Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wannabe Tory MPs in Hants get an unexpected boost as East Hants selects!

Petersfield in the constituency of East Hants, pictued in about 1833.
Avaliable as a jigsaw from apparently!
East Hampshire is a plum Tory Seat. Including the towns of Petersfield (the old constituency name) and Alton, east Hants also includes villeges such as Ropley, Meonstoke and Four Marks. For a quick look at the area, the outgoing Tory MP Michael Mates (who has represented the seat since 1974 in one guise or another) has very kindly posted a map at
At the last general election the scores on the doors were;

Conservative 24,273 votes 45.7 share down −1.9%
Lib-Dems 18,764 votes 35.3 share up +5.4%
Labour 8,519 votes 16.0 share down −3.6
UKIP; 1,583 votes 3.0 share up +0.2
Majority 5,509 10.4
Turnout 53,139 66.9% +2.6

I work that out as a -3.7% swing and the only thing to worry the Conservatives is that the Lib-Dems are increasing their vote at each election steadily- in the 2001 election they polled 15,060 votes which was itself 2% up on the '97 result.
So who will go for it?
Any Conservative on the A-list, especially those who missed out in the neighbouring Meon Valley (East Meon is actually in the East Hants constituency) and Winchester seats, those local candidates who have an association with the patch, as well as those who serve on East Hants District Council, Hants County Council and Havant Borough Council.
Should be an interesting selection with lots of competition...

Michael Mates to retire- 'did the buggers get him down' at last?

'Does inflation bother you?', asked the reporter.
'Er, only after mealtimes...', he replied.
picture copyright The Guardian (gasp!).
One person who does know something about Ireland is the former Northern Ireland minister Michael Mates. Contrary to popular opinion, I always thought that he was actually quite a good minister but in the tide of sleaze that engulfed the last Major government (some genuine, much imagined), he was forced to resign after giving a watch to fugitive tycoon Asil Nadir with the memorable inscription 'Don't let the buggers get you down'!
Those with short memories can read up on it at
The outgoing minister had been appointed to the Northern Ireland office following the 1992 general election - his first government post in nearly 20 years as an MP. As a pro-European, wet(ish), former Dragoon Guards Officer, Margaret Thatcher chose not to promote him into her governments. Perhaps it was inevitable he would led the Tory rebellion over the poll tax and then played a key role in the toppling of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher. He was a key member of Michael Heseltine's campaign team, making him a persona non grata among some Conservative MPs.
It wasn't to be the last time. He was appointed a Privy Councillor in February 2003, when he was nominated by the Prime Minister to be a member of the Butler review of intelligence after the Iraq invasion, a position some tories felt he should have not accepted.
Less controversially, he has been a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee since 1994. From 2001 to 2005, he was Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, a position it was aclaimed he was to have held with some success on all sides of the house.
Mr Mates has aparently had a rethink about his future since The Telegraph story on the a-list
He represents the seat of East Hampshire which will be the subject of my next post!

The Northern Ireland Assembly

East Street in Southampton after the 1978 bombing.
picture Copyright BBC.

I see that the Northern Ireland Assembly is expected to meet again at 10.30 on Monday to resume proceedings disrupted by the latest security alert.
Doubtless we will hear a report on the security implications of the incident at the entrance to Parliament Buildings with much hand-wringling. Still better alerts than bombs...
Meanwhile Taoiseach Bertie Ahern welcomed what he described as 'further clarity' from the DUP leader Ian Paisley on his intention to accept the job of first minister.
Personally, I would rather it was almost anyone but Paisley but Sinn Fein have trumped the DUP by announcing that the indescribable Martin McGuinness is its choice for deputy first minister.
Given his dubious past, I thought it was ironic that Martin McGuinness has called for a review of security operations at Stormont. Speaking on BBC's Inside Politics, Mr McGuinness said:"Quite obviously in light of the events there has to be a review. I think that review should not be knee-jerk and it certainly shouldn't be an over-reaction to what happened."

There was a time not so long ago when he didn't seem to approve of any security measures in the province...

Another 1.6million lost by Southampton City Council

The left of my photo shows part of the West Wing of the Civic Centre,
housing the Southampton Central Police Station.
As an interested member of the general public, I am amazed at the way Southampton City Council continues to mis-manage its property portfolio. I first became interested in this aspect of the council's working when I stood in Redbridge and officers proposed that they sell a piece of land with a pub on it at a fraction of the market price to a friendly property developer. I made such a fuss about this, the land was withdrawn from sale.
The latest incident concerns a brownfield site at the bottom of Freemantle. The public papers reveal Cabinet are proposing that they sell the freehold of this land to Hampshire Constabulary at about #1million less than the market valuation in order that they may build a new police station. This means that the police will also move out of the west wing of the civic centre meaning that they will lose the rental income on this property which is about another #300k per annum so in the first year the council stand to lose 1.3m and then 300k p.a. thereafter. As far as I am aware, there are as yet no detailed plans to find another tenant for the existing police station site and the adjacent empty court rooms have stood idle for 6-7 years now? Incidentally, this figure excludes any income on the brownfield site- that would be worth conservatively at least another #300k of rent bringing the net lose of income to circa #600k a year on top of the million lost on the deal in the first year!
Am I the only person who finds this mismanagement something of a scandal?
The sums of money involved are considerable. Adrian Vinson the leader of the Council should carry the can for these deals, even if the decisions are taken by officers with delegated powers.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Drugs- a scourge in Southampton.

Operation Phoenix; the name given to the operation to fight drug and drug-related crime in Southampton.
Some of the results of their operations can be read at

A dismal story.

My local paper The Echo reports how two men were locked up for using a samurai sword to carry out a vicious attack on a drug addict in the St. Mary's area of Southampton. The victim (if that is the right word) was a man called Adam Stebbing (whome I know of) whose family are well known (for mostly all the wrong reasons) in Southampton. Stebbing had been drinking and smoking cannabis and ended up at a flat in Denzil Avenue where he then bought some crack cocaine. While he was still at the property Orville Miller, who had been involved in a dispute with Stebbing over money and drugs, arrived at the property , picked up an ornamental sword and threatened Stebbing. Miller then left the property and returned later with Lance Johnson who was armed with a golf club. The Echo reports that Stebbing offered them £500 which was refused and that was then attacked at the property. However, opinion is divided locally as some people aallege he was attacked outside The Kingsland Tavern and others in Cranberry Terrace, a road opposite Denzil Avenue. In any event he sustained horrific injuries. The golf club broke into three pieces and he was then hacked up with the sword injuring his side, legs and buttocks, face and most significantly, one of his eyes. Barely cconscious he called his mother who picked him up and took him to hospital. Had he not received prompt medical treatment, he would have certainly died.

Why do I write of such terrible things?

Because Southampton is in the grip of an illegal drugs epidemic. It is an epidemic that is not touching all parts of the city geographically, ethnically or within each social class equally but is an epidemic nonetheless. It is leading to a crime wave where the victims are often those least able to afford it and it is destroying the very fabric of community upon which civilised society depends.

The statistics are extraordinary. The Home Office estimates that 50% of all crime is drug related an that the annual cost of damage to society caused by each addict is about £45,000. The average heroin user will commit 435 crimes annually to fund his habit.

I am not sure that I have any answers (although I am very nervous indeed about proposals to legalise and then tightly regulate drugs or to issue addicts with large quantities of heroin on the NHS) but we do need to have a real debate.

Too often politicians skirt round the issue; illegal drug use is scarcely mentioned in debates about crime, poverty, urban deprivation, anti-social behaviour and the like, yet often it is the route cause of such undesirable phenomena.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Steve Brine, former Party Employee, selected to fight Winchester

Steve Brine makes his point at 'The Big Event' on 14th November.
picture copyright Winchester Conservatives

Winchester Conservatives have selected Stephen Brine (32) to be their candidate to fight the next general election. Steve Brine was adopted by party members at a meeting on Wednesday at the Stripe Theatre at the University of Winchester (sic). Steve was on the fabled 'A-list' but also had strong connections with the area having lived in the locality. A former Area Campaign Director for Hampshire Conservatives (Agent on steroids to you and me), responsible for running the target seats campaign for the Tory Party at the last general election.
The Winchester constituency will have radically different boundaries at the next general election but the retirement of retirement of shamed Lib-Dem Mark Oaten means that the Conservatives still have a reasonable prospect of capturing the seat. publish the notional 2005 result on the new boundaries as
Liberal Democrat: 27937 (51.6%)
Conservative: 19893 (36.7%)
Labour: 4793 (8.9%)
Other: 1514 (2.8%)
(the actual 2005 results were: Conservative 23749, Labour 4782, Liberal Democrat: 31225)
while Electoral Calculus are predicting a Conservative gain in the seat at the next general election with a lead of circa 3% over the Lib-Dems.
Steve beat two A-Listers; Emma Webster (Southampton University graduate) and Antonia Cox (Evening Standard leader writer and former investment banker) as well as local candidate and leader of Winchester City Council George Beckett to clinch the selection.

Jeremy Moulton enters the Conservative approved candidate's list

We are all victims of the closure of the Civil Service Sports ground. With white shoes, blue jeans, a rugby shirt and a brown suit jacket, Jeremy was a fashion victim...

I was delighted to hear that after attending his Parliamentary Assessment Board last weekend (a kind of stripped down version of the old accelerated civil service exams), Jeremy Moulton, a Southampton Councillor where I live and an old friend, has learned that he is on the 'Approved Candidates List'. This allows him to apply for target seats within the vicinity in which he lives, works or has another strong connection with and any other none-target seats anywhere across the country.
He is also now free, should he so wish to now apply to join the so-called ‘A-list’. He will need to do this if he wants to be considered in the plum Tory seats at the next general election. Good luck to him.

Whitehead loses his battle against nuclear power amid an uncomfortable Queen's Speech ?

Nice bling...

Blair challenged the Tories to back his plans for nuclear power yesterday but what about his MPs? One person who I imagine did not enjoy the Queen’s speech very much was Southampton MP Alan Whitehead. During the Queen’s Speech debate in the Commons yesterday, Mr Blair told the Tory leader that government energy policy was dictated not just by the need to tackle climate change but by reducing risks from future reliance on imported gas as North Sea oil runs out.
Mr Blair said,
“In common with countries around the world, we need to put nuclear power back on the agenda and at least replace the nuclear energy we will lose. Without it we will not be able to meet any of our objectives on climate change or our objectives on energy security.”
Britain’s nuclear industry currently provides 80 billion kWh of electricity a year, meeting almost 20 per cent of demand for energy, a figure that Mr Blair is committed to matching as the minimum output of the next generation of nuclear plants.

Quoting an interview in which Mr Cameron suggested that he would contemplate nuclear power only as a last resort if other renewable sources of energy were unable to meet demand, Mr Blair asked what he would do if the Cabinet Secretary came to tell him such an approach was not generating enough power.

Mr Blair asked,
“When over the next few years our nuclear power stations are closed, are we at least going to replace them? I say yes.”
A tireless anti-nuclear campaigner, I wonder if Mr. Whitehead will now continue to campaign against nuclear power and indeed vote against any enabling legislation ?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tragedy in Bevois Valley

Bevois Valley pictured from my former pub The New Inn
picture copyright The Daily Echo
Southampton has a plethorea of traffic calming measures, many of them unneccessary, some of them almost dangerous in the way they are laid out.
How strange then that despite upgrading the street lighting, there has been no real progress in making cars cut their speed late at night in Bevois Valley. It would be an expensive step but as a matter of urgency, I would like to see pedestrian barriers either side of the road to help keep people out of the way of fast approaching on-coming cars. With the area being home to many pubs and bars, this is really becoming a necesity.
Just last weekend, there was a fatal accident involving a Southampton taxi.
The Police commission was informed because the victim - a male pedestrian - had "contact" with police officers a few hours before the incident.
The man was in Bevois Valley Road shortly before 4am when the accident happened.
Part of the area was sealed off for ten hours while police investigated the accident and arranged for the taxi to be taken away for examination. The road was shut between its junction with Lodge Road and my former pub, The New Inn. Several side streets leading off the no-go zone were also affected by the closure.
I do hope that no-one is injured or, god-forbid, killed before the Council acts.

Meon Valley Conservatives pick the right man in George Hollingbery

Prospective candidate George Hollingbery

Meon Valley- the Lib-Dems haven't been round to put up the yellow boards yet...

I've always had a lot of time for George Hollingbery and I was delighted to read that he was selected to fight the new seat of the Meon Valley on Friday.
Meon is a seat that the Conservatives simply have to win if they are to form the next government. Electoral Calculus indicate a Conservative majority of 2089 had it been fought at the last general election while UK Polling Report give the new seat a notional Tory majority of 1,989 if it had been fought in 2005.
Over optimisically, E.C. are predicting the Tories to get 49.61% share of the vote next time with the Libs getting just 31.18% -so on paper it is an attractive prospect indeed for any wannabe Tory MP.
With an electorate of 68,534, the patch is made up of a large chunk of the old Winchester constituency, East Hampshire and a small part of Havant, so its a pretty rural and certainly affluent seat. So far, both the stats and the geography would seem to indicate natural hunting ground for the Tories then. However, Mark Oaten worked the part of the seat that was within his constituency very diligently. There is also a tradition of Independents standing and winning in parts of the constituency in local government terms while there are also a sprinkling of Lib-Dems. It will be no cake walk.
George however is the man to do it; an Oxford graduate, he has been a successful businessman founding a chain of vets that was later sold at a considerable profit and a former stockbroker. He fought the old Winchester constituency in 2005 and has been a Winchester city councillor since 1999. With Oaten standing down, the contest is wide open. Naturally affable, he is a good listener and has a reputation for being an astute and competent councillor as well as a good campaigner.
Apparently the final selection was nail-bitingly close; the other three contenders were former Winchester city councillor Flick Drummond (who stood in Southampton Itchen at the last general election), Rebecca Harris (Special Adviser to Tim Yeo MP) and Kwasi Kwarteng (who fought Brent East in 2005) .
Caroline Dineage, (daughter of TV anchorman Fred), Steve Brine (one-time Conservative Campaign Director for Hampshire), Vicky Ford (candidate in Birmingham Northfield at the last general) and Amber Rudd (PPC in Liverpool Garston 2005 and Chairman of Travel Intelligence) were eliminated during the previous round.
Eastleigh selects in the new year...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sports Grounds in Southampton

Alan Whitehead MP pictured at the former Civil Service Sports Ground with the then Labour candidate Tom Flynn. Forgotten your tie Al?
picture courtesy

Last Thursday the Minister of Culture, Media and Sport, Richard Caborn MP revealed in a Commons written reply that 1000 applications for building development had been approved on small playing fields over the last four years despite the government's pledge to protect them.
The Lib-Dems nationally have launched a campaign to such playing fields. I hope this applies equally to the Lib-Dems in Southampton. At a recent public meeting, I asked the Lib-Dem in charge of the schools closure programme in the city if the future of the playing fields at these sites was assured. She pointedly refused to give any undertaking, making me wonder if one reason some of the sites were closing was their development potential, allowing existing green field sites to be concreted over?
On a related issue, Alan Whitehead MP has been campaigning to prevent housing being built at the former Civil Service Sports Ground in Shirley. As it is the last open space in the vicinity, quite right too.
However, he is being disingenuous when he says that,
“In 2004 the City Council approved the sale of the former Civil Service Sports Ground in Freemantle to a housing developer. They approved the sale despite a covenant dating back to the 1800s promising to use the land for sports activities, and the area being designated as a green field site in Southampton'scal Plan.”
The truth is that the Council did not own this land and therefore could neither ‘approve’ or ‘disapprove’ of the sale.
You may conclude that despite numerous meetings and briefings, Mr Whitehead is very badly informed or that he is just trying to score cheap political points. Personally I think the best option is for the site to be used by the adjacent St. Mark’s school, a proposal first suggested by the Conservative Councillor for the area, Jeremy Moulton.

Four Southampton Schools Face Closure

pictures from school websites.

Today Ann Milton, the Lib-Dem Cabinet Member for Children's Services and Learning announced her administration's plan to close four schools in the city; Millbrook (awarded the DfES Healthy Schools Standard; only one other secondary school in the City has achieved this), Oaklands, Grove Park and Woolston. They will be replaced by 2 new schools, one on the Oaklands site in the west of the city and another on the Grove Park site in the east. All the existing teachers, admin and support staff will be made redundant and have to re-apply for their jobs at the new schools, should they wish to work there. Bellmore School and Regents Park (both in Shirley) are to become mixed and Redbridge School, Sholing Technology College and Bitterne Park School are all to expand.
There are three main causes for the need to remove the 1000 or so surplus school places in Southampton
  • declining birth rates (although no-one ever talks about the affects of migration on the future population in Southampton in any detail)

  • an exodus of families from the city as family houses are demolished or converted to flats

  • and a preference of parents who live in Southampton to send their children to schools with better educational results in the Hampshire area outside of Southampton

The worrying thing is that the timetable for closures (and indeed the consultation) has been eye-watering quick. Why? Well one has to suspect that there are three main reasons for that too;

  • the desire of the Lib-Dems to set the schools closure plans in train before May's local elections, thus forcing whoever takes control to carry on with cuts

  • to push the policy through before the schools are able to become foundation schools, acquire foundations and allow foundations to appoint a majority of governors which would effectively stop the closure programme in its tracks when the new Education Bill becomes law

  • the continuation of the Lib-Dems to drive forward the Senior Officers of the Council in making education policy, such as Clive Webster, the Executive Director for Children's Services and Learning proposals to create so-called "Learning Campuses" providing education from children to adults on a single site
Legally the official decision can't be made until the end of November but don't expect the Lib-Dems to yield unless the political pressure upon them becomes unbearable. Co-incidentally today the Lib-Dems launched a national campaign to save small playing fields- expect those in Southampton on the sites earmarked for closure to be exempt from this. They will be keen to sell the sites for re-development.