Monday, October 22, 2007

Budget revealed!

Tudor House; now under restoration.

After months of work, the new Conservative administration published its new budget for consultation last Friday. It is a serious attempt to re-orientate the Council in line with the administration's VALUES and to focus on providing both a better level of core services and protecting the hard pressed council taxpayer from further demands from the public purse. The key changes are as follows;

1. Reaffirming commitment to keep Council Tax within inflation (hooray!!!),

2. A 10% discount in Council Tax for pensioner households (where all occupants are over 65),

3. Scrapping Council Tax for local people who become Special Police Constables in Southampton,

4. An extra £1.7m a year into social services for vulnerable adults and children,

5. Another £3/4m a year into road repairs (part of a three year increase of £2.3m,

6. Over £5m of efficiency savings identified (£1m identified for each month the Conservatives have been in office),

7. An overall increase in money for Southampton schools. Earlier this year an extra £5m was given to secondary schools for improvements,

8. Bringing in free nationwide bus travel for senior citizens in April,

9. £300,000 extra for parks in the suburbs,

10. Investment into the city's heritage - money to refurbish Tudor House and to build a heritage centre at the civic centre.

The nightmare of course is the chronic underfunding of the Council by central government; since 1997 Southampton has suffered enormously as labour has transferred vast resources from the city to fund its northern heartlands, the subject of my maiden speech to the full council. Given that, I think we have come up with some imaginative and thoughtful proposals- it will be interesting to see if the public agree.

Poles at the Polls!

Polish presidential candidate Lech Kaczynski (L) of the Law and Justice Party (they don't mince their words out there do they!) and his opponent Donald Tusk of the Civic Platform party shake hands.
(Pic c. Xinhua/AFP)

Yesterday saw amazing scenes at Southampton Polish Club on Portswood Road as some of the city's 8000- 11000 Poles attempted to cast their vote in the Polish general election. I walked past the club in blissful ignorance at about 8.30pm and saw quite a commotion going on. Business was brisk at the polling station that had been set up by the polish government. Apparently about 1300 people voted in person, many more casting their vote by post (hope they got back in time!). There has been quite a lot of campaigning going on in Southampton prior to the poll- leaflets were being distributed outside St Edmund's Church and a Polish government minister (of the outgoing administration as it turned out!) was pounding the streets in Southampton last week.

One wonders what the level of turnout would be if the Foreign Office was to set up a similar polling station in the height of the season in Ibiza for British nationals...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Watching the Mooney Suzuki at The Joiners

cheer up lads- you got the record deal...

After the Planning public meeting (see blog entry below), Cllr Jeremy Moulton, his mate Andy and my friend (and bass and madolin player extrodinaire in The Family) Aidan went down to The Joiners Arms in St Mary's Street to watch The Mooney Suzukis on the last night of their UK tour.

I hadn't heard the band but Andy had seen them live before and rated them so for a tenner a throw, we thought it was worth a punt!

The garage rock band played an entertaining set of rock tunes for over an hour and a half and the almost sell-out crowd loved them. They certainly are not the most original band in the world taking musical and stage cues from The Who, Suede and The Zutons. They even copied lyrics from an old Gerry and the Pacemakers hit but they hit the spot on a wet Tuesday night, giving it their all.

Quote of the night came from Aidan "I'm not into all this American accent stuff they are putting on"- he was a bit crestfallen when I told him they were from New York!

Highlight of the show was at the end of the night when the lead singer played his guitar while climbing up and hanging it up from the ceiling which drove the audience crazy- the management of The Joiners didn't look too happy at this point tho!

The UK tour seems to have been something of a success for them- they told the crowd that as a result of the gigs, they had just signed a new record deal.

Scating (sic!) on thin ice...

'Old and new- anything will do'- a design guide for postwar Southampton?

I went to an interesting public meeting organised by one of my political oppenents, Liberal Democrat Councillor Liz Mizon at the Highfield House Hotel in Portswood last night. The key guest was a Council officer called Andy Scate who heads up the 'Planning & Sustainability' department of the City Council.
Like many cities where land is at a premium, there have been many applications approved in Southampton over the last twenty years that have changed the character of the area (flats!, flats!, flats!!!) beyond all recognition and in my view should have been opposed and then rejected on sound planning grounds. Highfield and Bassett have been particular victims of this (as have Freemantle & Shirley where I represent) and doubtless Cllr Mizon was attempting to some extent to tap into this dissatisfaction. I must say that she chaired the meeting very effectively and it was well attended (with plenty of members of the Highfield Resident's Association were there) but the real star of the night was the Council Officer Andy Scate who heads up the department.
After giving a short presentation, he fielded questions for the duration of the two hour meeting with both good humour and humility. Unlike many Officers he was also not too defensive of his Department and acknowledged there were issues in a number of areas.
I got a round of applause (the only one of any speaker!) when I made the point that Council Officer's often didn't seem to give design considerations sufficient weight in their reports to the Planning Panel and also that as an authority we were not active enough in the creation of conservation areas or attempting to get structures listed. They were points he conceded so it will be interesting to see if we can make any progress in this area...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

if anyone's coming across as domineering in this interview, it's you!

Brian Walden: "You come over as being someone who one of your backbenchers said is slightly off her trolley, authoritarian, domineering, refusing to listen to anybody else – why? Why cannot you publicly project what you have just told me is your private character?"
Margaret Thatcher: "Brian, if anyone’s coming over as domineering in this interview, it’s you. It’s you."

I see that The Telegraph's 'Spy column has a short story on Brian Walden's endorsement of David Cameron HERE. Actually they are about 9 months behind the times because Walden went public with his support last JUNE.
I am too young to remember Walden as an MP but certainly remember his as a TV presenter, most notably on Weekend World, a slot he hosted from 1977 to 1986. I have to say that I always thought Walden was a tough, tenacious, forensic but courteous interviewer, in a different league to the Dimbleby brothers, let alone any of the cleaner cut, current crop. The exchanges between him and at different times, Heseltine, Kinnock, Lawson and most notably Thatcher made compelling viewing.
With just a set piece interview, there was no need for gimmicks then on TV; how times change!

A former resident returns...

Stephen Hammond MP and Southampton's Conservative Cabinet
(gatecrashing blogger in purple jumper top left!)

One result of Brown's election wobble was that the Conservative Party in Southampton started to give serious consideration to how it would fight (what felt like then) an imement general election. The last week was as William Rees Mogg described it a 'full dress rehersal' as campaign plans began to take shape.

Stephen Hammond (a former Sotonian himself) came down to Southampton to give us the benefit of his expertise and also help us campaign on the appalling Revenue Support Grant Southampton receives in comparison with similar authorities and also how the government's 'free pensioner bus pass' would lead the authority to be out of pocket by a minimum of £1.5m a year. his input on this matter was particularly useful as he is the conservative's shadow spokesman on transport issues. Hammond is something of a serious campaigner himself having stood for Wimbledon as well as standing for the Council there. He has agreed to help us both in campaigning terms as well as giving advice on lobbying and parliamentary matters as well as campaigning assistance; I am sure his advice will be invaluable.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Gordon Bottles it!

Things are looking up; I won £10 from Cllr Phil Williams and another £10 off Conor Burns as Brown bottled out. The papers today were uniformally awful to Brown and his performance at his press conference (bought forward to today!) was worse.
So is this Brown's ERM moment? Perhaps not but there is no doubt that his government has suffered a severe reverse. As George Pascoe- Watson writes in today's Sun that Brown is 'Wounded not Dead' but the Conservatives have established a platform to build on if they are to form the next government.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Eastleigh selects

Maria watched by then education spokesman Tim Collins- who went on to lose his seat...
pic c View images

Last week Eastleigh Conservative Association selected Maria Hutchings as their parliamentary candidate to fight Lib-Dem incumbent Chris Huhne's wafer thin 568 majority.
Best known for her outspoken 'handbagging' of Tony Blair regarding educational provision for her autistic son, I have no doubt she will be a feisty campaigner. For those interested in a bit of background, the BBC ran an interview with her HERE.
Given the decline of the Lib-Dems in the polls since the general election and a resurgent (relatively), Tory Party, one could be forgiven in thinking it was a one way bet that Ms Hutchings was going to win. Not a bit of it. Huhne has achieved a national platform with his audacious bid for the Lib-Dem leadership last year and the Lib-Dems really are masters of all they survey at both Eastleigh Borough and County level within the constituency boundaries. The Tories have not helped themselves in selecting so late- in seats like Eastleigh candidates really need to play it long if possible. That said she is in with a chance and she has started on the right track by announcing her decision to immediately move to the area and start working right away.
Good luck to her- she will need it.

Pick up the 'phone Councillor...

his Daughter and well known WAG, Mel Slade knows how to use a phone even if he doesn't...
incidently this picture was taken as Mel collected her A level results from Sholing College
pic copyright Solent.

The humdrum of political life!

Normally on the first Friday of the month I go for a drive round Southampton looking at sites that I will be considering at the Planning & Rights of Way panel the following Tuesday. Today I find myself with a bit of time on my hands as I know almost all the sites under consideration and those I don't, I'll go and look at tommorow.

The net result is I've got an unexpected hour on my hands so I'm blogging and whingeing about the Chairman of the Planning Panel, Lib-Dem John Slade. I wrote to him last Monday (and I only wrote because he doesn't read his emails...) about the way the meetings are structured and also how the committee decides items of business following representations from the public and other Councillors- as yet no reply.
Readers may be interested to know Cllr Slade was one of the members who voted himself a special allowance of £5,324 for Chairing the panel which meets for a day a month...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

He did it!

are the dog days behind him?

It has been a good week for the Tories and something of a triumph for Cameron in that his speech went well and his conference really did herald something of the much vaunted 'Conservative fightback'. If either had gone badly, he would have become politically damaged goods, probably irretrievably and the Conservatives would have entered a general election both split and dispirited. instead activists have a spring in their step and there is a real feeling that should Brown call an election, it is well worth the fight for they may be starting in second place but anything is possible.
Locally the Conservative Association is in quite good shape. I am confident we can have a first 72 hour leaflet printed and delivered across the constituency, most of the wards have a reasonable organization and we even have a small amount of money to campaign with! I wouldn't imagine Alan Whitehead is quaking in his boots but he knows this will be his most testing outing electorally since 19997.

Benn to bite back?

Benn down with the kids at the Glastonbury Festival in 07

Politics always has the capacity to surprise. Today I was amazed to read that the left-wing firebrand Tony Benn, a sprightly 82 years of age, want to become an MP again. Further, he wants to stand in what was the mega-safe seat of Kensington. The Boundary Commissioners have done the Tories no favours as the seat retains poor areas of Notting Hill in the north but loses some of the super rich Chelsea.

The incumbent former-foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind had a notional majority of just over 5000 in 2005 based on the new boundaries so it is not even impossible Benn could win if he was selected! It certainly would be quite a fight!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

New ideas...old slogans!

Its been a good week for the Conservatives; the much vaunted 'fightback' has begun and Cameron has probably done enough (just) to scare Brown off a general election for now (so my £10 is safe hopefully!)
That said, I thought the slogan needed a bit of work as it has been roadtested at a major political conference once before and was found wanting!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The era of spin is over? You've got to be joking!

Remember that speech Mr Brown gave at the (appropriately named) Imagination Gallery when he was pitching to be PM after the local elections? Or afterwards when he visited Southampton? Or indeed his first big speech as PM to parliament on constitutional issues?

Sometimes he said it explicitly. Sometimes it was implied. But always the message was clear; over big issues and especially big foreign policy issues the Commons was to be told first. As PM he wanted to be more accountable to parliament. Sobriety rather than spin was to be the order of the day.

Well it hasn't taken long for the wheels to come off the truck. Today on his first visit to Iraq as PM, Brown has committed to cut the number of UK troops in Basra by 1000 'by Christmas'. Naturally he didn't announce this in the commons or indeed ask a press officer from the MoD to release it. No, it was another sparkling photo opportunity in Iraq, timed to coincide with the Tory defence debate at Blackpool and further stoking election speculation.

The era of spin is over they said.

Not on current form it isn't!

Nick Robinson has a scoop on Brown HERE.
Hope Robinson isn't right on the last bit; I've got a £10 bet with Conor Burns he won't call an election before the Spring!

Monday, October 01, 2007

What is it about Blackpool?

Funny how Blackpool always seems to be the most challenging conference venue...

Wish you were here...

Partnership working? Its all in the name!

One of Labour's more depressing enterprises has been the emasculation of local democracy (although readers of Simon Jenkin's excellent Thatcher and Sons will know they are only the latest in something of a long line). the typical Labour response to increasing local participation has been the sidelining of elected politicians and the creation of new, unelected and unaccountable quangos. One such body is the 'Southampton Partnership'. Containing some good people, it has done some good work but in the end it is a prisoner of its own structure and organisation. Their latest proposal is to spend its SEEDA (another unelected, unaccountable QUANGO) grant on a scale model of Southampton and some posh new signs on the entry points to the city with such naff strap lines as 'The Regional Shopping Centre'. They rejected proposals for a full size model Spitfire (which was designed and built in the city) and an art mural at the Solent University.
According to the Curator, they didn't even tell the Council what they are planning to do or ask if they could display their model in the art gallery. So much for partnership working!!!

Mission impossible?

Cameron & Coulson

Two year's ago this week David Cameron gave the speech of his life. It was a speech that catapulted him from outsider to leader of the Conservative Party and led to a revival of the Party's fortunes in the opinion polls.

On Wednesday of this week Cameron is going to have to replicate his performance of two years ago if he is to have any chance of defeating Labour in the next general election. Can he do it? The answer is yes- probably. The 'probably' depends on not just the content and delivery of speech but also the background 'mood music'. The party (and especially the parliamentary party) needs to be in the mood to be led and the all important media offensive that is coupling what Cameron has called the 'fightback' will stretch every sinew of the new media guru (and former News of the World editor) Andy Coulson.

Is it as today's Sun says 'Mission Impossible'?

Probably not- but a tall order nonetheless.