Will a Tory town hall victory in May lead to bitter defeat in July?

St Albans Civic Centre: One of the new Tory controlled councils. Pic Credit: St Albans gov.uk

St Albans Civic Centre: One of the new Tory controlled councils. Pic Credit: St Albans gov.uk

This weekend’s Observer contained a very interesting article from Toby Helm revealing that local councils are planning to lobby the government like mad to stop yet another huge wave of cuts.

What was interesting is that it was coming from the victorious Tory leaders in May’s local elections who are now fearful of having to implement heavy unpopular cuts to local services.

It has gone virtually unreported the scale of the local government gains by the Conservatives who gained of 32 councils and 541 more councillors on the back of getting a majority in Parliament. the full results are on the BBC website here.

The gains – many from  no over all control include Amber Valley (from Labour),Basingstoke, Bath,Brentwood, Broxtowe,East Staffs,Gloucester, Gravesham,Hinckley (from Lib Dems),Herefordshire,Lewes, Newark,North Warwickshire,Scarborough,St Albans,Taunton, Warwick, West Devon,Winchester,Worcester and Wyre Forest.

Labour had just three gains, Chester, Stockton-on-tees and West Lancashire but overall lost control of  three councils and lost over 200 councillors.  But this masks the scale of Labour defeat in places locally like Dacorum in Hemel Hempstead where Labour is down to two seats and the Liberal Democrats down to three, with 46 councillors from the Conservatives.The Liberal Democrats lost another 411 councillors and control of four councils, holding on to South Lakeland, Eastleigh and Eastbourne..

UKIP gained their first council in Thanet  where Nigel Farage was defeated and put on another 176 councillors.This council will become a yardstick on how UKIP run local services.

The Conservative victors have every reason to be apprehensive. Local government has borne a disproportionate share of the cuts under the now departed Eric Pickles and George Osborne is introducing an emergency budget in July. The Treasury often prefer to land local government which supplies personal services with big cuts to spare some of the lobbying from anxious Whitehall departments.

I predict that we are going to see some very radical changes to services. Private companies like Capita must be rubbing their hands with glee and many councils may have to follow the London borough of Barnet and outsource the entire council to private companies. People will soon find out that the only way to contact their council will be by a call centre – if they are lucky in England – but if unlucky in Bangalore or Chennai. The Tory victors could end up being defeated by their own austerity policies.

Election 2015: Fear triumphs over hope

David Gauke, prediicted the Tories would have a small working majority last Saturday

David Gauke, prediicted the Tories would have a small working majority last Saturday

Last Saturday in Berkhamsted market  treasury minister David Gauke, my local Tory MP now safely re-elected, told me five days before polling day, that the Conservatives would be returned with a small working majority.

At that time people said to me” he would say that, wouldn’t he? ” but Gauke had picked up, presumably from constituency returns, that the Liberal Democrats were doing badly. As the main challengers to the Tories in Herts South West he might take an interest even though his seat is one of the safest in the country. And he would know that many Liberal Democrat seats were vulnerable to the Tories and that Labour had more or less had it in Scotland.

As it turns out whether he had a crystal ball or not he was right – even though the opinion polls said the result was too close to call. Yet they all showed that a lot of people were still undecided.

What appears to have happened is that  enough undecided people on the way to the polling station appear to have bought the idea that they had to keep the government in power  to ensure that the “recovery ” continued and probably thought  ” I am just about OK” not to risk a change. A substantial minority – the UKIP vote – were so disillusioned about Westminster politics – that they were happy to vote for them  and damn the consequences. And it seems quite a number were ex Labour rather than Tory voters. and certainly that applied in Scotland where Labour seemed to have lost the plot.

Labour had offered the hope of a fairer society, more support for the NHS, and some controls on vested interests like private landlords and energy companies. Both Labour and the Tories  said there would be more unspecified cuts while the Tories promised to legislate to stop tax rises. But I suspect that people did not want to risk it because of these uncertain times.

I suspect many people think these “cuts”won’t affect them – only welfare scroungers and immigrants. I  think they will be in for a very big shock because there is no way the books can be balanced without much wider reductions if not removal of services. Local government, social care, benefits for disabled people, all are likely to be hit and there is no need now for a government in power for the next five years to bother with higher pay rises for public sector workers. There will also be a bonanza for private  firms to take over the rest of the work of the state and fraught referendum on Europe and a resentful relationship between England and Scotland.

Labour will have to do some new thinking on how it is going to offer a vision to attract people to vote for them – or be squeezed between UKIP and the Greens. Otherwise the prospects for 2020 will be even worse than now after the new  more equal constituency boundaries come into play and reduce their Parliamentary representation even further.

There is a very bumpy road ahead for this government with a small majority and a controversial manifesto to implement  but an equally bumpy road for all opposition parties as a result of today’s shock result.

Election 2015: Are We Bovvered?

Driving around England just days before this week’s poll what has struck me forcibly is the absence of party political posters in ordinary people’s homes. Years ago when it was a simple two horse race with a rogue mare in a few Liberal strongholds the country would be a sea of red and blue with a spattering of orange.

Twice I have driven between Hertfordshire and Nottinghamshire ( half of it not on the M1  but sticking a lot to the A5 and cutting across towns and villages Like Leighton Buzzard and Towcester) and I could count the number of party political posters on two hands. Now it may be that the old party poster is out of fashion or political support is now emblazoned on Twitter rather than the front window, but I suspect it may reflect a deeper malaise reflected in the polls.

Given that we have had a ferocious election campaign the extraordinary fact – barring a last minute switch in the next 48 hours -is that the English polls have remained roughly the same ( given a point or two ) throughout the campaign.The earth has not moved.

The exception is Scotland where the SNP looks heading for a landslide on the back of the referendum campaign – and has if anything strengthened its lead if the polls are to be believed. It could achieve a virtual wipe out of the opposition. Gordon Brown , Alastair Darling and Sir Menzies Campbell must be very relieved they stood down this election rather than face defeat at the hands of the voter.

What I suspect – beyond the hard core of supporters – is a general disillusionment with politicians, a lack of trust, and a sad view that politics can’t change things. This was shown by one Tory supporter who told me she had decided to support the party ” because things were just about all right”. This is hardly a ringing endorsement for a party which claims to have saved the country from Labour fiscal disaster, created full employment in the South and destroyed inflation. I know the Tory top guard -minimum income £67,000 a year – just can’t understand why voters aren’t flocking to them in droves to give them like the SNP either a  Thatcherite landslide or a decent working majority.They must be desperate now.

Labour seems also to have failed yet to achieve a convincing swing – though Miliband who is being portrayed as a weird wonk by the right-wing media- has actually increased his poor ratings once people saw him perform on TV. How Murdoch must regret he hasn’t got Fox News over here where he could run stories which  Sun Nation and Zelo Street highlighted – like Miliband’s plans to evict the Downing Street cat – to garner landslide Tory support from the Cats Protection League and RSPCA.

And Nick Clegg has the student tuition fees lying promise like an albatross around his party’s neck – people do not trust what he says. Individual Liberal Democrats may do better in individual seats than national polls suggest – and they could even have a freak win in Watford  over the Tories where the  Liberal Democrat mayor is fighting a ferocious campaign against strong  opposition from Labour and Tory.

As for UKIP – their highlighting of immigration and quitting the European Union – has meant they have not faded away – and still attract a significant minority of disillusioned voters but their poster count is not high either.In my view they have a nostalgic and nasty view of the modern world that won’t work in the 21st century.

And the Greens have made some inroads though not enough to gain seats – though they have a fighting chance in Bristol and Norwich.

But the general impression is a public still interested in political issues but disillusioned with politicians. The expenses scandal, and broken promises still resonate. The lack of trust can be shown by Cameron’s desperation in promising to frame in law his uncosted plans to promise no tax rises and Miliband’s promise to erect a stone monument in the Downing Street’s garden  featuring his election pledges.

My serious worry about this election is what happens next if politicians and political parties can’t garner the trust of the people.Siren voices are already suggesting getting rid of them and leaving the country-like much of society -to be run by business. The latest is Ministry of Sound man James Palumbo. His article in the Evening Standard is dangerous stuff. It suggests  simplistic solutions that would deny a proper debate about the issues. And there are real issues – but politicians have to level with the British people to regain their respect.

Child Abuse Questions for the London borough of Richmond

Sir David Williams, former lb dem leader of Richmond Council - pic courtesy: richmond.gov.uk

Sir David Williams, former lib dem leader of Richmond Council – child abuse  ” specious rumours”pic courtesy: richmond.gov.uk

As the police investigation Operation Fernbank continues apace, questions are mounting over the role of the London borough of Richmond and its social services department over the scandal.

A report by David Pallister and me on the Exaro News website (http://www.exaronews.com/articles/4817/police-probes-richmond-council-over-vip-paedophile-ring )  that the police have requested and obtained documents from the council’s records dating back to the 1980s.

The council is in the frame because  documents written about Elm House guest house, raided by the police in 1982, name boys who were at the now closed Grafton House  children’s home and were taken  there to be sexually abused by prominent people. It suggests a link between kids under the care of Richmond Council and the notorious guest house.

One of the few prominent councillors around at the time was Sir David Williams, Liberal Democrat leader of Richmond Council for 18 years from 1983 to 2001 and appointed by Eric Pickles, communities secretary, to sit on the board of the soon to be abolished Audit Commission in 2011. He has been a councillor since 1974.

This is his view of the present police investigation into the Elm House guest house.

” I knew nothing about this until some time afterwards it was a rumour. It didn’t impact on the council at the time.

…” If the police do find something, well the police will find something. It is all specious rumour as far as I am concerned until someone gives me some hard facts. It is idle speculation as far as I am aware.

 “If it did involve children I didn’t know. I doubt if it did.”
Sir David’s reaction to put it mildly is interesting. If he is right the police are wasting their time launching a criminal investigation. But it is highly unlikely in these stricken financial times that the Met Police would waste our money without any strong leads.
What do you think or if you are  in Richmond  do you know more about this than meets the eye? Contact me if you have.

Death and rebirth? of Liberal Democrat England


Nick Clegg - not quite 100 per cent bad news

Today’s humiliating result for the Liberal Democrats -coming sixth with just 8.25 per cent of the vote in Barnsley,Central is a harbinger of a deeper change facing British politics.

Anybody keeping abreast of local  council election results in Labour strongholds will not have been at all surprised to see this collapse of a party  that has broken many of its election promises and got in bed with Labour’s traditional enemy -the Tories.

All that has happened is the Parliamentary lobby has caught up with a dramatic collapse of Liberal Democrats in working class towns and urban areas.

Less than a month ago a Liberal Democrat decided to stand in Worksop for Bassetlaw council and came bottom of the poll with 28 votes. Labour gained the seat from the Tories with 1174 votes. Other pathetic Liberal Democrat showings in the last six months include 67 votes in Bromsgrove, 45 votes in Wednesbury,98 votes in Swindon  and an incredible 10 votes in Rossendale in Lancashire.

 Labour should be pleased because in some of these pathetic showings it is enabling them to take seats from the Conservatives including coming back in Camborne, Cornwall. In other places like Warrington and Liverpool where they are taking seats directly off the Lib Dems they are being returned  with thumping majorities.

But before everybody gets carried away  with the total destruction of the Lib Dems  there is another story going on  in many (not all) Conservative rural areas. Here slowly but surely the Lib Dems are making GAINS against incumbent Tories in their heartland seats.

Examples  this year include two gains from the Tories -in rural Shropshire and Conwy in Wales. While at the end of last year the Lib Dems took a seat on Fareham council from the Tories with a swing of nearly 30 per cent since the May general election.

 Another surprising gain was in rural Newdigate in Surrey where the Lib Dems took a seat from the Conservatives in their Mole Valley heartland. And they beat the Tories to gain a seat on Bodmin Town Council when an independent stood down.

Of course not every result fits in this pattern, the Tories did gain a seat in South Lakeland from the Lib Dems (where Labour got a pathetic 32 votes) and the Lib Dems did take one seat from Labour in Truro in the same period.

But there does seem to be a bit of a pattern from these scattering of results which will be really tested in May. The scenario appears to be that the Lib Dems will be massacred in major cities by Labour and their collapse in other urban areas will probably cost the Tories control.

But in rural areas it looks like the Lib Dems could hold their own and even, if well organised, make gains from the Tories.

 Nick Clegg’s  and David Law’s realignment of the Liberal Democrats as a right of centre libertarian party appears to be giving confidence to Tory voters to trust them in their traditional heartlands while making Labour the only left of centre show in town. That could make a seismic shift in British politics.

Going Downhill fast: The Liberal Democrats bankrolled by RBS

Nick Clegg-party in dire straits and bankrolled by the Royal Bank of Scotland

In the week when student protest over tuition fees reaches a climax, public support and money for the Liberal Democrats is collapsing all the time. And it is now even more in hock to one of the banks that provoked the financial crisis in the first place

In article in the Tribune  this week http://bit.ly/eC4Xb5 I point out that the party has had a bad time in recent local council  by-elections  getting as few as 10, 45 and 98 votes in some cases. It is also in an appalling financial  situation getting less money in the last quarter than UKIP and  relying on a big donation from the taxpayer via the Electoral Commission  to keep afloat. Only after the 2005 election were the figures worse. 

 A closer look at the party loan book reveals a delicious further irony – the party is actually being bank rolled on a £1m indefinite loan from the discredited Royal Bank of Scotland – the bank of Fred ” the Shred” Goodwin- which itself is being bailed out by the taxpayer and subject to a still secret report from the Financial Services Authority.

 Given Vincent Cable’s high-profile attacks on the banks for the poor lending, the business secretary is much more cautious in lending his party money than RBS. He gave a £10,000 interest free loan to the party on April 13 but demanded his money back, insisting it was repaid on May 25. He was one of only two donors post the election who wanted their money back pronto, the other more understandably being Susan Kramer, defeated by Zac Goldsmith in Richmond.

As for local elections performance the best guide is on this website http://bit.ly/fWKVmT . Although it shows a small overall gain of four for the Liberal Democrats, this can be accounted for entirely by their performance on general election day,May 6, where they made a few gains. Since then, apart from taking one seat from the Tories and a couple from Independents in Cornwall, they have slumped.

And all of this is before the cuts and tax rises have to bite and student fees go through the roof.

No wonder Vince Cable wanted his money back. He’ll need it for his retirement.

Election Campaign:What the politicians and civil servants didn’t tell us

Are you voting without them telling you all the facts?

The election is virtually over. Tomorrow  you can cast your vote.  The parties will concentrate on their key messages over the last hours before polling day. But have all the issues been covered? No way.
Just as there is a black hole in all the parties’ planned spending cuts, there are lots of issues that have not been properly covered and many more that have been completely ignored.
They fall into three groups: there are issues that have been discussed but  not properly explored; there are issues that have been ignored by the political parties; and, perhaps surprisingly, there have been issues that Whitehall – not the politicians – has buried under the carpet.
The biggest issue that has not been properly explored is immigration. It was partly catapulted into the election by Gordon Brown’s “Bigotgate” gaffe after meeting pensioner Gillian Duffy, but the parties have tried to obscure the facts.
The Tories have promised to introduce a cap on immigration – but it will not apply to the 27 existing members of the European Community. They account for 80 per cent of immigration – according to Channel Four’s fact check file – almost 1.8 million people coming into Britain against 1 million Brits going to live in the EU.
While those coming from outside the EU account for only 20 per cent of immigration, according to a BBC analysis for the last recorded year, 8,000 more people left than came in. In effect this makes Cameron’s cap almost meaningless.
The Liberal Democrats, while promising to give an amnesty to illegal immigrants who have been here for 10 years, estimate it could help 600,000 – but, as Nick Clegg admits himself, nobody knows where they are. UKIP would block immigration altogether – but that will mean leaving the EU as well. The Liberal Democrats’ policy would mean hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants paying taxes, while Labour say they would deport them all, if they can find them. So more heat than light.
Then there are buried issues. The biggest is pensions and how we are going to fund an ageing population. The Tories have promised to raise the pension age to 66 but not until 2016, after the next election.
And while the election is taking place, more companies are ending final salary schemes, which will make it more difficult to get a good pension, and the cost of providing care is going up all the time. The parties have touched on the cost of care but the multi billion pounds for pensions has not even been debated. Anyone thinking seriously about this would know that something has got to give.
Similarly, for younger people, one issue that might have been raised is the draconian measure – rushed through Parliament just before the election – to curb illegal file-sharing.  There is now a law that could give the music and video business powers to demand internet providers disconnect people from the internet. This has been barely mentioned.
Other issues hardly touched on include the environment, overseas aid, transport and housing.
But probably the most surprising thing that happened during the election was a decision by Whitehall – which runs the country while the PM is busy campaigning – to ban the release of new statistics which would have revealed how much you are funding farmers and agribusiness through the European Union.
Last Friday the EU expected every one of their 27 members to release details of the billions of euros spent subsidising farmers and big companies to produce food for last year. Every country except the UK published these figures.
In Whitehall, civil servants took the decision that to release this information in the middle of an election campaign would be wrong. They justified this on the grounds that some Parliamentary candidates might be receiving the  subsidies. I quote the explanation: “This decision reflects the need to maintain, and be seen to maintain, the impartiality of the UK Civil Service, given the potential risk that … payment  information relating to any individuals involved in the election might be used as part of election campaigning.” Possibly as many as 80 candidates, mainly Conservative, and a few UKIP and Liberal Democrats are benefitting from this.
Extraordinarily, in Scotland – where there is a devolved government – the figures were released. They showed that 19,000 farmers and businesses shared nearly £600m of taxpayers’ money. The figure for the UK was over £3 billion the previous year.
But the effect was to close down any political debate on the cost of the EU to the taxpayer. Other statistics like hospital admissions, road statistics and all the economic data have all been released.
So it is not only politicians who have limited debate during the election.

This blog is also on the msn website as part of their general election coverage.