Tuesday, 29 November 2011

New Tory Leader Harris - Runs From Church

Runner Harris
The merry-go-round that is Reading Conservative group continues to spin.

News reaches me that Cllr Tim Harris has been lined up as the "compromise candidate" between the warring factions responsible for deselecting Jamie Chowdhary and nudging Andrew Cumpsty out of office, as the next Tory group leader on Reading council .

Notable for promoting all-party support in the Council for a LGBT Centre in Reading, he is one of the few Tories to have actually done anything recently.

More remarkable, however, is the suggestion that Harris could flee his Church ward seat, where he is not due for re-election until 2014 - but where Labour won last time and look set to pick up another seat in May 2012 - and seek election next year in the safer haven of Peppard, or even Thames ward if Isobel Ballsdon seeks to follow on from the retiring Fred Pugh in the one seat ward of Mapledurham.

Of course, this could all just be Tory spin!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Lib Dem Desperate Rebranding

Lib Dems Want To Claim Credit For Abolishing Slavery
The Liberal Democrats are so desperate to shake off their growing image as "Yellow Tories" they are planning to rebrand their party it has emerged .

Advisors have suggested for more "short-term themes, straplines and sound bites" to boost the party's popularity amid demands to take more credit for historic reforms such as the abolition of slavery.

The project comes as Nick Clegg's party is slumping in the opinion polls. A YouGov survey today puts it on just 11 per cent - way behind Labour on 43 per cent and the Conservatives on 34 per cent.

As I noted last year, party chiefs have been concerned for some time that the Lib Dem identity was being lost because of the coalition with the Conservatives - more often seen as these days as simply being Yellow Conservatives.

MPs should also, they were told, claim more credit for "liberal" achievements of the past such as the abolition of slavery - even though the leading abolitionist, William Wilberforce, was an independent MP.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Thank You Baroness Morris

Estelle Morris - supporting Redlands Labour
I am greatly indebted to Baroness Morris of Yardley - better known as Estelle Morris - for being the guest speaker at the latest Redlands Labour Party fund-raising event.

Not only did she bring in a sell-out crowd - always good news for a fund-raiser! - she offered some interesting insights into the current divisive education policies of the coalition government, as well as laying out some challenges for us in the Labour Party.

Estelle also praised the ward for the outstanding election result at the last council elections where we resoundingly beat the Lib Dems and wished us well for next May.

By my reckoning, that's most of the leaflets paid for!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Cumpsty To Stand Down In 2012

Andrew or Dave - Who Quits First?
When Councillor Andrew Cumpsty announced last month that he was giving up the Leadership of the Tory Group I predicted that he would also leave the council when next up for election in 2014.

My reasons for thinking this would happen were based on a number of factors: he'd fulfilled an ambition to lead the council (albeit for just one year}; my impression of his growing unhappiness with all the turmoil in the East Reading Conservative Association; and that the Tory hold on Caversham is rapidly loosening.

However, word now reaches me that in fact Andrew wants to quit the council at the next election, two years ahead of time. (I've even been given the name of his replacement candidate)

This would cause a huge dilemma for the Tories.

Dave Luckett's seat is up next May, but with Labour's Richard Davies already running a very effective campaign in Caversham, Dave has been wobbling. If both he and Andrew were to step down at the same time, they would certainly open the door for Labour to pick up at least one of the seats - if not both. Pressure is therefore mounting on the luckless Luckett to stay on.

Andrew is a nice bloke and deserved more support than he's been given.

Expect immediate denials - followed by the real announcements next April!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Don’t Let The Cuts Turn Back Time On Women’s Equality

From the monochrome silhouettes of Mad Men to the scandals and seductions of Downton Abbey, vintage style offers some nostalgic escapism at this time of austerity. Yet beneath the veneer of glamour and gentility, the bygone decades harbored a raft of gendered double-standards and institutional sexism. Unfortunately for Britain’s women, the world of yesteryear is rearing its head again as evidence emerges that coalition cuts are literally turning back time on women’s equality.

The coalition strategy for reducing the deficit is hitting women disproportionately hard. Hardly surprising considering that the cabinet is dominated more by millionaires than by female voices.

Women face a unique ‘triple jeopardy’: cuts to their jobs, since two-thirds of public sector workers are women; cuts to state services and benefits that women rely on more than men – such as childcare assistance and support for victims of sexual and domestic violence; and, as reduced state services and benefits increase levels of unpaid labour and decrease financial autonomy, women face being pushed back into dependent roles as ‘homemakers’.

Women’s unemployment is at a record high. Soaring childcare costs and cuts to childcare support are forcing over half of working mothers to ‘stop work or significantly reduce their working hours’; 124 Sure Start children’s centres have closed down, with many more set to follow unless urgent action is taken; organisations that provide specialist services for women, such as for victims of sexual and domestic violence or for lone parents, are being hit hard by local authority funding cuts with some having to close their doors for good; legal aid support is becoming a rare privilege. And these are just some of the impacts.

Welcome to the past. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Or your child benefit. Or your working tax credits. Or your equality.

The Fawcett Society, along with a coalition of charities, unions and academics, recently unveiled a manifesto of policies to lessen the disproportionate impact of the cuts on women. We are asking for proposals in this ‘Life Raft for Women’s Equality’ report, which cover work, pensions, families and violence prevention, to be implemented before or at the next budget in March 2012. These would include a U-turn on cuts to childcare support, safeguarded funding for specialist violence against women support services, and ring-fencing money for Sure Start centres. These requests are tangible, workable solutions, and vital for safeguarding hard-fought women’s rights and opportunities.

There has been much rhetoric from the coalition about connecting with women voters. No wonder women are turning their backs on Cameron and Clegg in their droves!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Running Out Of Others To Blame
What do the following have in common?

Angela Merkel, cold weather, Ed Balls, Silvio Berlusconi, the wedding of William Windsor and Kate Middleton, British civil servants, Brussels bureaucrats, people concerned about global warming, employment tribunals, trade unions, banks, bank holidays, Liberal Democrats, energy prices, Gordon Brown and the world?

The answer is that they have all been deployed as excuses by members of the government for why the economy is so dire. The proliferation of alibis offered by ministers, and their inability to stick to the same one, is a symptom of increasing desperation about the unravelling of their economic strategy.

Read how as the chancellor is running out of alibis, the blame game over who is responsible for our dire economic state now sees the government turning on itself.

His opponents have been saying for some time that the problem with the chancellor is that he had a deficit strategy but not a growth strategy, and the absence of the latter would be the undoing of the former. He could shrug that off so long as it was only being said by Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. The most alarming sound for George Osborne in the past few days has been members of his own party starting to say the same thing. He must know that, when every other alibi fails, they will all blame him.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Anger At Winter Fuel Allowance Cut

I have been contacted by angry pensioners on Hexham Road who this week have been told at the Post Office that this year's winter fuel allowance has been cut.

After a year of rapidly rising prices - with gas and electricity increasing by between 15% and 20% this year - it is alarming to think the coalition government has decided to cut winter fuel by £50 for the over 60s and £100 for the over 80s compared to last year.

To say that our pensioners are baffled would be an understatement: most are angry that the government has decided to take support for fuel bills back top 2007 levels at a time when costs have never been higher.

When we did a house to house survey on the estate a month ago, many residents felt insulted that the Energy Secretary Lib Dem Chris Huhne blamed people for not shopping around for the best deal. Many older householders simply to do have access or know how to use the internet. Others pay more because they don't use direct debits. They also use more fuel in the day time, so forcing even higher bills.

It is unbelievably mean for the government to cut support for pensioners at a time when many are worrying about how to make ends meet. The coalition will not be forgiven by them for this.


George Osborne, in the speech introducing the Government's 2010 spending review was very careful to say that “winter fuel payments will remain exactly as budgeted for by the previous government”. If it is the case that the rates of 2010/11 were intended as a temporary, one year increase by the previous government, then this is, of course, true. And if we look back at the description of the 2010/11 rates then we do see that they are described as “a higher rate”, suggesting that these rates were indeed temporarily increased.

However, if we look further back in time we see that both in 2009/10 and in 2008/09 the rates of £250 and £400 applied. In both cases, £50 and £100 of these amounts respectively are described as “an additional amount”, and it is stressed that these additional amounts apply for one year only. We have to look back to 2007/08 before we find rates at the level they are planned to return to in 2011/12, of £200 and £300.

It may well be the case, as the DWP claims, that no additional amount for 2011/12 was budgeted for by the previous government. It is also the case, however, that these additional amounts have been consistently reintroduced over the last three years.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Willis Gagging Order Lifted!

Oh no, not Reading again!
The influence of this blog just keeps on growing ... glad to hear Richard is safe and well and been given permission to speak, sir.

Can't wait to read his commentary on Cumpsty's departure, the downing of Chowdhary and Ralph, the investigation by the Central Office ... so much to tell.

Ha, ha.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Willis Gagged? Lib Dems Should Target Peppard

Willis: No News
I'm sure others will have noticed that Richard Willis's blog hasn't been up-dated since 27 October, and in fact the last local item on the self-styled "first for local news and first for comment" was published more than a month ago on 11 October (announcing the new school for 14-19 years in east Reading - which I have launched a petition against).

I know that in the past Richard has taken a holiday around this time of the year, but even then he has posted about his travels. However I was most surprised that this radio silence was maintained through-out the Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday period. Richard is to be respected for his commitment to the armed services, so I did find this a bit strange. He must have had a reason.

Given Richard's absence at the Council meeting where Andrew Cumpsty announced his resignation as Tory leader, I am beginning to wonder if he has been gagged by the Conservative Association high command outside the council in Reading. Remember when Warren Swaine was investigated by the Lib Dems, he was effectively told to "shut up" - has the same thing happened to Richard?

Voters don't like divided parties, but Reading Tories seem hell bent on mirroring their national party, with a new You Gov report (11 Nov) showing 64% of people now see the Conservative party as divided, compared to just 18% who see them as united. This is the most divided the Conservative party has been seen since YouGov started asking the question, down from a peak in 2008 when 56% saw the party as united.

If the Lib Dems have any political sense (and, of course, that's a BIG "if") they must realise that they could win back Peppard - a relatively safe seat for them in the recent past.

The council elections next May could be quite turblent, with a lot of swopping of seats, so here's part of a betting accumulator I'm going down to Ladbrokes with:
  • Labour gain Redlands from Lib Dems (Goodall to stand down), Caversham (Luckett to stand down) and Church from the Tories;
  • Tories gain Tilehurst from Lib Dems (Beard to stand down);
  • Lib Dems gain Peppard from Tories.
It's already getting mean out there - and will only get tougher!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Wounded Soldiers Face Sack Under Army Redundancy Plans

After Armistice Day and before Remembrance Sunday, this story in today's Daily Telegraph of disabled soldiers facing the sack just about takes the biscuit.

Nothing else to say about this contemptible coalition's policies.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Armistice Day In Reading

At the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month, we shall remember them.

Except in Reading, except for an honourable few, we have been ignoring them.

Until today in 2011.

Well done to Brian Lewendon, from Tilehurst's Royal British Legion, and my old friend Councillor Chris Maskell for pushing the council and others to give this hour and this day the respect it deserves.

I was proud to be among the 300 or so Reading people who gathered at the Forbury War Memorial today.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A New Secondary School For East Reading: Sign The Petition

I have long held the view that we need a new secondary school in east Reading.

Currently many parents in east Reading have no choice other than to find a place for their children to undertake their secondary education in schools in neighbouring Wokingham.

It is hard not to be disappointed with the news that the Government has given the go ahead for a new secondary school in east Reading will only take pupils from 14 upwards - and not from the age of 11 as parents hoped.

It should be stressed that any new education provision is a plus, and such schools will go a long way to equipping less academic youngsters with the technical skills to become assets on the increasingly tough job market.

But at an already confusing time in a young person's life it will be highly disconcerting to be moving schools after two years and just before GCSE courses begin, and schools face having their year nine stripped of pupils heading for a UCT.

So please consider signing the petition here and pass it on. Contact me if you want paper copies.

Here's the wording in full:

"We, the undersigned, call upon Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Education and the Department for Education to reconsider the decision to only fund a new technology based secondary school in east Reading.

We call upon Michael Gove and the DfE to invest in an 11 to 19 years comprehensive school which will offer a high quality, wide ranging curriculum to all young people in east Reading."

NHS: Stealth Privatisation Nobody Voted For

Royal Berks Hospital: Rebuilt by Labour
Labour transformed the NHS.

Over 13 years in government more doctors and nurses were employed, waiting times were reduced, treatment was improved for millions of people and hospitals were rebuilt, including the Royal Berkshire Hospital here in Reading.

Now the Tories and Lib Dems are making a mess of the NHS. With Labour's guarantees scrapped, there is already a big difference:
  • Routine operations are being delayed and cancelled
  • Waiting times for treatment, guaranteed at less than 18 weeks by Labour, are now getting steadily longer
  • Nurses at the Royal Berkshire Hospital are having their pay cut by £600 a year
And Conservative ministers backed by the Lib Dems are desperate to press on with changes to the NHS that are opposed by most doctors, nurses and health organisations.

Remember when David Cameron promised "no top down reorganisation of the health service" - yet his government has now embarked on the biggest top down reorganisation since the NHS was established.
We've always known that we couldn't trust the NHS with the Tories, but now we've seen the Lib Dems eagerly support these changes too.

Their changes mean "privatisation by stealth" for much of the NHS. Private health companies will be able to poach the profitable services they want to run, leaving hospitals like the RBH struggling to run the bits which money can't be made, like intensive care units, A&E services, emergency cover, geriatric medicine and care for the terminally ill.

These changes will cost around £2Billion to implement at a time when operations are being cancelled and nurses' pay being cut.

In the face of public opposition the Conservatives have made cosmetic changes, but the main thrust - to bring a market of privatised services - is still at the heart of their plans. In the end, the Lob Dems voted to back the Tories.

I have no doubt that local people overwhelmingly oppose the Coalition's proposals to break up the NHS. Nobody voted for this. Nobody got the chance to - because if the Conservatives or Lib Dems had the guts to put this in their election manifestos Mr Cameron wouldn't be Prime Minister today.

(image: getreading.co.uk)

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Lib Dems Support In Free Fall

Closer examination of last week's You Gov data reveals some startling information for the Lib Dems.

Of those who voted Lib Dem at the 2010 General Election, it now seems that only 33% would still vote for Nick Clegg's Lib Dems.

A whopping 41% of those former Lib Dem supporters would now vote Labour, 11% would vote Tory and 15% would vote for other parties including UKIP and the Greens.

These are current voting intentions, so any belief by the Lib Dems that we'd forget about their U-turn on tution fees or forgive their support for propping up the Tory-led coalition seems widely misplaced.

Expect increasingly desperate claims from the local Lib Dems in Redlands and elsewhere over the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

UKIP To Replace Lib Dems As Third Party

Clegg: Leading the Lib Dems to political oblivion
Here's an interesting piece which argues that the splits over Europe and Cameron's leadership amongst the Tories and the inevitable fate of a junior partner in a coalition creates the ground for UKIP to prosper.

Peter Obone suggests that:
  • The reason why Conservative Party activists were heavily outnumbered by lobbyists at this year’s Conservative conference was that so many Tory activists have gone off to join UKIP, with Alexander Hesketh, the former treasurer and chief whip in the House of Lords the most recent.
  • Last Sunday’s YouGov poll showing that support for Farage’s party had crept up to 7% – just one point fewer than the Liberal Democrats - is significant as UKIP strive to take over from the Lib Dems as Britain’s third largest political party.
  • The Lib Dems are finished for the foreseeable future – the invariable fate of the smaller party in a coalition government. They will be fortunate to retain a dozen seats at the next general election.
  • UKIP will probably overtake them in the polls over the coming months, most likely pulling well ahead as the general election approaches.
  • The European elections, due in two and a half years’ time, will provide an important test: UKIP will perform very strongly, while the Lib Dems will be all but wiped out.
And as I've previously blogged the LibDems in the House of Commons could end up as an all white, all male party.

Not much sign of UKIP around Reading, but the local Tories are split and the LibDems are already in electoral melt-down at the council elections.