News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hain's resignation - Labour's rot continues

Well it's been a long time coming, but Hain has finally resigned. I would have thought that the Prime Minister describing his Work and Pensions Secretary and Welsh Secretary "Incompetent" would have been the cue for the orange one to exit the stage. Of course, no-one could expect Brown to have the guts to actually sack him.

It will be interesting to see how far this one goes. Wendy Alexander and Harriet Harman face similar difficulties relating to campaign finance, and there have been suggestions that this resignation, accompanied by yet another police investigation into Labour's finances, is just the thin edge of the wedge. A series of resignations would seriously undermine the government, as happened during the Major years.

There's one person who any article about the resignation of Hain has to mention. It was Guido who first uncovered the dodgy dealings in the Hain camp, having previously seriously undermined the Hain campain in the first place.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be, Lib Dem Clegg's a Euro-Calamity

There have been persistent rumours flying around the blogosphere that the newly minted Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, wants to re-adopt the Liberal Party as the official name. I'm wasn't convinced, and I'm pretty sure that the Liberal Party* would have something to say about it.

However, after Tuesday's House of Commons debate on the Lisbon Treaty, is seems that Cleggy is anything but a democrat. All Lib Dem candidates, like all Conservative and Labour candidates, campaigned on a platform that included a referendum on the EU Constitution at the last general election. Unfortunately, not one Lib Dem MP was willing to vote for one on the Lisbon Treaty. Even a few Labour MPs baulked at the idea of breaking their pledge to vote against a referendum, while the Conservatives stood out as the only party united behind their manifesto.

Of course, Cleggy and Co have lots of "reasons" why they no longer want a referendum. There's the real reason - that they know they would lose. Then there are the official reasons, which require some contortment of the brain to comprehend. Apparently, a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is not needed because, even though it is more than 90%** the same as the previously proposed Constitution, it is not called a consitution, so no referendum is needed. Moreover, apparently it is too minor, even though it includes clauses which make it self amending, and is more significant than the Maastricht Treaty, on which the Lib Dems supported a referendum. Finally, and most confusingly, apparently a referendum on the treaty would become a proxy referendum on EU membership, so the Lib Dems say they want a referendum on EU membership (which they think they have a better chance of winning), even though the speaker says that they can't propose one, and there's no way that they are going to get one. Of course, they could have a proxy referendum, which would surely do the same job, by voting with the Conservatives and Labour rebels when the Bill reaches Committee stage...

Clear as mud then.

Of course, even if you accept these arguments about Lib Dem (lack of) principles, they are ignoring the fact that the Lib Dems also have duties as part of the Opposition in Parliament. Indeed, they repeatedly claim that they are the Real Opposition. Really? Well why not start acting like one and hold the government to account. No matter what divine intervention may have caused the Lib Dem about face, the reasons behind Labour's u turns on the referendum are abundantly clear. Blair only pledged a referendum when he realised that failing to do so would turn the election into an effective referendum - one that he would lose. Now there are no national elections coming up, Brown feels safe enough to reject the pledge on which he was elected. A democratic position would be to demand that the government of the day keeps its pledge to the electorate, and that should lead all opposition parties to unite in favour of a referendum.

Clegg & Co have sold out their principles as liberals and democrats. They would rather win than play fair. They've failed to keep their pledge to the electorate and are failing in their duty to hold the government to account. No wonder so many Lib Dem bloggers are up in arms. Norfolk Blogger, Quaequam, Stephen Tall, Gavin Whenman and Paul Walter are amongst the more high profile Lib Dem bloggers who are most upset with their leadership. And well they might be.

* the Liberal Party is in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, so perhaps the two factions should swap names! See here and here.

** According to Labour member of the negotiating team, Gisela Stuart, architect of the European project, Valery Giscard D'Estaing and the House of Commons select committee, amongst others.

Fat Tip to Iain Dale on the Lib Dem reaction.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Canterbury Lib Dems: Children not welcome

What is going on with Canterbury Lib Dems lately? First they wanted to turf out the city's university students, complaining that there should be a limit on how many students could live in any particular street. Now, in an even more outrageous outburst, theiir group leader and a former leader of the council has declared that Belgian and French schools should stop organising trips to the city (reports kentonline).

Are the Lib Dems unaware how much vistors contribute to the local economy? The foreigh students who they so despise are amongst the biggest spenders when it comes to souvenirs, ice creams and such like. I'm quite certain that they would be more than welcome to come and spend their time (and money) in Folkestone, if Canterbury doesn't want them. I'm not sure that Canterbury's businesses would be so happy though.

Canterbury is a city that has been based on tourism for hundreds of years. Ever since St Augustine established Canterbury as the Cathedral City at the heart of the English Church, it has drawn tourists from far and wide. It was the needs of those visitors that established Canterbury as the principle shopping centre in the region, and they are still coming and spending their money there today.

I get the distinct feeling that, had they existed in the 14th century, Canterbury Lib Dems would also have been just as unwelcoming to the Chaucerian visitors of those times, even if the Wife of Bath had neither silly string nor green hair dye!

Dolcis in administration

The Folkestone branch of Dolcis, inside Bay Trading, is facing an uncertain future, after the chain entered administration with KPMG. The move follows December's disappointing sales figures. At present, it is unclear what will happen to the staff and whether it is likely that the chain will be bought as a going concern or broken up. I'm not sure what impact it might have on Bay Trading either. I would hope that it will be business as usual, and that Dolcis will survive in some form or another. Failing that, hopefully Bay will find another shoe retailer to be their partner.

It is another sign of the storms brewing in the economy. Sadly, the government has little room for manoever, as the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has already spent all the money, leaving Alistair Darling's cupboards bare.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Socialism Alive and Well in Calgary Mayor's office

Calgary is often said to be a Conservative city. A glance at the political representatives seems to agree - all 8 MPs are Conservative, including Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada. At Provincial level, the 2004 election saw all 12 suburban seats and 8 of the 11 central seats won by PCs, including then Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. It's been like that for decades.

Yet the "Independent" Mayor is Dave Bronconnier, who was re-elected in October with another thumping majority, albeit with a miniscule turnout of less than 30%. Red Dave is the de facto leader of Alberta's left, in a province with few officials elected under either the Liberal of NDP banner. His politics would look less out of place in Pyongyang.

Today, Bronco's asking Calgary's Aldermen to vote through is proposal to nationalise housing in the city. Following North Korea's model of governance, the controversial decision will be taken behind closed doors. So much for democracy.

The proposal is to buy up 46 units which have already been developed in the beltline. They have been finised to a high standard, with granite counter tops in the kitchens, for instance. The nationalised homes will be sprinkled throughout the block, meaning that those who have already purchased units will not know whether their neighbours are being subsidised to attain the same living standards.

Of course, Calgary's housing shortage is a serious problem. However, I question whether this is the solution. These apartments are units which have not sold on the open market. They're not unique, and Bronco's already boasting that word is spreading amongst developers with flats on their hands that the city council has its cheque book at the ready. To me, that means one thing. The flats were overpriced. If the mayor hadn't stepped in, the prices would have fallen to a level that the market could sustain. Instead, by stepping in to buy these units, the mayor is artificially inflating prices. That is, he has become part of the problem which he is trying to solve!

Who's actually gaining from the nationalisation of these properties? Not the taxpayer, who has been lumbered with the cost of buying at the top of a precarious market. Not the occupants of the block who paid full price for their units, who will soon find themselves living cheek to cheek with subsidised tennants, who will get to have the same living standards and a fraction of the cost, paid for out of their own city taxes! It's not the young people who are currently struggling to afford to get onto the property ladder either - they have been gazumped by the city just as property looked to be coming into their reach.

The main winners are the developers. They get to sell property which the market had judged to be overpriced - not a bad deal. Longer term, the winners will be the bureaucrats at city hall. Once they can control our homes, they can control our lives. And that's exectly what every socialist secretly dreams of. Bronco will be feeling an almost erotic sense of excitement at the prospect of stitching up a generation into the cult of government. Reliant upon him, how could they resist voting for ever bigger government controlled from the centre? The reality that any organisation controlled from its centre is controlled for its centre.

The city should not get into this. Let us not forget that only 12.5% of people who live in Calgary (including minors) and less than 20% of those eligible to vote actually voted for Bronco's brand of secret socialism. Many of those will have done so blissfully unaware of his desires. The only long term solution is to work with the market to ensure that supply in the city meets demand, allowing the price to naturally reach a sustainable level. Instead, the city's embarking on an unsustainable road, and wasting taxpayers' money which could and should be used to provide the infrastructure needed for a rapidly expanding city. It was only a few weeks ago that the city had to vote on suspending development of new areas of the city due to a shortage of planners! It's the blind leading the blind.

Of course the vote hasn't happened yet. We can all hope that the sensible aldermen will win the debate, preventing Bronco from launching his wild socialist experiment on unsuspecting Calgarians.

Lydd Airport decision delayed

Shepway District Council has announced today that the decision on the Lydd Airport planning applications will not now be taken on 30th January, as previously planned. Apparently there is still further information required about the noise and ecological issues. Whilst it is obviously important that councillors have the full information they require to take an informed decision, I think it's a pity that the uncertainty will continue. The BBC reports a delay of between 2 and 6 months, which seems far too long. The longer the decision is delayed, the longer peoples' lives are blighted by uncertainty and the longer businesses across the marsh, expecially the airport itself, are kept in limbo, which is not good. It does not present a good image of the district as a place to do business.

Even after the decision is taken by the council, there is a good chance that the decision will be called in for a public enquirym which will lead to further delays and uncertainty. Based on the information I have seen, all of which has come from the respective pro and anti-development campaigns, I think that the proposals will, ultimately, be approved. However, I can see the owners of the airport losing interest if there is a protracted battle, as happened at West Wood when Rank wanted to develop a holiday village in the old plantation. That may even be what the opponents of the proposals are banking on, but it would be an afront to democracy.

Only time will tell, and objective information which has not been provided by groups with vested interests in the development will be welcome.

In a related matter, I see that some marsh residents are complaining that when the decision is taken, they will have to watch it on the television in another room, as the visitors' gallery can only hold the 40 people required to give evidence to the council. I can't see what the problem with that is, as long as they get the sound right and everyone can hear properly. The decision will even be webcast, allowing people all over the district to see the deliberations. It seems that some people are determined to complain about anything and everything. Admittedly, reading this blog you may think that's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. However, I think it's quite clear that Shepway is doing everything necessary to ensure that the decision is taken properly, deomocratically and openly, which is all that anyone can really ask for, even though many of us will disagree with the decision whichever way it goes. That's democracy.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kent Fire Brigade interview


Here's what Kent's fire chief has to say about the drastic cuts to Folkestone's fire services. He reckon's it's all perfectly ok to take our services away because Ashford's expanding. I don't think Ashford should be allowed to expand if there aren't funds to allow for the services they need.

It's not often that I agree with a Lib Dem, and it's even less often that I say anything positive about them. I do have to say that the letter published on the Shepway Lib Dems website outlining their opposition to the cuts to Folkestone's fire coverage makes some very valid points, that should certainly be considered by Kent Fire and Rescue. The campaign against the cuts s very strong, not least because it is a cross party campaign, with support for the cause from all levels of government from town council to our MP, regardless of political affiliation.

It is a shame that things started out so poorly. The Lib Dems did seek to hijack the issue for party political gain, as the letters on the Hawkinge Gazette website show:

Lib Dem letter
Conservative response

Moreover, Michael had already raised the issue some two weeks before the Lib Dems lept onto the bandwagon, which they now claim to have been leading. I firmly believe that the response that Shepway was able to produce from its in depth analysis is much more powerful that the glib motion first put by the Lib Dems, which seemed more like a publicity stunt than any genuine attempt to prevent the cuts from going ahead. The Lib Dem leadership either played fast and loose with the issue in an act of political point scoring, or demonstrated their dangerous lack of experience and understanding of the way the decisions are made. In this isntance, given the small number of Lib Dem councillors and the fact that most are new to the role, I do think it's quite possible that they just made an error of judgement and most didn't understand what was actually going on. I'm not conviced that goes for all of them though.

Nonetheless, all party political differences aside I am glad that the arguement has been put by all of our representatives, regardless of colour, and can hope and pray that the powers that be see the gaping holes in the proposals and stop the cuts at Folkestone fire station.

Dungeness C

It has been a while since I've had time to blog, what with weddings, moving house and all, but I'm going to get back into it now. What better to start with than the planned new nuclear power stations.

Clearly, the decision on whether to build a new nuclear plant at Dungeness will be important for the marsh in particular but also for the surrounding areas, including Folkestone. There have been nuclear power stations there for over 30 years now, but Dungeness A is now being decommissioned and B isn't far away either.

Nuclear energy is, inevitably, a controversial subject. I can't say that I'm a big fan of nuclear power for three main reasons. First is the fact that we still don't really know what to do with the waste, or what the long term health and environmental consequences of that waste may be. Second is the financial costs involved, which are high and not really known for definite, given that we don't know how to dispose of the waste yet. Finally, and most importantly, is the risk that it could all go horribly wrong. Clearly, the chances are slim, but that will be of little consolation to the people of Chernobyl, who have had to live with the consequences of nuclear disaster. You never know, next time it could be Dungeness, although I know that the technology is very different.

Despite all the dangers, I can't really see how else we can generate the necessary power in the short term. Clearly, renewable energy is fantastic. It's clean and endless. However, it just isn't reliable enough yet. There will always be times where there isn't enough wind to turn the turbines or sun to power the solar panels. They also cause environmental damage of their own, with the wind farm on the marsh causing great concern to the RSBP and hydro electric dams and tidal power destroying ecosystems. So for the moment, I think that there is still the need to improve the technology, so that we can implement renewable energy in the greenest possible way. Powering the whole country with renewables just isn't a realistic option at the moment.

So that means we need to do something in the meantime. The options seem pretty limited:
1) nuclear energy
2) fossil fuels
3) Managing without electricity.

I don't find the idea of going back to the dark ages terribly appealing, so I'll rule out 3 straight away. Of course, there are opportunities to reduce energy consumption - from simply turning off lights which aren't in use to new technology in industry and our homes - but that doesn't eliminate the need to generate electricity.

We certainly could generate all of our power needs from fossil fuels if we so choose. I think that there are problems with that though. Firstly, there's the well publicised carbon emissions and their impact on global warming. Even if you don't believe in man made global warning - personally, I don't think that it's been proven beyond doubt, but still think that man made global warming is very likely to be a reality, even if it is only part of a wider, natural phenomenon - there are few people who would want to see a return to the days of smog. I certainly wouldn't want to live next to the fumes of a coal power plant, and wouldn't want the countryside to be ruined by them either. Of course, there are carbon capture schemes which would see the pollutants collected and then stored underground, but that's unproven technology. Moreover, fossil fuels are limited. Increasingly, we are reliant upon imports of gas and oil from unstable parts of the world, and the increasing demand is pushing up prices to uneconomic levels, so we can't afford to rely on any one source of power. In terms of coal, although we still have plenty, that which is left is the least accessible, which again makes it more expensive, more dangerous to mine and again it can leave a blight on the countryside.

Waste to energy incinerators are in some ways a great option, killing two birds with one stone. They get rid of all the rubbish, which we can't keep burrying and provide a source of electricity. However, few people want to live next door to one, so it can only ever be part of the solution.

So it seems to be that there are pros and cons of all types of energy, and the best policy for the time being balances all of them, rather than relying on one. The technological, environmental and political unknowns make dependence on any one form of energy far too dangerous.

Turning specifically to Dungeness, having decided that I think that we need nuclear power, I think that Dungeness C should be built. There are several reasons which make it a good locations.
1) Access to ample water for cooling the plant, which is why Dungeness was chosen in the first place.
2) There are plants all along the other coast of the channel anyway, so it's not like we can avoid living near to a nuclear power station.
3) The skills required by a nuclear power plant already exist on the marsh.
4) Romney Marsh needs to have some economic activity. A nuclear power plant will provide skilled jobs for a generation of Marshians.

Of course, there are those who want to maintain Romney Marsh as some kind of living museum. I see that Shepway Lib Dems have already come out against plans for a new power plant, have also opposed plans for a new airport. They seem to think that the Marsh should rely on tourism, which is one of the most unreliable and lowest paid forms of work going! I have to say, that I do love the Marsh, which feels like it's in another era, even when you're standing next to the existing power stations. However, you can't expect people to live their lives in the past. This is the 21st century, whether we like it or not, and people do need to earn money to survive. The Lib Dems haven't come up with any alternative plans to generate the necessary jobs and income. Then again, when have they ever offered a solution or an alternative vision? They are the party of the populist gimmick and cheap publicity stunt.

For me, there will be one particularly important consideration when the decision is due - the plans to deal with rising sea levels. There will need to be plans in place to protect the site from potential encroachment by the sea. In fact, that will already have to be in place until 2021 to protect the waste stored at the site of the old Dungeness A, and probably a little longer for Dungeness B as well, so it shouldn't be an issue. It may even be that the existance of the nuclear power stations is all the prevents the marsh from being allowed to be reclaimed by the sea.