Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Battle for Eastleigh


I will be campaigning and canvassing tonight and tomorrow for a Labour victory in Eastleigh and am not particularly interested in the pundit commentary but themes are coming through and the betting markets are suggesting an outcome. 

The CCHQ spin machine though is already on full defensive management mode for a defeat, and the right wing commentariat are also out in force trying to downplay any Tory loss as being a result of historical precedent. That is absolute rubbish of course because historical precedent precludes when both parties in first and second are in coalition.

Cameron however is exposed on the way the Tories have managed the seat and serious questions should be asked about whether he can survive as a long term and realistic prospect for 2015 and beyond if he loses tomorrow. 


  • Tory Target; Eastleigh was target seat Number 12 in the General Election in 2010. A seat which swung in 1997 when the centre-left vote supported any candidate but the Tory and which has voted that way ever since. It is clear that unless Cameron can win, and win big, in seats like this he is in major major trouble for 2015. Put simply his brand position is too weak to change the minds of the electorate at exactly the time he needs to be to be contention for 2015 for a majority.
  • 1st / 2nd place; The by-election is not a Coalition Govt v Opposition fight which is naturally what a by-election is. Both parties in major contention in 2010 were Coalition Parties therefore the paradigm can not be compared to other by-elections because the protest second-place is in fact not a protest (if that makes sense). Given the Huhne scandal and the news around Rennard we should see a depression in the Lib Dem turnout figures. Despite the spin therefore the Tories should be doing better. The Lib Dem vote % has halved since 2010; if the Tories cant bank this seat now then is the Conservative Party realistically in contention for 2015 with Cameron at the helm? 
  • UKIP; has postioned to scoop up the true Tory vote and is growing, growing, growing; if they pip the Tories to second place it is clear that Progressive Conservatism is also a major electoral liability. Blair changed the paradigm of British Politics in 1995 to such an extent that it can be argued the Tories cant build a broad enough tent without it collapsing. I suspect UKIP will hoover up the Tory right flank but it will be the extent of this which will be interesting given UKIP are positioning for European Elections next year. UKIP claims it is stealing Labour voters but since the last European elections are vote share has gone up from 28% to current 42% so I dont see any evidence (other then wishful thinking) that UKIP aren't just hoovering up the type of vote that probably voted Tory anyway.
  • Organisation; Lib Dems have had a better ground war whilst the Tories have had MERLIN fail on them, though blaming the tool kit is always the recourse of those managing expectations of loss. That being said; this election has not come out of the blue (to use a pun) - Tories should have been working this seat better (or perhaps they were and CCHQ just isnt briefing!) and should have had a proper field of good quality candidates for the constituency to pick. 
  • Candidate; the Lib Dem candidate is a true local candidate whilst the Tory candidate has been a liability from start to finish. From gaffes, failure to hust to accusations she has been gagged (not exactly great when you want to be the voice of the constituency). She has served to highlight my point that the Conservative Party tent is not broad enough to accomodate those with Progressive values and a problem like Maria [socially Conservative, traditional and have rosey tinted glasses on Thatcherism]. At what point I was afraid the Tories had a broad enough appeal (in the Norwich by-election for example) but it seems once again they are reverting to type (if the latest Tory PPC selections are to be taken into account; mostly male, white and ardent Thatcherites)

For Tories to lose Eastleigh should send shock waves through the party; when the former MP has pleaded guilty to a criminal offence and at the same time as the Lib Dem party is mired in sleaze and alleged cover ups; is shockingly poor.

Will Cameron survive? Well CCHQ is certainly managing its surrogate expectations well but with local election defeats coming in May for how much longer?

There are some Tories that claim that Cameron out-polls the party; but given Cameron couldn't even win in 2010 that is simply laughable. 

Will they be brave enough to pick a new generation of candidate or will they continue to flat-line in the polls at the same level (30-33%) which led them to three General Election defeats?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

AAA Downgrade Disaster



On Friday night the Rating Agency Mood's downgraded the UK Economy from AAA to Aa1.

The first time in over thirty years a government economic agenda has been so comprehensively undermined because of a simple failure by the Conservatives to see the simple truth; that the decision by George Osborne to cut too far and fast in the Emergency Budget in 2010 was a risky, dangerous and flawed choice.

Every country in the world experienced a downturn in 2008 as a result of a banking crisis ostensibly caused, in my mind, by a two-term Republican President who refused to re-capitalise Lehman Brothers leading to a flight and loss of confidence in the banking system. The same Republican Party which led the worlds largest economy into a debt binge which, when exposed, caused contagion across the world. Britain may not have had the correct regulatory and compliance policies in place but the root cause was the US; the right wing President put a political principle first that the state had no place in supporting a failing institution, and the result was economic contagion from which we are still struggling. The same right wing cousins today in the UK  today still preach about the state not interferring with industries as if the banking crisis; RBS, Lloyds, HBOS, Northern Rock were all a distant memory.  Unbelievable complacency that the world can be seen in such absolutes. 

The recession was not caused by spending on schools, hospitals, military or Police. These are people who have committed to a life of public service and played no part in trading derivatives, or playing roulette with shares on the stock markets, or in lending of dodgy products to people who could never repay, or of rigging the LIBOR markets or selling PPI to those who didnt understand or need them. Millions of working people who fight for our country and freedom, make us better, keep us safe, educate our kids, clean our streets and save our lives were and are blamed by the same right wing that has espoused policies of deregulation for over thirty years. The same Tories blame Labour spending but the truth is that the National Debt in 2007 was lower then that in 1997; we did pay back our debts when the sun was shining but we also invested in schools, hospitals and our public speace. The fact our national debt GDP was so low is the reason why we could then engage in stimulus in 2008/09 and retain our AAA status at the same time (up until Friday). The Tories know this to be true but distort and deceive the truth.

The simple fact is the loss of AAA rating could be a seminal moment for the government because Labour never lost AAA status in 2009/2010 because our policy was credible. The Tories have because their policy is not.

The opposition needs to set out and have a messenger which can articulate the alternative fiscal strategy. 

Labour is now a centrist economic party having rejected the lefty dogma of the 1980s and as David Blunkett once said removed the 'maggots in our midst.' The far lefty agenda of ignoring debt now resides on the far left; TUSC and to some extent the Greens. It is not credible precisely because markets rely on confidence from government and we all know that unsustainable borrowing is not a recipe for success. I have sympathy with the notion that the language of austerity and the pace of it matters; but we need to accept also, and I have argued this in the Labour Party, that we must be responsible at all times because the public look at Labour under a different prism when compared with the Tories.

However far from what is said by the far left there is a difference between Labour and Conservatives; the Pickles Poll Tax and Bedroom Tax would not have happened under Labour because we know taxing those with no money is not only morally repugnant it is also fiscally stupid as well (as they cant pay what they dont have). Labour would re-introduce the 10p tax to those on low incomes - a mistake of the previous Labour government - but one we needed to correct. We would introduce a Mansion Tax on those who are sitting in properties worth millions and we would re-introduce the 50p tax rate to ensure those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share. We would look at the living wage because we all know when low and middle income families get wealthier they spend and economies grow. We would not undermine workers rights but nor would we return to the 1970s and 80s where industrial strife caused by some irresponsible Union chiefs led to a loss of confidence in the left to lead our country. We would chastise rogue landlords and would control pay day lenders. 

In short we are ready to be a credible party of government

There is a difference between Labour and the Conservatives and I am proud to highlight it; but Labour knows it needs to be credible to build that broad coalition of voters that won us elections over a right wing and backstabbing rabble. 

The Conservatives have shifted to the right and are running scared of UKIP. Cameron may have some vestiges of credibility by virtue of the pulpit he can manipulate but he leads a moribund party whose brand is tarnished. 

The debate over Equal Marriage in Medway is a microcosm of his problem; at the last Council meeting I was attacked once again for articulating a coalition policy position, and dont let polling get in the way, has widespread popular support. Labelling gay marriage as leading to polygamy, citing evolution and best 'fitting in' is the recourse of those losing the argument. The simple truth is that the Tory membership just dont get it; labelling me a bigot and screaming at me in the Council Chamber over a policy your government and MPs voted for is just bonkers. But then that is Conservative Councillors for you; re-open the wound again by all means in another Council meeting. Laughable.   

Journalists also have been telling me that Medway MPs are making a virtue of their rebellious status; this only happens at the fag end of any government as people seek to flee a sinking ship.

Coupled with the loss of AAA has been a little commented upon devaluation of our currency on the FX markets in recent weeks, coupled with dithering in the Bank of England over further Quantitative Easing. In short investors are spooked that the government misjudged the recovery and adopted a flawed economic strategy; this is the position the Labour Party warned about and the facts on the groud, not just the politicians on the TV, show this to be happening. If in doubt; follow the money; and its going out of the UK. Investors are also spooked about the potential to leave the EU; one of the key reports from David Cameron's visit to India from some news outlets was the question marks on Indian investors on decisions that need to be made over the next couple of years on whether we are in a single market or out. Cameron cant tell them.




George Osborne can distance himself all he wants but the Tories put AAA status and the coveted one-cycle deficit reducation plan as the cornerstone to electoral credibility [as stated in the manifesto above]. Put simply both have failed; whilst the national debt continues to creep up and up the rating agences have concluded the strategy was wrong. The choice Osborne made in 2010 was wrong.

People still, rightly or wrongly, believe still believe the spoon fed lies from the elitist Conservatives that it was one government in one country that was to blame. It is time Labour showed where the real blame lies; a Bullingdon boy elite in Number 10 and 11 that simply have no clue as to how to run a country for working and middle income people. People know the Tories are out of touch and dont have the right instincts; all polling shows a massive opportunity for Labour to nail the last great lie of our times; that you cant trust Labour with the economy. 

The Tory economic plan has failed; you can't trust them on the Economy any more


Friday, 22 February 2013

Public Health in Medway


Given the debate around obesity and my interview by BBC South East it is worth residents being aware of the challenge ahead for the Council as it inherits Public Health.

The full report can be read here but it is worth reviewing key table which gives a stark warning to those who think no action is a recipe for success



Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Medway Child Poverty Statistics


Interesting ward breakdown (red indicated Labour Councillor representation) from the End Child Poverty Campaign highlighting the real challenge of fighting child poverty and its concentration in the Medway area.

With the introduction of the Pickles Poll Tax and bedroom tax specifically hitting the poorest I am extremely worried that these statistics will worsen

Overall the level of Child Poverty in the UK has fallen in the UK but Medway is actually one of those areas where it has worsened. From 19% in 2010/11 to 23% today. 

You can find more detail here for the Chatham and Aylesford constituency and others.

I am chasing on historical ward information from this period:

ONS CodeLocal Authority and wardsPercentage of children in poverty
E06000035Medway23%
E05002249Chatham Central35%
E05002250Cuxton and Halling11%
E05002251Gillingham North39%
E05002252Gillingham South29%
E05002253Hempstead and Wigmore7%
E05002254Lordswood and Capstone19%
E05002255Luton and Wayfield35%
E05002256Peninsula17%
E05002257Princes Park21%
E05002258Rainham Central12%
E05002259Rainham North18%
E05002260Rainham South16%
E05002261River18%
E05002262Rochester East25%
E05002263Rochester South and Horsted14%
E05002264Rochester West22%
E05002265Strood North20%
E05002266Strood Rural16%
E05002267Strood South27%
E05002268Twydall25%
E05002269Walderslade21%
E05002270Watling15%

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

City No Deal



A particularly interesting precedent today which shows how our local administration has its eye totally off the ball when it comes to influencing and lobbying in Westminster for resources for our area

Today the latest round of Wave 2 City Deals were announced by the government and included were most, if not all, the other simililarly sized Unitary Authority and equivalently sized urban areas including


  • Brighton and Hove
  • Cambridge 
  • Ipswich
  • Milton Keynes
  • Portsmouth 
  • Southampton
  • Plymouth
  • Reading
  • Southend
  • Swindon 
  • Bournemouth
  • Poole


City Deals are viewed as a core strategy to focus resouces on local economic development, along with other  key initiatives,  including Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), Local Transport Bodies,  Enterprise Zones/Areas, Growing Places, Business Rates retention, amongst  others. 

These Deals are about unclocking economic potential and issues surrounding regeneration and provide the Local Authority with more designated powers to manage their own local budgets

From my sources many in government have not been impressed by how the Tories have mismanaged our area since 2003. 

Unlike the other areas designated Medway still lacks a 'USP' or Unique Selling Point for business investment and that has been ongoing since the Tories took over the Council in the early 2000s. 

Indeed since 2003 Medway has lost some private sector investment; just look at the empty Pentagon Centre and Mountbatten House have become. We have a few call centres on Gillingham business park but we are not considered a centre of excellence for anything. 

It is part of the reason why growing a green collar economy for me could be something to pursue in the future because their is economic opportunity given our manufacturing history  

Medway should be focused on winning bids and economic potential; where were we on Portas pilots? Where are we on Enterprize Zones? Where is the lobbying for small business support? It is a lack of ambition in Gun Wharf from an administration which is woefully out of touch. We should be lobbying lobbying lobbying and never stopping. Never take no for an answer when it comes to jobs and growth.

Once again the Conservative government has let down our residents in Medway; when people are struggling for jobs it is simply a smack in the face that we have been overlooked. 

Was it a lack of influence in Whitehall? Almost certainly so. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Parish Council Tax Rise


A fascinating table below which will shortly appear in the Budget for next year which shows the Parish precepts calculated by Medway Council.

Many reading in Medway will not be impacted but approximately 25,000 residents will have to pay these increase because they live within one of these parished areas.

Unlike Medway Council which has its Council Tax rates capped it appears some Parishes are happy to continue with double digit tax rises at a time the public is suffering.

Some of these Councils are represented by Conservatives who celebrate their bequethed inheritance of low tax on Medway Council but as yet have said little about their own Parish Councils tax and spend policies.

I am a big fan of localism if there are contested and viable elections where opponents and individuals are rightly presenting different visions for their area. I am concerned that many of those parishes with double-digit tax rises have Councillors that were elected uncontested.

In the 21st century there is a real debate to be had about whether it is right that those elected unopposed have the real right to increase taxes on their population who turn out in such low numbers to elect them.

Parishes need to do a lot more over the next decade



TOWN & PARISH COUNCIL PRECEPTS

2012/13
2013/14

Parish/Town Council


Precepts
Council Tax

Precepts

Council Tax
C Tax


£
Band D (£)

£
Band D (£)
Increase
Allhallows

49,900
79.54

44,310
80.60
1.33%
Cliffe and Cliffe Woods

43,252
22.75

40,185
22.87
0.53%
Cooling

2,400
28.37

2,320
27.76
-2.15%
Cuxton

50,640
48.68

53,120
54.62
12.20%
Frindsbury Extra

46,000
18.42

47,400
20.46
11.07%
Halling

34,400
32.32

36,150
36.65
13.40%
High Halstow

40,000
53.97

38,540
53.32
-1.20%
Hoo St. Werburgh

38,513
12.10

37,974
13.36
10.41%
St. James Isle of Grain

28,927
58.93

26,649
64.84
10.03%
St. Mary Hoo

6,000
58.37

5,780
59.08
1.22%
Stoke

19,000
52.35

15,850
51.86
-0.94%
TOTAL

359,032


348,278