Eric Pickles, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, has instructed local authorities to reduce the number of signs in their areas which he maintains are confusing and spoil the character of town centres in particular. His instruction has caused some amusement in Wolverhampton where a panoply of signs is thought by locals to bring colour and excitement to their streets. But pernickety points ignored, you can see what he means. Other objections appear to be more convincing. It has been pointed out by several authorities that most of these signs are required by law (laws the good Pickes has voted for!) and often for reasons of public safety. Some town centres, for historic reasons, are more inherently dangerous than others. However, even when that is allowed for, doesn’t he have a point? Let’s take the issue of public safety. Are there not ways other than signs to ensure safety?
Yes, there are. Do we need to have traffic in town centres at all. Why not pave over the roads and provide a decent tram service? Noisy trams are best. There is no excuse for getting in the way of one. Stick a ringroad round the town and provide decent parking on the perimeter. That should do it. Look, I do appreciate that these towns are commercial centres and need to take deliveries. What can be provided is access lanes to be used, say, between the hours of 12 midnight and 6am. No problem. Remember Operation Midnight, the GLC scheme? (It failed by the way, still we have fond memories, and we learnt something, although I cannot recall what). There you are then, that’s the way ahead. If I may so this is how the Big Society can work for all of us and remember we are all in this together. I think it right to make these points.
Any questions? Would it not cost a lot of money and take a long time to bring to fruition? I am sorry to have to tell you that this shows some ignorance of how the Big Society works for you. It is not for the Government to concern itself with issues of cost. Local communities must work out what they want to do (providing it is wwhat we want) and raise the money for it. Local appeals for contributions, Whist Drives, Bingo. You know the sort of thing. Use your imagination. The sooner you raise it, the money, the sooner you can begin. We are opening a website for you. Come up with ideas, share best practice. You know it helps. We are all in this together. (sorry I’m repeating myself). Would not many local businesses be ruined by restrictions on movement in and out of our towns, particularly large stores? Yes, they would be if they didn’t adapt. They must recognise that a business model concentrating on becoming small and sepcialised is likely to be the one to succeed in the Big Society. That is how it is in our Tory market towns: small specialised boutiques, cafes and restraurants, a nice type of person. Come in on the bus for a pleasant day out. Well that’s it then. Thank you for coming. Roll up your sleeves. Like me. That’s a joke. Ha, ha.
Filed under BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Eric Pickles, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Liberal News, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Politics, Town centres, Treasury
I have it on good notice that the media have failed to report a shock Labour protest outside Downing Street on Saturday afternoon, so confirming, for me, the Labour establishment bias at the BBC, although admittedly not elsewhere. This demonstration was small but determined and the message clear. There were no more than than a couple of dozen people taking part, but their import was dramatic . Slogans, and placards told their story: ‘Jobs for all ex-Labour ministers’ and ‘We demand to serve.’ Buckets by the roadside collected a fair amount of small coins but demonstration spokesmen refused to reveal how much.
A well-known former Labour woman leader of distinction, I think her name was Blewett or something like that, voiced the feeling of them all. ‘It is wrong’ it was said, ‘ that Frank and Alan should be given preference over us. Our service to the country has been just as long and distinguised as their own and many of us are down to our last few thousand. We would not have minded if this selection by the Coalition had been after formal consultation with our group but despite our emails and Twitters to Tory HQ we have been ignored. The Coalition is fond of fine words and they give lip service to consultation. They talk of building a Big Society tent embracing us all. But they have fallen at the first fence and failed to call us. Their fine words butter no parsnips. Mrs Blewett added, ‘This is not personal, of course, although it is well-known in the Labour Party that Frank is a nutter and entirely incapable of devising a practical proposal of any kind.’ A Mr Shyers made a similar jibe that as far as he could remember Alan had been responsible for cleaning services at No.10 and for installing new hatstands. This demonstration did not seem to be supported by bystanders who sbouted jibes such as ‘ Traitors’ and ‘Greed is your only philosophy.’ So showing us that they were out of step with the non-ideological basis of the New Politics.
A Downing Street spokesman issued a short statement. ‘We have sympathy with the protestors but they must be patient. We have the partiulars of 113 former Labour ministers on file. Some have given us helpful suggestions of the roles they would like to fulfill for the Coalition. It is not possible to employ them all in the short term but we have them all in mind.’
I do not think that statements like this will satisfy the demonstrators. It is likely that we shall have further protests and there is talk among the women of chaining themselves to the Downing Street railings. We shall see.
Filed under Alan Milbourn, BBC, Big society, Cabinet, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Frandk Field, Labour Blogs, Labour Goverment, Labour Home, Labour leadership, Labour Ministers, Labour Party, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal News, Liberal Vision, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Stepehn Byers
I made a public prediction within a month of the formation of the Coalition that electoral support for the Lib Dems would decline steadily to single figures in the public opinion polls. Last week, in a Yougov Poll, it had fallen from 23% in the General Election to 12% now. It will fall further through a pre-budget statement (if we have one), the budget itself and the local elections in May. In the autumn I expect Labour to be given a boost by the election of a new leader ( assuming this not to be Diane Abbot). The Lib Dems usually do better in local elections than their national opinion poll rating might suggest. Nevertheless, if their opinion poll rating at that time is, say, 8 per cent, they will do badly. If Labour decides to mount a national campaign to oppose the AV alternative to first past the post in a referendum, and given the likely low level of Lib Dem electoral support at the time, the alternative vote option will be lost. And where will the Lib Dems be then, poor things, where will they be then?
In Conservative Party Central office lies on a few desks the result of a recent survey of the opinions of party members on the future of the Coalition. The Tories are not fools. They have tested members with the question, ‘Would you support a single Lib Dem Coalition candidate in selected areas and seats in elections?’ The results will be interesting. (Shouldn’t the Tories be asked about these survey results?) What price will Tories be willing to pay up and down the country to preserve the Coalition? If the Coalition itself is unpopular at the time, in May, I assume it would not help much. And what of the Lib Dems? Are their members willing to stand on a Coalition ticket? I suspect than many, if not most, would decline. There is Nick Clegg’s own position in Sheffield. Isn’t there an imminent and real danger that he will lose his seat if he stands as a Lib Dem candidate with a Tory running against him. There may be a heavy price to be paid for abandoning Sheffield Forgemasters.
This is the way of all Con/Lib Coalitions. The weaker party comes out worse for the arrangement. There will be Lib Dems who will run in some sort of Liberal /Conservative colours and others who refuse to do so. Wise Lib Dem cabinet members will get out while the going is good but others will remain and fight on as Liberal Conservatives. If the margin of support is small at the time between Labour and the Conservatives an extra 4-6 pecent of the vote sticking to Lib/Con candidates could be decisive. These calculations are difficult. It may be in the interest of the Tories and Nick Clegg to cut and run before these difficulties overwhelm them. What should Labour do when the leadership issue is settled? I shall return to this theme in future blogs. We will not get any wiser by listening in to Labour leadership debates.
Filed under BBC, Big society, Cabinet, Cameron, Coalition Government, Commons, Conservative Home, George Osborne, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Labour Home, Labour leadership, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal News, Liberal Vision, Local elections, Nick Clegg, opinion polls, Politics, Rerendum
Readers, I am aware that referendums have been the principal tool of dictators over the ages. They can be manipulated in place and timing to produce a desired result. Nevertheless, they have their place in the scheme of things – my scheme of things! I have had an impressive reply to my article announcing proposals for a new National Volunteer Rubbish Clearance Scheme with many helpful comments on variations to our proposals (particularly, I admit, from Lib Dem strongholds along the south coast but from a number from other locations as well). We are able to divide the suggestions into three types of scheme which I shall describe and the thought is that they could be tested in the National Referendum we propose to hold on 5 May 2011. As you know, this date was set aside for local elections in many areas but we have added a number of other subjects, covering such urgent matters as the gerrymandering of the voting system, CCTV cameras, legal rights for gay couples to be married in church, the future of the fishing industry off the coasts of Cornwall, Wales and Scotland and no doubt some other subjects. So why not the future of rubbish? These referenda will be great fun. The ballot papers are in different colours (we propose Green for rubbish), and a number of areas are planning the presence of brass bands at the polling stations. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but you cannot please everyone all of the time – of course, we can but that’s another story. Now here are the main choices:
1. A National Scheme. This might be dubbed the expert approach. There are people who think it important to retain professionalism. Some people are very busy with their lives and say they do not have the time to collect rubbish. You might think this a selfish approach but it has some appeal. Their suggestion is that their should be a National Rubbish Officer with a small central staff and a Rubbish Officer at every local area level. Former Council staff should be urged to volunteer their services to the community to make it all happen properly.
2. A Grass Roots Scheme. This suggestion might be summarised as a people friendly scheme. The task of coordination and the actual collection would be given to the new Free Schools and Academies who would be permitted to retain some of the profit. Free schools need a lot of money. (Michael Gove is keen on this). If need be spare land at these schools could be used for burying some of the rubbish. A number of Associations such as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides and the Territorial Army would join in to give muscle to collection.
3. A Special Needs Scheme. Some people have pointed out that there are practical difficulties with rubbish; collecting it from Tower blocks, frail elderly people, and the disabled (there will still be some who cannot be forced out to work). You cannot expect children to cope with everything. These vulnerable people will need special consideration and in the Special Needs Scheme they will get it.
Well, isn’t it exciting! Who would have thought that we could get this far in organising the Big Society?
Filed under Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Disabled, Education, Green, Labour Blogs, Liberal News, Liberal Vision, Michael Gove, National Service, Nick Clegg, Re-cycling, Rubbish, Schools, Voting reform
I am really surprised. I’m a straight speaking forthright sort of chap. I always speak out and give people my opinion and I am not going to stop now. Some Jonnies from the Foreign Office tipped me the wink that in foreign affairs it is not always a good thing to tell other countries in public what you think about their policies and funny ways. At Eton we were taught not to worry about that kind of thing. Work out what you want to say and get it out there. It’s always been my way. I put it to you that there is a limit to the number of countries who need to hear your views. Let’s say not more that a hundred or so. If you arranged a short number of overseas trips you could p..s them all off in no time. Take a meeting of the European Heads of State, you could p..s of twenty eight countries in less than two hours! How about NATO? You can include North America in your mission.
And why am I dong this? I can envisage you saying this. In the modern Tory Party we have some interesting guys. I’m sure you will agree with this. Take Michael, for example, he can use words that you won’t find in the Short Oxford Dictionary. You’re laughing at me . Don’t believe me? I always take the Dictionary with me if I know he is going to be there. Well, Michael has introduced me to the idea of mutabilty. Now to you and I that is an unusual word but what it means is that we live and breath with the certainty of change. Or to put it bluntly, life is short – especially if you are a politician. You don’t have long. Of course there are exceptions, Mrs T? The blessed Gordon. When I think of Gordon in the morning I imagine that as I look through the window at the back garden I see a rhino. No really, a rhino can do a lot of damage in a relatively short period of time and it is difficult to persuade it to go away.You try, if you don’t believe me. Anyway, I digress, Michael makes the point that we do not have long to change Britain in our image and we had better get on with it. If it is worth doing, do it. Michael’s philosophy is my own. If you are bound to annoy all those Heads of State you had better get on with it. How long do we have? Well our Tory members think not long. When we asked them about the dangers to the Coalition and how long they thought it could survive, they were pessimistic. A lot of them thought we wouldn’t survive two years and many thought no more than one year. George thought this far too short when it comes to the economy. He points out that there are twenty chapters in his economics textbook and he has only reached chapter four. (My advice was to read faster!!) Anyway, to come back to the main point. I do not have much time to tell all of these Heads of State what I think about their policies (Sarah, bring the Diary and remind me where we will be next week). But I shall. Count on it.
Filed under BBC, Big society, Cameron, Europe, George Osborne, India, Labour Blogs, Liberal News, Michael Gove, Pakistan, Parliament, Politics, Treasury
Hello, you out there. I’m going to boast a little. I have been in this job only three months and I have not only shaken up Britain -Small Government Big Society-, he, he, he – but I am changing Britain’s tole in the world for good and I hope for ever – or at least until the next General Election. And by the way I am fixing that, the date and circumstances of an election, so if you think you can easily throw me out think again. Don’t try it! In this I am helped by William [Hague]. He is a real historian, if I ever met one, and knows all about Walpole: no foreign wars, no army to wage it, a few ships to make it difficult for nasty powers to invade us, and local militia (I have been thinking of beefing up the School Cadet Service and the Territorial Army). When I look at what has been happening abroad I am truly appalled: foreign wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan; following the Americans into those god-awful places, Kossovo, do you remember it; slavishly following the European Union line; cowtowing to Canada in NATO. You name it, we did it! No more. William is wise in all this. He tells me that we could not have defeated the Spanish Armada but for the storms that dashed their ships on the rocks; and it took us fifteen years to defeat Napoleon and we would not have done that but for the Prussians. And the two World Wars? Well as I said to Obama, we should have left to you. It would have saved us a lot of grief. I have changed all that. You can’t engage in these wars if you do not have an army, air force or navy can you? Liam is knocking them all down to size.We need to sell goods and services around the world. We want those countries who are large and growing powerfully to buy from us. Why not? We can make things too. Countries like Turkey, India, China, Brazil, and South Korea. I have a Plan. I go there and act humble. I tell them about our needs. I support them vocally and denounce their enemies (sorry about that fraulein). I become their buddy (this is a strategy I learnt at Eton, by the way). So what if I annoy other countries. Who the hell in Britain wishes to toady up to Germany and France – otherwise known as the European Union! And how much more can we sell to Israel? Be reasonable.
Now some people question both my judgement and character. They describe me as combustible, excitable and something of a bully, and they complain that I am alienating powerful players in the world. They are entitled to their opinion. But did you not know that Britain has traditional ties with our Turkish friends, that we meet more curry than any other type of meal! We can eat more curry still, take it from me. And now for a word on immigration. The question has been asked whether Turkish membership of the European Union would result in hundreds of thousands of Turks settling in Britain. Perhaps, yes, perhaps no. With a bit of luck we might be out by the time they get in. Joke joke! But then you can’t have everything in life can you? Did I ever say you could?
Filed under BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Guardian, India, Iraq, Liam Fox, Liberal News, Liberal Vision, NATO, Nick Clegg, Obama, Pakistan, Politics, Turkey
It always comes as a surprise when other people disagree with you, don’t you think? After all, can you be that serious? I say this now because some people have told me that I am contradictory and make cases for and against with equal clarity and enthusiasm. It is no good saying to them that truth is a matter of perception. They know right from wrong. Smart arse! What I need to write at the beginning of this blog is that you must, please, accept any comments of mine as a contribution to general merriment. I am committed to fun. In this I am very modern for having fun has become the chief preoccupation of millions of people around the world. Why should I swim against the tide, so to speak? In this piece I wish to talk about liberty of expression. I think you will agree that this is a serious subject. My friend – and I have some – are concerned that you will take my thoughts amiss. Remember this is fun. I do not know where you are reading this but I suggest that you lock the door, refuse entrance, and don’t laugh aloud or persuade others to read what I have to say. Sitting comfortably? Then we can begin. There is a campaign a -foot for fair speech which affects us all. Did you know that millions of viewers pay a licence fee for BBC services and hardly access them? Many people get their entertainment and news from the internet. Is that fair? Should they be paying large sums for services they hardly use? The BBC is a bloated organisation. Do you realise that they large salaries to executives and popular entertainers? Some of these salaries are greater than my own – or you I daresay. Is this right? We are acting against the bankers so why not the BBC. There is the issue of news. Is it right to pay for some of these services. How many of you are watching at 2 am in the morning. Some fly people will say a lot of us at the moment because we are unemployed and can’t sleep for the worry of it. But you know this is not an adequate answer. You could just as well watch Sky News. If so why pay the BBC for a superfluous service. You get my point, don’t you. Well what we are going to do is to cut the liecence fee and require the BBC to but out of some services and to encourage them we are going to reduce the licence fee. Yes you fun lovers out there, we agree with you. Pay less for what you want. Are we speaking your language? Now some of you may mutter that it is payment time for Mr Murdoch. It is unworthy of you. Politics is an expensive activity if someone offers you their support for nothing, wouldn’t you wish to repay them? You know that’s fair.
Now the troublesome bit. Current affairs. We welcome free debate but is it fair at the moment? Our Coalition is barely created and we are subject to unfair criticism. It hurts after all these years of isolation, for quite naturally we wish to make our mark. We are committed to a fairer society. Is this amount of vituperation really fair, Often the BBC ignores our advice as to which Opposition Spokesmen is acceptable to the Government and sometimes they are very rude to us. Can we be expected to suffer this behaviour? We would rather they chose a Green Party spokesman / woman rather than some of the riff raff they bring along. All this type of unthinking opposition has to be dealt with if we are to make our mark. If we paid less for our licence and BBC salaries were reduced we would save money for the taxpayer and eliminate some programmes at a stroke. Do you get our drift? Fair comment, yes, ubnbridled licence, now. (aside, remind me of Mr Murdoch’s telephone number, please).
Filed under BBC, Cameron, Civil liberties, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Labour Home, Liberal News, Liberal Vision, Nick Clegg, Parliament, Politics
We Lib Dems have always placed a great importance on civil liberties and it is impossible to deny that they have been eroded under the previous Labour administration. We are happy that our Conservative partners share our concerns. This is what we are in the process of doing: getting rid of speed cameras, removing CCTV cameras, reducing the DNA database, getting prisoners released early from prison and limiting the numbers sent there, reducing the number of Magistrates Courts so slowing the judicial process, reviewing the ant-terrorist measures to make it more difficult to retain suspected terrorists while reducing the size of the police force to limit their presence on English streets, and cutting our defence forces and their capacity to oppose terrorism abroad. I think you will agree that this is a major expansion of civil liberties. Of course I understand that liberty is not an absolute. Naturally we accept that there are other imperatives: in particular the over-riding need to secure and protect citizens and Britain’s overseas interest. I admit that crime will rise, accidents on our roads will increase and thousands of our people will die and suffer serious accidents. I accept also that there is evidence that DNA evidence enables the police to solve many serious crimes and that CCTV cameras are useful in bringing people to justice and act as a deterrent to crime We may have to suffer more terrorist attacks and this will be a pity for innocent people will suffer as a consequence. I know these things for I am not a fool. But is this not a small price to pay for restoring the balance away from the surveillance society to the ‘ no business of the Government’ model?’ Or in other words building the BIG Society ( I thought I should squeeze it in somewhere). When it is asked how our participation in the Coalition has benefitted the British people we shall be able to to reply that we suceeded in enlarging the civil liberties. of all Englismen. The price we pay for it may be derided as blood on the street and ruined lives. We can admit it. Why not? But we can hold our heads high. We, almost on our own, with a little help from our friend Dave, in building a freer society. Go out and proclaim it to the world. Lets have a dangerous society if it is the price of holding our heads high. After all even criminals have votes when they are free and if we gave them votes when imprisoned they might vote for our free society. We can but hope. We need all the votes we can garner out there. Is there any one still listening?.
Being right is difficult and not much admired. Our hearts go out to those who are wrong and who had good intentions and we do not need to heed those who have none. But tolerating those who did well but lost strains all sense of humanity. Alistair Darling was right about the actions needed to sustain the British economy and to drag it out of the recession and there he was on television telling us so and explaining that the British economy was growing again thanks to the barely remembered Labour government. Alas, he is Mr Yesterday. Soon there was Boy George on the box smiling through his teeth and telling us of misery to come. God, how I long for the unregenerated Gordon thumping on about things the rest of us barely comprehend. He was right too but most people hate him for it. And what do these Labour leadership candidates have to say about it all? I fear they are on beaches somewhere making notes about what they might say if anyone asked them about something – anything really. Only Ed Balls knows what he is talking about and who is going to vote for him! There is a candidate, and I shall not name her for fear she may became better known, who seems to be telling us that Marx was right and that we are experiencing the difficulties of capitalism that he forecast. She could be right, it is just possible that she is, but no one is warming to her because of it. I used to argue, that of course Marx was right but then a load of capitalist inclined people insisted on changes that made his predictions less likely. I am sure that I am right but no one I addressed on this matter liked it. Smart arse, was the response. It is not appreciated by these Labour candidates that although the Great British Public dislike people who are right, they hate more all those people who recant and say that they got it all wrong. I put it to you. Did Uriah Heap get many votes? There you are then! I’m right, aren’t I? Smart arse. In these situations of considerable personal difficulty what is the best advice we can give to our comrades? I draw upon military training and the experience of waging war in difficult circumstances. There is the apocryphal advice of the Austrian commander reporting back to his headquarters andI paraphase. The situation is difficult. My right flank is under considerable pressure and on the left we are retreating. The centre has come under unbearable and frequent assault. All is well. We are counter attacking. That is what the left, and hence the country, needs: an hurrah, the sound of a bugle and a counter attack. Hey ho, the boys. You know the sort of thing I mean. Soon we shall hear it on the terraces. That’s what we all need, hey hoh, the boys. Are you listening to us?
Filed under Cameron, Coalition Government, Darling, George Osborne, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Labour Home, Labour leadership, Liberal News, Liberal Vision, Parliament, Treasury
Politicians are not noted for veracity and answering a straight question with a straight answer. But we understand: a straight lie to a straight question is politically dangerous and likely to cause trouble. However, what about an unconstructed and univited whopper? How do we recognise it? Here are some recent examples. The Governor of the Bank of England (or his officials for there are several versions) told me that immediate cuts in the budget deficit would be helpful (needed /essential) in maintaining market confidence in the value of sterling and borrowing rates. There is no way that this evidence can be checked for no one in the Bank would be likely to comment on the statement. In general it is probably true. It would help the Bank in its central task But the Bank has no responsibility for fiscal policy and should shut up in public. There is no way of checking the statement. Similarly with this one: Obama expressed his confidence in the British Governments tackling of the Budget deficit. What else would he say? And he certainly wouldn’t deny it in public. Another version: the G20 group of nations expressed its full confidence in the Government’s emergency budget. Hold on, did he? The G20 endorsed Obama’s view that its members should aim to half their public deficit over the next three years. Is that not Labour’s policy. Would we expect Angela Merkel to come out publicly with a condemnation of British policy? Here is another: Alistair Darling gave consideration to an increase in VAT but Gordon Brown vetoed it (good for you Gordon?) Of course Alistair would have asked his officials to give him a full list of possible changes to tax and spending, with their pros and cons; and of course Gordon would have looked at it. Not on your Nelly said Gordon and -probably we might suppose- Alistair agreed. So what is the commonality of these whoppers? We cannot check or question the source of the information. If we cannot check it the statement it is worthless, a breech of confidence, or a mis-quote. And there is another characteristic: all good propaganda contains a germ of the truth (don’t ask me ask Dr Goebbels, if he still listens). All the statements I list above contain one. Of course, we know from our personal lives that one lie leads to another. We reach a point when our nearest and dearest do not believe us and then by some process of time no one does. The Coalition must live in hope that electors have short memories and will be willing to sell their souls for thirty pieces – or a job and the promise of a pay day!
Filed under Alan Budd, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Deficit, George Osborne, Labour Blogs, Labour Home, Liberal News, Liberal Vision, Nick Clegg, Obama, Parliament, Politics