This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Tories vs. The Police

It is a truth universally acknowledged that politicians need the police and the police need politicians.

Going up against them is a risk few governments or ministers are willing to take.

Only a few years ago, Charles Clarke had to back down in the wake of police outrage after he tried to implement some meagre reforms to do with local forces.

And just last year, Jacqui Smith was brave (or foolish) enough to put her foot down over police pay. Relations have never really improved since.

You would have thought politicians would have learnt all this by now. After all, the police are powerfully represented by the Police Federation and if it came to a popularity contest between both groups, the boys in blue would win hands down.

This is why I cannot understand why the Tories are insisting on dragging out this Bob Quick affair. I would want the whole thing to go away.

It will come as no surprise to most people that parties leak things to the press and brief against people in the media, but it would be a bit of a stretch to argue, as Mr Quick seemed to imply, that the Tories had organised a concerted campaign to undermine him in the media. He did make an error of judgement when he described the Party’s behaviour as ‘corrupt’ but he has since apologised.

David Cameron should have left it at that. But the Party is now increasing the pressure on Mr Quick by suggesting he needs to ‘consider his position’.

Obviously, the whole affair has unveiled a simmering tension between the Conservative Party and the Metropolitan police force.

Relations were already strained over the 42-day detention saga and the resignation of Ian Blair.

But the Tories will get no traction politically if they are seen to be anti-police and that is what it feels like at the moment.

Good relations and most importantly good results depend on trust. This has now broken down completely.

It is a far cry from the days when the Tory Party strutted around pretending to act like the party of law and order.

If I was the Tories, I would ignore the support of the Mail and Express and worry about the way the public perceived this. Attacking Mr Quick won’t win them many friends.

And just like Labour should never bend over backwards sycophantically to do what the police want it to do, the Tories should be careful not to distance themselves to much either.

Sooner or later they will be back in Government and they will need the support, expertise and help of our Bobbies.

The issues – terrorism, crime and anti-social behaviour – are too important to let a falling out last too long.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Manchester turns its back on congestion charge

I think it’s a real shame that the people of Manchester have voted against the introduction of a congestion charge.

The Council had proposed that the Charge would apply at peak times (7am to 9.30am and 4pm to 6.30pm) Monday to Friday. Drivers would cross both an outer ring and an inner ring where they would have had to pay a small fee.

But it looks like this idea is now dead for at least a decade.

What a pity.

The Government had promised that if Manchester voted “Yes” it would release £1.5 billion from its Transport Innovation Fund to improve public transport across the city and a further £1.2 billion would have been borrowed to help with this.

I thought it was a brilliant opportunity to vote for a massive package of transport improvements and economic investment.

The £2.7 billion would, among other things, have paid for double length trams which had the capacity to carry an additional 30,000 passengers each morning and evening.

It would have also paid for a huge expansion of the Metrolink system (41 new stops and 20 miles of additional tracks).

And along with the extra buses, bus lanes and cycle routes, the money would have paid for 180 yellow school buses to take kids safely to and from school.

But none of that’s going to happen now.

No extra jobs will be created and Manchester’s transport system will creak along as it always has.

The ‘Yes’ Campaign never seemed to get off the ground. Certainly, in the visibility stakes the ‘No’ Campaign was way ahead. It had more billboards, leaflets and a stronger advertising campaign which seemed to reinforce its message.

The Council didn't do a good enough job explaining the whole package to voters. Its message seemed confused and weak. It was also a bit elitist. There was an element of "We know what's best for you so you better vote for it" when I think it would have benefited from a more grass-roots approach.

Small business said it would be penalised unfairly by the charge, but it would have adapted – just like it did in London. And it would have found new ways of transporting goods that didn't clog up the roads and harm the environment. Unless you force behaviour to change, nothing will improve.

The Council did all it could to make the charge palatable to voters. For example, it would not have kicked in until 2013 when the vast majority of public transport improvements would have been nearly completed.

I always think you should trust voters to make the right decision. But I can’t help thinking on this occasion it was a missed opportunity and one we will come to regret.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Barclay's are the new Christmas Scrooges

Are these two men the new Christmas Scrooges?

The Barclay Brothers, owners of the Telegraph, have taken umbrage with the people of Sark for voting against their chosen candidates for election.

Sark was until yesterday Europe's last remaining feudal kingdom. But the one hundred or so inhabitants of the tiny island in the middle of the English channel voted in their first democratic election yesterday.

And because they didn't vote for the brother's candidates, the Barclay's have decided to pack up and close their businesses on the island including all the hotels and restaurants that employ local people.

One hundred people are expected to lose their jobs, in the midst of a credit crunch, right before Christmas.

Who do they think they are?

They remind me of the "William Randolph Hearst" character in 'Citizen's Cane'.

I hope the people of Sark manage to withstand the Barclay's pressure. What a vile pair of sharks!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Has Labour forgotten its anti-establishment past?

The whole sorry saga concerning the police raid on Damian Green's office has made me think about Labour's anti-establishment past.

Not all the facts are known and some might appear in the next few days which would make me rethink what I am about to say, but since when should Labour politicians automatically defer to the police?

I'm not a natural supporter of Tony Benn, but he was on Channel 4 News a few days ago and I agreed with what he said. He criticised the police for their heavy-handed actions. He was concerned that it would threaten parliamentary sovereignty and prevent MPs from acting independently on behalf of their constituents. If he had known, he might also have questioned why they acted without a warrant.

For just one second, there was a hint of the old Labour anti-establishment radicalism about his argument.

It should be the role of Labour to question the police force, scrutinise it and provide checks and balances. From the argument over 42-days detention to the raid on Damian Green's office, our senior Labour politicians seem to have accepted what the police say as gospel.

This is not our natural territory - nor should it be.

We all know the police do a great job, sometimes under immensely difficult circumstances. We also know that they need support to ensure that they do their job well. But with every mistake the Met makes, with every PR disaster that unfolds, the public loses confidence.

Labour shouldn't be scared of publicly questioning what is going on. It shouldn't be afraid to challenge the police over its actions.

The police will always be able to look after themselves. They have their own organisations who do that very well and if push comes to shove the Conservatives are usually on hand to help too.

But Labour should always be on the side of the marginalised, the bullied, the voiceless, the dispossessed, the victim even if occasionally that person is an opposition Member of Parliament.

That is the real radical tradition.

Monday, 1 December 2008

"The real death this week was not of new Labour but of Tory new Labour posturing".

I attended the annual Progress conference this weekend in London. As ever, it was full of the great and the good.

Gordon Brown put in a surprise appearance and gave a really fine speech about the economy. He was even better during the Q and A when his knowledge and personality shone through. I mention it because it surprised me. He was eloquent, confident, assured and knowledgeable - the kind of person you want in a crisis. I even got to shake his hand!

I think he probably reassured the Progress audience, many of whom don't instinctively warm to him in the same way that they warmed to Tony Blair.

James Purnell had a hard act to follow but he gave an equally fine speech in which he made a vigorous defence of new Labour. He laid into the Tories calling their modernisation a "spray job". He attacked them for their vacuousness: "Politics by numbers is what you get when you lack a politics of ideas" and he called time on Cameron's efforts to change the Party - "The real death this week was not of new Labour but of Tory new Labour posturing". He faced a little bit of criticism from one man in the audience about his repeated attacks on the Tories, saying this was what turned voters off, but I think this is exactly what we need. Many on the Labour front bench are bad at exposing and attacking Tory policies. James Purnell does this very well and made an intelligent, passionate case for sticking to new Labour core principles at the same time. Just the stuff we need.

The rest of the day saw Peter Mandelson in conversation with Martin Kettle and Ed Miliband addressing the conference hall. Mandelson came across as funny and charming. He was also brutally honest about his previous experiences in Government. He said he had never been more happy and relaxed now. This certainly came across. Ed Miliband did the whole "I am going to give a speech and walk around the stage at the same time" routine and did it very well. He was very good on energy and climate change and repeated the Government's argument for new nuclear. Good. He also said, in strong terms, that if the energy companies did not act on unfair prices and pre-payment meters the Government would legislate.

I also went to a public services seminar with Alan Milburn - who still remains a great thinker and passionate advocate of public service reform. It was good to hear him and Liam Byrne make the case for a personal, bottom up NHS - although this will require a big shift of power away from Westminster and to local communities - and I am not convinced the Government or the Party gets that yet. Why isn't Alan Milburn back in a role though? It doesn't have to be a Cabinet position - but he is wasted on the backbench.

This year's conference was much better than last year's which in my opinion seemed a bit flat. The Party is certainly united behind Gordon and I think we probably feel that we have a momentum behind us all of a sudden. Certainly, Progress people seemed positive and upbeat which is half the battle.

I hope that now translates itself into better electoral prospects.