The Thick of It


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Looks like fraud to me

Fraud was my first thought on reading that Tory MP Derek Conway had paid his two sons to work for him while students. The full facts need to be established, but weith the Standards Committee having already found no evidence of the work of one, this looks incredibly fishy. I don't think suspension from the Commons is sufficient. Most people caught stealing from their employers would be sacked and prosecuted. Conway deserves the same and I'm expecting the police to investigate fully.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Council candidate too ill to work climbed ladders

More from the Birmingham court case of Saeed Aehmed/Ahmed (he changed his name to Aehmed to move up the ballot paper, allegedly). See this from the birmingham Post for details of his name change. I've often thought I'm unfairly disadvantaged to be called McLoughlin. I welcome suggestions to get me m oved up the ballot paper. Comments please!

Readers may recall that Aehmed claimed Incapacity Benefit for 25 years but felt fit enough to stand in several local elections, hold local party positions and campaign. Apparently this included carrying ladders and putting up posters.

These absurd cases would amuse me if they weren't true. I can't quite believe that people think they can get away with this, if it is true, or that these intra-party squabbles have to end up in court. These guys should take a reality check.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Attacks on Ken Livingstone are politically motivated

I agree with my Labour GLA member Jennette Arnold that the recent spate of media attacks against Ken Livingstone are politically motivated. Like others I know that the Evening Standard, Andrew Gilligan and others who attack Ken are doing so to boost the Tory campaign for mayor. London's voters are faced with a choice between Ken who has massively improved London's transport, had the courage to introduce the congestion charge and lead on climate change - or Boris Johnson. This is serious.

I'm disappointed but not surprised that Meral Ece, Jennette's Lib Dem opponent, has tried to fire a few cheap political shots at Jennette and Ken on her new blog. Clearly Meral's blog is a first draft, having known Jennette for some time, describing her as "one of Ken's most loyal bag carriers" is laughable and simplistic.

London global leader for electric vehicles

I read the automotive trade press for one of my clients and was pleased to see that the industry regards London as a market leader for electric vehicles. Automotive News Europe quoted Steve Schneider, CEO of electric car maker ZAP, "London has a very environmentally friendly congestion charge as well as free parking and free recharging for electric cars, the demand seems to be there, which is why London is the first place in Europe we're launching."

This pleases me as it shows that political leadership from Mayor Livingstone has created demand for more environmentally friendly products. Introducing the congestion charge and low emission zone has seen London take top spot in Europe for the technology.

Livingstone has shown effective leadership in tackling climate change, establishing a blueprint for a sustainable London in 2020, something I have written about previously. London needs Ken.

Hain quits

Peter Hain has quit the cabinet after his funding mess was referred to the police. He has been naive in not making sure his papers were in order, if not malicious and has paid a heavy price. For something rather avoidable and pointless I think this was inevitable but also a bit of a waste of a long career.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hain and party funding

All along my thoughts are that Peter Hain has been a very silly man in letting himself get embroiled in a funding "scandal" at a time when political funding was high on the agenda. Surely this is the time to be super careful? After the whole cash for honours or not fiasco, following years of corruption claims against the Tories, surely a seemingly able politician should have been aware that he needed to be water-tight?

On Sunday Andrew Rawnsley had it right: "the political classes even now don't get it. After all the sleaze eruptions of the Major and the Blair years, you would have thought that any politician with a care for his or her reputation would be careful to the point of paranoia about funding. If only for reasons of self-preservation, they ought to have the rules lasered on to their eyeballs and those of everyone who works for them."

I just don't get why leading politicians don't employ decent lawyers to work with the electoral commission to make sure everything is above board. What is even more absurd is that many of these problems are arising from laws that Labour put in place only recently. So we should know better.

It appears the Tories are still frightened about Michael Ashcroft and would rather not make themselves targets by attacking Labour on funding when there are so many questions about their own banker.

By refusing to look at state funding for political parties and allowing these pointless "scandals" to repeat themselves, leading politicians are damaging faith in politics when it really isn't necessary.

Meral Ece's blog

Yesterday I was alerted to Islington Mildmay Lib Dem Councillor and GLA election candidate Meral Ece's new blog. She fought Dianne Abbott's Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat in 2001, coming third behind the Tories.

Personally I find the blog quite hard to read because the posts are too long, a bit of a brain-dump it seems. However, I'll be keeping an eye on it over the coming weeks and months. It looks to me like she has started it purely because there is an election coming up in May.

I was interested to note that she thinks that "Brown of (sic) Cameron, who lead parties with far more common ground (than the Lib Dems have with either)." What a load of tosh. She might be interested to recall that both the Lib Dems and the Tories voted against the National Minimum Wage.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Decline in trust?

An interesting circular about social media arrived on my desk from one of our competitors yesterday. The un-named company quoted data from Datamonitor's 2003 Euromonitor survey, where people in several Western European countries were asked whether they trust:

The press
Political parties
Big companies
Religious institutions

For the UK, according to the survey, 78% of British people don't trust the press. This is a typical result. People frequrently say they don't trust journalists, politicians and estate agents. Nothing new there, people are never going to admit to believing everything they read if you ask them. However, compare the supposed distrust of the press with some views you often hear on the doorstep and the reality is somewheat different.

Quite often people will tell me that eastern Europeans/asylum seekers/immigrants have taken all the housing. Where do they get this information from? It must be the press. According to a survey reported today, only 1% of social housing has gone to east European migrants.

Interestingly, the French and Germans are less trustful of politicians than the British. The Dutch are the most trusting. Voter turnout in these countries doesn't seem to be affected by a direct relationship to the trust levels. In elections since 1960, turnout in Germany is 86%, in France and the UK are identical at 76%. This shows that trust is only one factor to take into account, though obviously still important.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lib Dem Council annual report - Summer 2007

I have just received a copy of James Kempton's (Lib Dem Leader of Islington Council) annual report, dated Summer 2007. Not bad getting that in mid-January 2008.

So taking a look at his claims I thought I'd see how many Lib Dem "achievements" are actually because of Labour Government policy or money. These three stand out:

More police
All secondary schools refurbished or rebuilt
Building new homes

In the centre there is a map of Islington with arrows pointing to specific points, where it implies specific improvements have been made. Only political zealots like me will read this, but I did and it transpires this is just another list of Islington's achievements, which are actually because they have either been forced into them by government policy, like improved recycling, or given ring-fenced money by the government for specific purposes.

Affordable housing: Kempton claims the borough has built 3000 new homes. Actually, developers and housing associations have built new "affordable" homes. Islington has failed to meet the Mayor's standard of 50% affordable, instead falling well below 20%.

More police and PCSOs: Safer Neighbourhoods is another Labour policy. Cutting crime? Crime figures have fallen nationally for several years.

Common sense parking
: new parking guidance for councils is to be implemented nationwide from March, on the basis of Department for Transport guidance.

All this simply reinforces my view of Islington's Lib Dem council, they haven't offered a vision of change for the area, they have simply managed the council. We could really do with much better at a time when we've seen so much public renewal. Perhaps it wouldn't be possible to produce a leaflet showing only their own achievements as there would be nothing on it. Got to get rid of that glossy paper some how.

Ken Livingstone unveils first manifesto pledge

Today Ken Livingstone unveiled his first manifesto pledge ahead of this spring's London Mayoral elections, giving pensioners 24 hours of free travel. Despite 80% of over 60s being retired, many need to travel before 9, so this will extend all day free travel to them, the same benefit enjoyed by under 18s in education.

This shows London leading the way as a progressive city that the rest of the UK and EU can look up to and has been welcomed by Islington's Labour Councillor Wally Burgess. Cllr Burgess said: “This is great news for Islington’s older residents – a manifesto pledge for 24 hour freedom on London’s tubes, buses and trains. With Ken as our Mayor in London, Islington is moving in the right direction. Also, more people using public transport reduces carbon emissions.”

Monday, January 14, 2008

Party donations

Thinking more about Peter Hain's "mistakes" and that he this is now to be officially investigated is it worth speculating more on what happened? For me, he made quite a large oversight at a time when political donations were high on the political agenda. There really was no need for this. It shows incompetance at the very least. I don't think it was malicious, but this affair has heaped negative publicity when the Party needed it least.

If Hain survives he deserves a severe ticking off at the minimum. I still can't understand what he needed all that money for. Having had it, he didn't spend it very wisely. I suppose I feel slightly sorry for him that he let himself get in this situation. For the Party, I'm just fed up with this series of administration blunders diverting attention from trying to govern and setting the political agenda.

My previous posts on this matter were linked by "Guy Fawkes" under the banner "Labour rank and file disown Hain." This is turn led to attention from BBC Radio 4's World at One asking for my views.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Clegg makes first keynote speech

Unfortunately for Nick Clegg and Peter Hain, Clegg's first keynote speech as leader of the Lib Dems isn't the top story anywhere. Hain is. A quick glance around the news sites shows Hain firmly perched in pole position. BBC, Telegraph, Guardian, The Times, even the Indie (well it is a magazine really and they probably can't afford to update their website at the weekends). People obviously don't care. What is clear is that nobody is remotely interested in the Lib Dems and that Hain has been in the headlines for too long and will be off shortly.

Poor administration, what about your department?

So as Peter Hain continues to blame "poor administration" for the funding mess surrounding his Deputy Leadership campaign, some rather large questions need to be answered. Some already have. If he is unable to run his own small office effectively, how can one expect him to properly manage the Department for Work and Pensions?

One question I do have, is why did he need £200000 to run a campaign he was never likely to win for a post that is totally pointless?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Donations, paperwork...

Now that Peter Hain has got in on the act and "forgotten" to declare over £100k of donations that he himself solicited, I'm feeling a little tired of all this. He has said he "takes responsibility" for this. So what does that mean? Saying sorry and taking the heat and carrying on in Cabinet?

Normally I feel quite tolerant of genuine mistakes, however, even if Hain didn't personally have to fill out the forms for the Electoral Commission himself, surely he is responsible for ensuring that it got done. Political parties need to be more savvy and ensure they appoint good lawyers and get everything checked to be absolutely certain everything is above board.

I have come across people who have worked (or do work) for Hain in the past and I sincerely hope that he hasn't filled his office with political zealots who have never worked outside politics. With that amount of money coming in I'm sure he could afford some proper staff.

If there is nothing illegal about the money itself (there has been no suggestion that there is), then why get embroiled in a row over poor administration? Totally avoidable.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Being a councillor isn't working?

It obviously doesn't count if you are a Lib Dem.

In Birmingham a Lib Dem has been claiming Incapacity Benefit because he is too ill to work. However, Saeed Ahmed obviously didn't have a problem with running for election in 2002, 2004 and 2007. The reason why - according to the Birmingham Mail, because "he thought it would be an easy life." !!!

Ahmed was kicked out of the Labour Party after originally being selected as a Labour candidate when he failed to answer questions about this.

I suppose it is if you don't bother doing anything to help the people who might have elected you in your ward.

The pure cheek of it. This country.

Tim McLoughlin is one of the cleverest public intellectuals in Britain

Yes, indeed, it is true. Tristam Hunt has named me as one of his "new generation of public intellectuals." This features in Arena Magazine's February issue, page 118 to be precise, in an article on the cleverest men in Britain. Me. Yes. More soon. Read the article:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year, New Labour?

There is no doubt this is a big year for Labour. The biggest since 1996. Gordon Brown needs to re-take control of the political agenda otherwise he will be a lame duck PM. In the same way as one's boss is always asking one to be proactive at work, Brown needs to be proactive and pre-empting problems. He has taken a hit for things that haven't been his fault mainly because he hasn't looked strong enough or reacted in the right way.

How can he do this? Seeking to be firm and fair on party funding would be a start. It might not be that popular but state funding of political parties is the only way to stop accusations of cash currying favour. State funding would need to gain the support of the voting public by showing it to be fair and impartial. Democracy and politics has to be paid for somehow and this is the least bad option.

He also could do with looking at key posts in government and the civil service? Are all key personnel comptent? Ratings would tumble if another example of government incompetance arose.

Is Brown up to the challenge? I think so, but I'm not quite sure.