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A bit late, the Guardian says choosing new labour leader now is ‘daft’

Blogging, as a form of journalism, can be lonely. Like all writers you look for the validation of others and when there is little you feel self-doubt: did I just get it wrong?

I was starting to get that feeling about my post of May 11, “Labour should get on with opposition rather than fighting over leadership“.

Today, May 21, the Guardian comes to much the same view in its first leader, saying:

In the Guardian’s view it is an outrage that Labour MPs are deciding the shape of this important contest so prematurely. No candidate has published a detailed argument about why Labour lost and how it can win. None has had more than a brief chance to take an argument to the public through the media or into the new Commons. No one actually knows what they really think about the big hard issues, yet the contest is being irrevocably moulded all the same. An essential process risks being sacrificed to the abuses of machine politics.

The paper suggests Alan Johnson as an interim leader. His name had come into my mind but I did not write it, thinking there might be someone else I had not considered.

Seumas Milne, in a column, takes the same topic and concludes:

One way or another, the wider Labour party needs to take back control of its own contest. If the politics currently paraded by the main candidates wins out, Labour’s prospects in a country where hostility to the Westminster elite has already redrawn the electoral map look bleak. Union disaffiliation could then become a reality and eventually trigger a party split. Where Labour goes now will affect us all.

To put it bluntly, the leader is right when it says:

Choosing the leader now is pretty daft.

Labour tears itself apart while SNP opposes

A traumatised Labour party today looks in a worse state than it did the morning after the poll. Instead of accepting its job — opposing the Tories — it is descending into an unedifying internal battle about what might win the next election in five years time.

There is plenty of time to find the vision that will convince voters when the time comes. Battling about that vision between Blairites and the leftists is deflecting the party from the immediate question of how to make life difficult for Cameron.

Andy Burnham tells us he would ditch on of Ed Miliband’s more sensible policies of having no Europe referendum unless there was a substantial shift of powers to Brussels. He wants an early referendum and tough negotiations on immigration.

The Observer interviewed Burnham and reported he would,

overturn Labour’s policy of only holding a referendum if there were a substantial transfer of power to Brussels. He said he would back a referendum wholeheartedly, hoping for a new deal and a yes vote. He said the date should be moved for the sake of British businesses who had complained of continued uncertainty.

If there is to be a referendum it is best that it is done as soon as possible, but that is no reason to pander to the little Englanders. Cameron who has been pushed into a referendum by his backbenchers hardly needs the opposition joining them in demanding tighter rules to restrict free movement.

The risk of the county voting to leave the EU is too great to start playing games.

If Burnham really wants to make life difficult for Cameron he should have joined the SNP and Plaid Cymru in demanding that a vote to leave would need a majority in all the countries of the union. For a government which is pledged to rule for the whole UK and not just its southern heartland that is an awkward question.

It might also help heal the rift between the Scottish and English labour parties.

In the meantime the SNP has set out the key issues on which it will oppose the government and its Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, telling ITN:

Effective SNP opposition to the Tories will certainly be good for Scotland – but leading this progressive alternative will also be to the benefit of people throughout the UK.

Their opposition plan includes fighting the repeal of the Human Rights Act which is shaping up to be one of the most dangerous policies for the Conservatives with some of its own MPs preparing to defy the whips.

Tory turmoil over new leader at Suffolk County Council

While the Conservatives at Westminster settle in, united for the present, their County Council colleagues in Suffolk are far from united.

Despite having a majority of only four they have embarked on a vicious internal battle. In March, Mark Bee resigned as leader of the Conservative group because he felt his position had been undermined by internal tensions. His favoured candidate for his replacement, Jenny Antill, was beaten by Bee’s critic Colin Noble.

But it is only now, a week before the Council’s annual meeting, that he has resigned as leader of the council. This ends one of the rumours that has been swirling around that he would hang on to the council leadership and so force a vote.

The East Anglian Daily Times, reports today: “Mr Noble is now expected to be confirmed as new county council leader at next week’s annual meeting of the county council but could find life far from easy in his new role.”

Mr Bee became leader in 2011 in the turmoil over the New Strategic Direction and the resignation of his predecessor and the chief executive. He was seen as a steadying and unifying candidate.

There remains some doubt about whether Colin Noble will be smoothly chosen. Labour leader Sandy Martin has expressed concern that he would mean “a move to the right”.

Lib Dem leader David Wood has said:

Mark has always been fair to all parties. He’s always listened to what we have had to say. He’s always recognised that whatever our political backgrounds we are all keen to do what we see as best for the people of Suffolk. I know he has problems within his own group, and that might be because he’s been prepared to talk to us – but this is sad news for the county as a whole.

What the opposition parties will do at the meeting is uncertain. Mr Wood told the EADT: “Until we see what is happening, how can we know how to vote?”

And a Labour source told the paper: ““Frankly we won’t know what the situation is until we see to what extent the Tories are ripping into each other.”

The paper also suggests some Conservative members could vote against their new leader while others might stay away with diplomatic illnesses.

Dr Dan, MP, puts patients before political advancement

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, has chosen not to continue in his health minister post to spend more time with his patients.

It seems he was asked by David Cameron to continue as a health minister but slept on the offer and decided not to accept. Ben Gummer, MP for the neighbouring Ipswich constituency, is taking up a similar role to that vacated by Poulter.

Poulter told the East Anglian Daily Times:

It was a difficult decision – and it might have been different if I had been offered a promotion within the department. But I do enjoy medical work and I felt it was not the right time for me to give that up.

Throughout the last parliament, he continued doing hospital shifts  and now intends take specialist training in psychiatry over the summer and work part-time in a London hospital. He stresses he will also have more time for constituency work.

The health ministry job was probably not fulfilling for a doctor who wants to care for patients — he had responsibility for NHS estates and IT systems. I am wondering if the signals for his decision were in his election leaflets which, while stressing his support for hospitals, made no mention of his job as a health minister.

He is not ruling out another ministerial role in the future. Overall, this sounds like a man who loves his pre-parliamentary work and his putting this above political ambition.

Now he is keeping his options open, telling the EADT that if he stopped practicing it would be hard to resume a medical career in a few years time.

After thought: It is a pity Ben Gummer will have less time to devote to his pre-parliament work as a historian and author of the well-received history of the Black Dea, The Scourging Angel.



Finding high tech lighting in the fens is a sign of how barriers to rural business are lifting

Choosing light fittings for the new house has proved more difficult than we expected. In keeping with the eco idea, they have to be LEDs and after six months we still have five bare light bulbs awaiting replacement.

Yesterday the search ended in Chatteris, one of those unexciting fenland towns which is not the sort of place you expect to find modern lighting design.

We had seen some of TP24’s products at the Ecobuld exhibition earlier this year but continued looking at every lighting shop and department that we passed. Yesterday we went to Chatteris and found an obviously expanding business with two offices, a showroom and a warehouse in separate buildings.

The showroom at the top of a former chapel was a surprise. Most of the ceiling devoted to light fittings and a remote control to turn them on and off. At one end, a theatre-style presentation area is set up to tell retailers and wholesalers about the products. Table football signals, high-tech business.

While running costs are an obvious reason for switch to LED lamps, experience in our previous house convinced me of another big advantage – not having to replace bulbs because LEDs last a lot longer.

Screen grab pf TP24 savings calculator

Screen grab pf TP24 savings calculator

While running costs are an obvious reason to switching to LED lamps, experience in our previous house convinced me of another big advantage – not having to replace bulbs because LEDs last a lot longer.

Much of the current market is replacing the bulbs in traditional fittings, but it is the design possibilities which are most exciting. Lamps can come in different shapes, flat light panels are possible, thin strips of light can be fitted under shelves and cupboards, pendant lamps can be fitted closer to ceilings.

Driving back from Chatteris along the A14 I reflected on how LED technology together with the Internet has brought employment to a rural area. It takes imagination and business acumen to build this sort of business but it can be done and there are advantages in doing this in a rural area where the overhead costs of premises are likely to be lower.

In Chatteris I noticed high-speed broadband cabinets in the streets. This service has now arrived in Debenham, Suffolk where I live and I look forward to it opening up the opportunities for imaginative people to create jobs here.

A website like TP24’s could be based in the centre of a major city just as easily as it is the flat fenlands of Cambridge. One of the barriers to business in rural areas is coming down.

Labour should get on with opposition, rather than fighting over leadership

Labour should put the choice of a new leader on hold and get on with its job of opposing the Government. If it does not it is in danger of handing the de facto leadership of the opposition to the SNP.

Nicola Sturgeon has already claimed the, “SNP is now the main opposition to the Conservatives at Westminster while Labour embarks on a rebuilding process”, according to the Aberdeen Press and Journal. It is a credible argument from a party that arrives in Westminster with a cohesive group including experienced politicians.

But what have we seen from Labour – various members of Miliband’s shadow cabinet hitting the broadcast studios to say: “We got it all wrong but it was not my fault and I know what we should have been doing. Give me the job.” Back to Blair nor forward to socialism are going to win the next election.

Anyone throwing their hat into the ring now, should be ruled out on the grounds that they have demonstrated self-interest above the need for deep thought about the future of the party. The Independent says, “a fierce Labour leadership battle has broken out… leading to fears of a bloody contest that could set the party fall back further.”

The paper gives  five names: Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, Liz Kendall,  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. I fear none of them has demonstrated the vision and communications skills to look like a future prime minister or a ruthless and effective opposition leader.

The party needs to listen to its grass roots. These are the people who have the best idea of what has happened. People like Jack Abbott, their young candidate here in Central Suffolk, who has impressed with his passion and understanding of the issues facing voters. There must be people like him in every constituency who should be helping forge a new party to fight again in five years.

Harriet Harman, the interim leader, needs the space to build an effective opposition team. She has shown the can handle PMQs and all the rest of the job until at least the Autumn and provide the time for deep consideration of the future approach. Only after that is it time to think about the best person to lead.


UK will be ruled by Tories from southern English shires

On Tuesday I painted a picture (UK threatened by rule from the English shires) of the United Kingdom ruled by a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition dependent on MPs for the English shires. I was wrong, failing to anticipate the blue tsunami which swept the Lib Dems from the south-west peninsular.

equal popmapHere in the East the regional BBC political correspondent, Andrew Sinclair, has pointed out his patch is even more Conservative than it was with Labour failing to take target marginal seats. The BBC’s brilliant idea of a map with each constituency the same size shows graphically what has happened.

Imagine a line on the map from the Severn Estuary to the Wash and we see virtually nothing but blue surrounding London where Labour has reinforced its dominant hold.

For the next five years, the UK is to be ruled by shire Conservatives from the south of England. That is worse than I feared in my previous post.

It is going to be very difficult for David Cameron to convince people in Scotland, Wales and the north of England that he is ruling for the entire United Kingdom.

He will, I am sure, try. Significantly, in his acceptance speech on retaining his seat, he singled out implementing the promises of increased devolution for Scotland and Wales as priorities.

It is going to be very difficult for him the meet the conflicting demands. The DUP in Northern Ireland will generally bolster his small majority but have made it clear that their price is more money for the six counties.

His stronger Conservative contingent from East Anglia will be holding him to promises of much needed infrastructure investment to satisfy their electors.

It is going to be a hard balancing act ruling a United Kingdom which, the map shows, looks even less united this morning.


Cameron stays in Downing Street: don’t expect electoral reform

David Cameron stays in Downing Street. The exit poll, which few could really believe, turned out to be very accurate.

As I write the Conservatives are headed to to a overall majority. But that will be a smaller and more difficult majority than that which the coalition with the Lib Dems gave them.

Westminster MPs are going to have a tough time. It will be much more difficult for them to be away from Westminster when a vote is expected.

All the pre-election polls were wrong in showing a very narrow gap between the Labour and the Conservatives. With 627 seats declared the Toy share was 36.6% while Labour was on 37%. But Labour increased its share of the UK vote increased by 1.4% twice that of the Conservatives. The Labour increase was despite its near wipe-out in Scotland.

There is a lot of number crunching to be done to understand this election which also saw UKIP take 12.7% of the popular vote while the Lib Dems slumped to 7.8%. Clearly UKIP did not greatly damage the Conservatives who inflicted terrible punishment on the Lib Dems for their support over the past five years.

On the face of it, these results – a party with just over a third of the vote getting an overall majority in Westminster – reinforce the the case for electoral reform. But the Conservatives who have won with the first-past-the-post are unlikely to propose a change in their Queen’s speech.

As the psephologists get to work we will learn more about who UKIP took their votes from and where the Lib Dem votes went.

The Conservatives now have to decide how they will govern the whole UK. For the defeated Labour party there will be the probable replacement of its leader and how work with the second largest opposition party, the SNP.

Alex Salmond (SNP) will be one of of the biggest beasts on the opposition benches. A new Labour leader will have find a way of working with the Westminster leader of the party which has inflicted such damage of her, or his, party. If they don’t the opposition will be weakened.

We face interesting political times.




A call for the next government: reduce carbon emissions and boost the economy

The only organisation to send me a copy of its manifesto is my electricity supplier. It arrived in my email inbox yesterday.

Ecotricity, the green power company, has produced its vision of Britain as a low-carbon state in 2030 and outlining policies for the next government to make this happen.

It is also in the commercial interests of Ecotricity and its founder Dale Vince, said to be worth £100m, that this should happen. I also think it is a valuable vision as we are already seeing the benefits, both for our finances and comfort, of converting our 1960s bungalow into an eco house.

The policies called for are:

  • Creating a Minister for Carbon – to set carbon limits across all sectors of the economy
  • Ensuring Britain’s power generation is 80% renewable by 2030 – saving £11.7bn in fossil fuel costs
  • Implementing ‘Quantitative Greening’ – deploying quantitative easing by the Bank of England directly into the renewables sector
  • Ending fossil fuel subsidies – all government support for fossil fuels cut off by 2025
  • Increasing support for electric cars – including scrapping VAT, helping to ensure all new cars are electric by 2030

Unlike many political manifestos it is accompanied by a detailed analysis — by Cambridge Econometrics — which, in part, concludes:

It is evident that a commitment to a low-carbon future could lead to substantial growth opportunities in the renewables and motor vehicles sectors and their supply chains. Around 150,000 jobs could be created in the power sector and associated supply chains, with a further 50,000 jobs relating to the motor vehicles industry.

I do hope that our next government recognises that a drive for a low-carbon economy would create more jobs, help re-build the country’s manufacturing industries and be good for our health.