Sunday, February 28, 2010

Twitter Questions at Spring Forum

I may not have made it to the Spring Forum but I did manage to participate via Twitter, just a shame they got my name wrong. Smethurst-McIntyre not Smethurst!

Participation by those that couldn't make it, using Twitter and other sources was a major element of this conference and I have no doubt will be a major element of a Conservative government

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David Cameron's Speech - Guest post by Nadhim Zahawi

David Cameron delivered big time today. I have spent the weekend at Spring Conference in Brighton,  and was even on stage this morning, where I shared with the conference the experience of being selected in Stratford on Avon and how wonderfully warm the people of Stratford have been to me over the past three weeks. I explained that I was learning fast about the issues that concern people and that the great team that John Maples had built is now working hard, with me, to make sure we get our message across and win strongly come the Election.

The reason I say David delivered is simple. He articulated precisely why it is time for change and why there will be a clear choice at the Election. The choice is between five more miserable years of Gordon Brown and his failed policies  and a new energetic, honest and transparent Government lead by David.

David Cameron's analogy of Gordon being like a man whose credit card was maxed out, and instead of dealing with his crippling indebtedness, decides to just get a new credit card was spot on.

A Government lead by David Cameron would instead be ready to take the tough decisions now and start to balance the books immediately. It would create an enterprise economy that will result in real jobs being created and making Britain prosperous again.

He spoke about his values and his commitment to the NHS and his commitment to restoring the link between pensions and wages for pensioners, something that I know the pensioners in Stratford on Avon will be very happy to hear.

David repeated his commitment to capping immigration and to making sure that people who can work will and should work.
He is ready to govern and isn't frightened to tell the nation that he will have to be a salesman on behalf of UK plc. This  struck a real chord with me, being a businessman by background, I am delighted to hear him say that when he will travel as Prime Minister his plane will not be packed with journalists, but with businessmen and women who will be selling British goods and services to the rest of the world.

I am convinced that if we keep delivering this message on the door step, if we repeat it confidently again and again then we will succeed. We will succeed in reminding people that there is a real choice - five more years of desperate Gordon or a Conservative government which is ready to take the tough decisions and ready to make our Country great again.

The polls have tightened, but the people know the difference between a genuine committed leader who is telling them the truth, and a desperate man attempting to hang on to power by borrowing more, more and more.

I can't wait for the live debates, because judging by today's performance David Cameron will wipe the floor with Gordon.

Nadhim Zahawi is the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the constituency of Stratford-on-Avon. You can learn more about him and his campaign to become the next MP for Stratford-on-Avon at his website (

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Friday, February 26, 2010

GDP growth figures revised - Election fever starts

I was wrong. There, I said it up front so no one can accuse me of trying to hide it. In a previous post I suggested that poor retail sales figures in January, coupled with record government borrowing pointed to the fact that the ONS would revised the GDP growth estimates downwards not upwards.

Today however the ONS have revised the figure up from a 0.1% growth to a 0.3% growth in Q4 09. This doesn't mean that a double dip still couldn't happen but it does make it marginally less likely.

What it has done though is start the speculation on a March 25th election date. On these figures Labour can go to the pools on the back of claims that Labour policies of fiscal stimulus and increased public spending have got the UK economy out of recession. They can also claim that a 0.3% recovery is still weak and keep a dividing line between their investment and Conservative cuts on the doorstep.

On the other side they avoid any chance that in April ONS figures will show a double dip recession, and don't have to put out a full budget before polling day, as they would have to do so with a May 6th election.

This weekend is also the Conservative Spring Forum. A mini conference where Cameron et al will be relaunching the conservative campaign and gaining an enormous amount of airtime and publicity. Rumours and predictions have been swirling around the web that this weekend would be the one chosen to announce a March election, to take the limelight away from the Conservative conference. On top of this the latest polls have seen a shortening of the Conservative lead, IPSOS Mori is putting it at just 5%, with YouGov's latest daily tracker putting it at 6.

So, despite fear of getting it wrong again, my money is now moving from my prior predictions of a leave it until as late as possible June election to a March 25th election. On this point, please remember that once an election is called fund raising activity etc ceases, so make sure you donate to your favourite candidate's campaigns now. Local Stratfordians can donate to Nadhim Zahawi's campain through his website (scroll down and enter an amount then click donate on the right hand side)

Update: So it turns out that this morning's revision of GDP growth figures upwards wasn't quite all it seems. GDP for Q4 was actually revised downwards by £133bn, which lets face it is no insignificant. So why have all the headlines been screaming we're out of teh recession by more than we thought. Well because the ONS revise GDP figures about 4 times before they're final.

The increase of 0.2 percentage points was actually because the Q3 and Q2 figures were revised significantly downwards so the growth between Q3 and Q4 went up as a result (despite the actual Q4 output being revised down), confused yet?

Something else the new figures  show is that peak to trough fall in GDP throughout this recession has been 6.2% not the previously quoted  6% so this definitely makes it the worst recession since 1920.

All in all these figures aren't fantastically positive for the government I'm sure that the markets (who will delve deeper into the numbers than the headlines) won't react strongly to them, and the fact that Darling wasn't out there singing about how great the economy was shows that the government know there is still a long way to go. Will this change my prediction for a GE on March 25th? Short answer no, because most of the public won't understand the reasoning behind these new figures and even if they did the Government can still point to the fact that it's ended the recession.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The only local candidate...

A lot of what has been written, by both the mainstream media and the blogosphere, about the Stratford-on-Avon PPC selection is that CCHQ enforced a list of non local candidates on the association. Statements such as this from Stratford Online News are typical:

"Philip Seccombe, a chartered surveyor, Stratford district councillor and chairman of the local Conservative association, was the solitary local candidate."

Phillip Seccombe was the only local candidate of a short-list of six, there is no avoiding that, but he was the only local candidate for a very good reason. He is, to my knowledge, the only person living within the constituency who is on the approved candidates list. That is, he is the only local person who decided they wanted to become a member of parliament (not just, in an opportunistic fashion when their local seat was available), put them name forward, and then went through the process to be vetted by the Conservative Party and deemed capable and worthy of becoming a Member of Parliament for the party.

To suggest that CCHQ some how ignored five other local candidates is not just wrong but misleading. There were no other local candidates that they could have chosen from, the closest on the list, and someone who was on it, was  probably Lucy Allen who grew up on the family farm which is near Shipston, and only 12.9 miles from Stratford Town. I didn't see any of the press referring to her as a locally born girl though, after all, that just didn't fit the established narrative.

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The 50p broadband TAX

Peter Luff has just been defending the market as being able to provide super fast broadband for all (although maybe with a little help from the BBC licence fee digital switchover budget) and criticising the 50p broadband tax.

Much has been made that the 50p tax is regressive and unfair as it targets the rich and poor alike. This is true, but also equally true of the BBC licence fee, which if it was called the BBC tax would also be regressive taxation.

What the government have yet to say though is how that 50p will be spent. Will it all go to BT to provide the broadband infrastructure across the country, will private companies get to bid for government money to provide broadband to identified rurual areas or will it all jut go into the tax take.

According to the CIA Factbook (It’s not as sinister a publication as it sounds) in 2008 the UK had 33.209 million lines (interestingly we apparently have 75.56 million mobile lines) so the 50p per month tax will net £199.25 million pounds a year. The so called Next Generation Fund proposes to help fund the rollout of next generation broadband services to 90% of the country by 2017, by which time it will have raised roughly £1.4 billion pounds.

Surely if we really want to point this idea out for what it is, a tax on everyone, and nothing to do with broadband, then we need to be challenging the government to confirm that this money will be ringfenced for this purpose alone.

Unless they do this then what stops it just becoming another income stream on the exchequer spreadsheet. In my usual financial measure, 199.25 million pounds is 4,151 extra police officers a year, which might look rather more attractive to win votes than broadband for the non Labour voting countryside. We already now that other flat taxes such as fuel duty and road tax don’t actually get spent on what they’re supposed to so why should this be any different?

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The YouGov Poll, why we should be worried

Today’s Daily Tracker YouGov poll, that appears in the Sun and other News International publications, is a worry. Not only does it show that the Conservative lead in the polls remains at just 6 % but there are two aspects to it that are really important
  1. YouGov polling is incredibly accurate
  2. This is a daily tracker poll that takes into account “bullygate”
Firstly YouGov polling is generally streets ahead of other polls in terms of accuracy, their panels are enormous, about 300,000 people compared to significantly smaller panels for other polling organisations and from that they automatically select a representative sample weighting responses accordingly. During the London Mayoral campaign Ken Livingstone claimed, and indeed made formal complaints, against YouGov stating that their methodology failed to include the large number of ethnic minorities in London, however their final poll was out by just 0.1% of the true result.

It’s easy to dismiss polls as inaccurate and not representative, but YouGov have real form in this area and should therefore be taken seriously. A lead of just six percent is almost certainly in hung parliament territory. Also with the country in the state it’s in we really should be doing much better.

Secondly this poll is a daily tracker, YouGov are running daily polls that create a snapshot of the country’s views over the 24 hours prior to the paper being published. I had a brief chat with Peter Kellner, YouGov’s chief pollster yesterday and he pointed out just how radical this is, basically they run the poll for 24 hours (people are saying morning to morning but I am sure he said afternoon to afternoon) and in the afternoon insert below the line questions relating to issues of the day. This time it was on Gordon brown and whether people considered him to be a bully or not.

So these figures include the public’s response to the bullying allegations levelled at Brown at the weekend yet they are basically identical to the ICM February poll results, showing that this weekend’s allegations have done nothing to hurt Labour or to really hurt him.

I suspect looking at the results of the below the line questions that if anything they have strengthened Brown’s position. They show that whilst 24% of the public think that Brown is a bully and 40% think he is bad tempered, 27% think he is tough and 28% passionate. So allegations about him screaming and manhandling staff coupled with a bit of spin have meant that the public think he cares about his job.

For this I blame The Apprentice, Labour have already wheeled out Sir Alan Sugar on GMTV this morning to say that Gordon Brown, just “has a little fire in his belly” implying to millions of people that his behavior is fine, and that this kind of management style is what is needed. Real managers and business owners roll their eyes every time Alan Sugar is rolled out as a fantastic entrepreneur and manager but yet the public lap him up.

Asked at the PB Age conference yesterday whether he saw himself more as a moderator and facilitator than a leader David Cameron pointed out that leadership and setting the agenda is vitally important but that in a modern Post Bureaucratic Age we may need something different to the type of leaders we have now. Sadly I’m beginning to doubt that the public think the same.

Update: Craig Elder has just pointed out that an unreported aspect of ICM's poll is that 12% of Labour voters would prefer David Cameron as PM over Gordon Brown but still vote Labour. Does this show that it's policies and ideology (or tribalism) that matters not the personality or characteristics of the leader?

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Post-Bureaucratic Age

Today I shall be attending the conference on the Post-Bureaucratic Age organised by Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov. The so called Post-Bureaucratic Age is one of the most important, but also most complicated for the doorstep and the grass roots in particular, aspects of the modern Conservative Party ideology and manifesto.

Quoting from the briefing paper for the conference:

In the Pre-bureaucratic age, before the emergence of mass communications, power was held locally. The central state simply lacked the means to reach into distant communities. The invention of the telegraph helped to bring about the bureaucratic age, when power shifted to the centre. Government no longer merely fought wars and set strategic directions, but began to command and control broad aspects of daily life. The genesis of the post-bureaucratic age lies in another technological leap forward: the internet. Society has moved from no mass communications to centralised mass communications to decentralised mass communications. Citizens can access information once limited to a centralised political class and enjoy a power to public that was one confined to an equally centralised media.

David Cameron focused on this idea in his talk to TED, where to steal someone else’s description, he effectively says that if knowledge is power and knowledge is now distributed then so should power be. I strongly recommend you watch his talk below.

 Programmes such as and the Conservative pledge to publish all contracts over £25,000 are the beginning of this brave new age, but much more is needed. The conference today aims to develop a greater definition to what the PBA will look like and how it will work replacing some of the fuzziness with practical policies and approaches.

I’ll hopefully be tweeting and blogging throughout the day so keep an eye out.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nadhim Zahawi Selected for Stratford

Last night,  in a 5 hour long session of speeches, interviews and voting,  Stratford-on-Avon Conservative Association voted Nadhim Zahawi as their next candidate to contest the general election.

It was an interesting night with nearly 300 members attending the large scale meeting. Each of the six candidates were given 5 minutes to introduce themsleves and explain why they should be the candidate for Stratford before being interviewed by professional political journalist Matthew Paris for 15 minutes and then answering questions from the floor for 10 minutes.

Each of the candidates were very strong in their own ways and I don't think it is wrong to say that many Association members attended the meeting with every intention of voting for local candidate Phillip Seccombe and sending those outsiders packing.

However on the night we saw true democracy in action. Each of the candidates put across their case in a convincing and engaging way, the most convincing and engaging being Nadhim. On the night Conservative Association members proved that any accusations of racism in the grass roots or a lack of a modernising agenda are totally untrue choosing the best person for the job on the basis of their merit.

Based on comments I've already received to this blog, he may not yet be a popular choice with the electorate but he was certainly a popular choice with the Association, and I have no doubt that if  the electorate take the time to meet him and listen to him then they'll be convinced too.

Speaking to the Herald after he was selected Nadhim said "Obviously I am not local, but my promise to the people of Stratford-on-Avon is that I will make Stratford-on-Avon my home and I will learn very quickly.”

When asked if his selection was a victory for Central Office and its agenda he replied “It is not a victory for Central Office but a victory for the Conservative Party. This is a fiercely independent association that wanted to make sure that they had a strong local candidate, and you saw democracy in action tonight, and that will only be good for the Conservative Party and the country.”

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Double dip recession, or did it never end?

Today’s news that UK Retail sales have fallen by 1.8% between December and January, the largest drop in over 18 months, is yet more bad economic news for the government. Coming on the back of the latest underlying unemployment figures, the glacially slow GDP growth figures and record government borrowing in January, I think that the chances of a double dip recession have just increased significantly.

The ONS are putting a brave face on the 1.8% decline, pointing to heavy snow fall in january that reduced the sale of household goods and petrol. I however suspect that steady drive of the January sales into December meant that the Q4 GDP boots of just 0.1% in the last quarter of 2009 had just as much to do with the january sales starting earlier than it did with economic growth.

I have been saying for a long time that the headline unemployment figures are hiding a nasty reality underneath and finally this time the mainstream media caught on, perhaps thanks to some quality briefing from CCHQ.

Total unemployment fell by 3000 to 2.46 million, a reduction of just 0.12%, which if this was a poll or survey would be well within the margins of error, whilst those claiming jobseekers allowance rose by 23,500 to 1.64 million, a rise of 1.45%. What this suggests is that there was a large group of individuals either doing seasonal work and who have now lost their job or who were holding out to find another job who have now been unable to find anything, neither of which are a good sign.

The rising number of people considered “underemployed”, i.e. who want to work more hours, is also a bad sign, someone who is working less hours than they want to no doubt has less money to spend. The number of people filling temporary jobs also increased perhaps showing that employers are unwilling to take on new contract staff and expect more bad times ahead.

Again the number of people who are economically inactive increased whilst a new record number of 16 and 17 year olds were unemployed which suggests that employers are continuing to allow people to retire without replacing them with new younger workers.

Perhaps the most worrying economic indicator towards a double dip though is the record government borrowing in January. I say record, but for the first time since records began the UK government have had to borrow money in January which is a terrible sign. Traditionally January is a very good income month for the government with VAT from increased Christmas sales, and income tax from the self employed. In total tax receipts were down 11.8% compared to last year meaning that the self employed and businesses have been hit hard. Either they haven’t made as much money in the past year as they did the previous year or in a potentially even worse situation they can’t afford to pay the tax they already owe. Neither situation is good news

Brown continues to tell us that we are best placed to come out of recession and that the recovery is fragile and any spending cuts will destroy it. In reality all the evidence seems to point either for us to double dip or that therecovery just hasn’t happened. The ONS have yet to revise the GDP growth statistics with full data and with indicators like this it won’t matter how much Brown prays for them to be revised upwards, I just can’t see how they will be.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010


Every four to five years activists, MPs, PPCs, councillors and councillor candidates descend on the local community to chase votes.

Canvassing is as much a part of a political campaign as billboards, speeches and manifestos. In an election that could be as closely run as this, the canvassing process is already well on its way. In marginal and target seats all three parties are out in force. Labour Tweeters are co-ordinating and discussing their progress using #labourdoorstep, whilst the Conservatives have to carry out phone canvassing and organise door knocking.

What though does the electorate make of the process? From the point of view of an unengaged average voter, what do they see?

I would suggest that what they see is that every four years or so politicians are suddenly interested in them, and each party falls over itself to prove that it is listening. Canvassers, and if you are lucky to see them the candidate themselves, will go to great pains to listen, to listen to your concerns and to tell you what they or their party will do to address them. All of this to convince you that you should vote for them.

Come May the 6th though, how many people will ever see those activists, MPs and councillors on their doorstep again, or actively walking the streets in their community meeting people and listening. I would argue nearly none. People respond negatively to canvassing and the interruption of their evening or routine because it is a cynical ploy to get you to vote. The individual gets nothing from it, it is a one off event whose outcome benefits the candidate or the party not the individual.

If we really want to transform politics and the trust that the public have in politicians, be it on a local or national level, then we have to change the way we engage with the voting public.

Firstly, although technology is replacing traditional engagement methods, for the majority of the public face to face contact is still vitally important. It helps to build trust and to make people believe that they are being listened to. The next generation of MPs, and councillors need to ensure that their constituency contact isn’t just the carefully orchestrated photo op, or the pre-arranged surgery (where only people with issues they expect to be resolved attend), but that they effectively canvass voters outside of election time, frequently listening to their concerns and issues and most importantly responding to them.

Secondly technology has to be used in such a way that it becomes a two way medium. Collecting email addresses and mobile phone numbers so that voters can receive “newsletters” just won’t cut it. Voters need to get value from giving you their contact details and not feel that they are just a number on a list receiving a bulk communication but an individual. Successful MPs and councillors need to develop methods and technologies that enable voters and the public to engage bi-directionally and across mediums. Twitter and Facebook is a start but we need to go beyond that, to the older technologies like mobile and email that are in mainstream use every day. The challenge is not to use the latest and greatest early adopter technology but to find innovative ways to use older more mature technologies that are in use by all.

So what is my message in this post. It’s engagement, the fact that engagement is vital, and what is even more vital is  continued engagement, not just engagement at election time but in peace time too. For too many people politics is something that they only engage with every time an election is due. It’s easy to blame them, not us, for that, to talk about voter apathy, a lack of interest in how we run our nation, but how truly engaged with, and interested in, the public are our elected officials, and how do they prove that?

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Monday, February 15, 2010


So last night was Gordon Brown’s interview with Piers Morgan. I didn’t actually watch it myself so I’m afraid that this won’t be a blow by blow account of every second of scintillating television that it no doubt was.

What I did watch though, was the response on Twitter (Sad I know). Tweets tagged with #pmwithpm and #tearsforpiers flew back and forward last night at a phenomenal rate. One hundred and forty characters of pithy response to every single shot, cut away and piece of canned laughter. Every one ready to be swept up by the media, the blogosphere and other Tweeters for  a measure of the instant reaction of the public to the event.

In the main they were predictable, those on the right ridiculed it and declared it an electioneering stunt, a shallow and transparent attempt to show that the tin man really does have a heart. Those on the left were of course the opposite, they appeared to fall over themselves to fawn at the PM (the Prime Minister not the Piers Morgan) and were amazed and delighted at how open and transparent he appeared to be, how human he was, one might say, although I don’t think any of them did.

Shortly after it was over Tweetminster, everyone’s favourite company trying to sell twitter brand tracking services, reported that sentiment towards Gordon Brown was +13 on their arbitrary black box scale. However with the number of activists on both sides pumping out 140 characters every 30 seconds and the number of Labour tweets being retweeted by the right, normally suffixed with WTF, OMG or LOL, I can’t see that that is a measure of the general public’s real sentiment.

Whether last night’s interview was a success for Brown and boosts his chance of being elected (I nearly wrote re-elected there) we really can’t tell from looking at a search for #pmwithpm or #tearsforpiers. Twitter has become too dominated by activists, and those aligned to political parties, it’s ability to measure the mood of the general public and reach people outside of the same political networks is becoming less and less.

Indeed what will tell if last night was a success for Labour, won’t be the talk on Twitter last night or today, it will instead be the talk around the water cooler this morning. The question is not what @laboursupporter287 thinks but has the usual Monday morning talk of football results, So You Think you Can Dance and wild nights out been replaced with the gossip and revelations from Valentines day dates or with a discussion of Gordon Brown and his party’s policies?

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Weekend Round-Up (Feb 15th)

This weekend’s most interesting posts for those that weren’t tied to their computer:

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Robin Hood Tax, yet another view

Even though I fear that wading in, may make it look even more like the Tory Bloggers have received their marching orders on the Robin Hood Tax, I'm going to add my two cents (or should that be 0.005%) to the general condemnation of it.

Firstly it's a ridiculously complicated idea, the Robin Hood Tax website suggests that what has made it unworkable in the past was a lack of technology within exchanges, but that simply isn't true, what has made it unworkable in the past and still makes it unworkable now is people. For a Tobin Tax (lets give it its proper name) to work  every single country in the world has to sign up to it, that requires all 192 countries to come to an agreement on something, and particularly to come to an agreement on how the resulting money will be collected, shared out and spent. That just isn't going to happen.

The website seems to suggest that derivative trading and currency exchange only happens in developed countries, but pretty much every country in the world has it's own stock exchange of some kind, in fact those in so called developing countries were some of the best performing in the world until the credit crunch came upon us. So if all the G20 countries signed up to the tax how long do you think it will be before Estonia, or Latvia starts to push itself as the financial capital of Europe because they don't have a Tobin Tax, or somewhere like Nigeria which has a very busy stock market, is left out of a Tobin tax as it's a developing African country and suddenly everyone is exchanging their currency there.

Secondly the proponents of a Tobin Tax seem to believe that if you tax an organisation then it only affects that organisation. What a Tobin Tax would do is remove an estimated £400bn from circulation in the private sector and place it in the public and third sector (more on that later). The idea that it will only affect banks and the most evil of people bankers is simply too simplistic. As the same bank carries out retail banking and speculation the profits and bottom lines of the bank will be hit which means less delivered share holder value and lower dividends, potentially resulting in higher charges and costs for retail customers to compensate. It doesn't end there though, equally many large PLCs carry out currency hedging for their international transactions and import export so they will also be affected. Most people don't realise but their pension funds are predominately invested in UK and international PLC so any reduction in their profitability, and share prices will affect the man on the street when he comes to retire.

Thirdly how on earth as we are coming out of an economic downturn (and when the UK economy is so dependent on the financial sector) can anyone in their right mind suggest introducing a tax which is expected to shrink a sector (currency exchange) by 14%, just because it is already a profitable sector. Remember as well that that is shrinkage of the market not shrinkage of profitability, so profits will potentially be hit even harder than that. It's a crazy idea to suggest that a sector is too efficient (profitable) and therefore we should add some inefficiencies to it. If a government department was running very efficiently how would these same people react if the suggestion was that it's budget could be slashed as it's doing so well.

Finally take a look at who is promoting this idea. It's all charities and unions, the organisations that would no doubt be the main recipients of this tax, they would be the ones delivering projects in the third world and tackling poverty. They're seeing reducing revenues themselves and imagining a brave new world where they don't even have to go out and convince the public to give them money, it just magically comes to them from greedy rich capitalists.

Most worryingly is the way Bill Nighy, who is fronting the campaign video, has described it :

"Now I'd ask our leaders to think about it seriously – to come up with a brilliant, new, modern source of money in a new decade."

It isn't a new modern source of money, it's just moving the same money from somewhere efficient and putting it somewhere inefficient. I hope for the economies sake that people start to realise that quickly.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PMQs - Back on form

Cameron had a fantastic performance at Prime Minister's questions continually hammering Brown on the 20k death tax levy for the social care plan.

Brown continually dodged the question of could he rule out a death duty levy, with brown trying to focus on consensus and pulling out some terribly delivered jokes, and pre-prepared lines, including the line "this is no time for a novice" again.

All in all his inability throughout all of the questions to rule it out and to point Cameron to the Green Paper (even though he kept calling it a white paper), which as Cameron said says a death levy may be necessary, has really put a dividing line in. If he had just been willing to say no we will not introduce a 20k death levy then that would be the end of the issue, by refusing to say no it just leaves in the public's minds that it's a yes.

Update: Brown has just somehow managed to drop in the whole cancer guarantee thing, poorly linked together answer trying to paint Tories as anit-NHS. He's also just managed to diss the law and order manifesto for not mentioning DNA, police numbers, CCTV or prison places. Which I think shows how Labour think problems should be solved, increase spending, increase number of places, not dealing with the overall strategic issues or underlying causes.

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Political ads can legally lie

The Guardian has another story pushing the idea that this election will be fought on MumsNet. Beyond the MumsNet angle it is actually quite interesting though, Basically Labour ran an Ad on MumsNet which said

"Are you earning more than £31,000? Say hello to David. And goodbye to your child tax credits. Vote Tory and you'll get less than you bargained for"

Which is actually a lie, no Conservative Policy has said that this will happen, and it is purely based on a set of assumptions from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The Conservatives have actually come out and said that this will not be the case.

Knowing that this was a lie, it made me wonder if online advertising was subject to the Advertising Standards Agency rules and the Code of Practice for Advertisers. It turned out that they are, it is illegal to run a misleading or untrue advert.

That is unless you are a political party as section 12.1 of the code states:
"Any advertisement or direct marketing communication, whenever published or distributed, whose principal function is to influence voters in local, regional, national or international elections or referendums is exempt from the Code"

So a political party can put out an advert that is misleading, untrue or offensive and nothing can be done about it. This hasn't always been the case though, the Code was changed in, can you guess.... 1997, just after the election.

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Spoofing Posters

Both the Conservatives and Labour launched new posters yesterday, Labour’s concetrating on frankly baffling claims about the NHS and the Conservative’s poster concentrating on the potential introduction of a new “death tax” of up to £20,000 per head which could be necessary to fund the new “free” (at the point of delivery obviously) social care for the elderly.

Both of them have been spoofed by both sides, the Labour Poster was technically more difficult to spoof however that didn’t stop the Blue blogosphere from firing up Photoshop and doing a really good job.

I read a post saying that the Conservative’s were wrong to put out a poster that was so easily spoofed, but personally I disagree. Just like with the original we can’t go on like this campaign, the spoofing of the Conservative poster again only appeals to the Labour base (fox hunting, and inheritance tax), and when examined tends to be based on lies or false information, as opposed to spoofs created by the Tories which tend to be based around something that Brown has done already, rather than a claim of something he will do in the future. I really do believe that the general public if they see these will, like with the defaced and spoofed Tory NHS poster see Labour supporters as petty and spiteful, and personal.

I think it’s also interesting that Labour have chosen to suggest that Cameron is one person in front of the camera and one behind. Brown is well known to have a temper in private, and it has even  been reported that he becomes moody and depressed and has even violently struck and manhandled staff when the camera is not on him. Was it wise for them to therefore raise such an idea?

The Spoofs (A collection from around the web)

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Parliamentary Privilige

Very quick post on number 10's response to David Cameron's planned speech on a parliamentary privilige bill to outlaw it's use as a defence for those accused of expenses fraud.

So far I think I have heard quotes calling it desperate and pathetic, as well as a quote from number 10 saying it is up to the courts to decide it's validity as a defence. Personally I find this very strange for a government that has introduced a record number of laws and simply changed the law whenever a court goes against them anyway.

Their behaviour in this regard (with particular examples in the area of tax) alongside recent claims that Jack Straw had often been told something was illegal by his lawyers only to challenge and win in court therefore implying that he believes that ignoring legal advice is a valid strategy, shows the contempt and respect this government has for the law and the courts.

The government's live of changing the laws of the land through either legislation or case law seems to be very much at odds with the messages they're putting out today.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

The West Lothian Question

The West Lothian question, the fact that the member of parliament for what was the West Lothian constituency can vote on matters affecting Blackburn in Lancashire but not Blackburn in West Lothian, is brought into even sharper relief when you realise who the nominal MP for West Lothian is:

Note: Jim Devine's Livingston constituency was formed from parts of what was the West Lothain and Mid Lothian constituencies.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Public sector cuts don't mean service cuts

There’s an interesting article in the Telegraph by Reform Director, Andrew Haldenby, suggesting something that to most people in the private sector must seem obvious. You can cut budgets without affecting the quality of services.

This idea is total anathema to your average public sector worker, union leader and sadly government official. To them the only way to improve services is to increase the amount of money that is already being thrown at it, and normally increase the number of people to. It is like a hotel that has a reputation for bad customer service saying well what we’ll do is hire more staff and increase our charges!

Luckily Andrew points out that the leaders of public sector organisations (those ones that everyone complains about being paid a huge salary) disagree he says that they know that they can save up to 20% whilst still improving their services citing examples such as the closure of inefficient and failing larger hospitals, to be replaced by smaller more efficient units in Birmingham, or the changing of inefficient fire shift patterns in Merseyside (Fire service changes are a classic example of Unions not wanting to see efficiency changes though)

It is the statistics and his comparisons to the private sector that are the most shocking though:

  1. If public sector workers took the same amount of sick leave as private sector workers that would save 3% of their wage bill or £6 billion a year.
  2. If public sector workers worked the same number of hours a week as private sector workers then they would save a further 10% or £26 billion a year.

So two incredibly simple solutions, that any struggling private sector business would look to do straight away (It was in fact part of Adam Crozier’s work at Royal Mail to tackle endemic sick leave and increase working hours), but two things that are simply not in the line of sight of the government.

Ultimately this is the problem, despite what are the equivalent of reducing sales income in the private sector, (decreasing and squeezed budgets from central government caused by a reduced tax income) no public sector organisation is truly looking at themsleves as if they are a struggling or even potentially failing business.

Something we’re really back to again is established narratives, the government and the public sector unions have established a narrative that says that public sector budget cuts equals less or worse services. This simply isn’t true though, and it’s a narrative that we have to tackle with the wider public if we are to see the defecit decrease and improve our front line services in a meaningful manner.

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Labour Lies - Conservative Defence Spending Pledge

I'm a bit late to this but I wanted to highlight it, because I think it's important. On Wednesday at Prime Ministers Questions Gordon Brown was asked by David Cameron if he agreed that it was his decisions as Chancellor that have meant that our troops are improperly equipped today in Afghanistan.

His reply was to point to the "real terms" budget increase for the MOD and waffled around a little more. What he then said though was "Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he stood on a platform at the last election to cut defence spending by £1.5 billion"

Unfortunately for Mr Brown this just wasn't true. It was another example of him seemingly just making up a fact or statistic to get out of a hole. If we have a look at the Conservative manifesto for 2005 on page 25 we can see that actually David Cameron's platform was to increase front-line spending by £2.7bn over Labour.  It's a shame that David Cameron couldn't remember that (to be fair to him it was 5 years ago and a world of statistic behind him) as it would have been fantastic to watch Brown stumble over his own bare faced lies.

Sadly though that wasn't what happened, instead he got away with it and no doubt won't have to apologise for it, or make a correction at the next PMQs. The problem with corrections and retractions is that they aren't interesting and so even if they're made they won't be reported, equally if the Conservative Press office started briefing that actually the contrary was true then Labour would no doubt just spin it as being petty.

Either way, spotting these lies and mis-truths (no doubt mis-speaks would be Gordon's word) is going to be very important in the coming months.

Aside: Who designed and conceived the 2005 manifesto. No wonder we didn't win it's hideous and it's key messages are awful

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Stratford Upon Avon Shortlist

ConservativeHome has got the jump on everyone it seems (I am just trying to confirm this through the association) and has posted the Shortlist for the forthcoming selection of a new PPC for Stratford Upon Avon. Shamelessly lifted directly from them is the list below (with links to their sites / blogs that I've found so far)

Former - Workplace Law Ltd, Freelance Employment Law Adviser
Current - Self-employed employment law adviser
Councillor in Wandsworth since 2006

Current - Criminal Barrister
Lots of political experience been involved in four General Elections
Father Sir Robert Atkins MEP

Former - Account Director and shareholder, Building on Business 
Current - Regional Director of the Eastern Region, Countryside Alliance
Joined in 2007

Former - British Consul Tangier

Former - Chestertons - Partner in London and Birmingham
Current - Seccombes, Chartered Surveyors, Founder and Senior Partner
Chairman of Stratford-on-Avon Association
Councillor on Stratford-on-Avon Council since 2002

Former - European Marketing Director, Smith and Brooks Ltd
Current - Co-founder and CEO of YouGov
PPC - Erith and Thamesmead 1997
Councillor in Wandsworth 1994 - 2006

Come 19th of February one of these will be the new Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Stratford Upon Avon.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Breaking: Bank of England Suspends Quantitive Easing

News just coming in that the Bank of England will be suspending quantitive easing. No more government money propping up the Gilts market.

The Bank of England hasn't ruled out future QE saying:

"[The Bank] will continue to monitor the appropriate scale of the asset purchase programme and further purchases would be made should the outlook warrant them."

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Labour Lies

So apparently we'll (the Tory Bloggers) all be getting a 7am briefing from CCHQ on the talking point memos for the day in order to continue to be a centrally led propaganda machine. Well that's what so called evidence based blog Left Foot Forward thinks.

So the online campaigning and smear tactics have started. At the drinks reception last night Eric Pickles warned us that Labour would be dirty and nasty in this campaign. That they are a wounded animal that will do anything to hang on to power. This is just a basic lie designed to discredit the free thinking Blue Blogosphere but it's just the start.

They've clearly learned it from the top. Gordon Brown has just called Peter Watt a liar to the House over his slush fund, how much more of what comes out of his mouth, his Minister's mouths and his activists mouths will be untrue in the coming months.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Blue Bloggers Meet-up

So I'm on my way back from the Bloggers drinks reception organised by @samuelcoates at CCHQ. It was a great event and I thought whilst I'm on the train with a flat laptop battery I'd capture a few observations:

1) The Blue Blogosphere is very strong and made up of a number of individual voices rather than one central commanding voice. (we wouldn't be conservatives if that was the case!)
2) Everyone has the same issues, mainly time to blog and finding topics that matter to them.
3) Eric Pickles is an absolute legend.
4) Blue bloggers do it out of love but really want to build traffic and make at least some money from it.
5) Nearly everyone seems fedup with their local association being entrenched. (what affect does this have on new younger members and campaigning).
6) People think ToryGator is a good idea. Yay!
7) @DaveFacts has clients that he doesn't want to know that he runs @davefacts!
8) Conservative bloggers should not be let loose with karaoke and seemingly free beer.

So a great night all in and not just because of the free beer. Lets make sure we come together and win this election. As Eric Pickles said this is the first real election to be fought online so lets make sure we win it!

Update: I would like to point out I wrote this original post on my iPhone at well past midnight, hence the original horrific spelling errors!

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British Banks downgraded by S&P

So the downgrading of the country’s credit rating has, as predicted by all and sundry begun. Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s has downgraded the credit rating of British banks blaming an ongoing “weak economic environment” and specifically Gordon Brown’s failure to properly regulate the industry saying “In our view, enhanced regulatory oversight and reform of the framework for financial stability remains incomplete.

The downgrading of British banks means that they are likely to have to pay more to borrow from the wholesale financial markets (People may remember it was a freezing up of these markets that started this entire credit crisis.). Ultimately an increase in wholesale borrowing rates for banks will result in interest rate rises for consumers, with higher mortgage and credit card payments.

British Banks previously held the same credit worthiness as those in France and Germany but have now slipped below Italian and Belgium banks leaving them on the same level as banks in Chile and Portugal. The downgrading brings a true end to the idea of British banks as being the most secure in the world.

S&P’s report also warned that British banks faced a further downgrading by the organisation if the country fails to strengthen it’s economy by tackling what it describes as “persistent budget deficits”.

S&P’s report also blamed “what we see as the high dependence on state-support programs of a significant proportion of the industry.” which follows closely with my post yesterday on the fact that 57% of new jobs created in the past decade are in some way state funded.

The downgrading of bank creditworthiness doesn’t affect the UK’s AAA credit rating as a country but surely can’t be a positive sign. If we lose that too then coupled with the higher cost of borrowing on the wholesale market we’ll see raises in the Bank of England’s base rate as well which means that the average man on the street will finally start to see the affects of this credit crisis in their pocket.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

50% less smokers equals 76,000 less police officers

The Government has today announced plans to halve the number of smokers in the UK population, reducing the percentage of smokers from 21% to 10% by 2020. A laudable aim, smoking is a terrible habit that affects the health of those that do it and those around it, however one of the main drivers for this is said to be reducing the cost of smokers to the NHS.

The idea that we should cut the number of smokers on the basis of economics is I’m afraid a seriously flawed one. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

In 2007 - 2008 (the last year full figures were available for) the Revenue’s excise take on tobacco products was £8.1 billion with a VAT take of £1.8 billion leading to a total of £10bn a year in revenue. (Estimates for 08-09 put the figure even higher at around £10.7bn.)

So in an admittedly  simplistic argument if we halve the number of smokers then we halve that revenue (although in reality most of it will come from the hardened smokers who won’t quit but lets go with it anyway) so the government would only receive £5bn in a year rather than £10bn.

On the other side treating smoking related diseases costs the NHS £2.7bn a year, so if we halve the number of smokers we can expect a saving of approximately half or £1.35bn.

Subtracting the saving from the lost revenue we see that by cutting the number of smokers in half the government is down by £3.65bn a year or the equivalent of around seventy six thousand police officers a year (at £48,000 a year based on Home Office numbers).

Now I don't disagree that cutting smoking numbers is a good idea, a very good idea in fact, but the effect of this will mean that as well as trying to cut public spending because of the deficit over the next 10 years we’ll also be needing to save £3.65bn a year, or just disband the police force.

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Labour: we’ve literally created 1.27m jobs

New research from Manchester University’s Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change shows that of the 2.24m net new jobs created by the Labour government between 1997 and 2007, an enormous 1.27 million of them (57%) were actually state or para-state (i.e. dependent on state funding or contracts).

The situation is even worse in certain areas such as the North-East where 79% of all new jobs were state dependent as opposed to 41% in London and teh South East. In some areas such as the West Midlands there was actually a net drop of 37,000 jobs in the private sector and an increase in 105,000 in the state and para-state.

These figures totally destroy Labour’s claims to have built the economy up and created new jobs. It suggests that a large reason for the economy’s growth during the 10 years of boom was really the creation of state jobs and an increase in state spending. It also suggests that the government has been propping up its vote in various areas by creating government and government funded jobs in areas where employment would otherwise have risen.

The more worrying thing i that it also suggests that there’s almost no way they can cut government spending without a resulting increase in unemployment. Difficult times will be ahead for all.

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Weekend Round-Up (Feb 1st)

  • George Osborne announced Tory plans to install super fast 100Megabit broadband to the majority of homes by 2017. He pointed out rather cleverly I thought that this was an infrastructure investment along the lines of railways in the 19th Century and motorways in the 20th century. His plans to pay for it with private investment and if necessary a percentage of the licence fee weren’t met with too happy a response though.
  • David Cameron said that he believed that burglars leave their human rights at the door, leading Mandelson and others to accuse him of having no respect for human rights (usefully forgetting the Labour party’s views on detention without charge amongst others). In the same interview he also announced that there would be no “swingeing” cuts, leading Labour to accuse the Conservatives of lacking a coherent policy on the defecit (as opposed to theirs!)
  • Guido pointed out that this is the second time Andy Murray has lost a tournament after being wished well by Gordon Brown. The curse of Jonah strikes again.
  • Oxford Spring reviewed Peter Watt’s book Inside Out, leading Iain Dale to defend the decision to have no pictures in it
  • There were yet more damaging claims against Brown in the Mail on Sunday including that he had man handled a secretary for typing too slowly (why didn’t he type it himself then) and physically lashed out at an aide. ToryLandlord asked if this was really a suprise to anyone and suggested the Tory’s should be using Brown’s temperament against him. Whilst Declan Lyon pointed out that “we can’t go on with him” and drew parralels to the Thick of It. 
  • The News of the World reported on secret Conservative plans for a second election shortly after the first, the idea being that they would carry out a number of key piece of legislation and then go for a stronger mandate as little as a year later. This Led Tory Totty to say that what CCHQ really needs ot win the election is the conviction of Thatcher.
  • Guy the Mac won a ticket to view Blair at the Iraq Inquiry but decided to stay at home. He still wrote up his thoughts on Blair's Performance though.
  • Archbishop Carnmer asked if Richard Dawkins should be arrested for incitement of religious hatred
  • A Conservative in London said something stupid about unemployment in the North on Twitter leading everyone else to scream nooooo that’s not us, we do care. Oxford Spring wrote a piece about it as did Byrne Tofferings
  • The polls went up down and up again, including two polls from YouGov one putting the Tory’s on just 7% and the second putting them back at 9%. Richard Willis wrote about them.
  • I finally got my political website project to a beta stage, and registered a domain name and everything. So behold ToryGator an aggregator of Tory blogs, all the blue blogs in one place. Please check it out and let me know what you think.

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