Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gurkhas' ruling - photos from outside the Royal Court of Justice

Today, the High Court ruled against the Government over ministers' decision to deport retired gurkhas rather than let them live here and become citizens. These are people who have fought for our country and put their lives on the line for us. The least we can do is recognise they have earned their citizenship and, after contributing so much to our nation, that they have a right to live here.

I was outside the Royal Court of Justice for the announcement today. Nick Clegg and Ming Campbell were there as well, as was Joanna Lumley the actress who is a great supporter of the campaign. Peter Carroll, a leading Lib Dem campaigner in Kent, was one of the key people in the campaign and he was there as well.There's are some of the photos I took.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A return to "Liberal Demolition"

Readers may recall that a copy of the so-called "Liberal Demolition" fell into my hands a couple of months ago. This rag is the fruit of the fertile mind of Labour MP John (The Toothless Attack Dog) Spellar MP and his interesting publication brought hours of endless amusement to me (and allowed me to write reams of blog posts as well).

One of his big attacks on the Lib Dems was an allegation that the party is "soft on crime" because of our policy on community justice. Listening to the Labour party, you would be forgiven for thinking such a system would lead to the collapse of civilisation, death and mayhem on the streets and the destruction of all the western world holds dear!

Never let it be said that Labour ever allows inconsistency to get in the way of a good story. The Ministry of Justice has now announced 6 pilots to test out community justice throughout the country. Minister in the Justice Department (which will be overseeing the pilots) is none other than David Hanson MP, the person quoted in "Liberal Demolition" article about the Lib Dems saying "the Lib Dems have shown once again they can’t be taken seriously on crime and anti-social behaviour."

Alas, Mr Hanson seems to have had a very rapid change of heart. Areas where the community justice pilots are to be carried out include Lib Dem strongholds in Devon, Cornwall and Hull.

Nice one David!

The Monday morning blog: voodoo and alchemy - Cameron's solutions to the economic crisis

With the nationalisation of Bradford and Bingley, journalists have naturally been asking the Conservatives what they would do if they were in power and faced the same crisis. As they gather at their luv-fest at Birmingham, Michael Fallon, George Osborne (the man who put the pip into squeak) and David Cameron say they would have solved the crisis by "working harder" to find a private sector buyer.

Quite how a government "working harder" could persuade a private company to take over another private company that was bankrupt with a massive debt hanging around its neck is beyond me. And it strikes me as odd that the party that claims the private sector always knows best in business matters actually thinks that a state intervention (in the form of busy "hard working" ministers) can persuade businessmen to disregard the dire nature of a bankrupt company and happily buy it, lock, stock and barrel. Perhaps Mr Cameron has incredible faith in what he thinks as his gifts of persuasion, talking round hard headed businessmen to take on billions of pounds of someone else's debts. Just which form of voodoo economics do Cameron and Osborne sign up to?

Nationalisation should be a last resort. The last resort has now been reach. And as with so many UK resorts, it is stormy and troubled. I do feel an element of discomfort about the BB nationalisation. Effectively what is happening is that the profitable bits of the operation - the savings and retail activities - are being sold to Santander and therefore will almost immediately be back in the private sector. That leaves the taxpayer carrying the burden of the bad mortgages. Short of seeing the full details, if the sale of the profitable bits reduces the burden on the taxpayer, that is just about acceptable as a reason for breaking up the business. The drawback is that once the business is ready to go back to the private sector, it will not be much of a going concern and not viable as a banking operation as it has been stripped of its retail functions.

Back to Cameron and his voodoo economics. One new policy proposal for getting over the economic crisis is to allow the Bank of England to "intervene at an earlier stage" to "take on failing banks without any cost to the taxpayer." Quite how the state owned national bank can take over a multi-billion failing bank without any risk is not explained. So if taking over a failing bank does not mean taking over its bad debts, then who does take them on? Are they simply forgotten about? Are other bankers asked to come to breakfast with Mr Cameron so he can use his persuasive charms to get them to take over billions of pounds of debts before the croissants are served? This is not voodoo economics, it's alchemy economics. Instead of turning lead into gold, Mr Cameron claims he can turn bad debts and bankruptcy into profit and no risk, all by waving his magic wand.

And as for his proposal to set up an office to decide the level of debt a government can clock up, I suspect the last Conservative government would have had a few problems with such a policy. After all, in the early nineties, the Conservative government was knocking up record debts. And wasn't a certain David Cameron special adviser to the Chancellor at that time?

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

First results from our cost of living survey

Today we launched our Cost of Living Survey in Blaydon constituency. We deliverately chose an area where we had not done a survey before and that was, at least previously, strongly Labour. I thought it would be good to test the survey to destruction before rolling it out to the rest of the constituency. So we printed 300 copies and Peter Maughan (our PPC) and I went down to the village of Kibblesworth. When we finished delivering I said that I would be well pleased if we got 30 replies. Peter went back at 6pm to collect the replies from letter boxes. He came back with 29, which makes me one short of being well pleased. However, we are likely to get more back by post through the week.

Questions cover how people are responding to rising food and power prices, whether they have cut back on buying certain goods and on heating their home. Also, people are asked about Gordon Brown's handling of the economy and about Nick Clegg's proposals for cutting income tax paid by those on low and middle income.

Once we have run the survey over a larger area we will publish the overall results. Any Lib Dem member wanting a copy of the survey can contact me at Cowley St.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Brown will be there til the election

I am on the train heading home, having just left Kings Cross. No quibbles tonight about National Express!

Anyway, back to the Labour conference and The Rebellion That Never Hapened. It is unwise in politics to expect an opponent to self destruct and disappear. Generally, in politics, opponents do not do your work for you though there are some interesting exceptions to that rule, one of whom I could mention but won't to spare his blushes (after all he is a reader of this blog!) Had the internal rebels expected Brown to fall apart, then they have gravely misjudged the situation. The gloss has been knocked off his speech by Kelly's resignation but expectations of her going have been around for months. And frankly the whole episode was just a shambles rather than a couordinated attempt to pull the rug out from under Brown's feet.

For Brown it was a good week in that he was able to quash talk of any immediate challenge to his leadership (there was no actual rebellion to quash, just talk by a disorganised rabble). And whilst his speech did little to reach out to the people of Britain, it did please the majority of Labour members. They were, after all, the ones he needed to pull back onto his side before he can even think of appealing to the country. As I have often argued, even if there was an open challenge, he would survive it. Removing sitting Prime Ministers is difficult. To stand any chance at all, an alternative leader is needed who can command sufficient support across the party. No such person exists.

For that state of affairs, the Blair-Brown duopoly can be thanked. Over the past decade Labour was barely big enough for both of them. No one else had the chance to grow as an alternative. Miliband may be talked of as a future Labour leader but he is too closely associated with the Blairite rump to stand a realistic chance of succeeding in the near future.

Indeed, Miliband arguably had a poor week. His speech was an attempt to be prime miinisterial but the response seems to show he is not taken seriously. And how many people remember the speech for the press photos with Brown at the end? The Mr Bean expression and posture may be difficult to live down in the future. Ironic given the classic description applied by Vince Cable to Brown himself.

So Brown has seen off a rebellion that was never really going to happen anyway. And whilst his stock may have risen within Labour ranks, the conference bounce is unlikely to last. The speech changed none of the conditions that are affecting the state of politics. People will continue to lose jobs, prices continue to climb, jobs continue to be lost. Brown has not slain any of the beasts that are rampaging over the political or economic landscape.

There will be a lull in the internal squabbling in Labour's ranks for a few weeks. If Labour loses the Glenrothes byelection, there will be some short term panic in Labour but Brown will ride it out. The next big test we know about after that is polling day in June. There may be other economic and political crises in the meantime but June is already in our diaries. Were Labour to do badly, there will be again the calls for him to go by his internal malcontents. But by then, Labour won't dare to attempt regicide with only a year to go before the election. So, Brown will be there until the general election is fought. His internal critics may have to get used to that.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vince Cable photos on Facebook

I spent much of today emailing out the photos I took at the Vince Cable photo op at conference. Then before leaving the office, I had a quick look at Facebook and found people are already posting up the pictures. What a marvel al this new fangled technology is!

Tomorrow the Steve Webb photos will be sent out.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bread and butter issues

How do you combine in a single blog post something about Lib Dem conference photo ops, my cookery plans and Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour war zone? Well, here goes.

Brown's speech was pitched today at Labour members, rather than the country as a whole. It pressed all the right buttons in that respect. Other than some soothing prose suggesting Brown was an ordinary guy who recognised the economic problems, and a bit of kite flying about talks in the US about regulating the financial markets, the speech did not have much about the economy. And it is the economy - jobs, cost of liiving, housing and so on - that are now up there at the top of people's concerns. In other words, the bread and butter issues.

So whilst Labour members may be pleased that at last their own leader has given them words they can applaud, my guess is that it will leave many voters cold. It does of course make a change in Labour leader even less likely in the near future, though regular readers will know I have argued that the removal of Brown is unlikely at least this side of the general election. Mind you, it will take far more than one speech to the Labour conference to revive Labour's fortunes.

Talking about bread and butter issues, at our conference last week, I ran a photo op with Vince Cable about the cost of living. In it, we had two supermarket baskets containing identical food items, but with one priced at last year's prices, the other at the much higher costs for this year. We have, for the past week, gradually been eating these photo op props. I am, however left with a large amount of bread and butter. So tomight I am going to make a large bread and butter pudding and take it to Cowley St for undernourished colleague to eat tomorrw. However, since my older brother Andrew turned up unexpectedly in London today, and I have been out for dinner with him, the pudding making will be taking place later than I intended.

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Miliband positioning for the future

Our office watched the Miliband speech yesterday and we were immediately struck by how little foreign policy was raised and how much he roamed over the portfolios of his colleagues. This was clearly a speech that was positioning himself as the leader-in-waiting.

Yet he knows that he is in for the long haul. A leadership election in the next few months would see him defeated. I can't imagine Labour going now for an uberBlairite, and let's face it, that's all he is known as currently. But by summer next year, having done seven or eight months of shameless self-promotion, and having professed his undying loyalty to Brown (with his fingers crossed behind his back) he could be in a position to win, especially if Balls is his opponent and is seen as an uberBrownite. It seems that the Blairites have learnt a lesson from Brown himself. He set himself up as the only alternative to Blair. Everyone knew he was after the top job and his loyalty to Blair was only skin deep. That meant he could behave as a semi-prime minister, roving all over other ministers' portfolios. Miliband is now doing the same.

That leaves potential rivals with a problem. Were they to do the same, it would be raising a clear signal that Brown's days are absolutely numbered and that the ferrets are now fighting in the sack over the succession. For someone such as Balls, who genuinely wants Brown to continue (at least we can credit him with that), running a similar self-promotion campaign would be an admission that he had given up on Brown.

So Miliband is playing an interesting game that only he is able to do. The chances of a Labour leadership contest before the general election are small but that does not make any difference to Miliband. He clearly wants to keep his options open. And when Brown does go after the general election, Miliband may well have built up a stronger following in the Labour party that could boost his chances of getting the top job. It waits to be seen however whether or not at that point the Labour party is in a fit enough state for Miliband to want to lead it.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

The Monday morning blog - Miliband as Merlin the Magician

I was sorting through papers late last night to bring down to London when I spotted the Radio Times. On the front cover was a picture of Merlin the Magician, a new tv series. But I was struck by the similarity between the actor playing Merlin, and David Miliband. So could Miliband the Magician do it for Labour were Brown to meet with an unfortunate illness, necessitating his resignation?

The answer has to be a reassuring "No". As with the Tories in the 1990s and up to the arrival of Cameron, Labour are a contaminated brand, and no change at the top is likely to change public perceptions of the party. Miliband would not even command widespread support in Labour's ranks and I suspect more Labour members would prefer Brown to stay on than have uberBlairite Miliband take over. No magic will work to restore over the next 18 months the dominance Labour once held.

Labour are a bit like the Ratners of politics. A one time successful business that got away with pedalling crap, the foolery at the top resulted in everyone seeing the brand for the rubbish it was. Public confidence in Ratners collapsed and never recovered. Whilst I would not write off a Labour recovery, there appears to be little prospect of one in the near future.

Anyway, I am standing on platform 4 at Newcastle Central Station at the moment, waiting for the 7.40am to Kings Cross. At least today National Excess have not cancelled it. The problem is simply that it should have turned up 7 minutes ago.

Update - train now arrived. Wake me up when we get to London.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Photos now available on Flickr

Anyone who came to the photo op at Bournemouth conference last week about the need to cut down on plastic carrier bags can now go to the party's Flickr site where I have now posted a selection of them. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/libdems)

Individual shots taken at the other photo ops will be emailed out this week.

I have added a handful of photos to Flickr which I had previously added to the photo gallery on the party's website and I will be putting a further selection on to Flickr over the coming days. Alex Folkes has already posted up a good set of conference pictures.

If there are other photos you think I took, such as at fringe meetings, and you want copies, get in touch with me at Cowley St.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Short selling and a helping hand to a bunch of bankers

"We will clean up the city" screamed the Labour Party this week. "We are taking decisive action," announced Chairman Brown. "We have found a cause we can use to try to save our skins," confirmed a Labour source.

Okay, so no one in the Labour Party actually said the last one, but they might just have well have said it. Friday saw the use (indeed overuse) of Labour's new favourite word "decisive". The decisive action in question was a ban by the FSA on short selling - in which brokers in effect bet on shares going down in value. They "borrow" shares from institutions, sell them in expectation of a price drop and then buy them up at the lower price to return them to the owners from whom they borrowed them. They pocket the difference. The original holder of the shares is, in turn, paid a fee. The claim was that this activity was driving down share prices unnecessarily.

This is of course a highly dubious claim. It has next to no effect on share price. Those engaging in short selling do not control share prices. The market conditions dictate the price. Short selling is like betting on a horse to lose a race. Just because someone has made the bet does not mean the horse is less likely to win as a result. There is no cause and effect.

What Labour have done however is to come up with a marginal answer that was painted as a great solution to the financial crisis. It could make them look "decisive".

What has made the stock markets bounce back however was the massive American government intervention in the financial markets. In effect, George Bush has nationalised all the banks' bad debts. The banks, encouraged by the likes of Bush and Brown, have lent money irresponsibly for a decade. US taxpayers are now having to carry the can for that irresponsible bahaviour. The big bankers have got off scot free to continue to be irresponsible and not have to pay the price for their own incompetence and stupidity.

And if the stock markets were not going to rise after the biggest hand out in the history of the world, then nothing would ever make them move.

So the action was pretty well decisive, but it was decisive action by the US government, not the British one. Labour now attempts to paint themselves as the scurge of City fat cats. This is of course after 11 years of their sucking up to the same people and protecting them from the full tax system that the rest of us are required to live under.

Gordon Brown however is now smiling all the way to the bank. The talk is of no leadership challange during the financial crisis. The talk now is of dumping him in June next year after the local and European elections. Previous talk of removing him included: May after the local election, then after the Crewe by-election, then after the Glasgow by-election in July, then before David Millipede went on holiday in August, then at the start of September before conference, then talk switched to challenging him at conference itself, then in November after the Glenrothes by-election, then by Christmas, and now the talk is of June next year. Labour opponents of Brown have changed their mind about dates to challenge him more often than Imelda Marcos has changed her shoes!

Completely unknown MPs can resign from undemanding ministerial positions as much as they like but I don't think they will count one iota as long as the Cabinet runs scared of telling Brown to resign and take up a job in the city (probably as a big banker).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

At last I am heading home

I am now on the train to Newcastle, heading north for council this afternoon and then a bit of time at home. Our new councillor, John McClurey, who won the Whickham South and Sunniside byelection, will be introduced to the council. Since the last council meeting was in July, I have not been able to sample Labour views, opinions and state of mind in Gateshead for a few weeks. It will be interesting to see what state they are in.

I am planning a weekend of crop harvesting (ie digging up my potatoes) and food foraging (picking various fruits, nuts and berries) for jam making. I also have photos from conference to sort out so Facebook friends who were in Bournemouth had better watch out! And I want to play around with my new Flickr site as well.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And now a word about South West Trains

I have just arrived back in London from Bournemouth and I am currently waiting at Waterloo for the commuter service to leave. It could have been so different. I got the South West Train service at 5pm from Bournemouth having used the afternoon to load more photos onto the party's website. Listed amongst the stations at which the train was due to stop was Clapham Junction. Ideal for me as it is on the commuter route to my flat. But when we got to Woking, Clapham Junction had disappeared from the list. So I had to go on to Waterloo and brave the rush hour on the tube - not easy with large suitcase, camera case, laptop case, briefcase and of course, a bag of groceries bought for the Vince Cable photo op which we have still not eaten.

So, I have decided to have a quibble about the other things about South West Trains I didn't like. Firstly, where are you supposed to put luggage? No wracks at the end of cars and the overhead wracks hardly hold a briefcase, never mind a suitcase. It is all the more odd given that the South West is a popular holiday area so trains are bound to be full of holiday makers with big suitcases.

And then there was the train guard who made an announcement that no one on the train could understand.

Tomorrow I head home. I will be tempted to forgive National Express.

Anyway, enough of this. Let's get on to conference instead. I don't know about you but mine was successful. Thanks to everyone who came to my photo ops. They were the best attended yet. In fact, more people attended the ops at this conference than at the previous three conferences put together.

Meanwhile being in the rugby scrum around Nick after the Leader's speech gets to be more fun each time I do it!

Coming soon is the Practical Blood Sports Association annual conference in Manchester. It would have been fun to go to the Labour conference just to experience the civil war and the mayhem. Alas, I have 2000 photos to sort out and send out to people instead.

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Wednesday photos

Photos from today's conference. I was in the rugby scrum at the front of the hall for Nick's speech. Great fun! The plastic bags pic was from a photo op I ran for campaigners. Newcastle also gave a presentation on what they are achieving on the Council.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

From smoking to vegetarianism - the man at the front of conference spins his message

For as long as I have been going to conferences (over more years than I care to admit) the same guy has been out the front of the conference centre with his homemade banners calling for a smoking ban in public places. He is here at this conference, as you would expect.

But now that there is smoking ban in place in public places, he really doesn't have much to protest about. So he has turned his hand to promoting vegetarianism instead. But to be on the safe side, he is keeping up his anti-smoking message.

His homemade banner is now double sided. The front calls for vegetarianism and the reverse attacks smoking actors. So he hasn't let his old campaign go up in flames after all. He'll keep trying to smoke out the issue.....I think that's enough of that!

Tuesday photos from conference

The camera keeps snapping so here are the latest pics from the Bournemouth conference. Meanwhile, I was thinking of becoming a war photographer and going off to photograph the latest war, in the Labour Party.....

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday conference photos

Some of my conference photos taken today. The one of me is with the gravestone prop for the post office closures photo opportunity.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Vince Cable photo op

I ran the photo op this afternoon with Vince Cable. Over 150 people turned up and I had to get them through in less than an hour. Talk about conveyor belts! It was of course at times like herding cats. Much to my amazement we got the people through. We guessed this one would be popular and we were right!

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Sunday conference photos

A few photos from today at conference including Jeff Reid, Leader of Northumberland, being interviewed for TTTV, Fiona Hall MEP speaking to conference, and a couple of randomly selected photos from the hundreds I took at the photo ops for campaigners.