September 2009 Archives
I think we gave Gordon Brown's speech a reasonably warm reaction in today's Post. It did contain some interesting ideas, including reforms which might save post office branches from closure and a promise that the elderly will no longer need to sell their homes to pay for care (although Labour's account of how this will be paid for is laughable).
But clearly, not everyone agrees. In today's Sun, even the page three girl says she supports David Cameron now.
What I failed to mention in today's Post is the propaganda film which preceded the great leader's speech.
Shown on a big screen in the conference hall, this gave Labour credit for "18 UK Oscar winners in the past four years" and the "best Olympic performance for 100 years".
More seriously perhaps, Labour's message all week has been that the Conservatives wanted to "do nothing" about the recession.
This is based largely on comments made by Stratford MP John Maples in the Commons, when he said the recession must be allowed to "run its course" - a phrase you'll sometimes hear repeated by Labour figures.
The problem is that Labour suggests David Cameron or George Osborne said this
That's simply untrue.
Heading off to hear Gordon Brown's speech very soon - the big news, briefed in advance, includes plans to expand childcare, crack down on anti-social behaviour and protect post offices from closure.
It's all worthy stuff, but doesn't sound likely to grab people's imagination. How often have we heard pledges to tackle anti-social behaviour or expand childcare from Labour? They are important issues, but hardly seem like policies to fight back from the brink and win an election on.
The proposal for a "people's bank" at the Post Office is at least new, and saving post offices will probably be popular. The "people's bank" phrase won't actually appear in the speech (apparently it is owned by an Irish bank and can't be used by Mr Brown for legal reasons).
But I'm told there is another "big story" in the speech that has not been leaked in advance. We'll see.
You learn something new at every party conference.
This year, it was the admission from West Bromwich West MP Adrian Bailey that, despite ten years in the job, he still has problems understanding the Black Country accent.
He sometimes has to ask his wife to translate for him, he told a fringe meeting.
Ten years ago this month, I sat each evening at a supper table in Pretoria. The Afrikaans host of the pension where I stayed, put his half-dozen or so guests around the same table. Thereby I got to dine with the most interesting of companions. They ranged from diplomats to engineers. Some were South Africans, some foreigners like myself. Most were seeking to help the fledgling new society function well.
Peter Mandelson is determined to look on the bright side after Jaguar Land Rover announced it was shutting one of its two West Midlands plants.
I had the chance to question him at a small press conference, where he was trumpeting the Government's work supporting the economy in the regions (ie, outside London).
The Business Secretary said how pleased he was that JLR had confirmed it was committed to keeping its Merseyside plant open.
I put it to him that while the announcement was good news for Merseyside, it would mean job losses in the West Midlands.
In response, he repeatedly insisted that he could not speculate on announcements that JLR had not yet made.
I'm sorry, but while we don't yet know all the details, it seems to me that closing a major factory (JLR apparently haven't decided whether it will be the Castle Bromwich or Solihull site) and creating 800 new jobs in Merseyside can only be a disaster for our region.
Those 800 jobs in the north west can only mean 800 jobs will go in the West Midlands - and probably more. The idea, after all, is to save money, not to create new jobs.
And while it's great that JLR have said there will be no compulsory redundancies, this does imply that positions will be lost in other ways, probably by not replacing staff who leave voluntarily.
Lord Mandelson has done a great job representing Labour lately. When he's on the telly, he sounds confident, knows what he's talking about and is never at a loss for words.
But his refusal to accept that JLR's announcement is another blow for the West Midlands region shows that beneath his new "pussycat" exterior, the great spinner still lurks.
Liberal Democrats are proposing a new property tax on homes worth more than ÃÂ£1 million.
Vince Cable, their Treasury spokesman who has become something of a national treasure himself, stresses that this would be a "small annual levy" of half a penny in the pound.
If I've got my maths right, that's ÃÂ£5,000 a year.
I don't really understand property taxes. Making the most wealthy pay more sounds reasonable enough, but if that's the aim then why not simply tax people on their incomes?
The trouble with taxing property values is that they may have little connection to how wealthy the householder really is.
If you can afford to buy a home for ÃÂ£1 million, then it's a safe bet you're not short of a bob or two, even if it involved a hefty mortgage.
But there are people who are not rich at all, but have simply stayed in the same home they bought 20 or 30 years ago and watched the value of their property shoot up.
In theory, anyone who owns a property worth ÃÂ£1 million is extremely wealthy.
In practice, of course, they can't get their hands on the cash unless they sell it.
And if you've lived in the same place for most of your life, possibly raising a family there, that may be the last thing you want to do.
Admittedly, this is more of a problem in the south east, where property prices reached ridiculous levels before the credit crunch.
But not everyone who lives in an expensive home in Solihull or Sutton Coldfield is going to have ÃÂ£5,000 a year to spare. And they should not be forced to move home simply because the property market spun out of control in the years since they moved in.
Liberal Democrats are sometimes accused of cynically manipulating politics in order to gain power.
It's said that the party's representatives at Westminster and on local councils will promise people in one street or neighbourhood one thing, while setting out exactly the opposite policy a few yards down the road. Anything to get elected, seems to be the watchword.
Both the major parties delivered important speeches on the economy today.
As we report in tomorrow's paper, Gordon Brown told the TUC that some cuts in public spending will be needed, saying: "Labour will cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets.
"But when our plans are published in the coming months people will see that Labour will not sup port cuts in the vital front line services on which people depend."
Meanwhile, Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne told a conference organised by magazine The Spectator that a Conservative government would deliver "monetary activism to keep interest rates low and stimulate the economy [and] fiscal responsibility to restore confidence and rebuild our battered public finances."
Fiscal responsibility, in Mr Osborne's speech, includes spending cuts, as he made clear later on.
But if both parties are saying similar things, they have different ways of expressing themselves.
I'll be meeting Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg tomorrow at noon for a brief chat. As the Lib Dem conference is coming up, I imagine he will be keen to talk about the the messages he hopes to get across there. Of course, the party conferences this year will be the last before the next general election, so to some extent they will set the theme for the election campaigns.
However, I also hope to press him on some local issues. The format will be around a dozen local newspaper reporters meeting him together, so we may well only get one or two questions each.
The issues that came to mind were whether he is satisfied by the findings of the Rover report; Birmingham council's financial woes (I haven't been involved in this story but I think we have a good piece in tomorrow's paper); high speed rail, and the potential takeover of Cadbury (I suspect he'd just say it's a private matter, but who knows?).
However, if any readers have other ideas I'd love to hear them.
It is probably not a coincidence that five years of Conservative-Liberal Democrat control of Birmingham City Council has coincided with the emasculation of the once all-powerful local authority trade unions.
When the coalition took over in 2004, and was immediately faced with implementing the single status agreement, based on ending decades of unfair pay scales and in-built bias against women, the smart money was on months if not years of industrial chaos.
The general assumption was that the likes of binmen, street sweepers, clerks, school caretakers, leisure centre workers, benefits staff and the rest would walk out on strike the moment their terms and conditions were threatened.
But this did not happen, apart from a couple of thinly-attended one and two-day strikes last year.
A Commons committee chaired by Staffordshire MP Tony Wright (Lab Cannock) is to consider whether the public should be able to initiate a debate in the House of Commons.
One option might be that MPs are required to hold a debate on a topic if enough people sign a petition demanding one. However, the committee is asking the public to submit their own ideas.
I'm blogging about this because the committee has just announced a formal call for evidence.
So if you have any ideas about how the Commons could be reformed, now is the time to have your say.
You can send your thoughts to the House of Commons Reform Committee by e-mail to email@example.com, or in writing to the Clerk to the Committee, House of Commons Reform Committee, Journal Office, House of Commons SW1P 3JA.
According to a statement from the committee, each submission should begin with a short summary in bullet point form; have numbered paragraphs, and (if sent by e-mail) be in Word format or a rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible.
Other topics being considered by the inquiry include the appointment of members and chairmen of select committees; the appointment of the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means (who act as Speaker of the Commons when the Budget is being discussed), and how the Commons timetable is decided.
There is no doubt that the events that unfolded in Birmingham were extremely damaging for the city and its people.
Innocent shoppers locked themselves in cafes and stores for their own safety and New Street, Victoria Square and Bennett's Hill became a battle zone on the busiest shopping day of the week.
Now we are left to unravel the spin that is coming from all parties involved. Unless you were there, and saw every single skirmish, it is very difficult to establish the truth of the matter.
It is difficult to know what more Sir David Rowlands can do to get his message over that a high speed rail link between London and Scotland is highly unlikely - if it is ever built - to be calling at a station in Birmingham city centre.
Sir David, chairman of High Speed Two, appointed by the Government to recommend the best route for Britain's second 200mph service, has already been refreshingly honest about the absence of suitable capacity in central Birmingham.
Here is his latest view: "The greatest likelihood is that the city centre would be served by a spur line which will in turn be served by the high speed route.
"It seems less likely, to be very honest, that any high speed line would run through the centre of Birmingham - rather it would be served by a spur off the high speed line.
"That is primarily to do with the engineering challenge. I think people in Birmingham would understand how difficult it would be to run a line right the way through the city and out the other side."