Ten questions for the hopefuls …

Sir Tony Baldry MP

Sir Tony Baldry MP

The rumour mill suggests there will be over 100 hopefuls applying for the Banbury Parliamentary seat to replace Sir Tony Baldry MP who has announced his decision to stand down at the General Election in 2015.  Selection is likely to take place in the next few weeks and will be followed by an extremely short run-up to the General Election in May 2015

Below are a few questions I would like to put to them if I had the chance.

Q1   Please list the jobs you have held in the real world since leaving full time education.  You should exclude working for the Party, for MPs or for PR agencies.

Q2  Please list the campaigning activities you have carried out for your own Constituency in the last year.  Be specific.

Q3  Have you ever stood for election as or served as a local councillor?  If so, give details; if not, why not?

Q4 What have you done to support your own Constituency Association in the last year? I do not mean organising social events (important as they may be) but making the Association more politically effective.

Q5  If selected and elected, name your three top priorities as the Member for Banbury.

Q6  If negotiation fails to reduce in any way the right of free movement of labour within the EU, how will you vote in the In-Out EU Referendum?

Q7  Do you support the repatriation of human rights laws to the United Kingdom?

Q8  If it is a choice between cuts to our defence budget or international aid, where do you stand?

Q9  How would you work to reverse the decline in membership of mainstream political parties and, particularly, the Conservative Party?

Q10  Name your three political heroes, one from the 20th century; one from the 19th and one from much older history.

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Scruffy and angry

Scruffy Banbury_1Well, well what a reaction Scruffy Banbury seems to have created!  I do not know where I suggested the litter louts in Banbury had a working class background.  They may well be working class, middle class, upper class, aristocracy or they may be from the never-worked class.  I really do not know.

If those who attacked my blog support the practice of dumping litter in the town centre, they need to say so.  In my view, people who do it are scruffy, dirty and – yes – they are oiks, whatever their social class or ethnic origin.

So come on you lefty liberals, admit you support having a town centre that looks like a rubbish tip or join with me in condemning everyone who drops litter, cans, fag ends and other detritus for others to clear up.

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Scruffy Banbury

Scruffy Banbury_1This is a picture of the pavement outside Marks & Spencer in Banbury’s town centre.  It was taken at 5:00 pm on Sunday afternoon.  You will note the bench is surrounded by cans,  plastic bottles and the detritus of modern society and you may just spot that some items have been dumped on the bench itself.  Pigeons pick their  way carefully around, hoping for the odd piece of discarded food from McDonalds or somewhere similar.  In the background you may see a gaggle of scruffy youngsters sitting on the steps that lead up to M & S and surrounded by a lot more litter that one can only assume they have tossed to the ground.

Scruffy Banbury_2The second photo looks to the other side of the tree in the first picture.  In the background, you may be able to see a whole row of litter bins.  They are not the only ones in this immediate area.  There is a generous supply of them all round this part of town.  We will have paid for them through the Council Tax.  What baffles me is how many people leave their litter on the ground just a few feet from an available bin.  What lazy, ignorant and dirty oiks are we supporting in Banbury?  Why can’t they be bothered to take a couple of paces and put their rubbish in the appropriate litter bin?

If you visit this spot at 6:00 am in the morning there is an army of Cherwell workers and trucks clearing away the litter from the night before so that the town starts off the day in a clean state.  No doubt we pay for them as well, through the Council tax.  Sadly, this clean and tidy state does not last long.  Clearly a scruffy and disorderly element of the town’s population either think it is fun to leave the place looking like a tip or perhaps they treat the town as they treat their own homes?  Lord knows.

I have heard a few people express the opinion that litter is important because leaving it lying around maintains the employment of street cleaners!  This is the economic illiteracy of Miliband’s labour party, finding any excuse to pump up the size and cost of the nanny state.  Banbury is not unique;  this scruffiness and the need to clean up after people is a phenomenon of most urban areas and of a failure to teach people decent standards.

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Proceed slowly, Cameron

KRM & DC2Well, David, you have won and lost all at the same time.  You have won the immediate argument – just – but you now have a huge and long-term problem of securing constitutional reform that will satisfy most if not all and, particularly, England.

You have promised greater powers to Scotland’s parliament and you have said the Barnett formula will remain.  Lord knows why you have perpetuated a highly unfair financial allocation model. What you are now facing is a vociferous campaign by Wales and Northern Ireland to try to lever in similar devolution to their small statelets.  However, the bigger and quieter issue is England and it will not be quiet much longer.

To suggest you can develop a constitutional settlement for the whole of the UK on the timescale you have suggested is plain daft.  This is the largest constitutional change since the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 if not of Henry VIII’s split with the Roman Church.  It needs a lot more time and it needs to encapsulate local government in England as well as national government.

I think you are going to have to do your best with the Scottish settlement on your timetable and then do a proper job on the rest of the UK.  You do not have the slightest chance of a good deal for England in that timescale and the last thing we need is a short-term fudge that will come back to haunt us.

I note the demands from some of our English cities for devolution of powers and this has to be exactly right.  I make no apology for reminding you of the role of Joe Chamberlain in building the infrastructure of Birmingham.  It worked and it could work again.  However, this is about creating viable and sustainable functional economic regions.  It would mean combining many councils that presently govern cities like Birmingham and Manchester into a single city region council. This model is already working in some areas but it has great potential in many more. Boris has demonstrated this simple fact in London.

However, we should not be blinded by cities’ demands for more autonomy to think they are the only areas capable of delivering economic growth.  There are county areas that are also functional economic areas and Oxfordshire is a brilliant example.  Oxford City in its centre is too small to be a functional economic area alone but the whole of Oxfordshire is.  I would argue strongly that functional economic areas like Oxfordshire should be given the same powers as the larger metropolitan areas.

When Parliament reformed local government in Scotland, it was put in place almost overnight and it works.  There is no point in trying to reform England’s local government piecemeal and with consultation and consensus.  You need to work out what will work and create economic growth and then get on with it.  It is the only way.  You also need to understand the economies of scale and the recognition of functional economic areas.

Good luck!

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Scotland sees sense – now, will Cameron?

uniion jackAfter all the media hype, it was very comforting to wake this morning to find that we still have a United Kingdom and by a convincing margin of 54:46.  I spent a couple of days in the Scottish borders, visiting my English aunt who is 103 years old and still hale and hearty and who voted NO. Also my English cousins who have lived and worked and now retired in Scotland and who voted NO.  They will be celebrating today along with those who wanted to stay together.

Several things were particularly noticeable as we drove up from Oxfordshire to the Scottish Borders.  After you cross the border, the roads improve, the streets are cleaner and it is clear that the public sector is everywhere; in housing stock and in public buildings.  We stayed in Melrose, about the size of Bloxham but feeling more like a market town but without the ghastly urban housing estates Bloxham has suffered.  It seemed to be thriving and there was a rugby club, a tennis club and a number of other apparently well supported community buildings.  My aunt commended free prescriptions for all and my cousins lamented the fact that Scottish youngsters had a free university alongside youngsters from EU states but not potential English students who had to pay.  This felt like a country that expected but was willing to pay for a high level of public services.

It also felt like a divided country.  After crossing the border, there were plenty of large NO signs in the farmers’ fields and we saw few YES posters until we visited Galashiels where they predominated in the swathes of council housing.  Two days is no time to understand a nation but I sense a big political divide between those who expect high funded, high level public services that someone else will pay for and those who realise they are likely to be called on for that payment!  Which brings me to the central question of “what now”.

Despite a clear NO for independence, it is equally clear that the Scots are discontented and believe much of Salmond’s rhetoric about deprivation and unfairness and we need to put that right.  What we don’t need to do is for England to pay the price of this correction. We have already backed ourselves into a corner by pledging to keep the Barnett formula – a crass bit of political crisis mismanagement if ever there was one – which gives Scotland  £24 of public spending for every £20 England has.  No wonder they can afford free prescriptions, free university tuition, better roads and more public services!  Well, if Scotland wants them, Scotland must have them but Scotland must pay for them. So, by all means give them greater parliamentary powers, particularly to raise Scottish taxes, providing England does not pick up the bill for their Socialist tendencies.

By all means retain the Barnett formula but for heavens sake look at how it works and re-jig it to allocate public spending on a simple per-capita basis so that every £20 Scotland has to spend is matched by £20 for England.

St George flagThere is another consequence of the Independence referendum. It is the necessary consequence of greater parliamentary power for Scotland and is greater parliamentary power for England.  Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on purely English matters when English MPs cannot vote on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament?  It is time for complementarity with Scottish MPs debarred from voting on the English NHS or any other matter where Scotland has devolved powers and, as Scotland is given more, the argument for a separate English Parliament at Westminster, excluding Scottish MPs becomes overwhelming.

There is more.  Scotland is not the only part of the United Kingdom to feel discontent. We live with the most centralised government in the democratic world and, if Scotland deserves more devolved powers, so does local government in England.  Over the last fifty years – many of them under Conservative governments – local government has become more and more emasculated with the corset of tight central government control over finance and many policy areas.  If devolution is good for a part of the country it is good for all of it and this should involve enhanced powers and freedoms for local government.  It is time to take off the shackles, David and Eric, to trust local government and to allow it to prosper again and the communities it serves.  Remember what Jo Chamberlain did for Birmingham.  There is that capacity and talent in local government but you need to strike off the shackles that presently bind it.

There may be a price to pay by local government.  I last visited Scotland 3 years ago, meeting John Swinney among others and I was impressed when he explained that there are just 32 Scottish local authorities and they are unitary.  The government can meet the 32 leaders in a medium sized meeting room and have a coherent discussion. Compare this with the number and divergence of English local authorities and you start to see the problem.  In particular, the two tier structure in county areas is plain mad and bad.  No sane legislator would invent it with split, confusing and illogical responsibilities. While social care is a county responsibility; housing sits with district councils. While libraries are a county responsibility, recreation lies with the districts. Maddest of all, planning used to be split and still is but less logically than ever. Strategic planning used to be a county responsibility with the need to produce a county-wide structure plan while districts dealt with detailed planning policy. This changed when the Blair government introduced regional planning and abolished the Structure Plan. Regional planning has subsequently been abolished by the coalition while planning more generally has undergone further “reform”. The result is that there is no broad scale, high level strategic planning at a regional or sub-regional level and districts are generally too small to take a long and strategic view of a functional economic area. County councils remain the highway authorities and have a role but a diminishing one in education. In the latter, they are responsible for managing the education market to a certain extent and this includes managing future school needs in terms of growing or declining pupil numbers. All in all, there is only one word to describe our present two-tier system – shambolic.

Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles

imageSo Dave and Eric, you need to be brave and resolute.  Don’t let Salmond bully you and don’t forget England in dealing with Scotland’s problems.  England is seething with discontent as well and needs more devolution to reflect the different needs of different areas and to re-engage electors who have lost all confidence in the political system largely through the perception of remoteness and disinterest whether real or imagined.  You have a huge canvass on which to paint a better and more localised political landscape and not a lot of time in which to start to get it right.

 

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Last Night of the British Proms?

I arrived home from my Masonic meeting last night in time for the last part of the Last Night of the Proms and could not help wondering if this would be the Last Night of the British Proms?

The audiences in the Albert Hall and the other venues were having a great time singing Jerusalem.

When Britain first, at Heaven's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves"
 NOTE: Not “England” but “Britannia”

And then we had Elgar in all his glory:

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

Listening to Rule Britannia and Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance No 1, and watching the Union Flags (commingling the cross of St George with the Scottish saltire of St Andrew and the Northern Irish saltire of St Patrick) being waved wildly, I had to ask if the Scots could be so stupid as to destroy a political union that has lasted a bit over 300 years. I fear they just might but, if they do, I am afraid they will have been bamboozled by some very clever but thoroughly dishonest Scottish politicians into believing that Scotland has not prospered under the Union.

For fifty years, the Barnett Formula, named after Joel Barnett (a Labour politician) has divided public spending between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.  For every £100 allocated to England, Scotland receives £121; Wales £114 and Northern Ireland £132.  You only need to drive over the border into Scotland to notice the improvement in the road surface and the highway infrastructure.  No wonder they don’t charge student tuition fees!  No wonder there are no prescription charges in Scotland!  England is paying for them.  I have grown tired of hearing Scottish politicians winge about their country being deprived and starved of resources.  It is complete nonsense.

If they opt for independence, we need to make sure they do not continue to take more than their share from the national pot.  This implies that Socialist Scotland will want to continue its current high spending pattern but will not have the income to do it.  I suspect they will then want to borrow to find their spending habit and their dependency culture.  Who will guarantee their debt?  If they continue to use sterling as their currency, the Bank of England will.  A bit like a divorced man handing his ex-wife a pile of pre-signed cheques to his bank account.  Sheer madness and we must make sure it does not happen.  If the Scots leave us, they must leave our currency.  Will they join the Euro?  They would be stupid if they did.  Will they float the Scottish groat?  You must be joking!  Independence has to be a stupid idea on financial grounds alone but think about defence and diplomacy.

Will Scotland have its own fleet? Its own Air Force? Its own army? What sheer nonsense! Similarly, will we see Scottish embassies and consulates springing up around the world?

Get real, Scotland!

 

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The Great Scottish Question

Saltire

Saltire

There is a considerable irony that I will be in Scotland next week to see my (English) aunt who is presently 103 years old.  She moved there when her (English) daughter and (English) son-in-law moved there with his work.   I assume they will all have a vote in the Great Scottish Question next week while Scots who are living elsewhere will not. Add to that the extension of the Scottish franchise to 16-year olds who will mainly have had no experience of earning a living or the realities of the real world and we all face interesting and challenging times!

The debate seems to be polarising on political issues with the Scottish Labour voters apparently favouring separation.  I can understand this.  At a superficial level, I could be attracted to the idea of losing Scottish MPs from the Westminster Parliament, thus guaranteeing a permanently Conservative Westminster administration.  This would enable us to sort out the inefficient and bloated NHS and, perhaps, even our school system that has failed generations of pupils because of slavish adherence to the teacher unions, to trendy teaching styles and political correctness.

At the same time, the Scots can revert to the socialist model they clearly desire with state funded and managed health and school systems with no fear of intrusion from the South. Of course, the question to ask is why health and education seem to work in Scotland but nowhere as well in England?   Could it be connected with the Barnett Formula that allocates £25 to Scotland for every £20 allocated to England?  No wonder the roads improve as one crosses the border.  No wonder there are no student fees in Scotland!

While I could suffer a momentary attachment to the idea of a permanent Conservative government for England in the same way that the Scots seem to be attracted to gaining permanent socialism in their country, I cannot contemplate the sheer stupidity of this view in the longer term.

To start the break up of the United Kingdom as Salmond and his team are clearly determined and as will surely follow with Wales and Northern Ireland as day follows night seems to me to be complete madness.  This will relegate Great Britain or,  more accurately, the separate nation states of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to small countries no longer able to punch above their weight and no longer enjoying a special relationship with the USA.  Do we really want this?

Do we really believe it is anyone’s interest to divide our armed forces and our overseas representation?  Do we really think we will gain by years of argument over how much of the bloated national debt belongs to each of the nation states? Do we expect England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to enjoy the same credit rating in the money markets as the United Kingdom?   Will the Barnett Formula continue to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a much larger share of the national revenue pool than England?

I am afraid that Gordon Brown’s campaign to save the Union may well help the separatist cause and I fear the same is true about Cameron, Miliband and Clegg tramping off to Scotland.  It may be too late to save the United Kingdom and an emasculated but permanently Conservative England is a poor second.

Are the Scots really that stupid?   I fear they may be.

 

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