Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Science Funding

I’m a scientist by training, a physicist in fact, the one science to rule them all, as some (well physicists anyway) might call it.

The last week has seen a couple of stories relating to science funding that I’ve found very disappointing. Firstly there was news that specifically physics funding would be cut by at least £115m resulting in cancellations in the area of astronomy and nuclear and particle physics as well as a 25% cut in the grants available for fellowships and PhDs.

Some of the largest cuts appear to be in Nuclear physics, where a 52% cut in funding is going to force our physicsts to withdraw from major international projects (no doubt including the ITER replacement for JET, the next generation nuclear fusion reactor experiments, and leave us with a lack of trained nuclear physcists despite promises to build new fission reactors for energy.

Cutting phsyics funding is like stopping the heart of science, physics provides us with an understanding of the underlying principles of every other science. Yes much of it lacks a real world application, but the equipment and technology developed by projects such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and other physics programmes often make a real difference to society and technology. However there is also a lot of physics like the area of nuclear physics that is vital to the world’s future energy security, or like the area of quantum mechanics vital to the future development of computing technology.

But it’s not just been scientific funding cuts, the way university research is funded is also changing. The government is about to introduce something called the Research Excellence Framework, whereby a quarter of all research funding will depend on the social, public policy, cultural and quality of life” impact of their research. This is ridiculous, scientific research is scientific research, there are thousands of examples of discoveries that occurred in research that wasn’t looking to improve humanity’s lot, just to improve it’s knowledge.

This kind of policy will just lead to an increase in funding for social sciences, research that support government policy, or to an entirely new focused area. It will no doubt also lead to a large number of people forcing their scientific research to be related to climate change (I’m interested in the mating habits of butterflies say, so I title my research proposal the affects of a changing climate on the mating habits of butterflies), the current “hot topic” in science.

It is perhaps telling of Gordon Brown’s interest in science that it was only in February of this year when he delivered his first speech in relation to it and apparently stated “The downturn is no time to slow down our investment in science but to build more vigorously for the future.” A great soundbite, but it hardly seems to have been backed up by action.

The problem is that modern science isn’t cheap and it isn’t easy to understand. ITER for example will cost at least 5 billion euros but will lead to an entirely new and potentially clean way of generating energy. It’s efficency will make wind, solar and other green sources look pathetic, it is after all the same energy source that powers the sun that creates wind and solar energy in the first place. We’ve spent billions to bail out banks and to try to stop climate change, why aren’t we investing money into projects like this and other pure scientific research that could, and in fact will, produce the technologies of tomorrow.

Or look at the work of particle physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Cern, ground breaking work that has been reduced to a search for the “God Particle” or if you believe some people an experiment that will create a black hole that will destroy the universe. The general public, and indeed politicians can’t understand science so can’t see the value in it. Even the current Minister of State for Science and Innovation isn’t a scientist he has a PhD in robotics and a degree in production engineering. His previous company may have manufactured vaccines, but at the end of the day he’s an engineer not a pure scientist.

In all I think science is being severely short changed by both the funding cuts and the change in funding priorities. In reality the cost of our science funding is tiny, the physics research funding programme is 2.4 billion pounds over 5 years, so £480 million a year. To put that in perspective Tesco’s profits last year were £3billion, Tesco made more  profit  in one year than we will spend on science in five. In fact Tesco’s sales topped £1 billion a week, so more money went through its tills in 3 weeks than we will spend on physics in five years. Or you can look at it this way as a nation will have spent more money on groceries in one super market by January 3rd than we will be spending on physics in the whole year.

That truly is a terrifying statistic, but perhaps it shows where scientific funding will end up under this government, the purview purely of companies or wealthy patrons, research that is aimed at achieving a goal or objective, the end of pure research.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Education spending

There's an interesting post on the Adam Smith Institute Blog about the effects of education spending. Firstly it points put that as with everything there is a point at which spending more on education will not make it anymore efficient. Past a certain point you get diminishing returns. It also points to a relatively old, but still relevant study that showed that the attitude of teachers towards pupil ability affects attainment more than additional money. So if more teachers just felt that pupils could achieve more then they would.

As I mentioned in a previous post this government's approach to any issue has been to throw money at it rather than look at underlying issues. Could a change of attitude rather than ring fenced spending be the answer.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Super Injunctions

After Trafigura (Google it if you don’t know), one of the first high profile super injunctions, it seems that they are on the rise again, with news on twitter and the blogosphere that law firm Schillings have been sending to whom it may concerns to all and sundry.

Super injunctions as they’ve become known are basically court orders banning the publication or dissemination of certain information, but also banning anyone from saying that there is a ban. In the past an injunction was often used on the grounds of national security, publication of the arrest of a terrorist suspect for example could tip off the rest of a terrorist cell sending them to ground and making them impossible to catch. However they are also used increasingly by  celebrities and those in the public eye to in the sanitized words of Guido and CharonQC keep their mistakes hidden and covered.

These kind of super injunctions also come with all kinds of threats, contempt of court citations, jail time, possession of assets and are meant to scare publishers into saying nothing, the problem is they’re only valid in England, and the Internet pretty much ignores them. So I can check Wikileaks say, or just look at a scottish website seeing details on the Scotsman website say that the Telegraph can’t publish or even talk about for legal reasons.

In my opinion Super injunctions are an over reach of the law and a mis-intepretation of it’s purpose. Yes I agree that an individual’s private life is their life. Just ask my wife, an avid Heat reader, and she will tell you I couldn’t possibly care less about the latest celebrity goings on, although I’ll happily admit that isn’t the case for most of the population.

I am certainly not in disagreement there has to be some protection in the law for an individual’s privacy but these super injunctions are not it. They are a distortion of my personal view of the law and the courts’ primary purpose, that is to protect society. Our laws are there to enforce the morals of society on society, the laws we have outlawing murder are there to say society as a whole believes murder is morally wrong and so society should be protected against it, not individuals but society.

The problem with injunctions and certainly super injunctions is that they only protect the individual, whilst injunctions on the basis of national security protect society. Injunctions on the basis of it making an individual feel uncomfortable or embarrassed do not protect society in the slightest. They are increasingly being used to cover up an individual’s mistakes so that the public don’t know about it.

So what’s the solution? The solution must be reform, reform of the libel and privacy laws of this country. Not the creation of new offences and the extension of the law into places it should not be, and not the enshrining of aims and aspirations into law,  but the reform of existing laws to make the system better. It is easy to blame the courts but they are only interpreting the law, it is the law that needs work not them.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Government Debt - £300bn and counting

I’ve been reading a fair bit lately about the structural debt versus actual debt of the UK government. For those that don’t know the structural debt is the debt that the government would have regardless of the recession, the day to day borrowings that it has accumulated as a result of spending more than it’s tax revenues. At the moment the Treasuary says that it stands at £127bn, however independent bodies think it might actually make up a lot more of our £300bn national debt.

When this recession started the Conservative party began to talk about how Gordon Brown had failed to put anything away for a rainy day during the last decade of economic growth, but it actually appears worse than that. Whilst the economy continued to grow and grow the UK government continued to borrow more and more, continually spending more than tax revenues and running a deficit. Personally I think that we were extremely lax in opposition not to point that out then, and that we’re not doing enough now.

Look at it from the point of view of the public, you cannot borrow money and take on debt to support your lifestyle, it is extremely bad practice and likely to cause trouble later down the line. However that is what the government has done, and indeed it is something that the public have done as well, the economic growth of the last decade was, it now seems, built on debt, borrowing on credit cards and equity release from inflated house prices. Why did people think that this was acceptable? I would like to suggest that if the government of the day does not show sound financial principles in the management of the UK’s finances then unconsciously the public thinks that they do not have to. If the government is borrowing money, then why shouldn’t I?

Many people have blamed the mountain of personal debt on the instant gratification culture that we have today, and this seems to have affected not just the public but government as well. The current government had to deliver more to public services, it said it would spend more on the NHS and achieve it’s aims and regardless of whether it could afford it or not it was going to do it.

The splurge on public services in the last decade is the equivalent of an individual who wants to watch better quality television so they decide they need to buy a new 42” television but can’t afford it now, so they put it on hire finance, then they decide that that television isn’t delivering what they want, so they need to spend more to get it right, so they buy a new top of the range surround sound system, again on finance. But that’s still not quite right, they need to spend more money so off they go to  DFS and buy a new sofa, on finance as well. The problem is that none of this fixes the problem, the problem wasn’t that more money needed to be spent on it, it was the quality of programming in the first place that was the issue, and this is the situation the government is in now. For the past decade the government has spent more and more on the public sector without identifying the initial issues first. In fact new data from the Office of National Statistics is said to show that there has been no improvement in public services such as the NHS despite the billions more spent on them.

Lets go back to our man and his television for a second. He could afford to pay his debts every month (mainly because they weren’t going to be due for an excessively long time, 50 years say), but then one day his boss calls him into his office. “I’m sorry” he says “but times are tough, we’re going to have to cut your salary” so suddenly his income is less and he can’t afford all his outgoings anymore, but he’s got good credit so he takes out a loan to make up the shortfall hoping that his salary will go back up soon.

After a year of being told that business is improving by his boss and that his salary will go up again soon, he starts to run out of money again, so he goes back to the banks to ask for a loan again. Unfortunately because his salary has dropped to even less in the last year his credit score has dropped, he’s no longer AAA and the banks can offer his money but only at a huge interest rate, or perhaps they just say no. Either way it either costs him a huge amount of money or he has to default. In the end he has two options, get a new job that pays more or cut his spending, slash his costs, downsize his house, cancel the gym membership, drive a more fuel efficient car, get a cheaper haircut every month.

That’s the situation the government has got this country into now. It hasn’t quite got to the stage whereby our national credit rating has dropped, however there have been warning signs and the cost of insuring UK debt has skyrocketed. Two years ago it cost $5,000 per year to insure   £10 million of UK government debt against non payment for three years, now it is $52,000 as opposed to $2,000 for  German government debt and $22,000 for  BP debt. So to put that in perspective the market thinks the UK government is more likely to default on it’s debt than not just Germany, but a British company that makes up its economy. That is the state that our country’s finances are now in.

The Labour Party’s approach as laid out in the Pre Budget Report is basically option 1 and a tiny bit of option 2  for the man and his television (He’s going to cut back on his expensive hair cuts and look for a new job), they effectively want to raise more and more tax revenue but not significantly cut back on spending.

Personally I don’t believe that this is a real option, the only real option is to find or force substantial savings in government expenditure, live within our national means and handle the root cause of issues.  Lets go back to our man with his television, could he have just improved the quality of the television he watched by writing a letter of complaint to the BBC, or watching a different channel? Perhaps something simpler and cheaper? By analogy could we have fixed the NHS by just doing things differently rather than spending more and more?

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009


There's an interesting little post on the Adam Smith Institute blog that points out that government borrowing effectively began when we needed money to finance the Napoleonic war and has continued ever since.

That's not the interesting bit though. The interesting bit is that the cumulative borrowing (total borrowing) for what was approximately 200 years up to the year 2000 was roughly £300 billion pounds (although I don't know if this is adjusted value). Now the PBR has just revealed that in the next 20 months we will be borrowing as a country £300 billion pounds, so basically as much money as we have borrowed in total in the last 200 years!

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lagos, dealing with politics of a different kind

I'm in Lagos, Nigeria for a week working very intensely on a project to automate the high courts of Lagos State. Internet here is pretty erratic at best so my blog posts and tweets might be a bit sparse or irrelvant to those back in the UK.

Much of this week is being taken up dealing with internal politics, not the grand national or local level politics, but the hierarchies and political maneuvering that happens in any organisation and seems to happen even more so in the civil service of any country.

The organisation I am working with has been drafted in to basically make good a workflow and document management system that entered development nearly 6 years ago and launched nearly 4 years ago but today is barely used. The original project was funded by DFID through the British Council's Strength, growth and Justice programme and focused mainly on technology although there was some business process re-engineering done, all by an American company.

The technology itself has not really been the failure, it's technically a good system, but it fails to take into account the people. For it to be implemented properly working practices had to change, business processes had to be modified and this just hasn't happened. The internal politics weren't taken into account in the implementation phase so it's stalled.

This inertia to change is largest in the so called frontline staff of the civil service (anywhere in the world), the people who actually carry out the processes and use the IT system, middle managers and senior managers will go along with it but people at the bottom seem to hate change. This issue will I think be one of the largest to be overcome by an incoming Conservative government that is determined to cut the deficit through efficiency savings.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Alveston By-election - Update

As I previously wrote we narrowly lost the recent Alveston By-election after the local paper ran a negative front page story on the day of the election. The story claimed that 800 new houses would be built in Stratford and that the conservative led council was going to vote to lift the moratorium on building new homes the following Monday. This issue became a last minute leaflet drop in Alveston and the article quoted the lib-dem candidate as being against.

Well the vote has now been and gone and no such thing happened, a decision on a specific aspect of a planning application has been sent back from the cabinet to the scrutiny committee, and I'm willing to bet that the local papers won't say anything today.

So did we lose the by-election just because of this story, no I don't think we did, it only worked because of the existing narrative about the conservative led council. If that wasn't there it wouldn't have been anywhere near as damaging.

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I just received a text from O2 reminding me that from 1st of January VAT is going back to 17.5%. Basically forewarning me that my phone bill will be more expensive (by about £1.50 on average). It's only because it's been mentioned a few times recently that I'd even remembered that we had had a temporary VAT cut (being out of the country when it happened didn't help me even notice a change in prices). It will be interesting to see what it does to prices come January, will the January sales effectively absorb them? Or will nothing look quite as attractive this year.

Now as I remember it the cut in VAT was only temporary and until January 2010 because it would help stimulate economic growth and spending and by then we'd be out of recession...

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I spent yesterday at Slough Borough Council delivering a training session to their apprentices. The SBC apprentice programme is a fantastic programme that takes school leavers and puts them through what is effectively an apprenticeship for office administration. Every year in September the council takes on about 20 apprentices who are then attached to various departments throughout the organisation, they do real work and also receive lessons on english, maths and various other developments, ultimately obtaining qualifications as well.

Now I'm not going to lie to you, I found yesterday's training session one of the toughest to deliver in a long time, their attention spans were low and also their behavior wasn't the best (I think being sat around tables like they were in a classroom defaulted them to classroom like behaviour, talking whilst other people were talking, not paying attention etc), certainly not what you would expect from employees, but they are young and new to the world of work so you can forgive them.

Effectively "teaching" them for the day though did make me think about the current state of education. Their ability to discuss abstract concepts and in fact to just discuss what they thought of something was severely limited, however when I gave them what was in effect a worksheet and they had to answer some clearly worded questions they had no issues.

All of these young people had finished at least basic education (GCSE's) although I don't think there is a hard and fast grade requirement to get onto the programme. However hardly any of them seemed to have critical thinking skills, or the ability to articulate their view on a subject and debate it with others. I should have thought that these were basic skills that should come about in education, however their ability to answer questions in written form when they were presented straight to them, I think tells us the problems with this government's approach to education.

For the last decade the solution to continued underperformance of schools and the education system has been to either target schools and pupils more thoroughly, leading to teaching to the test and the key being getting the right answer, or to suggest that young people need to be in formal academic education for longer. Either starting school earlier or finishing it later.

In the type of training I generally deliver the important thing isn't getting the answer, it is talking through with other people, engaging with others to hear their views and debating with them. The realisation moments are what's important, when someone challenges your opinion and you see things with a different set of eyes. When I was at school quite a lot of focus was put on showing your workings, that getting there was just as important as the result. At the time I thought this was stupid, if you got the wrong answer who cared if you got it by the right method, but now I see that this is actually very important.

In a modern world our complex problems can only be solved by complex solutions that involve creativity, and shared development. The issues of tomorrow and indeed today be they related to energy, technology, the internet or human interaction won't be solved by one person working through a work sheet answering clearly defined questions with clearly defined answers. They will be solved by teams collaborating, challenging each other searching for a solution to a problem that is ill defined and indistinct.

Sadly it seems that isn't how our education system prepares people, we read constantly of organisation's complaining that school leavers lack the basics and are not ready for the world of work, our universities complain about the lack of critical thinking in their intake students. In education the current goverenment has become obsessed with the idea that what you can measure is important and anything else is unimportant, they have forgotten or perhaps never heard Esinstein saying "“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”.

So what is the solution, education needs to be looked at thoroughly and with a new set of eyes, yes concentration on the basics is important, science, maths, english. These are vital skills fo the economy of tomorrow and not one of those in my training yesterday knew for example why ice floats, but they are not the only thing we need to concentrate on. Schools need to train students to think critically and to be able to debate and discuss ideas, not just come up with answers, and alongside this the obsessions with making everything academic needs to be dropped. Not all careers need to be academic, there is nothing stopping someone following academic study in a subject if they want to, but to make it compulsory for nurses to be degree level qualified or teachers to be educated to a master's level misses the point of education and what it is about.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Established Narratives, or why they hate us so much

I’ve recently been considering the idea of how Conservatives are seen in the general population and how other political parties are seen. Why? Well I’ve effectively recently started coming out as a conservative, to friends, acquaintances and colleagues, many of which are shocked and surprised that I am a conservative. “Never thought of you as a conservative, don’t know why” was a comment from an old friend on Twitter when he visited this blog the other day.

Or there was the comment from a friend at a recent party when it came up in conversation that I was working with the local party and even looking at becoming a conservative councillor, “but you’re nice” was the good friend’s reply, “I’ve never met a nice conservative”.

Here lies the issue for the party at the next election, we have to create one of the biggest swings in history, win seats that haven’t been held by a conservative since the early 1900’s, win over people who haven’t voted conservative for decades. We have to engage with people who we’re not currently engaged with, who haven’t even considered engaging with us before, and why haven’t they? It’s because we’re all nasty, we are the evil party, the party that caused hardship, that is just for the rich, that robs from the poor to give to our rich friends.

This idea that we are the nasty people of British politics pervades the public consciousness, despite evidence to the contrary. Individual aspects or outcomes of historical policy are held to be representative of the now, it doesn’t matter how much we talk about modern compassionate conservatism or the place of society over the state, we are the party that wants to cut the state back and leave the less well off with nothing. The austerity that was necessary to build the strong economy of the past decade (which Labour inherited) and the breaking of the miners' strikes is the prevailing view and memory of the non Conservative public. The Labour party are (as their recent Party Political Broadcast tried to paint them) the party of the people, the party cares, that created the NHS, and helped people out of poverty.

There is ample evidence to the contrary though, from as far back in history as Pitt the younger who fought vested interests to open up Britain to free trade The Duke of Wellington removed the worst political discrimination of the day against Catholics,  and Peel, Conservative PM, in 1834 outlawed the employment of women and children in mines, and regulated factory hours and public health. Disralei introduced one nation conservatism, still talked about by David Cameron today, to introduce social reform to “elevate the condition of the people”, he also carried out large scale slum clearances, and gave the vote to working men in towns and cities. It was Lord Salisbury in 1881 that created local councils to empower local communities, who championed local democracy and introduced free primary schooling for all, he also created the primrose league that brought large numbers of women into politics for the first time. These may seem like ancient history but they were policies of the same party driven by the same basic ideology.

But the policies and positive achievement for the masses don’t end in ancient history, in 1923 Stanley Baldwin introduced a comprehensive old age pensions system as well as introducing unemployment benefits and creating major housing schemes. He also allowed men and women to vote on equal terms. It was Chamberlain who introduced the factory act to place restrictions on child labour and regulations to improve working conditions overall and introduced paid holiday for employees. Everyone knows that Churchill helped defend Britain and defeated the Nazi’s but how many know he also introduced free schooling for all. Anthony Eden introduced the clean air act which pioneered environmental protection as far back as 1955 and it was Macmillan that built over 300,000 new homes a year to deal with housing shortages and increased living standards by 50% during his time in office.

In more recent times people remember Thatcher for breaking the miners and the tough times of the 80s but her decision to cut spending and increase taxes led to economic recovery for Britain. It’s also a rare individual who will remember that she gave a ground breaking speech to the UN on climate change. Equally Major is remembered for sleaze in the party, but he instigated the Northern Ireland peace process, created the national lottery, and laid the foundations for the next decade of economic growth and prosperity.
Now yes there are equally some great mistakes, opposing the aboloition of slavery, the poll tax etc but every party has their mistakes. None of the above though are the work of a nasty group of individuals who are only out for the vested interests of themselves and their friends and yet this is how we are seen either in terms of policy or in terms of individuals.

It has been my experience that in reality the nasty party is Labour, looking at it both on a national political level and just in terms of personal experience. It was the aide to a Laboru member of the Welsh Assembly who verbally attacked my wife, reducing her to tears at a dinner party over the fact she was middle class and happy to be so. It was Damian McBride a Labour Spin doctor who attempted to make up viscous rumors and smears about conservative MPs and along with Alastair Campbell bullied the press into submission. It is Gordon Brown that is said to have thrown office equipment around when he doesn’t get his way, not a Conservative Prime Minister but yet there is still this tag attached to someone who “admits” to being a conservative.

For yet more evidence look at a recent exchange on Facebook between some friends:

Person 1: “ Another word for the Tories springs to mind. Can't quite think what it is but I think it begins with a C”
Person 2: “compassionate?”
Person 1: “I think it rhymes with runts...”

Or look at how Labour’s new media twitter darling @BevaniteEllie simply retold a “joke” about hoping Lady Thatcher fell down the stairs whilst unveiling her new portrait at Number 10 last week.

“RT @CllrTime Thatcher at No.10 4 portrait unveiling. Hope they’re hanging it at top of stairs, nxt 2 where some1 carelessly left tht skateboard“

Is this the words of what is commonly portrayed as the party of niceness? The party of the people?

I titled this piece, “Established narratives or why they hate us so much”, so what did I mean by that. The issue here is about established narratives, the established narrative is that Conservatives are all nasty people and that if we came to power we would be nasty to the population. This is perpetuated by the media, and by society as a whole and of course by our opponents and opposition.

The problem with an established narrative (rather like a stereotype) is that it is difficult to break, generally experiences we have that reinforce it are remembered and those that go against it are forgotten, think about trains, whenever they’re late they reinforce the established narrative that they are late, when they’re early or on time we just forget about it. So all the evidence to the contrary that Conservatives are nasty gets left by the wayside in the face of this established narrative.

One of the issues with the personalisation of politics today is that new narratives are establishing themselves around the individuals not the party, so economic issues are the cause of Brown not Labour ideology, or the nastiness in Labour Politics is the result of Alastair Campbell not the party itself. The same is true I think of David Cameron, narratives exist around him but they haven’t overridden the existing ones of the party in the public consciousness.

So what’s the solution? How do you break down established narratives? Well I’ll be discussing that a lot in future posts.

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Einstein and Politics

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”

Both fantastic Einstein quotes, which in the current climate of top down targets, NHS trusts measured to within an inch of their life but still failing to perform, schools inspected, targeted and counted but still failing to deliver education are very important. And why is it true that not everything that can be counted counts? Because when we count things we tend to take a reductionist view of them, if we count a and b then a+b will equal c (the thing we want to achieve), but as Einstein said we need to make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler...

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Alveston local By-election

So we were defeated last night in the Alveston By-election. Despite a hard working campaign team and the fact that the by-election had come about by the sad death of a conservative councillor the liberal democrats defeated our candidate Lynda Organ.

It was a narrow margin of defeat just 888 votes for Anthony Cronin to 834 for Lynda. With so few votes in it you have to wonder what swayed those last few voters, particularly as it appears that the Green candidate failed to pull any majority of lib dem votes (only 58 votes went to the Greens and 111 votes to the Labour candidate).

The town council seat was also won by a lib dem candidate, this time by a much larger margin (1028 votes to 694). Showing the sometimes incestuous nature of local politics the winning candidate, Ian Fradgley, is actually husband of the current town mayor Jenny Fradgley.

Something that I am increasingly thinking is of vital importance on a local level though is the local media. It's known in Stratford political circles that the local paper the Stratford Herald leans towards the Lib Dems (why though no one has been able to tell me). And on election day the front story of the Herald was a story detailing how the Conservative led council and cabinet will be voting on the building of 800 new homes in the region on Monday. The second paragraph of the story stated "All in all, new housing in the Stratford district over the next 15 years looks like rapidly becoming the single most explosive issue on the political agenda in South Warwickshire. It’s already been made into a matter of “stop press” urgency by the opposition Liberal Democrats in today’s (Thursday’s) district council by-election in Alveston." although there was no conservative quote or mention of the candidate's position on the issue at all. Her position was left implicit by the tone of the comment and article.

Equally on the same day we received our free local paper the Stratford Observer which in it's letters page included a lead letter from a conservative detailing that they will not be voting conservative because the current council has taken away free parking for over 65s in the town, and a letter responding in very negative terms to a previous letter from a potential conservative local candidate who questioned the validity of being a councillor but failing to attend meetings. His original comments were more than valid but yet the letter makes them sound to be false and accused him of attacking others without finding out all the facts. It also falls back onto the established narrative that Conservatives are all nasty people (more coming on that soon) by saying "... doesn't mark a return to tactics Mr Cameron claims the conservatives have given up."

In terms of most people's knowledge of truly local issues the only way they know what is happening is through the local paper so when it has a clear skew towards one party this causes great issues. In the weeks and months ahead as we head towards a real local election relatinships with the media and gateway individuals are going to become key. Sadly as a result of individual (not really conservative policy) in the last few years this is going to be a difficult sell

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tories Lead Labour by 2 million in fundraising

The latest figures from the Electoral Commission show that the Conservative party receieved 5.27 million pounds in donations in Q3 as opposed to just 3 million for the Labour party. The poor lib dems only received 816,663 which I think shows that regardless of how much people believe support for them is increasing or any hopes people may have they could become a stronger power / an opposition in British politics, they simply won't.

In total political parties received 9.5 million in the quarter down from 13.2 million in the previous quarter (april to June). Any way you look at it these are large figures, by comparison Children in Need this year raised 20 million pounds and was seen as a huge success, so are people more willing to give to political parties than to charity?

This also continues to be a great fact for the conservatives with most if not nearly all donations coming from individuals whilst the Labour Party continue to receive large block donations from unions. Interestingly when you look at per person figures there are approximately 290,000 members of the conservative party so in the last 3 months they on average gave just £18.17, by comparison the Lib Dems have around 73,000 members who are on average each giving £11. I couldn't find current membership figures for Labour, but apparently in 2005 it was 198,000 so they are on average gave the party £15 however I suspect that was one or two generous unions rather than a collective of generous individuals as unions supposedly represent 90% of Labour Donations now. If that's true then members on average gave just £1.04 each in the last quarter. Clearly an unexpected effect of the current financial climate for Mr Brown!

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Friday, November 20, 2009

ACPO says Tory Police plans will lead to resignations

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has apparently warned that plans by the Conservatives to place forces under local political control may lead to the resignation of senior officers.

In a move that is purely political and I personally believe has more to do with the political persuasions of ACPO Sir Hug Orde said that police independence was vital to public trust and democracy and effectively that Conservative plans to allow locally elected officials to hire and fire police chiefs and set force budgets in England and Wales was crazy.

In an interview with the Today programme he effectively said we know what we’re doing and these democratically elected individuals won’t. Also saying
"Even the perception that the police service of this country… is under any political influence, I think that suggests you cannot argue that you are a proper democratic society. It's as simple and as stark as that.”

He effectively argued that handing control of local police forces to local regions will somehow create a police state, as if the town councillors of Milton Keynes are going to start sending police officers on personal vendetta’s arresting their enemies and rounding them up for summary torture and shipping off to the Gulag a la the old USSR.
In reality we currently have a centrally controlled police force working to targets and objectives set by the central government that often fail to take into account local needs. If anything we are far closer to a police state today with forces accountable and in the control of central government than we ever would be under the control of locally democratically elected officials.

Perhaps what ACPO are really worried about is that these individuals (be they specially elected or existing elected officials) will start questioning the ridiculous pay awards that their members get. The recent furore over Ian McPherson, the ex chief of Norfolk police who was paid nearly £130,000 a year and could earn an extra 20k a year in bonuses and alo pocketed a £70,000 relocation allowance (which included payment of stamp duty on his new house), only to see him move to the Met just a few years later I think shows the public’s concern about this issue. Something a democratically elected official wouldn’t be able to ignore.

Update: The Spectator Blog is pointing out that these kind of challenges will be a major issue for the Tories moving forward, particularly with the police who in the main remain a very unreformed organisation

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Queen's Speech - Laws are not for aspirations

Haven't got much time this morning as I have to head off to facilitate a workshop for a social housing provider in just a minute.

However my quick reaction to the Queen's speech is that laws and bills should not be used for aspirations. A law or piece of legislation either says how you are going to do something or introduces a new idea of something you shouldn't do. Targets and aspirations such as cutting the deficit by a quarter should not become laws.

This is another case of Labour fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of targets which are to tell you when you have achieved an objective not to be something to achieve. Whilst an aspiration is something to aim towards, but you still need to work out a plan how to get there.

Time after time the objective behind a target is forgotten and all focus goes into achieving the target, look at NHS targets, education targets, policing targets, recruitment targets, the list goes on. In this case cutting the deficit is a target that will tell us when fiscal responsibility and a return to a growth economy rather than recession has been reached, it is not the thing to achieve in itself.

All too often this government has believed that if it manages to achieve A, B and C then that will miraculously equal D, but it won't. The modern world is too complex, ideas are too inter related, problems are too inter-related, it is only by giving up centralised control and targets and concentrating on achieving objectives not targets that real change and transformation will take place.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cameron on the Queen's speech

There is a great piece in the Times today about Labour's claims that they will be politicising the queen's speech.

He clearly lays out the difference's between Conservative and Labour policies in a number of areas and highlights yet again the Conservative's approach to cutting the level of public borrowing. The statistic that keeps coming up from the high ranking Conservatives at the moment is that by next year we will be borrowing almost 14% of GDP (or as it has morphed into lately, our national income, for those that don't know what GDP means) and that this is twice the borrowing which under a labour government nearly took us bust in the 1970s.

I think this is a good tactic to remind people that we have been here before and that really New Labour inherited more of the foundations of a good economy than created them . Yes there were mistakes in the previous conservative government on pubic finances but nothing to the scale we're seeing today. At the end of the day I see it as an ideological issue, Labour is tax and spend, spend money to get people out of poverty (which hasn't worked), spend money to bail out the banking sector, spend money to solve pretty much any problem in fact. As an alternative the Conservative party are more willing to look at root causes, to look at the issue as complex and interconnected, a complex systems view, that sees the system as a number of interconnected parts that are more than the sum of the whole will always beat a throw money at the visible issues solution.

On the subject of throwing money at poverty an ICM poll last night showed that the Tories have a 13% lead over Labour, but more importantly in the context of this post are more trusted than labour to lift people out of poverty (admitedly it's 42%, 41%). I think this really shows that the messages on compassionate conservatism are really getting out there. Well done Team Cameron for beginning to change the established narrative (more on that later today)

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Wordles on Politics

For anyone that doesn't know a wordle is a graphic visulisation of word frequency within a document, the larger a word the more frequently it comes up. Someone decided to do this on the three main political parties websites with some interesting results.

Now much has been made today of the fact that the Labour website has no mention of Brown whilst the conservative website has David Cameron at it's centre, whilst the Lib Dems are focusing on themselves. When you look at strategy and approach this seems an obvious choice
1) Conservatives have David Cameron as a charasmatic and effective figurehead
2) Lib Dems rally around the party rather than their leader and although Nick Clegg is doing a good job he's not that out there as a figurehead preferring to push the party.
3) Brown is a liability and everyone knows it!

What I take away from these is something quite different and that is about clarity of messages. When you look at the conservative's wordle versus the labour one it's clear that the conservatives have focused on a number of key messages and ideas, whilst Labour have a muddle of messages on a huge range of topics and this I believe is the real learning point from this exercise. Labour has lost its way and is muddled, it lurches from one message to another with seemingly no strategy or approach, whilst the conservatives have a clear plan and focus on one item at a time.

I'm just starting to look at campaigning on a local level for the district council and this concept of identifying a few key messages that individuals can be represented by is I think vitally important. It helps a candidate engage with the electorate and communicate something clearly.

Thanks to LibDemVoice.org who it seems made the Wordles orriginally

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The Gordon Brown Rap

Fantastically funny but mainly because it's all so true

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