@ben4ipswich MP tweets a lot but fails to update website

Ipswich Spy is having a go at Ipswich MP, Ben Gummer, for not updating his web site with sufficient frequency. “Mr Gummer is, once again, failing to communicate,” it says of the lack of post on his blog since January.

Failing to communicate through his web site is certainly true but there are other ways of using social media. For instance, he told his 2,200 followers that on Tuesday he had a sandwich in the Brewery Tap. It was the best he had ever had and, he says, he was not drinking.

That news came via twitter of which Gummer is a frequent and regular user. Yesterday he gave us a more serious insight into his views.

So perhaps the performance indicators which the Spy complains are not being updated should include a running total of the number of tweets he has made.

The Spy does not mention the other Ipswich MP, Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) who has posted three news updates on his website this month (not bad in the recess) , the latest on his reappointment “as Chair of the influential All-Party Parliamentary Group on Maternity. ”

So far as I know Poulter does not tweet. Please do not confuse Dr Dan with @dan_poulter who recently told his followers “Jet washing your foot hurts”


Ben Gummer remembers to follow party line

Ipswich MP, Ben Gummer, this morning showed the frustration we all feel too often when travelling to London and tweeted:

Then he seems to have remembered that he is a Government supporting MP and three minutes later added:

You might feel he should “think before tweeting” but I take it as a welcome sign that his concerns are ones we all share. It seems there had been a problem with overhead lines at Diss

Not sure whether his neighbouring MP Therese Coffee (Suffolk Coastal) was thinking about his travel problems or his need for a clarification when she tweeted:

She had reason to be frustrated too. A little earlier she tweeted she had been on Jamaica Road for an hour and asking if anyone knew why the Rotherhithe Tunnel appeared to be blocked.

Three controversial donors backed Ben Gummer’s Ipswich election win

Three controversial Conservative party donors helped finance Ben Gummer’s successful campaign to win Ipswich, 113 on the Tory target list, at the last election.

Between them the three donors contributed £35,000. Two of them Andrew J. Clark (£25,000) and Abdul-Majid Jafir (£5,000) are listed without an address in Mr Gummer’s entry on the Commons register of MP’s financial interests.

The third is listed as a company donation of £5,000 from IPGL Ltd, of London EC2, but is from the business of Michael Spencer, who has a home near Woodbridge. He was revealed this week as one of the people who had a private dinner with David Cameron. According to the BBC he has given the Conservatives £173,000 since June 2006.

Andrew J Cook has been linked today by Ipswich Spy with the Andrew J Cook, who according to the Daily Mail sucked David Cameron into a “sleaze row… over a decision to axe an £80million loan”.

The loan was to Sheffield Forgemasters steel works. Mr Cook runs another steel company and was said to be considering making a bid for Forgemasters. He has donated More than £650,000 to the Conservatives and gave Mr Cameron flights, travel and sponsorship worth £88,000.

Mr Jafir who, according to the Daily Mail, gave £250,000 to the Tory Party is said to be a executive director of Crescent Petroleum Group.

The paper said, “in records at Companies House he is listed as being ‘usually’ resident in the United Arab Emirates.” His spokesman told the paper he was ‘definitely on the electoral roll’, and that he lived between Britain and the UAE.”

Ipswich Spy which first revealed the donations earlier today, reports:

Mr Gummer insists, however, that anyone who knows him will know that any allegation that money donated to his campaign has, or would, ever alter his view or vote is barking up the wrong tree. He told Ipswich Spy “all those who gave money to my campaign were people I know and none of them tried to ask me for favours or policy.

I tend to believe that Mr Gummer has not been influenced, but I also suspect that donors were pointed toward him and Ipswich by Conservative headquarters because it was one of the seats they had to win in 2010 if they were to have any change of forming a government.

That is simply how party funding in elections work. Labour in Ipswich had £10,000 during the last parliament from the Prospect Union and both parties has a little short of £60,000 in their fighting funds.

Ipswich Spy suggests that it is unlikely that when Mr Gummer was a candidate “anyone would be spending money on him with an eye to the future”.

I feel the eye was on the importance of the seat but also that donors recognised, in Mr Gummer, someone who would follow his father into the higher reaches of the party. John Gummer had a far less smooth ride into his first seat.

Mr Gummer registered six sponsors shortly after the 2010 election. In addition to the three named above, there was Ransome’s Dock Ltd of Ispwich (£5,000), Anglia Countrywide Management Ltd of Ipswich (£5,000), and Michael Peacock (£2,000), address private.

Why I will be voting “Yes” to AV

It is tempting to vote “No” to AV to punish Nick Clegg — he could have reached a simple supply and confidence arrangement with the Tories but the lure of the cabinet table was too much for him. The lack of any leaflet from the “Yes” campaign or from the Lib Dem in the council election could be another reason.

But I will be voting “Yes” and this is why. This referendum is about the future, not current politics. The first past the post system has generally, but not always, produced governments with good parliamentary majorities in the past 60 years.

It was not always so, and in the 19th century, before party discipline became so strong, prime ministers had to fight for every vote in debates over great decisions.

In more recent years we seldom see really good debates. Blair famously avoided attending the House of Commons. I believe coalitions and even minority governments can be good for democracy: they force leaders to argue their case, under tough scrutiny, to win the important votes in the House.

AV will ensure that MPs have support, even if it is sometimes reluctant, of a majority of voters. It is a system used in many elections here and around the world without problem.

But let’s look at what AV might mean here in the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich constituency. Dan Poulter, who is showing himself as a good constituency MP representing all his constituents, would have been elected MP last year.

He just squeaked past the winning threshold with 50.8 per cent of the votes. It is just possible that more people might have voted UKIP in a first round under AV, but he would certainly have won, probably with a bigger share of the votes. The Lib Dems overtook Labour to come second in this election.

Looking at previous elections things become more interesting. In 2005 Michael Lord, Conservative and a deputy speaker of the Commons who was not a very active constituency MP, was elected on 43.9 per cent of the vote. It is likely that he would have won but it might have had to go to a third count.

In 2001 Lord got 44.4 per cent of the vote and was only 3,469 votes ahead of Labour. Everything would have depended on second preference votes of Lib Dems.

In 1997 Lord was elected with 42.6 per cent of the vote and a majority of 3,458. Again everything would have depended on Lib Dem voters’ second preferences.

The elected members for Mid Suffolk and North Ipswich could well have been the same throughout this period if we has used the AV system. But clearly the candidates would have had to work to widen their appeal.

Under first past the post, the objective of candidates here needs to be to gain the support of about four out of ten electors.

I would much rather see MPs campaigning to get the support of more than half the electorate. That is why I will be voting “Yes” to AV.

Source: Wikipedia.

Where is the ‘capacity’ for the ‘big society’?

The village newsagent is not simply a place to buy a paper, it is a centre of news itself. This morning in Webster’s, Debenham, the talk was of three successful weekend fund-raising events in the village.

Central and local government both talk about building capacity for volunteering. They are employing increasing numbers of people to tell us how to do it.

Yet village across the country already have the capacity both to raise money and organise projects large and small. On my desk I have a 150-year-old report from the Ipswich Journal of a concert in which raised £5 towards renovating the Market Cross to become the Debenham village library.

The two largest 20th century buildings here were both community projects. The Odd Fellows Hall — a precursor of the welfare state — is now the Old Fashioned Bathrooms business. The leisure and community centre, which includes sports and exercise facilities as well as a hall, continues as a village project.

Debenham is running pretty close to full capacity at the moment. Some of the schemes are imaginative such as that for the primary school to build a swimming pool which will be open to all and the Debenham Project to support the carers of people with dementia.

Yet we are being told to do more in the name of a doctrinaire idea called “Big Society” (in Suffolk aka New Strategic Direction). We don’t want to be patronised. We had a big society before any of the current political parties came into existence.

And it is going to be tough finding the money for the things people here are doing already: supporting local things and people in other countries.

The Observer yesterday reported:

The Office for Budget Responsibility has raised its prediction of total household debt in 2015 by a staggering £303bn since late last year, in the belief that families and individuals will respond to straitened times by extra borrowing. Average household debt based on the OBR figures is forecast to rise to £77,309 by 2015, rather than the £66,291 under previous projections.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate economist, commented on these British figures last week:

… the only way the economy can avoid taking a hit from government cuts is if private spending rises to fill the gap — and although you rarely hear the austerians admitting this, the only way that can happen is if people take on more debt. So we have the spectacle of a government that inveighs against the evils of debt pinning all its hopes on an assumption that over-indebted households will dig their hole even deeper.

All in all, it’s quite a spectacle. It would be funny, except that millions of people will suffer the cost of this folly.

Substitute “county council” for “government” and you have what Suffolk County Council is also asking us to do. Our capacity to support existing projects, let alone do more, is going to be stretched in the next few years.

Suffolk changes “an experiment”

Trying to understand what is happening at Suffolk County Council is not easy. It is confused by two things happening at once — a deep political/philosophic reshaping of the role of the council and very heavy cuts in spending.

John Tizard, director of the Centre for Public Service Partnerships, raised many of the issues in an article for Public Finance magazine and website. He concluded:

Local government has a specific responsibility to local people, communities and businesses – and must ensure that they honour these responsibilities. Given the financial, economic, social and demographic pressures no one can doubt that there needs to be some radical changes, but has Suffolk found the right solution for Suffolk?

To reach a judgement, we (and the citizens of Suffolk) need the answers to the questions posed earlier and, most importantly, we need to know what local people think. Without public authorisation and consent it might prove the wrong decision to rush into implementation of what could be irreversible actions with dramatic consequences.

This appeared at the beginning of October but I believe it is still worth reading in full. Tizard is an extremely well-informed commentator, having worked for Capita and the CBI before heading the Centre for Public Service Partnerships. He was also joint leader of Bedfordshire County Council for eight years.

He may well take a different view now and have answers to some of the questions he poses.

In his article he posed ten strategic questions which required reasoned, evidence-based answers. I don’t think Suffolk people have those answers yet.

He wrote:

There is little doubt that the Suffolk experiment is precisely that – an experiment, because no other UK local authority has embarked on such a programme, albeit that others have adopted elements of it on a much smaller scale.  To that end, the council would, if intent on such an approach, be well advised to consider piloting some of its proposals in the first instance.

If Tizard would like to update his comments I will be very happy to publish whatever he sends me. In the meantime I urge people to read his original article.

Child benefit cuts threaten us all

Why do I feel so strongly that the child benefit cuts announced by George Osborne are wrong? One of my first reactions was that it might help reduce the numbers of four-by-fours parked outside the primary school. It is a feeling not far removed from that of Deborah Orr in the Guardian today who writes:

It is difficult to tax the rich, we’re often told, so it seems rather silly also to continue giving the rich unneeded benefits to spend on what are to many families quite unattainable luxuries. The idea is that child benefit makes the wealthy feel that the welfare state is on their side too. The reality is that too many of these buggers need reminding of how much they gain already.

Yet, I feel the principle of universal benefits needs to be preserved. They don’t have to be taken (eg sending children to private schools instead of using the state sector or having private health insurance) or can be passed on to charity (winter fuel allowance). But they are there for all as a bedrock for a stable society. Cutting child benefits or the wealthy makes the next assault on universal benefits easier.
The fact that the proposal is ill thought out is beside this point but it is very worrying that this comes from a Government whose Prime Minister is hammering on about fairness.

As Richard Murphy in his Tax Research UK blog points out it is a “massive boost to the tax avoidance industry”. Before explaining several ways of avoiding the cut he writes:

For a family caught by the change the parent of two children  with income of just over the limit faces an effective 100% tax rate on all income in a rage from about £44,000 to £47,000. That is a gift to the tax abusers.

You would expect a blog called Left Foot Forward to be against the restrictions on child benefit, but I was taken with a quote from Richard Titmuss, the pioneering social researcher, who said, “Services for the poor will always be poor services.”

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