Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Nigel Farage to stand in Thanet South

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UKIP Leader Nigel Farage set to fight Thanet South

Just as the news on Boris was no surpise, the UKIP leader is poised to seek to enter the House of Commons in May 2015 as the MP for Thanet South in Kent. Nigel Farage is on the party’s shortlist for the seat making it a near certainty he will be selected.

A poll financed by Lord Ashcroft last month for the constituency showed Ukip on 33%, the Conservatives on 29% and Labour on 29%.

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It’s time Miller went

 

Time to go: Cabinet minister leaves the House of Commons after her 32-second apology on Thursday for fiddling her expenses

Time to go: Cabinet minister leaves the House of Commons after her 32-second apology on Thursday for fiddling her expenses

The word which launched itself out of the radio when I heard the news of Cabinet minister Maria Miller’s apology to the House of Commons on Thursday was “attitude”. From that, read sheer arrogance, thinly-veiled threats by Mrs Miller to the Standards Commissioner and by her special advisor to journalists reporting on the investigation, and rank intransigence.

For the word “attitude” to be deliberately used in the Standards Committee’s written judgement – considered a very strong and somewhat “impolite” word by the Westminster elite – demonstrates just how pompous and arrogant Culture Secretary Maria Miller must be to deal with. No wonder David Cameron likes her so much.

But back to the facts of Maria Miller’s expenses claims. Parliament’s independent standards commissioner, a post created after the expenses scandal rocked Westminster in 2009, Kathryn Hudson, found the Culture Secretary had incorrectly designated an expensive property in south-west London as her ‘second home’ and then over-claimed £45,000 for mortgage payments at the taxpayer’s expense. Mrs Miller was in fact housing her parents in the ‘second home’ and from all accounts was spending more nights herself in the property than her designated ‘main home’ in her Basingstoke constituency. Parliamentary rules specifically state using taxpayer’s money to pay for the housing of relatives is strictly forbidden. Frankly, Maria Miller was committing fraud, a crime which some MPs have been sent to prison for.

Mrs Hudson’s report then had to pass to a committee of MPs – the Standards Committee – who decided to water down the findings and declared the Culture Secretary only needed to pay back £5,800 to the taxpayer and apologise for her “attitude” towards the inquiry. It had taken Kathryn Hudson’s team 14 months to unravel Mrs Miller’s £90,000 expenses claim, whilst being obstructed by the Culture Secretary at every turn, but only 32-seconds for the Cabinet minister to issue her reply to the findings.

During her apology (read from the backbenchers in the House of Commons despite Maria Miller being a front bench Cabinet secretary – one of those parliamentary quirks I guess!) she was flanked by the Chief Whip, Sir George Young, and her predecessor at the Culture, Media and Sport department, Jeremy Hunt, who had galloped from the front bench to assume his loyal position. Loyalty to the prime minister that is.

You see you don’t get this sort of senior support whilst being forced to “apologise to the House” (i.e. to the country) unless the big man in Number 10 wants the offender to stick around. Maria Miller is only one of three ministers in David Cameron’s cabinet and he has a bit of a reputation for being anti-woman, according to private polling and of course egged on by a smirking Ed Miliband. It really wouldn’t do for one of his female standard bearers to be given the chop.

Today, the Tories had their Spring Conference – in central London again, thus ensuring ordinary Conservatives were kept away by sheer expense (no pun intended) – and the Cameroon Tories were out in force saying to the 24-hour news channels how “wooonderful” Maria Miller is and how her constituents “just love her”. If you look closely as the Cameroons were being interviewed you can see David Cameron dart into the venue behind them. Job done.

Back in the real-world and real Tory shires, the verdict is somewhat more to the point. Tonight a Survation poll has found 82% of Conservative voters say Maria Miller should resign from cabinet and 66% say she should resign as an MP. Interestingly, 73% of the public as a whole say the apology Mrs Miller gave to the House of Commons was not enough.

David Cameron has yet again gone against his own members (and the public) in favour of a select elite who now run the Conservative Party. Perhaps he will pay attention to Survation’s voting intention figures which see the Conservatives slump to 29 points with UKIP – after Nigel Farage sunk Clegg on Wednesday – up 4 points to 20%.

It’s Miller time – to go!


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Osborne helps savers in Budget

Chancellor George Osborne and his Treasury team outside Number 11 Downing Street before he delivered his fifth Budget today

Chancellor George Osborne and his Treasury team outside Number 11 Downing Street before he delivered his fifth Budget today

First up, I’m sorry for not blogging for over three weeks. I have recently had a big change in my life as I moved away from Ipswich, where I had lived and worked (in business and politics) for nearly thirteen years, to Chelmsford in Essex. It was sad to leave Ipswich but it was time for a change and since stepping down from active politics as a local councillor and Tory activist the opportunity was there to open a new chapter in my life.

But (unfortunately for some I am sure!) you won’t stop hearing from me in the electronic world as I will continue blogging on politics, mainly nationally and internationally until, perhaps, I feel the need to comment on the shenanigans of local politicians in the county town city of Essex.

So here goes with another post..

George Osborne has today announced his fifth budget for UK plc, with key headlines for me being the increase in the income tax threshold to £10,500 (delayed until next year) and the big one: increasing the ISA allowance (in either cash or shares) to £15,000 from July this year. This is great news for everyone (as all are entitled to earn up to £10,500 without paying income tax) and savers, who have suffered far too long since the banks and the Labour Party wrecked the economy in 2008.

It was interesting to see two MPs who I personally know – and have campaigned for – standing on the doorstep of Number 11 next to George Osborne at the customary photo op when the Chancellor of the Exchequer holds up the red box before driving off to the Commons to deliver his budget. Both Nicky Morgan (Con, Loughborough), who is Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and Rob Wilson (Con, Reading East), who is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor, were in Downing Street with Mr Osborne for the group shot of the Chancellor’s team before he took centre stage.

We had the announcement at the front-end of the income tax system on the personal allowance but Mr Osborne also told us the higher rate tax threshold will rise from £41,450 to £41,865 next month and by a further 1% to £42,285 next year. Not a lot but it will help the 1.4 million (since 2010 alone) who are, frankly, on modest incomes (especially if they are the only breadwinner) but have been dragged into the 40% bracket. Let’s not forget the LOWERING of the 40% threshold was a deliberate Coalition Government policy since 2010 to pay for the increase in the personal income tax allowance. So all in all higher rate taxpayers are still losing out – some (in fact most) will say “so what?”, as the majority do not earn enough to pay 40%, but I remind you hundreds of thousands earn just over the threshold and their increase in salary due to a promotion is then swallowed up by HM Treasury – hardly fair.

I’m no where near about to retire and won’t be able to afford to do for many decades thanks to the out-of-control housing market and Gordon Brown’s raid on pensions back in 1997 when he removed the tax relief available to pension funds. But I am pleased George Osborne has started to recognise the huge problems being stored up for those on defined contribution pensions, which, if they have a pension at all, nearly everyone in the median working age group (i.e. my Generation) has rather than the gold-plated salary pension schemes (also known as defined benefit) my parents’ generation enjoy. I won’t begin to try and understand the detail (not yet anyway) but the Chancellor has removed tax restrictions, meaning defined contribution pension holders won’t need to buy an annuity if they do not wish to, and the taxable part of pension pot taken as cash on retirement is to be charged at normal income tax rate, down from 55%.

Straight after the budget, Sky News went to Wakefield to interview two local businessmen (and yes, they were men!). Both interviewees were positive about the chancellor’s announcement with the key word “confidence” being used. Most ordinary workers are yet to feel the benefits of the economic fixes the Conservative-led Government is putting in place to rectify the monumental mess the Labour Party, of which Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were very senior members, left the country in 2010. But I sense a warming amongst the electorate towards the Conservatives when it comes to the economy, which will be THE most important aspect of the General Election in 2015. “It’s the economy, stupid”, as Bill Clinton said.

However, David Cameron’s Conservatives have an uphill struggle if they are to actually win a general election for the first time since 1992! The constituency boundaries are skewered in Labour’s favour, thanks to the cry-baby antics of the Liberal Democrats when they weren’t given Lords Reform (something not mandatory in the Coalition Agreement although boundary changes were if Nick Clegg’s party got their referendum on the Alternative Vote system, which they did) and the general feel in the country that the Tories are still the party of the rich, which Labour leader Ed Miliband focused on again today during his budget response in the House of Commons. The surge of UKIP, to be boosted further when they may indeed win the European Elections in May, will also be a major factor on whether Mr Miliband takes the keys to 10 Downing Street or not. The yellow peril for all their puffed out chests in government (despite losing seats in the 2010 election), are an irrelevance.


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New law could see councils forced to allow webcasting

Is the day which sets bloggers free to fully report on local councils coming to an end?

Is the day which sets bloggers free to fully report on local councils coming to an end? Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson was arrested in February for filming her local council meeting

As regular readers will know I have been campaigning through my blog, along with Ben Redsell of the Ipswich Spy parishto persuade the Executive committee at Ipswich Borough Council to enhance democracy in local government and start webcasting their six-weekly meeting of all 48 councillors and key committees such as Planning and Overview & Scrutiny.

Cllr Martin Cook

Luddite or just anti-democracy? – Labour Councillor Martin Cook

In February this year, I took my campaign in person to the Town Hall and exercised my democratic right as a resident of Ipswich to ask a Council Question to the councillor responsible for IT, Cllr Martin Cook (and fellow employee of technology giant, BT). I asked Cllr Cook if the Borough Council would follow the lead of other English councils and start webcasting their public meetings. Unfortunately, and in a obscure roundabout way, Cllr Cook refused.

Despite the rebuttal I and fellow bloggers haven’t gone away. We are not campaigning to enhance our readership figures or ‘play with’ technologies.  We are campaigning for local government decisions to be made open and transparent to benefit the democratic process in this town. Up and down the land, including in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, bloggers have been refused permission even to tweet council meeting proceedings and at Carmarthenshire County Council when local blogger Jacqui Thompson tried to film a public council meeting, the Council called the police and had Mrs Thompson arrested. Anyone would think we were in East Germany or the People’s Republic of China based on the behaviour of local government officials.

But now local council mandarins are being brought to book. The Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, is bringing forward a law to enshrine a blogger’s – or any member of the public for that matter – right to tweet, record and report the proceedings in town halls in England. Unfortunately, the law will not have jurisdiction in the devolved assemblies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so our fellow blogger in Carmarthenshire may have to lobby her Welsh assembly politicians a bit more on this one.

The news laws will be part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which is set to be debated by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday 28th October, having completed its Lords stages. You can follow it’s passage through parliament on the UK Parliament website.

It is not acceptable for councillors to close their doors on the people who have elected them and effectively take decisions on their behalf with no reporting by the media. Only last month at the Town Hall meeting of councillors in Ipswich, no one from the mainstream media turned up to the meeting. The only reporters were bloggers who are unpaid volunteers providing a free public service because of their commitment and passion for local democracy. During the meeting, three Conservative councillors walked out of the meeting in protest at how the ruling Labour administration were answering the public’s questions. This is a very serious matter – as it goes to the heart of how the democratic process is conducted in Suffolk’s county town –  but the local newspaper – the Ipswich Star – took almost a week to report this story. It was reported within minutes by the bloggers in attendance.

The introduction of webcasting would have ensured the decisions taken or public points swiped away by the ruling Executive were known to the taxpayers and electors of Ipswich in real-time. In Westminster we rightly have televised proceeding of all House of Commons debates and Committees (no one is asking for that in local government) but webcasting is a proven technology and relatively cheap to implement and will go a long way to closing the gap between voter and councillor in local government. Many decisions taken at Ipswich Borough Council actually have a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of Ipswich residents and businesses than those taken in Westminster, which may not have an effect on the town and in many cases have a very long lead time before implementation.

I would ask Ipswich Borough Council’s ruling Labour Party to look again at their decision to refuse webcasting of their Full Council meetings (in the first instance) before Parliament forces their analogue hand into our digital world.


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Disgraceful behaviour from UK politicians lets Assad off the hook

Syrian children lay dead after being gassed in Damascus

Syrian children lay dead after being gassed in Damascus

MPs cheered last night when the Government was defeated in the House of Commons. What have we become when the cockpit of our nation brays from the green benches as children are gassed and burned in Syria by a brutal dictator who has no respect for international norms or decency? As Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said yesterday in the House, Hitler had not even used chemical weapons in the second world. The implication is Assad is worse than Hitler and Great Britain says it’s got nothing to do with us.

I am depressed and angry by the behaviour of the 285 MPs who voted against what was a watered down motion approving military action to stop the agonising deaths of children in Syria’s cities, which explicitly said would not take place immediately leaving the UN inspectors to complete their work and for the UN security council to debate the grave situation again.

The long dark shadow of Iraq has made our parliamentarians impotent. In one fell swoop, they have diminished our standing in the world, they have damaged the special relationship with the United States – a partnership which adds great value to upholding international law and has saved the globe from great evil three times in the last century. Chemical weapons have been banned by the Geneva Convention for nearly ninety years. Even Saddam Hussein used them only once. Assad has used them 14 times in the last year. Whilst the glorified social workers which now seem to make up the majority of the UK parliament acted like armchair Generals, Assad seemed so convinced the West would do nothing he yesterday dropped an incendiary bomb with what seemed to contain napalm on a school playground burning children, men and women to death. But the so called “will of the people” in Britain decided that’s quite ok.

Parliamentary democracy is the least worst system there is as Winston Churchill once said but it is not a panacea. If politicians never led and just followed, we’d have public hanging brought back to entertain the masses. David Cameron made a literally fatal political calculation – haunted by Iraq – by taking his call for action against Assad into a mess of a parliament full of feuding factions in all parties with a Coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at its helm. A sixth-form politics student could see how this would end up. And the irony is the Prime Minister didn’t legally need to seek a vote in the House of Commons. He has the power under Royal Prerogative to initiate military action to protect Britain’s interests, let alone to stop the slaughter of infants in their beds. But he chose to blink and humiliated Britain on the world stage as a result.

As former Liberal Democrat leader and soldier Lord Ashdown said this morning: “What is the point of having armed forces?” During the twentieth century, Britain stood tall, punched way above its weight against tyranny and the defence of freedom. After tonight’s vote, I feel we have become a different country, one that reflects our geographical size rather than the great influence we once had on the world stage. We can no longer use our extensive military force within the international system to protect crimes against humanity. Instead of looking out to the world which I keenly advocate (one of the reasons why we should pull out of the EU, which has shown itself to be completely toothless on Syria) we have become an isolationist. This has a serious geopolitical impact. We have become as bad as Russia and China have behaved during the last two years of the Syria civil war.

One politician from last night who deserves our greatest wrath is not David Cameron but Labour leader Ed Miliband. He chose to score political points at the expense of children being wracked by nerve agents in their homes. Miliband is a political opportunist of the worst kind and I hope to God this pygmy never becomes Prime Minister.

The current Prime Minister is not much better when it comes to making the right political choices. He has spent the last eight years as leader of the Tory Party distancing himself from his backbenchers and grass root activists, which has implicitly given approval to his former Eton chums to abuse ordinary Conservative Party members. Is it therefore any wonder he can’t rely on his Party’s support when the going gets tough? His backbenchers don’t trust him, never mind follow his lead. The whips are so frightened of the Tory rebels they obviously had no idea the Government was about to be defeated. It’s a dog’s breakfast which isn’t going to get any better as we head towards the 2015 General Election and the disintegration of the Coalition shortly beforehand.

I don’t feel the need to call for David Cameron’s resignation as some readers might expect as there is no alternative. The Prime Minister’s resignation would lead to a General Election and the likely result would be a Labour-Liberal Democrat Coalition. Then we really would be finished.