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Learning The Lessons From The Bromley Near Miss 30 June 2006

Posted by David in Conservatives.

Whichever Conservative Torchway its spun, the Conservatives were very lucky to have held onto Bromley. It was a very close run thing, with a late Liberal Democrat surge surprising many. Chameleons on Bicycles congratulates Bob Neill.

Bob Neill, Conservative 11,621 (- 11,962); Ben Abbotts, Liberal Democrat 10,988 (+1,620); Nigel Farage, UKIP 2,347 (+872); Rachel Reeves, Labour 1,925 (-8,316); Ann Garrett, Green 811 (-659); Paul Winnett, National Front 476; John Hemming-Clarke, Independent 442 ; Steven Uncles, English Democrats 212 ; John Cartwright, Monster Raving Looney Party 132; Nick Hadziannis, Independent 65; Anne Belsey, Money Reform Party 33

A loss would have been an absolute disaster for the Conservatives and Project Cameron; Bob Neill was just 633 votes from this fate. But what is interesting about this is the abstention factor. The Conservatives lost nearly 12,000 votes – but they didn’t switch parties, just stayed at home. Low turnout of course accounts for some of this, but not all of it. Equally, the Liberal Democrats squeezed Labour, but most again just stayed at home. Labour slipped 8,316 voters but the Lib Dems only gained 1,620.

Surprisingly, local MEP and UKIP candidate Nigel Farage polled only 2347 votes, up 872 on the general election. At the South Staffordshire by-election they polled over 10% of the vote. I feel they may have done better had they kept their old general election candidate instead of parachuting in Farage.

To me it seems voters are punishing the main parties by being uninterested. Maybe this is a warning to them. What remains a risk to Cameron is the right flank of the party. At the last general election it is generally agreed UKIP cost the Conservatives upwards of 20 seats, at the next election this could be the difference between various hung parliament options or even a Conservative majority. He would do well to neutralise the right by stalking it on several key issues, as several European parties have successfully done – Europe being the obvious choice. A referendum pledge would destroy UKIP, leaving him free to become more centrist. It would enthuse traditional voters but not put anyone off, it is after all only a referendum.

Jonathan Ross Must Go But Interview a Success for DC 26 June 2006

Posted by David in Conservatives.
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I didn’t Rosslike to say – as I thought I was just being too conservative – but now I know I am not alone in thinking Jonathan Ross was totally crude in his interview with David Cameron and went too far. The Mail is calling for him to go, and rightfully so. Cameron was brave going on the programme, knowing that Ross is rather crass in his humour and unlikely to be sympathetic to conservatism of any strand, but Ross was still beyond what could be tolerated. His questioning on Margaret Thatcher was uncalled for and neither intelligent or funny. It was insulting and immature. Cameron however came across fairly well, and has been warmly welcomed by the public, so in that way the venture was a success.

Ross further crossed the line however by calling for drugs to be legalised. License fee payers do not pay BBC presenters to express opinion on policy, and certainly not condone drugs use as calls for legalisation clearly do – unwittingly or not. I understand that Ross is a patron of a pro-legalisation organisation. This is thus both a case of extreme bad taste and BBC bias.

The interview lead to stories and misquotes in several newspapers, such as the Mirror claiming Cameron supported the economic destruction of the North, Scotland and Wales. It is however the style and bias of Ross which causes the real grievance. He was recently given a £6m per year contract – which he flaunted on the programme – which in itself is ludicrous. The BBC is a public service broadcaster and I fail to see what public service Mr Ross provides. The sum was only so high as there was a bidding war between the Beeb and ITV. The BBC should not enter bidding wars with other UK broadcasters, as it serves no benefit to viewers – the presenter/programme would be broadcast anyway, but freely on a commercial channel. BBC funds should then be used on programming not offered elsewhere, such as uneconomical or financially risky drama, non-personality comedy, children’s programmes etc.

Universities send message – don’t come to Britain – then continue their descent 24 June 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.

Okay, okay, they didUniversityn’t really put out a statement telling people not to come to Britain, but they may as well have. The higher education sector of Great Britain has been paralysed by a dispute over the pay of academics, with strikes halting marking and possibly graduation. What signal does this send to foreign students considering a UK degree? The student unions bizarrely support the pay claims, despite the fact they’ll be paying for it. They do of course expect taxpayers to foot the bill – whether they benefited from a university education or not.

Britain’s universities are in a dire situation, but cannot see it. The American universities are, by and large, far more successful. Even China is coming up – today the best Chinese study in China whereas once the UK and USA were the favourites. Businesses are perplexed by the mind boggling number of institutions and degrees that grows yearly – loosely ranked yearly by newspapers based on spending or reputation of the institution and not on the student’s achievement. How does an employer compare ten economics degrees from ten different institutions? A more competitive, meritocratic and cost effective solution would be for universities to syndicate degrees, so they could be studied at any institution but marked at the founder university – thereby removing degree monopolies and rewarding achievement of individuals instead of institution prestige.

Top academics often leave the UK, where pay is based on years service and not merit, a totally stupid system used throughout the state sector. There is also only a UK wide pay scale, ignoring local cost differences. Funding is a complex and bureaucratic mess, with little or no variation on quality, reputation or degree usefulness – we fund sports degrees as much as chemistry – and there’s certainly no reflection of the student consumer demand. For example the Higher Education Funding Council rejected the application for 800 new places by the very heavily oversubscribed London School of Economics, but enlarged other universities which already had places empty and still do.

All people are expected to work three years longer – until age 68 – but they want half of all people to spend three years longer studying. As the independent University of Buckingham has shown, degrees can be done in two years. Several state institutions are now trying this for those wishing to do so, much to student and lecturer complaints for some reason – it’s only optional after all. Fear of competition is rife. Degrees could probably be done in a year, or at home through the internet. The University of London has run a global external programme since Victorian times. With syndicated degrees, it would be even better.

Higher education is one of the most uncompetitive markets I can think of, yet is so important. There has been no consideration of reform for years, and the system lumbers on.

EU Drowns In Wine Lake 23 June 2006

Posted by David in Europe.
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Once, talk of wine lakes and butter mountains was just either the Winedaydreams of a drunk or a sure fire way of getting a ride with white coated officials to the finest mental health institution the NHS had to offer. “What,” they would say, ”they subsidise the production of cheap, rubbish and unwanted wine then buy it, then destroy it, because no one bought it? That’s mad.” “That’s the EU,” we say now.

Yes this is the news – reported here before it hit the newspapers I smugly add – of the EU wine lake saga. Instead of just letting the market decide prices, the EU spends taxpayers money subsidising wine production, then moaning the price of wine is too low. So they buy unwanted wine to the tune of half a billion Euros each year, forcing up costs through supply and demand. Taxpayers pay three times – subsidy, wine bought for destruction, and higher prices.

So they talk of reform, but the command economy prevails again. The European Union wishes to ban vineyards from opening or expanding, and reduce the EU wide production by one eighth. The successful and growing English wine sector – including Tenterden Vineyard that beat all in a Sunday Times blind taste test – will thus be at best stifled and possibly reduced. This is made all the worse as no English Vineyards are subsidised, surviving independently and successfully in this market that is in fact rigged against them, so they’ll be held back or closed for loss making wines dependent on subsidy.

It’s madness. To top it off the standardisation brigade are about, or the “let us call it harmonisation to soothe British feelings” brigade as Schroeder preferred. Wines will be labelled by region, not by the producer. After all, we can’t have variety, consumer choice and competition can we? Do you get the feeling they’re obsessed with standardisation?

The Mess Of Devolution 19 June 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.

The English people never sought to break the Union between England, Wales and Scotland in the centuries of its history. Next year will be the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union that created Great Britain, a nation which went on to make numerous and noted achievements – yet it has never looked so much in danger, and now it is from itself.

The foolish and muddled devolution pushed through by the New Labour government in its early days has created a confusion. By refusing the settle the West Lothian Question, Scottish MPs vote on English matters and may take English only cabinet jobs. The Scottish Parliament continues spending at a rate higher than some socialist countries due to the Barnett Formula at England's cost – despite it achieving nothing. The unpopular Labour government often uses Scottish votes to pass controversial legislation only covering England. At the next general election Scottish Labour MPs may lead to a Labour government despite a Conservative majority in England.

Now 52% of English people are unhappy with devolution. So far there are four proposals; the dissolution of the United Kingdom; English devolution; fewer Scottish MPs; or English votes on English laws – favoured by the Conservatives. To dissolve the Union would be a tragedy, we as a whole would be far weaker – it's no wonder the EU favours a "Europe of Regions". Sadly the SNP has fallen for this, but Scotland would be lost in a European Union as are Latvia and other small nations. I see no benefit in fewer Scottish MPs – this simply reduces the extent of the problem without solving it. I would not like to see English devolution – if more politicians are the answer, it must be a stupid question. The only option, if devolution is to be kept, is English votes on English issues. The same should be offered by a referendum to Scotland and Wales – giving the chance of symmetrical devolution and lower costs. Another option – abolishing devolution – should also at least be offered.

Yet I understand why so many Scots and Welsh people support devolution or independence, as their cultures have been and are under threat. I feel more legal protection, flexibility in teaching, and greater localism, are the ways forward however.

The government must act before it is too late. The "Britishness" cynically championed by Gordon Brown is fast disappearing.

Are The Public Against Sarah’s Law? 18 June 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.

It is interesting to see the government seriously looking at Sarah's Law – Home Officebased on the controversial American Megan's Law – whereby parents would be able to know if released child abusers were in a certain area, and indeed often who they actually are. It is the first non-disaster or scandal story from the Home Office in many months, and we are all entitled to be fairly cynical as this has taken six years of campaigning by Sarah Payne's family after her tragic murder. There has also been a lot of news coverage regarding soft sentences and this is no doubt a reason for suddenly discovering this.

I am however surprised by the amount of negative comments from the public. A quick glance at the BBC Have Your Say reveals many concerned about vigilante attacks – obviously having so much trust in their fellow people – and that other professionals with 'paedo' in the title will be wrongfully feared. Whilst attacks could well be a problem, it's very unlikely even this government would accidentally put paediatricians on the list. Surely we want to know if our neighbours or friends have this flaw that can only be described as sick and morally bankrupt?

By far the largest amount of opinion is however pure cynicism. The failure of this government in particular, and the last years of the Major era too I am sad to say, have completely destroyed public confidence in the government, rule of law, and the country as a whole. This can only be a bad thing.

I can see that there would be problems with the law, although if these child abusers are to be released it is very much our right to know who and where they are. Obviously it's not fail safe, as they could leave an area, and most abuse is by a family member, but you'd certainly think twice about letting kids play outside if there was a neighbour listed. This sort of crime is not something that the perpetrator can "pay their dues to society for" – there simply aren't any amount of dues large enough. Victims don't get second chances.

I would however rather have a situation where these people were not released at all, or at the very least tagged and very heavily watched with a zero tolerance approach.

Nice To See The Telegraph Being Positive 18 June 2006

Posted by David in Conservatives.
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There's an excellent albeit rather short piece in today's Telegraph about a successful A-lister – Wilfred Emmanuel Jones – who came Wilfred Emmanuel Jonesto Britain a child and worked his way up despite lacking qualifications to own a successful 40 acre farm, having worked at the BBC. It's nice to see the Telegraph being positive for a bit, although it also reports an objection to Cameron's wind turbine and conversion from a resident that cannot even see his house in a rather dramatic fashion. Wilfred Emmanuel Jones – who describes most MPs as "boring old gits" – has been selected for Chippenham, which according to Anthony Well's New Seat Guide is a LibDem/Tory marginal.

"Wiltshire is currently represented by four Conservative MPs but this fifth new seat, consisting of Chippenham itself, Melksham and Bradford-on-Avon will likely have a small Liberal Democrat majority. Notional 2005 result – CON 17717; LAB 7768; LD 18977; OTH 1677; Liberal Democrat Majority 1260 (2.7%)" – New Seat Guide

Personally I am disappointed Wilfred was selected for a Liberal Democrat marginal where they have a national majority and large Labour block to squeeze. Liberal Democrats are very tricky to get out once they're in, just look at Lewes or Cheltenham. He seems a great candidate and I really think he should have been selected for a Labour marginal or Conservative held seat.

Change and Renewal The Themes For Year Ahead 18 June 2006

Posted by David in Conservatives, Labour.
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It's hard to make what the final results of the change and renewalConservative Torch craze spreading through Labour and the Conservatives lately, as the sign posts – let alone policies – have been anything but concrete. No one has heard from the Liberal Democrats.

The Compass conference yesterday is filling the Sunday papers. It sounds a truly awful event – the future hopefuls mixing with tired has beens and never has beens. It looks like the sort of place Guardian readers think is a mixture of backgrounds and basis for sound debate. Judging from what I've heard, the future's not bright – abolishing the monarchy, higher taxes, more state control…

Meanwhile the Conservative Euro-Muddle continues with all the drama of, well, something not very dramatic but very tangled. The Tory MEPs will leave the EPP, or a group lead by Dan Hannan will leave themselves. The party will or will not reverse its policy of leaving the Common Fisheries Policy – ConservativeHome says it was abolishing the policy and then it wasn't, The Herald says it is abolishing the policy still. Then Conservative MPs voted that Parliament can – on its own – leave or change European policies such as CAP without approval Brussels. It isn't yet an announced policy but may or may not be. We're glad it's all nice and clear…

Sir Stelios and the Honours List 17 June 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.

EasyJetSo the Birthday Honours are over, and unusually they seem alright to me, compared to normal anyway. Heading the bill is Stelios, founder of Easyjet, seller of cheap flights for the masses, and scourge of the Liberal Democrats who hate him as a successful, cheap flight selling popular figure – all the reasons he deserves his knighthood. Showing just what the free market can do, Stelios always seems happier than most businessmen (particularly his Ryanair counterpart) and doesn't seem bothered that no one can remember his name, let alone pronounce it (it's Haji-Ioannou by the way). Now he needn't worry – Sir Stelios it is.

It was also only a matter of time before King of the High Street and man behind the Top Shop turnaround Philip Green was given a knighthood, it would have been sooner had he saved Marks and Spencers. The same applies for Rolf Harris and Esther Rantzen with their CBEs – I'm surprised she hadn't already had any. Esther's award is greatly deserved for her work with ChildLine, which she created.

So for once the headline grabbing names of the honour's list I actually support. So to finish off a day of posts all for some strange reason leading me to quote Margaret Thatcher, why change now; "it's a funny old World."

John Prescott Gets A New Job 17 June 2006

Posted by David in Labour.
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John Prescott on Doctor Who

John Prescott – needing very little in the way of make up for his guest appearance on BBC1's Doctor Who. The episode was sadly like his building projects – not very good.