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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.

UK threatened by rule from the English shires

Tomorrow we face the very real danger of deciding the United Kingdom should be ruled by the English shires.

If the predictions are anywhere near right Labour will strengthen its dominant hold on London (an underreported topic in the campaign) and will remain the biggest party in Wales by a big margin. English parties do not contest seats in Northern Ireland, while the Conservatives were virtually wiped out in Scotland some time ago.

That leaves the prospect of the Conservatives, with Liberal Democrat allies, forming a government totally dependent on the English members from outside the capital.

We would not be in this position if both Conservative and Labour parties had not totally mishandled the Scottish independence referendum. First devomax was ruled out as a question on the ballots, then it was effectively promised in order to get a “No” vote.

In the aftermath of the vote, the Conservatives demanded English votes for English laws, which would create two classes of MPs at Westminster.

Scots, not surprisingly, were angry and are expected to vote solidly SNP tomorrow. Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out calling for a new referendum in the next parliament, although I feel she could reasonably go back on this if there is a UK referendum vote to leave the EU. She is campaigning for a distinctly Scottish voice at Westminster.

The Scottish Labour party will not be wiped out tomorrow: it will still have 38 seats in the Holyrood parliament and will still fight for Scotland to remain in the UK. That is an argument they stand a very good chance of winning as there is evidence that attitudes on independence have changed little since the referendum. It is only the maladroitness of English parties which will change this quickly.

But the entrenched positions taken during this campaign means Labour has some difficult decisions to make if it wants to be the next UK government. Miliband and Labour can hardly row back and go into coalition with the SNP which has wiped out Labour representation at Westminster.

It should accept that an effective Scottish Labour party which has 38 MSPs must be given independence to fight the SNP in Holyrood with a Scottish voice. It could still support an English and Welsh labour party as does the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

With independence kicked into the long grass for the next five years and Labour actively campaigning for the UK in Scotland, Milband could enter into an informal partnership with the SNP at Westminster and not have too much egg to wipe off his face. The two parties share much more than separates them.

It would not be easy for him, but it could save the UK. An English nationalist Conservative party trying to force through a referendum on EU membership and English votes for English laws would surely end the union.

Owen James has a good piece on this theme in today’s Guardian, English nationalism is out of the bottle, whoever wins.

Let the debate begin. But that will only happen if the Conservatives do not form the next Government.


Monster raving loony press (with exceptions)

The British press has always had an exaggerated idea of its influence on elections but this year it has become even more strident in its blue blooded support for the Tories. My former newspaper colleague Ivor Gaber, now professor of journalism at Sussex University, has a good article on this at the Guardian:
Tory press roars back into action as Labour threatens David Cameron.

Gaber praises the Financial Times. Writing in the Guardian be probably could not say it but the paper has been more red blooded this time.

Deciding how to vote in a constituency where the outcome is certain

Living in Central Suffolk and knowing that my vote is not going to make any difference to the national, or local,  outcome should make deciding who to vote for easy. Yet have spent the past few weeks vacillating.

While it was never likely I would vote Conservative, Dan Poulter, a personable man with a 13,786 majority last time, has worked hard as a constituency MP and is bound to be re-elected. His literature concentrates on what he has done in the area although some of his claims are “a bit of a stretch” according to a friend in a village where he suggested he was instrumental in saving the post office. The mystery is that in none of the leaflets I have seen does he mention that he is a health minister. Why?

UKIP: there was never a chance I would vote for their man although I do admire the party’s recognition that the way politics is done has to change.

English Democrats are simply not a party I would vote for.

Liberal Democrats: The only political organisation I have ever belonged to is the Young Liberals when I was 17. The main reasons was that I was a member of CND and the Labour party supported British nuclear weapons. Also the Liberals were strong advocates of Britain joining the EU. We worked with the Young Socialists, in a sort of coalition, to bait the Young Conservatives.

Five years ago I lost all trust in the Lib Dems when they went into coalition with the Conservatives. In this campaign it has become clear that Clegg would be prepared to go into the same partnership which could mean supporting a referendum on EU membership. That is my red line.

Labour: If I was in a Conservative held marginal I would vote for them. Their candidate here is young. Jack Abbott, who lives in my village is impressive, wrote his own election leaflet which is full of determination and shows a real understanding of the issues facing the area. He would make a good MP and I hope he gets the chance in a more winnable seat.

Greens: Rhodri Griffiths, their candidate, has retired to Suffolk from Wales where he had fought elections and looks like a safe pair of hands in a currently unwinnable constituency. The party has been building an organisation and in the Mid Suffolk district council elections, also on Thursday, could overtake the Lib Dems to become the largest opposition group.

Years ago we used to judge political trends by the numbers of election posters in an area. Now few people put up posters but of those that do would the Greens are winning in the villages around here.

Until this weekend I was undecided between voting Labour or Green. The deciding moment was when I realised Ed Milliband’s pledge stone was not a hoax. I will vote Green.

By bolstering the Green vote I will, at least, be helping to make the case for electoral reform to give  us a more proportionate system. And I prefer their vision of the future, unformed as it is.


More people will have voted against the next government than for it

This election will be decided not by votes for political parties but by votes against them and their ideas. Students voting against the Lib Dems, Kippers voting against Europe, public employees voting against pay freezes, the rich voting against more taxes, the poor voting against the rich, the Scots voting against English parties, parents voting against school cuts, many voting against gradual privatisation of the NHS – there is a lot to vote against.

But what is there to vote for? There is the smaller state, but that has not been well articulated as a political philosophy. Continuation of the post-war social settlement; again not well articulated. It boils down to a battle between neoliberal and Keynesian economics and that is difficult to explain, especially in the rough and tumble of daily politics. This quote is worth considering:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.

The author is John Maynard Keynes in his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) and quoted on the website of Foreign Policy in Focus, a US-based think tank.

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have projected a vision of the future, which is the way politicians can assert their political philosophy. We can be sure that whoever becomes prime minister after Thursday will have substantially more votes cast against him (assuming either leader is able to form a government) than for him.

Both Miliband and Cameron have failed to tell us the basis of their policies. Boiled down to single phrases it seems to me Labour want a more equally paid society, while the Conservatives want to shrink the state and let the market provide.

By not presenting a clear choice they have left the electorate confused, uncertain and hostile to politics.