News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Stephane Dion's rag bag army

Well it looks like a done deal. Stephane Dion has assembled a rag bag army of "Liberals", Socialists and Separatists to overthrow the man Canada chose as its Conservative Prime Minister in October.

Stephane Dion claims that Stephan Harper has lost the confidence of the Canadian House of Commons. Sadly, the confidence of the Canadian public amounts to diddly-squat in Dion's eyes. Having presided over the worst Liberal electoral defeat since Confederation in 1867, Stephane Dion will become Prime Minister with a mere 26% of the vote.

So what democratic mandate do the Liberals, NDP and Bloc have to govern over Canada. None, it seems to me. Prior to the election, the Liberals tore into NDP policy. "taliban" Jack Layton (NDP leader) stated that he was running to be Prime Minister, when he was actually seeking office as Dion's bitch. The only party which is part of the new agreement which was honest was the Bloc. They said that they wanted to tear Canada apart, and now they are working with the Liberals and NDP to achieve exactly that.

I wonder how long the coalition will be able to survive. Although it is unprededented in Canadian Federal History for the opposition parties to overthrow the government and form a coalition excluding the country's largest party, there are certain parallels to the UK in the 1970s. There, the two elections of 1974 returned first a Labour minority and then a very small Labour majority, which soon evaporated due to by-elections and such attrition. In the end, Labour was only able to survive in office thanks to the support of the Liberal Party and Nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Ulster. Eventually it all came crashing down around them. The Winter of Discontent saw so many strikes that rubbish was piling up in the streets, and bodies were lying unburried. Sterling suffered devaluation. Inflation hit 27.5%. The budget deficit became so wide that Britain was bailed out by the IMF, and forced into a fire sale of assets (including the denationalisation of British Petroleum). What followed was Margaret Thatcher and 18 years of uninterupted Conservative government in Britain. Possibly the one sign of light at the end of the tunnel for Canada is the prospect of a Conservative landslide next election!

I would think that Liberal voters in Quebec will be the most perturbed by the recent events. There are many ridings where the Liberals gain support from across the political spectrum in attempt to unify the federalist vote and keep the Bloc out of office. With the Liberals now firmly in bed with Duceppe's separatists, there will be many former Liberals looking for a new home, and the Conservatives will be their best bet.

In the meantime, Canada can look forward to massive budget deficits. Already the opposition coalition has pledged $30bn of spending, despite all three parties campaigning on pledges not to instigate a bedget deficit. The only question is where the money will come from in due course. They have plenty of options, as both the Liberals and NDP went into the last election pledging tax rises. The Liberals want a Green Shift, taxing pretty much everything, whereas the NDP focussed on raising taxes on industry. Clearly that's just what we need at a time of economic uncertainty.

No wonder the Toronto Stock Exchange suffered its biggest ever one day drop today. The decline of more than 9% was considerably higher than any other major, broad-based stock market.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Conservatives make inroads in urban Canada

The results are in, and it's not quite a Conservative majority. However, the increased plurality will strengthen Stephen Harper's hand as Prime Minister. Moreover, the spread of Conservative seats across Canada will strengthen the Conservative brand for the long term good of the party, and the country.

Some notable results this election saw Conservative gains in Greater Toronto. Peter Kent's victory in Thornhill was particularly sweet for me, since I had made many phone calls to the riding urging people to switch to the Conservatives. The victory in Mississauga suggests the Liberals can no longer rely upon the immigrant vote, which I find particularly satisfying as a recent immigrant myself.

Conservatives now have MPs in every province except Newfoundland and Labrador, where the Provincial Progressive Conservatives campaigned against their Federal counterparts. Even Prince Edward Island elected it's first Tory since 1984! In the North, Nunavut elected a Conservative, meaning that the three parties each represent one Territory.

Alarmingly for the Liberals, their support base has been sharply eroded. Still without representation in Alberta, it seems that they will have to settle for just one seat in BC, one in Saskatchewan one in Manitoba, with all four western Provinces dominated by the Conservative Party. Even Ontario saw the Conservatives win more seats and votes than the traditionally dominant Liberals. The Conservatives also came first in New Brunswick, althouth the Liberals topped the other Maritime provinces. The biggest disappointment for the Conservatives has to be Quebec, where the hard fought break-through didn't materialise. Instead, the Bloc extended their grip, with the Liberals maintaining second place, just ahead of the Conservatives.

Overall, the election has produced another minority. But it is a stronger minority, less than ten seats from a majority. The Conservatives cannot be defeated unless all three opposition parties unite, strengthening the Prime Minister at an important time of economic uncertainty. Most importantly, the Conservative caucus is drawn from across the country, from rural ridings and urban ridings, from native ridings, from immigrant ridings. The next Conservative Government can truly claim to represent all of Canada.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Confirmed: Canadian banks are sound; Harper vindicated

The World Economic Forum has today released a report one the state of banking systems around the world, and Canada's is ranked #1, with a near perfect score of 6.8/7. (CBC)

So, what have all the parties had to say about Canada's banking system over the last few days?

Stephen Harper said "This prime minister isn't going to panic and he isn't going to be pressured into doing something stupid just for the sake of proving that we're doing something...Everybody has a drop in the stock market right now. Most of them are dealing with fundamental instability in their banking system, which we are not. What the opposition is demanding I do — raise taxes, increase spending, do a lot of direct intervention and bailouts — these things would demonstrably ruin our fiscal credentials and undermine the strengths that we do have in our economy relative to a lot of other countries." (CBC)

Jim Flaherty said "We have a solid banking system in Canada. Our banks are well capitalized. Our households are well capitalized... and our fiscal fundamentals are solid." (CTV)

Jack Layton has pledged that an NDP government would "mount a major reform of banking" (National Post). Why reform the most stable banking system in the world?!

Jack Layton said, "Mr. Harper's response to the crisis in the banking system is to say that everything is fine, nothing needs to change, and there are no problems. R.B. Bennett couldn't have said it better himself in 1930." (Ottawa Citizen)

Stephane Dion said, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper is completely out of touch with the impact the current economic turmoil is having on the lives of everyday Canadians, seeing buying opportunities instead of the fear people have about their savings..." (Liberal Party press release).

This is turning out to be a unique election. For once, it is plain for all to see which party's leader has it right and which ones have it wrong. Despite all the criticism from the left-wing opposition parties, the IMF predicts that Canada will have the best growth rate in the G7 next year (1.2%), which sits particularly badly against Dion's claim that Canada is "the worst in the G8". Now the WEF shows that Canada's banking system is the strongest in the world, despite demands for emergency government intervention by the NDP!

Stephen Harper's Conservatives stand out from the other parties with a differnent perspective and different policies, and they have been vindicated. The other leaders have been left with egg on their faces. That's why it's time to give Stephen Harper the Conservative majority that Canada so desperately needs and deserves.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sir Ian Blair resigns at last

At long last, London's Metropolitan Police Commissioner has resigned. Sir Ian Blair has been responsible for the politicisation of the police force, which has come to sum up all that is wrong with Britain under Labour. The police force was more interested in persuing political correctness than criminals and spinning news for political ends instead of telling the truth. Having ignored repeated calls for his resignation, led by the Conservatives but also supported by the Lib Dems, his resignation is long overdue. London's Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson, should be fully involved in the selection of his successor, otherwise the Home Secretary will simply impose another New Labour puppet to continue Blair's discredited agenda.

Friday, September 26, 2008

And Verily, Thou Shalt worship Karl Marx

The insane ramblings of Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, are seemingly unending. He has previously called for the acceptance of Sharia Law in non-Islamic countries and argued that "Every transaction in the developed economies of the West can be interpreted as an act of aggression against the economic losers in the worldwide game", which says more about his failure to grasp the basics of Economics than it does about the Free Market against which he was arguing.

His latest foray into politics is no less sensible. Apparently, Karl Marx had it all right. The Archbishop believes that it is time to increase regulation of global markets in persuit of some kind of communist utopia with "common prosperity". Sounds nice, but it doesn't work because it runs contrary to human nature.

Last year, the Pope also alluded to Marxist theory. His statements on the subject made much more sense, as he pointed out that Marx's writings were relevant to his time and described how to overthrow the system, but didn't adequately explain how things should proceed thereafter. He followed up on the remarks by talking about the importance of non-economic factors, which he believed Marx had overlooked. Altogether a much more considered approach to the subject, and one with clear spiritual considerations, in start contrast to the Archbishop's purely political intervention.

Sadly, Dr Rowan Williams is not the only senior member of the Anglican church with insane views. According to the Bishop of London, flying to go on holiday is a sin! It pains me to see the Church in which I was baptized and brought up making such a mockery of itself. It is time that the senior Bishops and Archbishops concentrated on their role as spiritual leaders, preaching from the bible rather than Marx's Communist Manifesto. If they don't go soon, the Anglican Church is doomed.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Liberals still missing the point on immigration

I find it mind boggling that any Liberal candidate in this election would try to score political points on immigration. Are they really that clueless about what the last Liberal Government of Canada actually did to the immigration system? Do they not realise that the Liberals, combined with the NDP, then opposed sensible Conservative efforts to sort out the mess they had left behind?

As a recent immigrant to Canada with first hand experience of the system, let me spell things out for them:
  • Jan 1, 2002. Liberal Government introduced a new scoring system for the Skilled Worker programme. Means that even the most highly educated candidates were often unable to fit the bill.
  • Subsequent court cases rules that the above rules could not be imposed retro-actively. As a result, many refused applicants who had applied prior to Jan 1, 2002 had their cases reopened, creating a backlog in the process.
  • Sep 18, 2003. As an election neared and defeat looked like a real possibility, the Liberal Government decided to respond to protests by immigrant groups. The pass mark was reduced by 8 points. Additional resources were not allocated to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to allow them to process the huge number of eligible applications this created.
  • Backlog developed. Earlier this year the applications which were being processed were typically 3-4 years old. Estimates suggested that, on average, new applicants would have to wait 8 years for a decision.

As a potential immigrant, such a long wait time must be pretty daunting. I'm sure that many people would not wish to put their families through the torment of so many years in limbo, in which time their lives would effectively be on hold. I suspect that many of the best applicants with skills which are in demand in Canada were put off, and either stayed home or applied elsewhere.

The worst aspect of the system from the Canadian perspective was that the system was not responsive to the needs of the Canadian economy. Businesses were crying out for people with the right skills, but would have to wait years before filling the positions from overseas, even if there was no-one in Canada to fill the post. Meanwhile, the people arriving in Canada had the skills which were in demand when they applied 3-4 years ago, but found their services no longer required. So we have highly qualified immigrants driving taxis. Others left Canada disillusioned and considerably worse off financially. The Canadian taxpayer was out of pocket too, having paid to administer the immigration applications of people who didn't end up staying.

Many found that the only realistic option they had to fast-track their applications was to find a temporary position and apply for a Work Permit. After a year in Canada, they were then able to apply for Permanent Residency with a much faster turnaround time. So it's rather disingenuous for a Liberal Candidate to complain that the number of temporary visas has increased!

So what is the Liberal proposal to sort out the mess? A search of their website only throws up press releases claiming that the Conservatives don't have the answers. No policies to fix the problem they created. Nothing constructive. Nothing positive. Just good ol' fashioned mud-slinging. The Liberal caucus even objected to the Conservative proposals, which were eventually forced through by attaching the bill to the budget, making it a confidence motion.

So what will the new immigration rules which Stephen Harper's government introduced mean? They will fast track applicants whose skills are currently in demand in Canada. That will help the Canadian economy, by bringing in the expertise which it needs. It will mean that immigrants who invest time and money coming to Canada won't find that they aren't needed when they get here. There's a period of short term disruption while the process is changed, of course. I certainly feel for anyone who is caught in that bubble right now. But there really had to be a change.

The status quo would have seen the problem getting worse and worse, with ever increasing numbers of immigrants being forced into temporary jobs on temporary work permits. Often, they find themselves with few rights and little recourse against unscrupulous employers as well. And that's all that the Liberals are offering this time around

NB: I came to Canada through the Spousal Sponsorship route, so didn't have the long wait. I found even those few months hard to deal with, so I can't imagine what it must be like to live in limbo for years on end.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

May-be a Green can of worms

So Green Party Leader, Elizabeth May will be included in the televised leaders debates after all. I think that it was the wrong decision. We are talking about a party that polled less than 5% of the vote at the last election, which has never won a seat in parliament and isn't likely to win a seat this time around either.

The fact that May is a cheer-leader for the Liberals, having signed an electoral pact not to compete with each other in the respective leaders' seats is an objection which shouldn't even need to come into the equation.

Lets be quite straight forward. There are only two men who have any chance whatsoever of being Prime Minister after 14th October; Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion. I think I would prefer a straight debate between the two, since that's the realistic option Canadians face. That said, Jack Layton and Gilles Deceppe, as leaders of the NDP and BQ could find themselves holding the balance of power, so there's a case for including them in some way. Elizabeth May, on the other hand, will not have any more say in who is the next PM than any other Canadian citizen. So she should be treated the same as any other Canadian citizen and told to watch the debate on her television at home!

My greatest concern is the long term implication of the decision. How many parties might we see meeting the criteria in future years? Could an extremist organisation meet the grade and gain a slot? In a democracy they could hardly be refused the same rights as the Greens. Maybe some enterprising business will see marketing potential in fielding enough candidates to get a spokesman on national TV during these dabates. The whole electoral process could, at its worst, descend into farce as dozens of fuitcakes take centre stage alongside the Prime Minister and genuine Opposition Leaders.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Green Taxes still don't add up

Liberals on both side of the Atlantic keep banging on about their plans to shift the tax burden towards Green issues, but still don't make any attempt to answer the basic questions about the policy. Is it any wonder that the Canadian Conservatives are currently running ads branding the Liberals as a gamble that isn't worth the risk?

Some questions that need answering:

1) The price of oil and gas has surged in the last couple of years, without any apparent reduction in the use of cars. So why is it that an extra 7 cents on a litre of gas will make the slightest difference to oil consumption and save the environment?

2) Even if the Green Shift policies did work and lead to reduced demand for fossil fuels, where won't that mean that the figures no longer add up? The whole basis of the Green Shift is that taxes on goods and services which are bad for the environment will rise, with those increases offset by reductions in income tax. If the new taxes really do lead to a reduction in demand, a simple glance at a Laffer Curve will demonstrate that tax revenues will decline, meaning that the money to pay for the income tax cuts simply wouldn't materialise.

I think that those who advocate the Green Shift as an environmental policy have a fundamental misunderstanding of the world today, economics and basic human psychology. The idea that raising tax on fuel means that people use it less assumes that people have alternatives and are able to stop using oil, gas etc. That simply isn't the case. Most people are thoroughly dependant upon cars, often to get to work. Therefore, raising the cost of motoring won't mean that they use less gas. Instead, they will be forced to cut expenditure on other items. That may mean making the old car last a bit longer before replacing it with a newer, more fuel efficient model. Or maybe downgrading from the organic corn fed free range chicken to factory farmed hens, leading to greater use of polluting chemicals.

Environmental Issues suffer from the problem of a little knowledge being dangerous in the wrong hands. Calgary City Council is a prime offender on that one. Other times, Green issues are used by certain politicians as a cynical ploy to raise taxes and get away with it. Sadly, I think that the Liberals fall into the second camp.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Conservative Immigration Policy: Common Sense all round

As a recent immigrant to Canada, I find it very hard to disagree with anything the Prime Minister has to say on this topic. It's an issue on which the Conservative Party of Canada stands alone against a Liberal-Left consensus which claims to support immgrants, but actually holds both them and the Canadian economy back.

There are few things that the last Liberal Government of Canada screwed up more than immigration. In a desparate bid to retain power, they sought to appeal to Immigrant communities by reducing the number of points required to qualify for the skilled worker immigration program. That was all well and good, but they didn't match that action with the funding required to deal with all the extra people who were able to apply through that route, which is why people seeking to move to Canada now have to wait up to 8 years before they are allowed in.

It isn't much use to the families who want to make Canada their new home, as they are left in limbo for years on end.

It isn't much use to the Canadian economy or employers, who are crying out for workers with certain skills. The time delay means that the people arriving in Canada today often have the skills that were required years ago, and the people who are applying now with the skills Canadian companies need now won't arrive for years to come.

Yet, when it came to fixing Canada's broken immigration system, all of the opposition parties opposed the very sensible Conservative proposals. In the end, they were forced through this year as part of the budget. As that was a confidence vote, the Liberals were forced to abstain to avoid forcing an election which they knew they would lose. The NDP and Bloc wouldn't support the plan either. The parties of the old left decided that it was better to scaremonger, in an attempt to solidify the immigrant vote, which they seem to think is theirs by right.

So what does the new Canadian immigration system mean? It provides the responsible minister the power to set a list of skills which will get an applicant's immigration fast tracked, ahead of those who do not have the right skills. It replaces the current system which requires Immigration Canada to process all applications in the order they were received, regardless of the skills possessed by the people applying. It is an end to the system that has left Canada with skills shortages, and highly qualified immigrants driving taxis or stocking shelves at WalMart. It's a sensible solution for all concerned, and should serve up as a wake up call to all Liberal/NDP voting immigrants. Now is the time to make a stand and vote Conservative. to go web 2.0

The much talked about relaunch of the official Conservative Party website in the UK has taken a step closer today, with an email sent out to all subscribers announcing the imminent launch of a new party blog. The blog will aim to represent the whole party, with posts from all sections of the party from David Cameron and the Shadow Cabinet down to ordinary grass-roots activists. The blog is yet to be named, and the email asks for suggestions. I gather that this is just part of the overall relaunch, which will put the Conservatives further ahead of the opposition in their use of the internet to communicate directly with the general public.

Further developments will be announced to members of the Conservative e-mailing list first. Sign up to get the news direct to your mailbox by completing the form below:

Arctic Sovereignty: Why Russian Imperialism towards Georgia should worry Canada

The conflict in Georgia, which has resulted in Russian-supported de-facto independent republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia gaining effective independence from Georgia, is not just some far away local conflict which we should ignore. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it has been the catalyst for Stephen Harper's recent pronouncements on Arctic sovereignty and the North West Passage.

Russia has already planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole, and has used its gas supplies as a foreign policy tool against former eastern bloc countries which Putin perceives to be too close to the West, such as Ukraine. The EU is looking increasingly scared of Russia, which now holds all the cards in the energy game, with western European oil and gas supplies nearing exhaustion and Russia able to control much of the supply of energy through its own vast resources and control over pipelines from neighbouring states.

Thus far, Canada's energy independence has been sufficient to ensure that Russian influence is not a problem in North America. However, as the waters between Canada and Russian become increasingly navigable, and the northern lands become increasingly valuable economic resources, we can be sure that Russian will be glancing our way soon. Once they have subdued Europe, Canada and the United States could be the only front in a future Cold War with the Russians. After years of sleeping with the Elephant, sleeping with the Great Bear could become rather less comfortable.

Thankfully, the Harper Government is already taking action to head off a future threat. Canadian claims on Arctic territory are being placed, and steps have been taken in recent weeks to develop the northern economy, and increase Canada's military presence along its Arctic frontier. Today, these moves may seem pretty insignificant, but I firmly believe that they are amongst the most important decisions taken by a Canadian government since the Second World War, and may avert a Third.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Scottish Tories vow to fight Nationalist attack on liberties

Hurrah for Annabel Goldie's Scottish Conservatives. After years on the perifery of politics north of the border, the current SNP minority administration is finally giving the party the chance to make a real impact on the lives of ordinary Scotsmen and women. Having secured additional funding for policing and drug rehabilitation in last year's budget, as a price for Conservative support, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is now taking on the Nationalists over their policy on alcohol.

I can only assume that the latest SNP policy has been driven by their perception that prohibition in 1920s America was a good idea. Thankfully, the Tories have taken up the challenge of leading opposition to the ridiculous plans to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21 and require supermarkets to have dedicated check-outs for selling alcohol. Just why is it that the SNP considers an 18 year old to be responsible enough to have a baby, to own firearms or to serve in the military, yet not responsible enough to drink responsibly? Can we expect future christenings to be dry?

Why is it that authoritarian politicians in the UK only talk about bringing Britain into line with Europe when it involves raising taxes or infringing upon civil liberties? Most European countries have much less draconian legislation surrounding alcohol sales and consumption, with lower drinking ages. They also have less alcohol related crime, because teenagers there learn how to drink responsibly at an early age, rathern than having to wait until they are let of their parental teather on their 18th birthdays. It is the one area where Britain really should try to learn something from Europe, and the one area that politicians of the left seem hell-bent to peddaling in the other direction. Well done to Annabel and the Scottish Conservative delegation for standing up to the nationalist bully-boys. We can only hope that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens will support their entirely sensible position on the matter

Yobs caught on camera at Folkestone vinery

After a spate of vandalism at the recently restored Grade II listed vinery on Folkestone's Madeira Walk at the Leas, one of the culprits has been arrested. The Leas and Lower Leas area is well covered by CCTV, and one yob has been caught after being spotted on top of the vinery.

The recent damage included breaking down a new vine, hacking at the wooden structure and destroying a bench to create a bonfire. In addition, empty booze bottles and vomit were strewn around. It will cost GBP2000 to make the necessary repairs, and local Environment Secretary Cllr Alan North is calling on magistrates to throw the book at him.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Good time to emigrate!

The OECD has today confirmed my assessment of the British economy. It concludes that the UK will be the only one of the G7 western industrialised nations to fall into recession this year. Eleven years of economic mismanagement by Gordon Brown are coming home to roost.

The government's response has been laughable. The package of measures announced to day will have no significant effect, but will add a further $3.2bn to the government's already massive borrowing requirement. Given that we are in this mess because the government overstretched itself during the good times, it is hard to see how moves to stretch itself further in the bad times will get us out of this hole.

This is where the $3.2bn will go:

  • Free five year loans for upto 10,000 first time buyers. Quite what will happen at the end of those five years, when they have to start paying interest on loans for properties that are no longer worth what they paid is unclear.
  • A Stamp Duty holiday for lower cost homes. It failed in 1992 and is doomed to fail again. Properties are falling more than 1% per month, so anyone can save more than the 1% stamp duty by buying a house after the holiday ends!
  • People who can't pay their mortgages can transfer all or part of their mortgage into rent at a reduced rate, which they will pay to councils, associations or developers who take a stake in their homes. I can't see an commercial developer investing in property at this time, so this effectively amounts to the nationalisation of private housing, and of bad debts. It means that taxpayers all have to foot the bill. That will be a particularly bitter pill to swallow for the many young people who have been unable to get onto the property ladder, but will now be expected to subsidise those who were able to afford a home.
  • 5,500 low cost homes will be built by councils and housing associations. Of course, in a time when house prices are in freefall, an increased supply of property is exactly what the market needs. Over the next couple of years we will huge numbers of low cost houses coming to the market anyway, so these 5,500 homes will be but a drop in the ocean.

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, said of the package: "This is a short-term survival plan for the Prime Minister, not a long-term recovery plan for the economy. They've had months to prepare and they can't even tell us how much it costs, or where the money's coming from."

It says a great deal about Labour's economic incompetence that in Canada the Conservative government is rising in the polls. In the US, the presidential race is too close to call. In Britain, Labour is polling in the region of 28%, with the Conservatives on around 46%, and they can't even hold on to safe seats like Crewe and Nantwich or Glasgow East! Britain is doomed, and so is Labour.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Liam Fox endorses Stephen Harper's re-election bid

Ottawa Blogger Stephen Taylor has posted this video of British Conservative Shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox talking about Stephen Harper on Youtube. I supported Liam Fox when he stood for the Conservative Leadership in 2005, and find it hard to disagree with anything he has to say about the Canadian Prime Minister.

Hat-tip: Conservative International

Tories surging ahead as Federal election nears

Another opinion poll has today shown the Tories with a large lead over the Grits, with a 37% share of the vote putting Stephen Harper within striking distance of an historic Conservative majority government in Ottawa. The Strategic Council poll for the left-leaning Globe and Mail newspaper suggests that the Conservatives are well ahead on economic management at a time of increasing economic uncertainty, which is pushing that up the list of voter priorities.

The Grits' Green Shift policy is looking like a serious blunder. It has damaged the Liberals' standing on the key issue of the economy, but not helped them much on the environment, with only 20% of voters saying that the Liberals have the best environment policy. Instead, the increased media profile of the environment as an issue has aided the Green Party, whose share of the vote has risen sharply.

Last week's Angus-Reid poll showed a similar trend. More worryingly for Dion is the regional breakdown. In BC, the Grits find themselves placed fourth, behind the NDP and the Greens (who last week picked up a defecting Liberal MP in Vancouver). Alberta and the Prairies (Saskatchewan and Manitoba) both see the Tories dominating as usual, with over 50% of the vote. Despite the continued Tory dominance in Alberta, the polls are reporting a shift against the national trend towards the Grits here. The limited number of winnable seats for the Liberals mean that they would have little to celebrate from such a result though.

Ontario, long a Liberal bastion, shows little change from the last election, with the Conservatives only closing the gap by one percentage point. That would still leave the Liberals having to defend key marginals in the province, limiting the scope for them to push resources towards making any gains.

The big story is further east still. Quebec sees the Conservatives in a strong second place, only two points behind the declining Bloc, and clearly the best options for Quebec voters who wish to remain within Canada. In the Atlantic provinces, it seems likely the the Green Shift has significantly damaged the Liberals, who came out on top in all four of the provinces in the last election but now trail the Tories by 9 points, with plenty of marginal ridings to play for.

The regional breakdowns always need to be taken with a pinch of salt. The margins of error are normally greater than they are for the national picture, and the Alberta election last year showed how spectacularly wrong they can be. Nonetheless, against a backdrop of a polls from a variety of sources showing the Conservatives on the up and Liberals in decline, things are looking pretty good for another Harper government. Whether that government is a majority or not could come down to the results in the key marginals, and it seems that the areas with the most marginals have the biggest swings to the Conservatives. Moreover, the Conservative party is flush with cash to fund an election, whereas the Grits are still struggling to pay down the debts built up in the 2006 election and subsequent leadership contest. That, combined with the need for the Liberal leadership to watch their own backs and defend a large number of currently Liberal seats leaves the Tories with a real tactical advantage.

There's still all to play for in the upcoming election, assuming that it does happen, and a Conservative majority remains a big ask for a country which has returned Liberal governments for so much of the last century. But this does look like the best chance for the Tories in 20 years.

Hat tip for the regional breakdowns NB Tory Lady

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Zoom collapses

Today Zoom Airlines has annouced that it has collapsed under the weight of high fuel costs. The news has stranded hundreds of passengers around the world, and has thrown the travel plans of thousands more into turmoil. The airline was founded by two Scottish brothers and based in Ontario, Canada, so it was very much a British-Canadian venture, and many of the passengers affected will be British or Canadian. My thoughts are certainly with anyone who has lost out, and may miss out on seeing relatives, something which anyone with friends and relatives overseas can surely relate to.

The collapse is an important reminder of the need to protect yourself against airline failure. I've never flown with Zoom, and always try to protect myself against potential incidents like this. However, I've realised that there may have been times when my insurance policies might not have covered me. Here are some steps to take to ensure that you are protected when you fly:
  • Book by credit card. British companies certainly cover customers against this kind of thing, allowing you to reclaim the money paid from your credit card company. I will have to check the terms and conditions attached to my new HSBC Mastercard to ensure that I am entitled to the same benefits in Canada! You may have to pay a small suplement for booking by credit card, but the peace of mind provided is priceless.
  • From the UK, try to book through a body covered by the CAA's ATOL. That covers tour operators, including Canadian Affair, in case of insolvency.
  • Check that you have travel insurance as soon as you book a flight, and check the terms and conditions. Some travel insurance policies cover policyholders in the event of airline failure, but not all of them do. Even those that do cover you normally only cover scheduled airlines and they may have a list of airlines they will not cover. For the most part, that list will comprise airlines which are already bankrupt of in some kind of adminsitration, but it's a good idea to check that your airline is insurable before you book.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Something rotten at Vodafone

After several years as a Vodafone customer, I have been rather shocked at how bad the company has become lately. Every time I have to contact them, there is a problem. I've finally given in and switched my services to Orange, who I used prior to joining Vodafone, and have been fantastic in comparison. Corissa is with O2, who have also handled the same queries perfectly well. Why is it that Vodafone is out on a limb, in being unable to provide basic services to its customers?

The first problem I encountered arose when I called in to switch my telephone from pay monthly to pay as you talk. I expected that to be straight forward, as it had been when I stopped old Orange numbers, twice. My wife had also been able to call O2, who made all the arrangements over the phone and had everything sorted within a week. Not so Vodafone.

Despite being a phone company, they required me to write a letter outlining my requirements and post it to them. How very 19th century. Anyway, I did so and followd up with a phone call when I didn't hear anything back from them, only to be informed that my letter had not reached them, so I would have to write again, and my one months' notice would not start until they actually received a letter. I pointed out that it was their procedure that had caused the problem, and asked to be transferred to the complaints department. After a few minutes on hold, I was told that they had actually received my letter, but had not processed it correctly so the information was not showing up on the telephone operator's screen. I noted that my one month's notice would take me to 23rd August and went away happier.

I decided to use the suggestion form on Vodafone's website to point out that their procedure left a lot to be desired, and was inferior to their competitors' systems. In response, I received an email in poor English, which informed me that my account had been transferred to PAYT by email effective 29th August.

Before I had time to call them back, I received a retention phone call asking me to reconsider the move. I pointed out that the cancellation should take effect 23rd August, which the operator agreed and corrected on the system. I decided that I would quit while I was ahead.

Subsequently, I discovered that the original acknowledgement of my letter had been posted after all. They had sent it to the Canadian address that I had asked them to use after 12th August, but they had used it on 23rd July anyway. At least I had it and all was reasonably well.

Yesterday, my phone went over to PAYT as planned. My final bill has been paid by direct debit. I was slighly disturbed to find that I could not view my final e-bill, as they cancelled my online access with my pay monthy account. I assume that I will receive something in the post, but won't hold my breath.

So far so good. Until, that is, I wanted to actually use the phone. I had previously discussed my imminent emigration and need to continue to use my phone with their customer service agents. I know people who top up by phone or online, and was reassured that I would be able to use those methods with my UK bank account or credit card, which I have kept open. However, I now discover that they require a UK address for said bank account or credit card. Not terribly useful if you live in Canada.

The customer service rep was keen to explain to me why that was, but at international rates I was not particularly keen to listen. I confirmed with him that I cannot use his company's services from Canada, and told him that I would be switching to Orange, who I can use from abroad. I have now done so, and successfully sent my first text messages using my Orange phone number within minutes.

Well done Vodafone. A global company for a globalised age? A digital company for a digital era? Clearly not. I'm beginning to wonder whether Vodafone internal communication is carried out by carrier pigeon. For a phone company to issue mobile phones that are not trully mobile, and to prefer communication by post than by means of its own services is quite extraordinary. If I was a Vodafone shareholder, I would be very concerned at the direction of the company.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lib Dems looking both ways on energy policy

We all know that the Lib Dems struggle to set coherent policies. The latest example is Nick Clegg's statement on energy policy, enthusiastically supported by the Lib Dem Prosepective Parliamentary Candidate for Folkestone and Hythe.

Apparently, a Lib Dem government (don't laugh too loudly) would strive for "UK energy independence." I'm intrigued as to how they intend to achieve that. A glance around the Kent Lib Dems' websites shows that they oppose new nuclear build at Dungeness, the windfarm on Romney Marsh, the offshore windfarm off the north sea coast, the coal fired power station proposed for Kingsnorth and the Allington waste to energy incinerator. They have opposed just about every type of power generation which could be utilised in Kent! Given that we have an urgent need to find means of generating electricity to replace power stations which are soon to reach the end of their natural lives, Lib Dem actions in local government mean that it would be highly likely that Britain would need to increase its level of electricity imports to meet demand.

Apparently, the proposals would see electricity generated through wind, tidal, wave and biomass technologies, to reduce Britain's dependance upon overseas fossil fuels. The aim is commendable, but we need to consider what it really means.

Wind energy is intermittent at best, so requires alternative generating capacity to provide backup support for days when there is no wind, too much wind or the wrong sort of wind. Wind farms also take up large amounts of virgin countryside, which has a direct impact upon the ecology of that land - which is why Shepway Lib Dems joined the Conservatives and others in opposing the wind farm on Romney Marsh.

Tidal power is controversial. Previously proposed schemes have actually failed on environmental grounds. For example, the proposed Servern tidal generation scheme would have resulted in the marshy wetlands on either side of the Severn Estuary flooding, depriving endangered and protected species of birds and other wildlife of their natural breeding grounds. I can't think of any suitable sites in the British Isles which would not have similar impacts on biodiversity. Tidal power is probably the greatest threat to many marine and coastal species of animals, and should not be considered a green alternative.

Wave power is a very good idea which is in its infancy. In due course, the technology could prove to be a genuine alternative means of power generation. However, the technology is not ready yet. Given time, this could become an option, but unfortunately, the time is not now.

Biomass technology is by far the most controversial of the four means of generation proposed by Nick Clegg. There are two sources of energy for biomass power generation. The first is biodegradeable waste, such as garden and food waste. That's the kind of thing burnt at Allington's incinerator. The Lib Dems have consistently opposed Allington. Similar plants have been proposed in Eastbourne (opposed by the local Lib Dems, who won control of the council partly because of their opposition), and in Lympne. It will be interesting to see whether Shepway Lib Dems match their rhetoric with actions by supporting that plan. The other source is vegetations grown specifically to be burnt for power. That has become increasingly popular in recent years, and is the principle reason for the dramatic increase in the price of food lately. As the biomass crops need to be grown, they take up land which was previously used to grow food, reducing the supply of land for crops. The result has been a reduction in supply of food, as well as intensification of production on the remaining land, by means of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Moreover, the increased demand for land to grow biomass crops has resulted in a rapid increase in the rate of destruction of the world's rainforests, which had previously stabilised after that became the cause celebre for publicity seeking eco-celebrities like Nick Clegg in the 1980s. So biomass power stations have five problems 1) people don't want to live near to an incinerator 2) crops grown to be burnt are reducing the supply of food, increasing prices and starving Africans 3) rainforests are destroyed to supply more land to grow biomass crops 4) increasingly intensive farming methods are required, leading to loss of hedgerows, increased use of chemicals and GMOs and loss of biodiversity and 5) waste which is incinerated could have been recycled or composted, which would have been a cleaner option than burning it.

Overall, the Lib Dem report on energy policy cannot be rated as anything better than a C-. Must try harder next time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

RIP Earl Radnor; welcome to new Viscount Folkestone

The Telegraph has reported the sad news that Earl Radnor died on 11th August. He succeeded to the title and seat in the House of Lords in 1968, upon the death of his father, although he lost that seat in the Lords when the hereditories were removed in 1999. Prior to 1968, he had been Viscount Folkestone, as that is the courtesy title afforded to the heir to the Earldom of Radnor.

The news means that the Viscount Folkestone has now become Earl Radnor, and his eldest son has taken over the title Viscount Folkestone.

Hat tip: Folkestone Forums

Friday, August 15, 2008

RIP Lord Bruce-Lockhart

Sadly, Lord Bruce-Lockhart has died, after a long battle with cancer. I met and spoke with him on a couple of occasions at the last two Conservative Party conferences to have taken place in Bournemouth, and must confess to being a great admirer. As leader of Kent County Council from 1997, he turned the authority around from the basket case Lib-Lab authority, rated as the worst in the country, to the County Council recognised as the best in the country. Since standing down as leader, he has continued to serve the party, the county and local government in generally well, through his chairmanship of the LGA and other important roles.

Kent is very lucky to have had Sandy as its leader, and his legacy lives on through the leadership of the county, which continues on the steady path which he set it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

All packed up and ready to go

Well it's just days until we leave sunny Folkestone for a new life in Canada now. Yesterday the local auction house came to collect all of our old furniture, which will go under the hammer later this month and today the shippers took most of the rest of our possessions, which should arrive in Calgary in about 8 weeks' time. Shepway are due to collect the old fridge/freezer at some point tomorrow, and in the evening we're heading out to say farewell to my former colleagues on Folkestone Town Council.

I'm still looking forward to the move, but walking around the town and seeing people for the last time can still be hard. I have to keep reminding myself that we're only a flight away, and we'll be visiting England to see family and friends regularly. I might even get in some telephone canvassing from Canada!

Monday, August 04, 2008

400 up!

I''ve just spotted that this is my 400th post! Blogging has been comparatively light over the past year, what with all the time I've spent getting married, moving house and emigrating, but it's still only a year since my last century!

The feel of posts is likely to change a little over the next few months. I will still blog about British politics, especially those pertaining to Shepway, but Canada will gain an increased prominence.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Liberal Legend: Can Toby slay the Dragon?

The last four years have not been terribly happy for Shepway Liberal Democrats, but the last eight weeks stand out as particularly unhappy ones. Rocked by a series of defections to the Conservative Party, local leader Lynne Beaumont was forced onto the defensive. She came out spinning as ever.

Thursdays must be a particularly difficult day. The Folkestone Herald is published, complete with the latest commentary on Lib Dem infighting. This week is no exception. This time Lynne Beaumont is facing calls for her resignation from her former rival Toby Philpott, who was deposed as the Lib Dem PPC last year. As Toby puts it:

It is time to cut the personal abuse and get serious about the state the Party is in before it gets too late.

Judging by this week's Herald, the call has fallen upon deaf ears. It would seem that Lynne Beaumont still won't accept responsibility for anything that has happened. Instead she states:

When Toby was here it went disastrously wrong and I don't really want to comment on what he has to say.

She promtly goes on to comment on what he has to say:

He is a very good writer but cannot communicate face to face and that was partly his downfall. I'm certainly not going to stand down because a non-member has called for me to do so. If the members want me to then I will because I want what's best for the group."

That's certainly an intersting take on the situation. It's a departure from the official line previously trotted out by Pravda. The reference to his real contribution to our campaigning could be seen as a rather double edged complement though, given that they won fewer seats than at any time since the merger with the SDP.

The suggestion that things went wrong for the Lib Dems after Toby was selected is a little odd. In the two years or so before his selection, Shepway Lib Dems had split into two parties, suffered multiple defections to Conservative, Green, Independent and Shepway Independents, lost two leaders and suffered heavy defeats in the Folkestone Town Council, Kent County Council, European and Parliamentary elections. If that's not things going wrong, the last two months must be deemed a great success!

I can't help but feel that the statement that Toby Philpott can't communicate face to face is bizzarre. In November 2006, he was one of three candidates put to the local membership as a potential Parliamentary Candidate. Cllr Beaumont was another of the candidates. Given her high profile and support from her husband who had been PPC in the last two elections, she was the clear favourite. Yet, the members chose Toby. If he can't communicate face to face, how bad must Cllr Beaumont have been at that meeting? Can someone who has lost half her elected representatives been seen as a good communicator?

I think that the most peculiar part of her statement is that she won't resign on the basis of comments by a non-member, but will resign if the members want her to. Toby is a member of the Liberal Democrats, albeit in Bromley. Moreover, there are very few members left to call for her resignation now - most of her opponents have long since left. A rational individual might take that as a sign that they are unhappy with the leadership. But who said that Lynne Beaumont was rational?

It's not over yet. Toby has already responded to her comments on his blog. He is considering a formal complaint to the Lib Dems and possibly the Standards Board over the matter. And so the saga continues!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The "Shaky Apples" fight back

The recent rash of defections from the Lib Dems to the Conservative groups on Shepway District and Folkestone Town councils have been pretty astonishing. However, the Lib Dem response has been even more bizarre. Local Leader, Lynne Beaumont, proclaimed that the remainder of the group is solid (despite local rumours that she is frequently calling councillors to be sure of their loyalty) and that the "shaky apples have fallen from the tree". I find that an odd thing to say about people who, only 15 months ago, the party was upholding as the best people to represent and run our local area! If she was happy to field candidates who she regards of such a low calibre, how can local people trust her selection of candidates in the future?

Thursday's Full Council meeting of Folkestone Town Council saw political fireworks, with arguments coming from the all three factions sides. Paul Marsh of the People First Lib Dems was critical of the defectors, particularly Peter Gane who had previously objected to People First entering into a coalition with the Conservatives in 2005. The best line of the night undoubtedly came from Martin Salmon, now Conservative councillor for Folkestone East. He told the Beaumont First Lib Dems that he would rather be a "loose apple" that the "withered old fruit left on the tree". Touche.

Good night for Conservatives in by-elections

This Thursday's by-elections were generally a good night for the Conservatives. Of course, the biggest election of the night was the Parliamentary by-election in Haltemprice and Howden, which David Davis held comfortable. No surprises there given that Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP and the BNP all decided not to stand candidates (Labour were too scared, and the others supported David Davis' stand for civil liberties). However, is suggesting that the fact that the Greens, who came second, did not pick up many votes suggests that there is no longer the level of anti-Tory voting that we evident through tactical voting against Conservative candidates in the last three general elections. That could be down to David Cameron's decontamination strategy, or disatisfaction with Labour. Most likely, it's a combination of the two.

In local government, the Conservatives picked up a couple of extra seats, one each from Labour and the Lib Dems, which is a particularly good sign.

Sadly, the Lib Dems retained Canterbury's Barton ward, by a majority 16 votes larger than last year. I have bloggef previously about the curious habit for Lib Dems in that ward to resign, or not seek re-election. No Lib Dem candidate has contested two consecutive elections since 1999 (which is as far back as Canterbury's website records the results). Moreover, the Lib Dems have won every scheduled elections, and the Conservatives both previous by-elections. That didn't happen this time, which may be partly down to a change in candidate. Both previous victories saw Michael Northey as the victorious Conservative candidate, and he obtained more than 100 votes more than any other Conservative candidate in the 2007 locals.

Interestingly, the Barton Lib Dem vote increase of 9% precisely matches the 9% recorded by Labour last year, and this year they did not field a candidate. Meanwhile, the Conservative share of the vote also increased (by 4%), which came at the expense of the "others".

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The real opposition?

The Lib Dems have often touted themselves as "the real opposition." I've never seen much evidence for the claim - they were pretty quick to hop into bed with Labour in both Scotland and Wales, the moment they got a whiff of power.

However, one thing is certain. Ever since the acrimonious split with People First in 2004 (following tax and toilet-gate), the Lib Dems have been the official opposition in Shepway. I don't believe that they can be classed as an effective opposition though. With only 5 councillors remaining after a series of defections to the ruling Conservatives, the rump Lib Dem Group is now too small to function as an effective Opposition. Moreover, they lack the required leadership or the experience, with only one councillor having more than 15 months' experience in the role. The third party, People First, have the experience to offer a more purposeful opposition, but two people can't possible offer the level of in depth scrutiny of every single piece of council business put forward.

For a time, it seemed that Folkestone Town Council would become the de facto opposition. However, defections have deprived the Lib Dems of even that last crumb of dignity.

In my opinion, the Conservative Group has the depth of experience, independence of thought and necessary skills to ensure that the leadership's decisions are fully scrutinised, and many of the 1100+ party members in the district will continue to actively probe the individual councillors and hold them to account. However, I'm not sure that is enough. It is important for democracy at large that the democratic institutions of opposition not only exist, but are seen to exist.

Shepway isn't the first council to have to consider this situation. For several years, the London Borough of Newham had no opposition to the Labour administration at all. Adur is so overwhelmingly Conservative that the largest opposition is the Independents, who were previously part of the local Conservative-Independent Alliance. Even they only have two councillors, with one Lib Dem rounding the council off. However, Newham has an elected Mayor and Adur is small enough to have "alternative arrangements". Shepway's Leader and Cabinet system is more politicised.

Conversely, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets has apparently taken the bizarre step of abolishing the Official Opposition status, because they were unhappy that the Conservatives were the opposition after Respect collapsed on itself! They have now given the chief scrutiny roles to their own councillors, and even have a Cabinet member on the scrutiny committee. The Conservatives there rightly refuse to take their seats on the committee in protest, but attend in an individual role to oversee the committee.

The new balance of Shepway District Council:
Conservative 39
Lib Dem 5
People First 2

Spinning Here: Lib Dems bury bad news again

Today, the Lib Dems finally reported on their regularly updated website that two more of their councillors, including their Deputy Leader, had resigned. They did so on Friday, so it took four days for them to admit to the embarrassment of losing yet more members to the Conservatives. However, apparently it was not the most significant issue affecting Shepway Lib Dems today. That was the closure of Eat in the Motorway Service Station! Really? More important than losing yet more Councillors? I suppose that it happens so regularly now that it almost isn't news, whereas this is the first Eat to close in Shepway!

I am a big fan of Eat's food, so I'm disappointed that they have gone and feel sorry for any staff who have lost their jobs. I hope that other outlets will be able to hold out for the busy summer months and later, the opening of the hotel, when hopefully trade will pick up. It certainly does seem to be awfully quiet up there at the moment.

Of course, this isn't the first time local Lib Dems have buries bad news on their website. They have previously buried bad news by reporting a missing dog (who they later reported as found, you will be relieved to hear). When Cllrs Peter and Christena Smith suspended their membership pending investigation for benefit fraud, they were conveniently kept off the top spot on the website by a story about bogus callers in Charles Crescent. Unfortunately, the subsequent guilty verdict and sentencing weren't deemed important enough for comment on the site (in contrast to the missing dog, of course).

Lib Dems lose status as Folkestone's largest party

After losing control of Folkestone Town Council last month, the Lib Dems now suffer the shock and indignity of losing their status as the single largest party. Having won 11 of the 18 seats, against 3 Conservatives, 3 People First and an Independent, they now have only 7 councillors, a figure matched by the Conservatives. Meanwhile, having battled to have their leader recognised as Leader of the Council, they have been ousted from all positions of responsibility, with the Mayoralty, Deputy Mayoralty and Chairmanship of the three councils held by Conservative and People First councillors.

Over the past 5 years, there has been little local news to cheer the Lib Dems. After winning only 4 seats in the first Town Council elections, they suffered a series of splits and defections at District and Town level, depriving them of power in Shepway and Group Status on Folkestone Town Council, where they were down to one representative for a time. Added to that, their poor European Election result, which saw them beaten by UKIP as they took barely 10% of the vote and the massive swing against them at the General Election was all capped off by a miserable 10 seats on Shepway District Council. The strongest of the few rays of light in those wilderness years was victory on Folkestone Town Council, where their 11 members dwarfed the other groups, none of which had more than 3 councillors. Yet now, they have thrown it all away.

The new composition of Folkestone Town Council is:
Conservative 7
Lib Dem 7
People First 3
Independent 1

Welcoming the new Conservative Councillors

Cllr Martin Salmon, Folkestone East (Folkestone Town Council)

The Worshipful Mayor of Folkestone, Cllr Peter Gane, Folkestone Cheriton (Shepway District Council and Folkestone Town Council)

Cllr Sue Wallace, Folkestone Harbour (Shepway District Council and Folkestone Town Council)
Well, it's been another busy few days for defections from Shepway Lib Dems. I welcomed Emily to the team a couple of weeks ago, but it's about time that I extended the same welcome to Cllr Martin Salmon of Folkestone East, who has also joined the Folkestone Town Council Conservative Group. Meanwhile, Peter Gane and Sue Wallace have now both confirmed that they have joined the Conservatives on both Shepway District and Folkestone Town Councils. By my reckoning, it is the first time that we have had a Conservative District Councillor in Cheriton since 1983. I don't know the last time that Folkestone Harbour was 100% Conservative, but you would have to go back to the 1980s, if not further.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bognor Lib Dems following Shepway;s example

I've recently noticed that two Lib Dem Councillors, including the Mayor, have defected to the Conservatives. That has deprived the Lib Dems of a majority on the council for the first time in 18 years. Is there something in the waters of the English Channel that's making so many Lib Dems switch to Conservative lately?

So, welcome to the party The Worshipful Mayor of Bognor Regis, Cllr Mrs Jennifer Gillibrand and Cllr Rob Gillibrand.

Skimming Device on Sainsbury's Cash Machine

Kent Police have warned people to be vigilant when using Folkestone cash points, after a skimming device was found on the cash machine at Sainsbury's Bouverie Road West branch. The device was found on Thursday morning (3rd July, 2008).

If you may have used the machine, your bank details could have been compromised. Police are advising people to check their bank accounts and report any fraudulent transactions to the card issuer.

Cannabis Factory found in St George's Road


Almost 1,000 cannabis plants with a potential street value of tens of thousands of pounds have been discovered at an address in Cheriton, Folkestone.

A warrant was carried out by Kent Police at the house in St George's Road on Thursday 3 July when the plants, which were at varying stages of growth, were found.

Police are investigating the discovery and asking anyone with information, particularly about people and vehicles coming and going from the property to contact Folkestone Police Station.

Kent Police would like to hear from anyone with any information on 01303 850055

Alternatively contact Kent Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. Your anonymity is guaranteed and you may be eligible for a reward.

Bartonitis strikes this Thursday

Canterbury's Barton Ward will be heading to the polls in a by-election this Thursday, following the resignation of one of the ward's three Lib Dem Councillors.

What is it with Barton Lib Dems? This is the third by-election in the ward in the last 7 years, all of which have been caused by Lib Dems not staying the distance. Is it really that bad representing the people of Barton? It has always seemed a pretty nice area to me!

The Conservatives have good form in by-elections in Barton, with a 100% record. Michael Northey won the seat twice, but on both occasions he lost it at the following full council election. In 2003 his losing margin was just 2 votes, and there were 11 recounts, if I remember correctly. Last time around, the Lib Dems won by 180 votes, with the Conservatives as runner up then Labour, the Council Tax Payers Party (England's Own) and an Independent.

This time, the Conservative candidate is Mark Evans, who is up against candidates from the Lib Dems, Greens and the Council Tax Payers Party (England's Own). This time, there is no Labour candidate and no independent, but there is a Green instead.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Shepway Lib Dems rocked by yet more defections

At least two more Lib Dem Councillors have walked this weekend. Following Friday's crisis meeting with the local Lib Dem leadership, Cllr Peter Gane, long serving member for Cheriton and current Mayor of Folkestone and Cllr Sue Wallace of Folkestone Harbour have both taken the decision to leave the Lib Dem groups on Shepway District Council and Folkestone Town Council. The moves reduce the Lib Dems to just 6 seats in Shepway and 7 in Folkestone.

There has not yet been any confirmation from Shepway Lib Dems, and the new status of the councillors is yet to be formally announced. However, rumour has it that Peter Gane has applied to join the Conservatives and Sue Wallace is said to be moving to People First. There are further rumours that another Lib Dem District Councillor will be changing her allegiance as well. To add to the crisis in the Lib Dems, another Town Councillor is said to be likely to resign, forcing a by-election in a marginal ward. I won't name names until the rumours have been substantiated. I don't believe it would be fair on the individuals involved to do so at this stage.

For the time being, it seems that the composition of the local councils is now as follows:

Conservative 37
Lib Dem 5
People First 2
Independent 2

Lib Dem 7
Conservative 5
People First 3
Independent 3

I will have further updates once the new alignments have been confirmed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Welcome Emily Sanger!

I've been busy with other things, so am a bit behind on this one, but since Emily joined the Conservative Groups on Shepway District and Folkestone Town councils on Monday, I'd like to welcome her to the party!

The move increases the Conservative majority on Shepway and makes us the single second largest party on Folkestone Town Council, with four seats - after only contesting three last year! Emily is the Deputy Mayor of Folkestone, and was the second longest serving Lib Dem Town Councillor, after Peter Gane, the Mayor.

I think that the Lib Dem line's actually quite funny. They say that they threw Emily out of the grou for non-payment of membership fees and for voting with the Conservatives. I'd have thought that not paying membership fees constitutes resignation - certainly it does in the Conservatives, and any other organisation I've been involved with. I've never paid to be a member of the Lib Dems or voted for the Lib Dems - do I need to wait to be thrown out before I can sleep safe in the knowledge that I'm not a member?

New composition of Shepway District Council:
Conservative 37
Lib Dem 7
People First 2

New composition of Folkestone Town Council:
Lib Dem 9
Conservative 4
People First 3
Indpendent 2

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lib Dems lose Folkestone Town Council majority

Shepway Lib Dems have confirmed the rumours that Cllrs Emily Sanger (Folkestone Harbour) and Martin Salmon (Folkestone East) have resigned from the party, bringing the total number of defections for June to 3 so far.

The news is a bombshell for the Lib Dems. There have been very few positives for the party since the infamous tax & toilet-gate of 2004, which saw the party split. The first was probably Emily's success in the 2005 by-election, and their biggest success had been taking control of Folkestone Town Council. Both achievements have been lost.

For the time being, at least, both councillors will sit as Independents. Emily is also a District Councillor, so the switch reduces the Lib Dem opposition to an even smaller position than before. Amazingly, there are still rumours of further defections to come, at least one of which seems plausible to me. It's not really the springboard that the Lib Dems will have been looking for as they prepare for next year's Mayoral and European elections.

Folkestone's return to NOC might mean a return to the rotating mayoralty, which would not bode well for Dhan Gurung's bid to be England's first Nepalese Mayor. Unless, of course, he decides to defect!

New composition of Shepway District Council:
Conservative 36
Lib Dem 7
People First 2
Independent 1

New composition of Folkestone Town Council:
Lib Dem 9
Conservative 3
People First 3
Indpendent 3

UPDATE: The change has already started to take effect. The Finance and General Purposes Committee ousted its Lib Dem Chairman and Vice-Chairman, to replace them with People First and Conservative Councillors.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Home Office finally cleans up its act in Folkestone

Last week, the grass was finally at Frontier House, the Immigration Reporting Centre in Shorncliffe Road, Folkestone. The contractor will be back this week to finish tidying up, apparently. The move follows my request to the Home Office, after I got sick of walking past grass and weeds that were four feet high. Apparently, there was some kind of contractual issue. It seems that the Home Office thought it had a contract, but the contractor didn't!

It's not terribly impressive that they'd forgotten to get the grounds maintained, and I'm surprised that no-one working at the site reported the problem, which had become a prominent eyesore. However, they did sort the problem pretty quickly after I reported it, so credit where it's due.

Here's the email I received from the Home Office:

Dear Dan,

Thank you for your email detailing your concern regarding the grounds outside Frontier House. An immediate investigation has shown that an internal contractual issue with our maintenance provider has resulted in this omission. I am pleased to report that this has now been resolved and a gardening team attended the premises yesterday to carry out the necessary work. They are rescheduled to attend next week to complete the job to the required standard.

Again, thank you for expressing your concern and bringing this matter to our attention.

Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx

Executive Officer - AD Support

UK Border Agency

Kent Enforcement & Compliance

Martello House, Shearway Business Park, Folkestone, Kent CT194RH

Fuel Protests

Today has seen a day of fuel protests by hauliers, campaigning against the high levels of duty on fuel. The most recent figures I can find (from 2007) show that a litre of fuel includes about 63p of tax, setting the price to about 115p per litre around Folkestone. That compares to 122 cents (approx 62p) in Alberta, where tax is currently 9 cents (around 4.5p).

Apparently, today's protests had two objectives. The first was to get the government to scrap this autumn's 2p rise. The other was to get a rebate for hauliers, as buses do already, to enable them to compete with foreign haulage firms. I certainly support the former, and fully sypmathise with the latter. However, I don't believe that declaring hauliers to be "essential users" entitled to the rebate is a sensible solution. It would mean that a lorry carrying luxury goods would get cheaper fuel, but a nurse driving to work at a hospital to treat the critically ill would be charged the full rate of tax. Is jewellery really more essential than life saving medical treatment?

It seems to me that there are two problems. The first is faced by all motorists - high petrol prices, caused by excessive taxation. The second, faced by hauliers, is unfair competition. The first should be tackled by cutting tax on motorists. The second should be tackled by charging foreign hauliers for using our roads, just as British hauliers have to pay tolls throughout much of Europe.

One final thing did surprise me. One of the leaders of the protests was one Peter Carroll, of Shepway Lib Dems. For those who don't know him, he's a local councillor and was the Lib Dem PPC at the last two elections. I'm not only surprised because I find myself in support of the broad aims of the protest which he is leading - surely a first. My greater surprise is that he has clearly gone a long way off the Lib Dem message. Let us not forget the Lib Dems' much heralded "Green Tax Switch", which would see tax on fuel rising in line with inflation. By my calculations, current inflation is 4% (the governement uses rpix for inflation when raising taxes, rather than the cpi measure it uses for pay rises etc) and tax at 63p/l would give an increase of roughly 2.5p/l, which is more than the government in proposing!

Does this mean that he's fully abandoned his ambitions to be an MP, focussing his attention on his haulage business instead. Pure speculation on my part, I must confess.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

36-8: Cllr Dunning defects to Conservative

Shepway Lib Dems have been rocked by their 20th* defection by a sitting councillor since 2004. Cllr Tony Dunning, elected as a Lib Dem in Folkestone East last year, has announced that he will be sitting with the Conservative group in future. There has been rumours that he was not happy with the Beaumont-Carroll-Prater-Matthews axis that is running the Lib Dems locally, so the news is not totally out of the blue. I would like to warmly welcome him to the party.

I believe that the defection marks the first time when Folkestone East has been represented by a full set of two Conservative Councillors. Until the 2004 by-election, no Conservative had ever represented Folkestone East! The move also comes as a blow to the Lib Dems at a time when they are trying to rebuild around their newly elected parliamentary candidate, Neil Matthews, who was selected after the previous PPC was forced out.

The composition of Shepway District Council is now Conservative 36, Lib Dem 8, People First 2.

* Defections in order of appearance:
Tony Baker to Independent
Stan Hawyard to Conservative
The Dirty Dozen to People First
Wendy Harris to Green
David Callaghan to Independent
Peter and Christena Smith to Independent (due to fraud investigation rather than unhappiness with the Lib Dems. They lost their seats before court upheld charges)
==Election 2007
Sue Ashworth to Conservative
Tony Dunning to Conservative

Picture copyright Shepway District Council (not yet updated)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It was a one horse race!

The Lib Dems have finally chosen a candidate to compete against Conservative Damian Collins in Folkestone and Hythe. Neil Matthews lost his seats on Hythe Town Council and Shepway District Council in last year's election, and was decisively beaten in 2005 when he stood to represent Hythe on Kent County Council. When it came to the Lib Dem nomination, he was guaranteed a victory, as he was the only applicant. I wonder what that bar chart looked like?

It is indicative of the state of the local Lib Dem party that there was only one applicant for what was classed as a target seat as recently as the last election. The selection follows the resignation of their previous candidate, Toby Philpott, due to internal strife. At that time, the position was hotly contested by both local and external candidates.

Labour and the BNP have already selected candidates for Folkestone & Hythe. They will battle it out with the Lib Dems for runner up spot.

Stagflation: Coming to a high street near you

Today saw a dramatic increase in the UK's inflation rate. It's certainly not anything like the hyper-inflation we saw in the dying days of the last Labour administration, when inflation topped 25%, but it's still quite high enough. RPI rose from 3.8% last month to 4.2% in April. Even the government's own dodgy-but-preferred CPI, which includes necessities like HDTVs but excludes luxuries like a roof over your head, rose from 2.5% to 3%. A significant chunk of the increase was down to recent inflation-busting tax rises.

The figures were worse than pretty much anyone expected. They suggest that the inflation genie is creeping back out of the bottle at a time when the Bank of England has few tools to tackle it. Economic stagnation and the Credit Crunch mean that the interest rate increase which would normally be required to control rising inflation could be enough to tip the economy into recession. Poor fiscal planning over the last decade is largely to blame. Britain piled up massive deficits during the good years, while countries like Canada sensibly built up budget surplusses and paid down government debt. Now we have an economy which has been artificially stimulated beyond its limits, and there's nothing left to carry out the essential repairs.

So, could stagflation really rear its ugly head? I fear that it could. In recent years, inflationary pressures have been kept low by cheap imports from the newly industrialised world. China and India, with a combined population approaching 2,500,000,000, roughly 40% of the world's total, have been pumping out cheap goods for the world to lap up. Supply has been rapidly increasing, keeping pricees down.

Now it's payback time.

As the people in those countries have now begun to grow wealthier, they are able to afford to buy goods which were previously unobtainable luxuries. Consumerism has been rife in the west for decades, but now it's taking hold in many parts of Asia. As the Chinese and Indians are able to afford more food. As they demand more electricity for their new gadgets. As they require more fuel for the increasing number of cars. It's inevitable that demand will now rise faster than supply, increasing prices of goods as diverse as oil and rice, grain and jumbo jets. As prices rise, so will incomes in the far east, where salaries start to catch up with those westerners receive. The same won't be true in the west, where our economies aren't growing enough to pay for salary increases and price rises could cause real-terms shrinkage in incomes.

It's time to tighten your belt and hold on for the ride. Things can only get worse.

There are countries which have prepared. Most have prepared better than Britain. Across Europe, countries like Germany, Sweden and France have embarked upon economic and fiscal reforms. They have shown restraint and cut tax as a share of GDP. Britain has done the opposite. Other countries, like Norway and Canada will benefit from their vast reserves of oil and gas, which are rapidly rising in value as the far east demands ever more of the precious black gold, ofsetting the decline in manufacturing. That's why the falling house prices in Alberta are a temporary blip and nothing to worry about. It's Ontarians who need to be worried for the future.

Will there actually be stagflation? It's a worst case scenario and it might not happen. I wouldn't want to bet on it though.

One thing could save many countries from a very rocky time - environmental developments. As fossil fuels become more expensive, investment in renewables and other green technologies will become increasingly economically viable. We could very well see such technological advances that enviromentalists will have to find another cause to campaign on, as renewable energies and more efficient goods reduce dependence on carbon. However, if we want to avoid famine we might have to give up on the bio-fuel dream, which is taking so much land out of the food chain.

UPDATE: 2250 - Seems that the Independent and I are having the same thoughts this evening. Must be a first!

Another tax con, not a tax cut

Today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has bowed to growing pressure, from within his own party and without, to alleviate the suffering imposed on the low paid by the recent increase in the starting rate of income tax. The abolition of the 10p rate, allowing the basic rate to be cut by 2p to 20p, was announced in PM Gordon Brown's final budget as Chancellor. It had the hidden effect of pushing 5.3 million low paid workers into the 20p band, effectively doubling their income tax bills. The losers included many part-time and semi-retired workers.

Today's move comes in the wake of last week's electoral meltdown in the London, Welsh and English local elections, criticism from the Conservative Shadow Cabinet as well as calls for a confidence vote by Labour backbenchers led by Frank Field. Next week, Labour is facing a tough by-election as it seeks to hold onto the Crewe and Nantwich seat vacated by the death of long-serving Labour MP, Gwyneth Dunwoody.

The measures announced today can be seen as little more than a bribe to the electors of Crewe and Nantwich. Alistair Darling announced his proposals to the House of Commons, in his 10th emergency statement in the 11 months since he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The plan is to raise the threshold at which the Basic Rate of income tax becomes payable by £600. That means that almost everyone who pays the basic rate of income tax will be given £120 (£60 in September then £10 per month for the rest of the year). However, it seems that the rebate only applies to this year - so we'll all be paying more again next year.

It offsets some of the damage caused by the increase in income tax - although 1.1 million low paid workers still won't be fully compensated this year. There is still no guarantee that all 5.3 million won't be out of pocket again from next year onwards.

Where's the money coming from?

Labour has turned to it's normal source of funds to pay for the £2,700,000,000 cut in tax revenue. They haven't raised tax from elsewhere. They haven't cut expenditure to fit the new levels of income. No, once again UK plc will be bailed out by the banks. An extra £2,700,000,000 in borrowing to pay for a dodgy back of an envelope tax cut.

It's not as if the economy is awash with money to lend. Hasn't the Chancellor heard of the Credit Crunch? Northern Rock's collapse and nationalistion? The banks tapping sharholders for funds to shore up their balance sheets? On the day that inflation shot up to 4.2%, at a time of economic instability, when monetary policy is already being pulled in two directions at once, the Chancellor confused the picture further with an act of fiscal stupidity.

Let us not forget that today's borrowing is tomorrow's tax rise or spending cut Increased borrowing is the stealthiest tax rise of them all. The Chancellor has chosen to eat his cake, but there's nothing left in the kitty to deal with the dark economic days ahead.

Watch the announcement in full (BBC).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are cobblers "toffs"?

In the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, Labour's campaign has centred on allegations that the Conservative candidate, Edward Timpson, is a "toff". I'm intrigued by the notion. His family is behind the well-known Timpson chain, which specialises in key cutting and shoe repairs. The business was started in Greater Manchester, just to the north of Cheshire, where the Timpson family continue to live.

In short, it seems that the Timpson family are a prime example of "local lads done good". Not toffs, just people who have worked hard and succeeded in life. I can't think why that would be a bad thing, especially for someone seeking to be an MP.

Of course, the Labour Party doesn't like success. It gives the government less control when people are not reliant upon the state for support, and what's Labour for if not to increase government control over our every day lives? Labour has become an anachronism, completely stuck in the class warfare battles of the mid to late 20th century. Those wars are over, but the die-hard control freaks in the Labour Party just can't let go.

Edward Timpson is exactly the kind of person we need more of in parliament. He's clearly intelligent. He's successful. He's from a family of successful entrepreneurs. He isn't reliant upon the state, the state is reliant upon people like him. Crewe and Nantwich is lucky that, on top of all that, he lives and works nearby within Cheshire, his county of birth. The people of Crewe and Nantwich have the opportunity to elect someone who has the local knowledge to understand what the area needs and also the proven ability to stand up and fight - putting that local knowledge to good use.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Brian Paddick's election diary in the Mail

Today's Mail on Sunday has some interesting extracts from Brian Paddick's diary, covering his experiences as the Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London. The poor state of the Lib Dem machine is the main focus of the article. You would have thought that the party would have been more organised for an election with a strong Proportional Representation element (in which they lost 40% of their seats), but after the recent infighting it seems that the party machine is not up to much, in London or centrally.

One day's entry did particularly catch my eye though:

31st March Major hustings with Ken and Boris at Cadogan Hall. Ken supporters vocal, Boris has a professional crowd; I am learning the hard way that Lib Dems won't say boo to a goose.

Are these the same Lib Dems we all know and love?! I've always thought that of all groups of party supporters, the Lib Dems really ought to be a bit coy about it, but I've never known them to be shy of articulating their views - even if their views are determined more by the audience than any form of beliefs.