Monday, April 30, 2007

Lord Ashcroft's Campaign to Save the Caribbean Whales

This advert is part of the campaign by Lord Ashcroft against whaling in the Caribbean, which I mentioned HERE last week.

I did a 7 minute interview with Lord Ashcroft today, in which he explains the motives behind his campaign, which you can view HERE.

You can find out more about the campaign at the campaign website HERE.

The Scandal of Prisons in South Africa

Our prison system is a shambles. But if we think our criminal justice system is bad, just thank God you don't live in South Africa. Click HERE to read how ex-criminals are clamouring to get back into South African jails. They can't get work and many of them can't get free AIDS treatment on the outside.
They said that they faced the stark choice of resorting to crime to feed
themselves and their families - or simply going back to prison. "I cannot feed
myself as there is no work," said Amos, a convicted thief."Like most prisoners I
am suffering from Aids and I can't get the free treatment I got inside. I really
don't want to return to crime but the only alternative for me is to go back to
prison."Others cited the onset of the southern hemisphere winter for their
desire to return to the cells. "In the summer, I can sleep outside," said Sipho,
a car thief. "It is too cold in winter. In prison there may be too many people
but at least it is warm and we get hot meals."

Blears Gets Blair Endorsement

hattip Theo Spark

Timing of the Election Counts

If you want to know which local authorities in England are holding their counts on Thursday night/Friday morning or on Friday morning/afternoon 18 Doughty Street has the LIST.

April Figures Show Slight Dip

The last day of April saw the second best day ever on the blog with 10, 757 uniques. After March's record month of 212,725 unique visitors, April saw a slight decline to 193,335. Easter is largely to blame, I think. The equivalent figure for April 2006 was 51,437. Page impressions were also down from March's 369,308 to 329,420. Here are my top 45 linking sites (ie incoming hits) for April. All these sites referred at least 100 people here. The arrows denote whether a site has moved up or down or stayed static since January...

1. Guido Fawkes 16.57% ↔ 2. ConservativeHome 11.37% ↔ 3. PoliticalBetting 6.4% ↔ 4. Tartan Hero 1.35% NEW 5. Daniel Finkelstein 1.19% ↑ 6. Slugger O'Toole ↑ 7. Biased BBC ↑ 8. Laurence Boyce NEW 9. Dizzy Thinks ↑ 10. Witanagemot ↑ 11. Web Cameron ↑ 12. Daily Referendum NEW 13. Prisoner's Voice NEW 14. Blairwatch ↓ 15. Paul Linford ↑ 16. Arsembly NEW 17. Tim Worstall ↑ 18. Ordovicius NEW 19. An Englishman's Castle ↓ 20. Bel is Thinking ↓ NEW 21. Prague Tory ↓ 22. Luke Akehurst ↑ 23. Islington Newmania ↑ 24. LibDem Voice ↑ 25. W4MP ↓ 26. Croydonian ↓ 27. Blamerbellbriefs NEW 28. Bob Piper NEW 29. UK Polling Report NEW 30. Justin Hinchcliffe NEW 31. A Conservative's Blog ↓ 32. Mikey's Tent of Reality ↔ 33. Liberal England ↓ 34. Campaign for an English Parliament ↑ 35. Labour Watch NEW 36. UCL Conservatives NEW 37. Tim Blair ↓ 38. Hoby Cartoons ↑ 39. Kerron Cross ↓ 40. Nogbad's View NEW 41. Hot, Ginger & Dynamite ↑ 42. House of Dumb NEW

Among those dropping out of the top linkers are Chase Me Ladies, National Review Corner, David Anthony Republic, British Bullshit Foundation, Small Dead Animals, Devil's Kitchen, Tory Radio, Adam Smith Institute, Political Opinions, Kiwiblog, Bryan Appleyard, Ellee Seymour, Fibdems, Brian Micklethwait, Stumbling & Mumbling

The Problem with English Devolution

I'm very depressed by many of the posts in the previous thread. Why is is that people can rationally discuss Scottish devolution and independence, but whenever you mention English devolution or independence you're immediately accused of being a closet racist or BNP sympathiser? This is a subject climbing up the political agenda. It isn't going to go away.

Speaker Changes Route of Justice for England March

Tomorrow morning the JUSTICE FOR ENGLAND march takes place from Whitehall Place to the Tate Gallery. Astonishingly the Speaker of the House of Commons has ruled that the march may not pass by the House of Commons so the organisers have had to change the route.

The march has been organised to "commemorate the 300th Anniversary of the birth of the British State – and the death of England’s identity, independence and the English Parliament". Starting at 11.00am the march will now take place from Whitehall Place via Downing Street, through Smith Square and on to the Tate Gallery.

A deputation will still stop at Downing Street for a photo call with ‘St George’ and a ‘Monkey’ wearing a Blair mask before delivering a 20,000 address petition to No. 11 Downing Street demanding the reinstatement of an English Parliament.

The march will be led by a hearse pulled by two horses, carrying the symbolic coffin of England draped in the flag of St. George, flanked by representatives of English organisations carrying placards depicting the many examples of bias and anti English discrimination.

The march will end at the Tate Gallery, where it will congregate to hear a number of speeches by activists and leaders of English Community Groups.

Anyone wishing to join the march should congregate at Whitehall Place before 11am.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Best Comeback Line Ever

This is one of the best comeback lines of all time. It is a portion ofan ABC interview between a female broadcaster and GeneralCosgrove who was about to sponsor a Boy Scout Troop visiting his military headquarters.
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: So, General Cosgrove, what things are you going toteach
these young boys when they visit your base?
GENERAL COSGROVE: We're going to teach them climbing, canoeing,archery, and
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: Shooting! That's a bit irresponsible, isn't it?
GENERAL COSGROVE: I don't see why, they'll be properly supervised on the
rifle range.
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: Don't you admit that this is a terribly
dangerous activity to be teaching children?
GENERAL COSGROVE: I don't see how. We will be teaching them proper rifle
discipline before they even touch a firearm.
FEMALE INTERVIEWER: But you're equipping them to become
violent killers.
GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, Ma'am, you're equipped to be a prostitute,
butyou're not one, are you?

The radio went silent and the interview ended.

The Strange Case of Panorama's Scheduling

Can anyone tell me the last time the BBC showed Panorama on a Thursday night? I only ask because that's exactly what they are doing this week. There can only be two explanations...

Is it

a) They don't want to risk political controversy with the government by spending an hour discussing its failures in midwifery prior to the elections and are therefore showing it at 8pm on polling day by which time most people have voted


b) All the hour long Panoramas are being broadcast on Thursdays at 8pm, in which case I shall get my coat...

The Scottish Labour Mafia Explained

Craig Murray has an excellent POST showing how the Scottish Labour mafia works.

Conservative Predictions for Super Thursday

Overall Vote

Last year the Conservatives achieved 38% of the vote in the local elections. When these seats were last fought in 2003 they got 35%. This year expectations will be higher and the media will be looking for the 40% breakthrough. As the other parties aren't fighting as many seats I am not sure how the share of the vote is calculated.

Excellent result for the Tories - more than 41%
Good result - anything above 39.99%!
OK result - 38-38.99%
Bad result - anything below 38%

Last year the Conservatives made 320 gains in Council seats. This year there are two and a half times more seats up for grabs, so in theory they should be looking for 700 gains plus. However, this ignores the fact that many of these seats are in Labour strongholds and that when the seats were last fought in 2003, it was seen as a good result for the Conservatives. Nevertheless the party needs to look at gaining at least 500 seats to show that there is momentum.

Excellent result - winning more than 700 extra council seats
Good result - winning more than 500 extra council seats
OK Result - winning more than 350 extra council seats
Bad result - winning fewer than 200 extra council seats

My prediction is that the Conservatives will win 40% of the vote, the LibDems 26% and Labour 24%.

Interestingly the LibDems are already making excuses for their likely patchy performance on Thursday. Take this from Stodge on Political

In addition, the LDs are defending a lot of seats (about half our total councillor base) and, given our patchy record on holding seats compared to Labour and the Tories, we will have to make gains to offset inevitable losses. I maintain that to reach Friday evening with the same number of councillors we had on Thursday morning will be an achievement and, to be honest, I’m happy to let the Tory trolls and spinners say what they like. I believe if the Conservatives don’t reach 40% and 500 gains, they can kiss the next election goodbye. If you want benchmarks for the Tory performance, look at 1968 and 1977.
Let's bear in mind that if they don't make any gains this year it will be the second year in a row. It's quite possible that they will lose a lot of seats to the Conservatives which would be compensated for by gaining seats from Labour in the north. At this stage in the last Parliament they were consistently polling 21-23%. They're now on 16-20%. A key test of Conservative progress will be to see how many gains they make from the LibDems.

Another test will be to see how many seats the Conservatives gain in the north. I have no great expectations of winning large numbers of seats in some of the metropolitan areas but we do need to get a foothold on a multitude of northern councils. And the party's press people need to be prepared to give the figures I published in THIS post which show that the LibDems and Labour are actually worse at national representation than the Conservatives. This myth that the Conservatives have no seats in the north must be rebutted aggressively. Just to remind you...
In England there are 19 councils without a Conservative, 38 without a LibDem and
a whopping 68 without a Labour councillor.In Scotland there are 8 councils
without a Conservative, 11 without a LibDem and 5 without a Labour councillorIn
Wales there are 10 councils without a Conservative, 5 without a LibDem but all of
them have a Labour councillor. So the totals are 37 councils without a
Conservative, 54 without a LibDem and 73 without a Labour councillor.


It's difficult to tell what is going on in Scotland. The opinion polls have been bad for the Tories, yet the media have been very complimentary about Annabelle Goldie's campaign. I suspect the shy Tory syndrome is at work again. There are few expectations that the Conservatives will make much electoral headway. At the moment they have 18 MSPs. A good result would be holding on to them all. A bad result would be losing any of them.


After a good start the Welsh Tories seem to have made little headway in the last week. Two polls show Plaid firmly in second place, although Welsh polls are notoriously unreliable. Currently the Tories have 11 AMs. They reckon 15 is the most they could hope to win, with about 19-21% of the vote. However, 13 or 14 is more realistic. As in Scotland, the ridiculous electoral system makes it very difficult to predict.

Hazel Goes Nuts After Online Shop is Pulled

It hasn't been a good week for my little chipmunk, Hazel Blears. Today she was way behind in a YouGov poll on who should be Labour Deputy leader, and it has now emerged that her online shop has had to be closed down after it was revealed that the NUTS ABOUT HAZEL T-shirts could be linked to a Bangladesh factory disaster in 2005. This is from the Press Association...

Ms Blears said she was urgently investigating suggestions the supply chain for the garments could lead to a firm linked to the disaster in which dozens of people were killed and when the factory building collapsed in April 2005. She also pledged to donate cash to a fund for victims' families and demanded "swift answers" from the supplier over the alleged links as her campaign team
threatened to urge its other customers to mount a boycott until assurances were
provided. Spreadshirt - who supplied garments for the website - was a "highly
reputable and award winning on-line supplier", a statement on
said. However, one of the items it supplied came from Bangladesh via B&C/The
Cotton Group which, the website statement said, had been a customer of Spectrum,
the firm which operated the factory.

An "angry and upset" Ms Blears took immediate action in a bid to limit any political fallout from the claims with the formal battle to succeed John Prescott expected to begin shortly. A range of merchandise such as "Nuts for Hazel" T-shirts, "Hazel Beers" beer mats and mousemats featuring Ms Blears in her biking leathers have been the subject of much Westminster discussion. She said: "It has been brought to my attention that one of the T-shirts available on my deputy leadership campaign website can be sourced up the supply chain to a company linked to a tragic disaster two years ago at the Spectrum Factory in Bangladesh. I am investigating this claim with some urgency. I am angry and upset at any suggestion that a company my campaign is using might be unethical in any way. My online campaign shop is supplied by which appears to be a reputable company." She said that as well as suspending the shop section of the site, she had written to Spreadshirt and would be contacting some of the company's other clients. "I shall be making a personal donation to the families affected by the Spectrum disaster two years ago," she said, adding that she would also ask a campaign volunteer who was visiting Bangladesh in the near future to meet with representatives of the workers.

The word 'rattled' springs to mind.

UKIP Candidate to Vote BNP

Clive Broad is a UKIP candidate in thurrock in Essex. He has an odd way of encouraging support for UKIP. In this week's Thurrock Gazette he is quoted as saying that he will be voting for the British National Party.

I await his expulsion from UKIP with eager anticipation.

Hattip to UKIP@home

Who's the Sexiest MSP?

I am glad to see the Scots following my thesis that some people vote on the sex appeal of the candidates (hmmm, no wonder I lost so heavily in North Norfolk!) I was delighted to discover the site Can anyone ever doubt that THIS rippling hunk of LibDem manhood is destined to win? You won't be surprised to find out that he is the second most sexy MSP candidate, only a few points behind THIS fine example of Scottish Tory hunkiness. Oh be still our beating hearts. I can only think that Scottish branches of Specsavers are not marketing themselves very well if these are the male candidates Scottish ladies find attractive. Still, it proves there is hope for us all.

Right, off to help fellow blogger Ben Sherreard deliver a few elections in Maidstone. He's 22 and looking to unseat a LibDem.

Respect to Peter Hitchens

Regular readers will know that I have taken issue with Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens from time to time, but I have to give him credit for something he has written in his column today.

How do I put this? The chapter about David Cameron's son Ivan, in the new biography of the Tory leader, is intensely moving and very painful to read. His parents' patient, unsentimental devotion to this gravely disabled boy, lost in some unknowable world and without any hope of improvement or recovery, is much to their credit. I once wrote that Mr Cameron had never really been put through any major test in life. It is clear that I was quite wrong. There can be few harder trials than to watch a child suffer in this way. I am sorry I said it.

My point is that this has nothing to do with politics. It would be true whatever Mr Cameron's political position was, whatever party he led. It wouldn't - and shouldn't - make me or you vote for him. And, now that we know about it, I think it would be better if it was left at that. However, I fear that some of Mr Cameron's advisers may be under the misguided impression that some political use might be made of this sadness. Hostile interviewers are not allowed to question Mr Cameron. Friendly ones are invited to one of his three houses and introduced to Ivan. Mr Cameron should ignore these advisers. We know everything we are entitled to know about this private matter.

It's rare for a national columnist to admit they are wrong or say sorry. Credit to Peter Hitchens for doing so.

Paddick to Run for London Mayor?

So the latest non-Tory to be touted for the London mayoralty is Brian Paddick, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Met who is retiring in July. Like Greg Dyke, he is said to have Liberal Democrat sympathies. Unlike Greg Dyke, though, he has hinted in the past that he might be rather keen on a political career. He's certainly got some of the right attributes, although staying loyal to a party line might be a test for him.

Your Contribution to Blair's Legacy

Today's papers are full of ten years of Blair, the Blair legacy and much more along that theme. One of the blog's regular contributors, Auntie Flo, has had a good idea. She has suggested that I should offer my blog readers the opportunity to say goodbye to Tony Blair by writing about what they think of his legacy. So if you would like to take part, write your contribution in 100 words or fewer. There will be a prize of a box set of Margaret Thatcher Speeches CDs for the one I judge the best. No need to over-use swear words...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cameron Still Ahead of Brown

An ICM poll in tomorrow's News of the World shows that David Cameron is still a way ahead of Gordon Brown as the voter's choice of future Prime Minister.

Cameron has a five-point lead over Mr Brown (42%-37%), but this is less than the advantage the Tories enjoy over Labour under Tony Blair. It's the first time this has been the case so far as I am aware. Cameron has a healthy advantage in the South East (16%) and the Midlands
(12%) and among the 25- to 34-years-olds (4%) and over-55s (9%) as well as a small 4% lead in Wales and the South West.

Gordon Brown is, however, 28 points ahead in Scotland and one point ahead in the North of England. He also has the backing of 18- to 24-year-olds by 44% to 38% while the remaining age group - those aged 45 to 54 - are split evenly between the two.

One Man Went to Mow...

I have put off mowing the grass all day on the flimsy excuse that I just simply had to listen to West Ham on 5 Live. And whaddaya know? They beat Wigan 3-0! Unconfined joy in the Dale household... Right, where's that mower...

PS I'll be reviewing the papers on News 24 tonight at 11.45pm.

The LibDems: How Do They Do It?

I got a lot of flack yesterday for suggesting that some non-political women cast their votes partly based on looks and charisma. I expected an onslaught and I wasn't disappointed. But reading Fraser Nelson's column in The Spectator today I found this little anecdote...
Our first stop is to meet Cath Laddis, a farmer’s wife, who says she will
vote Lib Dem because she is pleased with Tim Farron, the local MP, who unseated
Tim Collins at the last election. ‘Tim [Farron] spent 45 minutes playing
football with my kids,’ she says. ‘Most politicians would kick a ball and be

So, Mrs Laddis intends to vote LibDem on the basis that the MP played football with her son for 45 minutes. This is exactly what I was up against in North Norfolk. Norman Lamb played an awful lots of games of football! Seriously, people are increasingly casting their votes not on a politician's views or political record, they're casting their votes on whether the politician empathises with them or seems a nice person. The LibDems are past masters at this.

The lesson we Conservatives have got to learn is never to lose a seat to them in the first place, because if the LibDem MP is seen as a nice guy/girl, spends their entire first term dealing with local constituency issues they will be almost impossible to remove. If you look at where we have unseated LibDem MPs after losing an election to them it's normally because they haven't done what Norman Lamb did and Tim Farron is obviously doing - Jackie Ballard and Sue Doughty are two examples who spring to mind.

This is why I think those who are expecting the LibDems to lose a lot of seats next time need to rethink their views. They're not just going to be plucked off trees. However, I do think the Conservatives can win seats back off them, and the national political situation is obviously very different now to what it was in 2005. No one seriously thought Michael Howard was going to win, so it was easy for LibDem/Con floaters to register a protest again. This time will be different. The message that the only way to get rid of Labour is to vote Conservative will register far more powerfully, and Ming Campbell's failure to inspire or galvanise his own party in the way that Charles Kennedy did will count against the LibDems.

So if Conservative candidates in LibDem seats can truly play the local card and be all round nice guys, they may suceed where candidates like me so miserably failed last time. My advice to any local Conservative Association in a LibDem held seat or facing a LibDem threat is to select a truly local candidate. Having done that, it's then up to the national party to do their bit.

Famous at Last

I can now die happy and contented that I have achieved one of my greatest ambitions in life. What's that, you ask? Well, to have made an appearance in the Tamzin Lightwater column in the Spectator this week. Yes, I'm a man of limited ambition, but there you are. Tamzin describes me as "you know, the man on the internet". I've been called worse, I suppose.

Just over a year ago I wrote THIS post, which speculated on the identity of Tamzin Lightwater. It attracted just two comments. Let's try and do better now shall we?

It's This Kind of Knee-Jerk Reaction That's a Sin

The Conservative Welsh Assembly candidate for Clwyd West, Darren Millar, has found himself at the centreof a right old political storm. Addressing a public meeting he is supposed to have called homosexuality a sin and called for the teaching of creationism in schools. Except he did nothing of the sort. Mr Millar was asked if he thought homosexuality was a sin. Mr Millar replied that "he was against all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality", however, "there are certain religious texts which think homosexuality is a sin." That, I would have thought, is a statement of fact. He went on to say that he thought teachers in faith schools should be given flexibility to include the teaching of creationism in science lessons alongside Darwinism.

I certainly don't agree with him on that but he's got every right to give such an opinion. His LibDem opponent who attended the same meeting hadn't felt Millar had said anything odd, yet one Labour official decided to overinterpret his comments and they were devoured with relish by a Welsh media which was positively foaming at the mouth to write an anti-Tory story.

All this story has done is show politics and the media at their very worst.

Is The Sun About to Drop 'The Whip'?

A month ago I wrote THIS post, slagging off what I described as "The Sun's pisspoor Whip column". Unbeknown to me News International had just started a costcutting review into how things could change on some of their titles. My spy at Wapping tells me that copies of my blogpost have been circulated to News International's management and they are seriously considering pulling the column altogether. They are said to be none to impressed by the 'cut and paste' attitude of the column. THIS story in MediaGuardian seems to add credence to it...
Last month the News International group general manager, Clive Milner, met
with executives to look at ways to merge some operations at the Sun and News of
the World. Columns such as the Whip in the Sun are thought to be under review,
as are the separate web operations at the Sun and News of the World.

Friday, April 27, 2007

LibDems: Young & Dynamic Candidates Not Wanted

You'd have thought the LibDems might be in favour of young candidates, wouldn't you? Not if they're Conservatives, though, apparently. Bear in mind that they want to give 16 year olds the right to vote and to buy porn. Click HERE to view this latest example of LibDem double standards.

NB Presumably the LibDems will now be disowning their 21 year old candidate in South Norfolk.

Labour MP: Don't You Know Who I Am?

Yesterday, Labour MP Geraldine Smith had a 'don't you know who I am' incident on a train back to her Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency. One of her fellow passengers was less than impressed by her behaviour.

Shee was travelling on the 8-46am to Glasgow from Euston when he witnessed an incident that clearly showed the rules are different for travelling MP’s to the rank and file of the British public.

When the train manager (Tommy Cheah) came into coach K to check the tickets he noticed that a lady and her companion were returning to Preston on out of date tickets (dated 23 April).
The train manager asked for the outward bound part of the ticket which could not be produced thus invalidating the tickets that were shown. Mr Cheah offered them a single fare to Preston and asked them to take up the matter with the train company in terms of a possible refund on the return ticket value.

At this point quite voluble remonstrations and protests ensued, which could easily be followed by everyone in the half-full carriage, including my informant. The lady in question then identified herself to the train manger as Geraldine Smith MP and refused to accept the manger's offer.

Politely, he then asked for her address so that he could offer an invalid travel notice, which she could then settle with the train company in the next ten days. The address she gave was the House of Commons, not one the train manager was familiar with, so he asked her for her home address, which she refused to give. Instead she asked him for Richard Branson’s phone number, the CEO’s phone number and Virgin’s Head Office etc. She herself phoned her assistant in Westminster and asked him/her to trace these people’s numbers too. My informant tells me what happened next:
"She was clearly leaning on the poor man, who behaved courteously
throughout, if a little amazed by what was happening. The MP was blatantly
pulling rank, name dropping and behaving in a highly unprofessional manner
in order to get her way. While the manger went away to look for help and
clarification in his hand book of travel conditions, which he brought around to
show this MP, a great deal of loud complaining and general harrumphing went on,
with numerous phone calls to her contacts and even a Virgin representative she
managed to contact. She dismissed the train manager’s offer to check the travelling
regulations handbook with a dismissive “you can’t expect me to know all those
regulations". More complaints about “ridiculous behaviour, petty regulations“
followed more phone calls to influential friends and contacts. Quite frankly,
she made a spectacle of herself and to her fellow passengers the sympathies of
those other passengers on the train clearly lay with the besieged train manager,
rather than with this excuse of a public servant.

The House of Commons, according to her, had furnished her with the ticket costing approx £347, which she bandied about ro all and sundry. The rest of the passengers, all of whom had valid tickets, would have only paid around £60 for the same ticket, booked through the Virgin internet/phone booking service. As all this is tax payers' money you might have thought the House of Commons travel office might avail themselves of best value travel costs.

Finally, when the argument had gone back and forth for more than ninety minutes the guard handed her a “invalid travel notice“, which she refused to sign. It was clear that she had spoken to his Head Office and a message had been relayed to the manager to back off and that they would deal with the matter. She announced this fact to him with some glee. So much for management backing up their staff.

We can only surmise what would have happened to an ordinary member of the travelling public in the same situation. They would most probably have been asked to leave the train at the next station and the Transport Police would have been informed. My contacts says...
Having witnessed this episode, it was a spectacle which further underlines what
some people think of their elected politicians - not a lot.

It is interesting to note that Geraldine Smith has asked quite a few questions about the West Coast Main Line recently.

30 January 2007 I congratulate the Government on the improvements on the west coast main line between Lancaster and London. They have made journeys much better. We must now consider capacity, especially, in my area, on trains between Lancaster and Morecambe, and improve the frequency of the trains by improving the track. What funding is available for such improvements?
31 January 2007
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to improve rail services between Lancaster and Morecambe.
7 February 2007
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to encourage people to use public transport. 8 February 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what funding is available to improve rail services on the Lancaster/Morecambe line.
8 February 2007
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will encourage the relevant train operators to provide more direct train services from Manchester and Preston to Morecambe.

I guess the simple answer to most of her questions would be that the train companies may make a start of improving services if MPs paid the correct fare for their travel and stopped taking up the train manager’s time so he can concentrate on the level of service to other travellers.

Perhaps I might give her a little help in drafting a follow up question for her...

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will ask Virgin Trains to ban MPs who abuse their position from their trains...

UPDATE: UK Events has received a response from Geraldine Smith with her version of the events described above. I have read her response now three times and can't see that it differs greatly from what I originally wrote. I'm copying it here for you to judge for yourselves. I did in fact try to contact Ms Smith at the time but I got no response...

In response to a blog making defamatory allegations about me that has appeared on an Internet site. I wish to state that the versions of events described in this article are factually incorrect in virtually every aspect.The central allegation is that on Thursday 26 April I attempted to travel from London to Morecambe on an out of date ticket and then tried to use my position as a Member of Parliament to browbeat the train manager into accepting it. This is totally untrue, on the day in question I presented the train manager with a valid in date ticket for the journey. The train manager inspected it, stamped it and returned it to me without question. There was however an incident involving a member of my staff who was sitting across the aisle in an adjacent seat. Whilst waiting for the train manager to approach him, he noticed that the return portion of his ticket had been stamped. On closer inspection he found that it was for travel from Morecambe-London, which had been his outward journey. The outward portion of his ticket was unstamped and was for travel between London & Morecambe i.e. the journey he was making. The ticket was well in date in fact it had over 3 weeks before it was due to expire. It was obvious to him that an error had been made when the tickets were issued and the outward and return journeys were the wrong way round. My member of staff duly presented both portions of his ticket to the train manager and informed him of what had happened. He demonstrated that the date stamp on the Morecambe-London portion clearly showed that he had travelled to London on Monday 23 April (the first day that the ticket was valid from) and that he was now using the other portion to return home. To his surprise and annoyance the train manager informed that because the return part of the ticket had been used the unused ticket was invalid. He then sought to get my member of staff to purchase another ticket. My member of staff told him quite bluntly that he was being unreasonable and that he had no intention of purchasing another ticket and that he would take the matter with Virgin when he got home. The train manager then left the carriage and I asked my member of staff what the problem was. For although I had overheard the latter part of their conversation I was not clear on how it had started. He filled me in on what had transpired and I agreed with him that the train manager’s refusal to accept his unused ticket was unreasonable.The train manager returned shortly after armed with sizeable rulebook and a pad of invalid travel notices. He then approached my staff member and proceeded to point to a rule to justify his actions. My member of staff replied to him that whether or not a rule existed it should be applied with commonsense. He also said that no references to the restricted use of open tickets were made either on the tickets or at the point of purchase.It was at this point that I felt that it was appropriate to intervene and I asked the train manager if I could have a word with him. I introduced myself as Geraldine Smith and told him that I was the Member of Parliament for Morecambe & Lunesdale. I imparted this information not to intimidate him in any way but simply because it was relevant to the issue. I explained that the person whose ticket he was refusing to accept was a member of my staff and that I had purchased the tickets for him using my Parliamentary charge card on Euston station on my way home from Parliament the previous week. I told him that I had asked for a 1st class open return ticket from Morecambe to London with a start date of Monday 23 April and that the ticket clerk had clearly issued them wrongly. I also informed that the whole point of purchasing open tickets at the exorbitant price that the train operators charged for them was the flexibility they afforded to people with uncertain travel arrangements. I put it to him that the all fuss was about a simple error and that it was wrong to penalise a passenger because of it. I suggested that the matter could be amicably resolved by him accepting the in date unused fully paid ticket that had been presented to him. I told him that to do otherwise would simply waste the time of Virgin and myself sorting it out at a later date.I put these points to the train manager in a plain straightforward fashion. He for his part listened courteously and attentively to what I had to say. In fact he was courteous and polite throughout the whole thing but unfortunately he was determinedly unhelpful in equal measure.Having listened to what I had to say the train manager asked me for my name and address. I replied Geraldine Smith House of Commons London on the basis that any payments due to be made or any refund on unused tickets would have to go through the House of Commons procedures. He responded by stating that he could not accept the House of Commons as my address and that he required my home address. I realised at point that it was intention to issue me with an invalid travel notice (even though I had already presented him with a valid ticket that he had accepted) and not to my member of staff whose ticket he had rejected. I came to the conclusion that any further dialogue with the train manager was futile and informed him accordingly. I also informed him that I would be contacting a senior manager at Virgin trains headquarters as soon as I was able to do so. He told me that he was not satisfied with my refusal to give him my home address and that he would be taking some unspecified further action.I then made calls to my offices in Morecambe & London to obtain the telephone number of Virgin trains chief executive’s office. I subsequently spoke to his secretary who informed me he was unavailable and she put me through to the franchise director. I attempted to explain to him what had transpired with the train manager but due to frequent loss of signal and generally poor reception this became virtually impossible. As the train was approaching Warrington we agreed to defer our discussion until I had left the train at Preston. A short time later the train manager reappeared and presented me with an invalid travel notice. I assisted him by supplying him with the postcode for the House of Commons, which had now apparently become an acceptable address but declined his invitation for me to sign it because I felt that it would be inappropriate for me to so.After a short and amicable discussion with the franchise director about the issue when I arrived at Preston he agreed that the invalid travel notice be withdrawn and intimated that an apology would be forthcoming. However I yet to receive the written confirmation that he promised to send me.The foregoing accurately reflects what actually happened during my journey home on Thursday 26 April 2007. At no stage did I threaten, bully badger or belittle the train manager. Neither at any stage claim or expect any privilege to be afforded to me because I am a Member of Parliament.Finally I fervently believe in the right of free speech within the limits that the law allows. However I draw the line at the publication of slanderous lies from undisclosed but obviously politically motivated sources, without any real attempt to establish the veracity of the statements being made.

One Carlos Tevez

I'm at a motorway service station on the M4 on my way back from recording two programmes in Cardiff. Just had a tremendous Angus Pepper burger at Burger King. Too much information?

Loads of good stuff to write about tonight when I get back tonight...

One Carlos Tevez...

My Latest Telegraph Article: Women to Win

Click HERE to read my latest Telegraph article which appears in the paper today. It's about David Cameron's appeal to women and why women will decide the outcome of the next election.

How Not to Answer a Question: No 94

This is Conservative London Mayoral Candidate Simon Fawthrop displaying a worrying inability to answer a question. Apparently he doesn't think Londoners need to know his views on the congestion charge. It's not quite Paxo v Howard, but I'm afraid I couldn't hide my incredulity.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sir Patrick Cormack Speaks

I'll be interviewing Sir Patrick Cormack on 18 Doughty Street from 9-10pm tonight. Do tune in to speak to the man once described (I think by Michael White) as the 'greatest living parliamentarian'.

Tory Radio Interview

Jonathan Sheppard did an interview with me yesterday for Tory Radio, which if you have 15 minutes to spare and need to go to sleep is available HERE. We cover what the future holds for 18 Doughty Street TV, the Greg Dyke incident, how he the party is doing, the likely sate of the next election and who might get a promotion to the Shadow Cabinet when the next reshuffle takes place.

John Reid on Collision Course with the Guardian

The Guardian's front page made interesting reading this morning. Click HERE for the full story. Here's the relevant bit...

As Tony Blair rejected calls for an inquiry, and Liberal Democrats called upon
the police to investigate, it emerged that journalists received up to three
separate briefings about an allegation that a group of men was planning to
abduct and behead a Muslim British soldier... The Guardian has been told that an
aide to John Reid, the home secretary, was responsible for one of those leaks,
and has also learnt that there is strong suspicion among the highest-ranking
police at Scotland Yard that one of their own officers also briefed the media...
Since the arrests that Guardian has learned that:
· Journalists on at least one tabloid paper were tipped off the night before the raids, with the result that some travelled there before anyone had been arrested.
· The following morning, while one suspect remained at large, a small number of journalists were receiving briefings on lurid details of the alleged plot.
· A senior Whitehall official told reporters from two tabloids that a number of Muslim soldiers had agreed to act as bait in an attempt to trap the plotters.

The Guardian has been told by a well-placed source that this information - which later proved to be inaccurate - came from one of Mr Reid's officials.

Now take this set of correspondence between Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve and the Home Secretary Dr John Reid. Note the dates. It took Reid six weeks to reply and he only did that four weeks after a PQ was put down. Let's start with Grieve's letter... (click on the images to enlarge and to read them)

On 26 February, frustrated by a lack of a reply, Dominic Grieve put down a PQ asking when the Home Secretary intended to reply. He answered a month later, saying he had replied on 19 March.

And this is the text of Reid's letter. Pay particular attention to the final paragraph.

This letter is in total conflict with what the Guardian are alleging on their front page today. It is also a much harder line than the approach dopted by the PM at PMQs yesterday. What do we make of that?

Now the thing is, the Guardian knows the identity of the Ministerial aide, the Opposition do and so do all the newspapers who were briefed by him. Surely it can only be a matter of time before a brave newspaper editor takes the bait being laid by the Conservatives and names him.

Ming Fails to Impress 5 Live Listeners

Ming Campbell is getting an absolute pasting on the 5 Live phone-in this morning. Richard Bacon, the presenter, clearly thinks he well past his sell by date and many, if not most, of the callers have been antagonistic as well. The interesting thing is that much of the debate has been framed through the prism of David Cameron and his effect on the new politics.

Video to Kill the Printed Star?

NOTE: You may have wondered why I have removed the latest Doughty Street Ad which I posted earlier this morning. Apparently I jumped the gun - it isn;t supposed to be released until next week - I'll re-post it then.

I found this video yesterday on ConservativeHome. It's made by Eastbourne Conservatives to promote their local election campaign. It's simple, effective and as ConHome says, it makes you feel like you'd want to be part of their team. This type of video campaigning is going to become hugely important. By the time of the next election all candidates will be doing it.

And this is from South Norfolk Conservatives. It's got a rougher feel than the Eastbourne video and is slightly less polished, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Is it possible that all parties will eventually campaign in this way and do away with printed leaflets, which they find difficulty in finding the manpower to deliver? I don't think so. The two communications mediums will always be complementary. But I do think video campaigning is now about to come of age.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tales of a Norfolk Teacher: No 94

At the risk of being accused of becoming obsessed with the Norfolk Blogger, THIS really is a very funny story. Don't click if you are squeamish about needles and foreskins...

Postscript: Do I get commission for every click-thru, Nich?

Hasn't Dave got better things to do?

Thanks to Dave Hill for pointing me towards this story.

Or have I missed something? :)

Why Won't They Hold a Leak Inquiry?

I suspect it's because they know what the outcome would be, and at least one person in the Home Office would be joining the dole queue. The leaking of national security information could not be more serious, and yet the PM seems remarkably unconcerned. This is remarkable when he has held more than sixty leak inquiries over the last few years. CCHQ has been very helpful in providing this background research.

Over the past ten years, whenever Tony Blair has been faced with embarrassing or serious leaks, he has called in the Cabinet Secretary, senior civil servants, private detective agencies, special branch, Mi5 and GCHQ to investigate leaks.

60 Leak Inquiries in First 3 Years. In the first three years of the Labour Government, 60 leak investigations were ordered by Whitehall departments. There were nine leak inquiries alone in the Home Office in the first three years under Jack Straw (The Guardian, 14 February 2000). These included inquiries into: a leak to the Guardian of a memo from Jack Straw watering down provisions in the Freedom of Information Bill; a leak to the Telegraph of the outcome of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry; and even a leak from the Cabinet Office into David Clark's first-class air trip to Australia and New Zealand as part of fact finding tour into freedom of information legislation.

Government ‘out of touch’. In July 2000, Blair called in GCHQ officials to help with a leak inquiry after a series of memos – including one from Blair saying voters perceived the Government as ‘somehow out of touch with gut British instincts’ - were leaked (Sunday Mirror, 23 July 2000)

Britain must join Euro. In July 2000, Blair ordered a full leak inquiry after a memo was leaked saying Britain would face ‘meltdown’ if it didn’t join the Euro (Downing Street AM Lobby Briefing, 4 July 2000).

£850,000 makeover for Downing Street. In July 2002, Tony Blair ordered a leak inquiry after a £850,000 makeover refurbishment for Downing Street – including new study for Cherie; luxury wallpaper; and glass-fronted period bookshelves – were leaked (Sunday Times, 7 July 2002)

Cabinet Splits Over ID Cards. In August 2004, Tony Blair called in a private detective agency to assist in investigating 26 leaks to the Sunday Times in 15 months, which included leaks on: Cabinet splits over ID cards with Jack Straw describing plans as ‘flawed’; Cabinet disagreements over liberalising licensing laws after figures showed alcohol-related violence was soaring; Blair’s concerns that public sector efficiency is worsening; awarding honours to celebrities to ‘add interest’; and concerns over America’s strategy for post-war Iraq (Sunday Times, 8 August 2004).

Other Cabinet Ministers Leak Inquries. Blunkett - Abolishing Trial by Jury. In July 2002, David Blunkett ordered a ‘full scale leak inquiry’ after plans to abolish trial by jury were leaked ahead of the White Paper’s publication (Birmingham Post, 15 July 2002).

Byers – ‘Burying Bad News’. Stephen Byers had two leak inquiries surrounding Jo Moore after she said September 11 was a ‘very good day’ to ‘bury’ bad news. The initial email was leaked, and he had a second leak inquiry after a further email surrounding Princess Margaret’s funeral as
another day to ‘bury’ bad statistics was leaked a year later (Evening Standard, 14 February 2002).

Gordon Brown – Objecting to Turner’s proposals. In November 2005, Gordon Brown ordered a leak inquiry into how his letter objecting to Lord Turner’s pension proposals was leaked (Sunday Telegraph, 27 November 2005). Most recently, Gordon Brown reportedly ordered a ‘high-level leak inquiry’ after Conservatives announced plans for a 3p cut in corporation tax ahead of the Budget (Daily Telegraph, 23 March 2007).

Pretty devastating stuff. So why no leak inquiry now Tony, eh? Something to hide?

That Was Then But This Is Now

Questions on the Welsh Assembly Elections Please

On Friday, I'm going to the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff to record two programmes - a special Welsh edition of Blogger TV featuring six Welsh political bloggers, and also a debate between representatives of all four main political parties on the Welsh Assembly elections. Participants include Glyn Davies AM (Con), Anthony Hunt (Lab), Peter Black AM (LibDem) and an as yet unnamed Plaid Cymru representative.

I'd like to submit questions to this panel from 18 Doughty Street viewers and my blog, so if you have a burning Welsh related issue you'd like an answer on, feel free to submit a question in the comments. I need them submitted by midnight on Thursday.

Groundhog Major

You know it’s a real shame, it really is. John Major’s recent speeches at the Law Society and the London School of Economics were witty, intellectual, informative and genuinely interesting - for anybody who only saw one or the other. Unfortunately, for my 18 Doughty Street colleague and cameraman Ben Jacques filming his speech at the Law Society for Conservative Future and his debate with Elinor Goodman at the LSE was like listening to a broken record.

Gags about how Tony Blair’s and New Labours famous slogan “Education, Education, Education” was first used by Lenin in 1917, and how he didn’t mean it either, went down like a lead balloon with Ben second time around, as did his oh so amusing anecdote about No.10 spokesmen, who were career civil servants and trustworthy under his leadership, but who would now make wise men check the calendar when No.10 says Friday follows Thursday.

Anyway, if you want to watch the great man in action at the Law Society watch 18DS at 7.30pm tonight. Here's a 15 minute extract.

What a Fortnightly Load of Rubbish

Those of you who rad my blog in 2004 and 2005 may remember how I fought proposals by the LibDem controlled North Norfolk District Council to introduce fortnightly rubbish collections. I reckoned it would be bad for public health and increase the rat population. I lost the battle and an army of wheelie bins can now be seen polluting the pretty villages of North Norfolk.

I was therefore most amused to see the brass necked LibDems calling Labour proposals in Luton and Liverpool for fortnightly collections a "Rats' Charter". But obviously not in North Norfolk.

Having said that there are also Conservative councils who have gone down the road of fortnightly collections - my own in Tunbridge Wells being a prime example. The truth is that in some areas it's appropriate and in others it isn't. It's easier to implement in urban areas as public health issues are easier to police.

Of course this is one of those issues where many councils are faced with little choice. Central government recycling targets mean that fortnightly collections in wheelie bins are the only way of meeting them. And if the targets are not met, the. Council gets a fine. Catch 22.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Who's Counting When?

I'm trying to work out what to do on the night of May 3/4th but hear conflicting accounts of which counts are happening when. As I understand it most, if not all, of the English local election counts will betaking place during the day of May 4th, rather than overnight, and the Welsh and Scottish Parliament counts will take place overnight on the 3/4th. Is this right? Do people know of many English counts taking place overnight?

Vote Green Get a LibDem! Or Not

I think Norfolk Blogger has been spending too much time in the Norfolk sun. THIS post smacks of protesting just that little bit too much. He believes that Peter Tatchell's announcement that he is standing for the Green Party in Oxford East guarantees that the seat will remain go LibDem. Well, just hold on a cotton pickin' minute. I'd have thought that the Greens would attract more votes from the LibDems than Labour, meaning that Labour might do proportionately better. The case is at least arguable. Read what he has to say and judge for yourself.

They Should Hang Their Heads in Shame

Sometimes I really shake my had in bewilderment at what this government thinks it can get away with. It refused to renew Sir Alastair Graham's contract as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life because he had criticised Tony Blair's style of government once too often. And what have they done today? Appointed Rita Donaghy as the interim Chair of the Committee. She's an old style trade unionist and an active Labour Party campaigner.

Isn't it strange that at a time when Labour is arguing vociferously against limits on the amount of money trade unions can donate to the Labour Party, they appoint a Trade Union dinosaur to this position? Not really, I suppose. In fact, I don't know why I should be at all surprised.

Almanac of British Politics - New Edition Published

Good news for political geeks aficionados everywhere - the new edition of the ALMANAC of BRITISH POLITICS is published next week. This is the eight edition of this bestselling tome and contains constituency profiles, charts, graphs, tables - in fact everything an aspirant candidate could ever want to know about a particular constituency.

For reasons best known to themselves Amazon are saying it was published in 2005 but is unavailable - you can still preorder it though HERE or you can preorder it and probably get it quicker HERE for £39.99 from Politico's. This is what the blurb for the book says...

The latest edition of The Almanac of British Politics has been thoroughly revised and updated to include full details of the new constituencies following the comprehensive boundary changes which will come into force throughout the United Kingdom at the next election. It has firmly established itself as the definitive guide to the electoral map of the UK for nearly twenty-five years, covering in detail each of the constituencies sending representatives to the House of Commons. Its comprehensive coverage provides a witty and informative biographical profile of every Member of Parliament and a detailed social, demographic, economic and political analysis with statistics of seats to give the clearest picture of the British social and political landscape in the twenty-first century. This is the essential reference work on British politics for students, academics, journalists and psephologists.

List of maps. Acknowledgements. Introduction. The 2005 Parliament. The May 2005 general election result. Regional survey. The most marginal and safest constituencies – 2005 general election. Statistical tables: constituencies Social statistics: explanation of terms. Members of Parliament. 2005 Parliament: youngest MPs. 2005 Parliament: oldest MPs. 2005 Parliament: longest (continuously) serving MPs. The new constituency boundaries - 2007. Unchanged constituencies. Majorities list – constituencies ranked by actual or (post boundary review) notional majority. Conservative targets - candidates Party abbreviations. Constituencies and Member of Parliament. Maps. Index of Members of Parliament.

I'll be interviewing the book's editor Robert Waller on 18 Doughty Street shortly.

Questions for Alan Duncan & Chris Rennard

I'm conducting two hour long interviews today with Alan Duncan (live at 9pm tonight) and Chris Rennard (prerecorded today, shown tomorrow at 9pm), the Chief Executive of the LibDems. If you have any questions you'd like me to put to either of them, please leave them in the comments.

Tony Banks Collection to be Auctioned

Bonhams could hardly have chosen a worse date for their auction of the TONY BANKS COLLECTION of political memorabilia, as it clashes with the local elections. However, I'm going to try to toddle along as there are some fascinating artefacts in the 134 lot collection. You can view the catalogue online HERE. It takes place at Bonhams at 6pm on May 3.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lord Ashcroft, Eco Warrior

Earlier this evening I was flicking through The Times and comes across THIS feature on Michael Ashcroft's latest venture - saving whales. He wants to persuade several eastern Caribbean nations to withdraw their support for whaling.
The island nations — Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis,
St Lucia and St Vincent and The Grenadines, which between them have a population
of 560,000 — receive a total of $16 million (£8 million) a year in fisheries aid
from Japan. In return, they have consistently voted with Japan and its principal
ally Norway at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to overturn the 1986
moratorium on commercial whaling. With the next IWC convention due to be held in
Anchorage, Alaska, next month, Lord Ashcroft has devised and funded a television
advertising campaign — which will break in these six nations this week — to
highlight a pro-whaling stance of which he believes the majority of their peoples are unaware and which has never been subjected to vigorous public debate.

I ran into Lord A at a dinner this evening and he was quick to tell me that the campaign is launching on Monday with a TV ad. I think I'd better get him on 18 Doughty Street for an interview. The Times article continues...
Lord Ashcroft’s environmental stance might appear to sit neatly alongside a
Conservative Party whose slogan for next month’s council elections is “Vote
Blue, Go Green”. A little too neat? “This has been going on for longer than that
campaign has,” he retorts. “And I’m not putting myself forward as an
environmentalist. I just like whales.”

The Selection of Euro MPs

I have just had this from CCHQ on the Board's decision of the selection of Euro MPs.
The Board of the Conservative Party has reached a decision in principle on
the method for selection of candidates for the European Parliament for the 2009
election. Sitting MEPs who have been re-selected following a procedure
similar to that laid down in the Party’s constitution for Westminster MPs will
be placed in ranking order by party members in a postal ballot. Members
will also be asked to place additional candidates in ranking order. In the
wholly exceptional circumstances that there will be no sitting MEPs who are
women seeking re-election, and for this selection process only, the top position
in each region below any reselected sitting MEPs will be occupied by the woman
candidate who gets the most votes in the postal ballot. Detailed arrangements
will be developed in the coming weeks.

At first sight this was as clear as mud to a simple mind like mine, but if it means what I think it means, then it is a partial victory for those who have been up in arms about the process. The Board's aim has been to try to reflect the Westminster reselection process as far as possible. What I don't particularly like is that a regional panel will decide upon reselection, but this is mitigated by the fact that Europhile MEPs will have to agree to support the Party's stance of pulling out of the EPP.

The National European Forum wanted the panel to then rank the sitting MEPs. The Board overturned this proposal, so party members will now have two ranking votes - one for incumbents and the second for new candidates. This widens democracy and takes power away from the few dozen people who ever bothered to attend regional hustings.

I do not like the proposal for women to be given the top ranking position on any new candidate list. Many good men will now not even bother to apply in some region. Why bother putting yourself through a process in which the oucome is already predetermined. In many areas there may only be one winnable position available.

All in all this is a compromise. The details are yet to be set in stone. But the question now is: is it a compromise with which both Eurosceptics and Europhiles can live?
It seems that sitting MEPS will have to submit themselves to a regional selection conference, then each party member may rank them and any new applicants in any order they

Why any self respecting male would want to put themselves through this process is beyond me - not that I can see any attraction in being a Euro MP anyway. But, more importantly, if I understand this correctly it means that any sitting MEP is automatically reselected. This is not the same as the Westminster system at all,

I'm the Subject of a Leak Investigation

It seems Westminster City Council is conducting a leak investigation into how I obtained the planning documents for Tony Blair's house (See the story HERE). Well the very best of luck to them. Strange that no one has picked up the phone to ask. Not that I'd tell them anyway. More HERE in the Guardian.

Boris Yeltsin Remembered

hat-tip to Theo Spark
There are two images of Boris Yeltsin which stick in the mind. This one and the one of him on top of a tank during the abortive Moscow coup. Yeltsin was an enigma to many and a frustration to most. On the one hand he displayed enormous courage during the White House coup but he failed to entrench democracy and a market economy in a way which was enduring. In some ways he wasn't totally to blame. Yeltsin himself put much of the blame on the failure of the West to help him. The trouble was that many financial experts took one look at Yeltsin and took fright. They saw a drunken oaf rather than a clever politician. You could hardly blame them.
But Yeltsin will always get a tick in my book for his role in the ending of the August coup in 1991. He put his life on the line to save Gorbachev, who was in many ways an arch enemy. Of course this meant that Gorbachev remained beholden to him and guaranteed his succession, but it was a remarkable act of bravery nevertheless.
He once said: “Today is the last day of an era past.” Quite.

A Happy St George's Day

EXCLUSIVE: Locals Object to Blairs' New Home Planning Application

I admit that I don't spend too much time trawling through the minutae of Westminster City Council's Planning Commitee's agendas, but I've been leaked sent the papers for a meeting on 3 May regarding a planning application which relates to 29 Connaught Square, the new home of the Dear Leader and his darling wife once they depart Downing Street.

Now remember, the property has already cost them £3.5 million, but they're now wanting to expand it and link it to a house in the mews block at the rear - no doubt the servants' quarters or an office for Martha Greene (see HERE)... Now I am no expert in planning matters, but these are the papers which are being considered by the Planning Committee on 3 May (no doubt when the eyes of the media will be looking elsewhere...). They reveal that several of the Blairs' new neighbours have objected to their plans. How could they?! They can expect the wrath of the Mouth of the Mersey to descend upon them.
29 Connaught Square, W2, 2HL
Amalgamation with 5 Archery Close into simple dwelling with two storey glazed infill to rear, creation of roof terrace and associated internal alterations. External CCTV cameras. Solar panels to roof of Archery Close.

1. Grant conditional permission and conditional listed building consent.
2. Agree reasons for granting permission as set out in Informative 1 attached to the
draft decision letter.

Issues andComments
· This proposal relates to two properties in the Bayswater Conservation Area: 29
Connaught Square, which is a grade II listed townhouse that is relatively unaltered in plan form, and 5 Archery Close, which is a much altered, unlisted mews building.
· The proposal is to link the two properties to make one residential unit, carry out minor modification to the internal plan form of the listed building and add a small
roof terrace and solar panels. A recent library infill to the courtyard between the two buildings is proposed to be removed and replace with a lightweight glass enclosure. CCTV cameras are proposed to address the security needs of the proposed occupiers, Tony and Cherie Blair.
· Objections have been raised by an adjoining occupier on a number of design, listed building, residential amenity and structural grounds.
· The proposal is considered acceptable in design and listed building terms. The degree of alteration to the interior of the listed building is relatively small. The
most significant alteration is the replacement of the library room. The library room is a modern addition of no historic or architectural quality. Its replacement with a glazed structure linking the two buildings is considered an improvement.
· Objections have been raised to the CCTV equipment. The proposed cameras are discreet in size, design and colour and so should not be obtrusive.
· Concern has been expressed about the proposed solar panels. As they are to be located on the roof of the unlisted mews building and screened by a low parapet, it is not considered that they would have a significant impact on the conservation area.
· Objections have been raised to the proposed roof terrace. A number of other properties in the vicinity have similar high level terraces. The terrace is being created by the removal of the top floor of a poorly designed rear extension and the
reduction in height will allow uninterrupted views of the rear of the listed building, which is considered to be beneficial.
· It is not considered that the scheme will have a significant impact on residential amenity.
The application will be decided by a sub-committee of six councillors including, as luck would have it, two Conservative parliamentary candidates. Somehow I think the press benches might be full for this meeting...

Note: Just for the avoidance of doubt, can I make clear that I was not sent this document by anyone on the planning sub committee, or indeed by a Conservative councillor.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Peter Hitchens & Iran

Peter Hitchens has written a quite brilliant account of his recent undercover trip to Iran. It is the most insightful piece I have read about the country. I've always thought of Iran as a far cry from the demonised threat to Western Society it is often portrayed as. The Hitchens article servers as a warning to those who believe a military strike against Iran is any kind of answer.

I'd love to read more articles by Peter Hitchens of this ilk. It's what he excels at.

Note: On April 8th I wrote an article headlined PETER HITCHENS & HIS THIN SKIN. Peter was away at the time in Iran, but has now responded to it in the Comments. Click HERE.

UKIPhome is Dead - It Has Ceased to Be

The barking mad UKIPhome is dead. It has ceased to be. It is a non website. It is thought that the UKIP leadership threatened the site's owner Chad Noble after several incidents where he had embarrassed the Party - most recently when he encouraged a party member to join the BNP.

It surely cannot be too long before we hear that Chad has joined his fifth political party in eighteen months. I think his membership application to the Liberal Democrats is long overdue. Or maybe he'll start his own party again and run it from his new home in south western France. Whatever happens, I suspect one firm prediction I can make is that we have not heard the last of Mr Noble.

Cameron & Thinking the Unthinkable

Greg Dyke has given a 'from the horse's mouth' account of his non candidacy for the London mayoralty in today's Observer. It makes for interesting reading...

The week was dominated by the events of Wednesday when, for a short period, the world - or that part of it interested - was told that I was standing to be the next mayor of London supported by both the Conservative and the Liberal parties. Sadly, it wasn't to be...

Several months earlier, I had been approached by someone influential in the Tory party to see if I would be interested in being their candidate for mayor in next year's election. As a former Labour donor and supporter who then gave money to the Liberals at the last election because I supported their position on Iraq, I was surprised. But after a few meetings, I agreed to have a chat with David Cameron. I suspect many in the Labour party fail to understand what is happening to the Conservatives under Cameron and that the change he has brought about
could be as radical for his party as the arrival of New Labour was for Labour. Most Labour stalwarts I meet hope and believe that Cameron will turn out to be a nasty right-winger, whereas, in reality, I suspect he's more liberal than the current authoritarian Labour Home Secretary. Not that that is too difficult.

What all this means is that there are now three political parties battling over the centre ground and the ideological differences between them are small. The future debate in politics will not be about policy, but about delivery...

In the meantime, I believe the public are increasingly disillusioned with politics and politicians and looking for something new; the plan I proposed to David Cameron when we met was certainly that. When I suggested that I stand as an independent supported by both Conservatives and Liberals on a common platform for London, I thought he, like most politicians, would run a mile. He didn't. Instead, he proved very open to a discussion about what I call 'new politics'. He later discussed the idea with his senior colleagues and said he was willing to put it to the Conservative party in London with his support.

The next step was to get the Liberals on side and over Easter I had discussions with friends in the party. They were interested and open to discussing the idea, which I reported back to Cameron's people; I later discovered that Ming Campbell had been told about the plan. A meeting was set up between Cameron and Campbell for Wednesday to discuss the idea. Sadly, the story broke that day and what should have been a confidential discussion ended up becoming public which, I suspect, effectively killed the idea.

I like Ming, but his instant rejection of the idea showed, I think, a lack of imagination that people in politics so often show. In business or in television - the worlds I come from - thinking the unthinkable is how you become successful. Cameron has taken criticism for doing precisely that and it is unfair; I hope it doesn't stop him doing it again. We live in a world where you have to be brave to win and Cameron showed that he was brave.

This raises a number of interesting points. It shows that David Cameron is able to think the unthinkable and to delve into political areas no one would expect him to. While I certainly did not like the idea of Greg Dyke running under a Conservative banner, I do like the fact that David Cameron is a risk taker. Ming Campbell, however, is emphatically not, and ran for cover at the first sign of grapeshot.

According to Dyke, David Cameron wanted to put the proposal to London Conservatives at a meeting planned for late last week. In the event the meeting was cancelled. I have no idea what the reaction would have been, but with David Cameron's support for the idea there would have been enormous pressure on the London Party to go along with it.

It is also interesting to speculate on the motives of those who made this whole episode public. As someone who played a part in it I have mulled long and hard about what certain people wanted the consequences to be. I'm afraid I shall have to keep those conclusions to myself... Yes, I know, spoilsort...

Will Lord Levy Sing Like a Canary?

When you see the phrase "friends of Lord Levy said" in a newspaper story the chances are it is nothing of the sort. It's Lord Levy himself. Over the last few months "friends of Lord Levy" have made clear in various newspaper stories that Lord Levy will not go down quietly. If he's charged he fully intends to take others down with him. He's convinced himself that he has done nothing wrong and takes the view that if he's in the mire, it's the Prime Minister who has put him there and failed to come to his rescue.

All the Sunday newspapers are full of Cash for Peerages. Perhaps the most interesting story is in the Sunday Times, who allege that not only will Levy, Turner and Evans face charges, but so will the PM's Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell.

LibDems Face Double Whammy Brown Fine

The spectre of jailed fraudster Michael Brown has returned to haunt the LibDems, who, according to Scotland on Sunday may not only have to repay the £2.4 million they took from him, but may also face a £2.4 million fine from the Electoral Commission. It's difficult to see how on earth they would be able to find £4.8 million without going under. Surprising thought it may seem, this is not something I would welcome. These are the main bits of the Scotland on Sunday story...

The Liberal Democrats are facing a potentially ruinous bill of up to £4.8m after taking donations from a crooked Scots businessman, Scotland on Sunday can reveal. Party funding watchdogs last night confirmed that the impact of Charles Kennedy's decision to accept £2.4m from Michael Brown could be doubled if the Lib Dems have to pay back the entrepreneur's former business associates, as well as a matching "fine" imposed as a punishment for accepting the cash. The Electoral Commission is set to order the party to return the 2005 donation amid suspicions that Brown's company was not doing business in the UK at the time of the payment, making it impermissible under funding rules. But, rather than going back to Brown, the £2.4m would have to be paid as a "fine" into the Consolidated Fund, the government's Bank of England account.

To make matters worse, a group of millionaires who invested in the company, 5th
Avenue Partners Ltd, insist the money is theirs and have demanded repayment-
meaning the Lib Dems will have to find another £2.4m on top of the fine imposed
for taking the cash. A senior source at the commission last night confirmed they were considering using their full powers against the party, which is already more
than £1m in the red. The double demand could force Lib Dem chiefs to go cap-
in-hand to the party membership for extra contributions of at least £50-£60 per
person. The Electoral Commission source said: "There is a double jeopardy
element in this situation. If the commission rules that the donation must be
returned, it clearly cannot go back to the donor himself, so it must be paid into the consolidated fund. The demands of creditors or investors would be completely separate to that and up to the party to settle independently." The Brown donation, the biggest-ever received by the Liberal Democrats, has been subject to intense scrutiny since former leader Kennedy gratefully accepted it as a huge contribution to the £4.9m cost of running the party's 2005 election campaign. Although little was known about the Majorca-based tycoon, it later emerged that he was born in a run-down part of Glasgow's West End and ended up in Majorca after making a £10m fortune from property deals and City trading. But holes in Brown's story began appearing under closer inspection soon after details of his financial support were revealed. The High Court ruled that his company was fraudulent and had never traded, he was extradited from Spain and jailed for two years last September after admitting perjury and a passport offence. Lawyers for Martin Edwards, former Manchester United chairman, two Chinese tycoons and an American lawyer have since written to the party saying they believe that the money is theirs.

Last week, Brown was charged with 18 further offences including money
laundering and theft. Brown will also face allegations of perverting the course
of justice and fraud. The donation was part of an investigation by City of
London Police into allegations of a £45m high-yield fraud. He is the subject of
an international money-laundering investigation by police as well as facing
civil action by the HSBC bank. The donations have exposed the Lib Dems to
ridicule and recriminations from opponents who believe Brown's intervention gave
them an unfair advantage during the 2005 election.

A Lib Dem spokeswoman last night confirmed they had been made aware of the
"double jeopardy" threat hanging over the party's head. She added: "Our legal
advice is robust and on the basis of this our auditors advised that we need not
make provision for any repayments. "The party acted in good faith at all
times in relation to these donations, which were properly spent on the Westminster general election campaign two years ago."

I do not deny that the LibDems acted in good faith, but in issues like this, it's not enough. They clearly didn't do the requisite due diligance and that, I believe, will be at the core of the Electoral Commission's findings. I do believe they should pay the money back, but I do not believe they should face a £2.4 million fine as well.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

My Morning's Canvassing in Fakenham

Well that wasn't a bad morning's canvassing. It seems that so-called 'shy Tories' have been replaced by 'shy Libdems'. Not a single person told me on the doorstep that they were voting Libdem. A good number said they hadn't made up their minds, which actually means they're voting for the yellow peril, but no one proudly declaimed that they were going to do so.

Perhaps of more interest was the overt hostility towards Gordon Brown, particularly among women voters. They really cannot stand him. A couple of people said they could never vote for a Scot as PM while others said he had ruined their pensions.

Fakenham is a LibDem stronghold so I am not expecting miracles here, but the fact that one of the four Libdem candidates doesn't live in the town and another is away at university won't help their cause, I suspect.

Good luck to Roy, Roy, John and Theo on May 3rd. And now I am heading off for a pleasant afternoon on Holkham beach. Over and out!