Jonathan Wallace

About me, my life, my politics, my travels, my thoughts

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

 

Another rewriting of history by the Lady Harriet

The Lady Harriet has just screeched her way through PMQs with the now traditional Labour practice of being in denial about their record and rewriting of the history books. The reality is that the public sector is now far larger than we can afford. Labour before the general election accepted that jobs in the public sector would have to go even of they won the election. Nearly quarter of a million public sector workers were due to be made redundant over two years under Labour.

All that has been airbrushed out of the record books by Labour. Any cuts, even if they reflect their own plans prior to the election, are opposed. Labour claims we can get by without any cuts. The reality is they have abandoned credibility in pursuit of opposition.

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Whickham Library Mosaic unveilling

Whickham Library Garden Mosaics unveiling Jun 10 16

A pleasant event last week which I attended with my ward colleagues John McClurey and Marilynn Ord was the unveilling of the mosaics in the Whickham Library garden. The ceremonial bit was done by Joe Mitchison, the deputy mayor of Gateshead.

The mosaics were produced by students at Whickham School and by children at the Gibside Special School.

I turned up with cameras and ended up taking a long list of requests for photos including by officers of the council. I was happy to oblige. Hopefully some of the photos will turn up on Council publications at some point.

 

Ken Clarke accused of being a Lib Dem!

Ken Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, is today announcing a review of sentencing policy. He is quite rightly concerned about the high level of re-offending by people who have served a short term prison sentence for a non-violent offence. The Lib Dems fought the election arguing that sentencing policy was counterproductive because those convicted of low level offences and sent to prison were coming out as better trained criminals who went on to re-offend. The effect was an increase in crime in the UK, rather than a cut. Clearly something had to change.

It now looks like Ken Clarke is introducing that change. It is absolutely right that offenders are punished. Rather than all of them going to prison colleges of crime, Lib Dems have rightly argued that some who are first offenders, and whose crime was non-violent, could be punished through community payback. In other words, punishment would be a requirement to work unpaid on projects that directly benefit the community, such as cleaning up graffiti.

The advantages with this system of community payback are that justice is seen to be done, the community gets a benefit, offenders are rehabilitated more effectively and offenders are not put into the company of large numbers of experienced offenders who can tutor them to be more effective criminals.

The fact that Ken Clarke, the Conservative Justice Secretary, is introducing this change should hopefully put to rest the claim that community justice for some is not being "soft on crime". That was a sterile argument in which the likes of Labour's Blunkett and Reid engaged. Their tough talk and posturing simply led to more trained criminals and more crime.

That said, it was interesting to experience the BBC today twice accuse Ken Clarke of being a Liberal Democrat because of the policies he looks set to introduce.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

 

An impromptu mini-public meeting

I had to go into Gateshead this morning for a meeting of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums Committee. As I was waiting at the bus stop, residents started to quiz me about various local issues. It turned out to be something of a mini public meeting for enough people as could be crammed into a bus shelter.

Meanwhile, over to the archives and museums committee. I am one of Gateshead's three reps on the joint committee. I was on the two former joint committes that previously ran the two services (they were merged last year) until 2000 when my London job required my resignaiton. Now that I am largely (though not entirely) free of my London role, I was able to pick up in May where I left off a decade ago. Being an historian, the committee is something of which I am very pleased to be a member.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

 

MP claims justice "not as good" at some courts

Did David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon, really mean to suggest that Gateshead Court dishes out justice that is "not as good" as that delivered by Blaydon court? I ask because that was his response to the proposed closure of Blaydon court and the transfer of its functions to Gateshead in The Journal on Thursday.

I can understand his desire to want to protect facilities though there are times when frankly, a building has outgrown its usefulness or a service has outgrown the building. Mr Anderson however would be better served by being more realistic when responding to Government announcements. Were I a magistrate or member of court staff based at Gateshead, I would find his allegation that justice handed out there was "not as good" somewhat insulting. I would also find it bizarre as the same magistrates and staff based in Gateshead run Blaydon court. Perhaps Mr Anderson may wish to substantiate his claim with some evidence, and also explain what he means by "not as good".

Mr Anderson then went on to claim "In cases where people have fallen into crime because they are desperate, having to travel six miles and pay for the bus fare may not seem a lot to you and me, but it could just make things worse."

Firstly, let me remind Mr Anderson that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The words he used imply that all those charged are in fact guilty. That is not always the case. Secondly, even when desperate, "falling into crime" is not justifiable. "Desperation" is not an excuse for burglary, theft, vandalism, drunkenness and so on. I find it staggering that one of our own law-makers can give comfort to criminality in this way.

Thirdly, Mr Anderson seems to think it is terrible that someone convicted of "desperate" criminal behaviour should have to pay a bus fare to travel to Gateshead. People already have to pay to travel to Blaydon which for many is more difficult and costly to get to than Gateshead.

If guilty, paying the bus fare to get to court is just a small part of the price you pay for breaking the law in the first place.

 

Alan Beith MP speaking to North East Conference

This is a bit of catch up by me, having been away for a week in London. This is Alan Beith's speech to the North East Liberal Democrats' regional conference on 12th June. Alan announced the Lib Dem Parliamentarians from the North East - himself, Ian Swales, Rupert Redesdale, Diana Maddock and soon to be ennobled John Shipley _ are to form a group to lobby the Coalition Government on behalf of the region.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

 

From sensible social democrat to clueless quack doctor

Once upon a time I used to have a bit of time for David Miliband. He seemed to be something of a sensible social democrat. He could put forward a coherent case for what his then Labour government was doing. He appeared to be interested in reforming the UK. Well, change of government and change of posture by Miliband The Older.

Today I read in our regional newspaper, The Journal, that Miliband appears to be against any cuts, warning, "The 25% cuts to public spending will, of course, hit the North East worse than other region." The question has to be asked, if you don't have cuts, how do you balance the books? Is it really credible to be against any cut going? It's the easy position to take. Miliband is currently engaged in a battle to beat up his younger brother, kick Ed Balls into the long grass and generally ignore Diane Abbott as an amusing irrelevance and Andy Burnham as an unreconstructed Blairite. In other words, with Labour members having set themselves against the reality of the financial situation and sinking rapidly into pure oppositionism, contenders for Labour Leader need to reflect that outlook. At a time when Labour needs leadership, the Labour party is not interested. The leadership contenders are therefore posturing as quack doctors offering palliative medicines that do nothing, claiming that the economic crisis can be solved with no pain. They need to do that as they need to strike a chord with their out of touch members.

The unreal world in which Labour lives is illustrated by a comment I have received from a leading Labour councillor in the North East which will be posted up soon on my post yesterday about the Budget. It needs a reply which I will write soon and post up alongside it. In effect, Labour are offering pain free solutions. The response I have from my own constituents is that pain is expected because they know the dangers of doing nothing. They do not believe the pain free palliatives on offer from Labour.

It is perhaps a bit unfair to dismiss all the Labour leadership contenders as quack doctors. Andy Burnham himself did offer recently some ideas on reducing the deficit by questioning the protection given to the NHS budget. It may not do him any good in the Labour party but it does show that perhaps there are one or two people in the Labour party who understand the predicament the country is in. Their problem is that they are tiny in number in a party in denial about the situation we are in.

Monday, June 21, 2010

 

The Budget - the correct decisions

Sound money, getting the deficit under control and the structural deficit eliminated, a rise in capital gains tax, an increase in the personal allowance of £1000, capital spending protected, measures to help businesses start up and employ people in the regions, restoration of the pensions rise to earnings, clamping down on runaway housing benefit costs (the current system simply pushes up rents and puts more money into landlords' pockets), the bank levy, the rise in the children element of tax credits for low income families, the reduction in benefits to wealthy families that don't need them, help for councils to freeze council tax. These are all the right decisions.

There was a cheer from me when it was announced the upgrade of the Tyne and Wear Metro will go ahead. Let's hope all those Labour members who were shooting off statements attacking the Lib Dems for "cancelling" the plans will be applauding as well.

The costs? Clearly the rise in VAT is one of them. Remember however that most basics, such as most foods and children' clothes are exempt or like domestic electricity, charged at only 5%. These exempt items form a higher element of the basket of goods bought by people on lower incomes. And the wealthier pay considerably more VAT than those on low incomes.

Pay freeze in the public sector: yes, that is an unfortunate price but given the choice between more public sector job losses and better pay in the public sector, which would you go for? And don't forget, those on incomes of less than £21,000 will get a pay rise. But don't forget, many people in the private sector have taken pay cuts to protect their own jobs. Many have cut their hours. The private sector has already taken the pain. The public sector cannot be treated differently.

The budget needs to be considered in it entirety. It is aimed at putting the economy and the finances of the nation back into order and ensure the pain is shared across all sections of the community whilst avoiding putting too heavy a burden on people on low incomes. I believe that whilst the Budget is not perfect, the right decisions have been taken.
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Photos of Deputy PM at Lib Dem local government conference

I was at the Lib Dem local government conference in Westminster on Saturday. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, spoke on Saturday morning. Here are a few of the photos I took. There are more on my Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanwallace

Nick Clegg Lib Dem local government conference June 10 5

Nick Clegg Lib Dem local government conference June 10 13

Nick Clegg Lib Dem local government conference June 10 10

Nick Clegg Lib Dem local government conference June 10 3

Saturday, June 19, 2010

 

At the Lib Dem local government conference

I am currently at the Lib Dem local government conference in the LGA HQ in Westminster. The presence of my cameras shows I am here in my capacity as video-maker. The Deputy Prime Minister was our first speaker. Nick spoke extremely well and gave an excellent and superbly reasoned case for the Coalition and what it is seeking to achieve. I got the speech on video and it will be posted to YouTube shortly. Watch this space.

Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell spoke later and we have Simon Hughes on shortly.
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Get Carter car park to bite the dust - at last!

The long running saga of the demolition of the multi-storey car park in central Gateshead that was made famous by its appearance in the iconic film "Get Carter" looks as though it has a happy ending. The demolition had started last year (it was initially planned to take place in 2007) but was stopped by the Council. The cause was the need by the developers to bring forward an acceptable development plan for the area.

Council Leader Mick Henry announced at the meeting on Thursday that agreement has now been reached and demolition can go ahead again. Good news at last. The end of this eyesore car park will not come too soon.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

 

Yet more collective Labour amnesia

I've just finished a full council meeting where we have the usual occurrences: Council Leader Mick Henry referred to my blog and an eminently sensible proposal from the Lib Dems was rejected by Labour. We also had some Labour posturing and pseudo-rage about the Coalition. This is likely to be an unofficial item on all future council meetings.

Today's "rage" was about cuts brought in by the Government. Labour claim they will put growth at risk. That leaves me wondering why they do not feel the same about the huge cuts Labour made in April to local government. In Gateshead they amounted to something in the region of £12 million. Surely a case of Labour collective amnesia?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

 

North East Regional Conference

North East Liberal Democrats' regional conference was held on Saturday 12th June at Gateshead Civic Centre. John Shipley, Leader of Newcastle City Council and about to become a member of the House of Lords, was the first speaker. Here is his speech:



A few photos of the conference:

Lib Dem North East conference Jun 10 5

Above and below, John Shipley addressing conference

Lib Dem North East conference Jun 10 6

Lib Dem North East conference Jun 10 3

Peter Freitag (former North East Regional President), John Shipley and Baroness Diana Maddock

Lib Dem North East conference Jun 10 1

Director of Campaigns Hilary Stephenson gave a presentation on the general election campaign.

Lib Dem North East conference Jun 10 4

The registraion desk - 100 people attended the conference

Monday, June 14, 2010

 

Labour's growing amnesia

A letter in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle tonight reads, "The sight of Mrs Thatcher in the doorway of number 10 Downing Street with David Cameron surely sends shockwaves to the North East." A rant about the killing-all-first-born tendency of the Coalition government then followed.

The author of these comments is someone called Nick Kemp, a Labour councillor in Newcastle. I wonder what his thoughts were three years ago when Gordon Brown invited Margaret Thatcher to Downing Street and then paraded her in front of the media. Or has he conveniently forgotten his then leader's actions? Watch out for bucketloads of Labour amnesia in the coming weeks and months.
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The expensive price of cheap oil

The USA is in a state of frustration and anguish about the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The apparent inability of BP to cap the leaking well that is polluting the sea and the coast is definitely a cause for alarm. Helpfully for the Americans, the culprit has the word "British" in its name (though the Americans own 40% of it). It helps deflect attention away from the inability of anyone to tackle the crisis successfully.

America, indeed the whole of the world economy, however must reflect on the cause of this disaster. The blow-out of an oil rig is incidental. The real cause of this crisis is our dangerous over-reliance on fossil fuels, in this instance, crude oil. The USA is the world's biggest consumer of oil which it wastes in an unforgivable way. And it's not just America. The absurdly wasteful use of oil is a characteristic of the way the world economy operates.

We therefore have to move away from our dependence on cheap oil and fossil fuels in general. The real price we are paying for cheap oil will cost us dearly in the long run. Let's hope this lesson is the silver lining in the cloud of the Gulf of Mexico crisis.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

 

Nissan grant goes ahead

Vince Cable, in his role as Business Secretary, has approved the grant to Nissan to develop electric, low emission cars that was initially announced by the last government. Prime Minister Cameron announced last week that the £20 million grant will go ahead. The announcement was important in the North East where the work on developing and hopefully building the vehicles will take place.

There is a bit of a lesson for Labour in this matter. Since the formation of the Coalition, the "socialist" brethren have come out against every cut, and have also implied that a review of previous spending proposals means that they will automatically be cut. The announcement of last week means Labour could be described as scaremongering. There will be cuts soon but not every spending decision by Labour will be axed. That won't stop Labour claiming the axe is falling anyway.
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North East Regional Conference

Yesterday was the North East Regional Conference in Gateshead. It was a bit too short notice after the election to have a Lib Dem government minister speak to us (isn't it great to be able to speak of Lib Dem ministers!?). We did have Hilary Stevenson, the party's director of campaigns, speak in the final session.

Alan Beith reported that the Parliamentarians from the North East - himself, Ian Swales, and peers Redesdale, Maddock and soon to be appointed Shipley - are to form a group to lobby for the interests of the region.

I had to miss the workshops that were held to head off to Swalwell Park for the official opening of the play area. I had to leave that before the mayor arrived (he was late) and since I had offered to do some photos for the council, I left my camera with an officer who took them instead. My camera was then passed down a chain of people and arrived back at my house in the evening.

I am now on the Metro heading to Tynemouth to meet some historian friends of mine. I'll be discussing the Washingwell Roman Fort with Professor Norman McCord for a video I am planning to shoot shortly. More about that on another day.
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Friday, June 11, 2010

 

Another door knocking session about the Coalition

I've just got home from a door-knocking session in my ward in which we were talking to constituents about the Coalition Government, as well as local issues. 100 survey forms were delivered last night. My ward colleague, Cllr Marilynn Ord, and I called back tonight to collect the replies. We got 25 back. Some more are likely to be posted to me.

We had a similar response on Saturday when we were last out on the doors. Again, the feeling about the Coalition is positive. We had a couple of people today who were opposed to the Coalition but they were Labour supporters anyway (and they hadn't filled in the survey form we had delivered).

From the two days of doing the survey we have 48 replies. When we have 100 replies, I'll produce a running total.
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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

 

The first surprise of the Labour leadership contest

Well, well, well, Diane Abbott makes it onto the Labour leadership ballot paper against the odds. It was an act of charity by MPs who don't support her and want her defeated. It does mean however that the leftwing has at least a standard bearer, even if it is one who is not credible as a party leader. It will be interesting to see how she performs. She may not necessarily come last in the first round of counting (note Labour thinks the alternative vote is so good they use it for their leadership election) and may soak up what is left of the old left. There may even be the odd left winger who is realistic enough to know she is a dead loss as leader but votes for her knowing she stands no chance of election. It will make them feel good about themselves before voting for one of the others as 2nd choice. Abbott's problem is that after the first preferences, seconds may be more difficult to come by.

David Miliband is spoken of as the front runner though the media put forward next to no evidence to support this contention. And if no candidate builds up a head of steam, it will be interesting to see how the second and third preferences play out. This contest I guess will not be won on the first preferences unless one of them gets some early momentum.
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Garden grabbing to end?

I woke this morning to the ranting of John Prescott and listened to his instant rewriting of history in which he put the blame for everything that had gone wrong under Labour on the "greedy Tory bankers in the City." So let us put aside the years of Labour's sucking up to rich greedy Labour bankers in the City, and concentrate on the issue at hand: garden grabbing.

This is the process by which domestic gardens are sold off to be developed for high density housing. It sometimes involves the demolition of the existing house though this is not always the case. Under the planning system, a domestic garden is regarded as a "brownfield" site - ie one that has already been developed so does not merit the sort of protection that can be applied to "greenfield" sites, those green open spaces near urban areas that have not previously been developed.

My own ward in Gateshead has seen a constant stream of applications to build on gardens or use small plots of land for housing development. Of those granted, some have been beneficial, others not so. Some I have supported, some I have opposed. The battles against these applications however are hindered by the classification of gardens as brownfield. What we need is some form of garden preservation system. Gardens are not being lost just to new housing. Many are disappearing under drives and concrete for patios. There are many areas that have changed their geography by unconscious stealth over the past 2 or 3 decades from being residential but with substantial garden areas to ones which are now substantially paved over. Front gardens in particular have changed in the 23 years I have been a councillor from being lawns to being car parks.

Over a period of time, the effect of this can be unintended but quite dramatic. All those hard surfaces mean that when it rains, there is a sudden surge of rainwater into a drainage system that can no longer cope, so we can get localised flooding. This can sometimes lead to sewers overflowing and damage to people's homes. With climate change often causing heavier bursts of rainfall, the water companies (and therefore each of us as customers) are having to invest more in upgrading the drainage and sewage systems. Secondly, natural watercourses are not replenished sufficiently. Many streams and rivers are drying up. This is damaging for the natural environment. Thirdly, with the ground denied its normal seepage of natural rainwater, it can lead in some areas to the ground drying out, which can lead to subsidence. If your house is build on such land, the bill for putting this right can be astronomical. Fourthly, garden spaces are now important wildlife havens and a significant loss of these green spaces will have a damaging effect on biodiversity.

It would be madness to stop the construction of high density housing in urban areas but the ever increasing demand for the development of green spaces in urban areas, particularly gardens, is something that has to be far better managed than has been the case until now. Hopefully the proposed change to the planning system, which will end the designation fo gardens as brownfield, will give a better degree of protection to the green spaces in our urban and suburban areas.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

 

On-line petitions in Gateshead

Legislation passed last year requires Councils, as of 15th June, to have a system for allowing petitions to require debates at council meetings and to call officers to scrutiny committees. Later this year, councils will have to have an on line facility for petitions which will allow anyone to set up a petition on the council website on any issue as long as it is relevant to the work of the council.

Arguably I have made the strongest noises in favour of these plans in Gateshead. We had an advisory group meeting about them a couple of weeks ago and yesterday we had the Corporate Vitality Scruting Committee look at the issue as well. Both times I spoke strongly in support of the plans, as I did today (Tuesday) when they came before the council's cabinet.

It was an odd situation today in which I, as a member of the opposition, was speaking more strongly for a report proposed by Labour run Gateshead Council than the Labour members of the Cabinet (which is all Labour). Some Cabinet members expressed some doubts about the consequences, mainly in relation to "vexatious" petitions. I did point out that vexatious petitions can be produced anyway without having to be online. I illustrated this with a petition sent to me a few years ago. It was signed by 10 people and called for me to resign from the council to have a by-election (bizarrely we were only 2 weeks away from polling day!!!!!) The lead petitioner was the Labour candidate, another signatory was his wife and the other 8were well known Labour members who had signed the Labour nomination papers. Two weeks later I was re-elected with one of the biggest majorities in Gateshead!

Vexatious on-line petitions should not be a reason for not going ahead with the scheme, and anyway, as one Labour member who had doubts about the value of the exercise pointed out, we are legally required as a council to allow them.

One concern I raised was the time limit on debates in council sparked by a petition (such a petition would need 2000 signatures). 15 minutes is to be allocated to any such debate. This is the first time in our council constitution we are to have a time limit on a debate. We have limits on the length of speeches. That's fair enough, but in a 15 minute debate there won't be much time for members to speak if the Leader of the Council and Leader of the Opposition have both spoken.

The Leader, Cllr Mick Henry, agreed that the system can be reviewed after it's up and running. A suck it and see situation. Hopefully, this will be an experiment that will work well though we as the politicians will need to ensure residents know about it and are encouraged to use it.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

 

Survey of constituents about the Coalition

In my ward in Gateshead we are carrying out a survey of constituents about what they think of the Coalition. Today we launched the survey. I delivered 100 houses last night and this morning, my ward colleague John McClurey and I, called on the same houses to collect replies. We collected 19 and I expect some to come back by post. We will roll it out over the ward in coming weeks.

I haven't added the figures up at the moment. The numbers are too small at the moment to have any serious value. When we have over 100 replies, I will start to publish overall results on a rolling basis. That said however, the early replies are very encouraging with overwhelming support for the Coalition. We are also asking people about changing the voting system and again, the support for change is looking good.

One point raised is that some people want to see how things go over the coming months before making a final judgement on whether or not a coalition is a good idea. This is an understandable position to adopt and the survey gives people the option of reserving judgement.

The door knocking took longer than expected as we found more people wanted to talk and we broke our own rules by accepting an invite to go into someone's house and continue the conversation over coffee!

We also called in to the Sunniside Chapel fayre this morning. Again, the comments people made to us about the coalition were that it was the right decision in the circumstances and people were pleased that we got many of our policies in the Coalition Agreement. I also bumped into one of my former primary school teachers, Mrs Atkinson, who taught me 40 years ago. Nice that she remembered me after 4 decades!

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

 

Northumberland County Show

As Monday was a bank holiday, I did no politics that day but went instead to the Northumberland County Show in Corbridge where I could exercise my odd interest in rotovators and hen houses for my allotment and generally have an enjoyable day out. If you feel the urge to catch up with what I did there, you can read about it on my recently established travel blog: http://traveltalesandnotes.blogspot.com/2010/06/things-to-do-in-north-east-england.html.

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PMQs - the tone is different

Prime Minister's Questions - they used to be the weekly bear pit. Brown used them to bellow out lists like Stalinist beetroot and tractor statistics but otherwise avoided answering questions. Labour sycophants trotted out their planted questions. Nick Clegg was shouted down and treated dismissively by Brown.

The tone now is different. It is much less of a confrontational political punch up. Apart from Ian Davidson, a Glasgow Labour MP, who was stopped by the Speaker after making anti-Lib Dem comments best kept for the playground rather than Parliament, the questions on the whole were reasonable and appropriate. Notice also the difference in Cameron's response to questions compared to Brown's. The latter used to step forward with a huge file of stalinist statistics which would be rattled off like bullets from a sten gun. Cameron often stood at the dispatch box without notes.

Harriet Harman avoided screeching through her questions. And even the "socialist" Labour MP for Blyth, Ronnie Campbell, normally cherished for his entertainment value than his intellectual clout, put forward a reasonable question despite his barbed comment about Cameron's friends in the City (which overlooks Labour's friends in the same place).

So hopefully, PMQs in the future can develop as a useful tool for scrutinising the government rather than being a slanging match.
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Walking the dog beffore PMQs

I seem to have acquired the task of walking my mother's dog each day. I came by the task as an excuse to go out to explore historic sites near our village of Sunniside. Mother lives on the other side of the village so I am on my way there now. The aim is to walk the dog and get back in time for PMQs. So no detailed exploration of old ruins today!

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

 

Labour's choice

In the Labour leadership battle, should the "socialist brothers and sisters" go for a candidate tainted by the failure of the last government, or someone from the not-very-electable left? That is the choice they are facing with the six candidates on offer.

The chances are that their choice will be reduced to only one of tainted characters. Diane Abbott and John McDonnell are up against a system that is designed in the first place to neuter the left. It is unlikely either will have anywhere near enough nominations to get on the ballot paper. Perhaps the first reform Labour's new leader needs to introduce is one that involves their own members in the nomination process. If Labour members do not realise that allowing Brown an unopposed return three years ago as Leader, without the debate needed to engage both the party and country generally, they have not learnt one of their biggest lessons of the past few years. So it seems, Labour needs to create a grassroots movement in which ordinary members are not treated as people who have to be held at arms length. Whether or not they can get that from one of the tainted candidates is difficult to say.

Reading the Guardian's Comment page today in which each of the Labour candidates is given space to set out their stall, the two left wing candidates make the clearest calls for change. Diane Abbott claims Labour needs to rediscover their moral compass and goes on to explain that "Labour should take back the civil liberties agenda." I suspect they are too late for that as this is a key issue for the Coalition. It would also mean a major uturn for Labour. It is unlikely any of the tainted candidates would be willing to do that. Were Abbott's plans to be adopted by Labour, it would mean Labour being on the same side of the government on a crucial area of policy. What then to differentiate Labour?

Though Abbott and McDonnell are the candidates who represent change, they also represent a throwback to the unelectable days of Old Labour. McDonnell calls for cuts to be rejected but does little to explain how the deficit can be cut. Meanwhile, Diane Abbott's main selling point is her opposition to the Iraq war. It's bizarre that a prospective leader of the Labour party defines herself as opposed to such a defining issue for Labour. It seems everyone in Labour is now opposed to the Iraq war. Pity they kept quiet 7 years ago (though in Abbott's case, she made her opposition clear at the time.) Nevertheless, being opposed to something that happened nearly a decade ago cannot form the basis of your political faith.

Assuming the Coalition succeeds, Labour will have to define itself in new terms. Quite how they will do that will be interesting to see but a simple fall into oppositionism will not be enough to give them an election victory or a defining mission statement.
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