Monday, November 30, 2009

The Monday morning blog: Susan Kramer's early Christmas

Susan Kramer MP and the Lib Dems in Richmond Park in London must be feeling Christmas has come early. It has been revealed that their golden boy Tory opponent, the super-rich Zac Goldsmith, is a tax-avoiding non dom.

Mr Goldsmith argues that it's something he inherited so therefore it's hardly something he sought to have. He seems to think we will all accept it is a bit like an unwanted hereditary peerage. He is, of course, eager to "relinquish" his status (especially now that it has been exposed!) The poor lad has, of course, gained "very few benefits" from his non dom status. Poor, poor lad, how terrible that must be for him.

Cut now to all those heavily mortgaged, tax paying residents of Richmond Park. No Cayman Island provided housing for them. I wonder just what they think of this aspiring Tory Boy's tax affairs. Probably not very supportive, I suspect.

Anyway, I stepped out the house this morning to go down to Dunston to deliver some leaflets and at that point it started to snow! So I'm still stuck in the house. I'm due in Morpeth at 12.30pm so the delivery may have to wait til this afternoon.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

A walk down the Sandy Lonnen

I took a walk down the Sandy Lonnen a few days ago. It is now just an old track between Whickham and Sunniside but is part of a longer medieval road. The purpose of the walk was to pick some wild berries. What I found in addition to them was not a welcome sight. People had dumped their garden waste and rubble from building extensions. You have to wonder about the scumbags who do this sort of thing. Not only are they dumping responsibility for their own waste on the countryside and the rest of us, their brains must operate on a single cell. Gateshead Council already operates a free garden waste collection scheme. And municipal waste sites exist nearby for other waste.

It means I have to ask the council to come out to collect the rubbish. If we could find the culprits, I would make them pay dearly for the clean up. I don't see why the taxpayer should have to pick up the bill for the actions of a selfish, ignorant, irresponsible handful of anti-social people.

Right, now that I have that out of my system, I can tell you I am off to Hexham to do a bit of filming of Hexham Abbey and the town centre, and to have lunch with some historian colleagues.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Another doctor in the family

My elder brother Andrew has just graduated from Leicester University with a PhD in personal carbon budgets and global climate change. So that's 2 of us now in the family with the "Dr" in front of our name! (My PhD is in early twentieth century British political history with a fair whack about foreign policy in the run up to both WW1 and WW2 - as you can see the intellectual interests of Andrew and I differ somewhat!)

I wasn't able to make his graduation but Dad went along. Here are a few pick:

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 5

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 4

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 3

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 2

Andrew graduation Nov 09 no 1

Lord Who?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch. Anyone heard of him? He has just been elected as leader of UKIP. I'm watching him now. Inspiring is not the word to describe him. His favourite hate words are "political class" which appears to be a nebulous group of people who staff the political institutions of the UK (I wonder whether that includes the House of Lords!?)

With someone so inconsequential and uninspiring, I can only guess that the Conservatives will feel happy with this leadership election result. They are after all the most vulnerable party to UKIP.
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National Express bites the dust again

So National Express is to lose its franchise for train services in the eastern region. The company's foray into train services has been a disaster and has turned a leading UK company into something of a joke. What is interesting about the loss of this second franchise is that it is not immediate. The company will continue to hold onto it for two years? If they are seen as incapable of running the service in the future, why are they allowed to run services for two years more? Presumably their failings are happening now, regardless of their future performance.
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Deciding on war then looking for the excuse to invade

No wonder Labour politicians were so reluctant to have an inquiry on the Iraq war. Once the time had run out for putting off the evil day, the story about the decision to go to war would come out into the public domain. And so we are starting to see what did go on. Today, Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's ambassador to the UN, revealed that they were scraping around looking for a "smoking gun" only weeks before the invasion started, yet Bush and Blair had already opted for war a year before.

So Blair was sending the troops to war without the cause for war. He never got the excuse and the rest is history. What I find so amazing however is that the Lib Dems and a minority in Labour could see that the evidence for WMDs was not there before the war happened. Why was the Cabinet not able to see that the excuses for war did not exist. Whilst Blair needs to take his share of blame, serious questions have to be asked about the craven backing for war by the senior levels of the Labour government. Responsible government broke down in 2002-3. Labour politicians who were there at the time need to explain the failure that has made them as guilty of huge misjudgement as Blair was.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Weapons of non-construction

The second day of the Iraq inquiry and it is already throwing up some very interesting issues. Today we learnt that the weapons of mass destruction that did not exist anyway could not be assembled to be used in the infamous 45 minutes claimed for them. Apparently Tony Blair knew this 10 days before the start of the war to get rid of the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Seems as though the war had taken on a life of its own, even before it started.

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The right decision by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court have just spoken and they have announced their judgement: the banks can continue to charge for unauthorised overdrafts; their charges are not excessive. There is now a great deal of noise from campaigners who want the charges refunded to those who took money from banks that they weren't authorised to take and wasn't their money to take.

So, I for one want to speak up for the responsible customers who keep to the agreement to spend only their own money or not to take other people's money without permission. These people would have been the big losers if the Supreme Court had gone the other way. They would have been stung for charges as it would almost certainly have meant the end of free banking. Why penalise the responsible?

If your can't stick to the agreement you made, expect penalties, and accept responsibility for your own actions.

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Still in recession

France, Germany, Japan, USA, Eurozone, all out of recession. They are part of the world that Brown claims to be leading. But the just announced revised figures for GDP in the UK show the economy continues to shrink. Of all the world's major economies, Brown's Britain is the worst performing. I wonder what all those self-righteous Labour members in Gateshead who regularly read this blog think of their own record on the economy. Past experience suggests they will claim their own government is nothing to do with them.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

RIP John McWilliam

Back home and I discover that John McWilliam, MP for Blaydon from 1979 to 2005 died recently. He may have been a political opponent but he was always pleasant and courteous to deal with. I remember a few years ago bumping into him in the Commons and he took me for a drink in a bar there and used the occasion to tell me about the history of the building.

My sympathies to his family.

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That poll

One of the first things that caught my attention when I got back to the UK on Sunday was the poll that showed a significant drop in support for the Conservatives. Talk was of a hung parliament, the likely outcome of an election in which those voting proportions are cast. The no-win-for-anyone scenario has been what I have been predicting for some time now, despite the talk in the national media about an easy Tory victory with a comfortable majority.

For the Tories to win a majority, they need to gain 117 seats. That will give them an absolutely minimal majority. It should be remembered that in terms of seats the Conservatives are in a worse position that Labour after their meltdown in 1983. Labour needed another 3 elections before they were able to claw back the seats needed to win a general election. Admittedly the electorate is more open to shopping around with their votes nowadays. People tend to be less committed to voting the same way at each and every election. Indeed, they seem to be less committed to voting at all. So significant numbers of people can shift at a single election to cause a major change on the political landscape. 1997 and 1979 are classic examples of this. But there is no yearning for a Tory government now like there was for Blair in 1997. Whole swathes of the country remain areas where Cameron and his party are barely on the political radar screen. The North East is an example of this. The Tory ratings in opinion polls are well short of where Labour ratings were back in the 1990s and even then Labour fell well short of the expectations held at the time in terms of share of the vote (though admittedly matched or exceeded expectations on seats won in 1997). As we get closer to the general election, my expectation is of a firming up in the Labour vote.

This is not to say that Labour can hope to walk back into Downing St. Whilst their projected majority at the last election under the new boundaries was a still comfortable 55, a small swing would wipe that out instantly. Labour could also face a tactical squeeze that they used successfully against the Tories which could now work against them. That would add to a calamitous election campaign for Brown and Labour. Nevertheless, the Tories are going to need more than a Labour calamity and meltdown to win the general election outright. And at the moment I just can't see that happening. They may get to be the largest party, they may even get close to a majority, but there is a very serious possibility of a 2nd election in 2011. And what a joyous thought that is (not)!
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Testing out East Coast

I have just got on board my first East Coast train - ie the company that has replaced the total failure that was National Express. I am at Kings Cross waiting to head home to Gateshead. The livery is the same, the National Express symbols and words have not been changed (frankly there are more important things to spend money on at the moment) and the staff are the same. Let's hope however that the real change comes with the quality of service.

So, I am back in the UK after a short absence in the Atlas Mountains and royal cities of Morocco. Watch out for the inevitable run of photos and video. I've already started sorting them.
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Monday, November 23, 2009

From the frying pan into the flood

From the frying pan into the fire doesn't quite describe it. Flood is a better description. I have just got back after nearly two weeks in Morocco. I spent two weeks taking photos and video in the sun. Not a cloud in sight. Shorts worn at all time even when I was in the cooler Atlas Mountains. Temperatures were well over 30C. And yesterday I stepped off the plane at Gatwick into pouring rain, 8C temperature and the news that the North West in particular has been ravished by massive floods and the heaviest rain the country has ever experienced.

Anyway I am now back in the UK and blogging is restarting. (My last post was written before I left but timed to be posted whilst I was away.)

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Better late than never

Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson should have a motto of “Better late than never!” He called on MPs to visit pubs in the summer recess. The only problem was he made the call in October, a month after summer officially ended and with the long nights of autumn drawing in!

Mr Anderson also announced he was looking forward to the publication of a report on the blacklisting of trade unions, a day after the report was published!

And in October Mr Anderson congratulated the boxer Amir Khan on his victory over Andriy Kotelnik, a mere 3 months after the match was held.

All of the above comes from the Early Day Motions signed by Mr Anderson since the end of the summer recess.

As the saying goes, “Better late than never!”

Remembrance Day Parade

Here are the photos from the Remembrance Day Parade on Sunday in Whickham. My ward colleague Cllr John McClurey laid the wreath on behalf of residents of Whickham South and Sunniside, Cllr Yvonne McNicol for Dunston Hill and Whickham East and Cllr Peter Craig for Whickham North.

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 09 no 3

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 09 no 15

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 09 no 5

Whickham Remembrance Day Nov 09 no 14

The link to all the photos of the parade are on my Flickr site:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Visiting the Butterfly Bridge

One of the victims of the floods of September 2008 in Gateshead was the Butterfly Bridge, a historic crossing over the Derwent River. The bridge was built in the nineteenth century but is on a much older, medieval road which crossed right through my ward. Hundreds of years ago it was part of the main north/south route between Northumberland and Durham.

Last year the floods swept the bridge down river. It is lying on the river bank like a beached whale. There are plans however to replace it next year so my two ward colleagues Marilynn Ord and John McClurey, and Blaydon prospective MP Neil Bradbury visited the site on Saturday. I took the photos which required taking on an interesting challenge of clambering over the wrecked bridge to get the best shots!

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 1
This is me about to be up to my ankles in mud!

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 4
Here I am climbing onto the bridge - never let your colleagues look after your camera. They end up taking photos of me!

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 8
This was one of the photos I was after.

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 10
This was where the bridge used to be.

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 3
This is the bridge as it is now.

Butterfly Bridge Nov 09 no 11
And another of how it is now.

And the following is a bit of video I shot last year of the River Derwent flooding at Blackhall Mill.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Clap hands, there goes Cadburys

It seems as though another one of our great British companies is about to be gobbled up, this time by chocoholic Americans. Kraft is putting in a hostile bid for Cadburys. I fear that yet another market is about to be cornered by an international conglomerate with little commitment to where the company originated.

The ongoing growth of companies by merger and takeover rather than by organic growth of the business itself is something that now has to be questioned closely. Some of these merged companies are so big they are stronger than some governments.

Whilst there is understandable economies of scale, is it a price worth paying if competition is reduced? Some recent mergers have been a disaster. Look at Lloyds Group. The banking crisis would have been greatly reduced had the banks been smaller. 20 years ago, the 7 institutions that are now part of the group were all independent of each other: Lloyds, TSB, Halifax, Leeds, Cheltenham and Gloucester, Bank of Scotland and Scottish Widows.

Now the process has gone too far and Lloyds, having just merged with HBOS is now required to down size. The issue now is whether or not other sectors of the economy need the same treatment.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Blue rinse Tory Socialist Ambling to nowhere

Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the Tory candidate who will challenge Lib Dem MP for Berwick upon Tweed, Sir Alan Beith, at the general election. Lib Dems form the administration on Northumberland County Council though they do not have a majority of seats on the authority. The introduction of personal budgets in social services in Northumberland (a government requirement) has forced the County to close a number of under used day care centres in the county, one of which is at Amble. The closures will actually lead to improvements for users as more people will be able to choose and buy in their own service, through their personal budget, to suit their needs. That is the background. Here's the Tory story.

Anne-Marie has decided to do a bit of political cross dressing. In the world of local politics she has clad herself in the clothes of a blue rinse socialist, fighting to keep open a publicly provided facility. Whilst doing her drag act, she has battled against the provision of services by private and voluntary sector providers.

The problem for her is that her Tory councillors on Northumberland have blown her campaign to smithereens. Firstly, the social services changes were flagged up in the budget in March which the Tories voted for. Okay, the Tories then performed a minor uturn by backing a Labour amendment a couple of months ago to keep the centres open for 6 weeks whilst the Council was instructed to look for someone who would take over the centres. Since this had already been investigated, the whole exercise was a meaningless waste of time - however, Tory and Labour jumped into bed together to have a good time at the Lib Dem council's expense by voting through the unnecessary delay. 6 weeks later and the closure plans can back to council and despite (or was it because of?) Anne-Marie's campaign, the Tories voted for the closure. The Tory double uturn ensured the policy of personal budgets, and the closure of underused centres, will go ahead.

Undermined-Anne-Marie, wilting under the weight of her new found socialist baggage, seems however to have completely forgotten that her Tory chums have backed the closure she said should not go ahead. Just a couple of days ago she was ranting in the press about her demands that Amble Day Care Centre should remain open.

So if her own party can't be bothered to listen to her, why should the rest of us?

Writing for

For local readers of this blog, is worth checking out. It is a commercially run site which provides information about businesses in the Whickham area. It also has a news section. The site is designed to be accessible through your mobile.

The interesting point for me is that I write most of the news that the site carries. The people behind the site approached myself and my colleague Cllr Peter Craig earlier this year to outline their plan for the site. We liked it so much that we offered to supply them with the news with which we fill our Focuses and email newsletters.

So I've just sent off a load more news which is also going into the next eFocus which will be emailed out shortly.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Why no declaration of interest?

Gateshead Council has just finished meeting. On the agenda was a motion calling on Scottish and Newcastle Breweries to retain the production of Brown Ale at the Dunston plant in Gateshead. (The company wants to move production to Tadcaster.) There was general unanimity and interestingly when I spoke, I was not heckled, interrupted or prevented from finishing what I had to say. One Labour Councillor, Mick McNestry, even followed me by saying he agreed with what I said. Interesting change from theantics of Labour at the last meeting.

But there was also an interesting intervention in the debate from Labour Councillor Stephen Ronchetti. He used the opportunity to attack the government on beer tax and do some special pleading for pubs. He complained that too many pubs were closing and amongst other things pointed the finger of blame at the government's decision to ban smoking in public places. In many ways it was a very strong boot up the government's backside.

All very interesting coming from a Labour councillor. But that is not what was the most interesting point. Cllr Ronchetti is a publican. He runs a pub in Blaydon. So I was a bit surprised that he decided to use a council meeting to make the case against government policy that he regarded as damaging to pubs.....without declaring an interest in the matter.
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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Boy Wonder and the conference centre

Newcastle and Gateshead, in partnership with One NorthEast created 1NG as the development company for NewcastleGateshead. It has a heavy weight chair - Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor. In a nutshell, its remit is to produce the economic plan the the NewcastleGateshead "City" area. As the 1NG website explains, "The NewcastleGateshead economic masterplan - 1PLAN - will set out a blueprint for economic development and physical regeneration for NewcastleGateshead." This is all about co-operation across the two authorities and a recognition that by working together, both sides of the River Tyne benefit economically. What's good for Gateshead is good for Newcastle, and visa versa.

The reason this needs to be explained in simple terms is Labour in Newcastle are having considerable difficulties in understanding this. It was announced yesterday that 1NG had identified a site on the Gateshead Quays as being the best location for an international conference centre. The childish response from Labour in Newcastle yesterday was to state:

"It will be a huge missed opportunity for Newcastle to have a prestigious international conference centre across the water. Good on Gateshead for getting their act together and shame on Newcastle for dithering around."

The comment was made by Cllr Nick Forbes, the Boy Wonder of Newcastle politics (the wonder is why on earth Labour ever put up with this loose cannon). It tramples all over the principle of co-operation between the two authorities and suggests that were Newcastle ever to endure Mr Forbes as their City Leader, there would be a shift away from mutual co-operation which would mean the River Tyne becoming more than just a watery divide between the two authorities. His comments also exhibit a level of political immaturity that should worry Labour on Tyneside.

There is a further point to consider. A major reason for the choice of Gateshead Quays as the location is the presence there of the Sage, the great new music hall. This is a magnet for other developments. And why is the Sage in the Gateshead Quays? It wasn't something to do with the rejection by Newcastle City Council of initial proposals to site the building in Newcastle, was it? And when did that happen? Wasn't it when Labour ran Newcastle Council before 2004?

So, to follow the purile rantings of Mr Forbes to their logical conclusion, the "dithering" of Labour in Newcastle is to blame for the proposed location of the Sage not being in the city he himself aspires to lead.

Cameron declares he is to take UK out of Europe

A "British Sovereignty" law, proposed by David Cameron today to replace his collapsed referendum policy, would mean that the UK is in effect leaving the EU. It would be the only way British laws in all areas are supreme over European laws. By signing up to various European treaties in the past, the UK has agreed to share sovereignty on some issues. Therefore the European institutions in those policy areas make the laws. And the European Court in Luxembourg is the supreme interpreter of those European laws. They override domestic laws in those policy areas which the treaties have agreed to share.

Any country that decides their own laws are supreme over European law in those areas of shared sovereignty means that country is stepping out of the agreed institutions and structures of Europe. Cameron should be honest. He should be clear that if you are part of the club, you abide by club rules. And if you don't like the rules, you resign from the club. Cameron talks of being "straight" with the voters. All we had this afternoon during his new policy announcement was a load of slather and posturing. He should be honest and offer a referendum on membership of the EU. And he should stop making impossible claims: a British sovereignty law means withdrawal from the EU. He should be honest about that.
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The demise of National Express as the Fat Controller

The days of National Express running trains on the East Coast are very very numbered. Excellent news. On 12th December, the National Excess Fat Controller will be redundant. A new publicly-owned operator, called East Coast Main Line, (very original!) will operate the trains. The arrangement will last for at least 18 months. The franchise may or may not then return to the private sector. I am open minded as to whether that should happen. The issue that should govern the decision is whether or not such a move will lead to better services whilst cutting pollution and boosting the regional economy.

It is interesting to note however that the Government will not require an end to the new and controversial £5 seat reservation charge for return tickets. Labour will allow it to remain in place. All that bleating and gnashing of teeth by Labour in Gateshead in the summer about how bad this charge was now all looks a bit like a dose of hypocrisy from the "socialist" brethren.
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Making Lloyds get rid of branches they wanted to close anyway

It's hardly surprising the share price of Lloyds benefited from the announcement today on cash injection and branch sales and closures. The company is almost certainly of the view that it has vastly more branches than it needs, now that HBOS has been absorbed into it. There must be hundred of Lloyds branches sitting near a Halifax. This duplication would not have continued, even if it had not been an EU requirement for additional state aid to get rid of them.

Earlier this year Lloyds announced that the entire Cheltenham and Gloucester branch network would close. Months later the closure plan was abandoned though I have a suspicion that the cancellation was forced on them so that the mortgage wing of Lloyds could be sold off with a high street presence of its own. So Lloyds gets to dump the troublesome branches after all. Okay, so the mortgage wing will have to be demerged and sold off but Lloyds could still continue to sell C&G mortgages if it turns out to be financially beneficial to do so. C&G after all has only a limited high street presence of its own so it will not want to lose the extensive reach it has by being sold through Lloyds branches. Lloyds benefits by not having to pay for the network they had initially planned to close anyway.

So, the EU and the government have provided Lloyds with the excuses for dumping a huge number of branches, many of which the company will see as a drain on its resources. No wonder the share price has gone up.
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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I picked a great day to try to upload videos....

I have been in London for a few days and took with me my laptop to edit a load of travel videos. I don't upload them to YouTube from the laptop as the files I create are so large that it would take forever (and cost a lot of cash). So I stockpiled them to upload now that I am just back from London. I thought I'd put them up before heading off to the Sunniside History Society meeting and pie and pea supper tonight.

Alas at this moment YouTube announces that the site is closed for a short while "for maintenance". Bloody typical. I've got 10 videos waiting to go up. 1 gig total size. I'll have to wait til after the meeting.

Will Milliband head for Europe?

One interesting impact of the Czech signature on the Lisbon Treaty will be the future of David Milliband. The possibility he will be the new European 'Foreign Secretary' throws up the need for a by-election in South Shields, just down the road from us in Gateshead (what a joyous early Xmas present that would be - not). It's enough to make any political activist wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat!

The second and arguably more serious point is about Labour itself. No doubt (and despite the portestations of non-interest in the post) Milliband will have considered future prospects. Let's assume a poor result for Labour at the general election. Brown resigns as Leader. But what state will Labour be in? It could be that they will be out of power for a considerable time. The new Leader could spend many years in opposition. Would someone like Milliband, who enjoys the reins of power, really want the job of rebuilding Labour in opposition with prospects of power not being strong? I'm not sure he does. The European Foreign Secretary position could be a tempting post, striding the world stage and giving him the stature he craves and the influence he clearly enjoys exercising.

Or maybe rebuilding Labour is a challenge he wants to take on. But there again, to become Labour Leader, he needs to win a leadership election and I'm not convinced he could pull it off, especially with his Blairite baggage.

This is of course all speculation. Labour have not yet lost the election but it will be interesting to see which way he goes. And were Milliband to opt for Europe, it would suggest that at the very heart of government, the writing on the wall is being read.
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Events forcing Cameron's hand

The Czech signature on the Lisbon Treaty today now forces David Cameron's hand. No longer can he hide in a fog of meaningless statements. He will have to state his abandonment of a referendum or look completely ridiculous. It also means that the anti-European obsessives and headbangers in the Conservative Party will be going wild with rage at Cameron's climbdown. Should make for an interesting exhibition of traditional Tory mutual knifing!

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Labour's bank u-turn

The proposals coming out of the Treasury today that the big nationalised banks will be partly broken up raises the question of why on earth did Gordon Brown push through the very opposite last year with Lloyds and HBOS. This merger was very much the pet project of Brown. It has been a disaster for Lloyds. And it also created a vast banking organisation which a year later the Government wants to reverse. The merger went ahead because Brown did not want another nationalisation on its hands. The outcome was that instead of nationalising HBOS it has had to part nationalise a far bigger share of the banking sector which itself was weakened by the decision to merge.

It seems that the Government are making policy up as they go along and it changes regularly.
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