office in a possible hung parliament, but even the suspicion that Sir Menzies is not in the game for the long term will damage him.
There will be no moment of crisis, unless Mr Kennedy's ill-advised decision to take a £2.4m donation during the last election, comes to haunt his successor. Liberal Democrats insist that proper checks were made and that the money was taken fairly. But the donor, Michael Brown, now faces serious claims from his bankers, HSBC, and a police investigation. Spanish authorities have chased his assets in Majorca. A point may come where the party faces a moral, if not a legal, obligation to return the money. But Sir Menzies' more imminent political problem is the sense that the game is running away from him, as the nation shapes up to make a straight choice between Gordon Brown and David Cameron. This is the moment for him to intrude. The four-point drop in Lib-Dem support in the latest Guardian poll may be just typical political turbulence: the local elections were not quite as bad as painted and the party's win in the Fife byelection may be a sign of success to come in next year's Scottish and Welsh elections. But Labour's troubles seem to be sending support sliding into Tory laps. A declining Liberal Democrat party is just what Mr Cameron needs: he cannot win a majority without it. The fightback requires originality, intelligence and a degree of bravery. None of these were prominent in Sir Menzies' speech on home affairs. It is to be hoped that he knows it.
Click HERE to see the comments of Guardian readers on this. They make for some interesting reading!
Sunday, May 28, 2006
UPDATE: When I talked about "a ridiculous egomaniac standing as an independent Conservative" I wasn't talking about THIS man, believe it or not!
Old Field Area 3.58 hectares New Field Area 3.58 hectares
Old Field Area 1.09 hectares New Field Area 1.09 hectares
So that's clear then and well worth sending a letter out. This comes on top of another letter received a few weeks ago telling them that they would be receiving 80% of their Single Payment Scheme payment. And the next day they received one telling them they had sent it out. This is bureaucracy gone mad. No wonder the cost of government has doubled since 1997. DEFRA is completely out of control and is serving only the interests of the incompetents who work within in it. It is a self generating bureaucracy, which needs to be curbed. It is simply astonishing that there are more DEFRA
PS Brace yourself for a dramatic rise in Foreign Office cockups now Ma Beckett is in the hotseat. I wonder what she's doing this bank holiday. Parking her caravan on the front lawn at Chevening I should imagine!
History began some 12,000 years ago... Humans existed as members of small bands of nomadic hunter/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains during the summer & would go to the coast & live on fish & lobster in winter. The two most important events in all of history were the invention of beer & the invention of the wheel. The wheel was invented to get man to the beer. These were the foundation of modern civilization & together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into 2 distinct subgroups: Liberals & Conservatives. Once beer was discovered it required grain & that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early human ancestors were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That's how villages were formed. Some men spent their days tracking & killing animals to B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known as "the Conservative movement." Other men who were weaker & less skilled at hunting learned to live off the conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Q's & doing the sewing, fetching & hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal movement. Some of these liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as 'girleymen.' Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy & group hugs & the concept of Democratic voting to decide how to divide the meat & beer that conservatives provided. Over the years conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest, most powerful land animal on earth, the elephant. Liberals are symbolized by the jackass. Modern liberals like imported beer (with lime added), but most prefer white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw fish but like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, & French food are standard liberal fare. Another interesting revolutionary side note: most of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men. Most social workers, personal injury attorneys, journalists, dreamers in Hollywood & group therapists are liberals. Liberals invented the designated hitter rule because it wasn't "fair" to make the pitcher also bat. Conservatives drink domestic beer. They eat red meat & still provide for their women. Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers, firemen, medical doctors, police officers, corporate executives, military men, athletes & generally anyone who works productively outside government. Conservatives who own companies hire other conservatives who want to work for a living. Liberals produce little or nothing. They like to "govern" the producers & decide what to do with the production. Liberals believe Europeans are more enlightened than Americans. That is why most of the liberals remained in Europe when conservatives were coming to America. They crept in after the Wild West was tame & created a business of trying to get MORE for nothing. Here ends today's lesson in world history. It should be noted that a Liberal will have an uncontrollable urge to respond to the above instead of simply laughing and forwarding it.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
The Natural History Museum at South Kensington has just received a very rare and interesting gift in the shape of a meteorite which fell just before 1 p.m. on March 9 between Saffron Walden and Ashdon, in Essex, on the border of Cambridgeshire. The actual spot is in the parish of Ashdon. The man who saw the meteorite fall was a labourer who states that he heard a loud "sissing" noise and supposed that an aeroplane was overhead. Looking up a second or two after he saw what he thought was a projectile fall about ten to fifteen yards from him, causing the earth to spout up like water. He was much alarmed, because he considered that something had been discharged from a gun. Three days later, in the company with another man, he took the meteorite up from where it had fallen. He says that there was a small hole where it had entered the ground, and this hole increased in width as he dug deeper. The stone was found at a depth of two feet. It often happens that in these cases detonations are heard, but so far as can be ascertained at present, the fall of this meteor was not accompanied by any such explosive noises. The specimen weight about 3lb., and is what is known as a white chrondrite meteoric stone. It is about 5in. long by 4in. wide, and has a thickness of about 3in. in its thickest part. The mass of the stone is composed of minerals belonging to the olivene and pyroxene groups, through which are distributed small particles of nickeliferous iron. The surface of the stone shows with remarkable distinctness the lines of flow of fused material radiated from the centre of the surface, and proves that it was partially fused owing to the high velocity at which it entered the earth's atmosphere. The rarity of the occurrence of a meteor seen to be falling is evident by the fact that only about fifteen falls have been recorded in the British Islands. The museum is indebted for this specimen to the Rev. F. W. Berry, of Wendens Ambo vicarage, near Saffron Walden.
The Min. Mag., 20, p131 (my summary of) Fall 1pm 9 March 1923 observed by Frederich Pratt--thatcher. Location 1/3 mile due S. of All Saints Church Ashdon in 52° 2' 40" N.LAT 0° 18' 20" E. Long. Direction from SW to NE and passed over Saffron Walden. Stone:Reg No 1923,484 wt 1270g original wt. aprox 1300g. dim. 12x9x6cm Composition aprox. 10% magnetic material. F. Pratt working on Ashdon Hall Farm, Ashdon a few feet from the farm road. Author visited on 8th June 1923, depth aprox. 2 feet.
To read more about Ashdon, the idyllic Essex village where I lived for the first 18 years if my life, and where my parents still live, click HERE.
UPDATE 5.53pm: It was remiss of me not to point out that there are two very good anti LibDem sites at Yellow Peril and Fibdems.
If you've bought the Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze, you'll have seen this Sleazeometer already. But it's already out of date. Since it was designed 10 days ago, another 5 scandals could have been added. Fellow bloggers should feel free to copy and paste it into their own blogs!
The rather portly man on the right in both pictures was unknown to the Conservatives when the picture was taken but he turned out to be none other than Jill Houlbrook's LibDem opponent, posing as a local resident. Strange that the photo on the LibDem website cropped out Jill Houlbrook. The LibDem candidate not only stole the photo but then claimed it was he who had organised the demonstration! Remember the advice to LibDem candidates from their election handbook? "Act wickedly, stir shamelessly"! Chester Conservatives have accused the LibDems of stealing the photo from their website and then photoshopping it. In fact, they're so angry they're taking the matter to the County Court. First of all the LibDems said they "did it for a laugh" but they have now admitted their crime and offered £50 compensation. It doesn't sound much, but when you face having to hand back £2.4 million I suppose the coffers aren't exactly full...
But all's well that ends well. The Conservatives won the election with a 10% swing. It was the first time the Conservatives had won a seat from the LibDems in Chester, having lost fifteen to them over the last two decades. Let's hope it's the first of many.
Friday, May 26, 2006
As if today couldn't get any worse for Ming Campbell, I've just had this week's New Statesman delivered, in which my friend Kevin Maguire alleges that aspirant leader Nick Clegg has been briefing against the merciless one. Here's what Mr Maguire writes...
That thrusting young Minger Nick Clegg should learn to swivel his head to spy who is sitting within earshot before shouting into a mobile phone about an aged Olympic sprinter off to a poor start. While waiting on Bournemouth station for the London train, it was impossible for your columnist not to overhear the Lib Dems' home affairs chap itemising, between sips of Red Bull, his leader Sir Ming Campbell's political crimes. Ming the Mediocre, according to Clegg, is hesitant and disorganised, commits avoidable errors and lacks momentum but - this was the loyal bit - is capable of recovering. With friends like Clegg, who needs Simon Hughes?
Having torn Simon Hughes off a strip, Old Ming will now have to issue a bit of discipline to the young whippersnapper Clegg. Altogether now...There may be trouble ahead...
UPDATE 5.55pm: Predictably several LibDem supporters are rubbishing this story in the Comments section. I have just called Kevin Maguire to get the story from the horse's mouth. He stands by every word. Clegg had been on the phone talking to a journalist 'off the record'. Unfortunately for him he didn't realise the bloke standing next to him was the Man from the Mirror, Mr Maguire. Sadly for us all the Virgin train arrived early so Kevin didn't get quite as much as he might have done. Clegg has NOT issued a denial - instead he has accused Kevin Maguire of 'distorting' his remarks. Frankly, all he has done is to say what every other LibDem MP knows to be true. And to those in the Comments section who have accused Kevin of making the whole thing up, first of all look at Clegg's non-denial. Then consider the fact that I have known Kevin for nearly twenty years - he's not my politics - he's Old Labour. But there's one thing he doesn't do, and that's make stories up.
The Lib Dems would scrap mandatory life sentences for murder and for a second serious sexual or violent crime. Lib Dems voted against the legislation introducing anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) and dispersal orders. They would send offenders on go-karting trips because it would ‘disincentivise’ crime (Mark Oaten, Q&A session at Lib Dem Conference, Bournemouth, 22 September 2004). Repeat offenders should not go to prison, but remain in the community ‘by imposing a curfew requirement or tagging them’ (Lib Dem Press Release, Liberal Democrat proposals for tough community sentences, 17 November 2003). Simon Hughes has said ‘I am clear…as Liberal Democrats have always been clear, that there should never be mandatory sentences. We have argued against such sentences for murder and in respect of lesser crimes...I think they are wrong in all circumstances’ (Hansard, 13 January 2003, Cols. 433 and 437).
And believe me, there's a lot more where that came from.
Here's the text of Nick's letter...
I am writing about the serious situation in Ford Prison, which is an open prison in my constituency. I understand that a number of foreign nationals who are either being considered for deportation or are scheduled for deportation were, until this morning, being held in the Prison. One foreign national, who was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for supplying Class A drugs and was awaiting deportation, absconded from the prison last month. On Wednesday the BBC reported that five foreign nationals have absconded from the prison since the weekend. This morning the Argus revealed that 11 prisoners have absconded from Ford in the past two weeks. I understand that the Home Office has now confirmed this figure and that an operation to remove 141 foreign nationals held in the prison into what Phil Wheatley, the Director General of the Prison Service, has called “proper closed prisons” is being undertaken this morning. It appears that at least some of these prisoners were awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation. I am concerned that the Prison Service attempted to cover up the situation when questioned about it by me and by the media. I raised concerns about the issue when I visited the Prison on Friday, and again pressed the Governor about the matter on Wednesday when I received information that prisoners had absconded. On both occasions I was told that there was no abnormal situation and that foreign national prisoners were at low risk of absconding. I was also told that only one foreign national prisoner had absconded within the past 24 hours. Clearly the information I was given was partial and misleading. On Monday Damian Green tabled questions for written answer (numbers 232, 233 and 234) relating to prisoners awaiting deportation being held in open prisons. To date no reply has been received. I tabled further written questions yesterday. However the House has now risen and this information will not be provided until we return on 5 June at the earliest. It is bad enough that around 100 prisoners abscond from the Prison each year. However it seems extraordinary that prisoners awaiting deportation, or who are likely to be deported, should be held in an open prison at all when they have little incentive to remain in custody. Public confidence in the penal system is severely undermined by this kind of mismanagement. It is further undermined when the Home Office and the Prison Service are not open when information is requested. Could you please tell me, as a matter of urgency:
1. How many foreign national prisoners absconded from Ford prison in the past two weeks, and if any or all of them were either awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation.
2. How many prisoners held in Ford Prison while awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation absconded this year and in each of the last five years.
3. What is the justification for holding prisoners who are awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation in open prisons, when many, if not all, of them clearly have an incentive to abscond.
4. How many foreign national prisoners in Ford Prison have now been transferred to closed prisons.
5. Whether you intend to review the risk assessment procedures for prisoners who are awaiting deportation, or being considered for deportation, before they are accepted to open prisons.
On Wednesday you conceded that the immigration system needs a “fundamental overhaul”. I would suggest that this overhaul should extend to the practice of deportations from open prisons. I would also suggest that public confidence will not be restored until the Home Office and the Prison Service operate in a more transparent manner and provide information which is timely and accurate. I would therefore be grateful if the information which both Damian Green and I have requested could be provided without delay.
Andrew Woodman: Do you believe the withdrawing of the Conservative whip in the European parliament from Roger Helmer was unfair and unjust, and was there any more you could have done as Shadow Foreign Secretary to stop and reverse the decision?
Liam Fox: The question of the Whip in the European Parliament is not a matter for the Party in Westminster.
What a cop-out. I'd have expected better from Dr Fox. Surely by that logic, our membership or not of the EPP is also not a matter for the Party in Westminster? Let's at least have a bit of consistency.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Whenever politicians go on Desert Island Discs you can be sure they will face accusations that their spin doctors have chosen the songs, rather than them. Having heard that David Cameron has chosen Ernie - the Fastest Milkman in the West as one of his songs I think you can safely say he will be safe from such accusations. I remember the ridicule Margaret Thatcher suffered when she chose Two Little Boys Had Two Little Toys. Listening to her justify the selection by entering into a lengthy discourse on the benefits of sharing was painful indeed. Now as I'm never likely to appear on Desert Island Discs (unless there's a new B List version being planned (!)) I thought I'd appall you with what my choices would be...
1. Forever Young by Alphaville
One of my favourite songs of all time
2. Paradise by the Dashboard Light by Meatloaf
A mini rock opera whose words I know off by heart
3. Pachelbel's Canon
The most relaxing piece of music I know
4. Search for the Hero Inside Yourself by M People
A song with a message to those of us who may appear super-confident, but often aren't
5. One Blood by Terence Jay
From the movie Green Street - an ode to loyalty and fraternity
A reminder of my green and pleasant land
7. Margaret Thatcher Speeches CD
To inspire and remember
8. Miss You Nights by Cliff Richard
To remind me of the people I love
Luxury item - My own pillow
Book - Animal Farm by George Orwell - to remind me of what my one man dictatorship desert island could become if I'm not careful!
I'm bracing myself for the onslaught of abuse...
Stalin's Gran has some interesting views on Dr John Reid (for it is he) HERE. Paul Linford analyses the implications of a Hung Parliament HERE. Niles has a problem with his pussy HERE. Jonathan Calder's fed up with Mark Oaten HERE. Kiwiblog provides proof that New Zealand Labour language is identical to our own HERE. Stephen Pollard rages against the BBC's anti Israeli stance HERE. Guido's on the pull HERE. Not. Malcolm Rifkind's in trouble HERE on ConservativeHome. Ellee Seymour invites us into her gorgeous garden HERE. Boycie from Only Fools & Horses is a Tory says Recess Monkey HERE. Dizzy thinks Fiona Millar doth protest too much HERE. Backing Blair has a new fundraising idea for Labour HERE. Conservative History Journal looks at the life of Lord Acton HERE. Tax Freedom Day is celebrated by the Adam Smith Institute Blog HERE. SpinBlog has more questions for Cherie HERE. Antony Little tries not to discuss Big Brother but fails HERE. James Cleverly asks if PMQs matter HERE.
The Electoral Commission has just released the following statement, which will send a shudder down the backs of many a Liberal Democrat...
25 May 2006 - For immediate use
Statement about donations to Liberal Democrats from 5th Avenue Partners Ltd
Following discussions with the City of London Police, the Electoral Commission has decided to await the outcome of the police investigation of the financial affairs of 5th Avenue Partners Limited and its director before considering further whether 5th Avenue Partners Limited’s donations to the Liberal Democrats last year met the tests for donations to political parties by companies. Between February and May 2005, 5th Avenue Partners Limited made donations totalling around £2.4million to the Liberal Democrats. In October 2005 the Commission took the view that, based on all the evidence which the party had, and subject to any further information becoming available, it was reasonable for the party to regard the donations as having been permissible (See Note 2). There is currently an investigation by the City of London Police and separate legal proceedings concerning the financial affairs of 5th Avenue Partners Ltd and its director. It is possible that further information will become available that may be relevant to the issue of whether these donations were permissible. The Commission has therefore decided to await the outcome of the police investigation before considering this matter further, and will be liaising closely with the City of London Police over the coming weeks.
As I understand it, legally, the LibDem members are jointly and severally responsible for paying the money back - which would cost them about £35 each. If I were them I'd be investing in a few begging bowls just in case...
Now, to all those LibDems who accused me of hyping this up and thought it was a 'non story' when I first raised it back in January and February (see HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) I think you'll have the good grace to accept that this is a serious matter which the Party must now address. Of course, if proper due diligance had been carried out by Lord Razzall on Michael Brown (pic), this sorry state of affairs might have been avoided.
To: Number 10 Downing Street
We believe that raising funds for the Labour Party by auctioning copies of the Hutton Report signed by Mrs Cherie Booth QC is an act of appalling bad taste and is disrespectful to the family of the late Dr David Kelly. We further demand that: • Mrs Cherie Booth QC publicly apologises for her conduct on this matter • The Prime Minister apologises for the misconduct of the Labour Party in this matter. • That the Labour Party donates any funds raised from the auction of this item to an appropriate charity, matched by a similar donation from Mrs Cherie Booth QC
I'll delegate the review to my son, aged two and currently potty training.
*points at book cover*
UPDATE: It's interesting to note that Dr Gordon Brown is also entitled to be called Dr, having also got a PhD (I don't know what in), but he positively doesn't like being called Dr Brown. Man of the people, you see.
UPDATE 10.37 My correspondent Jeremy Brier reveals from a trawl through Stirling University's website that Reid's doctorate is titled Warrior aristocrats in crisis: the political effects of the transition from the slave trade to palm oil commerce in the nineteenth century Kingdom of Dahomey. Blimey, he really does deserve it then! Now, has anybody actually seen a copy or can anybody procure it? I think it deserves a review...
UPDATE 11.03 I'm not sure what I have started here! A correspondent tells me that Gordon Brown used his 'Dr' title when he first stood for Parliament in 1983, signing his election address 'Dr Gordon Brown'.
UPDATE: 11.34 David Taylor in the Comments denies Dr John likes being called Doctor. Another eminent correspondent points me to Page 2 of The Times T2 this morning. I quote: "He likes to be called Dr Reid and is senstitive to any hint of snobbery or being patronised by metrpolitan media types for his Glaswegian accent".
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
This afternoon Eric Forth was buried. Unfortunately events conspired to prevent me from going. Carroll asked all male guests not to wear a black tie but to wear the most garish tie they owned. I was half expecting David Davis to ring me to ask to borrow one of my more lurid ties, of which I have many. So here's one of the ties I would have worn. Eric would have liked them. Even if you wouldn't!
Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze with Adam Boulton and Labour Peer and blogger Clive Soley.
Written Answers 17 May col. 1038W
Home Office Responsibilities
Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list areas of policy responsibility which have been transferred (a) from the Home Office to other departments and (b) to the Home Office from other departments since 1997. 
Mr. Byrne[holding answer 8 May 2006]: The information requested is as follows.
A. Areas of policy responsibility transferred from the Home Office since 1997: 1. Transfer from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chancellor: (a) the Monarchy (b) titles (c) ceremonial matters (d) the relationship between the administration of any of the Channel Islands or of the Isle of Man and the Crown or a Minister of the Crown (e) human rights (f) bodies or organisations established or incorporated by Royal Charter (g) appointments (h) ecclesiastical matters (i) marriage (j) access to information (including, in particular, the subject matter of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000), and
(k) buildings and structures in London 2. Functions passing from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport: (a) gambling (b) horse-racing (c) liquor licensing, (d) late night refreshment (e) public entertainments (f) video recording (including, in particular, the subject matter of the Video Recordings Act 1984), and (g) films (including, in particular, the subject matter of the Cinemas Act 1985). 3. Functions passing from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry: (a) street trading and pedlars, and (b) fairs 4. Functions passing from the Home Secretary to the (then) Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions: (a) fire services and fire precautions (including, in particular, the subject matter of the Fire Services Act 1947 and the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and any provision which relates, or in so far as it relates, to a fire authority) (b) elections, and (c) bye-laws 5. Functions passing from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: (a) animals
17 May 2006 : Column 1039W
B. Areas of policy responsibility transferred to the Home Office since 1997 1. Functions passing from the (then) Secretary of State for Education and Employment to the Home Secretary: (a) work permit functions. 2. Functions passing from the Secretary of State for Scotland to the Home Secretary (a) appointing a member of the Poisons Board under Schedule one to the Poisons Act 1972. 3. Functions passing from the Lord Chancellor to the Home Secretary (a) appointing a Conservator under section 12 of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act 1871.
Cheriegate (that's the 2006 version - nothing to do with Peter Foster) took a new twist today when Telegraph journo Alice Thomson alleged in her column that not only did Cherie sign a copy of the Hutton Report for auction, she actually donated it to. If that is the case, who paid for it? Cherie - or us, the poor bloody taxpayer?
I didn't see the earlier part of PMQs as I was doing a local radio piece with Radio Nottingham on the Little Red Book. Was I right in hearing on the radio that Ming had a bit of an IDS moment with a frog in his throat? His first question was a good one but it was a little odd that he followed it up with an almost identical question to the one which David Cameron has asked. I thought barristers were able to think on their feet?
UPDATE: Just in case my LibDem readers think I have launched another gratuitous attack on the old boy, John Pienaar has just slated his performance on 5 Live.
Today (May 25th) marks the first anniversary of Roger Helmer MEP’s suspension of the Conservative whip in the European Parliament. On March 3rd 2006 three young Conservative Party members established www.reinstateroger.com, a web based campaign to have the Conservative whip restored to Roger. Since its launch the campaign has attracted a huge amount of support and press coverage, both at a local and a national level. Recent supporters to the campaign include Ann Widdecombe MP (Maidstone & The Weald), John Redwood MP (Wokingham) and the Right Honourable Lord Tebbit CH. The campaign is also supported by over 500 parliamentarians, councillors, party officials and party members. Richard Hyslop, co founder of the campaign said, “Over the last year Roger has remained a loyal member of the Conservative Party and has worked tirelessly for his East Midlands constituents, a point reflected in the huge amount of regional support he has received. While Roger has remained a loyal and has supported David Cameron other Conservative MEPs have not.” Richard went on “We urge those who have it within their power to reinstate Roger to the Conservative whip in the European Parliament, not only to reward his loyalty and tireless work but also to address the wrong of his suspension in the first place – after all, by highlighting possible corruption in the European Commission, all Roger was doing was standing by a manifesto commitment.”