News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Is Iran spoiling for war?

The situation in Iran has been quietly escalating since the capture of 15 Royal Navy Marines and Sailors last Friday. The British Government has now produced GPS evidence that Iran arrested our men and women in Iraqi waters, which they were patrolling on behalf of the UN to protect local shipping and oil, and Iran's attempt to contradict that failed when they also produced evidence that they were in Iraqi waters.

All in all, the issues surrounding a potential war with Iran are now very different from those when we invaded Iraq. It is absolutely clear that the Royal Navy is legally entitled to be in the Persian Gulf and pretty obvious that the Iranian waters had not been infinged upon. However, since Britain made clear that it was the Iranian government which had broken international law, their response has been disgraceful. The British hostages have been paraded on television and have made "confessions", presumably under duress. They have still not provided Consular access to the British Subjects illegally detained in Tehran, and have now reneged on previous promises to release the one servicewoman in captivity on the grounds that our government's response has been "incorrect". Apparently we should not have broken off diplomatic relations and should not consult the UN! Releasing one out of fifteen was never good enough, so our government was quite right not to negotiate and compromise with a terrorist state's autocratic rulers.

In Iraq, it was easy to say that we shouldn't be there because it wasn't our war. In Iran, the same cannot be said. Our troops were legally protecting British interests be ensuring that the oil supply upon which we all rely was secure. They have now been detained by a foreign government and, if diplomatic solutions cannot be found swiftly, has an obligation to ensure that all necessary means are used to protect our troops in the Gulf. I think that the situation is particularly sad as the Persian government seems to be out of step with its population which it rules over through tyrany and intimidation. I really wouldn't want to see the peaceful way of life that most Iranians enjoy today disturbed, but we can't allow terrorists to kidnap our people and go unchallenged.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Shepway Lib Dems propose another massive tax hike

Figures from the Lib Dems and the Office for National Statistics reveal the level of tax Shepway residents could be forced to pay under Lib Dem proposals for a local income tax. Hard working families would be worst hit, facing a massive 49% increase in tax local tax - that's an increase of almost £600 per year!

Another group who would be particularly hard hit would be the young. Young adults, many of whom have already been hit by the introduction of university fees already face a difficult task in climbing onto the first rung of the over-inflated property market. Many are forced to live in small and often substandard rented flats. I should know, having looked at some with Corissa recently. They currently pay comparatively low council tax, or even no council tax if they are forced to live with parents to make ends meet. Under these Lib Dem proposals, young professionals would be hit yet again, as their small homes would no longer protect them from the high cost of local taxation.

Local Conservative campaigner, Damian Collins said:

“As we await Gordon Brown’s report in town hall finances, there is a lot of speculation about how council tax could change – with the real threat of a new house price tax or higher council tax bands.

“But the Liberal Democrat proposal of allowing councils to levy top-up income taxes on pay packets isn’t the answer. It could add an extra £566 to the tax bill of a working family in Shepway, compared to their current council tax bill.

“Local income tax might sound superficially attractive – until families realise the massive tax hike.

“I want people to be able to keep as much of their hard earned money as possible, which is why we will always work to keep tax bills as low as possible.”

Last time the Lib Dems ran Shepway, between 2003-2004, they tried to raise council tax by 39%. Thankfully, the government intervenedand the Lib Dem administration collapsed. Next time, we might not be so lucky. The government is already suggested it may scrap the cap, leaving the council free to raise taxes on a whim. Town and Parish councils already escape the cap, so a Lib Dem controlled Folkestone Town Council could easily bring about a massive tax hike.

Has Chris Huhne lost it?

The more cruel amongst us may consider that he must have lost it before he joined the Lib Dems. Recent reports, some of which he admits to be true, suggest that our former Lib Dem MEP-turned MP for Eastleigh may be feeling the pressure at the moment. That may be another sign in discontent within the ranks at Ming Campbell's lacklustre performance as party leader.

The Independent reports that he admits threatening to smash a Conservative MP over the head with a box of lightbulbs. There are also reports that he plans to abandon marginal Eastleigh for a safer seat. Recent expert forecasts and opinion polls have consistently shown the seat falling to the Conservatives. Mark Oaten's escapades in neighbouring Winchester won't have helped matters either.

He has been accused of being an Ecofascist, but at the same time his green credentials have been challenged following revelations about his travel expenses.

Others have suggested that he may stay in Eastleigh but defect to Tory. I don't know how likely or desirable that would be, but he would be following in the footsteps of various Hampshire councillors. See here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Campaign to remove the traffic lights from Junction 10

Kent Online has launched a petition against the traffic lights at junction 10 of the M20 at Ashford. I've already signed it and would urge you to as well. At the moment, roadworks to improve and widen the junction mean that the traffic lights are out of operation. The result: possibly the first instance of roadworks actually leading to less congested streets! The roundabout is now free-flowing without the extended queues of cars to which we have all become accustomed.

Sign the petition against the reintroduction of traffic lights by clicking HERE.

Foreign Languages to be compulsory for 7 year-olds

The Education secretary, Alan Johnson, has today backed Lord Dearing's recommendation that Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) should be compulsory for all 7 year-olds. As the MFL Governor at Sandgate Primary, I'll have to look in to how that might affect the school. All children at Sandgate already learn Spanish from the age of 5, and there are plans to introduce some French to the school's curriculum as well. The school also has a Silver Flair award for its language teaching - Glenn deserves much praise for achieving that less than 2 years after MFL was reintroduced to the school curriculum. I do hope that the new guidelines attached to this announcement won't be too prescriptive, as there's always the danger that rules will stifle innovation.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Quangocracy still beating Democracy

ConservativeHome has published an excellent and eye opening report on the UK's QUANGO state. Some of the highlights (or lowlights) in the report are as follows:

1. Last year alone the number of administrative staff employed by the Government increased by 78,000. That's greater than the entire reduction in staff numbers proposed by the Government's Gershon review.

2. The average number of non-medical staff in each NHS QUANGO has increased from 1519 to 1597. At the same time, the NHS is facing its largest ever deficit, nurses are being laid off and operations are being cancelled, to save money.

3. The abolition of Strategic Rail Authority was announced in 2004, yet it now employs more staff than then!

4. There are still two QUANGOs devoted to abolition the £ in favour of the €.

5. Since 1997 the number of QUANGOs has increased from 1,900 to 2,500, a 32% increase.

6. The Treasury has lept from 6th to 4th in terms of the departments with the most staff on Gordon Brown's watch. It has over taken the MOD and Home Office at the time of immense pressures on those departments due to wars in Iraq and Afganistan, rampant illegal immigration and migration from Eastern European EU members.

Moreover, appointments to QUANGOs are still being made on a very political basis, despite Labour's pledge to end political patronage at the 1997 General Election. In 2002, the Scotsman reported that a quarter of Health QUANGOs in Scotland were Chaired by Labour activists, and out of 141 Health Board members, only one was a Tory!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

FIFC wins town council support

This evening's council meeting voted to provide an £8,000 grant to Folkestone Invicta FC's youth section. The money was the total outstanding balance of the Town and Ward grants budget, as this was the last opportunity this year to spend the money, which would otherwise have gone to reserves. The decision was referred to the full council with a request that it be supported by the last F&GP meeting, which did not have the power to award the outstanding balances of the ward grants as well as the town grant money.

I did warn the representatives of the club that they should not rely on the funding being repeated in future years, not least because I'm aware that there are other football, rugby, hockey, cricket and all sorts of other sports clubs in the town which may also be in need of some financial assistance.

Lydd Airport - Folkestone decides

This evening Folkestone Town Council made its submission to Shepway District Council on the proposed expansion of Lydd Airport. We had two hours of presentations and questions with both the Lydd Airport Action Group, who oppose the expansion, and the owners of the airport. The information supplied by the two groups did not tally, leaving us with two versions of the truth. We didn't feel able to accept either, concluding that the truth lies somewhere in between. We certainly didn't have the expertise to comment, and I very much doubt that Shepway District Council's planning department do either.

The final decision, which obtained majority agreement, was the proposal by my fellow Conservative Councillor, Richard Theobold, which I seconded. Namely, the decision should be taken by a full public enquiry, thus ensuring that those taking the decision have all of the available evidence and are able to make an informed decision.

I would have to say that the LAAG presentation was particularly concerning. Their presentation contained statements that councillors considered to be inaccurate. I actually think they undermined their case. The Airport also had some bizarre claims - I don't believe that 500,000 passengers per year will create one extra car journey per hour at junction 10 of the M20 for even one moment!

Northern Ireland Election Results

Well, the party's over for the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland. All of our candidates have now been eliminated. It was an improvement recent election results though - in North Down James Leslie got 2.8% and elsewhere we also saw our share of the vote increase.

Counting is still going on - one very good reason why I oppose the STV! It does look like the political scene will be dominated by the DUP and Sinn Fein, with the UUP vote dropping sharply. The Alliance look like they are picking up in some areas, and the Green Party may be on track to take a seat in North Down.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Northern Ireland votes

Voting is underway in the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections. The Conservatives in Northern Ireland are in buoyant mood, fielding candidates in a record 9 out of 18 constituencies. The party remains small compared to the main Unionist and Nationalist parties which dominate the political scene in the province, but the STV voting system used to elect 6 MLAs in each constituency could just get one or two elected.

The field of candidates is led by James Leslie, who is standing for North Down. He defected from a senior position within the UUP last year and is probably the best known of the Conservative candidates. North Down is a strange seat in Northern Ireland. It currently has the only UUP MP at Westminster, having elected independent unionists under the UKUP and Popular Unionist banner for many years. It is generally the strongest Conservative seat in Ulster. In 1992 the party polled second place with 32%, within 5,000 votes of the winning UKUP candidate. Since then the UKUP has largely disintegrated. The UUP is also under extreme pressure from the more hardline DUP, which could just leave an opening for Leslie to win election.

At the general election we polled 2.5% of the vote in North Down, so there's a way to go, but it all depends how people choose to use their second preference votes. Since 2005 Conservative support has increased markedly across the UK and especially in Northern Ireland, so it will be interesting to see how a high profile candidate might fare here.

Across the province, Conservative support is up. Last assembly election we managed a meagre 0.2%, but opinion polls suggest that we'll do considerably better this time around. It's very difficult to predict results of the STV vote without much more detail analysis than I have available, so I'll be on tenterhooks this evening as the results come in!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Poll boost for Conservatives

Today's Times reports the biggest ever Conservative lead in a Populus opinion poll.

The headline figures give the Conservatives an 8% lead, with the Conservatives on 38%, Labour on 30% and the Lib Dems on 18%.

With Gordon Brown as Labour leader, the Conservative lead extends to 13% (Conservatives 42%, Labour 29%, Lib Dems 17%)

The lack of public support for Gordon Brown has been making Labour activists and back benchers in marginal seats jittery, with increasing talk of David Miliband as an alternative leader, but he fares even worse with the electorate. The Conservative lead extends to 20% (Conservatives 48%, Labour 28%, Lib Dems 16%).

According to electoral calculus, all of these outcomes would lead to a majority Conservative government led by David Cameron. The predicted results are as follows:

Blair Brown Miliband
Conservative 335 397 474
Labour 254 208 140
Lib Dem 28 14 6
Other 29 27 26
Tory Majority 20 144 298

On the Miliband figures, Fife North East would fall to Conservative, decapitating the Lib Dem Leader Ming Campbell (unless his colleagues get there first). Of course, the results are only an opinion poll and should be taken with a large pinch of salt, especially the Miliband figures, as many people won't know who he is. The predicted seats also assume uniform swing, which is unrealistic. However, it all bodes rather well for the local elections in May!

Vote Lib Dem - Get Brown

Ming Campbell has outlined the way forward in terms of a coalition between the Lib Dems and Gordon Brown's Labour party after the election in the event of a hung parliament. The move away from equidistance to clear support for Labour's agenda has proved controversial within the party, with Ed Davey disowning an official statement confirming Ming's interest in propping up the failed Labour administration if it is rejected by voters at the next election, as opinion polls are predicting.

There really is only one alternative to Labour - the Conservatives led by David Cameron. Tory policies are now beginning to trickle out, and it looks certain that a move towards smaller government and lower taxes will be on the cards, subject to important economic stability criteria being met.