News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dead Cat Brown?

As expected, the publicity caused by the Labour leadership contest has resulted in a small Labour lead in most, but not all, of the recent opinion polls. The main losers have actually been the Lib Dems, which suggests that left wingers who disliked Blair are returning to the Labour fold - again, as expected. The polls all suggest a welcome return to two party politics, which is the way our democracy and the majority of voters tend to think. The Lib Dems don't like the fact that voters think in such a black and white two party way, but they acknowledge the truth in the statement every time they use a dodgy bar chart to illustrate the "two horse race" in which "only the Lib Dems can beat Labour/Conservative/SNP/Plaid" (delete as appropriate).

The polls have shown Labour's support rising to a modest 38-39%, 3-4% ahead of the Conservatives.

Over at Conservative Home, Liberal Tory has some interesting insights which demonstrate that all is very far from lost.

I like to keep old newspapers on historic days. I've just dusted off my copy of the 'Independent' from Thursday 29 November 1990 - the first day of John Major's Premiership, with reports on the appointment of his first cabinet - and the first opinion poll.

I remember at the time Labour using the old "Tories have had saturation coverage" argument. But the reported poll is striking:

Harris/ITN poll, 29 November 1990

Voting intention:
Conservatives: 49%
Labour: 38%
LibDem: 9%

Best candidate for PM:
Major: 49%
Kinnock: 24%

Who do you think will win the next election?
Conservatives: 60%
Labour: 29%
Don't know: 11%

Labour's bounce now doesn't seem so big in comparison, does it?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Canadian Senate - Labour's vision for the Lords

Canada's constitution is broadly modelled on the British Parliamentary system, and the two countries have a problem in common - what to do with the Upper House.

I've already blogged about the House of Lords and have started to outline the way I believe it should be reformed. The Canadian Senate suffers from many of the same problems. In fact, it appears that Labour have modelled the reformed House of Lords on the failed Canadian Senate.

The Senate is entirely appointed, with the Prime Minister of Canada responsible for making appointments (through the Governor General officially). Seats are allocated quite arbitrarily, with a vague geographical remit that displays little relation to either land area or population. In part, that's because the system was in 1867 and populations have shifted beyond recognition. It's almost like the pre-Reform British House of Commons although there are no provinces that would match up to the "Rotten Boroughs".

At present, Canada is arbitrarily divided into four divisions, which group together one or several provinces. Each region has 24 Senators. That means that Ontario and Quebec, which are Divisions and a Provinces, have 24 Senators each. The maritime provinces on the Atlantic East Coast share 24 Senators, as do the Western Provinces covering the Prairies and British Columbia. The three northern Territories have one Senator each. Within the Divisions, the way the seats are split between Provinces means that Alberta and BC have six Senators each, representing 495,801 and 651,290 people each according to the 2001 census. By contrast, tiny Prince Edward Island has 4 Senators, representing 33,824 people. The full figures (from Wikipedia) are here:

Province or Territory Number of Senators Population per Senator (2001 census)
Newfoundland and Labrador 6 85,488
Prince Edward Island 4 33,824
Nova Scotia 10 90,801
New Brunswick 10 72,950
Quebec 24 301,562
Ontario 24 475,419
Manitoba 6 186,597
Saskatchewan 6 163,156
Alberta 6 495,801
British Columbia 6 651,290
Nunavut 1 26,745
Northwest Territories 1 37,360
Yukon Territory 1 28,674

It's particularly notable that Alberta is considerably underrepresented and is also the power house of the Canadian economy.

Senators are appointed for life - with a mandatory retirement age of 75. That means that a Prime Minister's appointments can continue to excert undue influence over Parliament for decades after he (or she) has been voted out of office.

At present, the largest party in the elected House of Commons is the Conservative Party of Canada, yet the Liberals are able to dominate the Senate with their 62 of the 105 seats against just 23 Conservatives. Liberal Prime Ministers seem to have been reluctant to appoint opposition members to the Senate. The NDP and Quebecois, who are significant players in the Commons and various Provincial Assemblies, are pretty much ignored - only one "Independent NDP" has a seat in the Senate. The full composition is as follows: (source)

Liberal 62
Conservative 23
Progressive Conservative* 3
Independent NDP 1
Independent 5
Vacant 12

*refused to join Conservative Party of Canada when the PCs merged with the Canadian Alliance

The unsurprising demand that the Senate be reforemed has contributed to the large number of vacancies.

Alberta is a particularly good example of how the system. Not only is the province severely under represented with only 6 members, but none of them are Conservatives. That's despite the Conservatives holding every Alberta Riding in the House of Commons! Instead, Albertans are "represented" by 5 Liberals and one Progressive Conservative. That's due to change soon, with the retirement of a Liberal Senator who will be replaced by Bert Brown, a Conservative who was elected by the people of Alberta as their Senator in waiting in 1998 and again in 2004.

The Canadian experience is clear evidence that Labour's vision for the House of Lords as a primarily appointed body cannot work in a democracy. Canada is struggling against a potential constitutional crisis as the unelected Senate tries to overturn a manifesto pledge of the elected government. No matter what your views may be on the policy, that can't be right for democracy. It isn't right for Canada and it wouldn't be right for Britain.

So far, the proposals for reform are quite minor. Significant reforms would be very hard to achieve, as they would require a constitutional amendment. That needs the approval of the Provinces which is time consuming and could exacerbate the yawning divisions between Canadian Provinces which manifest themselves during each round of budget negotiations. Limiting Senators to serving 6 terms may just win approval, but it would be hard to redistribute the Senators more fairly, as it would require the over-represented Provinces to agree to reduce their Federal representations.

In short, Canada suffers from the same problem as Britain - years of tinkering with the Consitution has created a mess and it's hard to see the way out. I believe that the answer for both countries is to be bold; much bolder than any politician on either side of the Atlantic is currently prepared to be.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tony Lit for Ealing Southall

Conservativehome is reporting that Tony Lit is the Conservative candidate for next month's Ealing Southall By-election. He is the MD of Sunrise Radio, Britain's best known Asian radio station. In 2001, his father stood as an Independent in the same constituency, pushing the Lib Dems into 4th place.

Tony Lit looks like exactly the sort of person the Conservatives need to be attracting to stand for Parliament. He has a sound background in business, which is a good starting point for an MP, as well as a high profile, particularly within the Asian community which is large in this part of London.

In last year's elections to Ealing LBC, the Conservatives swept to power. Within the Ealing Southall constituency, there are 30 councillors: 16 Labour, 13 Conservative and one Lib Dem. I hadn't thought that there was much chance of the Conservatives achieving anything in Ealing Southall until I saw that we had such an excellent candidate. Mind you, I was pretty amazed when we gained the council from Labour last year as well!

Why not help out in the campaign - either on the ground in Ealing Southall or from home, visit Campaign Together, the new Conservative by-election initiative. I plan to help out!

The by-election has been called following the death of Piara Khabra, the octogenarian Labour MP for Ealing Southall. The election will be held on Thursday 19th July based on the old constituency boundaries.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Petition for a referendum on the EU Constitution

Dan Hannan has used his piece in the Daily Telegraph to launch a petition for a referendum on the EU Constitution Treaty. His article can be found HERE and you can sign the petition by adding a comment HERE or voting HERE. There is also a petition on the 10 Downing Street site.

The new treaty is a shameful any typically Euro-Stallinistic attempt to subvert democracy. The electors for France and the Netherlands have already rejected the Constitution in referenda, and the UK would surely have done likewise if our referendum had been held. To sidestep that minor inconvenience, our European masters have redrafted the constitution as a treaty that won't need to be approved by referendum.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Quentin Davies, the newest Socialist in town

Quentin Davies MP has today chosen to defect to the Labour Party. The decision is bizarre and I wonder what he has been offered. Will he join the cabinet or a seat in the Lords perhaps? Given his Europhile views, he could well be looking for a role in the EU. Only time will tell. One thing I am sure of - he won't be the MP for Stamford & Grantham after the next election.

His primary reasons for defecting seem to be Iraq and Europe. He believes that the Conservatives are wrong to call for an inquiry into our role in Iraq. I completely disagree with him there. Norman Tebbitt's speech to the Conservative Way Forward Falklands Anniversary dinner, in the presence of Margaret Thatcher and William Hague, showed exactly why such an investigation is necessary. The governent of Britain, supporting President Bush, went into Iraq without any clear idea of what they would do once Saddam Hussein was gone. That has created the terrible situation there, which threatens Iraqi citizens and British troops alike. If we wait until Iraq is sorted, we'll be in for a long wait. We need to learn the lessons now and ensure that we can leave Iraq in an orderly fashion at the earliest opportunity.

On Europe, he objects to David Cameron's decision to leave the federalist EPP-ED grouping. Cameron was elected on a pledge to withdraw, so Davies is out of tune with the majority view in the party on that. There are a few MEPs with similar views, and I hope that they will be properly brought into line or deselected before the next Euro-Elections. Our membership of the EPP-ED group has always sat strangley, given that our policy on the EU is in complete disagreement with an organisation that proudly claims to have led the push for the EU Constitution.

Davies' attacks on the modernisation agenda are cutting, but don't sit well with a defection to the most vacuuous, unprincipled and PR obsesses political operation in the UK - New Labour. I have already made plain that I have not been happy with the handling of several issues recently, especially Grammar schools. However, policy is now being developed in an open manner. Contrary to Davies' claims, the policy groups have allowed the for extensive consultation on the new ideas that will take us into the next election.

Losing any MP through defection is disappointing and embarassing, but as MPs go, Mr Davies has long struck me as a relic of a bygone era. He's a pre-Thatcherite authoritarian. His voting record on gay rights, disregard for parliamentary openness and opposition to necessary health reforms mean that he would not be my choice of politician. In many ways, I'll be glad to see him out of the party, freeing up a safe seat for a true Conservative with a more modern outlook.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Elphicke for Dover

Dover Conservatives have selected Charlie Elphicke as their candidate for the next election. I was surprised that Julie Rook, the popular Deal Councillor didn't get the nomination, but apparently Charlie is pretty local, living in Sandwich. He is an advisor to the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

There must be a good chance that Dover will return to the Conservative fold at the next election, so I hope that they have picked a good candidate. Dover will require a strong campaign. The council has already gone Conservative, and seems to be doing a good job. Paul Watkins, although a good council leader, was not able to win the parliamentary seat in either of the last two elections, with little sign of support switching to him from the unpopular Labour MP. I know a lot of people in Dover who are not keen on Paul Watkins, largely because he supports the privatisation of the Harbour Board. That's not a popular policy locally, so hopefully Charlie Elphicke won't go down the same path!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Liberal Senate votes to send Canada back to the stone age

Canada's unelected senate which is dominated by the opposition Liberal Party has voted to force Stephen Harper's Conservative government to enforce the Kyoto Accord. The vote gives the government 4 weeks to draw up plans to implement the accord in full and 6 months to demonstrate progress.

Oddly enough, the Kyoto Accord was signed by the previous Liberal administration back in 1998. It took them four years to actually pass the accord into law. For the next 4 years, the Liberal Government failed to reduce CO2 emissions - they actually continued rising. So the Liberals failed on the environment for 8 years and give the Tories 6 months to sort out the mess. Sounds like typical posturing by a Liberal opposition.

Of course, the fact that the Leader of the Liberals was Environment Minister in the last government demonstrates a remarkable lack of morals on his part.

European Union to go Soviet

The latest draft of the proposed new EU Constitution Treaty has removed a reference to "free and undistorted competition" to be replaced with a "social market economy aimed at full employment". The move disgusts me. The one and only good thing about the EU, in its many various guises, was the commitment to free and fair trade between member states. Rather than trying to remove that, the EU should be focusing on developing global free and fair trade. That's not what Europe sees itself as being about though. It's a cozy old boys' club for Europe's leaders to scratch one anothers' backs and exclude those who don't conform to their view of the playground.

The move away from free trade is concerning on many levels. It's a clear attempt to turn back the clock on the pro-market reforms of my lifetime and could seriously undermine everything that Margaret Thatcher achieved for Britain, taking us back to the 1970s. It's no surprise that our European masters should wish to do that - most of them were opponents of the Thatcherite reforms at the time, which is why they were rejected by the electorate and had to create their own undemocratic utopias in Brussels and Strasbourg. In terms of European politics, the fact that it was the French that insisted upon this change would not normally surprise me. However, Nicolas Sarkozy and his UMP allies were elected this year on a promise of pro-market Thatcherite reforms. He appears to be a fraud of the most dangerous, most socialist kind.

Perhaps fundamentally for Britain as a democratic nation, the removal of free trade from the objective of the EU violates the terms of the union sold to the electorate during the referendum on membership. The British public were told that it was simply about free trade within Europe and nothing to worry about. If the EU is to be permitted to over-rule the free market - and make no mistake, this treaty would allow and require the European Court of Justice to do just that - then there will not be free trade. It is imperative that there is a new referendum on whether the British people wish to remain a part of this new European project, more closely modelled on the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact than the Common Market we joined in 1972.

So will we get a referendum? Blair pledged on on the EU constitution, which was rejected by the French and Dutch before being put to the test in the UK. However, he and Brown argue that this is not a Constitution, but a Treaty. This is just a tidying up exercise, so won't need a referendum. That's also what they said about the constitution, at first!

So what really is the difference between this Treaty and the rejected Constitution? Essentially the words used - the Constitution becomes a Treaty, the European Foreign Minister becomes the European Head of Foreign Policy etc. There are some welcome improvements - I gather that defence has been removed from the scope of the new document and that governments will be able to opt out of crime and immigration elements of EU policy. That's certainly not enough for me - this treaty has to be put to a referendum. If the government refuses to allow the will of the British people, the government has to go.

David Cameron has already made clear that the Conservatives want to see a referendum before any further powers are transferred to Europe, which is welcome. If this treaty is implemented without a referendum, he will need to go further. He will need to pledge that the next Conservative government will hold a referendum, and will withdraw from the treaty if that is the will of the people.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Alberta's drinking age

The Progressive Conservative administration in Alberta is re-examining the drinking age limit in the province. At the moment, anyone over the age of 18 can buy alcohol, as in the UK. However, most Canadian provinces including BC and Saskatchewan have raised their age limit to 19 and in many states in the US alcolhol is restricted to over 21s. The investigation is part of wider plans to tackle alcohol related violence.

I'm not conviced that raising the age limit is the way to go. In Europe, British youths are the heaviest drinking and most likely to commit drunken acts of vandalism or street violence. Britain also has the highest age limit on alcohol sales in Europe. I would like to see the Alberta MLAs broaden the discussion to investigate lowering the drinking age. In particular, I'd like to see a younger age at which teenagers can drink with parental supervision, to encourage youths to learn how to drink responsibly.

I'm also concerned that the suggestion that an 18 year old is old enough to leave full time education, serve in the military, pay taxes, elect a government and have a baby, but can't be trusted to drink sensibly. Alberta's opening a can of worms and I hope that they recognise that before it's too late.

Liberals & NDP pick fight with motorsport fans

Canada's socialist New Democrats and increasingly incoherent Liberals have criticised the Conservative Party of Canada for buying advertising space on a car competing in the Canadian NASCAR stock car racing championship. Apparently, NASCAR is bad for the environment. It amazes me how so called "Liberals" have such an overwhelming desire to control everyone else's lives. It's the same problem that I have with the Lib Dems in the UK. Everything about the Liberals is about trying to control people's minds. Anything that a Liberal disagrees with has been racist, sexist or something-or-other-else-ist for decades. Now, the holy grail has changed. If a Liberal doesn't like what your doing, you are damaging the environment.

Denis Coderre, a Liberal MP from Quebec took this usual line. "I find it bizarre that they're pretending to be environmental champions with these types of actions," he said. I find it bizarre that the last Liberal government, in which he served, pretended to support Kyoto, signing up then allowing CO2 emissions to increase unchecked*. That's Liberal hypocrisy for you.

* Canada was amongst the first countries to sign up to Kyoto in 1998 under the previous Liberal government. The treaty, including a commitment to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 6% below 1990 levels, was not finally ratified until 2002 - four years later. Between ratification in 2002 and the defeat of the Liberal government in 2006, emissions of greenhouse gases INCREASED by 24%. Canada's Liberals have a rather large plank to remove from their eyes before they can lecture anyone on the environment. SOURCE

"Let them eat barley" - Conservative Party of Canada

The Canadian Federal Conservative government has announced that it is removing the Wheat Board's monopoly over barley sales and marketing, much to the Wheat Board's chagrin. Of course, the government is entirely right. It amazes me that the Wheat Board seems to think it has some God-given right to control a whole nation's access to a major food resource. Frankly, I'm amazed that they had been allowed to maintain a monopoly position so long, and hope that the Wheat monopoly will be removed soon, although I understand that's not so straight forward.

British Expats living in Canada often comment on the high prices of basic foods. I suspect that it's this kind of monopoly that is causing them. It's time to dismantle the old Liberal brand of Socialism that is holding Canada back. Europe suffers from the Common Agricultural Policy - something that I'll be glad to see the back of when I moved to Calgary - but even that's not as draconian as the Canadian system. In some ways, the Canadian economy seems to be stuck in the 1970s. The problems aren't on anything like the scale that Britain suffered under the likes of Harold Wilson, but there's plenty of room for reform. Those reforms will only be possible once there is a Conservative majority in Ottawa - then Harper will come into his own as Canada's answer to Thatcher and Sarkozy.

Monday, June 18, 2007

BBC admits bias

The BBC has finally admitted what many of us already knew - its impartial broadcasting is, in fact, anything but impartial. A report commissioned by the BBC criticised the organisation for breaching its own guidlines by promoting "Make Poverty History" - a liberal-left leaning organisation campaigning to alleviate poverty in the third world - during entertainment programming. The report also quotes Andrew Marr, former political editor, who said that the BBC has an "innate Liberal bias." Quite.

On the one occasion that I did complain to the BBC about their bias, they did admit to an error of judgement. On that occasion, they had reported on a mistake by the government which had been uncovered by a Conservative MP's questioning in parliament. The report inferred that the Lib Dems had uncovered the mistake, quoting a senior Lib Dem MP but ignoring the Conservatives altogether. During an election campaign, that is against all guidelines. However, a look through past election reporting on their site shows something peculiar. In the pictures used to illustrate stories, they often use a ballot paper with a hand hovering, pencil poised to vote. Almost invariably, the hand hovers by the Lib Dem candidate. It's subliminal advertising of the worst kind, and needs to be stopped.

Sarkozy's UMP steams to victory

The Conservative UMP has won a decisive victory in the second round of the French Legislative elections. The result follows his victory in the Presidential Elections earlier this year. The result was not the landslide that many commentators had forecast after the first round of elections. I had carefully refrained from commenting on those results, as the French electoral system is not as predictable as many seemed to think. The removal of the blind element of voting allows voters who wish to see a strong opposition to switch their allegiance, safe in the knowledge that their preferred party is still on course to take control.

The result is good news for France. Sarkozy is pledged to a radical programme of reforms - one which is much needed and long overdue in the country, which resembles a Warsaw Pact state in many ways. He and his government are more Atlanticist in outlook, which is good news for Britain and Conservatives across Europe.

Unemployed woman has cosmetic surgery.

The BBC is reporting that the price of breast enhancement surgery is falling, with a woman able to enlarge her 32AA breast to size 32C for £4,250. That's £2,750 less than the normal price, apparently.

However, the real story is that the woman featured is unemployed. My first thought was: "How can an unemployed woman on benefits afford £4,250 for a boob job?" My second thought was: "How can I afford to pay for an unemployed woman on benefits to pay £4,250 for a boob job?"

Friday, June 15, 2007

Kent Police face cuts

Kent Police has lost its battle to persuade the government not to renage on budget commitments. As a result, Kent will lose out on the planned additional 201 Police Community Support Officers planned for the county by April next year.

PCSOs are no substitute for proper community police officers and have limited powers, but they are better than nothing, which is what we're getting instead.

Thankfully, Cheriton & Morehall already have a PCSO, two community wardens and a community Police Officer, so we are unlikely to see much of a difference. As far as I know, no further PCSOs were planned for our area. Other areas may not be so lucky.

One particular project which PCSOs could have made to work was the late bus scheme, operated by the council on a trial basis in 2004-5. Sadly, the scheme had to be withdrawn when the police were unable to provide support units to deal with rowdy behaviour on buses, so the bus company withdrew from the scheme. During the trial period, street crime, anti-social behaviour and public order offences all fell markedly. Schemes like that can make a real difference to all of our lives, but simply aren't as high a priority as dealing with "hate crimes" and revenue generating speeding drivers.

Royal Victoria Hospital to be sold

East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust has confirmed that the Royal Victoria Hospital's main building will be sold for housing redevelopment. The trust insists that there will be no reduction in service, with the remaining facilities including the walk-in centre and the Derry Unit to be incorporated into other buildings, including the newer wing of the hospital on the same site.

The announcement comes as no surprise. Of course, I can see the case being made that the old buildings are not appropriate to modern medicine, and most of the building is now used for offices rather than medical care. I don't know where they plan to move the office workers though - I can't believe that the NHS would be planning to cut administration!

I'm not sure how transparent the statement that we will retain the existing services really is either. I know of positions which are being scrapped, as the medical staff have moved to other positions and the vacancies have been abolished instead of being readvertised. In reality, that's a cut, no matter what spin the NHS may have.

I understand that KCC has the power to examine the decision. It's not clear whether that opportunity remains, or whether it has now passed. I will be investigating and lobbying to ensure that the relevant councillors ask the correct questions to keep the health bureaucrats in check. It isn't yet clear whether alternate office space will be found in Folkestone, or where these jobs will be moved to if not, so there are plenty of issues which need sorting.

Fundamentally, the closure would be the final nail in the coffin for any hope that Folkestone may regain full health services one day. Neighbouring Dover is also losing the Buckland hospital. It seems amazing that two districts with a combined population of 250,000, the world's busiest passenger port and the world's longest under sea tunnel will soon have no hospital. What a relief New Labour saved the NHS in 1997!

Alberta debt free?

The government of Alberta has announced that it intends to build 18 new schools in the expanding cities of Edmonton and Calgary. There's no surprise that growing communities need more facilities. However, I'm concerned about the method chosen to finance the school building programme - the dreaded Puplic-Private Partnership (P3).

P3s in the UK have brought the NHS to the brink of bankruptcy, failed to provide Folkestone & Hythe with the modern sports facilities that we need and were scrapped for funding Nova Scotia's schools in 2000, due to "financial failure". The details of the Alberta scheme are different, however, as they do not include leasing the premises back to the government. I'll need to take a look at the fine print before I decide whether I'm in favour or not.

Ideologically, I have no problem with P3s. Why shouldn't the private sector be allowed to make a profit from providing public services if they can provide better value to the taxpayer than the state can itself? However, the accounting loophole needs closing. If I buy a house with someone else's money and pay it back over 50 years, it's called a mortgage. Why should it not be the same for government? To keep the debt secured against schools etc off the state's balance sheet is misleading, at best. In the UK, it has been used to such proportions that it now represents dishonesty on an Enron scale. The British government has mortgaged this countries future to the extent that I don't think that there's a future for young people here. I hope that Alberta isn't planning to go down the same route.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Labour's war on marriage

A study by the former Benefits minister Frank Field for Reform has demonstrated the extent to which New Labour is undermining the traditional role of the family. The report finds that a two parent family needs to earn £240 a week to be above the "poverty line" whereas a single parent needs to earn only £76.

It's a disgusting statistic, but should come as no surprise. New Labour has always been presented as the moderate face of "Christian Socialism", ensuring social cohesion yet embracing the market. The truth of the matter, is that the government has been busy stabbing the market in the back, undermining the institutions that we all rely on. Once the traditional safety net of the family and such like has been removed, who will we have to turn to when we are in need? The government.

Meanwhile, the loss of those institutions has been counter productive, as any Conservative could have told them before they inflicted this inhumane experiment on the British public. The breakdown of the institutions which held Britain together - expecially the family - has resulted in a decline in moral standards. Approximately a third of pregnancies now end in abortion. Anti-social behaviour, mindless crime and general thuggery are spiralling out of control. New Labour's solution - yet more regulation, supervision by the state and removal of individual freedoms. It's sickening.

New Labour is all about bringing about a long-term socialist government at its authoritarian worst, albeit with a nice bit of spin to make it look pretty. The next Conservative government will have its work cut out to turn back the tide.

Cameron backs flexible working

Back in the real world, David Cameron has been outlining Conservative policy on an important factor in all (well most) of our daily lives. The work-life balance. A report has revealed that 90% of firms on the continent offer flexible working, compared to just 48% in the UK. Only one fifth of UK businesses offer home working as an option - half the figure of Germany and Denmark.

I'm glad to see the Conservatives taking a lead on this topic. Margaret Thatcher delivered an economic revolution, freeing up our markets, our businesses and our financial lives and building the foundations of the strong economy of today. The logical next step is to extend that revolution into the social sphere - freeing up our every day lives from government intervention and other unecessary outside influences.

Moves towards flexibility in the work place and deregulation of our lives are in start contrast to today's bureaucratic, interventionist proposals from the increasingly extreme Lib Dems (see below).

Ming wants to nationalise your home

Ming Campbell has today revealed Stalinistic plans to increase the role of the state in providing housing. The plans include expanding the provision of council housing to those who are not in the greatest need, controlling the prices of privately owned housing bought under social contracts and buying up farmland to make way for a massive programme to concrete over our countryside. So much for being the greenest party.

The proposals are ridiculous. They will stymie private enterprise, expand the role of the state to one that completely controls our lives through our housing and revent the free market from providing the facilities that we actually want. It would be down to the government to make that kind of decision for us. It's all been tried before - it was called the USSR. The Orange Book Lib Dems must be horrified at this wholly illiberal policy. It's the latest evidence that Ming's leading the Lib Dems ever futher to the left - Labour's 1983 manifesto will look moderate compared to Ming's plans for Britain..

Falklands War 25 years on

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the war between the UK and Argentina over the Falklands Islands. Officially, war was never declared, so the words conflict or crisis are often used. However, I believe war remains the best description - after all, a rose by any other name smells as sweet and the same applies to guns.

The invasion of British territory by the Argentine dictatorship was swiftly dealt with by Margaret Thatcher's government. It was crucial to the Falkland Islanders themselves, who wished to remain British. It was also of wider significance to the United Kingdom. It was a key moment in re-establishing national pride, which had been dealt such a severe blow by the Marxist-inspired trade union crises of the 1970s. Two governments had been brought down by militant unionism, but now democracy re-asserted itself over dictatorial force.

There are still wooly minded liberals who complain that the Royal Navy should not have sunk the Argentine naval vessel known as the Belgrano, as it was sailing away from the islands. The argument is ridiculous. Only in Britain could people complain that our fighting men and women had destroyed a genuine enemy military target. Britain was not the aggressor - any invasion of another country's sovereign territory is a clear act of war. Margaret Thatcher was right to order the sinking of a foreign military ship which posed a threat to British troops and the civilian population of British territories in the Falkland Islands.

It was not only Britain's war. Many nations of the world, particularly the US, Chile and those of the Commonweath rallied to support Britain. In substance, the war was much more important than a dispute over territory. It represented a victory for democracy over tyranny. The Falkland Islanders saw their right to self determination upheld and ultimately, the Argentine defeat resulted in the popular uprising against the dictatorship. Argentina remains a democracy 25 years on.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Alberta shifts slightly to the left

The two by-elections in Alberta saw the overwhelmingly Tory province shift slightly to the left yesterday. Drumheller-Stettler remained solidly Progressive Conservative, which was no surprise in a riding that typically votes Tory by a margin of 6/7-1. The former seat of outgoing Premier Ralph Klein was a different story. Calgary Elbow was already the Calgary riding with the 4th highest Liberal vote, the top three already having Liberal representatives in Edmonton. Now the Alberta Liberals have a fourth, winning by a narrow 800 vote margin on a low turnout of arounf 35%.

That said, it wasn't the drubbing that political pundits had predicted. They had suggested that this would be an "ederendum" on the new Premier, Ed Stalmach. The Alberta Liberals are crowing over their gain, but didn't match the kind of by-election performance that we have come to expect from British Liberal Democrats. In fact, even the Liberals saw their vote decline. The only party which could celebrate winning additional votes compared to the 2004 general election was Social Credit, the former governing party which managed to move above the 100 vote benchmark. Hardly impressive.

All in all, it's a wake up call to the PCs. Calgary's not that happy. But it's still not happy enough to vote for anyone else, so there's time to make up before the next election, expected in Spring 2008.

Conservative Way Forward marks 25th anniversary of the Falklands War

Last Thursday I attended the Conservative Way Forward dinner to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Falklands War. Held at the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel in High Holborn, London, it was a prestigious black tie affair. The speaker was William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary with the vote of thanks by Lord (Norman) Tebbit, in the presence of Baroness (Margaret Thatcher). I had a great evening, and was particularly impressed by Lord Tebbit's speech. He pointed to the need to win the war on and off the battlefield and contrasted the way that the Falklands War was won to the way the Iraq War is being lost today. Even though the troops on the ground were able to defeat Sadam Hussein's forces, the political battle was not clearly planned and continues today. The short, sharp Falklands War allowed the Islanders to get on with their lives, where the failed Iraqi conflict sees a country in ruins. Of course, he couldn't resist a dig at the EU either, pointing out that today it is Britain's sovereignty that is under threat.

William Hague had spoken at length about the way that the Falklands had recovered in the past 25 years. The economy is now self sufficient, with British money required only to maintain a defensive military presence on the islands.

After the speeches, a series of auctions saw lunch for two with Margaret Thatcher at the Carlton Club sold for £13,000. A bit out of my league, I'm affraid!

The food was excellent, and the bar was well stocked, albeit with drinks at London hotel prices (£4.25 for a small Stella, or over £6 for a shot of Sambuca). Of course, we couldn't resist a few, even at those prices. I finally got back to Greenwich at 3.30 am, giving me just enough time to catch 2 hours sleep before getting up at 6 to catch the train back to Folkestone in time for work!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

William Harvey Day

Today has seen the first Civic Event since the election of the new mayor last month. William Harvey Day celebrates the life of the man who discovered the circulation of the blood - Folkestone's hero, William Harvey. The event is marked by a procession of robed councillors and other civic dignatories along with representatives of the medical world and the Harvey Grammar School, which is named after William Harvey. The procession follows the Leas to the William Harvey Statue in Clifton Gardens and Langhorne Gardens.

Incompetent Brown threatens consensus on dealing with terror

Today, the left-leaning Observer reports that Blair has made an "unprecedented apology" to David Cameron, after Brown claimed credit for two Conservative anti-terror policies which are being implemented. There have been ongoing talks on confidential Privy Council terms for some years, ensuring that the parties can form a consensus on anti-terror policies and providing a strong, united front to defend British citizens against terrorist threats.

These talks have included long standing, regular meetings between the Home Scretary John Reid and David Davies and fellow 'Binsonian Nick Clegg, his opposite numbers within the Conservative and Lib Dem front benches respectively. One of the policis had come from very recent discussions between Blair and David Cameron himself.

The policies in question called for a review of the current policy of excluding evidence obtained through phone tapping from courts and allowing police to continue questionning terrorist suspects after the have been charged.

Blair and Reid have been forced to publicly admit that the two policies touted by Brown as evidence that he is tough on crime, were both proposed by the Tories. Reid is said to be irritated at Brown's gaff.

Amazingly, a Brownite source tells the paper, "Gordon has been thinking through how you build consensus on these issues".

I would have thought that the first stage in building a consensus is to discuss matters with the other parties involved, rather than announcing them to the press in an attempt to gain points for being tough on terror! This raises serious questions about Brown's leadership skills; at least we won't have to wait long for those questions to be answered now.

UPDATE: Iain Dale has an interesting take on the whole sorry saga. After the initial reports about Brown's tough stance on terror in last Sunday's press, he exclusively revealed that Brown had provided the story to selected papers on the condition that they reported the press release as written, without any opportunity for other parties to comment. All the papers involved denied is immediatly. However, the new revalations provide a clear motive and strongly suggest the Ian's barking up the right tree, at the very least. Iain's take on today's developments is available here.

Rolling back New Labour's bureaucracy

George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be launching an attack on red tape in British business, according to the Sunday Telegraph. On Tuesday, he will announce the moves in a speech. Grant Thornton, the accountants, have been hired to advise the party on measures to free businesses from government interference. One of the key aims will be to align the two forms of income tax payable in the UK - Income Tax and National Insurance.

The move is most welcome and a long overdue victory for common sense.. The biggest success of the Thatcher and Major governments was in making Britain into a place to do business - something that could not have been said in the dark days of the 3 day week and the Unions' beer and sadwiches at Number 10 with Callaghan and Wilson. However, 10 years of "New" Labour has greatly diminished Britain's position as nation of entrepreneurs. Labour's apparent conversion to the capitalist cause has focused on the Big Businesses, expecially those prepared to make big donations to Labour coffers, like Anderson. Small independent firms, be they traditional corner shops or new technology based start ups have been squeezed by these policies. We've seen our high streets' independent businesses decimated, and IR35 has set back the development of our IT industry by a generation. Small firms were never able to deal with the levels of bureacracy heaped upon them. Now, even larger firms are feeling the pinch. As other countries, particularly the accession countries of Eastern Europe, have reduced their levels of bureaucracy and Britain has increased red tape, international firms in the global market place are choosing to set up in more competitive countries.

It's imperative that the next Conservative government nips this catastrophic state of affairs in the bud before we return to the disasters of IMF loans and forcef fire sales of assets which we saw at the end of the last Labour government in the 1970s.

Conservatives set tough stance on revised EU Constitution

David Cameron has revealed that the Conservatives will be taking a tough line on plans to bring in the EU Constitution by the back door. Dan Hannan, the excellent Tory MEP for the South East of England, has been publicising the secret negotiations going on between Europe's leaders to bring about the EU Constitution, overwhelmingly rejected by referenda held in France and the Netherlands. Blair has recently been involved in these talks and has signalled that there would be no need to hold a refereundum in the UK, despite previous pledges that he would do so. That is because the new constitution will be technically termed a Treaty, rather than a Constitution. The substance, however, will remain unaltered. It will still entrench the primacy of EU legislation and "ever closer union". It will leave the failed CAP and CFP in place. It will extend EU competencies into almost all areas of our daily lives, whilst removing most of the UK's vetoes and bringing us closer to a Common Foreign Policy, EU army, harmonised taxation and all the rest that made the last document so impalatable.

Thankfully, David has made clear that the Conservatives will continue to demand a referendum on the Constitution, no matter what form it may take. The Conservative leader told The Sunday Telegraph: "Any treaty that is about the transfer of powers to the EU must be put to the country in a referendum."

Frank Field has joined chorus of Labour MPs clamouring for Gordon Brown to adopt the same policy, as Blair eventually did last time around. Brown now faces a tough choice - deny us our democratic right to self determination or lose a referendum.

I'm looking forward to the referendum campaign already. I signed up to the official No Campaign in preparation for the previous campaign, and had a letter published in the Times on the matter. I'm ready and waiting for the next campaign!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Conservative Way Forward

Tomorrow evening I'm off to the Conservative Way Forward dinner to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War. It's quite an event, with William Hague as speaker and Lord Tebbitt giving the vote of thanks, all in the presence of Baroness Thatcher. Call me a sad case if you must, but that sounds pretty fantastic to me. It means that I'll be in the same room as two of the four living people I have listed as my heroes on Myspace!

I'm rather impressed by the menu as well - duck being a personal favourite of mine. It also gives me chance to wear by dinner suit, and to get together with Christian (who I haven't seen for months) and Jonick, all in rather smart surroundings in London. I won't get a chance to post anything tomorrow evening, or Friday probably, as Corissa and I are going out for dinner with Jim & Vix.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Interview with the BBC

Well, today was hectic! I was interviewed about the Conservative policy on Grammar Schools for the 6 o'clock news. Unfortunately, the sound didn't work, but I was there in pictures!

It was a day of technical faults - my car broke down quite spectacularly, although it doesn't seem to be too major, which is a relief!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lib Dem feuds go nuclear

Disputes between senior members of Shepway Lib Dems have been rumbling on for some time now. They first became public back in 2004, with the first attempt to depose Cllr Cufley as leader. Subsequently, the local party split five ways, with Lib Dem councillors defecting to People First, Conservative, Green and Independent. The defections and resignations continued right into this year. Then, rumours surfaced of a plot to oust their PPC after the local elections. As already reported, he resigned. That did not draw a line under the matter - far from it, in fact. We now see local Lib Dems openly campaigning against one another through the local press. I've even received anonymous allegations through the comments on this blog.

First we had local leader Cllr Lynne Beaumont denying the rumours that she had any part in Toby's downfall. In the same edition, Toby made clear that he did not resign willingly and a recently defeated Lib Dem councillor anonymously lent his backing to Beaumont and Carroll. The letters page saw two local Lib Dems' objecting to the way that the party is being run. One, a member for over 40 years, said she was so appalled that she was considering her membership. Another, Troy Scaum, who is a member of the executive, former councillor and defeated candidate last month, spoke from within the executive about the way his colleagues had mistreated Toby.

On Thursday, the complaints stepped up yet another gear. Long serving Lib Dem activist and recently retired councillor, Tessa Caruana, who was first elected in Harbour ward in 1991, announced that she was resigning her membership of the party in protest at the way the leadership had undermined and ousted Toby. She reported that membership had slumped to less than 250. By comparison there are about 1200 Conservative members in Folkestone & Hythe.

I understand that Cowley Street have even been asked to investigate the constituency association, and that the regional party has begun the process. Depending upon the findings, the local leadership could even be removed with a new body appointed by central office to take over the local party. I don't know how likely such an outcome may be, but it is at least entertaining to watch, in the meantime!

Grammar schools row rumbling on

The row over the new Conservative position on Grammar schools is still rumbling on. I've already made clear that I was far from impressed by David Willetts' announcement. It was already known that there were no plans to expand selection. I thought that was a shame, but accepted it. The bigger Conservative picture is more important than one issue. However, the reannouncement, accompanied by an unhealthily PC and socialist attack grammars was rather too much for me to stomach. I'm far from alone in that. ConservativeHome's monthly survey showed David Willetts' approval rating slump from +37 to -24 between May and June. I was amongst those describing myself as "Very Dissatisfied" with his performance.

I was also disappointed by the response I received from David Cameron, to whom I wrote on the subject. I made clear in my email that I did not agree with the new policy, but that I was willing to accept it. My request was for advice on how to deal with the contradiction between a statement that grammars are outdated and bad because they "entrench advantage", yet support for the continuation of Kent's selective system. I pointed out that I intend to canvass for the Maidstone North East KCC by-election, and that the issue is likely to arise. The response to my email (delivered by snail-mail) was that there is no contradiction. That's plain nonsense.

Let me make absolutely and unequivocally clear. I firmly believe that grammar schools are a good thing. I certainly gained opportunities which my background would not otherwise have afforded me. I doubt that, without my grammar education, I would now have a degree from Cambridge. I obtained that grammar education because I was willing and able to learn, not because of any kind of social or economic advantage - anyone who knows my background can attest to that. If the Conservative policy announcement had been that grammars would be abolished, this would be the blog of a former Conservative. Thankfully, this is not the case, and is unlikley to become so.

Now, David Cameron needs to stop the name calling. I'm not deluded, and debate about party policy is not pointless. No man is bigger than his party, even if that man happens to be the leader. DC needs to learn from the mistakes made during this fiasco. It's no use having a small cabal running the party and telling the rest of us what to think - Conservative members are mostly intelligent people who will not stand for being treated like sheep. There's an awful lot of goodwill towards David's modernisation agenda and he needs to be careful not to squander that. I'm pleased to see that a new head of the media unit has been appointed, starting next month. The appointment does not come before time.

Normal Service Resumed

It's taken me longer than expected to get over having my teeth out, but I'm back. Better late than never - arguably!