News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shepway Lib Dems - Spinning Here!

This story on the Shepway Lib Dem website couldn't go without a brief mention. As you'd expect from Cllr "Pravda" Prater it's not exactly the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. Shepway Conservatives called for a referendum on the EU Constitution masquerading as a Treaty. That's the position clearly supported by the Conservatives at all levels, from David Cameron to the vast majority of ordinary members like me.

What the Lib Dems proposed, was a referendum on continued membership of the EU, in an attempt to stifle debate about the EU Constitution which is currently being foisted upon all British and European Citizens without so much as a "by your leave" courtesy of an unholy alliance between Labour, the Lib Dems and the rest of the Liberal-Left leadership of Europe.

The Conservative position nationally and locally is entirely consistent. Nationally, the Lib Dems oppose a referendum on the EU Constitution, despite their election pledge to hold one, probably because they know they'd lose. Perhaps Cllr Prater would care to explain how, by voting for a referendum on the EU constitution locally but opposing it nationally, the Lib Dems are being consistent?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

DVLA - another fine mess

I hate dealing with government departments. They seem to have turned incompetence into an art form. Sadly, following my recent marriage to Corissa, she is currently having to inform various government departments of her change of name, both in England and in her native Canada. Meanwhile, I'm having to inform them of my change of address.

So far, the DVLA have proved to be the most incompetent on that matter. The problems stretch back to 1997, when I was 17. The DVLA managed to mis-type my name on my provisional driving licence, and repeated the error on my full licence, despite my best efforts. They also had different details incorrect on both of my parents' licences, so it seemed unimportant at the time - I suspect that most driving licences are actually incorrect. However, in the meantime, they have introduced photo card licences, meaning that they need to link my licence to my passport, in which my name is spelled correctly.

I applied for my change of address online. Unfortunately, I could only do that by using the incorrect spelling of my name. That prevented them from matching my licence to my digital passport, meaning that I had to send some forms and a photograph through the post. The instructions were ambiguous as to whether I needed to send my passport as well, so I called for clarification to be reassured that no passport was needed.

Guess what. Yesterday, my application was returned with a request that I send my passport (through standard, unregistered mail, no less). Worse still, they also required proof of my change of name. Clearly, I don't have evidence, as I haven't changed my name. I'm just asking the DVLA to spell my name right.

Thankfully, I managed to speak to someone with some sense today, and she is going to process my application personally. Fingers well and truly crossed!

Revenue & Customs screw up - who's surprised?

Today, HM Revenue & Customs has revealed that confidential data about 7.5 million families in receipt of child benefits have been lost. That's in addition to the 15,000 Standard Life customers' details which had earlier been compromised. It follows a series of screw ups in administering Tax Credits, and the Head of HMRC has now resigned. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and his predecessor in charge, the Prime Minister, remain in post of course. Apparently they are not remotely responsible for the mess, nor that pertaining to the Northern Rock crisis. Just what does a minister have to do to be expected to resign these days?

One group of people is unlikely to be surprised. That's graduates repaying their student loans through PAYE, such as me. We're used to being messed around by cock-up after cock-up by HMRC. At the moment, I am still waiting for my 2004-2005 payments to be reflected in the outstanding balance of my loans. I'm yet to receive my 2006-2007 statement, for the year ending last April, 7 months on. Thankfully, I don't have to worry about potential identity theft as well, but that's not much consolation. Least of all when the government wants to hold all of the information a fraudster could ever hope for as part of the planned implementation of ID cards.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fan the Flames

Show your support for the Calgary Flames on Facebook by adding the Calgary Flames Fans app. At the moment, the Oilers are leading the Flames 60000 v 50000, so Calgary need all the help they can get!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A week to go!

It's only a week until the wedding now, and if the weather is like it has been today, I certainly won't be complaining!

Invicta 1 - Hillingdon Borough 0

Invicta are through to the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup for the 3rd time ever, having beaten Hillingdon Borough 1-0 at home. It's our first home win in the Cup so far these league, with both previous games being won at away replays, demonstrating the improved form that the team are now showing at the Buzzlines Stadium.

What's more, Welling Utd were defeated by Eastbourne Utd. Welling knocked Invicta out last year, as they had done twice before. They also defeated us last time we lost in the fourth qualifying round. All three times we have met in the cup, Invicta have been drawn at home and lost in the away replays, once only after penalties.

The last time Invicta made the 4th Qualifying Round was two seasons ago, when we beat Aylesbury Utd 2-0 away. That earnt Invicta a place in the First Round proper for the first time in history, with the away trip to Chester eventually seeing us out of the cup.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Reigning in Vancouver's Dinosaur Unions

Today, Vancouver's inside workers returned to work, after accepting the settlement proposed by an arbitrator. The librarians and oustide workers voted to stay out on strike. They claimed that their deals were not as good as the inside workers got. Well maybe the memberships should be blaming their leaders' poor negotiating skills for that one?!

The most amazing part of this is that 57% of the city's outside workers and 58% of the parks board's outside workers actually voted to accept the deal and return to work. The union's by-laws require two thirds of members to back the deal. So how come one third of the members can dictate to the other two thirds?! If the majority want to get back to work, they should cross the pickets. It's amazing that it's even legal for a union to be run that way, and I hope that BC is urgently reviewing its Labour laws.

To make matters even worse, the unions which rejected their deals threatened to begin secondary picketing against the inside workers. Apparently these did not materialise on a large scale, although a small number of inside workers are stuck behind picket lines where two or more groups of workers occupy the same buildings. Some members did attempt to form unofficial secondary pickets, but these were not in the end sanctioned, and did not prove effective.

It sounds like BC needs a Maggie PDQ. Secondary Picketing and militant minorities dictating to the majority of workers have no place outside North Korea.

CBC: Return to work
CBC: Strike Ballots

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tax Con not Tax Cut 2

Gordon Brown's last budget went down in history as a "Tax Con, not a Tax Cut", after he announced a series of tax cuts which, when the small print was included, acutally raised taxes substantially. However, now Brown's the PM, and he's told us that everything will be different. No more spin. Honest Government that we can rely on.

So why is it that, this week, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer has been at it again?

  • The Inheritance Tax cut turns out not to be a cut, just a rebranding.
  • The Capital Gains Tax cut will raise an additional £350 million for the Treasury by dramatically hitting the sale of business assets including small businesses when the owner wishes to retire. A retiring shop keeper will pay 80% more tax than before the "tax cut"!
  • Council Tax is to continue rising at double the official rate of inflation for the foreseeable future.
  • Business Rates could also rise, as Councils are to be given the opportunity to increase them by up to 5% - is there a corresponding opportunity to reduce them by up to 5%?
The Capital Gains Tax moves are the most damaging, I suspect. They will force many retiring businessmen into poverty, which is hardly an incentive for new, upcoming entrepreneurs to invest in new businesses. These new business start ups are the life blood of a vibrant economy and are the Microsofts of tomorrow. Moreover, the reduction in CGT on second homes serves only to prolong the boom which has already destabilised the economy and forced a generation of young people off the property ladder in many parts of the country. Sooner or later, the bubble has to burst and the more the government gerrymanders the system to delay the inevitable, the harder that fall will actually be.

Tory Front bench performing

I have, at times, had my doubts about David Cameron and the Conservative front bench team but their performances over the last couple of weeks have been nothing short of outstanding. My confidence in them has been substantially restored, and for the first time in about 17 years they really look like they could govern the country. The Conservatives have always been notorious for being bad at opposition. At last, they seem to have got the hang of it.

Admittedly, Brown's Clowns have played their part. However, I think that the near disappearance of the Lib Dems is at least largely down to David Cameron, so he can take some credit for their demise. Our political system works much better with two parties - Government and Opposition - and at last it looks like we may be returning to that structure, in England at least.

That's not to say that the Tories should be standing back and admiring their work. Last week's policy announcements were only the beginning. Now the party has the initiative. Labour is on the racks and both the media and the public at large are prepared to listen to what our leadership has to say. They need to make the most of the opportunity, while continuing to develop the manifesto that can put Britain back on track after the next General Election.

Postal Strikes

Isn't it time the CWU moved into the 21st century. Equally, the management of the Royal Mail need to do likewise, but the unions really need to recognise that they don't operate in a monopoly any more, so the "comrades" need to work together with management to produce a strong force for the future. Modernisation is desparately needed. A prime example is in paying for the postage of parcels. At the moment, you queue at the post office for about 45 minutes, put the parcel on the scales and then someone the other side pushes a button to select the type of postage you want and tells you the price. How's about this for some modernisation - let me read the scales myself! I don't need a trained chimp to tell me how much money to pay for the parcel, I can push the buttons myself. Then, I can put the money into the machine myself (as you now do if paying on card anyway), and then stick on the label to show that I've paid. While we're at it, isn't it time that they issued bar codes rather than millions of fiddley stamps with arbitrary face values? They can include a sillouette of the Queen if they want, but surely we can just have one stamp which says how much you paid rather than great sheets of them?!

Ontario rejects PR

Congratulations to the voters of Ontario on their overwhelming rejection of the AMS system for elections. If you want to know why, just take a look at places like Scotland, which already use the system. It just causes chaos, as parties have to choose whether to stick to the principles on which they were elected or trade those in for power and money. Usually, you can rely on the Lib Dems to ditch their principles - not that they really have any - and prop someone up for a few highly paid ministerial positions, but this time around even the old Lib-Lab liance couldn't muster enough support. The result: a weak minority government which was elected by the minority of people just like those who would have elected the strong FPTP government.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Yet more post offices set to shut

Folkestone has been threatened with losing yet more post offices in the latest round of consultations. There are proposed closures Kent-wide, with several neighbouring towns and villages also under threat. Personally, two of my closest post offices are on the closure list - Enbrook and Shorncliffe. They have already closed my local Coolinge and then Morehall post offices, along with Sandgate and Pleasure Gardens branches. The proposals will leave west Folkestone with a population of 20,000 and only one post office. Then they wonder why fewer people use them!

These proposals are in addition to the already decided (after "consultation") closure of Folkestone's main crown post office, to be replaced by a counter in the small branch of WH Smiths. It really is beyond a joke.

Damian Collins, the Conservative PPC for Folkestone & Hythe has launched a petition against the closures. Sign the petition here.

Kent County Council also has a general petition fighting the plans Kent-wide here and survey here.

Here are the full consultation documents, including the address to send responses (by email or post, which is a risk given the postal strikes!)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Burma and its lessons for the world

I often complain that the rights culture is getting out of hand. It seems that everyone is looking for someone to sue when their "rights" have been infringed, but no-one is prepared to fulfil their responsibilities to the wider community. The current situation in Burma is a reminder of what Human Rights really mean. This Reuters image demonstrates the total lack of respect that the Burmese military junta has for its people. A country where, there have been no elections in 14 years (and it had been 30 years since the previous election). A country where, when the opposition wins said election, the government decides to ban the opposition and carries on regardless, despite winning only 2% of the seats. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition who remains under house arrest, is a potent symbol of the struggle against oppression and it's hard not to admire her enormously.

Burma's problems are considerable. Who can say whether democracy would even work? There are 135 registered ethnic groups, with countless languages and eternal struggles between them. Without the strong hand of a military dictatorship, it could all come crashing down into a hideous civil war, as happened in the former Yugoslavia. But that doesn't excuse the excesses of a corrupt and imoral regime, where sex is a tool used to control the population and many minority groups including Christians and Muslims suffer under the state.

So what is the answer? I believe that it is exactly the kind of situation where a constitutional monarchy can hold the answer - although it depends very much on the monarch. The great shame in Burma's case is that the country was a fully-functional monarchy prior to the 19th century colonisation. The struggle between Britain and France had turned Burma into a strategic possession, which Britain could not resist. The royal family was removed to India, where they are shadows of their former selves. There are members of the royal family now living in Burma who are Burmese to the core and could be the long term answer which can create the stability desparately needed in a third world democracy. Even that may not be enough to stop the break-up of the country along ethnic lines, but that may be the best solution for all, if it can be achieved peacefully.

It's hard to see what the world community can do for now. The Burmese government seems to disregard the UN. There are already sanctions against the country, but the only people who suffer are the people at large. Long term sanctions are not a solution, as Iraq showed. Invasion of Burma also seems an unlikely option. The only way that things will change is if Burma's neighbours unite in their opposition to its Human Rights abuses. At present, both India and China tend to support the existing government. I don't know the reasoning behind that, especially in the case of India - the more I hear about that country's politics the more concerned I become.

In terms of the long term future of the world, as China and India increasingly become the global powers, their world view will be important to us all, just as American policy dictates to the world today. If both are willing to support the kinds of abuses we all hear about in Burma, it does not bode well for the future of the world. There are some who see a need for the west to band together through the EU etc, but I think they have it all wrong. We need to break down the cultural and economic barriers between ourselves and the rising powers, rather than seeking to polarise the world in readiness for a new Cold War.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Invicta hit home form

Folkestone Invicta are celebrating their first home victory of the season after beating Billericay 3-2. The points come hot on the heals of Saturday's first home point, with a 1-1 draw against Harrow. Invicta are now up to 8th in the Ryman Premier, and it's been a few years since we've managed such a good position!

Up to now, Invicta's season has been looking rather strange. We have the best away form in the league, with 3 wins from 4 games, yet prior today we also had the worst awy form in the league. That's the unpredictability of non-league football for you! Let's hope that today marks the turning point. It's still very early in the season, but we're only 2 points off a play-off place (having played one more game than most teams above us, admittedly). Could Invicta finally make it to the Blue Square South for the 2008 season?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Washed up in Brighton

I've been amazed at how little coverage the Lib Dem conference got this year. Normally, they manage to make quite a splash and punch above their weight for a week, leading to a mini-surge in their opinion poll rating. There are normally some miraculous gains in the local council by-elections along side that publicity. Yesterday, I was keen to see the results of this week's by-elections to test my belief that the Lib Dem conference had been their worst that I could remember. I thought it might just be by own bias, so I wanted to see the results in black and white. It turns out that I was right, the Lib Dems did slip back in the by-elections. Admitedly, the Conservatives didn't fare well generally either, with Labour still gaining from Blair's departure.

Today, YouGov's opinion poll has given further hard evidence. The Lib Dems' conference really has been a wash out in terms of publicity. The only things I can remember from the news were Nick Glegg saying that hard working families should pay more taxes, Lord Rodgers saying Ming's got to go and Ming putting in a performance worthy of IDS in his defence. Not exactly what the Lib Dems would have hoped for.

Of course, circumstances were against the Lib Dems to an extent. The Northern Rock fiasco dominated the news, pushing a conference held by a dwindling group of also-ran politicians led by a leader who's well past his sell by date down the news agenda. However, surely no-one had a more obvious platform from which to tackle the government's inept response to the crisis and hold them accountable for their past mistakes. A better organised conference could have gained positive publicity from the issue. Instead, the party is left looking out of touch and irrelevant. I can't believe that with a gathering of so many Lib Dems not one of them managed to hitch themselves onto the bandwagon - Kennedy and Ashdown would never have missed such an "opportunity!"

By election results:

Birmingham Brandwood: Lib Dems down 4.78% (fourth behind the BNP), helping Labour to gain the seat from the Conservatives

Nuneaton & Bedworth Abbey: Lib Dems lose to Labour, down 21.6%, behind the BNP

Southend-on-Sea Shoeburyness: Lib Dems down 9.99% to just 3.37% (66 votes), behind the BNP. Independent gained the seat from Conservative

Pembrokeshire Pembroke St Michael: Conservative gain from Lib Dem, down 28.87%

The Lib Dems either didn't contest the other seats, or had not previously contested them. Overall, it was a good night for Labour and a bad night for Conservatives, who lost three seats, offset slightly by the gain from the Lib Dems.

Did the wise man built his house upon the Rock?

The headlines have been dominated by the perilous position of the Northern Rock bank over the past fortnight. In the wake of the credit crunch caused by the Sub-Prime Mortgage scandal in the US, they were finding it increasingly difficult to sustain their business model.

There has been much debate over the past few days, since the Treasury stepped in to guarantee all savings held with the bank and the Governor of the Bank of England has come in for criticism in sections of the press which are willing to submit to the "official" Brown line. I have to say that I can't see ths situation in the same way.

Firstly, it seems to me that the Governor of the Bank, Mervyn King, is entirely right in his assessment of the situation. You can't have the government propping up a bank in a competitive market. It sends out entirely the wrong signals to the others. It encourages risky investments, which are not a sustainable foundation upon which a successful economy can be built. Ultimately, if enough people decide to take the risk, the burden on the taxpayer will be huge. In a private business, such massive liabilities would be clear to all, as they would have to appear in the balance sheet. Past experience demonstrates that the government's books are not so clear. The massive liabilities which already face the government, through off balance sheet Public-Private Partnerships, the off balance sheet Network Rail financial guarantees and the massive off balance sheet public sector pensions liabilities. Combined, these already add up to approaching £200,000,000,000. The new guarantee of all savings up to £100,000 will push that liability up by a figure I could only guess at. It has been widely reported that Northern Rock holds private savings valued at approximately £24,000,000,000 but they are only a small player. The Big Five (Lloyds TSB, Barclays, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland/Natwest and Halifax-Bank of Scotland) and the other smaller institutions will push that up to an astronomical level, probably several times the existing unstated Government liabilities.

Of course, it's not really the Government that is liable - it's you and me, the tax payer.

So how did we get into this sorry state? There are two lines coming from the Government, seeking to push the blame on to everyone but themselves. The first is that the situation started in the US, is totally out of their control and could not have been forseen. Except, it was forseen, by very many. Economic analysts have warned of the dangers of our debt-driven economic growth for years. I myself expressed concern as a mere A Level economics student. The Conservatives have raised the point on numerous occasions, both in Parliament anf on the campaign trail. And perhaps most significantly of all, Eddie George, the previous Governor of the Bank of England, warned on the unsustainable position years ago. Reputedly he threatened to resign over the issue, but ultimately he went at the end of his contract.

The second line of attack which I have seen in the left-leaning sections of the blogsphere blames Margaret Thatcher. What haven't they blamed her for, even 17 years on?! Again, this is nonsense. The Thatcherite reforms to our financial systems in the 1980s were perfectly sensible. They ended the out dated nanny-statery that did all the thinking for us. It stopped telling us how much we could borrow as a nation and how much we could spend abroad, allowing us to make decisions for ourselves. It is quite clear that Gordon Brown, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister for more than a decade, has been in a position to undo anything he considered to be wrong with that. Instead, he has chosen to encourage wreckless borrowing. The introduction of new, easier bankruptcy proceedings means that you can now leave bankruptcy within just a few months, and you can often avoid it altogether through CVAs and such like. That removed the stigma from wrecklessness upon which the system relied, and now we're reaping what Brown has sowed. For now, Brown has averted the inevitable disaster and financial meltdown through an uncosted and unsustainable guarantee. He has simply delayed the inevitable and ensured that when we fall, the fall will be even more catastrophic.

4 weeks to go

It's amazing how time is flying by. It's now 9 months since I proposed to Corissa at Canterbury Cathedral and there's less than a month left before we become Mr & Mrs Hassett. It's been a busy time - hence a lack of blogging - but also a fun experience. In the last week, we have had our banns read for the third and final time and submitted final numbers to the Hotel Burlington and paid for the reception. I've also had to rebook our honeymoon, as I was informed on Thursday that our chosen hotel is closing down on 25th October, half way through our stay! Thankfully, we've been offered the choice of two other excellent hotels which are actually more what I was originally looking for.

It's been hectic in other ways too. In the plus column, I've received by payout from my Saga shares, after the merger with the AA. In the minus column, I had to cancel my credit card after I discovered £131.25 of unauthorised payments. My bank are investigating those, but they seem particularly odd to me. I'd never consider commiting credit card fraud, but even if, in some parallel universe, I did, I'm sure that I'd only risk it for something more worthwhile than £131.25 worth of curry!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Please join me in supporting the I Want a Referendum campaign, which is working to ensure that the Government keeps its promise to give us a say on the EU Constitution.

As most other EU leaders have acknowledged, the new version of the Constitutional Treaty is essentially the same as the original. It would mark a further substantial transfer of power from the UK to the European Union. This Government promised us a referendum back in 2004, but is now trying to deny us a say.

If adopted, the Constitutional Treaty would mean that in future new powers could be transferred to the EU without the need for any more new treaties. Further powers could be simply transferred gradually to the EU, with no public debate. In other words - this could be our last ever chance to have a say on the future of the EU. We must not miss it.

To show your support for the campaign, just click on the following link and add your name

Many thanks

Monday, September 03, 2007

Rating airlines between England and Canada

Given the number of times that Corissa and I have flown between England and Canada over the past few years, I thought it would be good to tell people about our experiences of different airlines. We've flown on most of the carriers operating the route - only Monarch and Zoom have not yet had the pleasure of our company on board - so here's the verdict.

1. British Airways

Undoubtedly the best service of any of the operators, but rarely the cheapest. It's always worth a look though, as there have been occasions where BA have been cheaper than the others, and sometimes the difference is negligable (even pennies)! BA's seats are the most comfortable and you can expect a reasonable selection of entertainment. The food is also better than you can expect on other airlines. It's also regular, as are the drinks, which is particularly important on long-haul flights. I've also flown BA World Traveller Plus (to Chicago, rather than Canada, admittedly). It's not much more expensive for that bit more precious space and comfort - I managed to sleep so well that I didn't have jet-lag.

2. Air Canada

Unsurprisingly, the second best airline is the only other scheduled operator. It's worth shopping around for Air Canada fares - it can often be cheaper to book through bmi, their partners in the Star Alliance. Air Canada isn't quite up to BA. The seats aren't quite as comfortable, and I didn't get much sleep on the return overnight flight. The service was good though. The food was quite reasonable, although not quite as good as BA's and the drinks were still regular.

3. Air Transat

Generally, Air Transat are quite a bit cheaper than the scheduled operators, but that isn't always the case. If you're flexible with your dates, I'd certainly recommend that you look at the scheduled operators closely, as you can often pay less for a better service. This is a much more cramped option than the scheduled operators, and the seats seem to be shaped for some kind of alien life-form, making them less comfortable. The seats don't recline much, as they're packed in tightly, and the head rest is not quite right. The arm rests only lift part way too, so you have to leave them down unless you have removeable arms yourself! The entertainment consists of small communal screens which are barely visible from some seats. It's hard to see the safety demonstration, let alone the films. Not that it's worth watching the films generally - Firehouse Dog and the Astronaut Farmer this year! They sell you headsets or adaptors to use your own headsets, but I found that you can use a single pin headset in the two-pin socket without difficulty. I wouldn't recommend this flight for travelling to the west of Canada, particularly as the return is overnight and you've got no chance of sleeping. For flights to the east, which are considerably shorter, I'd certainly consider using Air Transat. I was unlucky to be next to a very large lady on my flight to Toronto this year, but that can happen on any airline and it would have been quite OK otherwise. The food is not bad actually, but is not a regular as I like. I'd recommend taking food and your own water to snack on in between meals. Also, the in-flight water tastes really strange, with a horrible, bitter aftertaste.

4. Thomas Cook

Utterly awful airline that I wouldn't even recommend to my worst enemy. The flight is a form of torture - I'm waiting to see the MD in court at the Hague for human rights abuses. If they treated animals they way they treat people, there would be protest and prosecutions. I used the to fly home from Calgary last month. It was my first time using Thomas Cook, and will be the last if I can help it. I was lucky to have an empty seat next to me - I really don't think I'd have made it if the plane had been full! The food is the worst of all the airlines by a margin. The entertainment is better than Air Transat's, as you have personal screens and a selection of films, programmes and games - although many of them require you to pay a £5 supplement to view! You will need the entertainment though, as there's no way you'll get to sleep without drugs, which I don't like using. You have to pay for their headsets with two pins, but again I found that my one pin headphones did work, and there was a good selection of programmes, including old episodes of the Vicar of Dibley and various US and UK programmes as well as films. The premium films included The Queen. I don't know why The African Queen was classed as premium though - it's on television all the time! Now for the bad bits. Uncomfortable does not begin to describe the cramped seats, particularly if you have a window seat. They have to put the boxes to control the seat-back seats somewhere, and they chose to put it under the seat where your feet normally go. Obviously, no-one told them that you need to put your feet somewhere. Throughout the journey, you can only move one foot! I couldn't even spread on to the seat next to me confortably, as it was shaped for there to be two people, of course. The service is not as good either. If you want a drink, you can expect to have to get it yourself from the "bar" at the back of the plane. They actively promote their free water, but it's certainly not a selling point, although it tastes better than Air Transat's. How are you supposed to go and get water if the person in the aisle seat is asleep? It's bad enough not being able to go to the loo, but no water either is like torture. When I did venture off to find water, the hostesses were more interested in chatting amongst themselves than telling me where I would find the "bar", which is actually a jug on a small shelf in the area passengers aren't normally allowed into! When they did finally drag themselves away from their conversation, the glare and abrupt "can I help you" made me feel that the only reason that she spoke to me at all was that she felt I was listening in on her conversation! Corissa's experience was made worse by the plane breaking down in Gatwick on its way to pick them up. The flight was delayed by sevaral hours, while they waited for the plane to be fixed. Charter Airlines keep costs down by not having spare planes like the scheduled operators. Despite the delay, they carried on serving the same food at the same points of the flights, meaning that Corissa was treated to a full meal late at night, having already needed to eat dinner before boarding, and then breakfast just before she landed, which was mid afternoon! That doesn't help to dort your body clock at all. If they'd altered the food schedule a bit they could have served breakfast at breakfast time and a meal at lunchtime, allowing passengers to try to sleep. On the plus side, my luggage was on the carousel before I got there, and I didn't dawdle! We had sat on the tarmac a while though, as we were in the cheap landing slots of course, and had to wait for Easyjet to vacate our gate.

The verdict

The above are based on experiences that Corissa and I have had on flights, and others may have very different experiences and/or opinions. Between us and friends we have all reliably found Thomas Cook to be the worst option, and I'd strongly recommend avoiding them for flights to the west of Canada at least. The east is a much shorter flight, so it may be OK, but I'd avoid the window seat like the plague. If you will have a baby on your lap, you really should avoid the charter flights. I can't imagine it would be comfortable on any plane, but I'm sure I'd die on a charter flight!

I really think that it is worth paying the extra for scheduled flights to the west. In future, we will do our best to fly BA or Air Canada to Calgary. There's often not much difference in price, and sometimes the scheduled airlines are cheaper than the charter ones. For Toronto, the flights are shorter so, as long as you don't have a baby on your lap you could go for charter flights, which do tend to be significantly cheaper.

You can also fly indirect. Corissa has used Northwest a couple of times. However, out of season they normally cancel the most direct route which requires only one stop and transfer you onto another route with two stops, which makes for a long journey. You do get to stretch your legs though! I can't comment on Monarch or Zoom, as I've never used them.

Frequency of service

The flexibility of the airlines varies a lot. Air Canada have the most frequent service. They fly every day, sometime more than one flight per day in high season. BA are not far behind on that count, with flights daily in season and most days out of season. The charter flights are much less frequent, by Monarch, Air Transat and Thomas Cook have reciprocal agreements. You can book them all through, meaning that you can travel out on one airline and back on another. That means that they have services most days in the summer, and a few times a week in winter. Monarch only fly in winter - for the skiing - and Thomas Cook only seem to fly in summer. Zoom also only fly on certain days, but they have no reciprocal agreement, so are not as convenient. I've never managed to get flight with them when I need them, but they run some good promotions if you can get them. With the charter airlines, you find that booking separate one way flights in each direction is a lot more expensive than booking return flights through either Zoom or Canadian Affair, so mixing Zoom with other charter flights is often an expensive option.

Brown bounce looking flat

I've said before that there's not much that we can take from opinion polls at the moment. The Brown Bounce was inevitable - the only surprise to me was that it was not very big compared to the Major Bounce in 1990. The latest polls are already suggesting that the bounce is on the wane, with ComRes putting Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck on 36% each (Labour down 1, Conservatives up 2, Lib Dems down 1).

The Lib Dems are still trailing in all the recent polls, with 13-15%. I suspect that there are various factors in their low rating. They've been pretty quiet over the summer and Ming still isn't making as much impact as either Kennedy or Ashdown managed, but I think that the main differences are outside his control - the change of Prime Minister has meant that Labout have dominated in terms of media attention, and has partly neutralised the issues which were driving traditional Labourites on the left to the Lib Dems. The impact of Iraq as an issue is also waning, as the invasion drifts out of peoples' immediate memories, and many people blamed Blair rather than Labour.

As for the Conservatives, there has been much talk of a lurch to the right. That's the spin that Labour are frantically applying, with the assistance of certain sections of the press, mostly on the left. On the other hand, others on the right are pointing to rising Conservative support to suggest that voters are coming back to the party with the tougher rhetoric. Personally, I don't particularly buy the claims of changing strategies. We all knew that there would be a Brown bounce, and I'm pretty sure that Conservative HQ will have expected much worse than we've actually seen. The phoney war against Blair was all about decontaminating the Conservative brand, so that people who were natural Conservatives but were turned off by the nasty image would sit up and listen to what we have to say. It seems that it could be working. The Conservative image is now much more positive than it has been for some time, and real Conservative policies like supporting the family and being tough on law and order are now coming to the fore. I'm certainly feeling quite positive about it all.

EU Referendum

In a significant softening of the government's stance, Gordon Brown has refused to rule out holding a a referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty today. The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband had earlier been more forthright in refuting calls for a referendum, arguing that the European "constitution" had "been abandoned and the new institutional reforms, which protect British sovereignty in vital areas of national interest should be passed or rejected by Parliament".

Of course, Miliband is talking utter nonsense, as usual. Gordon Brown certainly won't sanction a referendum if he can get away without having one. He knows that he would lose, by a wide margin.

I was planning to blog about this today, and on getting home I found that I had an email from, who are planning a demonstration with casting of ballots on 27th October, one week after the Lisbon Summit. Unfortunatley, I won't be there, as I'm getting married on 20th October, and then I'm off on honeymoon. Fortunately, the event is billed as the launch of a "rolling thunder" campaign extending well into the new year. I've signed up as a supporter and offered to help in Folkestone. I hope that you will offer your help where you live, and join the protest if you can!

NDP belongs in the Royal Tyrrell Museum

The NDP government of Saskatchewan has shown itself to be a relic that belongs in a different era. The party's support of the Wheat Board's monopoly in the barley market is the economics of failure, as demonstrated in England in the 1970s and the old Eastern Block until the 1990s. The overwhelming majority (79%) of barley farmers want the monopoly scrapped so that they can trade their goods on the free market, so why is the government of Saskatchewan so opposed? Thankfully, the Conservative federal government of Canada and Progressive Conservative government of Alberta are more forward-thinking. Both support the liberation of barley markets. So they should. The current system penalises efficient farmers to protect inefficient farms, stymying innovation and raising prices for the consumer. I've always been shocked at the prices of basic foodstuffs in Canada, and hope that the federal government will win its fight to dismantle the monopoly on barley and then move on to tackle similar out-dated practices in other markets, including wheat itself.

The price of economic failure:

A loaf of fresh bread will set you back by about £2 in Calgary. A similar loaf costs just 60p in England.

Saskatchewan will head to the polls within the next few months. It's time to consign the NDP's failed, socialist economic policies to the history books.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Holiday in Folkestone

I was amazed to read in the Folkestone Herald today that Kensington & Chelsea Council paid £15,000 for 40 elderly residents to spend 3 nights in Folkestone during the Notting Hill Carnival. That's an amazing £375 each. To put that in context, Saga offers the over 50s a week's all inclusive stay in a 4 star hotel in Majorca for only £344 each, with no single supplement to pay.

Next time an eco-fascist tells me that we should ban flights and all holiday in England, I'll remember why it is that we don't!

I suspect that it's also an indication of how much better the private sector is than the public sector when it comes to providing these kinds of services. I'm quite sure that our railways could be run just as cheaply as the low-cost airlines if only there was less state interference.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Canterbury Lib Dems propose apartheid

Apartheid. [uh-pahrt-heyt, -hayt]: any system or practice that separates people according to race, caste, etc.
Source: Unabridged (v1.1). Retrieved August 29,2007 from

Lib Dem Cllr Jo Calvert-Mindell (Canterbury St Stevens and member of the Housing Appeals and Benefits Committee) has proposed that no more than 20% of houses in any road should be occupied by students. She argues that families are becoming "excluded from their communities" by the growing number of students in Canterbury. I certainly hope that her ludicrous plans are scuppered when it comes to a vote.

I do wonder whether Cllr Calvert-Mindell's plans extend only to students, or whether others may be affected. Would she be support a similar motion to prevent more than 20% of houses being occupied by muslims? Perhaps no more than 20% of homes in any road should be occupied by "working class people" or retired people, to ensure that the middle classes or young people don't feel excluded or isolated? I'm sure that there are countless groups that people could complain about taking over their road, but we're a crowded island and need to learn to get along together with a little more tolerance of others.

I've never met Cllr Calvert-Mindell, but I'm reasonably sure that she wouldn't support such proposals. If a white family came to her complaining that all their neighbours were black, I would imagine that she would send them packing. So why is it OK for her to vilify students? It's the usual careless and ill-considered proposal that we've come to expect from the Lib Dems, who seem to be particularly out of touch in East Kent.

Of course, the area where most students live is, unsurprisingly, the part of the town nearest to the universities they attend. If they are to be displaced to other parts of the city, will that mean that they will have to commute, which might mean more driving, adding to Canterbury's congestion. I wouldn't advise anyone to cycle around Canterbury's congested and dangerous ring road during rush hour! I would suggest that Muddle-headed-Mindell needs to think this through a bit better and withdraw her proposal altogether.

Worst of all, Canterbury Lib Dems actively promoted themselves as the students' friends, standing up for them on the council where other parties would, allegedly, let them down. Not only is she refusing to back up her words with actions - she is cowardly enough to make her proposal during the summer when most students aren't present to defend their own corner. At the time when Canterbury's students need their representatives most, the Lib Dems have let them down.

I thought that this comment by Cllr Calvert-Mindell was particularly reminiscent of something you might expect to read in a BNP leaflet: "We are trying to reclaim our communities." I suspect that she's just jumping on the latest bandwagon to roll past in the usual Lib Dem way, but she shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. Let her know what you think. Email

Monday, August 13, 2007

Conservatives publish EU Treaty in Plain English

While I've been in Canada, the EU Constitution Treaty Constitution has been summarised in plain English by the Conservatives. The move is most welcome, as the new treaty has been deliberately worded to mislead. Key examples of that are renaming the EU Foreign Minister proposed in the original document as "High Representative", who "will conduct the EU's common foreign and security policy". Not to mention renaming the Constitution as a Treaty!

I've read the full document and the Conservative plain English guide, and I think it does a pretty good job of presenting the truth in simple terms. It's hard to understand the EU Treaty without a thorough understanding of the various treaties that have gone before it. The Conservative plain English version does not require such an understanding. Incedentally, the BBC's guide to the treaty actually makes many of the same points, but not as clearly as the Conservative version.

It's undoubtedly time for a referendum, as pledged in the last Labour manifesto. Our elected representatives need to recognise that they are elected to rule on our behalf, rather than to rule over us regardless of our views. The Soviet Union's leaders found that out the hard way - I hope that Brown's Brotherhood makes life easier for us all and lets the people decide.

Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Conservative Leader in the European Parliament has also released his own alternate revising treaty. I haven't read that yet, so won't comment on it. One thing is clear - the EU cannot continue in its current form. It is unweildy and increasingly archaic. Even the most ardent Eurosceptic, like myself, recognises the reality that we need to have relations with out European neighbours, even if we withdraw from the EU. Kirkhope tends to be more Europhile than me, but I totally agree with all of the sections I have read so far.

As for Labour, they are trying to paint a picture of a Conservative party obsessed by Europe. That's far from the truth - the party has hardly mentioned Europe for months and it would be shocking if the Official Opposition didn't adopt a position on a document that will fundamentally the country we live in. The Labour position is merely a smoke screen, a poor attempt to cover their failure to uphold their pledge for a referendum. They claim that it's now only a revising document, so does not require a referendum, conveniently forgetting that they said that the Constitution was a revising document and only agreeing to hold a referendum after intense Conservative pressure.

Is there any wonder that the public does not trust politicians? Brown's new era contains so much spin that even he gets confused. In a freudian slip last month, he accidentally called the treaty as the Constitution. Probably the first honest statement to pass through the new PM's lips.

Related Links from
William Hague on the Constitution/Treaty (video on
William Hague on the Constitution/Treaty (text)
The Constitution/Treaty in plain English
The Case for a Referendum (speech by William Hague)
European Parliament Chief admits the EC Constitution is Back
Brown admits Treaty is Constitution

Other links:
The Constitution/Treaty in full
BBC guide to the Treaty
Timothy Kirkhope's Conservative alternate revising treaty

Rating transatlantic airlines

I'm back in Sunny(ish) Folkestone and recovering from my jet lag. I was really quite lucky with my return flight - I was next to an empty seat and my luggage was so quick off the plane that it was actually waiting for me on the carousel! I spotted it coming around before I got to the pickup, so I didn't even have to stop before picking it up and heading for Customs.

I've now flown on four of the six airlines which serve Calgary direct from London (BA, Air Canada, Air Transat and Thomas Cook (now merged with MyTravel), leaving only Zoom and Monarch to try out), so I'm weighing up the relevant pros and cons of each airline. The scheduled operators are certainly better than the charter airlines, but that's hardly surprising. You get what you pay for. I'm planning to write reviews of the airlines in the near future.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blogging From Canada

It's been a few days since my last post, as I'm in Canada at the moment and was not able to get to a PC. I haven't kept up with UK news either, so won't comment on anything happening there.

The weather has been a cantrast to the UK, with scorching hot weather day in and day out. Apparently, that's about as unusual as England's floods. While I've been here so far, I've met most of Corissa's extended family in Ontario, and that visit also gave us the opportunity to see the Niagara Falls. They are trully magnificent, although I would have preferred them if they were less commercialised. Hiking up to them through the wilderness would have been a more striking introduction, rather than having them surrounded by a Vegas-esque resort town. Only in America (and Canada, it would seem)!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Oh Canada

I'm all packed now, ready to fly out to Canada tomorrow morning. I'll be meeting Corissa's extended family, as we're stopping off in Ontario. It's the first time that I've been to eastern Canada. I'm looking forward to meeting my soon to be family. Hopefully we'll get the chance to see the Niagara falls while we're there too!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Unlimited Immigration isn't working

New figures released by HM Customs & Revenue reveal that 2.5 million people have come to work in the UK over the last 5 years. The figure is based on the number of new National Insurance numbers issued to foreigners.

Damian Green, Conservative MP for Ashford and Shadow Immigration Minister said that the "huge" and "accelerating" figures were "extraordinary" and should be cut. He added, "The benefits of immigration will be lost among the social and economic difficulties caused by the sheer scale of the current numbers."

I certainly agree. The figures show that the number of people coming to the UK has increased in each of the last five years, hitting a phenomenal 713,000 in the year to April 2007. That's more than 1.1% of the population of Britain and is clearly unsustainable. Of course, the figures don't tell us what proportion of the immigrants don't even speak English. I fear that many of them will be in that category, thus putting additional strain on the already overstretched public services. Other figures also reveal a higher birth rate amongst immigrant communities, contributing to a shortage of midwives and meaning that the native population is being increasingly marginalised in parts of the country.

Lib Dem spokesman Nick Clegg disagrees. He said that the 16% increase in east European imigrants "are only coming to Britain because they are successfully providing services and doing jobs available in the British economy to the benefit of British consumers." I'll remember that next time I'm offered a Big Issue by the Eastern European immigrant in Sandgate Road!

The fact remains that as of 17th April this year there were 7.9 million people of working age who were not in work. At the weekend, Damian Collins (Conservative PPC for Folkestone & Hythe) told the 81 attendees at the Hythe East curry lunch that within Shepway, the number of people in that category in Shepway had increased by an unbelievable 74%, at a time of supposed prosperity and full employment. The whole situation of mass immigration and disguised unemployment is a fiasco of Labour's making. Much of it is the responsibility of Gordon Brown himself.

The figures for the year to April 2007 reveal that most of the 713,000 immigrants came from the EU - 321,000 from the new eastern European members and 103,000 from older countries. Non EU countries account for the remaining 292,000, with Asia leading the fray at 145,000, then Africa at 61,000, Oceania 33,000, The Americas 32,000 and 16,000 from non-EU Europe. I should declare an interest: my fiancee, Corissa, is Canadian, so will have counted towards the 2.5 million total. Of course it's not all one way - 10% of Britons live overseas, with popular destinations including Spain, France, Australia, Canada and the USA.

Damian Green points to the need to reduce the number of immigrants for the sake of stability. He argues that the focus should be on the non-EU immigrants. I'm not sure that I agree with that. Many of the immigrants from within the EU are unable to speak English and become a burden on their new communities in the UK. I see this as an argument for a loosening of relations with the EU. It's time to restore our border controls. Most imporantly, immigration from the EU is unchecked, so there's no way to know who is here and who isn't. That needs redressing. Mass movement within Europe is not working, and I believe it will all end in tears. At least many of the non-EU immigrants are from English-speaking countries, ensuring that the new immgrants do not unnecessarily burden public facilities with the cost of translation. Many of them will also be from Commonwealth countries, so they may be more culturally similar to the existing population than those from our nearer neighbours.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The rains came down...

In this little corner of the world, it's hard to imagine the misery that people across great swathes of the country are now suffering. From Gloucestershire to Yorkshire there have been deluges, with countless people homeless and without water. The threat to a power station could bring a degree of suffering to a wider audience too. It's true that there were some areas of Folkestone that were flooded a couple of weeks ago. Whilst that will have been traumatic for the isolated few who were affected, the scale can't be compared. Handling such a widespread crisis must be daunting for the authorities - where can you move the displaced to? Many must be miles from home, adding to the inconvenience and misery that they are suffering.

There are some who are already trying to point the blame. Why did local authorities allow homes to be built on flood plains? I think it's easy and tempting to blame someone, but the truth is that it's nature. Wherever you build houses, there are risks. High land may suffer from cliff falls and subsidence. As Folkestone found out earlier this year, there's always the risk of earthquakes. Hurricanes, lightning and tornadoes can strike anywhere. I doubt that there's a square inch of the planet that isn't at risk of multiple natural hazards. We can't control nature, and shouldn't control nature. In truth, nature controls us and we forget that at our peril.

One thing that does concern me is the revelation that many local authorities self-insure. There are times when self-insurance makes sense. For example, Marks & Spencer self insure all of their stores. That makes sense, because they are spread out. It's unlikely that any kind of disaster could befall all, or indeed a significant proportion, of them at once. If such a disaster did occur, we'd be looking at the end of civilization as we know it - which the loss of your local M&S does not constitute! For a local authority to self-insure does not similarly make sense. In Hull, the cost of damage to council properties including schools, housing and much more besides, has been estimated at £200 million. The council has £9 million set aside as part of the self-insurance scheme. I'd like to see local authorities and central government co-operatively insuring. Rather than paying an insurer to offset risk - with all the associated paperwork and daft rules and regulations that result - alll authorities should pay a small amount into a central pot. In the event that the pot does not stretch far enough, the liability should be distributed amongst them. The formula to divide costs would need to take account of the ability to pay (largely defined by the size of the population) as well as the amount insured (dependant on size and level of facilities in the area). The result would be that our elected representatives would regain control over much that the insurance industry effectively controls at present, at the same time as benefitting from the spread risk.

Business leaders backing Cameron

Today's Times rather buries an interesting story about the relationship between the new PM and the business world, after his decade at the Treasury. A full 75% believe that a Conservative Government under Cameron would be better for the economy. Tony Blair fares little better than Brown - 48% of business leaders would give the former PM a job. Thankfully for him, the American taxpayer has made him into a Middle East envoy. What did the Middle East do to America to deserve that?!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Calm after the storm

After the last few weeks of manic campaigning with more twists and turns than an entire F1 season, things have settled back to being as they were. Two Labour MPs representing two safe Labour constituencies.

That's not to say that there were no winners or losers but for the most part the main players won and lost in roughly equal measure - as has become customary in recent elections! Sadly, the hoped for Conservative breakthrough in Ealing Southall didn't materialise. Tony Lit remained in third place, closer to Labour but slightly further behind the Lib Dems compared to 2005. That said, his share of the vote did increase slightly, which is unusual for a third placed party in a by-election. The Conservative campaign did well to avoid the customary Lib Dem squeeze. In Sedgefield, despite slipping to third place, Graham Robb did see the Conservative share of the vote rise as well.

The Lib Dems will have been quite happy coming second in both seats. That sums up one of the Lib Dems' main problems - they still can't grasp that in First Past the Post, the only place that matters is, well, first. Second place means loser. They did see their share of the vote rise a little in both seats, but not by as much as we have come to expect from the self-proclaimed by-election specialists. Coming second should be enough to buy Ming the Merciless some more time though.

For Labour, they can take heart from retaining both seats. The swings against them were significant, but not catastrophic. The big swings against the last Conservative government dwarfed yesterday's results. That said, they are currently in their honeymoon period, having just crowned their new leader, so perhaps they should have expected to do better. In the longer term, the Lib Dems might even begin to pose a threat in Sedgefield - an old mining seat which was always unlikely to produce a Conservative MP - so Labour might find themselves having to fight further battles ahead.

For the minor parties, two results stand out. In Sedgefield, the BNP obtained almost 9% of the vote, which was a strong performance and indicates a high level of disatisfaction with the main parties. In Ealing Southall, a very poor showing for the English Democrats (they were the only party to be beaten by the Monster Raving Loony Party) could prove damaging, both to their cause and their party. It was the Bootle By-election that killed the last remnants of David Owens SDP, when they came behind the Loonies. The fact that there was so little interest in voting for a party advocating an English Parliament may see that topic being further sidelined. That said, it may be that the policy is less popular in a constituency with such a large ethnic minority population, so they may well live to fight another day. Democracy can't really be described as a winner either, given that the turnouts were so low. In Ealing Southall, the major and most of the significant minor parties were fighting hard, but none was able to catch the imagination of most electors. To an extent, it may have been because it was a fairly vacuuous election with little substance, that two seats would have little impact in the grand scheme of things and the expectation of easy Labour victories, but I think an awful lot of people simply don't care. That's a symptom of a much deeper problems in both British politics and many British people today.

All in all, I can't say that I'm anything other than disappointed, but I'm not surprised either. This has been the first time that I can remember the Conservative candidates holding their own in by-elections, so that's a small positive to take away. I think that the results also show that the foney war is not over yet - many people are still waiting to see how things bed down with Prime Minister Brown.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Votes being counted

It won't be long until we find out the results of today's elections. Both seats started out with massive Labour majorities, so anything other than a Labour win has to be a surprise. It will also be interesting to see how well the infamous Lib Dem by-election machine has worked this time around. For the Conservatives, this is a real test for the new by-elections strategy, being used for the first time.

I don't know much about the Sedgefield campaign, other than I expect Labour to hold and and see little chance of the Conservatives taking the seat. Ealing Southall has seen a stronger Conservative challenge, so I hope that we will see some improvement in our share of the vote. Victory seems highly unlikely, but I can dream! If Tony Lit doesn't win, it will be the first time I've campaigned in an unsuccessful parliamentary election. I knew that was a likely outcome when I went up though, so it won't worry me unduly!

Don't forget to vote!

With less than three hours until polls close, it won't be long before we know the results of the Ealing Southall and Sedgefield By-elections. Both present an excellent opportunity to give the tired and complacent New Labour project a kicking, and what better way to do that than to go out and VOTE CONSERVATIVE?!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Wedding plans moving on apace

Things are getting rather busy again as we plan for our wedding in October. Corissa and I are spending much of our free time making the invitations at the moment so that we can post the Canadian ones while we are in Canada later this month. October really isn't far away now, so we'll need to hit the ground running as soon as we're back in England to get everything else sorted as well, but not all that time will be as busy as the next fortnight will be!

We've now checked with the vicar, Vital Statistics Alberta and the Immigration and Nationalities Directorate, to confirm that we can get married by standard publication of banns. That's good news, as it means that Corissa won't need a Certificate of Approval for Marriage, as she would for a civil wedding. That would have involved completing a 10 page form with accompanying explanatory notes, paying £295, sending off our passports and waiting for up to 70 working days while they sit on the forms! I'm very glad we chose an Anglican wedding now!

We've now booked our honeymoon and wedding transport, and I've chosen my wedding ring. We're going to look for Corissa's in Canada before we make our mind up completely, but have probably chosen for her as well. We're meeting with the photographer next Sunday as well. I'm hoping to be sorted with suit hire before we go to Canada and we'll be finalising the wedding list while we are out there as well. Hopefully we're on top of everything. I really want to be sure that the day itself will run smoothly so that we can enjoy it as much as possible!

Folkestone's weekend in the sun

It wasn't quite wall to wall sunshine over the weekend - yesterday started and ended with thunderstorms - but all in all it was pretty good weather for the Harbour Festival and Charivari Day. Both events were well attended and congratulations are due the organisers of both events. The two didn't actually clash as they could, complementing one another rather well generally. Given the wet weather we've had this summer, it may actually have been a stroke of genius arranging the two on the same weekend - probably the sunniest of the summer so far!

End of the era of Labour Spin? Not in Ealing Southall!

Can the Ealing Southall by-election get any dirtier? Most of the mud seems to have been flung by the Labour campaign, managed by Tom Watson and this weekend was no exception. This time, Labour are claiming that the Conservative candidate, Tony Lit, was a Labour donor until a month ago. The claim is based on him having been on the Sunrise Radio table at a fundraising dinner for the Asian Business community, where tables were priced at £4,800 each.

However, does attending a dinner, which is clearly a good networking event, really constitute being a Labour donor? I certainly know of local businessmen in Folkestone, including a former boss of mine, who attended Conservative business dinners which contributed to Conservative fundraising who would never in a month of Sundays vote Conservative. Indeed, one was even a member of an anarchist goth-punk band with a strong left wing bias.

It seems to me that the revelations about Tony Lit's attendence tells us a lot more about Labour than anyone else. Supporters and donors certainly can't trust them with their anonymity but should we trust Labour with anything else? It would seem not.

Public Private Partnership - Failing together

Metronet, the larger of two pivate consortia maintaining the London Underground under the PPP deal signed 7 years ago, looks set to fall into administration. The news follows a refusal to meet the group's demand for almost £1 billion from public funds. The failure of the PPP deal transfers the risk back to the taxpayer, meaning that we, and Londoners in particular, will now need to find the money to put maintenance back on track.

The news won't be a complete surprise. Many, including both London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Conservative challenger Steve Norris recognised the failings of the deal before it was signed. Sadly, the Treasury, lead by then Chancellor and now PM Gordon Brown, was not prepared to take heed of the warnings.

The move brings home the real problems and dangers of Public Private Partnerships, which have been used to hide debts off the national balance sheet in recent years. I don't know the extent of the taxpayers' liability today, but it certainly runs into at least twelve figures - not a sum to be sniffed at. In many cases, the PPP schemes have been given the go-ahead purely because they enable costs to be hidden off balance sheet, rather then because they were the best way of funding the scheme. The fact that the liabilities can so easily be transferred back to the taxpayer demonstrates how important it is that PPP liabilities are recorded on government balance sheets as a form of debts. When it comes down to it, many PPP schemes differ little from mortgages any way and repayments on the existing schemes are often at uncompetitive interest rates - one of the reasons that the NHS is on its knees despite record "investment." For investment, read massive sums of taxpayers' money being thrown at a problem in the hope that some of it might actually make the problem go away.

The second problem that needs to be resolved is in the business practices themselves. The theory of PPP is that it will bring private sector expertise and management skills into the public sector. There is little sign of that happening, with the private firms seeming to embrace (often unwillingly) failed public sector practices.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Nepal hit by landslide

I'm sure that the large Ghurka and Nepalese community in Cheriton must be particularly concerned for friends and relatives who may have been affected by a massive landslide in Nepal. The BBC reports that at least 21 have been killed in the incident near Gwalichour, north west of Kathmandu. I'm sure that all of our thoughts are with the families of those affected at this time.

I remember studying the problem of landslides in Nepal as part of my Geography A Level a few years ago. Apparently, massive deforestation in the Himalyan foothills, which are being used increasingly intensively for agriculture, is to blame. The problems extend beyond Nepals boundaries too. The material gets washed into rivers and on to India and Bangladesh. There is can fill up resevoirs needed for irrigation and drinking water, can block or even destroy hydro-electric dams and, in the worst cases, can raise the level of river beds in Bangladesh adding to that country's chronic flooding problems. There needs to be a concerted effort by regional governments and NGOs to tackle these problems, with international assistance where necessary, to avoid unnecessary loss of life and to improve intranational relations in the area.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Family at the heart of Conservative policy

It shouldn't need saying that the family will be at the heart of the next Conservative manifesto, but many on the right had come to doubt that David Cameron really is a Conservative. In fact, I think that he's been pretty sensible generally. That's not to say that I agree with him on everything and he hasn't always handled matters as well as I would have liked - Grammar schools immediately spring to mind - but the general thrux is heading in the right direction.

As the Conservatives begin to add some meat to the agenda for the next Conservative government, the news is looking better and better. The centre right press lapped up Iain Duncan Smith's proposals in his committee's report on Social Justice. The Sun, Mail, Express and Telegraph all rushed to support the report. The Lib Dems seemed less pleased - only one out of their 63 MPs bothered to turn up for last night's poverty debate, called by the Conservatives.

So what are the Poverty Debate and Social Justice Challenge all about? They're about delivering solutions to the problems caused by the breakdown of society and its associated crime, anti-social behaviour and exclusion. The need to support the traditional two parent family model is central to that aim. That's why the Conservatives are the only party that can deliver Social Justice. It may be an area of policy which the party has seemed to abandon in recent years, but there has actually been a long-standing tradition of action within the party - from aid to Ireland during the potato famine through abolishion of slavery to overseeing much of the introduction of the NHS, pensions and benefits for those in genuine need.

Sadly, the Liberal-Left are so blinkered by Political Correctness, that many of them cannot see that there is a problem, let alone put forward solutions. Even those who can see the problems so misunderstand them that their solutions can only make the problems worse. Often, we see them attempting to substitute government for families; something that can only lead to authoritarianism, erosion of freedom and compound the feeling of hopelessness. Read any article by Polly Toynbee or speech by Harriet Harman, the new Labour Party Deputy Leader, Chairman and Minister for Wimmin and Equality (a word which needs to be banned from politics)to see how wrong the Liberal-Left can be.

I'm not going to try to paraphrase the whole document - it runs to 6 volumes, so it will take a while to digest. I'll be trying to get my teeth into it over the coming weeks and months, while there's a real debate within the Conservative party and beyond about the future of Conservative policy in the areas of Social Justice. In the meantime, the you can get the general gist of the report from the overview or the full report from the poverty debate blog.

Louise Bagshawe in Ealing Southall

I'm sure that Louise must have been quite a site as she wobbled along with a sack full of leaflets. She's due to give birth within a fortnight!

So, if you haven't dropped by to lend Tony Lit a hand yet, what's your excuse?!

Ealing Southall - view from the ground

I spent a day up on the campaign trail in Ealing Southall, and I have to say that things were looking pretty good for Tony Lit from where I was standing. Not that I stood still for long with so much ground to cover leafletting Ealing Common ward.

In last years election, Ealing Common elected two Conservatives along with the only Lib Dem in the constituency. One of the failed Lib Dem candidates is also their candidate for the 19th July - he had previously stood in the last general election as well.

All in all, it should be the strongest area of the Lib Dem campaign and, given their reputation as by-election specialists, I'd expected to see them swarming all over the place with posters and garden signs all over the shop. I was wrong - only one house had a Lib Dem poster up, and there was no sign of any Lib Dem activity in the ward, apart from one rather forlorn leaflet in a recycling box! By contrast, it was the second Conservative delivery since Tony Lit's selection, with a third already being bagged up ready for delivery this week. There were also 5 Conservative tannoy cars covering the area. Admittedly, I was the only Conservative covering the ward at that particular time - although there were 70 YCs in total, most were in other wards.

I really can't say very much about Labour. They had put a few leaflets in hallways of flats and no-one seemed to be picking them up, but it's not a good Labour area, so that's not necessarily a good indicator.

One thing that I did note was that some people who let me in to their blocks to deliver did so on the condition that I was a Conservative! After I declared my affiliation, no-one objected at all, and one even offered to give me the combination to the gated community for future reference!

I was surprised by the size of the Polish community in the ward - I began to wonder whether anyone actually lives in Poland any more?! I suppose that explains why one of the Conservative Councillors, who is Polish, holds Polish surgeries. At one block of flats in Hamilton Road, I hit upon a bit of a language barrier. As I counted out leaflets to post through the letterbox, someone called out in Polish. I assumed he was speaking to someone inside, so happily continued to post them through. Quickly, the door flung open and a main in overalls wielding a paint brush shouted at me and gestured a painting motion. Apparently, his original call had meant something along the lines of "Don't post anything through the letterbox, I'm painting it," in Polish. He seemed annoyed that I hadn't made the effort to learn his language - perhaps no-one has told him that London isn't actually in Poland!

Defection update: Colchester turns blue

Well the defection bandwagon is well and truly in swing at the moment. In the last couple of weeks there have been defections in all directions, although most have been to the Conservatives. Of course we all know of one group of people who can't resist a bandwagon once it starts rolling. That's right - the always good for a laugh Lib Dems!

In Colchester, both Berechurch ward councillors have decided to join the Conservative group. The father and son team - Cllrs Terry and Craig Sutton - have given the Conservatives their first majority in Colchester in 20 years. Previously, the council had been run my a Conservative minority.

Cllr Terry Sutton said that the reason for the defection was that he recognised that only the Conservatives had a positive vision for the borough. In recent years, relations within the Lib Dems have been deteriorating, apparently. That seems to be the story across large chunks of the country! The final straw seems to have been the local Lib Dem MP saying that the new Colchester Utd football stadium would be the "worst" in the country. That in itself seems to have been a pathetic attempt at point scoring, as the Conservative council has provided much of the finance.

Hat tip: ConservativeHome; initial report East Anglian Daily Times

It's interesting to see that Colchester Council have already updated their website to show the two new Conservative Councillors. I wonder when Ealing will update their site? For that matter, I see that Cllr Susan Ashworth, Shepway representative for New Romney Coast, is still listed as a Lib Dem on the council's website. I wonder what's going on there - it was the Lib Dems who announced that she was defecting to Conservative, so I don't know whether she officially has crossed over yet. I would have thought that the Lib Dems would have withdrawn the whip at least though!

Hokey Cokey Ealing Southall style

Labour Conservative Labour Councillor Mrs Zahida Abbas Noori seems to be leading Ealing Labour in some sort of Hokey Cokey. Last night, she and the Conservatives released a statement announcing that she was the sixth Labour councillor in the constituency to defect to Conservative in two days. The move meant that she would be rejoining her two colleagues in Southall Broadway ward, who had already crossed the floor in support of Tony Lit. However, after the news had been reported by Iain Dale and The Times, amongst others, Cllr Noori had a change of heart. She has now decided to remain within the Labour group.

Whichever party Cllr Noori decides to support in the end, one thing is absolutely clear. She, along with many of her colleagues, is unhappy with the Labour party. It seems that the Labour candidate for the by-election, Cllr Virendra Sharma is proving to be a rather divisive figure. The five original defectors were mostly (thanks Steve) Sikhs, suggesting that the Sikh community, which makes up more than a quarter of the vote, is not as united behind the Labour candidate as Ealing Southall Labour are claiming. Cllr Noori is a Muslim, and her support is clearly far from unwaivering, while the Times report also indicates that other high profile defections are iminent, citing a Hindu in particular.

For the record, it should be noted that Cllr Noori has denied she ever intended defecting. Intriguingly, Iain Dale says that she signed the press release which he received. Given that other well respected jouralists also picked up the story, it is hard to believe that they all simultaneously invented the same story!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dead Earth

What do you get when you cross 150 media-whoring liberal-leaning performance artists and the Green Crusade?

74,500 tonnes of carbon emissions and 1,025 tonnes of landfill waste, according to the Daily Mail.

Live Earth's Eco-tainment has proved itself to be a joke that's unlikely to make anyone laugh. Thanks Mr Gore; now can you see why America elected Bush?

Hat tip: The Difference

Monday, July 09, 2007

Ealing Southall - Tories pick up new defectors

In an amazing coup, five Labour councillors in Ealing Southall have defected to Conservative and announced that they are backing Tony Lit in this month's by-election. The move means that the majority of councillors in Ealing Southall are Conservative - which must be an historic first.

The defectors come from across the constituency, with most representing the traditional Labour heartlands at the Southall end of the ward. At the same time, a previously declared Independent candidate for the by-election has announced his withdrawal in support of Tony Lit. A further independent candidate, who is already a member of the Labour party, has announced that he will not now stand against the official Labour candidate.

Further details are available on Conservativehome and the BBC.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Only the Conservatives can defeat Labour

Independent media pundits are saying that the it is the Conservatives who pose the greatest threat to Labour in this month's Ealing Southall by-election. Here's some of the recent comments:
In Ealing Southall in particular, the Tories are expected to improve their position vastly... Tony Lit, a popular Asian radio station boss...could even win in this seat... Melissa Kite, Telegraph, 1/7/07

In the 2006 local elections in this seat, the Lib Dems came a bad third... [The Conservatives are] only between five and seven percent behind Labour in the wards that make up Ealing Southall... Andrew Gilligan, Evening Standard

The Tories seem to be on a roll, the public feels they are largely doing well and the reds are still nursing their sores and are distracted in Southall. Voice of Ealing Gazette, 4/5/07

Conservatives pick up defections in Ealing Southall merry-go-round

Two lifelong members of the Labour Party in Ealing Southall have decided to give up their 40-year-old memberships and join the Conservative Party. They are backing Tony Lit to win the Ealing Southall by-election on 19th July.

Ealing Southall has been a Labour stronghold for decades, but this by-eletion is looking wide open. In last year's local elections, the Conservatives took nearly as many seats as Labour in the constituency at the same time as taking control of Ealing Borough Council from Labour. The Lib Dems have only one councillor in the ward.

These are not the only defections in the constituency. The former Deputy Chairman of the Constituency Conservative Association defected to Lib Dem after failing to be selected as the Conservative candidate, and Tony Lit himself only joined the Conservative Party last month! The Labour selection was the most controversial, given that Piara Khabra, the former Labour MP, had backed a woman for the seat, but the final selection was between two men.

Lib Dem Kennedy - Do as I say, not as I do

Charles Kennedy was caught flouting the smoking ban aboard a train from Paddington to Plymouth this morning. According to the BBC, the Lib Dem MP and former party leader was "refusing to stop" smoking, arguing that he was smoking out the window! Reputedly, there was a confrontation between the Scottish MP and the train staff, which resulted in the train manager calling the Transport Police, who were waiting for him at his destination. The incident was "resolved informally." I assume that the police will be doing their duty and reporting his actions to the smoke enforcement officer of the local council, so that they can issue a fine.

This could have been upheld as proof that the Lib Dems really are the true libertarian party, but for one minor detail. The excellent Public Whip website shows that Charles Kennedy is "77.3% in favour of a smoking ban", having voted in favour of all additional restrictions when he was present to vote.

Kennedy has previously vowed to quit smoking. He was ousted as leader of the Lib Dems after finally coming clean about his long-denied drinking problem. It is not clear whether Kennedy had been drinking prior to this morning's incident.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day to anyone reading this from the States!

Why would a Brit be marking the day that the 13 Colonies declared independence from the UK? In part, I'm envious that you managed to get away from any links with the European Union - probably the worst thing to happen to Great Britain in its 300 year history.

However, more important is this extract from a book that my Great Grandfather gave to me. It is a book about the Kings and Queens of England, printed shortly after the coronation of King Edward VII in 1901.

George III. In the eighteenth century there were born two boys, both of whom were christened George, in the lands ruled by the English Kings. One was born of German parents; he married a German wife, and all his life he was German in his ideas. He was George, the grandson of George II, who came to the British throne in 1760. The other boy was born in the British colonies in America. He was of good English family, he had a good English education he became a gallant officer in the British army, and he was all his life full of the English ideas of liberty, independence and self-government. The name of this George was Washington. He was the greatest Englishman born in the eighteenth century, and he was not the less an Englishman because he was born in the British colonies of America.

The two boys grew up to be men. The German George was King of Britain; the English George was one of his loyal American subjects. The King, who was obstinate and proud, and who had Ministers who were false to English ideas of liberty, said that they would compel the American colonists to pay taxes without asking their consent. Now, to make a man pay taxes without his leave is tyranny. The German George said he would make the American pay. Britain was strong. The American colonists were only a handful of wretched farmers. He would send his army and make them pay. But the Enlgish George, whom we know as Washington, and most of the other British subjects in the American colonies, said that they were too true to English liberty to pay taxes to which they had not consented. So when the King sent them taxed tea, they threw the tea into Boston Harbour, and when he sent his soldiers they stood up against them and fought them. At first they were beaten. But they were true English, these American English; they did not know when they were beaten. They went on fighting against all the King's armies, and often defeated them.

Then the German King George sent over to Germany and brought German troops to fight against the Americans, who had only asked to live free as their English ancestors had done, to make their own laws and levt their own taxes.

The English in England obeyed their stubborn King George, although all their ablest and wisest statesmen - Chatham, Pitt, Fox and Burke - were opposed to the war. At last the German George was beaten, and the English principles triumphed when George Washington became first President of the American Republic. But we lost America and America lost Britain.

So there you have it. Clearly, it was all the Germans' fault, as usual in these matters! Today, thankfully Britain and America remain close allies, and America continues to hold dear the English ideas of liberty, independence and self-government. The anti-American sections of British society would do well to remember that.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

New Conservative Shadow Cabinet unveiled

The full Shadow Cabinet after the re-shuffle is:

David Cameron
Leader of the Conservative Party

William Hague
Shadow Foreign Secretary

George Osborne
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
General Election Campaign Coordinator

David Davis
Shadow Home Secretary

Liam Fox
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Lord Strathclyde
Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords

Caroline Spelman
Chairman of the Conservative Party

Philip Hammond
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Francis Maude
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Andrew Lansley
Shadow Secretary of State for Health

David Willetts
Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Peter Ainsworth
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Andrew Mitchell
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Alan Duncan
Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory reform

Theresa May
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Oliver Letwin
Chairman of the Policy Review and Chairman of the Conservative Research Department

Chris Grayling
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Cheryl Gillan
Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

David Mundell
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Theresa Villiers
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones
Shadow Security Minister and National Security Adviser to the Leader of the Opposition

Eric Pickles
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Michael Gove
Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Sayeeda Warsi
Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion

Nick Herbert
Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

Owen Paterson
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Jeremy Hunt
Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Patrick McLoughlin
Opposition Chief Whip

Baroness Anelay of St Johns will replace Lord Cope of Berkeley as Opposition Chief Whip in the House of Lords when he retires on the 27th July 2007

Attending Shadow Cabinet:

Grant Shapps – Shadow Housing Minister
David Lidington – Shadow Foreign Office Minister.

Monday, July 02, 2007

300 up!

I've just posted my 300th post since I created this blog in 2004. That means that I've posted at a rate of approximately 2 pieces a week for the past three years. That doesn't really paint a true picture, as I did not post regularly at first. Initially, I used this more as a pointer to find my contact details rather than as a true blog. These days I post much more frequently, more than once a day on average.

The number of you visiting my blog has also increased dramatically, especially over the past 4 months. I've also seen a dramatic increase in traffic from Canada since I started posting more about politics over there. Canada now vies for second place in the international visitor league table, with the USA also a source of considerable traffic. Beyond that, Ireland, France and Germany are all permanent fixtures in my hitlist and there are always a few visits from other countries around the world. I often wonder what would draw people from the far flung corners of our planet to read a blog which focuses on sunny Folkestone!

I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to comment on my blog, or contact me by email or phone. The vast majority of you have been complimentary, and I'm far too thick skinned to be worried about the rest!