April 2008 Archives
Yesterday the Daily Mail announced what they, no doubt regard a victory for their somewhat peculiar brand of 'common sense'. The paper proclaiming its vitriolic view that the result of continual pressure that they exerted on the issue 'Gordon Brown is to take personal responsibility for toughening the law on cannabis'. The same day, the PM appeared on GMTV and spoke on the evils of the weed, hinting as to his returning it to its former Class B status. For the Mail, long campaigners against re-classification to Class C status under Blair's regime some 4 years ago, 'The U-turn' could only be regarded 'a damning admission that Labour's soft policy of recent years was a mistake and will bring down the curtain on a disastrous experiment'.
For the rest of us, however, it might be time to ask whether Daily Mail journalists, and Gordon (the 'clunking fist') Brown for that matter, have been smoking something?
Thursday is the big day for the politicians as the nation goes to the polls in the local elections.
But they're going to have to wait for the result Westminster is most interested in, the winner of the London mayoral election.
Like it or not, the battle to run the capital is going to be seen as the most important election this week. If Ken Livingstone holds it for Labour, Gordon Brown's MPs will receive a morale boost which may make his life a little easier. If Boris storms home for the Tories, David Cameron's party will look a step closer to winning a General Election.
For someone who likes to refer to himself as a poor Kingstanding pensioner and retired from the political front line a couple of years ago, Hugh McCallion is enjoying a surprisingly active election.
It was McCallion, a former Labour deputy city council leader, who last month sparked off the Grundygate saga when he played a pivotal role over the will-she-won't-she stand again dilemma facing Coun Catharine Grundy.
When Grundy indicated she would not stand for re-election on May 1, the old fixer McCallion worked behind the scenes to line up his mate Andy Howell for the seat, only to have his machinations ruined by Labour's regional selection board which rejected Howell's candidature on the grounds that he hadn't delivered enough leaflets on rainy nights.
Brilliant. Birmingham is crying out for leaders and all Labour cares about is finding some numbskull who thinks that sticking propaganda through doors wins elections.
Don't you just love awards - when you win them, that is?
When I don't, I'm a really sore loser, and will cheerfully undermine the credibility and integrity of everyone and everything involved in the process, from the judges to the winners - and even the table decorations and the music at the event.
Would you go on strike if you had just been given a wage rise, a hefty back-pay award and extra holiday?
Well, no, most people wouldn't. They might even think themselves a bit lucky and come to work with a cheery smile for once.
Which is why the trade unions attempting to mastermind an all-out stoppage at Birmingham City Council find themselves in acute difficulty.
The biggest teacher strike in recent decades will soon be upon us. Some schools - including my sons - will be shut for two days this week.
The disruption to parents, many of whom will have to sort out alternative childcare arrangements - will be major.
The mood among many parents I have spoken to is one of frustration and even resentment. It is, after all, the teachers and Ministers who constantly tell us how damaging it is to miss even one day from school. They tell us off for taking holidays during term time highlighting the impact on our children's education.
It's been a while since my last post and the hiatus isn't because of a lack of things to write about - in fact it's quite the opposite! Too much going on can actually reduce the number of blog posts that you produce, especially with fun new services like Twitter to play with.
So. To reintroduce some of my ideas back into the Post Blog I'm changing format for the moment at least, accepting that I'm just very busy and going with the following:
One can only imagine what the parents of those poor young women killed on a gap year trip to Ecuador are going through.
Their children were cut down in their prime, a lifetime of possibilities ahead of them. Today the inquest into the death of one of them - 19-year-old Elizabeth Pincock - started and Inevitably the thought will have crossed her parents' mind 'were we right to have let her go'.
The answer is yes. what has been interesting about the aftermath of this tragedy has been the relative lack of people coming forward to criticise school trips.
Admittedly, this was not a school trip, but an organised expedition run by Warwickshire-based company VentureCo which specialises in gap year students.
The botched attempt by Andy Howell to be selected as Labour candidate in Kingstanding sent shock waves through the party's Birmingham hierarchy who viewed the bid as the first stage in an attempt to end the eight-year reign of council group leader Sir Albert Bore.
That is the view of Hugh McCallion, a former deputy to Bore and now chairman of the Kingstanding branch Labour Party.
McCallion has revealed that a last-minute selection crisis for the May 1 council elections was driven by mounting frustration at Labour's failure to lay a glove on the city's ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and, in particular, Sir Albert's apparent distaste for the politics of opposition.
Cath Grundy, the retiring Labour councillor in Kingstanding, often talked of as a future Labour leader, said at first that she would not stand again. That gave Howell the chance to put his name forward, but the regional Labour Party refused to allow him to stand, which forced Grundy to change her mind and agree to defend her seat.
The Chancellor insisted today: "What I can't do is to rewrite the budget."
He sounded almost regretful. Hearing Alistair Darling speak, it didn't sound as if he believed the changes had been entirely for the best. The impression was strengthened when he pledged to "return" to the issue in future financial statements.
He was referring, of course, to the decision to scrap the starting 10p rate of income tax - so that people pay the higher, basic rate instead - to pay for a cut in the basic rate from 22p to 20p.
The effect is to increase taxes for people on lower salaries. The Chancellor and Gordon Brown, who announced the change back when he was Chancellor in 2007, would point out that most of those affected will enjoy the benefits of higher tax credits to make up for it. But an estimated five million are still worse off.
In fact, I wonder if the Government hasn't placed too much faith in this tax credit stuff. If you increase someone's taxes but make up for it in some other way, I suspect that what they remember is that you increased their taxes.
I spent this afternoon with BNP leader Nick Griffin watching a re-enactment of Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech. Not for fun, obviously. I'm a political enthusiast, yes, but my Sundays are more likely to be taken up by the Hollyoaks omnibus than a tricky political tract and hanging out with the BNP.
It was work of course. As expected, the 40th anniversary of the incendiary speech that killed Powell's career and has tainted race relations ever since brought out the political people, from both right and left. And the Birmingham Post was right there to cover it.
An interesting week for The Birmingham Post, particularly for our increasingly successful online incarnation.
We posted our highest visitor figures since the launch at the end of February, and our blogs are climbing up the Trinity Mirror rankings, giving titles much larger than the Post a run for their money.
But the potentially biggest development is our foray into the ever-changing, ever-growing world of Twitter. (I blogged on this subject last week).
Of all the political confessions lurking in the wings, waiting for a timely expose - either to promote a book or unseat a rival - the news that former deputy prime minister John Prescott was bulimic is one that no-one saw coming.
Prescott, an old-school political bruiser and somewhat portly gentleman, clearly loved his food, but no-one would think he was bulimic.
The public face of eating disorders tended to be female: Think Princess Diana, Sharon Osbourne or Geri Halliwell. The only other male 'celebrity' who has admitted to battling bulimia is former Coronation Street actor Adam Rickett - but that made sense, given his lean physique.
Local government elections in Birmingham wouldn't be proper elections without allegations of dirty tricks flying around between veterans of the 2004 Aston postal vote trial.
Four years on from that seminal moment, when a judge likened corruption in the city to a banana republic, senior figures in both Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are doing their best to land damaging blows on each other.
The Lib Dems clearly won the first round, by securing the sacking of two Labour councillors who were caught by police in a warehouse at midnight surrounded by several hundred postal vote forms. Their protestations of innocence did not convince the Elections Commissioner, who described the warehouse as a postal vote forging factory.
Round two went solidly to Labour, when the Commissioner threw out an election petition in Aston and in doing so accused a Lib Dem candidate of "dishonestly" filling in disability benefit application forms and Lib Dem councillor Ayoub Khan of taking part in a "scurrilous" plot to accuse a Labour councillor of witness intimidation.
Will Charles Clarke challenge Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership?
There's certainly a feeling among some Labour MPs that something has to change. The rebellion over the abolition of the 10p starting rate of income tax is driven partly by a fear among MPs in marginal seats that they are set to be kicked out of the Commons at the next election.
Hence, they are keen to distance themselves publicly from an unpopular and badly thought through policy, even if this causes difficulty for the Prime Minister.
But there's no sense that a leadership challenge is imminent or, for now at least, desirable. It's not as if Mr Brown is likely to go quietly before he has fought even one general election as Labour leader.
So it was odd that the Prime Minister chose to stoke the fires with his comments earlier this week, when he insisted: "I'm starting a job that I mean to continue."
This has been seen as his way of insisting that he won't be pushed out of office. A Prime Minister only says these things when he is in trouble, and the effect was to give talk of a leadership challenge more credibility than it currently deserves.
The publication of quarterly police recorded crime figures in January highlighted a general fall in crime, with a drop of some of 9% in overall recorded crime in the period concerned. While crime figures are notoriously unreliable, and should always be read with caution these seemed initially to be showing something positive. Yet these statistics were blemished by a 4% rise in gun crime and a 21% rise in drug offences.
Yesterday we heared that police investigating the murder of Rhys Jones had made a number of arrests. His is but one death in a series of youth deaths and injury's linked to firearms in recent months, which in turn, are often linked directly or indirectly to the drugs trade. Yet the headline grabbing stories of murder and violence are but a tip of an iceberg when it contrasted to the unreported crime involving weapons, and increasingly guns. Last year doctors at Birmingham's City Hospital talked in the pages of the Birmingham Post about the number of cases of violent injury they were treating, but which never make it into crime statistics.
So how do we deal with the problem of carrying weapons? Well for one, we could examine where the firearms come from, and try to prevent young men getting them.
Digby Jones, now Lord Jones of Birmingham and a Trade Minister in Gordon Brown's Government, is reported to have told business leaders he will quit the Government before the next election - because he doesn't want to support the Prime Minister.
The generous view is that this is simply Lord Jones being consistent with what he has always said, that he's not in the Government to back Labour (or any other party), but simply to back British industry.
A less kind view is that this is yet another vote of no confidence in Mr Brown.
Apparently still blind to the seriousness of the Election Commissioner's remarks about a "scurrilous" Lib Dem city council cabinet member and a candidate who submitted "dishonest" disability grant application forms, the Birmingham party's power-behind-the-throne John Hemming has been caught out spreading unfounded rumours about a Respect Party candidate in Sparkbrook.
Cabinet member Ayoub Khan and failed council candidate Saeed Aehmed had their claims of electoral malpractice against a Labour rival in Aston thrown out of court two weeks ago, but instead of immediately disciplining the two, Hemming has fudged the issue in the hope an internal inquiry will make the scandal go away.
Then on Monday, he posted this on the Stirrer blog site:
"It is being said that the Respect candidate for Sparkbrook is a youth worker on the council payroll.
Does it sound right that someone employed by the city council should also be a councillor?".
Do you Twitter? I do. (and so do Hillary and Barack)
Occasionally I go whole days without Twittering, but then I need to get a fix and I just can't stop myself.
Sometimes I get such a severe dose of Twittorrhoea that I sit at my computer for what seems like hours, and only leave when I've got nothing left to Twitter.
What's this twit going on about now? you may ask.
An interesting intervention from city council regeneration director Clive Dutton when addressing a meeting of the seven architects shortlisted for the ÃÂ£193 million Birmingham library project.
After council leader Mike Whitby had finished with all the visionary stuff, in a speech which was both mercifully short and for once sounded pretty good, Dutton rose to put all those present straight over the matter of the Central Library in Paradise Forum.
The 1970s building would be demolished come what may, even if campaigners succeed in having it listed, Dutton said. "Whether or not that buiding is listed it will come down," he added for good measure.
While the media have been putting MPs' perks under the spotlight, some politicians have turned the tables.
A Commons motion signed by ten MPs has highlighted the privileges enjoyed by the journalists working in Parliament.
As the motion says, the Press Gallery - a series of offices in the House of Commons used by political reporters (who are also known as the Press Gallery) - has recently been refurbished.
The MPs also call attention to the Press Gallery bar, which apparently receives a subsidy.
Last week witnessed something of a media outcry accompanying the publication of details regarding a number of prominent MPs expenses. Some clever use of the Freedom of information act by the BBC meant that we, the taxpaying public, were made aware of just what our politicians claim. It made for quite an interesting read. For example one of the headline grabbing facts was that Tony Blair claimed ÃÂ£116 to pay for his Televisions licence fee. He was lucky to have a job where you can do that.
The purpose of the licence fee is to provide income for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio and television services - and it seems only fair that Blair should have given the BBC something. Perhaps an apology would be too much to expect, and maybe the campaign for the publication of expenses data was a belated act of payback from the BBC to the former PM given the unresolved issue between the government and the BBC (something to do with the words 'sexed up' and 'dossier' I seem to recall...).
Ayoub Khan, the Liberal Democrat city councillor and holder of the local services cabinet portfolio, who was named and shamed in the Aston election court judgement, is facing a tough fight to save his political career.
Khan continues to protest his innocence, despite being found by Elections Commissioner Timothy Straker QC to have taken part in a "scurrilous" plot to implicate Aston Labour councillor Muhammed Afzal in a witness-nobbling attempt.
And as a barrister, Khan must realise the damage that Mr Straker's blistering denunciation could inflict.
Mr Straker noted that he could not state that Khan behaved "either creditably or honourably".
As for Saeed Aehmed, the former Lib Dem candiate for Aston, whose disability grant payments were described by Mr Straker as "dishonest", his political career must surely be at an end.
Last Sunday the Express newspaper launched a vitriolic campaign to 'ban the hoody'.
By 'hoody' what the paper actually meant was not the garment of clothing. They were quick to note that hooded garments were quite appropriate when walking ones dog on a blustery day on the local common, braced against a chill wind. What it seemed to me they actually meant was they wanted to ban anyone under the age of twenty-one. More specifically anyone under the age of about twenty-one who wants to follow a contemporary trend and wear a hooded top. So what the Express were actually doing, (Trinny and Susanna style) was determining what is sartorially appropriate attire for young people in contemporary Britain. Beyond that, they seemed to me, to be engaging in one of the most pernicious and lamentable instances I have seen recently of indiscriminately labelling many young people thugs. It seems to have passed the Express by that a lot of kids wearing hoods are not knife wielding thugs.
Skimming through the BNP website to check claims that the BNP has urged their supporters to pick Tory Boris Johnson as their second choice in London's Mayoral elections (it's true), I came across this gem of a policy:
"Offer the Olympics to Greece. The BNP opposed the Olympic bid four years ago. We said it would be inordinately expensive and a logistical nightmare and we have been proved right, as usual.
"Furthermore, the BNP is the party of heritage and tradition - not only for Britain but for all countries. The Olympics are part of Greece's heritage and we therefore believe they should be held there permanently. We will therefore offer the 2012 Olympics to Athens."
Birmingham has again been branded a hotbed of shabby political practices after a judge called a Lib Dem election candidate "dishonest" and accused a senior councillor of taking part in a "scurrilous" attempt to bend the truth. Read the full sorry tale here , and of course in The Birmingham Post on Thursday.
My paper will demand the resignation of Aston Lib Dem councillor Ayoub Khan, the cabinet member for local services, because - simply - we've had enough of this city's reputation being dragged through the mud.
Local newspaper hacks at Westminster are gearing up for the big announcement tomorrow, Thursday, when the Government will publish a shortlist of proposed eco-towns.
Ministers have left it to the last minute, as the Commons breaks up for the Easter recess tomorrow afternoon and most MPs will already have begun the journey back to their constituencies.
It means there will be little opportunity for Ministers to be questioned in the Commons.
But Housing Minister Caroline Flint has written to MPs explaining what happens next.
Of 57 proposals received by developers, 15 will be shortlisted tomorrow. Ten of these will eventually go ahead.
In the West Midlands, proposed eco-towns near Stratford, Warwickshire, and Lichfield, Staffordshire, are thought to be contenders. Another proposed development near Evesham, Worcestershire, is thought less likely to get the green light.
But the speculation will end tomorrow when the shortlist is published. Whatever Ministers decide, it's sure to be controversial.