News from British and Canadian Conservatives

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.

Fashion on the beaches of Folkestone

The recent spell of fantastic weather has brought considerable crowds into Folkestone to bask on the beaches. Yesterday evening, Folkestone Central was busy with day trippers returning from their day by the sea. Today, Corissa and I headed out to enjoy the sunshine, taking in the beach, The Leas, the Coastal Park, the Creative Quarter and Casa del Gelato, probably the best ice cream parlour on the planet!

One thing really struck me about this year's beachwear or rather, the near lack of beachwear. Thongs have been increasingly popular with women for years, but I actually saw a few men in thongs as well. There were reports in the fashion press earlier this year that menswear was going to get more revealing. Could it be that Folkestone's beachgoers are setting the trend. Thong-wearing men were definitely in a small minority, but many men seemed to be wearing more figure hugging shorts, rather than the board shorts which have been popular of late. I felt rather overdressed in my cargo shorts. Not quite overdressed enough to head out and but a thong, mind you!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

YouGov win battle of the pollsters

Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth by Labour, YouGov's opinion polling techinques have turned out to be pretty accurate today. They were the most accurate predictors of the local elections in England and Wales. However, the stakes were higher in the London elections, where Ken Livingston regularly criticised the firm, denying that the large Conservative leads which they projected were true.

The final YouGov poll predicted that Boris would lead Ken on the first preference votes by 44%-36%, which is pretty close to the actual 43%-37% split. On second preferences, YouGov were even better, correctly predicting that the final tally would be 53%-47% in Boris' favour.

Throughout the campaign, YouGov were seen to be out on a limb, with rival pollsters mruk and Ipsos-Mori forecasting a narrow Ken victory. In terms of the general election, YouGov has also been showing the largest Conservative lead over Labour, and tends to show the Lib Dems lower than other pollsters.

The most recent YouGov poll, for the Telegraph, gave the Conservatives an 18 point lead over Labour. The headline figures were Conservative 44%, Labour 26%, Lib Dem 17%.

Friday, May 02, 2008

It's official - Boris is the new Mayor of London

The result in full:

Candidate Party 1st pref 2nd Pref Final
Johnson Conservative 1043761 124977 1168738
Livingston Labour 893877 135089 1028966
Paddick Lib Dem 236685

Berry Green 77374

Barnbrook BNP 69710

Craig Christian 39249

Batten UKIP 22422

German Left List 16796

O'Connor English Dem 10695

McKenzie Independent 5389

Boris wins - well done Boris!

How Wales was Won

The local elections in Wales have been pretty good to the Conservatives. The party picked up an additional 59 councillors, giving a total of 173 - more than the Lib Dems for the first time since the unitary structure was introduced. Labour remained the largest party, with Plaid second in terms of councillor numbers. However, there are now more Independent councillors than any single party can muster.

In terms of council control, things are looking even better for the Conservatives, who are now the joint largest party with Labour, both parties controlling two councils each. All of the other councils are either under No Overall Control or Independents hold the majority of seats - so we will have to wait and see whether those Independents work with each other or selected other parties.

In addition to holding Monmouthshire and gaining the Vale of Glamorgan, the Conservatives gained representation in many councils across Wales. Even Rhondda Cynon Taff now has a Tory representative!

The full results across Wales:

Tory Lab Lib Dem Plaid Other
Anglesey 2 5 2 8 23
Gwynedd 0 4 5 35 30
Cardigan 0 1 9 16 16
Pembrokeshire 5 5 3 5 42
Carmarthenshire 0 12 1 31 30
Swansea 4 30 23 1 14
Neath Port Talbot 0 37 4 11 12
Bridgend 6 27 11 1 9
Vale of Glamorgan 25 13 0 6 3
Cardiff 17 13 35 7 3
Rhondda Cynon Taff 1 45 4 20 5
Merthyr Tydfil 0 8 6 0 19
Caerphilly 0 32 0 32 9
Newport 16 19 6 2 1
Torfaen 5 18 2 3 16
Monmouthshire 29 7 5 2 5
Bleanau Gwent 0 25 2 0 15
Powys 9 4 15 0 45
Wrexham 5 11 12 4 20
Flintshire 9 22 11 1 26
Denbighshire 18 7 1 8 13
Conwy 22 7 4 12 14
Wales 173 352 161 205 370

Conservatives sweep Kent

It's official - for the first time ever, every council in Kent is under Conservative majority control. Maidstone Lib Dems have long described the borough as an "Island of Yellow in a Sea of Blue". Today, they finally drowned. The Conservatives gained 4 seats, two each from Labour and the Lib Dems but lost a previously ultr-safe seat to an independent. The new council breakdown is:
Conservative 29
Lib Dem 20
Labour 1
Independents 5

Conservatives in Tunbridge Wells and Swale also made further gains, strengthening the party's hold on the other two Kent councils up for election this year.

Overall, it's looking like a great night for the Conservatives nationally, with both Labout and the Lib Dems suffering. Nationally, the Conservatives currently control more councils than Labour managed at their peak in the mid-90s.

Results are still coming, and many councils won't start counting until tomorrow, along with London.